I would like to thank Alma and Chris, members of the LDS church, for their assistance with this article. Although they do not agree with the spin with which this was written, their attention to detail and patience in reviewing this was invaluable.
Amazing to me is the seemingly parallel origins of The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormons) and Islam. Both faiths began with a claim of divine revelation to a prophet via an angel, who was instructed to record additional writings believed to be the “fullness of the gospel”. Additionally, both faiths maintain that they are God’s true remnant church on earth.
The similarities end at doctrinal interpretation and general mentality. Mormons believe in the deity of Christ and progressive divinely inspired prophets, and they are polytheistic, Muslims deny the deity of Christ and revere Mohammed as the final prophet, and they are monotheistic. Where Muslims believe in conquering for Allah by force, Mormons believe in leading to God by charity.
On the surface, much of what members of the LDS do seems similar to actions of Bible-based Christian denominations.
Mormons are known to eschew alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and premarital sex while fostering strong family relationships. Historically, they have a low cancer rate and score higher than the general population when it comes to physical fitness.
Who wouldn’t admire a religious group that promotes the Boy Scouts and receives fast offerings to care for widows and the poor? The history and beliefs of Mormonism are often overlooked on the assumption that sound morals make for a good religion.
Most people know little about Mormonism. They may be familiar with the names Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the practices of polygamy and proxy baptism, but those topics only scratch the surface of Mormon beliefs and teachings.
The LDS church can trace its roots back to Palmyra, New York, in 1820. This is where Joseph Smith, the founding prophet, claimed to have received a vision while praying in the woods. This vision, reportedly of God the Father and Jesus Christ, revealed that all churches and creeds were an abomination to the Lord. According to the vision, Smith was to be a prophet to proclaim a restored message of the true gospel and to establish the one true remnant church.
In 1823, an angel named Moroni appeared at Smith’s bedside. The angel claimed to be the son of Mormon, the departed leader of a race known as the nephites. Moroni told Smith about a set of golden plates that contained the fullness of the gospel. (I do not question this event itself. I do believe it to be a supernatural revelation, but based upon Galatians 1:8-9, I question the claim to the source of it.)
Some four years after that visit, Smith reportedly found the plates buried in a hill called cumorah. With them were the urim and thummim, which were used to translate the plates from a language called Reformed Egyptian.
Claiming a visit from John the Baptist and divine revelation, Smith translated the plates and used them to write the Book of Mormon, subtitled Another Testimony of Jesus Christ. This book was published in 1830 and the plates were returned to Moroni. Later that year, Smith founded his church.
Joseph Smith was considered a great seer and prophet by his followers. Mormons believe that Smith was the prophet spoken of by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18 and in fulfillment of John 1:21 and 25 (Ensign, Jan. 1989, p.20). This is the same claim that Mohammed made for himself with the establishment of Islam.
After Smith’s murder in the religion’s headquarter town of Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1844, Mormons found themselves unwelcome in Illinois and were virtually forced out of the state. There was a division in the church as to who its new leader should be. The majority of the followers at that time embraced Brigham Young as its leader and followed him to Salt Lake City, Utah, which remains the headquarters of the LDS church today.
Mormons believe in open canon and the living prophet’s words are considered more reliable in a sense than either the words of a dead prophet or the four standard works. Prophets are not considered infallible and Joseph Smith himself was noted for being the author of what turned out to be many false prophecies.
The difference between the writings of the former prophets and the teachings of the living prophets is that the living prophet can address changing circumstances, which allows for doctrinal clarification. This is based on the belief that the Lord reveals things to the prophets on a divinely set timetable. This allows for a fluid (open canon) doctrinal position. Recorded in 1980 by Elder Ezra Taft Benson are the 14 fundamentals on following the prophet.
The four standard works of Mormonism are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. All four are considered scripture but are not considered to be infallible, as they were all touched by man.
Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of revelations from Joseph Smith and his successors. The last canonized revelation was a vision given in 1918 and there are also two official declarations – the abolishment of polygamy in 1890 and the extension of priesthood to all races in 1978.
The Pearl of Great Price, penned by Joseph Smith, is deemed inspired and consists of several books and 13 articles of faith. These books include the Book of Moses (a revision of parts of Genesis), The Book of Abraham, The Book of Joseph Smith – Matthew (a revision of Matthew 24) and the Book of Joseph Smith – History (his testimony).
Because of the belief in an open canon and the weight placed on the words of the living prophets, some of the Mormon doctrines have changed over the years and many more may be altered. The church meets in conference every six months, when church leaders give instruction in doctrine.
The church rejects the doctrine of original sin as it is traditionally taught. They teach that man is inherently innocent in the beginning (Doctrine and Covenants 93:38). They believe that the transgression of Adam was paid for on the cross and that each person will be judged for his own sins, regardless of Adam’s actions (Moses 6:54).
The Bible and the Book of Mormon differ on the effects of the fall as recorded in the Book of Genesis. The Bible says that Adam and Eve sinned by their disobedience and because of that, God cast them out of the Garden of Eden – a negative event.
The Book of Mormon offers a different explanation for the outcome. It states that Adam and Eve did a good thing, as it was the first step to a joyous and happy life. Rather than acknowledging that their act of disobedience was a serious sin, LDS teaches that the Scriptures say that the fall was a necessary step in the plan of life and a great blessing to us all.
This account can be summarized to say that because of the Fall, we are blessed with physical bodies, the right to choose between good and evil, and the opportunity to gain eternal life. None of these privileges would have been ours had Adam and Eve remained in the Garden of Eden. Brigham Young taught for 25 years that that Adam was the God of this earth. At the time, his teaching did not go unopposed by members of the church. In defending this revelation, Young stated, “How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed to them, and which God revealed to me — namely that Adam is our Father and God” (Deseret News, June 14, 1873).
The LDS maintain that the Adam-God teachings were taken out of context and misrepresented. This theology was officially declared false doctrine in 1976 by President Spencer W. Kimball (Ensign, Nov. 76, pg. 77).
Mormonism teaches that Adam and Michael the archangel are the same person, as are Noah and the angel Gabriel.
According to Mormon doctrine, Jesus was the spirit brother of Lucifer and they were procreated as spirit children of the heavenly Father and Mother. Jesus later was conceived physically through Mary. Mormons believe that all beings were first spirit children of God prior to their time as human beings. Mormon teaching also holds that Mary remained a virgin after birth. (Ensign, Jan. 1989, pp.28-29; Come Unto Christ by Ezra Taft Benson, p.4).
Brigham Young taught, “Now, remember from this time forth, and forever, that Jesus Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost” (Journal of Discourses 1:51). LDS leaders have taught God the Father and Mary engaged in a physical relationship in order to produce the body of Jesus. For example, Bruce R. McConkie wrote of Christ: “There is nothing figurative about his paternity, he was begotten, conceived, and born in the normal and natural course of events, for he is the son of God, and that designation means what it says” (Mormon Doctrine,p. 742; see also Family Home Evening Manual, 1972, p. 125-126).
LDS doctrine holds that Jesus and Lucifer both presented plans for the salvation of mankind to God. Lucifer’s plan was based on forced worship and Jesus’ plan on man’s choice was based on God’s will (Moses 4:1). Some say that Jesus’ plan was chosen over Lucifer’s, but the LDS explain that Jesus’ plan was actually what God had already decided on and changing that to another path was never an option.
The official term for this doctrine in the LDS church is theosis. The term theophoros refers to resurrected, glorified man and translates as the “forever god-man.”
Mormonism is a polytheistic religion. The most famous of all Mormon aphorisms is “As man is now God once was: as God is now, man may become.”
The LDS teaches that God himself was once procreated in another world and that we as humans may aspire to the status as creator that He has now. As potential father and mother gods, Mormons will ultimately be responsible for the population of other planets by participating in the creation of spirit children.
They do believe Jesus is the Son of God and that He was elevated because of his sinless state. They reject the doctrines of Trinity and the triune nature of God. In Mormonism, a distinction is drawn between the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit. As LDS Apostle Marion G. Romney stated, “The Holy Ghost is a person, a spirit, the third member of the Godhead” (Ensign, May 1977, 43-44). The sixth LDS prophet, Joseph F. Smith, explains that the Holy Spirit is not a person but rather an impersonal force (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, pp. 752-753).
Mormons worship the Father in the name of the Son but do not refer to either as “God.” They refer to Jesus Christ as Jehovah, a separate and distinct being than the Father, who is referred to as “Elohim.” These names are used to differentiate between the two.
The LDS doctrine on atonement was originated by Joseph Smith, later affirmed by Brigham Young, and was referred to as “blood atonement.” As summarized below, it appears from the writings of the prophets that some sins are so serious that Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough to cleanse them, and that the sinner’s own blood is required in a ritualistic ceremony.
Although it’s difficult to nail down exactly what this teaching once entailed, today the church teaches that the idea of a required physical atonement for sin was a distortion from the original intent.
Joseph Smith taught that certain sins are so grievous that they place the transgressors beyond Christ’s power of atonement. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p.135).
Brigham Young said: “It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men, yet men can commit sins which it can never remit…there are sins that can be atoned for by an offering on the altar…and there are sins that the blood of a lamb…cannot remit, but they must be atoned for by the blood of the man” (Journal of Discourses, vol.4, p.53-54, also published inDeseret News, p.235, 1856).
Brigham Young also said: “There is not a man or a woman, who violates the covenants [fidelity in marriage] made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p.247).
Bruce McConkie explains: “But under certain circumstances there are some serious sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate, and the law of God is that men must then have their own blood shed to atone for their sins” (Mormon Doctrine, p.92). Note the citations of the above quotes. The Journal of Discourses, Mormon Doctrine and the Doctrines of Salvation are the writings of the prophets but are not considered official church doctrine.
While not all Mormons accept this doctrine, it is notable that in 1977, Gary Gillmore, a convicted murderer, requested that his death sentence be carried out via firing squad because of his belief in the blood atonement doctrine. His story was immortalized in the 1982 NBC miniseries, The Executioner’s Song.
Official Mormon doctrine states that that the only blood effective for the remission of sins is that of Christ.
The Mormon church teaches that only through the atoning blood of Jesus and the act of baptism (personal or proxy) can a person even begin the process of salvation. This is defined in terms of “salvation” and “exaltation.” Salvation (or resurrection) is granted to all through the atonement of Jesus. Exaltation is given through obedience to the gospel principles. Children are deemed saved without the requirement of any works.
Salvation therefore is contingent first upon the grace of Christ and then judged by works. Recommended works include accepting the prophet Joseph Smith, serving a mission, marrying in the temple, being included in the priesthood, completing a genealogical tree, abstaining from alcohol and hot drinks, tithing, attending sacrament meetings, and obeying the rules of the church. (One advantage of having a living prophet can be seen in the example of “hot drinks.” Mormon scriptures teach abstaining from hot drinks, but the prophets have clarified this to mean that the term refers only to coffee and tea.
Mormons teach that all who lived on this earth (except the sons of perdition) will go to one of three heavens: the celestial, the terrestrial or the telestial. They consider the celestial level (exaltation) to be “eternal life” and the place where you get your godhood.
LDS teaches that there is no salvation outside of the Mormon church, but that all people will/can be saved. How do they explain this plurality? With proxy baptism, a practice carried in their temple that involves having one person stand in for another person to be baptized in that person’s name. This is typically done on the behalf of deceased people and it is a leading motivator in completing a genealogical tree.
Mormonism has a dark history of racism in its early days. Although it wasn’t a part of the LDS doctrine, Mormons speculated that people of African descent have dark skin because they were cursed by God and are therefore an inferior race. This was clarified in 1968 by the prophet, David O. McKay, who wrote, “There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the Negroes are under a divine curse. We believe that we have scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the Negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine and the practice will some day be changed”.
Until 1978, people of African descent were “forbidden” for marriage and entry into the temple. That year, based on a revelation given to the prophet Spencer W. Kimball, LDS changed their policy banning people of African descent from becoming priests. The church never admitted it had been wrong to discriminate, as its doctrine states that God reveals things to the prophets on a timetable for a reason.
Replacement Theology says that some church, denomination or religion has replaced Israel as the chosen people of God.
As mentioned above, Joseph Smith believed via his vision that he was to be the prophet designated from God to bring about the one true church, the remnant church of the Lord.
Smith maintained that through divine revelation, he had been told that the Garden of Eden was not in the Tigris and Euphrates river basin. Rather, he claimed that the Garden was actually in the United States in a place he called the Valley of Adam (Adam-ondi-Ahman, or the “place of God where Adam dwelt”), which today represents the area known as Independence, Missouri.
LDS prophecy calls for a final gathering at this place in Missouri, where all who have held leadership in the church will return. These will include “Moroni, Elias of the restoration, who is also identified as being Gabriel or Noah; John the Baptist, Elijah, Joseph who was sold into Egypt, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Michael who is Adam, and Peter, James, and John.” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol. 4, pp. 65-66). It will also include “Every prophet, apostle, president, bishop, elder, or church officer of whatever degree — all who have held keys shall stand before him who holds all of the keys” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah, p. 582).
Mormons do not believe in a physical Zionism. They define it as a spiritual purification of the heart, not as a restoration of the tribes of Israel. They maintain that the promises and blessings said to be bestowed on Israel at the end of days are no longer the inheritance of Israel but are now bestowed on the LDS church.
Polygamy is the teaching most commonly identified with Mormons. The early polygamous believers claimed that Jesus himself was a polygamist. This belief is not maintained today. This has not been officially disavowed; it is just considered moot and a non-issue.
The LDS teaches that man cannot reach the highest level of Heaven (exaltation) without having a wife and exaltation can only come to a man and his wife. Marriages held outside of the temple are considered “until death do you part.” Marriages held inside the temple and performed by the appropriate authorities are deemed eternal.
The practice of polygamy was banned from LDS doctrine in 1890 by the prophet Wilford Woodruff. The official church stance since that time has been to excommunicate polygamists.
This is a two-year witnessing program during which the Mormon missionaries are sent around the world going door to door sharing the Mormon faith and doing volunteer and charity work. This is not a requirement per se, but there is much pressure from the church in many cases, as this service is believed to best prepare young men and women for the life they face ahead as good stewards, husbands and wives. Men are eligible for service at age 19 and women at 21.
Although Mormons believe in the divinity of Jesus as the Saviour and refer to themselves as the only complete and true church on the earth, many of their doctrines as outlined above do not agree with Orthodox Christian teachings.