Some readers may get the impression that I have been beating the Mormonism horse to death with my recent articles on that subject. Obviously, the subject is at the top of the list of religious issues in America. Why? For several reasons, actually. One, of course, is the public profiles of two current candidates for President of the United States, both of whom are dedicated members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). One of them may quite possibly be elected. While I am not saying we should vote against him for that reason, I do think Christians need to be fully informed as to the worldviews and belief systems of everyone (not just Mormons) who aims to hold that most powerful position.
Another reason is the public influence of a radio talk show host who is popular with evangelicals and regularly talks about his “Christian” faith while quietly advocating social and political ideas that clearly originate in Mormonism. Many Evangelical Christians, unfortunately, fail to look below the surface of what this man says to understand the full implications of his ideas. They like his conservatism but fail to recognize all the implications of his ideas and how they have been influenced by Mormonism.
Perhaps the most important reason why we must educate Christians about Mormonism is that it is growing worldwide and is deceiving even Christians into a false system of faith. I personally have interceded on several occasions to prevent someone from unwittingly being drawn into the LDS. In one recent case I sat down with a young man who was scheduled to be baptized by Mormon missionaries only a couple of days later. At my invitation, he came to my house one evening with the two missionaries and the Bishop (highest ranking official) in the local LDS Ward (congregation). For more than two hours I explained to the young man, in the presence of the missionaries and the Bishop (all who sat stone silent), what they had not, to that point, told him about their church. He changed his mind, thank God.
For these and other reasons, in this two part series I will outline carefully, based on primary LDS sources, what Mormonism teaches and how it contrasts with historic biblical Christianity at almost every doctrinal point. We will begin with the most basic tenet of all.
The Doctrine of God
From the earliest times, Christians have affirmed the ancient Hebrew belief that there is only one God who is Spirit and is the personal, eternal, infinite Creator of all that exists. He is the only God and necessary for all other things to exist. He is omniscient. omnipotent, and omnipresent. The New Testament teaches that He exists eternally as a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; Matt. 28:19; John 4:24; 17:3).
That is not, in any sense, the Mormon concept of God. The LDS has taught since the days of its founder, prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., that God (who they call “Heavenly Father”) is an exalted man (male human) with a physical body of flesh and bone. Smith said, “If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible – I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345).
The biblical Trinity is also denied. In Mormonism, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are often talked about, but what they mean is three totally separate entities or gods. “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 130:22). Furthermore, Mormonism is polytheistic, believing there are, along with these three, innumerable other gods in the universe.
This Mormon vision of God is totally outside of the bounds of historic Christianity, including all three major branches: Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. If fact, the Muslim idea of God is closer to the Christian view than is Mormonism! At least Islam is monotheistic. So then, is Mormonism Christian? We really don’t have to go any further than this to conclude that it is not! Nonetheless, let us continue our evaluation.
The Doctrine of Jesus Christ
All Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the virgin born God incarnate who existed in all time with the Father and Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity. We affirm that as a man He possessed two natures – human and divine. He lived a sinless life and willingly died on the cross as a sacrifice for the sin of all humanity (see John 1:1-18; 8:56-59; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:13-22; Heb.1:3; 13:8).
Once again, Mormonism has a completely different concept of who Jesus was and is. The LDS says Jesus was the spiritual “first born” Son of God in the preexistence. “Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ, so he is literally our elder brother” (Gospel Principles [GP], p. 11). “And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21). What they mean is that Jesus was literally the “firstborn” human being born to the Heavenly Father and his wife in a pre-existent, pre-earth life. After him were procreated billions of other children to the Heavenly Parents (including you, me, and Lucifer). Thus Jesus was our “elder brother.”
Jesus is special in Mormonism in one regard, however. He was the “only begotten” physical offspring of God by physical procreation on earth. “Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father. That is why he is called the Only Begotten Son” (GP, p. 64). Thus, in LDS belief, the Heavenly Father impregnated Mary to carry his only physical offspring, Jesus. Thus, Jesus was literally the physical “Son of God” and the only person qualified to make atonement for Adam’s Fall.
In LDS theology, Adam’s Fall brought physical death and mortality to humankind. This, they say, was actually necessary so that humans could procreate other people into the physical realm from the pre-existence. However, because we are in this mortal state, a redeemer was needed to make atonement and restore immortality.
Jesus’ atonement (death and resurrection) provides immortality for all people regardless of their faith. “Christ thus overcame physical death. Because of his atonement, everyone born on this earth will be resurrected . . . This condition is called immortality. All people who ever lived will be resurrected, ‘both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous’ (The Book of Mormon [BOM], Alma 11:44, GP, p. 74. Also see GP, pp. 11, 17-19, 61-77.).
Thus, Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his bodily resurrection only provided salvation from one effect of the Fall of Adam: physical death. All people, no matter what their religious beliefs or behaviors, will be raised from the dead at some point in the future. However, their eternal destiny depends on their obedience to the rest of the Mormon “Gospel” (see “Salvation” in next installment).
The Doctrine of Scriptures and Authority
Christianity has, from the time of the Apostles, maintained that the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is the unique, revealed, and inspired Word of God. For Protestant and evangelical Christians it is the sole authority for faith and practice for believers (see 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
Mormons, however, affirm what they call the LDS “Four Standard Works” as authoritative. These include the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). However, Joseph Smith claimed that the Bible we now have was corrupted by the Great Apostasy and therefore is incomplete, corrupted, and not reliable. Though Mormons use the King James Bible, they accept Smith’s assertion that there was a need for a restoration of the fullness of the true Gospel through other written and prophetic sources.
So the LDS also includes The Book of Mormon (BOM) in their list of Scriptures. Joseph Smith boldly declared it is “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 194). Christian and secular scholars for more than a century have shown that the BOM cannot stand the objective tests of historical or literary accuracy. All non-Mormon researchers agree that the BOM is nothing more than a work of fiction.
Mormons also regard The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) as one of their inspired scriptures. This book, usually published under a single cover with the Pearl of Great Price, according to the LDS” is a collection of modern revelations . . . regarding The Church of Jesus Christ as it has been restored in these last days” (GP, p. 54). Joseph Smith, and other LDS prophet/presidents, supposedly received dozens of direct communications from God that were recorded and published in the D&C. The current edition contains 138 Sections (revelations) and two Official Declarations.
Perhaps the most famous revelation in the D&C was Section 132 which authorized the Mormon practice of “plural marriage” (polygamy). Though the section remains in the LDS scripture, it is no longer practiced by that church (Official Declaration #1 suspended it because of US law outlawing polygamy). Nonetheless, a number of small Mormon splinter movements still authorize it.
The final of the Four Standard Works is The Pearl of the Great Price (PGP). It is a collection of documents either written or “translated” by Joseph Smith. “It clarifies doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible and gives added information concerning the creation of the earth” (GP, p. 54). One book in the collection is called The Book of Abraham. It was supposedly translated by Joseph Smith from an ancient Egyptian document he said was written by the Patriarch Abraham while he sojourned in Egypt. It has been totally discredited as a true translation by scholars examining the document.
Though Mormons claim their Four Standard Works are divinely inspired, they do not regard them as the final word. The LDS church’s president is regarded as “a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet” (D&C 107:91-92). Thus, he is capable of receiving, just as did Joseph Smith, direct revelation from God. The last such revelation was given in 1978 to then President Spencer Kimball which was published in the D&C as Official Declaration #2. For the first time in the church’s history, it opened the Mormon Priesthood to men of African descent.
In the next installment we will examine more of the doctrines of the LDS including its views on humanity, sin, salvation, life after death, and the church.
____. Gospel Principles (GP). Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2009. (www.lds.org/library/display/o,4945,11-1-1,00-html)
McConkie, Bruce. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986.
Smith, Joseph, Jr. The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ (BOM) Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006. (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc).
Smith, Joseph, Jr. The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982.
Smith, Joseph, Jr. History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 7 vols. 2nd ed. rev. Edited by B.H. Roberts. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951.
Smith, Joseph, Jr. The Pearl of Great Price (PGP). Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006. (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/pgp)
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1977.
© 2011 Tal Davis