All the current talk in the media about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/ Mormons) has made a lot of Christians, some for the first time, ask, “Just what do the Mormons really believe?” In previous articles we examined, in general terms, the doctrines of Mormonism. You may want to review those previous pieces before continuing in this one.
[See the following links: http://www.marketfaith.org/mormonism-versus-christianity-can-they-both-be-christian-part-1
In this two part series we will analyze in more detail the requirements of the Mormon system for people to achieve what they regard as the ultimate level of salvation: Exaltation to godhood in the Celestial Kingdom. The Celestial Kingdom is the highest of the three levels of the Mormon heavenly realms. The other two are the Telestial Kingdom (the lowest) and the Terrestrial Kingdom (the middle). I refer to these requirements as the “Mormon Twelve Step Program to Exaltation.” They obviously don’t call it that, but I think it is a good way to remember them.
Keep in mind these requirements are over and above the basic General Salvation afforded to all humanity by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That salvation only provides the restoration of immortality lost in Adam’s fall. The “Individual Salvation” of each person is dependent on his or her strict adherence to, and faithful lifelong practice of, the following church ordinances.
In this first of two installments we will look at the first six steps of the lifetime process. In part two we look at and evaluate the other six requirements for exaltation.
STEP 1 – FAITH
The word “faith” can be defined as “trust” or “total belief in something or someone.” When evangelical Christians hear that word we ordinarily think of believing in God and putting our full trust in Him and Jesus Christ for our salvation. For Mormons, faith has essentially the same definition. Nonetheless, the object of their faith is quite different.
They would say, “Of course we have faith in God our Heavenly Father and Jesus His Son.” The problem is the way they define God and Jesus Christ. In the Mormon system, God, who they call Heavenly Father, is a man of flesh and bone who dwells on another planet with his wife and their spirit children. He is only one of an indeterminable number of other gods, and, at one time, was a human being just as are we now. Jesus, in their perspective, is a totally separate god-entity who was Heavenly Father’s first spirit child in the pre-existence and his “only begotten” (sired) son in the flesh.”
So Mormons do have faith. However, the object of their faith is not the God or Jesus of the Bible but a totally dissimilar sort of deity conceived in the mind of Joseph Smith.
STEP 2 – REPENTANCE
The New Testament Greek word that is usually translated “repent” is metanoeo. It literally means to change one’s mind. In the New Testament, however, the word has a deeper meaning. It is more than just a change of mind, but a change of attitude and direction in life, a U-Turn so to speak. Often it is accompanied by emotional feelings of regret for past sins and a strong desire to behave more righteously.
The same idea is found in Mormonism. Mormons are expected, when they formally join the church, to feel sorry for any things they have done in life that they believe is not approved by Heavenly Father and the LDS Church. They then determine to behave in more acceptable ways. Steps 1 and 2 are regarded as prerequisites to Step 3.
STEP 3 – BAPTISM
The LDS church teaches that water baptism by immersion performed by a holder of the LDS Aaronic Priesthood is necessary. It is essential for full church membership and to begin the lifelong process that leads to exaltation. No other baptism, by any other mode or in any other church, is regarded as valid. Thus baptism is seen as the equivalent to what Jesus called being “born again.” Baptisms for living people, normally done at eight years of age, are usually performed in local LDS meeting houses or Stake buildings and not in temples. Baptisms for the dead can only be performed in LDS temples (see Step 8).
No one may enter the highest level of glory, called the Celestial Kingdom, if they have not been properly baptized by a valid priesthood holder (see Step 5).
Our first response is to reject the need for water baptism for salvation in any case. Salvation is entirely a matter of grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Baptism, by whatever mode and performed by whomever, is only a symbol of one’s identification with the death and resurrection of Christ. Second, the argument that only those baptisms performed by LDS Aaronic Priests are valid is totally unbiblical. The Bible really has no stated qualifications for who can perform a valid baptism.
STEP 4 – RECEIVING THE HOLY GHOST
The LDS maintains that once a person has been baptized by immersion, that it should be soon after followed by another essential ordinance. Each newly baptized member receives the laying on of hands by a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood in order to receive the Holy Ghost (see Step 5). This ordinance allows the Mormon to receive the Holy Ghost, a third LDS god, into their body to provide them with personal revelation and power for living. Again, only those having it bestowed by the proper authority can legitimately receive the real Holy Ghost and not a demonic counterfeit.
We respond by saying that, first, the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) is not a separate god from the Father or Jesus Christ, but is the third person in the one Godhead. The Mormon’s concept of the Holy Spirit differs considerably from that of historic Christianity, just as do their concepts of God and Jesus Christ.
Second, the New Testament teaches that a believer in Christ receives the Holy Spirit when he or she accepts Jesus as his or her personal Lord and Savior and is born-again. There is no need for anyone, priest or otherwise, to lay hands on him or her to bestow it. The Spirit indwells us at conversion and empowers us for living the Christian life.
STEP 5 – PRIESTHOODS
Joseph Smith taught that the true priesthoods of God were completely lost from the world in the decades following the deaths of the early Apostles in what is called the Great Apostasy. The two lost priesthoods were the lesser Aaronic Priesthood and the greater Melchizedek Priesthood. Smith claimed that the authentic Aaronic Priesthood was restored to earth when he and his associate, Oliver Cowdery, were ordained by the resurrected John the Baptist on May 15, 1829. All worthy Mormon boys are ordained to this priesthood at about age 12. It provides them the authority and power to perform baptisms and do other service in the local congregations. Girls and women cannot hold the priesthoods.
Smith claimed that the Melchizedek Priesthood was also restored to him and other LDS leaders sometime prior to April 6, 1830, when the church was officially established. This priesthood is bestowed at age 19 on faithful young men, often just prior to their two-year service as LDS missionaries. This priesthood allows the holder to bestow the Holy Ghost and to serve in higher levels of service in the local congregations and other positions of authority in the broader church organization.
So what does the Bible teach about these priesthoods? The book of Genesis (14:17-19) mentions that Melchizedek was a priest and king of Salem (Jerusalem) with whom Abraham worshipped and gave a tithe of his treasure. He was called a priest of El-Elyon (God Most High). Not very much is told about him in the Genesis story. However, he is also mentioned in Psalm 110:4 and in Hebrews 5:5-10; 6:19; 7:1-18. In the Psalms text he is said to be a priest forever. The New Testament book of Hebrews, quoting Psalm 110:4, clearly says that only Jesus Christ is a priest like Melchizedek, a priest forever without beginning or end. There is no indication that anyone else should seek or could possess that priesthood.
So, to put it succinctly, the priesthoods that Joseph Smith claimed to restore in 1829 and 1830 have nothing in common with those that were present in ancient times. The Aaronic priesthood ceased to function when the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Likewise, no one other than Jesus is qualified to hold the priesthood of Melchizedek. Nonetheless, Mormons believe that to be exalted to the Celestial Kingdom their men must possess those priesthoods and women must be sealed in marriage to a man who has them.
STEP 6 – TEMPLE ENDOWMENTS
Salt Lake City, Utah, is known as the “Crossroads to the West”. The city was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young and the remnant Mormons who migrated from Illinois after the July 1844 death of Joseph Smith. The centerpiece of the city is the gothic-looking Salt Lake City Temple designed and built by Young and the LDS pioneers. Even the city street numbers are based on a grid with Temple Square as its nexus.
The Salt Lake City Temple, which opened in 1893, is the largest, and probably the most famous, of the LDS temples. But it is not the oldest. The oldest is located in Kirtland, Ohio. It was constructed in the early 1830s by Joseph Smith, Jr. and his followers after they left New York. The building is now owned by the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) so it is no longer regarded as a working temple by the Utah church. The oldest functioning LDS temple is the St. George (Utah) Temple, built in 1877.
Today there are 137 active LDS temples worldwide. New ones are opened every few years. Many people outside of the LDS church are impressed when they drive by the beautiful edifices, but most have no idea of their purpose or what happens inside them. One reason for the mystery is that non-Mormons (and even most Mormons) are not allowed to enter the buildings once they have been completed and dedicated. Also, all Mormons who do enter and participate in the various temple rituals swear an oath never to reveal, or even discuss, what they have seen and done inside.
No public worship services are conducted in the temples. Some people who have visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City incorrectly state that they attended a performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the temple. The Choir performs, not in the temple, but in the Mormon Tabernacle or the World Conference Center located on the same square.
So, people ask, “Just what do they do in there?” Three activities are performed in all LDS temples that are regarded as essential in Mormonism for exaltation. They include the secret endowment rituals, baptisms for the dead, and sealings of celestial (eternal) marriages. We will now look at the first of these rites and the other two in the next installment.
Every worthy Mormon aspires to receive his or her Temple Endowments. These are regarded as sacred ceremonies, rituals, and lessons that are done exclusively in the LDS temples. These are performed by the living for themselves first and then for others who are dead and never did them in life.
Patrons who go to the temple change clothes and put on special holy garments and wear priesthood aprons. They then go through a series of rooms where temple workers bestow certain blessings on them. In other rooms they watch movies that teach the full story of the creation of the world, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the way to return to the Heavenly Father’s realm.
They are also instructed on secret handshakes, symbolic tokens (hand signs), and sacred words necessary to pass by the angelic sentinels who guard the heavenly realms. They are also each granted a new holy name by which they will be called from the grave at the final resurrection of the dead. At the end of the journey through the rooms, the patrons are escorted into an elaborately decorated sitting room symbolizing the end of their journey through the heavens to the Celestial Kingdom of Heavenly Father.
Most evangelical Christians, when they hear about all this, are baffled by the complexity of this Mormon process of individual salvation. Nowhere in the Bible is it ever hinted that such rituals were ever conducted in the two Hebrew temples in Jerusalem in ancient times. Those temples were designed to conduct sacrificial offerings to God by priests on behalf of the nation and people of Israel. Nowhere in the Scriptures is there any mention of secret rituals, words, or handshakes as having any bearing on one’s status before God.
So then, if not the Bible, where did these ideas come from? The truth is that the LDS temple endowment ceremonies were established by Joseph Smith and patterned after rituals found in Freemasonry. Smith was, for a short period of time, a member of a Masonic Lodge where he learned the basic rituals of the lower degrees of Masonry. After being dismissed from the Masonic organization, he simply copied much of what he had learned and created similar rituals for his Mormon temples.
In the years since Smith’s death, the endowment ceremonies on several occasions have undergone significant revisions. For instance, for more than a century the endowment rituals required each person to swear bloody oaths reinforced by the symbolic cutting open of one’s bowels. This dramatized the penalty one would incur if ever he or she were to reveal the sacred lessons learned inside the temple. In 1990, after these violent rites had gained wide-spread exposure, the church quietly deleted them from the rituals.
Now, though those bloody oaths have been expunged, it is clear that the Mormon temple endowment ceremonies are still both unnecessary and unbiblical. Christians are warned to avoid seeking any sort of secret knowledge. The true Gospel of Jesus, in its entirety, is to be proclaimed openly. Full salvation is available freely to all people. We have nothing to hide!
In the second installment we will examine and analyze the final six steps to Mormon exaltation. Those steps include Celestial Marriage, temple works for the dead, the Word of Wisdom, following the Living Prophet, tithing, and faithful attendance at weekly sacrament meetings.
— to be continued.
© 2012 Tal Davis