(A Brief Summary)
(Editor’s Note: Since this exposition was written several years ago, the Mormon religion may today have another “current leader.”)
Official Name: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormons)
Founder: Joseph Smith (1805-1844), on April 6, 1830
Current Leader: Gordon B. Hinckley (b. 1910)
Headquarters: Salt Lake City, Utah
Membership (1998): Worldwide: 10.3 million in 28,670 wards and branches in 162 countries; United States: 5.1 million in all 50 states and D.C.; Canada: 152,000.
Missionaries (1998): 58,700
Key Literature: The Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price. While the revelations of Mormon prophets and presidents are also considered scripture, they are only occasionally added to the canon.
Official Publications: “Church News” (weekly news paper); “Ensign” (monthly magazine)
Unique Terms: Local churches are called “Wards” or “Stake Centers.” The “Temples” are not for worship, but are used for ceremonies for the living and the dead. Less than ten percent of all LDS are allowed to enter these structures.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph F. Smith (1805–1844). Smith, at the age of 14 or 15, claimed to have had a visitation from God the Father and God the Son in 1820 after praying about which church he should join. According to Smith, God the Father and God the Son gave him the following instructions:
“I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me [God the Father] said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors [of Christian religion] were all corrupt; that ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’
He [God the Father] again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again [fully regained his senses], I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering it in some degree, I went home.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, I 3. [The Pearl of Great Price excerpts are originally taken from this text], pp. 4-6)
Three years later, on September 21, 1823, when he was 17 years old, Smith experienced the first of several major necromantic encounters (contacts with the dead), in which an angel called Moroni (the son of a “Nephite” historian named Mormon), appeared to him and told him that he had been chosen to translate the book of Mormon, which was compiled by Moroni's father around the 4th century and which contained the purported historical records of the Jewish “Nephite” peoples concerning their early migration to the Americas. The book was written on golden plates buried on a hill near where Joseph was then living in Palmyra, New York. Joseph Smith said that on September 22, 1827 he received the plates and the angel Moroni instructed him to begin the translation process. The translation was finally published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, one of the three scripture-works unique to the Mormon faith.
Smith organized the Mormon Church on April 6, 1830, with six original members, which gained a following. Over the next ten years, the church’s headquarters moved to Kirtland, Ohio; Independence, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois between 1839 and 1944. It was in Nauvoo, that many of its more unique doctrines were to find their beginnings. Nauvoo grew to be the second largest town in the state. This growth, however, brought several problems with its neighboring towns, which eventually resulted in Smith’s death at the hands of a mob at the Carthage, Illinois, jail on June 27, 1844. Smith had been arrested for encouraging the destruction of the Expositor, a Nauvoo, Illinois, newspaper.
After Smith’s death, the church divided into two groups: (1) Joseph Smith’s widow, Emma, and those who affirmed her son, Joseph Smith Jr., as the true successor of his father and as prophet of the church helped found the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which in 1852 headquartered in Independence, Missouri; (2) The other group was led by Brigham Young who was affirmed as president of the church by a majority of the church’s leaders and led several thousand followers to Utah where they established Salt Lake City in 1847.
MAJOR BELIEFS OF MORMONS
One true church: The Mormon Church claims to be the only true church. In God’s supposed revelation to Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ told him to join no other church for “they were all wrong . . . their creeds were an abomination . . . those professors [members] were all corrupt” (The Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History—1:19). Mormons teach that after the New Testament all churches became heretical and no true saints existed until the “Church of the Latter-day Saints” was organized, hence their name. Non-Mormons are thus called “Gentiles.” The new revelations given to Smith, the institution of the prophet and apostles in the church, the restoration of the divine priesthoods, and the temple ceremonies make the church authentic. True and full salvation or exaltation is found only in the LDS Church.
Biblical response: The true Church of Jesus Christ has had an ongoing presence and witness in the world since Pentecost. Jesus Christ promised that His Church, regenerate individuals (Jews or Gentiles) through faith alone in Him, would not fail (Matthew 16:17–18). The doctrine of the true Church is contained only in the Bible, which reflects the teachings of the (only) apostles (Acts 2:42). This doctrine alone is divinely inspired (God-breathed) and is suitable for all matters pertaining to spiritual life (2 Samuel 23:2; Luke 1:70; Acts 1:16; 3:18; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21).
Authority of the prophet: The presidents and prophets of the Mormon Church are thought to be the sole spokesmen and revelators of God. Joseph Smith was the initial prophet, but each successive president holds that position. Through him God’s will can be made known to the church. All revelations are made scripture and no Mormon can attain godhood without accepting Joseph Smith as a true prophet. The Mormon scriptures state that Latter-day Saints “shalt give heed unto all his [the prophet’s] words and commandments . . . For his word ye shall receive as if from mine [God’s] own mouth” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5).
Biblical response: Old and New Testament prophets were God’s spokesmen (see scriptural passages listed above). Their words were always consistent with the Bible and pointed to God’s Son, Jesus Christ. A test of genuineness for prophets was that any prediction they proclaimed would come true (Deuteronomy 18:20–22). For example, Joseph Smith predicted that the temple of the church would be built in Independence, Mo., within his lifetime (Doctrine and Covenants 84:2–5). No temple has yet been built there. New Testament prophets spoke, along with teachers, pastors, and evangelists, in edifying the Church (Ephesians 4:11–13).
Mormon scripture: Mormons accept four books as scripture and as the “Word of God.” The King James Version of the Bible is one of them, but only “as far as it is translated correctly” — seemingly allowing for possible questions about its authority. Joseph Smith made over 600 corrections to its text. Other “standard works” of Mormonism are the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. The Bible is missing “plain and precious parts” according to the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13:26), which the other three volumes complete. The Book of Mormon has the “fullness of the gospel” and tells the story of a supposed migration of Israelites in 600 B.C. to the American continent. These Israelites subsequently lapsed into apostasy; although, their story was preserved on golden plates written in Reformed Egyptian. Joseph Smith, it is said, translated the plates by the “gift and power of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3). Reformed Egyptian does not exist as a language. The golden plates were returned to the angel Moroni after they were transcribed and Moroni returned them to heaven. The Book of Mormon does not contain explicit Mormon doctrine. Doctrine and Covenants contains the revelations of the Mormon prophets — 138 in number along with two “declarations.” Here most of Mormon doctrine can be found including the priesthood, baptism for the dead, godhood, and polygamy. The Pearl of Great Price contains Smith’s religious history, the “Articles of Faith,” the “Book of Abraham,” and the “Book of Moses.”
Biblical response: The Bible explicitly warns against adding to or detracting from its teaching (Revelation 22:18; Deuteronomy 4:2). The New Testament contains the inspired and totally accurate witness of contemporary disciples and followers of Jesus. It alone claims to be fully inspired of God and usable for the establishment of doctrine (2 Timothy 3:15–17; 2 Peter 1:19–21).
Establishment of temples: The first Mormon temple was constructed in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836. Subsequently, a temple was constructed in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846. Presently there are at least 53 operating temples throughout the world including the one finished in Salt Lake City in 1893. The purpose and function of temples is for the practice of eternal ordinances including primarily baptism for the dead, endowments, and celestial marriages. Baptism in the Mormon Church, for both the living and the dead, is essential for the fullness of salvation. The dead often are baptized by proxy which affords them after death the opportunity to become Mormons. Celestial marriage for “time and eternity” is also a temple ordinance. It is necessary for godhood and seals the marriage forever. Temples form an essential part of Mormon salvation. Only Mormons in possession of a “temple recommend” by their bishop may enter a temple.
Biblical response: The Temple of the Old Testament was a place of symbolic sacrifice fore-shadowing the sacrifice of Christ. Worship in the Jewish temple and in individual homes was a practice of early Jewish believers (Acts 2:46). Otherwise there is no mention of any such practice related to a temple in the New Testament. Never was the Jewish temple used for baptism for the dead, marriage, or other secret ceremonies. It was the place in the Old Testament where the glory of God dwelt. Today the individual believer is God’s dwelling place and not a physical building (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21, 22; 1 Peter 2:5).
God is an exalted man: Elohim, the god of this universe, was previously a man in a prior existence. As a result of having kept the requirements of Mormonism, he was exalted to godhood and inherited his own universe. God is confined to a “body of flesh and bones” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22) and yet is thought to be omniscient and omnipotent. He obviously cannot be omnipresent. There are an infinite number of gods with their own worlds — these too were previously men. The Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ, and the “Heavenly Father” comprise three separate and distinct gods. The “Heavenly Father” sires spiritual children in heaven destined for human life on earth. All humans, as well as Jesus Christ and Lucifer, are God’s heavenly children. (See Doctrine and Covenants 130:22; God, Jesus, and the Spirit thus had beginnings.)
Biblical response: God is Spirit and is not confined to a physical body (John 4:24). Jesus Christ was incarnated through a miraculous and non-physical conception through the Virgin Mary. He was fully God from the beginning, i.e., throughout eternity (John 1:1). The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit form the triune (three-in-one) eternal God. The Bible is prolific with scriptural passages that show that all three Persons of the Godhead share the same attributes and works. Furthermore, all three are recognized as the one true God. And finally, proof of the Trinity may be demonstrated linguistically in the Old Testament. Ample proof of all of this may be found in the study entitled “The Trinity,” which may be located in the topical section of www.bibleone.net.
Jesus is one of God’s “sons”: Jesus was the Heavenly Father’s firstborn spirit-child in heaven. He was begotten by God through Mary as in a “literal, full and complete sense” in the same “sense in which he is the son of Mary” (Bruce McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Desert Book Co., 1993], 67). These two elements of Jesus being literally God’s son form his uniqueness in Mormon theology. In the Garden of Gethsemane as well as on the cross Jesus atoned for Adam’s sin and guaranteed all humankind resurrection and immortality. Jesus visited the Israelites or Indians of North America after his resurrection and established the true church among them. We are the spiritual, but literal, younger brothers and sisters of Christ. Some Mormon documents claim that Jesus was married at Cana in Galilee and had children Himself.
Biblical response: Jesus is God, the Word, and Son — the “only begotten Son of God,” eternally existent with the Father and was and is in fact (in nature) the one true God (Matthew 1:23; John 1:1, 14; 5:18; 8:58 [Exodus 4:14]; 10:30; Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15; 2:9; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 5:20). He was born of the Virgin Mary who had conceived Him supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross for the sins of the world, and was raised from the dead. He will come again and reign as Lord of lords.
Humans are gods in embryo: Every human being has the potential of becoming a god by keeping the requirements of Mormonism. A well-known statement within Mormonism is, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, so man may become.” From a prior spirit existence in heaven, humans may be born on earth in order to exercise freedom to choose good or evil and to have a body for the resurrection. Basically, humans are good but they will be punished for their sin. But by keeping Mormon teaching and obeying the church and the Prophet, after the resurrection worthy Mormon males may pass the celestial guards, bring their wives with them, and achieve a status similar to Elohim—the God of this world. The consequences of their sin are erased by their allegiance to the tenets of Mormonism. In resurrection, faithful Mormons receive
exaltation to godhood and will exercise dominion over their world.
Biblical response: Human beings are God’s special creation. There is no evidence from Scripture of preexistence; rather God acknowledges that it was in the womb of our mothers that He formed us (Isaiah 44:2). A sinful nature is part of humanity’s experience. At the “new birth” upon the decision of “faith alone in Christ alone” (John 3; Acts 16:30, 31) liberation from the penalty of sin (spirit salvation), which is based solely upon the work of Christ on the cross, becomes a permanent reality. And at the new birth, liberation from the power and presence of sin (soul salvation), which is based on faithfulness in divine good works by the person, may become a progressive reality. Although the believer may be transformed to Christ-likeness, the Bible does not teach literal godhood as the inheritance of the saints (Romans 8:29; Revelation 1:5–6).
Mormon’s plan of salvation: The Mormon plan of salvation is built on the idea that all people have eternal life, but only the most faithful Mormons achieve godhood or enter the celestial Kingdom. In order to obtain this ultimate step, Mormons must exercise faith in the God of Mormonism, its Christ, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; exercise repentance; and be baptized in the LDS Church. Additionally, Mormons must keep the “Word of Wisdom” by abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine; tithe to the church; attend weekly sacrament meetings; support the Mormon prophet; do temple works; and be active in their support of the church.
Biblical response: Salvation (i.e., spirit [eternal] salvation), according to the Bible, is due alone to God’s grace, mercy, and love. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus (man’s substitute) paid in-full the penalty-price for man’s sins — something that was impossible for man to do. And it is “by faith alone in Christ alone” that any person may be eternally saved from God’s wrath toward sin. Works are excluded—John 1:12; 3:16-18; 20:31; Acts 16:30, 31; Ephesians 2:8–9.
Upon a person’s “spirit salvation,” which can never be withdrawn or abolished by God or man, he is then subject to “soul [life] salvation.” See the book, Salvation of the Soul, by Arlen L. Chitwood, which may be accessed from the home page of www.bibleone.net, a salvation that impacts millennial (not eternal) verities.