"Gospel", "savior", "atonement", "baptism", "missionaries". These are words that Mormons and Christians use and, to the casual listener, it sounds as if everybody is talking about the same thing. Take a moment and listen a little more carefully.
The Christian understanding of salvation is simply this; Salvation is freely offered to all who accept Jesus (the Christian Jesus, not the Mormon Jesus - see previous post) as Lord and Savior and this salvation is received when the individual responds in repentance toward God and in faith toward Jesus. Nothing more and nothing less. No steps to climb. No hoops to jump through. Simply by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
How about the Mormons?
This will be an oversimplification of the process (which should immediately signal that we are looking at a horse of a different color) but perhaps it will introduce the steps of the Mormon salvation.
Mormons believe that Jesus' death resulted in immortality for all people. The question becomes, where then will they spend eternity? Mormons believe that all will experience salvation in some way. Mormons acknowledge the existence of a hell (perdition) but it is reserved for murderers, apostates from the LDS church and the Devil and his angels. Beyond that there is a three tiered heaven, the highest being the celestial kingdom where the faithful Mormon will be exalted to godhood. So how does one attain this celestial kingdom? Simply follow these 12 steps. (For a more complete treatment of this see this article).
1. Faith - Not a Christian understanding of faith, mind you. The Mormon's idea of faith never results in a personal relationship with Jesus. Faith for the Mormon is seen as a response to the commands of Christ, not a trust in Christ's ability to save.
2. Repentance - Again, different from the Christian view in that it is a work - something you do to earn the right to enter the celestial kingdom.
3. Baptism, by immersion, in the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-day-Saints - The Mormons claim to be the only true church and every other church is false, therefore baptism must take place in a Mormon church as it is "the gateway to the celestial kingdom."
4. Laying on of Hands by a Member of the Melchizedek Priesthood in Order to Receive the Holy Ghost.
5. Ordination as a Melchizedek Priest (for males only - sorry ladies, perhaps you'll be lucky enough to be married to such a man.)
6. Receiving the Temple Endowments - Rites which much be performed in a Mormon temple - women can participate in these.
7. Celestial Marriage - Marriage that endures into eternity so that exalted gods can produce spiritual children.
8. Observing the Word of Wisdom - this word from Joseph Smith was to abstain from all strong drink, including alcohol, and caffeinated beverages (excuse me while I further disqualify myself with another slurp of Venezuelan coffee).
9. Sustain the Prophet
10. Tithing - "For he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming" (Doctrines and Covenants) In other words, you'd better tithe or you'll be punished when Jesus comes back.
11. Sacrament Meetings - Sunday meetings to sing, testify, and take the sacrament of bread and water. Not a bad thing but the point is you've gotta' show up or you don't get exalted to godhood.
12. Obedience - "There is no salvation apart from total obedience to all laws and ordinances of the church." (Bruce McKonkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966).
I'm tired from outlining this, I can't imagine trying to live up to all of it! Here's an interesting story that sums up the difference and points to the complete uniqueness of the Christian understanding of salvation.
"At a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.
“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” Phillip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace?
"For it is by grace you have been saved through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)