Mormonism, Apostolic succession and priesthood

In a comment to this post on his own blog, Bruce Charlton writes,

“Surely, on the surface and with common sense criteria and from hard facts widely known, Mormonism should be approached [by non-Mormon Christians] with a *positive* prejudice – on the assumption that it is likely to be good, to be wholesome, to be Christian …”

I would say on the contrary that Mormonism is understandably approached with skepticism by non-Mormon Christians. It must be, when it immediately proclaims that “their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt”. Now the Christian creeds may indeed be an abomination in his sight, and their professors all corrupt. That’s a question of fact upon which people can disagree in good faith. But how can Mormons complain of prejudice against them from other denominations, when this was their opening salvo to the entire, already-existing Christian world?

As to the Catholic faith in particular, when Joseph Smith proclaimed that the valid priesthood was lost from the earth over a millennium before, and there were therefore no valid sacraments or ordinances except the ones he said he was restoring, this was a direct attack on the Apostolic succession upon which the Catholic faith is based. So of course, of course the Church looked on Mormonism as an interloper and an imposter.

For these (and possibly other) reasons, the very best the Catholic Church can do is try to see the good in Mormons and in the LDS Church organization and some of the works that it does. It is simply not possible to view it as a genuine and authentic Christian church (though I don’t say that Mormons themselves are not Christians, as readers of this blog can attest). It must be viewed as propounding harmful, because false, doctrines; and as an obstacle to people finding the true Church founded by Christ, with the true priesthood and sacraments, since it deliberately sets itself up as a direct rival to that Church, that priesthood and those sacraments.

That doesn’t mean we have to be constantly at war. Hopefully since we both claim the name of Christ we would be charitable towards one another. Nevertheless, at least with regards to such important issues as the priesthood and the sacraments, we would both naturally feel the need to speak frankly about the other so that people are not led astray. Neither church would want its members to believe that it doesn’t matter whether you go to a Mormon priest or a Catholic priest to receive the sacraments; so we both must be free to say that this other priesthood and sacraments are false and these are true, these are salvific and these others are worthless, without being accused of bigotry.

*   I submitted this (substantially though not exactly as it appears here) as a comment to Bruce’s post, but it didn’t get posted for whatever reason. Since he has posted a few other comments of mine in the past couple days, I don’t accuse him of censorship in this instance but assume it was an oversight.

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11 thoughts on “Mormonism, Apostolic succession and priesthood

  1. **I would say on the contrary that Mormonism is understandably approached with skepticism by non-Mormon Christians. It must be, when it immediately proclaims that “their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt”. **

    Immediately? I reckon that most mainstream Christians have never heard of this line. Those who have have found it because they were looking for it, and looking to take offense. Although it really should be the Protestants who are indignant, because that’s the group it most clearly is referring to.

    ** Now the Christian creeds may indeed be an abomination in his sight, and their professors all corrupt. That’s a question of fact upon which people can disagree in good faith. But how can Mormons complain of prejudice against them from other denominations, when this was their opening salvo to the entire, already-existing Christian world?**

    Because (1) we do face prejudice on occasion and (2) because that is by no means a fair or accurate representation of how we interact with y’all. It sounds like a jihadi arguing that the West is wicked because of the Crusades.

    ***
    I don’t dispute your last three paragraphs except for this part:

    “For these (and possibly other) reasons, the very best the Catholic Church can do is try to see the good in Mormons and in the LDS Church organization and some of the works that it does. It is simply not possible to view it as a genuine and authentic Christian church (though I don’t say that Mormons themselves are not Christians, as readers of this blog can attest). ”

    It must be for those possible other reasons, because nothing you’ve said here justifies it. If disagreeing with the Catholic Church and refusing to acknowledge the authority of her rites and priesthood were the criterion, than there would be no actual Christian churches outside of the RCC. But this is, I understand, not the Catholic position. If not, then never mind.

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  2. Let me say off the bat that the tone I use in responding to Bruce is not one I use in discussions with Mormons generally. Bruce tends to take a pugnacious stance towards non-Mormon Christians, and I sometimes feel called on to speak up in defense of my own Church. In this case I am speaking in defense against the complaint that other Christians are unwilling to give the LDS Church the presumption (the “positive prejudice”) that it is an authentically Christian Church, and it is for this reason alone that I felt the need to raise the issues I did.

    You write, “Immediately? I reckon that most mainstream Christians have never heard of this line. Those who have have found it because they were looking for it, and looking to take offense.” [Referring to the quote attributed to God by Joseph Smith, “their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt”.]

    As far as I can remember, I learned it when I took the Temple tour in Salt Lake City. I believe it also came up in the missionary lessons.

    Granted, the Church didn’t necessarily proclaim it immediately, in terms of a public proclamation. What I actually meant was that according to Joseph Smith, this was stated at the very beginning of the founding of the Church, or perhaps even before the Church was founded. When it was first published I don’t know, but I assume pretty early on. If I’m wrong I am glad to be corrected.

    But my point is that the very foundations of the LDS Church, its raison d’être, is the claim that the Christian church needed restoration because ALL OTHER Christian churches had lost the priesthood, Apostolic succession and the fullness of the Gospel. This principle is logically prior even if chronologically it was not proclaimed before all the rest.

    You write [quoting me], “‘But how can Mormons complain of prejudice against them from other denominations, when this was their opening salvo to the entire, already-existing Christian world?’ Because (1) we do face prejudice on occasion and (2) because that is by no means a fair or accurate representation of how we interact with y’all. It sounds like a jihadi arguing that the West is wicked because of the Crusades.”

    Let me give a quote from the post of Bruce’s that I was commenting on:

    “Neutrality is not possible – of course – therefore when approaching the subject of Mormonism there will inevitably be prejudice: either positive or negative. What we observe here is that the prejudice is negative. … Mormons are assumed guilty until proven innocent, and – as usual in such situations – cannot prove themselves innocent. The prejudice frames the discourse, as prejudice does.”

    Bruce then wondered why, given that people have to be either positively prejudiced or negatively prejudiced, people choose to be negatively prejudiced, rather than pre-judging the LDS Church to be an authentically Christian church. When I said I didn’t know why Mormons complain of prejudice, what I meant was, that the Mormon religion just as surely has a negative prejudice against other religions — whose creeds are an abomination and whose professors are all corrupt — as the others have against Mormonism.

    I acknowledge that in modern times the LDS Church acts quite peaceably towards other churches, and Mormons as individuals, for the most part are also peaceable towards other Christians. For that matter the Catholic Church doesn’t go out of its way to curse and condemn the LDS Church, and there are plenty of Catholics who are friendly to Mormons on an individual basis. But I’m not addressing that. I’m talking about what Bruce would call the Catholic Church’s “negative prejudice” towards the Mormon religion as a religion and as one which claims to be not one Christian church but The One true Christian Church — as far as that type of institutional negative prejudice goes, it’s perfectly mutual.

    You write [quoting me], “‘For these (and possibly other) reasons, the very best the Catholic Church can do is try to see the good in Mormons and in the LDS Church organization and some of the works that it does. It is simply not possible to view it as a genuine and authentic Christian church ….’ It must be for those possible other reasons, because nothing you’ve said here justifies it.”

    I’m baffled as to why you don’t seem to see my point on this, even if you disagree. Maybe there’s a lack of understanding of how the Catholic Church views herself, institutionally.

    The Catholic Church considers itself to be the very Church founded by Jesus Christ through his Apostles. No church which has not bishops, the priesthood and sacraments can claim to be a Christian Church in the proper sense. Because in fact there is only one Church; therefore if you’re not a part of it then you’re not a part of any church properly so-called, but of some other kind of organization. In this regard Pope John Paul II wrote, “On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.” [http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfunici.htm]

    Therefore the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. “churches” are out: Individual members may be Christians in the broadest sense, but the churches themselves cannot properly be called Christian churches. The Anglican church claims to have bishops, the priesthood and sacraments, but since it lacks a valid priesthood (in our view), its sacraments are not valid and its Apostolic succession has been broken, and so it too cannot properly be called a Christian church.

    All I’m saying is that if lacking a valid priesthood deprives an ecceclesial community of the title “Church”, how much more impossible would it be for the Catholic Church to look on the LDS Church as a proper Christian church in light of the claims it makes about itself and its relation to other Christian churches?

    Again I raised these issues not as an attack on Mormons but as a defense against accusations of undue prejudice by Bruce.

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  3. The basic problem with your approach, Agellius, is that it suggests that the Catholic Church should take the Mormon Church’s self-understanding as a basis for rejecting the Mormon Church. But once you reject the Mormon Church, you have no basis for treating its self-understanding as definitive. The approach is logically contradictory.

    So if some group, such as the Catholic Church, claims exclusive authority of some kind, claims to be THE Church in some way, and therefore necessarily claims that Mormonism is false in some way . . . that doesn’t imply that I should approach Catholicism with negative prejudice because I have no particular reason to accept that the Catholic Church is right about all that.

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  4. I’m not following you. I’ll take a shot at explaining what I think you’re arguing, but I’m not at all sure I’m getting it.

    You seem to be saying that the Catholic Church (CC) should not base its rejection of the LDS Church (LDSC) on the LDSC’s self-understanding. Later you say (indirectly) that the CC should not approach the LDSC with a negative prejudice because the CC has no particular reason to think the LDSC’s self-understanding is correct.

    So basically, for the CC to “reject” the LDSC — by which you mean, conclude that it is not a true Christian church — implies that it accepts the LDSC’s self-understanding as true.

    This doesn’t make sense to me, because if the CC accepted the LDSC’s self-understanding as true, that would lead to it concluding that the LDSC is a true Christian church, not a false one. So obviously the CC concluding that the LDSC is a false Christian church, means that it does not accept the LDSC’s self-understanding.

    Possibly you’re saying that the LDSC claiming true Apostolic succession and priesthood should only cause the CC to reject the LDSC as a true Christian church, if the CC accepted that claim as true. But if the CC accepted that claim as true, that would cause the CC to regard the LDSC as a true Christian church, not a false one.

    In what way, specifically, does the CC’s concluding that the LDSC is a false Christian church, imply the CC’s acceptance of the LDSC’s self-understanding? Can you spell out the reasoning process that would be involved?

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  5. Much of your analysis is based on the fact that the Mormon Church claims that the Catholic Church is not THE Church. But unless your definition of Christianity is specifically tied to acceptance of Catholicism, which for Catholics it isn’t, then what Mormons say about Catholics doesn’t matter. The temptation is to say ‘they reject us, so we should reject them’ but that gives far too much authority to people that you think are wrong.

    My evaluation of whether Catholics are Christian has nothing at all to do with what Catholics say about Mormons or what Catholics say about what makes a Christian, and everything to do with what Mormons say about what makes a Christian. Similarly, what Mormons say about Catholicism, or the Mormon definition of what makes a Christian, should have nothing to do with the Catholic approach to Mormonism, since Catholicism rejects our authority in these matters.

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  6. There are two different things: (1) The LDSC’s claim to have true Apostolic succession and priesthood, and (2) the fact that (in the eyes of the CC) it lacks those things.

    Regarding the latter the CC, by its own criteria, and not because of anything the LDSC says about itself or the CC, cannot regard the LDSC as a genuine Christian church, since by its own criteria (as stated before) a genuine Christian church must have true Apostolic succession, the priesthood and sacraments, especially the Mass. The same goes for all the Protestant churches as well (but not the (non-Catholic) Eastern Orthodox).

    (Whether individual members of those churches are Christians is a separate question.)

    The contemporary LDSC may say that any group which claims to believe in Christ is a genuine Christian church, notwithstanding that it lacks succession and priesthood. But the CC cannot adopt that criteria as its own. To do so would be to do what you charge me with, namely giving outsiders authority over itself by using their criteria in making judgments rather than its own.

    Why did I mention the LDSC’s subjective claim to possess succession and priesthood (as distinct from the factual question of whether it possesses those things)? Because a group that claims to be the one true church and to possess succession and priesthood, is either the one true Church of Christ, or is an imposter. Knowing that it’s not the former, it can only be judged the latter.

    I raise these points because I was responding to Bruce’s argument (as I understood it) that any Christian who is not willing to give the LDSC the *presumption* of being a genuine Christian church, is ipso facto a snob and a bigot. This attitude seems highly disrespectful of the CC’s right and duty to use its own criteria in making its judgments, and tries to impose the LDSC’s, or Bruce’s own, criteria as to what constitutes a genuine Christian church, before a conversation can even begin.

    I felt the need to insist upon these things, since although the presuppositions by which I judge your positions may be painful or offensive to you, and vice versa, nevertheless the minimum requirement for discussion must be the recognition that each side holds his opinions in good faith. The two sides have got to be stated objectively, in order to see where each stands and to understand its perspective. The conversation is doomed at the start if you judge the other bigoted merely for stating his principles and their implications.

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  7. *There are two different things: (1) The LDSC’s claim to have true Apostolic succession and priesthood, and (2) the fact that (in the eyes of the CC) it lacks those things. *

    Yes, that’s what I am saying. These are two separate things, and should not be mixed up as in the first two sentences of your opening post (and the whole rest of the opening post). The question (1) are you authentically Christian is separate from (2) do you hurt my feelings? Catholicism can be wrong about Mormons without also being petulant.

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  8. Hi Adam, I appreciate your patience while I try to figure out what I’m saying.

    You wrote, “The question (1) are you authentically Christian is separate from (2) do you hurt my feelings? Catholicism can be wrong about Mormons without also being petulant.”

    Hurt feelings? I don’t understand. Are you saying that the CC needn’t condemn the LDSC as a non-Christian church because of mean things that the LDSC said about other churches? If so then obviously you’re right. But that wasn’t my real point, as I hope was made clear in subsequent comments. (That’s one of the purposes of a comment thread, isn’t it?)

    On further reviewing my post, I see that you’re right about something else: I made it appear as though the statement attributed by the LDSC to God, calling other Christian denominations corrupt and abominable, was the reason the Catholic Church couldn’t consider the LDSC to be a genuine Christian church.

    What I actually meant was that a statement like that prevents the Catholic Church from giving the LDSC the *presumption* of being a genuine Christian church (as I thought Bruce was saying it should be given). In other words, that statement gives a bad first impression, and is liable to cause other Christians to start out with a negative prejudice towards the LDSC, which I contend is a natural reaction and should be unsurprising.

    However now I’m getting the point of your comment that most people don’t even hear about the “creeds are an abomination” statement unless they’re looking for it (forgive my slowness). You’re saying that it can’t be the first impression people receive of the LDSC in modern times, because the LDSC doesn’t go around publicizing it in its commercials and Youtube videos, for example. You’re right about that.

    But for someone who is new to the LDS faith, the First Vision account is a natural starting point for coming to understand how and why it came into existence; at least it was for me. For someone encountering a relatively new Christian church claiming a living prophet and additional scriptures, it’s natural to say “Where’d this come from? If it’s true, why would God do such a thing?” And the answer to these questions involves the restoration of the Gospel due to the then-existing churches having been corrupted and lost the priesthood and ordinances.

    In other words the logical starting point of understanding the LDSC is the need for restoration, and that can’t be explained without explaining the Great Apostasy.

    Once people have reached this point in their inquiry, if they’re at all convinced of the truth of their own Christian faith, they will naturally react negatively towards the idea that they are members of apostate churches; that reaction is itself a reaction to the LDSC’s negative view of their respective churches.

    In my case I was not attached to any Christian church or even the Christian faith generally. But still, as I learned about the LDSC and took the missionary lessons, it became clear to me that to become LDS was to reject the remaining Christian bodies, and to become Catholic or Protestant was to reject the LDSC. This was based on the LDSC’s own presentation of the case (combined, perhaps, with things said to be by my Mormon girlfriend). It may have acknowledged the other churches to be Christian and allowed that their adherents might be saved. But it clearly presented itself as THE genuine Church, judging by the standard of which the others had become defective in varying degrees, due to their own perfidiousness.

    It’s a matter of semantics, in a sense, whether the groups on both sides of the divide ought to be viewed as falling under the same umbrella. But the point is that the LDSC’s own self-identification contributes to making it not just “one of the boys”, at least as much as any irrational prejudice that may exist on the part of the others.

    The divide is real and needs words to express it. People on the non-LDS (NLDS) side tend to express the nature of the divide as between Christian and non-Christian; whereas the LDSC views it perhaps as restored Christian versus non-restored Christian, but nevertheless all Christian. But notice that the LDS view is dependent on its own theology, which the other churches don’t accept.

    Do the NLDS reject the LDSC as non-Christian merely because the LDSC accuses the NLDS of apostasy? If so, then your point is taken (again, forgive my slowness): That only makes sense if it’s assumed that the LDSC is right — in other words, there is only a real divide between them if the Great Apostasy actually occurred; and even then, only to the extent that the LDSC says there is a divide. Since the idea of the divide is based on its own theology, the LDSC is the one that ought to know.

    This is going on so long that I think I will put the rest of what I was going to say into another post, here.

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  9. Pingback: Why do non-LDS churches consider the LDS Church non-Christian? | Agellius's Blog

  10. *What I actually meant was that a statement like that prevents the Catholic Church from giving the LDSC the *presumption* of being a genuine Christian church (as I thought Bruce was saying it should be given). In other words, that statement gives a bad first impression, and is liable to cause other Christians to start out with a negative prejudice towards the LDSC, which I contend is a natural reaction and should be unsurprising. *

    I still disagree. People reacting negatively to negative judgments of others is understandable in people (though still to be regretted), but not in institutions. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is part of the basis for the institutional Catholic judgment of Mormonism, but if so, it’s a failing on the part of the RCC. Would that it were the only one 😉

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  11. You’re right, and it’s not likely that it entered into the CC’s formation of ongoing policy. The fact is that I was projecting what I consider to be the understandable subjective initial impressions of individuals onto the CC as an institution.

    The CC has not made any official policy decisions based specifically on that statement, as far as I know.

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