Today, many people generally view Mormons as a people with strong family values and clean living, according to one pastor at McLean Bible Church. Some also believe they are just one of many Christian denominations.
But that view is the result of a multibillion dollar campaign over the last couple of decades by Mormons who have attempted to present themselves in such a way, according to Todd Phillips, teaching pastor at Frontline, the young adult ministry of McLean in Virginia.
Many Americans, including Christians, see Mormons as "just another branch of Christianity who talk about Jesus all the time and likely do a better job at adhering to family values than most Christian do in churches in America," Phillips told hundreds attending service and watching over the Internet on Sunday.
That perspective, however, is in stark contrast to just 50 years ago, when Mormons were seen as "conservative, countercultural religious zealots who didn't drink alcohol or coffee, or smoked cigarettes and lived in Utah with several wives," Phillips said.
"They were also marked by many as radical communalists and polygamists out to destroy even the concept of the traditional family."
They were perceived as a heretical Christian sect at best and a cult at worst, he noted.
As part of a seven-week sermon series, Phillips was attempting to answer the question of whether Mormonism and biblical Christianity are the same.
Over the last several weeks, Frontline has been tackling some of the most frequently asked religion questions from the pulpit in hopes of helping both Christians and non-Christians move closer to grasping truth.
"Destination Truth" is the current series being preached by Phillips and so far the series has touched on truth, tolerance, fairness (about Jesus being the only way), world religions and New Age spirituality – which is being promoted by such popular figures as Oprah Winfrey. Mormonism was the latest topic addressed.
"We're not here tonight to decide whether Mormons are nice people," Phillips clarified, noting that they are. "What we are trying to figure out here is if they adhere to true historic Christian faith."
After putting Mormonism – one of the fastest growing religions in the United States with nearly 6 million members – in historical context, the Frontline pastor cited Mormon doctrines and the Book of Mormon to illustrate that the religious sect does not align with historic Christianity. In fact, it preaches a false gospel, Phillips indicated.
Among the Mormon beliefs that are contrary to core Christian doctrines is the rejection of the validity and veracity of the Bible.
"Historic Christianity ... we believe that we have only one source for ultimate eternal truth and that is the holy Bible," Phillips stressed.
But Mormons "believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly," according to an article of faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the official name for the Mormon church.
That statement indicates that the Bible is impossible to be correctly translated because it is corrupted by corrupt churches, Phillips noted.
Mormons believe that the proper translation of what God wants believers to know is found in another source – the Book of Mormon.
Mormonism also denies the deity of Christ and "completely negates the biblical view of salvation through Christ alone," Phillips said.
According to Mormon doctrine, Jesus was not created by the virgin birth of Mary but by a sexual union between Mary and God. Moreover, the religion preaches a works-based salvation.
"We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel," according to the Mormon Articles of Faith.
Those laws and ordinances include faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for emission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Additionally, the way to salvation includes joining the LDS church, believing in God, Jesus and Joseph Smith (LDS founder) as prophet and Brigham Young as successor.
Explaining what Christians believe, Phillips stated that the true gospel of the Bible proclaims that salvation comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone and by the grace of God alone.
"It's not Jesus plus anything," the pastor emphasized.
"Salvation is a free and unmerited gift from God," he added. "The Bible makes it very clear that we can't do enough good to get to heaven, that even one sin ... is enough to separate us from God for all eternity."
"That is why Jesus became sin for us and took it to the cross and killed it."
He concluded, "In a time where there's so much religious plurality, there's so much uncertainty about faith, there's so much biblical illiteracy, and the media does such a great job of giving us misinformation, in our times we must say without question that Mormonism is not Christianity."
"It is in fact actually another gospel that leads away from salvation that the Bible offers in Christ alone."
The Destination Truth series was launched last month and comes as the non-religious population in America is on the rise, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. The percentage of Americans claiming no religion has increased to 15 percent from 8.2 percent in 1990 while the percentage of Christians dropped from 86.2 percent in the 1990s to 76 percent.
Christians attending Frontline services were encouraged to invite their unchurched friends for the current series that addresses age-old questions about exclusivity, truth and other world religions.
"The way the church ...responds to other religions has become today the tolerance litmus test for our generation," Phillips acknowledged at the launch of the series last month. "Many people here tonight have come to hear what we Christians have to say about other religions and we have a responsibility then ... to think carefully and respond properly to this topic so as to remove one of the major barriers to the good news of Jesus Christ."
Phillips is challenging Christians to gain a greater understanding of the Bible and to be able to proclaim the truth in a religiously pluralistic society. He also cautioned believers to be motivated by love and not by religious arrogance.
"God has brought us together for such a time as this – to stand bold in the face of opposition, to stand bold in the face of false gospels ... and to proclaim the one true God who offered Jesus Christ to pay for our sins."
On the Web: frontlinedc.com