In the April 1977 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons), Elder Boyd K. Packer, then a member of the church’s highest ruling group, the Council of the Twelve Apostles, and now President of that Counsel, told the following story illustrating how to receive salvation.
Packer said, “Let me tell you a story – parable. There once was a man who wanted something very much. It seemed more important than anything else in his life. In order for him to have his desire, he incurred a great debt. He had been warned about going into that much debt, and particularly about his creditor. But it seemed so important for him to do what he wanted to and to have what he wanted right now. He was sure he could pay for it later.
“So he signed a contract. He would pay it off some time along the way. He didn’t worry too much about it for the due date seemed such a long time away. He had what he wanted now, and that was what seemed important. The creditor was always somewhere in the back of his mind, and he made token payments now and again thinking somehow that the day of reckoning really would never come.
“But as it always does, the day came, and the contract fell due. The debt had not been fully paid. His creditor appeared and demanded payment in full. Only then did he realize that his creditor not only had the power to repossess all that he owned, but the power to cast him into prison as well. ‘I cannot pay you, for I have not the power to do so,’ he confessed.
“ ‘Then,’ said the creditor, ‘we will exercise the contract, take your possessions and you shall go to prison. You agreed to that. It was your choice. You signed the contract, and now it must be enforced.’
“ ‘Can you not extend the time or forgive the debt?’ the debtor begged. ‘Arrange some way for me to keep what I have and not go to prison. Surely you believe in mercy? Will you not show mercy?’
“The creditor replied, ‘Mercy is always so one-sided. It would serve only you. If I show mercy to you, it will leave me unpaid. It is justice I demand. Do you believe in justice?’
“ ‘I believed in justice when I signed the contract,’ the debtor said. ‘It was on my side then, for I thought it would protect me. I did not need mercy then, nor think I should need it ever. Justice, I thought, would serve both of us equally as well.’
“ ‘It is justice that demands that you pay the contract or suffer the penalty,’ the creditor replied. ‘That is the law. You have agreed to it and that is the way it must be. Mercy cannot rob justice.’
“There they were: One meting out justice, the other pleading for mercy. Neither could prevail except at the expense of the other.
“ ‘If you do not forgive the debt there will be no mercy,’ the debtor pleaded.
“ ‘If I do, there will be no justice,’ was the reply.
“Both laws, it seemed, could not be served. They are two eternal ideals that appear to contradict one another. Is there no way for justice to be fully served, and mercy also? There is a way! The law of justice can be fully satisfied and mercy can be fully extended – but it takes someone else. And so it happened this time.
“The debtor had a friend. He came to help. He knew the debtor well. He knew him to be shortsighted. He thought him foolish to have gotten himself into such a predicament. Nevertheless, he wanted to help because he loved him. He stepped between them, faced the creditor, and made this offer. ‘I will pay the debt if you will free the debtor from his contract so that he may keep his possessions and not go to prison.’
“As the creditor was pondering the offer, the mediator added, ‘You demanded justice. Though he cannot pay you, I will do so. You will have been justly dealt with and can ask no more. It would not be just.’ And so the creditor agreed.”
By now you may be thinking, “The friend must symbolize Jesus who paid the price for our sin debt. He has paid it in full and granted us complete forgiveness. That’s wonderful. That’s the Gospel (Good News).”
That’s certainly how you would expect it to go. End of story, right? Not according to the Mormon Gospel. That’s just the first phase. Packer continued.
“The mediator turned then to the debtor. ‘If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?’
“ ‘Oh yes, yes,’ cried the debtor. ‘You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.’
“ ‘Then,’ said the benefactor, ‘you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.’ (emphasis added)
“And so it was that the creditor was paid in full. He had been justly dealt with. No contract had been broken. The debtor, in turn, had been extended mercy. Both laws stood fulfilled. Because there was a mediator, justice had claimed its full share, and mercy was satisfied” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1977, pp. 79-80; or Ensign, May 1977, pp. 54-55).
Apostle Packer’s story says the benefactor (symbolizing Jesus we assume) paid the man’s debt to the creditor so he would not go to prison. But then he ordered the debtor to pay it back in full to him. What’s wrong with that picture? The man was still not off the hook. What if he could not pay back the benefactor? Is that the biblical concept of salvation? Not at all, thank God!. In the biblical scenario the benefactor would know the man could never repay the debt. It not only would not be easy, but it would be impossible! His only hope would be the benefactor’s (God’s) unconditional grace.
In this installment we will examine the Mormon concepts of Humanity. Sin, Salvation, and Life After Death and contrast them to what the Bible says.
The Doctrine of Humanity
The Bible teaches that all human beings are created in God’s image, meaning they have personal qualities similar to God’s (see Gen. 1:26-27). People can think rationally, have personal relationships, make decisions, and understand right and wrong. God’s image does not mean we are like Him physically, since He does not have a physical body (John 4: 24). Every person is a unique, precious being of dignity and worth. The Bible gives no indication that people exist prior to their physical conception.
Mormonism however, teaches that all people are the preexistent spiritual offspring of the Heavenly Father and Mother. “All men and women are … literally the sons and daughters of Deity…. Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal (physical) body” (Joseph F. Smith, “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, pp. 78,80, as quoted in GP, p. 11). Mormonism says they are born basically good and are “gods in embryo.” A commonly quoted Mormon aphorism (attributed to fifth LDS president Lorenzo Snow) says “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”
So when the LDS says men are in the “image and likeness of God” they mean it literally. Men are physically the same as Heavenly Father. Women are like the Heavenly Mother (who, by the way, is ignored by Mormons in their prayers, etc.). Furthermore, men may aspire to become like Heavenly Father and be exalted “as gods of their own worlds.”
The Doctrine of Sin
Christians believe, beginning with Adam’s Fall, that all human beings have chosen to sin against God, rejecting His nature and pursing life opposed to His essential character and revealed law. This is called the doctrine of Original Sin. It basically says that we are all sinners and are cut off from our relationship with God and bound for hell. We cannot save ourselves and are in desperate need of redemption that only God can supply (see Genesis 3; Rom. 3:23; 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8-10).
According to the LDS, Adam’s Fall was actually a necessary part of Heavenly Father’s plan. It caused a loss of immortality for all humanity which was necessary for mankind to reproduce and advance (see GP, pp. 31-34). As Eve declared, according to LDS scripture, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have … known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (PGP, Moses 5:11; see also BOM, 2 Nephi 2:22-25). So, according to Mormonism, Adam’s sin was a good thing. If he had not done so and remained immortal, we would not be here, nor could people progress to godhood. Mormons do believe people still sin. It is not, however, because they have a sinful nature but by willful disobedience to God’s laws. Each person is responsible for his or her own sin.
The Doctrine of Salvation
In Christian theology, salvation is release from the guilt and power of sin through God’s gift of grace. It is provided through Christ’s atoning death on the cross and resurrection and received by personal faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. There is nothing we can do to deserve it or earn it. It is entirely a work of God because of His love and grace. We receive it by repenting of our sins and putting our faith in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior (see John 1: 12; Rom. 3:20; 10:9- 10; Eph. 2:8-10).
In Mormonism, Jesus’ atonement provided immortality for all people. According to their doctrine, Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, death on the cross, and resurrection guaranteed that all people, whether or not they are Mormon or Christian, will be raised from the dead when Jesus returns. This is only the first step, however, for the determination of one’s eternal destiny. That is dependent primarily on one’s works and standing within the LDS church which will be adjudicated at the Final Judgment after the Millennium.
Exaltation (godhood) is available only to faithful Mormons through moral living and obedience to LDS teachings: faith, baptism, receiving of the Holy Ghost, endowments (secret rituals conducted only in LDS temples), celestial marriage (also conducted in temples), and tithing. Mormons who are not faithful in their personal morality and religious practice will not be exalted. In any case all people, with only a few exceptions, will be consigned to one of three levels of glory depending on their life’s behavior.
The Doctrine of Life after Death
The Bible teaches that, at the Final Judgment, those who have trusted in Jesus Christ will inherit the fullness of eternal life in heaven with God. Those who have rejected Christ will suffer eternal separation from God’s presence in hell. There is no indication in Scripture that salvation can be acquired after death (see Matt. 5:12-30; 25:41; Hebrews 9:27; Rev. 20-22). Mormonism, however, has a complex concept of eternal life consisting of three levels of eternal glory.
First is exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom for faithful Mormons where people may become gods or angels. “Then shall they be gods” (D&C 132:20). “Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God – Wherefore, all things are theirs” (D&C, 76:58-59).
These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:
1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C, 76).
2. They will become gods.
3. They will have their righteous family members with them and will be able to have spirit children also. These spirit children will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father. They will be an eternal family.
4. They will receive a fullness of joy.
5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have – all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (See GP, p. 302).
According LDS doctrine, baptism for the dead by proxy provides post-mortem salvation for non-Mormons if they received it. It is “by immersion performed by a living person for one who is dead. This ordinance is performed in temples” (GP, p. 375). (See also GP, chapters 18-23.)
The second level of glory is the Terrestrial Kingdom which is for non-practicing Mormons and righteous non-Mormons. Good people of all religions who have lived descent lives will enjoy eternity in this wonderful kingdom where they will have fellowship with Jesus (but not the Heavenly Father). “These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fullness” (D&C 76:75-76).
The third level, called the Telestial Kingdom, is reserved for wicked and ungodly people. It is, however, not hell. It is actually a nice place where they will have fellowship with the Holy Ghost (but not Heavenly Father or Jesus).; “These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers … who suffer the wrath of God on earth” (D&C 76:103-104). (See also D&C 76:57-119; 131:1-4.)
Mormonism teaches that only a few people, along with the devil and his rebellious angels (one-third of Heavenly Father’s children who rebelled against him in the pre-existence), will go to “Perdition” or eternal hell.
The Doctrine of the Church
Christians congregate together in local bodies and along denominational lines sharing distinctive doctrinal and ecclesiastical concepts. There is no organization or denomination that can claim exclusive designation as the “one true church.” The universal church consists of all the redeemed in Jesus Christ in all of the ages (see Matt. 16:15-19; 1 Cor. 1:12-14; Eph. 2:19; 3:11-12).
The LDS strongly asserts that it is the one true church on the face of the earth. Joseph Smith claimed Jesus Christ told him to join none of the existing denominations because “they were all wrong … that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt” (PGP: Joseph Smith-History 1:19-20). Mormons claim only the LDS possesses the divine authority of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood as restored by God to Joseph Smith in 1829. Thus, full salvation can only be attained by being a faithful and active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (D&C 13; 27:8- 13; 107:1-20; PGP: Joseph Smith-History 1:68-73).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has for the last couple of decades tried to establish in the minds of the general public that it is an authentic Christian church. However, it is clear from this examination of Mormon doctrine that at every essential point of theology it diametrically contrasts to the doctrines of historic biblical Christianity. As we encounter Mormons, as we will inevitably do given the growth of the LDS, we must resist the temptation to embrace them as brothers, while, nonetheless, showing them the love of God as we seek to win them to faith in the true Jesus Christ.
____. Gospel Principles. 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. 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. 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. 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