Over the years, I have heard many reasons given by sincere Christians in an attempt to explain why Mormons are not deserving of that label. Some say that Mormons are not Christians because they do not have an accurate understanding of who God is. Others say that Mormons are not Christians because they do not have an accurate understanding of who Jesus is. Still others claim that a Mormon cannot be a Christian because he does not have an accurate understanding of the Word of God. In essence, these and almost every other reason that I have heard can be stated more simply as: Mormons are not Christians because they do not follow sound doctrine. This seems to be why most Christians reject Mormonism as a false gospel.
But let's take a moment to consider the issue in light of Scripture. Does the Bible teach that we obtain salvation by following sound doctrine? Does it teach that one must have an accurate understanding of God, Jesus and the Bible in order to become a Christian? Is it even possible for us as mere mortals to have an accurate understanding of the things of God? The answer to each of these questions is, no. The Bible teaches that there is only one way to become a Christian, and it is not through adherence to a particular set of doctrines. According to the Bible, one becomes a Christian by accepting the truth of the Gospel which is spelled out for us in I Corinthians 15:3-4.
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
If it is really true that Mormons are not Christians, then the reason for it must be found in their rejection of the Gospel. Thus, the question that we need to ask is not what do the Mormons believe about God or Jesus or the Bible, but rather what do the Mormons believe about the Gospel. These other doctrines are important, but it is acceptance of the Gospel which is the crucial dividing line between Christians and non-Christians.
When we consider Mormonism in light of the Gospel, it becomes abundantly apparent that Mormons are not Christians for the simple reason that they reject a single, crucial element of the Gospel as it was explained in I Corinthians 15.
You see, Mormons do not believe that Christ died for our sins. They agree with Christians that Christ died for something, but they identify that something as the provision of a general revelation and not as the atonement for sin. Christ's atonement for sin is the centerpoint of Christianity, but according to the doctrines of Mormonism, there is no real atonement for sin. Bruce McConkie, one of the 12 apostles of the Mormon church, explained this in his book Mormon Doctrine where he wrote:
1. Unconditional or general salvation, that which comes by grace alone without obedience to gospel law, consists in the mere fact of being resurrected. In this sense salvation is synonymous with immortality; it is the inseparable connection of body and spirit so that the resurrected personage lives forever.
This kind of salvation eventually will come to all mankind, excepting only the sons of perdition ...
But this is not the salvation of righteousness, the salvation which the saints seek. Those who gain only this general or unconditional salvation will still be judged according to their works and receive their places in a terrestrial or a telestial kingdom. They will, therefore, be damned; their eternal progression will be cut short; they will not fill the full measure of their creation, but in eternity will be ministering servants to more worthy persons. [emphasis added]
This is the kind of "salvation" which Mormons believe was provided by Jesus through His death on the cross. They teach that nearly all men receive this kind of salvation, but they also teach that this salvation is insufficient to atone for one's sins. McConkie continued in order to explain how Mormons believe that one can receive atonement for his sins:
2. Conditional or individual salvation, that which comes by grace coupled with gospel obedience, consists in receiving an inheritance in the celestial kingdom of God. This kind of salvation follows faith, repentance, baptism, receipt of the Holy Ghost, and continued righteousness to the end of one’s mortal probation. (D. & C. 20:29; 2 Ne. 9:23-24.)...
3. Salvation in its true and full meaning is synonymous with exaltation or eternal life and consists in gaining an inheritance in the highest of the three heavens within the celestial kingdom. With few exceptions this is the salvation of which the scriptures speak. It is the salvation which the saints seek. It is of this which the Lord says, “There is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.” (D. & C. 6:13.) This full salvation is obtained in and through the continuation of the family unit in eternity, and those who obtain it are gods. (D. & C. 131:1-4; 132.)
Full salvation is attained by virtue of knowledge, truth, righteousness, and all true principles. Many conditions must exist in order to make such salvation available to men. Without the atonement, the gospel, the priesthood, and the sealing power, there would be no salvation. Without continuous revelation, the ministering of angels, the working of miracles, the prevalence of gifts of the spirit, there would be no salvation. If it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be no salvation. There is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, pp. 1-350.) [emphasis added]
Notice the admission that this "full salvation" is not obtained through the death of Christ in atonement for our sins but rather through one's own "continued righteousness to the end of one’s mortal probation." Thus, Mormons believe that salvation from sin does not exist. One must avoid sin altogether and live a life of complete righteousness in order to obtain the salvation unto eternal life which is spoken of in Scripture. Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth president of the Mormon church also explained this teaching in his book Doctrines of Salvation in which he wrote:
None shall receive eternal life save it be those who keep the commandments of the Lord and are entitled thus to enter into his presence
And later in the same book, he wrote:
Salvation comes by grace, faith, and works. Unless a man will adhere to the doctrine and walk in faith, accepting the truth and observing the commandments as they have been given, it will be impossible for him to receive eternal life, no matter how much he may confess with his lips that Jesus is the Christ, or believe that his Father sent him into the world for the redemption of man … So it is necessary, not merely that we believe, but that we repent, and in faith perform good works until the end; and then shall we receive the reward of the faithful and a place in the celestial kingdom of God. [emphasis added]
And the twelfth president of the Mormon church, Spencer W. Kimball directly condemned the Gospel of Christianity when he wrote the following in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness:
One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.
No clearer statement of the non-Christian character of Mormonism is necessary. The belief that salvation comes solely by grace through the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ is the defining characteristic of Christianity. It is expressly stated to be so in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
The Mormon denial of salvation by grace through faith in the Gospel is a direct denial of any association between Mormonism and Christianity.
The Quotations in this article are from the article "The Mormon View of Salvation" by Dave Johnson in the July/Aug 1998 edition of the Midwest Outreach Journal.