2,300,000,000—that is a big number. Two billion, three hundred million: that’s about how many Christians there are in the world, and members of the Church compose less than one percent of them. Nearly all Christians believe Christ died for our sins, providing Latter-day Saints with a perfect opportunity to build on common beliefs. Unfortunately, we sometimes instead focus on our differences.
Robert Eaton, associate academic vice president for Learning and Teaching at BYU–Idaho, shared how, when teaching missionary preparation classes, he would role-play with students. When students pretending to be missionaries would ask him (acting as somebody learning about the Church) if he knew about Christ’s Atonement, he would say, “Yes, I saw a movie about Christ dying for our sins on the cross.” At least half of his students would correct him, stating that Christ atoned for our sins in Gethsemane, not on the cross. He felt it was unfortunate that these missionaries didn’t use this opportunity to focus on what we have in common with Christians—our understanding of the saving importance of Christ’s Crucifixion—in addition to teaching about Gethsemane.1
It’s natural for us to focus on what is different or unique. When Robert Millet was about to leave on his mission, he asked his father, “What does it mean to be saved by grace?” His dad responded, “We don’t believe in that.” When further asked why we didn’t believe that, Millet’s father said, “Because the Baptists do!”2 Of course, we do believe in the saving grace of Christ, but this humorous incident illustrates our propensity to differentiate our religious beliefs from those of others. In some cases, however, this inclination can lead to unfortunate challenges and misunderstandings.
For example, a pastor at a Christian church in Provo, Utah, said, “We can always tell when one of your wards has a lesson about the cross because on Monday our kids pay the price for it on the playground.” He described some Latter-day Saint boys who at recess told a girl from his congregation that wearing a cross necklace was of the devil. She had to see the school nurse after the boys violently ripped off her necklace.3
Coming to a deeper knowledge of the Savior’s Crucifixion will give us more love and awareness as we interact with hundreds of millions of Christians for whom the cross is the primary symbol of their belief that Christ was both crucified and resurrected. As we talk with other Christians about our shared faith in Jesus Christ, we can highlight that the Book of Mormon itself testifies Christ died on the cross to atone for our sins (see 1 Ne. 11:33).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that Latter-day Saints have much in common with other Christians and should be unified with them. He said, “The enquiry is frequently made of me, ‘Wherein do you differ from others in your religions views?’ In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views. . . . Christians should cease wrangling and contention with each other and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the Millennium can be ushered in, and Christ takes possession of his kingdom.”4
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Perhaps in an earlier generation there was a need to focus on the differences between Church members and other Christians.5 But just as people in the Book of Mormon who had historically been at odds united to face serious threats in their time (see 3 Ne. 2:10–14), we too can link arms with other believers. Elder Ronald A. Rasband said, “We have to invite our members to be part of a chorus of believers and not just soloists. We do much better if we join with our friends of other faiths. . . . We are putting the things that we disagree on aside right now, and we’re lining up on the things we can agree on.”6
The importance of Christ’s Crucifixion is something Latter-day Saints and other Christians can agree on. In an era where religious liberties are frequently attacked, working with others of faith is increasingly important. Learning more about Christ’s Crucifixion can help us build bridges, both individually and as a Church collectively, with other Christians.
Although many Latter-day Saints focus primarily on Gethsemane when discussing the Savior’s Atonement, the scriptures and modern Church leaders more frequently mention Calvary. The living Christ himself often emphasizes his Crucifixion. Studying Christ’s death can change our lives. It can increase the love we feel for and from Jesus. We will fortify our relationship with the Savior by focusing on an event he often uses to identify himself. We will feel a greater abundance of the Spirit as we study and speak more about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice and become more united with other Christians.
As we ponder and study both the living and the loving Christ, our hearts will echo more fully these words from our beloved hymn:
- I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
- Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
- No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
- Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
- Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
- Enough to die for me!
- Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!7
We must never forget the mercy, love, and devotion Jesus so fully proffers us through his Atonement. Rather, we must strive to learn all we can about him—including the sacrifice he made on Calvary.
Considering the Cross
- Personal communication to John Hilton III, March 7, 2019.
- Robert L. Millet, Grace Works (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 6–7.
- This story was told to Richard Holzapfel as he was gathering information about Utah County for the Utah Centennial County History Series (published by the Utah State Historical Society and county commissions).
- “History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844],” 1666, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 1, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-e-1-1-july-1843-30-april-1844/36.
- See Armand L. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
- Scott Taylor, “Church Leaders Discuss Faith and Religious Freedom with U.S. Vice President Pence,” Church News, August 24, 2019. In addition, the Gospel Topics Essay on “Are Mormon Christian?” states, “While members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have no desire to compromise the distinctiveness of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, they wish to work together with other Christians—and people of all faiths—to recognize and remedy many of the moral and family issues faced by society. . . . There is no good reason for Christian faiths to ostracize each other when there has never been more urgent need for unity in proclaiming the divinity and teachings of Jesus Christ.” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/christians
- “I Stand All Amazed,” Hymns (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 193.