Mormonism and traditional Protestantism have many differences, but they also have many similarities. Although both are Christian faiths, Mormons do not consider themselves Protestants. However, both faiths believe that we are saved through the atonement of Jesus Christ and both use the Bible as a holy text. Mormons also use additional religious texts and Protestants include the Nicene Creed as part of their religious canon. Mormons reject the post-Biblical creeds as having validity.
Mormon is a nickname sometimes applied to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Protestantism is not a single faith, but is a larger term used to describe many different denominations, many of which have significant differences in their beliefs and practices.
This series of articles focuses on the similarities, not the differences, in the faith, and since it is written by a Mormon, not a Protestant, information on Protestantism should be checked with an actual practicing and believing Protestant, the standard by which Mormons feel a religion should be studied.
Mormonism and Protestantism: Belief in an Apostasy
Although there are many similarities between the two faiths, one critical one is that both faiths accept that after the deaths of Jesus Christ and the apostles, doctrine and practices became corrupted. This was in part because when the apostles were no longer running the church, there was no prophet to serve as the official voice of God. Throughout the world’s early recorded history, God had provided prophets as a means of communicating His will to mankind. While each individual person can access God through prayer, only the prophet could proclaim truth for the entire church. Individuals had the ability to then confirm the teaching through prayer. This prevented the kinds of chaos that emerge when prophets do not exist or are ignored. Anyone who had taken the time to pray to know who the prophet was had the ability to know what was true.
However, once the prophets were gone, even those who longed to know what was true struggled. Even while the apostles were running the church, this was a serious concern. The apostles frequently noted in New Testament writings that various groups of well-meaning Christians had fallen into apostasy or were teaching and believing false doctrines. They were available then to try to correct misinterpretations of scripture and teachings. However, when they were gone, there was no one who had the authority to speak for God.
As a result, many factions arose that taught conflicting information. When a group didn’t understand just what a teaching meant or didn’t correctly remember what they had heard taught, they simply put their own interpretation into it and taught their own beliefs.
Martin Luther: Protestant Reformer
By the time Martin Luther was doing his work, there were many differences between New Testament Christianity and current practices. He set out to try to reform the church. His goal was not to create a new faith tradition, although over time that did happen.
It is important to note that Luther did not consider himself a prophet. He did not claim to have authority from God to make these changes. He was a student of the Bible and had a sincere desire to restore the church to what it had been in New Testament times, but he was basing his decisions on his own studies and beliefs. Mormons hold Luther and other early reformers in very high regard. Older Mormon children, teenagers, and adults are taught about them and taught to respect and honor them as men of God working hard to do God’s work. In fact, Mormons teach that God sent these valiant people to do His work. Their work played a critical role in making the Bible available to more people in more languages, in creating alternatives to the sole existing church, and to causing people to notice that religion had been changing over the centuries. Mormons believe, in fact, that the work of Luther and other reformers, made their own religion possible.
Where Mormons and Protestants differ in this is that Mormons believe that while it was very important for these reformers to do the work they did and that their work was an essential step, it is not enough for individuals to speak for God. This can be done, as shown in the Bible, by an authorized prophet. Mormonism did not come about as a protest, but as a restoration of the original New Testament religion. For this reason, they reject the doctrines canonized by committees, which were admirable attempts at creating unity but which settled doctrinal differences through votes instead of revelation.
That said, Mormons believe that truth is truth regardless of where it is found, and that truths can be found in many faiths and in the sincere efforts of many people of many faiths. Joseph Fielding Smith, an early Mormon leader, said:
In preparation for this restoration the Lord raised up noble men, such as Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others whom we call reformers, and gave them power to break the shackles which bound the people and denied them the sacred right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience. …Latter-day Saints pay all honor to these great and fearless reformers, who shattered the fetters which bound the religious world. The Lord was their Protector in this mission, which was fraught with many perils (Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, 2003, 1–13).
While Protestants might not agree that the reformers were sent to prepare the way for the Mormons, both groups agree that the foundations of Christianity had been altered and the need for a course correction was intense. They likely also agree that the early reformers were sent by God to do an essential work. Mormons hold Protestants in great respect for the work of their founders in promoting religious freedom, a principle they hold dear.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.