Caught up in the Protestant revivalism of his day, Smith inquired as to which of the Christian denominations he should join. None of them, he was told, because they were all wrong. “The Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight,” Smith later recalled.
Smith was urged to take heart. God would use him to reinstate the true church, which had fallen into complete apostasy after the death of the apostles.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints professes to be the restored true church. Its leaders claim that Joseph Smith faithfully rediscovered proper church organization – that is, the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods – and the true gospel, which was lost due to “designing priests” that removed its “plain and precious” truths.
In short, the LDS Church declares itself the one true church, while all other forms of Christianity remain apostate.
Our Mormon friends teach the doctrine of eternal progression. Among other things, it means that all people were born into the spirit world – through sexual relations between God and one of his wives – prior to taking on earthly bodies.
As Mormon.org puts it: “Your life didn’t begin at birth and it won’t end at death. Before you came to earth, your spirit lived with Heavenly Father who created you. You knew Him, and He knew and loved you. It was a happy time during which you were taught God’s plan of happiness and the path to true joy. But just as most of us leave our home and parents when we grow up, God knew you needed to do the same. He knew you couldn’t progress unless you left for a while. So he allowed you to come to earth to experience the joy – as well as pain – of a physical body.”
While this is a troubling doctrine that departs from orthodox Christianity, it is even more disturbing to learn that Mormons claim the Bible supports this belief.
Before I formed you …
Specifically, Mormons cite two passages of scripture.
The first is Jeremiah 1:5, where the Lord declares, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Mormons believe this verse supports the doctrine of pre-mortal existence since God says He “knew” Jeremiah prior to the prophet’s conception.
Lynn Wilder and her husband were quintessential Mormons.
Lynn had served for 8 years as a professor at Brigham Young University, the flagship school of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Their eldest sons had completed two-year missions assignments, and their daughter was demonstrating a strong faith in the LDS Church’s founder, Joseph Smith.
Then, as Lynn explains it, their world came crashing down. In 2006 their third son, Micah, was only three weeks from completing his two-year mission when he called to report that he was being sent home early in disgrace.
His sin: He read the New Testament and confessed to a roomful of missionaries that the Bible offered a different Jesus than the LDS Church — a Jesus of grace, not works. He professed belief in Jesus and confessed he had found a deep and genuine faith.
As the official version of the story goes, in 1820, 14-year-old Joseph Smith, Jr., had a vision in which God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. Caught up in the Protestant revivalism of his day, Smith inquired as to which of the Christian denominations he should join. None of them, he was told, because they were all “wrong and corrupt.” Rather, God would use Smith to reinstate the true church, which had been in apostasy since the death of the apostles.
Thus began the saga of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, or Mormons, which today is the largest and fastest-growing cult (form of counterfeit Christianity) in the world, increasing at an average rate of 300,000 converts a year – as many as 75 percent of whom may be former Protestants, according to author Fritz Ridenour (So What’s the Difference: A Look at 20 Worldviews, Faiths and Religions and How They Compare to Christianity, p. 130).
Today the LDS Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, boasts roughly 13 million members in more than 160 countries; about 6 million members reside in the United States. In addition, the church has more than 50,000 missionaries who spread the Mormon message around the world. Its current leader is Gordon B. Hinkley, 97, who, like founder Joseph Smith and subsequent presidents, is considered the church’s “prophet, seer, and revelator.”
The LDS Church initially stood in defiance of historical Christianity, claiming that after the death of the apostles the Christian church fell into “the great apostasy.” Joseph Smith taught that he alone was called to restore the true church and that the revelations God have him – particularly as recorded in The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price – would guide the church back to its historic foundation. In recent years, however, the LDS Church has minimized, refuted or re-interpreted many earlier teachings of its leaders – such as polygamy, the multiple marriages of Jesus, and the curse of African Americans – and has launched a concerted effort to promote Mormonism as mainstream Christianity. This leads some to ask legitimately whether the LDS Church can have it both ways. Either Mormonism is true and all other forms of Christianity are false, or the LDS Church is not really needed, since historic Christianity is true after all, despite Joseph Smith’s claims to the contrary.
Mormon leaders are exceptionally vague in their official statements about what the LDS church really believes. A visit to the church’s official Web sites (http://www.lds.org/ and http://www.mormon.org/) will frustrate any sincere inquirer who wants to know what Mormons really believe about the nature and character of God, the Trinity, the atonement, and man’s potential for godhood. Of course, Web surfers can always click on the link for a free Book of Mormon and have Mormon missionaries deliver a copy personally to their door, although the answers these missionaries give likely will be as vague as those provided by their leaders.
A Brief History
After Joseph Smith’s initial visit from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in 1820, he allegedly saw the angel Moroni appear at his bedside in 1823 and tell him of golden plates on which was inscribed a record of the ancient American people. During his earthly life, Moroni had been a great warrior who lived among the Nephite people, descendents of Jews who fled Israel for North America around 600 B.C. Moroni’s father, Mormon, commander in chief of the Nephites, had given the golden plates to his son, who added a few words of his own before hiding the plates in Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York. These plates featured “the fullness of the everlasting gospel.” In 1827, after further visits from Moroni, Smith dug up the plates and began translating the “Reformed Egyptian” with the assistance of two special stones called “Urim” and “Thummim.” The result was the Book of Mormon. By 1830 the book was published and Smith founded the “Church of Christ” (not affiliated with the Church of Christ denomination) with five of his followers.
From 1831 to 1844, Smith gained converts and established strongholds in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. Wherever they went, Mormons attracted curiosity and even hostility, either because non-Mormons did not trust Smith or were suspicious of Mormon beliefs and practices. During this time, Smith continued to receive revelations. In 1835 he released Doctrine and Covenants, which would become “inspired Scripture” along with the Book of Mormon. By 1838 the Mormons had been driven from Missouri to Illinois, where they converted a swampy area on the banks of the Mississippi River into a thriving community called Nauvoo. It was here that Smith claimed to receive revelations concerning the Godhead, the origin and destiny of the human race, eternal progression, baptism for the dead, polygamy and other unique doctrines. The fourth “standard work” of Mormonism (after the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants), the Pearl of Great Price, was first compiled and published in 1851 and incorporated into the LDS canon in 1880.
Tensions in Nauvoo arose between Mormons and non-Mormons and came to a head when the local paper, the Expositor, published stories exposing the LDS practice of polygamy. Smith, who had risen to power as mayor of Nauvoo and “lieutenant general” of the 4,000-man Nauvoo legion, ordered the paper destroyed. For this, he was arrested and jailed in Carthage, Illinois. While awaiting trial, a mob of 200 attacked the jail and a gunfight ensued. Smith, using a six-shooter that had been smuggled into the jail, killed at least two attackers before he succumbed to gunshot wounds.
Following Smith’s death, Brigham Young emerged as successor and led a large number of Mormons west, where they settled in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847. Today, Salt Lake City is home to the LDS Church. But all LDS members did not follow Young west. Smith’s widow, Emma, stayed behind in Illinois. Those who affirmed her son, Joseph Smith III, as the true successor helped found the “Reorganized Church,” now called the Community of Christ and headquartered in Independence, Missouri.
Four Standard Works
Mormons recognize four written volumes as inspired and authoritative:
- The King James Version of the Bible – “as far as it is translated correctly.” This caveat enables Mormons to question the Bible’s veracity and authority. Joseph Smith made more than 600 “corrections” to its text. According to the Book of Mormon, the Bible is missing “plain and precious parts” (1 Nephi 13:26), which the other three standard volumes complete.
- The Book of Mormon, also called “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” According to one of the church’s official Web sites (http://www.mormon.org/), “By the power of God, Joseph Smith translated this book from an ancient record written on gold plates. The Book of Mormon is ‘a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel.'”
- Doctrine and Covenants. This volume features 138 revelations given to Mormon prophets, along with two “declarations.” Here, much of Mormon doctrine may be found, including teachings on the priesthood, baptism for the dead, exaltation (or godhood), and polygamy.
- Pearl of Great Price, which contains Smith’s religious history, the Articles of Faith, the Book of Abraham, and the Book of Moses.
Basic Mormon Beliefs
“The first difference to grasp between the Mormon Church and biblical Christianity is one of semantics,” writes Fritz Ridenour in So What’s the Difference? “The Mormons use but have redefined many key terms employed by evangelical Christians – a definitive sign of a cult. Analysis of Mormon views, past and present, reveals that they dismiss, twist, change or add to all biblical doctrines, particularly revelation, the Trinity and salvation by grace alone through faith alone” (p. 131).
Here is a glimpse of several key doctrines of the Mormon Church:
One true church. Joseph Smith declared that all Christian denominations were false and apostate. Mormons teach that after the death of the apostles, all churches became heretical and no true saints existed until the LDS Church was established. Full salvation and “exaltation” (godhood) is found only in the LDS Church.
LDS president as living prophet, seer and revelator. Joseph Smith and his successors are considered the sole spokesmen and revelators of God through whom God’s will is made known to the church. These revelations are considered authoritative, although some early revelations have been superseded by more recent ones; others are minimized by the church today; and still others, such as Smith’s prophecy that the temple would be built in Independence, Missouri, in his lifetime, have not been fulfilled.
Mormon scripture. Mormons accept “four standard works” – The King James Version of the Bible (“as far as it is translated correctly”); the Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants; and Pearl of Great Price. In addition, LDS presidents may receive new revelations from God, and these become scripture.
God as an exalted man. Elohim, or Heavenly Father, is the god of this world. He was a man in prior existence, but by keeping the requirements of Mormonism, he was exalted to godhood and inherited his own universe. There are an infinite number of gods with their own worlds; these gods, too, once were men. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct Gods. The Father and Son have bodies of flesh and bone; the Holy Ghost is a “personage of spirit.”
Jesus is God’s “Son.” Jesus (also called Jehovah) was Elohim’s firstborn spirit child in heaven. (Lucifer also was a spirit child, but his plan of redemption was rejected in favor of Jesus’ superior plan.) Jesus was begotten by God through Mary in a “literal, full and complete sense” (Bruce McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 67). Principally in the Garden of Gethsemane (and not on the cross), Jesus atoned for Adam’s sin and guaranteed all people resurrection and immortality (salvation). Jesus visited the Israelites (ancestors of Native Americans) after his resurrection and established the true church among them. We are the spiritual younger brothers and sisters of Christ. Jesus was married at Cana in Galilee (John 2); in fact, He had numerous wives and fathered many children Himself.
Humans are gods in embryo. Every person has the potential to become a god by keeping the requirements of Mormonism. A key phrase in Mormonism is, “As man is god once was, as god is man become.” From a prior spirit existence in heaven, people may be born on earth in order to exercise freedom to choose good or evil and to have a body for the resurrection. By obeying Mormon teachings and performing required duties, worthy Mormon males may pass the celestial guards, bring their wives with them, and achieve a status similar to Elohim. In the resurrection, faithful Mormons receive exaltation (godhood) and will have authority over their own world.
Salvation by works. When Mormons say people are “saved” by grace through faith, they mean “resurrection.” In this sense, virtually all people will be saved. To achieve the highest tier of the highest level of heaven, Mormons must exercise faith in the god of Mormonism, in Christ, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; exercise repentance; and be baptized in the LDS Church. Additionally, they must keep the “Word of Wisdom” by abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine; tithe to the church; attend weekly meetings; support the Mormon prophet; do temple works; and be active in their support of the church. “Full salvation” or “exaltation” (godhood) is only available through the LDS Church.
Eternal progression. All people, as well as all gods, have existed eternally. There are four stages in “eternal progression” through which people may pass: 1) eternally existing intelligence; 2) pre-mortal spirit; 3) mortal probation; 4) resurrection and eternal life in one of six places: outer darkness; the telestial kingdom (lowest level of heaven); the terrestrial kingdom (next-highest level of heaven); or the celestial kingdom, consisting of three levels, the highest of which is exaltation/godhood.
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Rob Phillips 2008
“For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus … or you receive a different spirit … or a different gospel …” (2 Cor. 11:4)
|What the Bible Says About Jesus:||What Mormonism Says About Jesus:|
|1. He is the virgin-born Son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:34-5).||“Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!” (Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 7. Quoted in the Ensign, April 1997, p. 15)|
|“God the Father became the literal father of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father.” (Gospel Principles, p. 64)|
|“Jesus is the only person who had our Heavenly Father as the father of his body.” (Joseph F. Smith, Family Home Evening Manual, pp. 125-26)|
|“Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh.” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, pp. 466-67)|
|“Let it not be forgotten, that He is essentially greater than any and all others, by reason (1) of His seniority as the oldest or first born; (2) of His unique status in the flesh as the offspring of a mortal mother and of an immortal, or resurrected and glorified, Father …” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, p. 426).|
|[Satan is a created – and fallen – angel].||“Long before you were born a program was developed by your creators…. The principal personalities in this great drama were a Father Elohim, perfect in wisdom, judgment, and person, and two sons, Lucifer and Jehovah.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 32-33)|
|“The appointment of Jesus to be the Savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer … this spirit-brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind.” (Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel through the Ages, p. 15)|
|“Both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers…. Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and influence. But as the First-born of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother.” (Jess L. Christensen, A Sure Foundation: Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions, pp. 223-24. This teaching also appears in other Mormon publications.)|
|2. Jesus did not marry.||“Jesus was the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana – We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought into relation whereby he could see his seed.” (Orson Hyde, apostle, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, p. 82)|
|“From the passage in the forty-fifth Psalm, it will be seen that the great Messiah who was the founder of the Christian religion, was a Polygamist…. the Messiah chose to take upon himself his seed; and by marrying many honorable wives himself, show to all future generations that he approbated the plurality of Wives under the Christian dispensation, as well as under the dispensations in which His Polygamist ancestors lived.” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 172)|
|3. Jesus is the foundation of the true church (Matt. 16:18; Acts 4:11-12; Col. 1:18).||Joseph Smith: “I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.” (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 408-9)|
|4. Jesus is the judge of all (John 5:22).||“No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith … Every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, Junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 289)|
|5. Jesus is the one who resurrects all (John 5:28-29).||Joseph Smith will receive the keys of the resurrection. “If we ask who will stand at the head of the resurrection in the last dispensation, the answer is – Joseph Smith, Junior, the Prophet of God. He is the man who will be resurrected and received the keys of the resurrection, and he will seal this authority upon others, and they will hunt up their friends and resurrect them.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 116)|
|6. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the Creator, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit (John 1:1-14; Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:1-13.||A “council of the Gods” created the world. “In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it … In all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 308, 474).|
|“He [Jesus] is the Firstborn of the Father. By obedience and devotion to the truth he attained that pinnacle of intelligence which ranked him as a God, as the Lord Omnipotent, while yet in his pre-existent state…. Inasmuch, however, as Christ attained Godhood while yet in pre-existence, he too stood as a God to the other spirits.” (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 129, 323)|
|What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit:||What Mormonism Says About the Holy Spirit:|
|1. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the triune Godhead (Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19-20).||Joseph Smith taught that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit “constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 370)|
|2. The Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son (Acts 5:3-4).||The Father has a body of flesh and bones. So does the Son. But the Holy Ghost is “a personage of spirit.” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22)|
|3. The Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost are two Biblical names for the same person.||“The Holy Ghost … is a personage distinct from the Holy Spirit. As a personage, the Holy Ghost cannot any more than the Father and the Son be everywhere present in person.” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 76).|
|4. The Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost is God(Acts 5:3-4).||“The Holy Ghost is yet a spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body as the Saviour did or as the gods before them took bodies.” (Joseph Smith, April 6, 1843; see Discourses on the Holy Ghost compiled by N.B. Lundwall, p. 73)|
|What the Bible Says About the Gospel of Jesus Christ:||What Mormonism Says About the Gospel of Jesus Christ:|
|1. Christ’s death at Calvary paid our sin debt and purchased our salvation so that everlasting life is received by grace through faith in the Person and work of Jesus (John 3:16, 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).||Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection made it possible for mankind to be resurrected, but “men will be punished for their own sins.” (Article of Faith #2 by Joseph Smith). Through the atonement of Christ “all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (Article of Faith #3 by Joseph Smith)|
|“There is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 670)|
|“Baptism … is for the remission of sins … (and) is the gate to the celestial kingdom of heaven.” (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 70)|
|There is “no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith … No man can eject that testimony without accepting most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, p. 188.)|
|A summary of Mormon teaching on grace and works:
(Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101, p. 169)
|2. The Bible teaches that at death, man’s eternal destiny is fixed in one of two places: heaven or hell (Luke 16:19-31).||Virtually all men are saved in “General Salvation … meaning resurrection.” (Contributions of Joseph Smith by Stephen L. Richards, p. 5)Then, based on works, all men will spend eternity in one of three levels of heaven – telestial, terrestrial or celestial. A few “sons of perdition” will not be saved/resurrected.|
|More specifically, Mormonism teaches that a person is destined for one of six places after death:
|3. All men are sinners by nature and by volition (Rom. 3:23, 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).||There is no such thing as original sin. All men are gods in embryo. “God and man are of the same race, differing only in their degrees of advancement.” (Apostle John Widtsoe, Rational Theology, p. 61)|
|4. There is no second chance for salvation after death (Heb. 9:27).||Mormons may be baptized on behalf of the dead for their salvation. “If a man cannot enter the kingdom of God without baptism, then the dead must be baptized.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. II, p. 141)|
|5. Once a person is justified, his or her salvation is eternally secure, based on the finished work of Christ at Calvary and the faithfulness of God (John 5:24, 10:27-30; Rom. 4:21, 8:28-39; Heb. 7:25, 10:14; 1 Peter 1:1-5).||Believers must do works to earn a level of heaven and risk losing their position in that heaven if they are not faithful in service. For example, failure to marry in an LDS church will “damn” persons so that their eternal progression will be stopped short of godhood. (See Doctrine and Covenants 132:16-20)|
|6. Each individual is a uniquely created person whose beginning came at the moment of conception; after death, that person retains his or her personhood and spends eternity in heaven or hell.||Each individual has four stages of life (eternal progression): 1. Eternally existing intelligence. 2. Pre-mortal spirit born by procreation of God and one of his wives. 3. Mortal probation (present life on earth). 4. Post-mortal status that depends on works done in this life. Eternity is spent in one of three heavens: telestial (almost everyone makes it at least this far); terrestrial (good and religious folk make it here); and celestial (only Mormons who have fulfilled the proper requirements make it into one of this heaven’s three levels).|
Copyright 2008 Rob Phillips