I’ve been meaning to write something about Mormonism for some time now. However, it seemed like the Christian internet has been abuzz non-stop with articles and blogs about Mormonism, so I’ve held back until now. Everyone is discussing Mormonism, which is the religion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), because Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and because several prominent Christian leaders have spoken out in support of (or being critical against) Mormonism.
There seems to be confusion among evangelical/orthodox Christians as to whether Mormonism itself is a form of Christianity. I believe most of the confusion resides in terminology and definition. For instance, ask a follower of Mormonism if he believes in Jesus and you’ll get a definite “Yes!” However, the Mormon definition of Jesus is vastly different from the doctrine of Jesus as presented in the Bible and throughout centuries of orthodox Christendom. That Christians would accept Mormonism as “Christian” to any degree is a radical shift from the traditional Christian view that Mormonism is a cult.
This blog is in no way meant to be an exhaustive treatment of the differences between Christianity and Mormonism. My aim is to give a very brief history of Mormonism in regards to its founder and central doctrines, as well as a brief survey of the doctrinal differences between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity. I am going to limit this discussion three central doctrines: God, Jesus, and salvation. At the end of each section, I want to explain why Mormonism is not biblical Christianity, and why it matters that we do not see it as such. Also, I have used Mormon literature for sources. [UPDATE: The LDS Church has backpeddled on the authority of many earlier Mormon writings once held as authorative or in high esteem or as official teachings. You can read about this phenomena here from a reputable, though not official Mormon website.] You might notice I have not included page numbers, but just the book or publication’s title. This is because in online, reprinted and revised editions (as Mormon literature often is), the page numbers often change. I would suggest if you’re interested in what I’ve written, please go check my sources, they are available online via a simple Google search. [UPDATE: I’ve linked to the sources online. You, however, still have to read] (And since this isn’t an academic paper, I can be lazy.)
BRIEF HISTORY OF MORMONISM.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830. Smith was only 14 years old when he claimed to have had visions which told him that all existing Christian churches were “wrong.” He also claims to have been visited by an angel in the following years. This angel told him of gold tablets hidden in a cave nearby. These tablets contained the forgotten history of the “lost inhabitants” of North America, and contained the “everlasting gospel” (Pearl of Great Price). These golden tablets, which were never seen by another living human being, provided the basis of The Book of Mormon. It is interesting to note that Smith’s story changed several times, and that he often came into conflict with his neighbors who viewed his practices and beliefs, such as polygamy, with suspicion and disdain. After Smith’s jailhouse murder, the LDS church relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, where it is headquartered to this day. [UPDATE: Here is a brief history of Mormonism by Mormons.]
THE DOCTRINE OF GOD.
Mormonism teaches that there are many gods. Immediate successor to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, wrote “How many God there are, I do not know. But there was never a time when there were not Gods” (Journal of Discourses). “If Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that God had a Father also?” (Mormon Doctrine).
Mormonism also teaches that God the Father was once a mortal man who progressed to godhood: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith). “God. . . became God by absolute obedience to all the eternal laws of the Gospel” (The Gospel Through the Ages).
Therefore, in Mormon theology, God is not unique, God is a created being, God was once a man who became a god, and there are many gods (polytheism).
Christianity teaches that there is but one God, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The Bible also clearly states that God, being unique, has always existed as God, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9).
There is no biblical evidence to support the Mormon doctrine of God’s progression to godhood or their belief in many gods. Therefore, though Mormons believe in an idea about God, this idea is without scriptural support. The conclusion is Mormons do not believe in the same God as Christians.
THE DOCTRINE OF JESUS.
Mormons believe in a person called Jesus. In Mormon theology Jesus is also a created being, the son of Elohim (the Mormon god of the Earth), and is the half-brother of Satan: “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” (The Gospel Through the Ages). Jesus is also said to be one of many “spirit children” of God the Father (Journal of Discourses). Lastly, Jesus was a polygamist who had at least three wives and several children: “Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha and others were his wives, and that he begat children” (Journal of Discourses). According to Mormonism, Jesus did not exist until he was born. In other words, he was not preexistent like all other humans.
Over against the Mormon claim that Jesus was not unique is the Greek word monogenes, which is often translated begotten. According to the authoritative Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition (BAGD), monogenes means “pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.” This is the word used to describe the uniqueness of Jesus in John 3:16, John 1:14, and John 1:18. Jesus is unique in that he is like the Father in a way no one else is. He is of the same substance of the Father in a way that no one else is. Similarly, there is no evidence, biblically speaking, that Jesus is a “spirit brother” of Satan. As a matter of fact, Satan was created by Jesus (Colossians 1:16-17) and is subservient to him (Matthew 16:23; cf. Matthew 8:28-34). Jesus is mentioned as having siblings (Matthew 13:55-56). However, it is understood that these siblings were his half-siblings, because, in yet another testament of his uniqueness, Jesus was born of a virgin (Luke 1:27-37). The Bible tells us that Jesus was also preexistent – there never was a time when he was not (Colossians 1:15-16).
In Mormonism, Jesus was once also a man who attained godhood. There was a time when he did not exist. Jesus was not unique in any way, though he did some incredible things. Jesus was married to several wives, fathered several children, and was half-brother to Satan.
Christianity teaches that Jesus was the unique Son of God. There is no other like him. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Jesus existed from eternity past as the Son of God. He was born of a virgin. He was fully God and fully human. Jesus was truly unique.
All things considered, the “Jesus” spoken of by Mormons is not the unique, virgin born Son of God. He was merely a man like anyone else, who gained exaltation by his good works. We haven’t even taken into consideration the Mormon understanding of Jesus’ resurrection and atonement, where there other significant theological variances from orthodox Christianity that are cause for concern.
DOCTRINE OF SALVATION.
Understanding the doctrine of salvation as taught by Mormonism is tricky. This is because Mormonism uses several terms that are easily recognized by orthodox Christians: atonement, redemption, salvation by grace, faith, free gift, salvation, eternal life, mediation, the blood, the cross, etc. A rough sketch of the Mormon doctrine of salvation is that Jesus was one of the sons of Elohim, the god of the earth. Because of sin, Jesus valiantly agreed to go to the cross to die and make a way to redeem the planet. By believing in the finished work of Jesus, and by doing good works, everyone has an opporunity to be saved.
This sounds somewhat orthodox, however, there are significant differences in the Mormon doctrine of salvation and the Christian doctrine of salvation. Mormonism teaches that “Eternal life is the reward for ‘obedience…'” (Mormon Doctrine). Also, “[salvation] is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23). In other words, to the Mormon, one’s works determines one’s eternal destiny, along with “grace.”
Christianity makes it clear in no uncertain terms that “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Likewise, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ” (Romans 6:23). To the Christian, the death and resurrection of Jesus was necessary in that, his sacrifice alone purchased our redemption. Good works are a by-product and proof of a redeemed life, not a means to a redeemed life (James 2:14).
Mormonism teaches that salvation is attained, not by the sacrifice and obedience of Jesus alone, but through a person’s works. Historic Christianity has always tenaciously held to the truth that salvation is a work of God from start to finish. Anyone who believes that his/her “goodness” and works can bring them closer to God is delusional and is in denial of the clear teachings of the Bible. This truth applies to Mormons as much as it does to the rest of humanity.
Aside from the fact that Mormons use some of the same terminology as Christians, the departure of Mormonism from the Bible on the key doctrines of God, Jesus, and salvation would certainly deny them the classification of Christianity. This is not to say Mormons are not wonderful people. The Mormons whom I’ve personally known are law-abiding, family oriented, loving, and moral people. I count members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as my friends. Their zeal for missions, good works, and preserving family values often puts Christians to shame.
In spite of these facts, Mormons are not Christians. As I mentioned earlier, Mormonism was labeled a cult in its formative years up through the twentieth century. The LDS church has taken great pains to shed that label and image. In doing so, they have adopted orthodox Christian language, which has caused much confusion among Christians and non-Christians who are unfamiliar with the teachings of Mormonism. But, like all people, we as believers and followers of Jesus should seek to reach out to Mormons with respect, love, mercy, and truth.
11/08/11 – RU