Not very long ago, I was in discussion with a woman who asked if I were a Christian. Before I tell you my answer, let me report to you some of my struggling with things such as associations.
I keep a very unadorned website and it is traditional to have at least one "About" page that tells of the person managing the site and perhaps the purposes for which the site has been created. I first formulated my "about" page before the turn of the millennium and have only slightly altered it over the years. The first descriptor of myself states that I keep only one active membership and only participate in one organization, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). It really is the one group for which I can give my full support, for which I feel no need to offer apologies for misconduct and which I can wholeheartedly recommend to all. Like any other institution, the church has among its membership a typical share of scoundrels, ne'er-do-wells, embittered jerks, and other disreputable folk, but these are still numbered alongside the stalwart because Christ, whose church this is, is ever ready to help a willing soul to turn their course and help them find a better way. I have heard labels like scoundrel and lazy-bones applied rightly to myself and can only express gratitude for the willingness (or perhaps it is sloth) not to have ejected me from this society. I clutch onto my membership in this Church and in that effort, I am made a better man.
I suppose it would be a politically acceptable thing to do to answer "yes", highlight the things that I hold in common with the Christian world, and seek to find a bit of fellowship in a hope that, by rubbing shoulders with those who honor the Christian God, some of my beliefs will rub off on them. I have seen such strategies work and a goodly number become baptized into the LDS Church based perhaps on sometimes out-Christian-izing other denominations. I have also sadly witnessed those who are baptized, remain Christian in their hearts, and scatter at the first signs of discomforting doctrine. Although I would never discourage any Latter-Day Saint from proclaiming their status as a Christian, I have had some notable Christians express their honest feelings about my God and my Christ and my faith, and they vociferously deny the claim that we have much in common. I can only agree with them.
In relation to my discussion with that woman on that occasion mentioned previously, I expressed that, though in many ways we might have parallel beliefs, I am not a Christian by traditional and accepted definition. I quickly added that I hoped instead to be known as a follower of Christ, but I fear she missed my point. Simply calling oneself by a name is a relatively simple act and can be done with as much resolve (or as little) as a person chooses to put into it. With a bit of money and a rather dull legal proceeding, a person can name themselves as they choose, whether for convenience or for the prestige that one was not born with. One may change their name to "James Jones" from a name that is difficult to say or spell to save time and excess breath, where another may name himself "Alfred Windsor" and work to convince others that he is born to a royal house. Neither action really changes what a person is, just as calling a hammer a screwdriver doesn't change the tool's abilities. For me, the appellation "Christian" would be a misapplication at best, and like taking on the name "Windsor" a silly farce at worst.
In saying that I strive to earn the title "follower of Christ", I hope to hit closer to my intended mark. As opposed to a statement of what I am, as the name "Christian" implies, follower of Christ more aptly describes what I would hope to become. Where the name "Christian" could also be passed on seemingly by lineage or even nationality, as in "my grandparents were Christians, my parents were Christians, so I am a Christian, too" or "This is a Christian nation", the appellation "follower of Christ" has more of a personal meaning rather than an inherited one, being more of a title earned through personal efforts and living. In a statement, being a "follower of Christ" requires more than merely possessing a "Christian" heritage.
I use the word more because that is what a Latter-Day Saint is presented with in comparison to their many Christian neighbors. It sounds strange for me to make reference to a Christian God for we always make it a point to mention that all of us worship the same God, but many Christians will stridently oppose such an idea and I again feel inclined to agree with them. The God of the Latter-Day Saints and his Christ behave differently than those of mainline Christianity, have a different nature, and have provided additional scripture and spiritual experiences to man. In a word, they have provided more and, as I hope to explain here, they promise more.
I cannot speak to the beliefs of Christians, as many of them cannot agree on specific tenets with each other. I would surely offend everyone if I even tried to mention a few, for I would be speaking as an outsider instead of an adherent. I will try only to mention the beliefs of Latter-Day Saints that I hope will give added solace to all those who look to a Supreme Being for love and comfort.
First, God is more powerful than you have likely been taught. One common criticism of LDS belief is our reliance upon on-going divine revelation. It is the very bedrock of our faith that God continues to have an active, two-way communication with his children, just as he did in the days of the Patriarchs and the children of Israel. We revere a record of God's dealings with people in the Western Hemisphere with as much reverence as we and most Christians feel toward the writings of the Holy Bible. We also accept modern revelations, given to prophets for the benefit of all, and to faithful individuals in behalf of their families. Where Christian leaders of the past chose to close their canon to further revelations, Latter-Day Saints worship a God that retains the power to speak as He chooses, in whatever time and place He pleases, as he did in ancient times. The greatest gift is that God can speak directly to you and directly to your needs and questions, just as he did in biblical times to his followers.
Second, God loves you more than you have likely been taught to believe. It is often said that sinners will burn in an everlasting hell and there is often a reliance on the surety of God's fiery wrath to scare people away from sin. Although such preaching may compel many to live a less sinful life, it can also paint God as a vindictive tyrant, perhaps eager to find wrong-doing and punish it. There is certainly a hell provided by the LDS God, but each person's time of punishment there is limited, commiserate to their unrepentant disobedience. All will be resurrected and judged and, in God's love, practically all will receive a reward that is better than the life they lived on the Earth. Such is a father's love for each of his children, that punishment will definitely end and that a better existence awaits no matter what our shortcomings.
Third, God offers more opportunity than you have likely been taught to expect. For those who are more valiant in their obedience to God's commandments, for those who work harder to repent of their sins and lead a more Christ-like life, the LDS God has promised that he will share all He has with you, including the opportunity to follow Christ's path and become as God is. Just as every child has the capacity to become like their parent, all of us have the divine capacity to become like God our Father, if we are willing to follow Christ's lead.
It is likely that your Christian ministers have neglected to tell you these wonderful truths concerning God. Some may have even used sophistry to convince you to worship a less capable, less loving, and less sharing "Christian" God. I cannot say why so many choose to embrace an inferior God and reject He who is vastly superior, but there is no reason that you cannot find and follow a more powerful, more loving, and more generous God that is worshiped by faithful Latter-Day Saints - A God powerful enough to reveal himself to you directly, a God loving enough to provide all with a happier eternity, and a God generous enough to offer us the opportunity for an existence that includes all He has and all He is.
No, I am not a Christian. I worship the greater God of the Latter-Day Saints. I follow the teachings of a greater Christ who leads us not just to a heavenly rest, but on further to an exalted existence like the one God enjoys. I work harder to repent of my sins, to truly change my life to follow Christ's example, and to justify God's interest in giving me a greater reward. This is what I want and this is why I am a Latter-Day Saint: I want more.
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