The Gospel According to Joseph Smith: Mormonism

The Gospel According to Joseph Smith: Mormonism

Over the years, there have been quite a number of Mormons who have achieved celebrity status. In sports we have such well known folks as Merlin Olson (NFL hall of fame), Andy Reid (coach of the Philadelphia Eagles), and Steve Young (Super Bowl winning QB and NFL hall of fame). There are also some powerful politicians in our congress such as Orin Hatch and Harry Reid (Senate majority leader). Then there is the well known business writer, Steven Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Successful People). And, of course, who could forget the Osmonds.

In spite of the famous celebrities of the past, Mormonism has not achieved any kind of mainstream status because of them. But some things have happened recently which have moved this belief system more in a mainstream direction. One thing that has opened up the possibility of more acceptance is the Postmodern mindset of our current culture. More than ever, people in our society accept the notion that any belief is okay if it meets your personal needs. With that as a starting point, a couple of new celebrities are bringing Mormonism to the forefront.

One of those celebrities is nationally known radio and television host, Glenn Beck. He does not try to directly proselyte on his shows, but he makes no bones about the fact that he is a Mormon and talks very positively and openly about it.

The second is the emergence of Mitt Romney on the national political stage. In his run for president, the issue of his Mormon faith became a big deal and many people were exposed to this religion who had not been before.

For those who are already informed about Mormonism, this might not cause any movement to favor it more than before. But the fact is, the large majority of Americans don’t really know anything about the Mormon faith. So, when they see prominent and likable people with whom they agree taking center stage, they might be more inclined to open themselves up to it. And, this actually seems to be happening.

Add to that the fact that Mormons are very evangelistic and have a reputation for being “good” people, and you can see why many new adherents are attaching themselves to the Mormon church. They are very active in sending out missionaries (I have personally seen them working here in the US and in other places all over the world. They also produce very attractive and slick advertising which is broadcast nationally.

But the fact is, Mormonism does not represent the truth about reality. People who follow the Mormon religion and do not know God, have put themselves in a position of being separated from him. As a result, we, as Christians, need to understand enough about them to share a credible witness so that they will be willing to turn to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Let’s begin by getting a little background about the Mormon faith. Then we can move into the worldview information which will give us clues as to how we can begin to share our faith with them.

Background of Mormonism
History
The Mormon church is also referred to as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The founder of the religion was Joseph Smith, Jr. Smith grew up in western New York and most of his family were members of the Presbyterian church. But as he observed the inner workings of the church and saw the strife and tension that existed between various denominations, he was greatly disturbed. One day he attended a Christian revival and had a very dramatic personal experience. At that time, he sought guidance from God as to which church was the true one.

In 1820, at age 15, Joseph claimed to have received a vision where he was visited by God the Father and God the Son. In this vision, they told him not to join any church because they were all corrupt. Further, he was told that God would use him to bring forth the true church. This vision became the basis for the founding of the Mormonism.

Joseph had a second vision in 1823. In this one, the angel Moroni told him that God had a work for him to do. The angel then revealed to Joseph a book which was written on gold plates. It was said to have been written in “Reformed Egyptian” which had to be translated into English. He was told that the book contained a sacred history written by ancient Hebrews in America which had been engraved on the gold tablets. Joseph was given the location of the tablets and told to translate the text using the “Urim and Thummin,” a set of seer stones. Joseph would put these stones into a hat, then put his face into the hat. As he looked, the interpretation of the tablets would appear to him.”

Joseph claimed to have been visited several other times by heavenly messengers who ordained him to the true priesthood and reveled further knowledge of the gospel. Many of these revelations are published in Doctrine and Covenants, which are accepted by Mormons as scripture, along with the Bible, The Pearl of Great Price and the Book of Mormon.

The number of Joseph’s followers gradually grew, and the group decided to move to Kirtland, Ohio. In Ohio they received strong opposition and persecution because of their unorthodox beliefs. There were frequent fights with the non-Mormons and Smith soon found himself imprisoned, along with several other of his leaders. Eventually they were driven to Missouri and finally to Illinois, where they organized a small army and began building a temple.

Once again the persecution started and a local newspaper began printing anti-Mormon stories. Smith was not willing to accept the bad publicity and ordered his followers to destroy the press and burn down the newspaper company. For this, Smith was arrested and put in jail. On June 27, 1844, a mob stormed the jail and shot him to death.

After Smith’s death, Brigham Young took over the leadership of the church and led the members to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. This has become their worldwide headquarters.

Today, the Mormon church is led by the president of the church who is the anointed successor to Joseph Smith. He is considered to be a “prophet, seer and revelator”, and is the one who gives guidance to the church and revelations from God.

At the time of Young’s death in 1877, there were about 150,000 members. Today they claim over 10,000,000 members worldwide.

In recent years, Mormon leaders have tried to make the church seem more mainstream. Until recently they didn’t even want to be called “Christian” because of their belief that all of the Christian denominations are wrong. But in the recent years, the Mormon church has spent millions of dollars in an intense public relations campaign trying to move the Mormon church into the mainstream of Christianity. They believe this will have significant political and economic benefits and will help their efforts in proselytizing members of Christian denominations into the their church.

Basic Beliefs and Practices
The Mormon church believes that they are the restoration of the true church established by Jesus Christ, and that there is no salvation outside of Mormonism. They teach that after the Apostolic age, the Christian faith was corrupted and no one preached the true gospel from that time until Joseph Smith restored it in 1820.

Mormonism asserts that the God of earth used to be a human being on another world and became a god by being faithful to the God of his home planet. Upon attaining godhood, he proceeded to populate his new planet (earth) with the offspring produced by him and his wife (the woman he had been married to on his home planet).

In his present god-state, he rules over the earth. Even though he is God, he has a body of flesh and bones, though it is an exalted body. As an exalted deity, he and his wife have sexual relations and produce spirit children who grow and mature in the spiritual realm.

Our God’s first spirit child was Jesus. Later Lucifer was born along with the rest of God’s children. These are the people who came to inhabit the physical bodies of people born on earth. Thus, every human on earth existed in spirit form before coming to earth to enter human bodies.

One of God’s primary concerns was for the salvation of his people. To take care of this problem, he developed a plan. Jesus endorsed the plan, but Lucifer became jealous and rebelled. In his rebellion he convinced a large portion of the spirits in heaven to oppose God with him. As a result, God cursed the rebellious spirits and made them demons.

The remaining spirits sided with God and earned the right to enter human bodies on earth at the appropriate time. They are born in races and locations according to the choices they made while living in the spirit realm. When God was ready to send a Savior for the world, he decided to give that privilege to his first born spirit child, Jesus.

As Jesus lived life on this earth, he got married and had children. At the appropriate time, he suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and died on the cross to pay for the sins of mankind.

In Mormon theology, both men and women have the potential to become gods. In order to accomplish this, one must first become a good Mormon by paying a full ten percent tithe to the church, following the laws and ordinances of the church, and be found worthy. If these are done, individuals are allowed to enter the sacred temples and go through special ceremonies that qualify them for godhood.

Those who ultimately achieve the highest level of heaven are permitted to have their own planet and become the God of their own world. In this way, the Mormon system is expanded to other planets.

The Story in the Book of Mormon
There are several books that Mormons claim to be divinely inspired. The Book of Mormon is the one that Joseph Smith claims to have translated from the gold tablets.

The Book of Mormon claims to be the history of the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere from about 2200 BC to 421 AD. It claims that the American Indians are descended from three groups of immigrants who were led by God to America from their original homes in the Near East.

According the text, one group came from the Tower of Babel and the two others came from Jerusalem around 600 BC, just before the Babylonian Captivity. They were led by prophets of God who already had the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because they already had the gospel, many of the descendants of these immigrants, though not all, were Christians, even before Christ was born in Palestine. The believers and unbelievers in the Americas fought many wars, the last of which left only degenerate unbelievers as survivors. It is taught that these were the ancestors of the Native American peoples. The most important event recorded in the Book of Mormon is the visit of Jesus Christ to the Americas after his crucifixion. During this visit, it is said that he ministered to, and converted, all of the inhabitants.

Essential Beliefs
God
Mormons claim to believe in God, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. But the meaning of these terms is different than in Biblical Christianity. Mormonism is polytheistic and the trinity is considered to be three separate Gods: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They also believe that the universe is inhabited by many other gods who produce spirit children. In Mormon theology, the god of our planet is believed to have once been a man on another planet who, through self-effort and the help of his own father-god, was appointed by a counsel of gods in the heavens to his high position as the god of planet Earth. Mormonism teaches that through the atonement of Christ, and by an individual’s good deeds and “holy” living, men can one day become gods. Then, along with their “goddess wives,” they will be able to populate their own planets.

Jesus Christ is believed to be the firstborn of our God’s spirit children. He was not born of a virgin, but was the result of a natural sexual relationship between his parents. Jesus is considered to be the literal spirit-brother of Lucifer. Mormonism acknowledges the divinity of Christ, but their idea of divinity is very different than the Christian view.

Mormonism distinguishes between the Holy Spirit (an impersonal substance of spiritual “fluid” which is dispensed in varying degrees to individuals) and the Holy Ghost (the third god in the Mormon trinity). The Holy Ghost is endowed with the attributes and powers of Deity.

Man
A human is a preexistent soul. When a human gives birth in this world, it makes available a human body in which a spirit child (the offspring of our God and his wife in the heavenly realm) can be placed. After being born in the spirit world, a spirit being lives a life there and, at the appropriate time, is placed in a physical body on earth. A person’s place of birth on earth and the race that a spirit being is born into when sent to earth is based on how life was lived in the spirit world.

Salvation
Salvation consists of two parts in Mormonism. The first part relates to Christ’s shed blood on the cross to provide for the universal resurrection of all people. This provided the means for mankind to get forgiveness from the penalty of the fall.

The church teaches that “eternal life” means becoming a god through exaltation. Exaltation puts an individual in a position to dwell in the Celestial Kingdom. This Kingdom is reserved only for perfect, sinless, married Mormons.

Mormons who don’t meet all the requirements for exaltation to gods enter the Terrestrial Kingdom. Non-Mormons, who have “no testimony of Christ,” will spend eternity in the Tellestial kingdom.

The second part of salvation is to achieve forgiveness of personal sins. Individuals will only be punished for their own sin, not for Adam’s fall. The blood which Christ shed in the Garden of Gethsemane atones for personal sin.

There are also a few other things which are required for full salvation. Besides faith in Christ, good works are required along with water baptism. It is also possible to achieve salvation for one’s ancestors by being baptized for them. Therefore, Mormons avidly pursue genealogical studies and practice baptism for the dead.

Faith Foundation (How Mormonism Answers the Seven Worldview Questions)
1. What is the most fundamental reality? (Ultimate reality)
Mormonism believes in many gods. The god of our world was once a human being on another planet and, himself, became qualified to be a god by his faithful adherence to his God’s requirements. Humans on earth can later become the god of their own planet by faithfully adhering to the tenets of Mormonism.

2. What is the nature of our material reality? (Material reality)
For Mormonism, matter is considered to be eternal and can never be destroyed. It may be organized and reorganized but not destroyed. Our God created our universe out of this pre-existent matter.

3. What is a human being? (Humanity)
The Mormon faith teaches that human beings were pre-existent spirit children who were produced by sexual relations between the God of our universe and his wife. As human bodies become available through the sexual relations of human beings on earth, these spirit children are sent by God to occupy the bodies.

4. What happens to a person at death? (Death)
There are three degrees of glory. At physical death, faithful Mormons go to the Celestial Kingdom.

Mormons who were not faithful go to the Terrestrial Kingdom. These people will inherit terrestrial glory but with certain limitations. They will not be allowed to marry and cannot achieve the state of exaltation. They are allowed to have the presence of the Son, but not the fullness of the Father.

Non-Mormons (those who have lived unclean earthly lives) go to the Tellestial Kingdom. All who enter this kingdom will live forever apart from the presence of the Father and of Jesus.

There is a hell, but it is only for a very small number of souls that cannot be redeemed.

5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? (Knowledge)
Knowledge is possible because humans are the literal children of God (a being who is capable of knowledge). In that way, humans are beings like their parents.

6. How do we know what is right and wrong? (Morality)
Moral law is grounded in our eternal divine nature. God is a moral being and, since we are his progeny, we inherit that same nature. We know what is good by the teachings of the Mormon church.

7. What is the meaning of human history? (History)
God created the universe to accomplish his own purposes. History is a linear sequence of events during which individuals have the opportunity to go through a process to become gods.

Based on the answers to the seven questions, it is evident that Mormonism is a form of Theism. However, it is a modified form which is actually polytheistic. They believe in one god who has sway over our universe, but acknowledge other gods which rule in other places.

Authority
Mormons recognize four sacred works which form the foundation of their belief system.
1) The Bible, in-so-far as it is translated correctly. This is considered the least valid of their authorities.
2) The Book of Mormon is the account of Jesus visiting the original inhabitants of America after his resurrection.
3) Doctrine and Covenants is a record of 138 revelations. It contains some of Mormonism’s most distinctive doctrines such as baptism for the dead and celestial marriage.
4) The Pearl of Great Price contains the Book of Moses (roughly equal to the first six chapters of Genesis), the Book of Abraham (the translation of an Egyptian Papyrus that later proved to be fraudulent), an extract from Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, an extract from Joseph Smith’s autobiography, and the Articles of Faith.
5) The present prophet’s words are also considered to be a source of authority.

Evidence for the Authority
The Book of Mormon, itself, has undergone about 3000 changes since its first edition. This is so in spite of the fact that Mormons claim it was translated by the power of God, and that God affirmed it’s authenticity. Another problematic issue is that there is no archeological or any other kind of evidence in America to back up the book of Mormon.

The other books that are claimed as authorities are based strictly on the personal writings or interpretations of Joseph Smith and his successors. There is no other corroborating evidence that can be given to back up its claims.

In addition to the problems with the textual authorities, there are many other problems which highlight the fact that the Mormon faith does not represent the truth about the nature of reality. A new development that has come to light in recent times relates to scientific evidence that Native Americans, and others who are said by the Book of Mormon to be decedents of the Hebrew people, have an entirely different ancestry.

Conclusion
Mormonism is a religion that is based on teachings which literally have no verifiable truth foundation. That being said, there are millions of people around the world who are members of the Mormon church, either because they were born into it or have converted to it.

In times past, Mormonism was viewed by the general public pretty much as a cult group. But in recent times it has gained a measure of legitimacy because of certain high profile Mormons in modern society. Because of the relativistic mindset of our Postmodern world, this trend is likely to continue. Many people in modern society believe that any religion is just as valid as any other.

We, of course, understand that this simply cannot be true. Since contradictory beliefs cannot coexist, Christianity and Mormonism cannot both be true. It is critical that we grasp the basis of both Mormonism and our own faith and put them under the microscope. When we can see the false beliefs of the Mormon faith, it then becomes possible to engage adherents of that faith in a way which allows us to share the truth of the gospel with them.

© 2008 Freddy Davis