Does it make any difference that Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, married as many as 40 women, some of whom already were married?
Smith’s marital history has been the subject of much debate, but until a recent essay by the Mormon Church acknowledging the founding prophet’s multiple wives, the church has maintained that Smith was happily married to one woman.
The essay explains that Smith was a reluctant polygamist, agreeing to multiple marriages only after an angel threatened him with a sword. Further, the essay notes that Smith was restoring the “ancient principles” of biblical prophets like Abraham, who took secondary wives.
In appealing to Scripture to address the inconvenient truth of Smith’s polygamy, the LDS church offers evangelical Christians a unique opportunity to urge our Mormon friends to revisit the Bible, which takes a back seat to the Book of Mormon and other church documents in LDS theology and practice.
Consider three biblical perspectives: (1) God’s creative intent; (2) His divine accommodation; and (3) His warning against polygamy.
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.
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.
When Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses come to your door, they will be prepared with questions that lead you to doubt your faith and see theirs as either reasonable (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or new and better (Mormons). Don’t allow them to lead the conversation. Rather, thank them for coming and tell them you have some questions for them. As they provide answers, be sure to ask them the sources of their answers and then graciously share what you believe the Bible teaches.
1. Where did Jesus come from?
- Mormons: He began as we all did – as an eternally existing intelligence.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: He was the first of God’s creations – created as Michael the Archangel.
- The Bible: Jesus is the uncreated Creator. He has always existed and is unique with the Father and Holy Spirit as the only eternal beings existing as the Triune Godhead.
2. Is Jesus God, the second Person of the Trinity?
- Mormons: Yes. However, Joseph Smith taught that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three gods. Mormons also teach that their “Trinity” makes up the Godhead for our world only; there are millions of other gods throughout the universe, including millions of potential gods on earth (including you).
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jesus is not God and the Trinity is a satanic doctrine. Jesus is “mighty god” but not “Almighty God.”
- The Bible: Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, which may be defined as the one true and living God who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal Persons.
3. Why did Jesus die?
- Mormons: To provide salvation for all mankind (meaning resurrection) and to pay for Adam’s sin. 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).
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jesus was a “ransom to God for Adam’s sin.” He made it possible for all people to be saved by obedience to Jehovah. He died on a torture stake, not a cross.
- The Bible: Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. On the cross Jesus, who was sinless, became sin for us and bore the penalty of our sins so we can be saved by God’s grace through faith in Him.
4. Where is Jesus now?
- Mormons: Jesus rose from the dead and is in heaven today, awaiting His return, the resurrection and final judgment of all mankind. (Brigham Young taught that Joseph Smith will “receive the keys of the resurrection” and that “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.”)
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jesus the man ceased to exist at his death. Jehovah recreated his life form into an exalted Michael the Archangel, who returned invisibly to earth in 1914 and is establishing Jehovah’s kingdom on earth, which will come to its fullness at the battle of Armageddon.
- The Bible: Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is seated because the work of redemption was completed in His death, burial and resurrection. He will return one day physically and visibly, resurrect and judge all people.
Concerning the Holy Spirit:
1. Is the Holy Spirit a Person?
- Mormons: Yes. According to some, he is a spirit person awaiting “mortal probation” during which he will take on a body. According to others, there is a distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost; the Spirit is a person and the Ghost is a force.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: No. The holy spirit is an “invisible act or force” that Jehovah uses to inspire His servants to accomplish His will.
- The Bible: Yes. He is the third Person of the Trine Godhead and the Bible describes Him with personal characteristics – for example, He may be lied to and grieved.
2. Is the Holy Spirit God?
- Mormons: Yes. He is the third person of the Mormon concept of the Trinity.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: No. The spirit is an impersonal force.
- The Bible: Yes. He is the third Person of the Triune Godhead.
3. What is the Spirit’s ministry today?
- Mormons: Some say he is waiting to take on a mortal body. Others describe the spirit as an impersonal force God uses to carry out His purposes.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: The spirit is an “invisible act of force” that Jehovah uses to inspire His servants to accomplish His will.
- The Bible: The Spirit has a ministry to believers and to unbelievers. To believers, He regenerates them, seals them, indwells them, comforts them, convicts them of sins, gives them spiritual gifts, and helps them understand God’s Word. To unbelievers, He convinces them of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-11).
4. Where did the Holy Spirit come from?
- Mormons: He always existed. He began as we all did, as an eternally existing intelligence.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: The spirit always existed as Jehovah’s invisible “act or force.”
- The Bible: He always existed as the third Person of the Triune Godhead.
Concerning the Gospel:
1. How may a person receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life?
- Mormons: Everyone will be resurrected and receive eternal life in one of six places because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. To attain the highest level of heaven, however, a person must pay for his own sins (baptism is for the remission of sins) and be faithful to Mormon teachings.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Requirements for salvation are “exercising faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice,” baptism by immersion, active association with the Watchtower society, righteous conduct, and absolute loyalty to Jehovah.
- The Bible: A person receives forgiveness of sins and eternal life by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection satisfied God’s justice and extended to all mankind His grace and mercy. No works are required or accepted.
2. Where does a person go at death?
- Mormons: Some go to Paradise, others to Prison where they hear the Mormon gospel and await others on earth to be baptized on their behalf. Ultimately, all will be resurrected and sent to one of six places, including the highest level of the celestial kingdom (godhood).
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: 144,000 go to heaven, where they will remain forever. The rest go into a state of soul sleep, where they await resurrection and final judgment.
- The Bible: The souls/spirits of men and women continue to exist after death. Christians who die go directly into the presence of Christ in heaven and await resurrection when they will receive glorified bodies. Unbelievers who die go to Torment in Hades and await resurrection and final judgment, at which time they will be cast into hell.
3. Will people live forever?
- Mormons: Yes. Based on their response to Mormon teachings, they will spend eternity in one of six places: 1) outer darkness (reserved for Satan and his demons and the extremely wicked, including apostate Mormons); 2) telestial kingdom (the lowest of the three heavens; the wicked will spend eternity here); 3) terrestrial kingdom (the second of the three heavens; honorable people and “lukewarm” Mormons will live here); and 4-6) celestial kingdom (the highest of the three heavens consisting of three separate levels; the top level is where Mormons hope to be exalted).
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Some will and some will not. The 144,000 will live forever in heaven; the “other sheep” will dwell on Paradise Earth; and the wicked will be annihilated after their resurrection and final judgment.
- The Bible: Yes. All people will spend eternity either in the presence of God (in heaven now and on the new earth after Jesus returns and brings the throne of God to the New Jerusalem) or apart from God in hell.
4. What does it mean to believe?
- Mormons: To have faith in God and His prophets – particularly Joseph Smith, whom God used to restore true Christianity. Faith requires actions that lead to individual salvation – for example, baptism for the remission of sins.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: To “exercise faith,” meaning a combination of belief and works, resulting in the hope of a future life on Paradise Earth (only the 144,000 are in heaven).
- The Bible: To have faith in God; to trust Him and His promises. It is belief in Jesus alone that leads to forgiveness of sins and eternal life. While good works will naturally follow conversion, good works cannot pay for our sins or merit eternal life. Salvation is God’s gift, provided through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
For more on Mormons, click here.
For more on Jehovah’s Witnesses, click here.
Similarities between the teachings of the LDS Church and the Watchtower
Both were birthed in the 19th century and became leading cults of Christianity:
- “Church of Christ” established in 1830 (first vision of Joseph Smith in 1820)
- Charles Taze Russell established first Bible study in 1870
Both were founded by individuals who had access to orthodox Christianity but rejected it:
- Joseph Smith was raised in the midst of Protestant revivalism in the Northeast
- Charles Taze Russell was raised in the Congregational Church
Both teach that Jesus’ death dealt with Adam’s sin but was not sufficient to provide full salvation for us apart from human effort.
Both claim that all of Christendom had fallen into apostasy and that their organizations alone constitute the one true Church.
Both reject the clear teachings of Scripture and add to them through new revelations and / or “new” insights.
Both continue to lead many astray from belief in the Jesus of Scripture and the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
Differences between the teachings of the LDS Church and the Watchtower
One relies largely on experiences (Smith / Mormonism) and the other on “reason” (Russell / Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One claims we are all gods in embryo (Mormonism); the other denies (correctly) the potential deity of man while denying (incorrectly) the deity of Jesus and the Spirit (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches that Jesus began as we all did (eternally existing intelligences / Mormonism) and therefore is not particularly unique; the other, that he was created (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches the Holy Spirit is a spirit creature awaiting a mortal body (Mormonism); the other denies the personhood of the Spirit, claiming instead “it” is an impersonal force (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches that the Trinity is three gods (Smith / Mormonism); the other claims that the very idea of the Trinity is satanically inspired (Russell / Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches universal salvation (Mormonism); the other, annihilation (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches that Jesus atoned for sin primarily in Gethsemane (Mormonism); the other, that Jesus died, not on a cross, but a torture stake (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Both minimize or avoid the cross.
One teaches that Jesus’ resurrection made “general salvation” (resurrection) possible (Mormonism); the other teaches that Jesus the man ceased to exist at death and was recreated (not resurrected) as an exalted Michael the Archangel (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches the possibility of godhood and our own planet to rule (Mormonism); the other restricts heaven to 144,000, and limits the rest of believers to life on earth (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips