Q. I met a Mormon guy while I was at a summer camp. He told me he was a Christian, but I always thought I heard that they aren’t. What are they?
A. Good question! Though I’m not an expert on the Mormon religion I’d be happy to shed some light on this question and even broaden it to other Christian religions.
One of the most central beliefs of all Christians, including Catholics, is that there is one God. This God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three distinct Persons yet one divine Nature. The Council of Nicaea, in 325 AD, defined the Son as “consubstantial” with the Father. In other words, He is of the same substance or essence as the Father. This also applies to the Holy Spirit. God the Son also took on a second nature when He became man. So the Son is both God and man.
This central belief of Christianity is one not shared by Mormonism. Mormons claim to believe that Jesus is divine but that He and the Father are not of the same divine nature. Rather, they believe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct gods. They believe these three gods are united in the same purpose but are not of the one and only divine essence.
Now that may all seem confusing and overly philosophical. But it really is at the heart of what we believe as Christians. Therefore, if anyone denies this fundamental belief, that there is one God rather than three gods, then we would have to say their beliefs are not the same as ours. So it’s fair to say that Mormons and Catholics differ in our belief about the Trinity in an essential way. However, all of the mainstream Protestant religions believe the same as Catholics regarding the Trinity.
So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that Mormons do not have the same essential Christian belief in the Trinity as we do. In fact, it is this essential difference that has led our Church to reject their baptism as a valid one even though they use the same words as we do. We do, however, accept other Christian baptisms as a valid Sacrament (such as Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc.). We accept these baptisms as valid because they believe the same as we do regarding the Trinity and other essential aspects of the Christian faith.
If you were to talk to a Mormon, however, you may find that they do believe many things we do. For that reason we do not reject anything in their religion that is true. But we do reject their doctrine on the Trinity as well as a number of other essential beliefs regarding salvation, eternal life, Original Sin, Heaven, revelation, etc.
Mormons can certainly be good people and may claim to be Christians, but we do not believe they have the essential beliefs that makes a Christian a Christian.