The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the Mormon Church) is not part of Christian orthodoxy, nor is it a Protestant church. The orthodox Christian churches evolved from the church organized by Jesus Christ and His apostles. However, after the death of the apostles, authority and revelation gradually ceased. Greek philosophy was mingled with doctrine, and without prophets or revelators, some truth (but not all) was lost, and miracles and spiritual gifts disappeared. The Protestant churches were all meant to be course corrections, believing orthodoxy had strayed from the doctrines of Christ. Using the Holy Bible as a resource, but understanding it in different ways, Protestant churches multiplied, until there are hundreds today.
The family of Joseph Smith, Sr. lived in upstate New York, U.S.A. in the early 1800’s. At the time religious fervor was at a peak and revival meetings were often held by Protestant sects vying for converts. Joseph Smith, Jr., was a young teenager at the time, and though some family members (all devout Christians already) joined the Presbyterian Church, and others joined the Methodist Church, Joseph was confused. He couldn’t fathom how all the Christian faiths based their beliefs upon the Bible and claimed to have the whole truth, and yet they disagreed with each other. He was further dismayed, that since the sects all saw different messages in the Bible, he, a mere lad, could not resort to the Bible to determine which religion was true.
In the Book of James he read the admonition to ask of God, and he determined to do so. He resorted to a small wood on his family’s property and ventured for the first time to pray vocally. As he began to do so, he was nearly destroyed by an evil power, but calling upon God, he was delivered. The wood filled with light, and in a pillar of light just over his head, he saw two personages — God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. When Joseph composed himself, he asked his question — which church should he join?
The Lord answered that he should join none of them, that they had all gone astray and had incorporated the precepts of men. The Lord told Joseph that He was about to perform a great work, restoring the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. From that moment on, Joseph, his family, and his followers suffered bitter persecution, and Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints died at the hands of mobs, in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and on the trail west to the Rockies to escape persecution.
Misunderstandings and even slander continue today, because of differences between Mormon doctrine and the doctrines of other Christian sects. This article will explain the most glaring differences. Remember that Mormonism claims to be the re-establishment of Christ’s ancient church, with revelation, power, spiritual gifts, and the authority to perform ordinances and miracles in the name of Christ. The Church claims Jesus Christ is at its head, leading by revelation through the gift of the Holy Ghost through living prophets. This claim, and indeed fact, is unique in all the world. Beginning with 6 members in 1830, the Mormon Church now has over 14 million members worldwide.
Mormon Doctrines of the Godhead
Joseph Smith, Jr. was in trouble immediately, when he excitedly gave a report of his vision to a Methodist who had been helping him with his quest for truth, for Joseph had seen two beings, men, glorious beyond description. This defied the traditional belief in a trinity, wherein God is a spirit without body parts or passions, and Christ and the Holy Ghost are of the same substance as God, three manifestations of God in one being. The minister told Joseph in no uncertain terms that there were no visions today, that revelation had ceased, and that Joseph could not have seen two beings, much less corporeal beings with bodies.
However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the cpersecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise. So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation (Joseph Smith History 1:24, 25).
The concept of the trinity was not solidified until the council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. It is one part of the creeds of orthodoxy still held by Protestant faiths. Because of the vision of Joseph Smith, scripture, and many ensuing revelations and visions experienced by following modern prophets, Mormon doctrine holds that the Godhead consists of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, three separate beings, one in purpose. God the Father and Jesus Christ are glorified, resurrected beings. As all Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as He appeared to many after He rose from the dead, Mormon doctrine holds that He is still a resurrected being, and that resurrection to a perfect body of flesh and bone is the ideal, eternal end for all of us.
Mormon doctrine teaches all the other concepts surrounding Jesus Christ in common with other Christian faiths — that Mary, a virgin, was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and bore the Savior; that Christ suffered in Gethsemane, died on the cross for our sins, and was resurrected the third day, and that His is the only name through which we can be saved.
Salvation and Exaltation
Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith experienced a vision (in the company of other people) of the degrees of glory in heaven, the Celestial, the Terrestrial, and the Telestial Kingdoms, mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, but without elucidation. These men learned something about salvation and about exaltation. Some Protestant faith believe that grace alone is necessary for salvation, and that works don’t matter. One need only believe.
Mormon doctrine teaches, based on scripture and modern revelation, that we are indeed saved by grace and no amount of good works is enough to save us. Mormon doctrine teaches several meanings for the word “salvation.”
- Salvation from original sin. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we are not held accountable for the transgression of Adam.
- Adam’s transgression brought physical death into the world. Christ overcame physical death. Salvation comes in the form of resurrection to a perfect, immortal body, not subject any more to disease or corruption. Resurrection is a free gift to all men and women, both the righteous and the wicked, because of the atonement of Christ.
- Salvation to a kingdom of heaven. All will inherit a kingdom in heaven, except the “Sons of Perdition,” those who have received a perfect witness that Jesus is the Christ and then denied Him, thus crucifying him anew. Even those who reject Christ, and who will suffer for their own sins in the spirit world (before resurrection) and have to wait until the last resurrection (which will take place after the millennium), will inherit a kingdom in heaven.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God—Even those things which were from the beginning before the world was, which were ordained of the Father, through his Only Begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, even from the beginning; Of whom we bear record; and the record which we bear is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed in the heavenly vision (Doctrine and Covenants 76:12-14).
And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father— That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God (vs 22-24).
And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just— They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given— That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power; And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And they shall overcome all things. Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet. These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever (vs 50-53; 59-62).
In other words, salvation comes through belief, but exaltation comes through obedience. Both are dependent upon God’s grace; neither are attainable without it.
Open Scripture and Continuing Revelation
Mormons study the Bible, both the Old and the New Testament, for two of every four years of Sunday School classes. In America among English speaker, the King James Version is used. In fact, a Pew Forum study found that Mormons know more about the Bible than other Christians. The Mormon Church has not added one word to the Bible, nor taken one away. Members grow weary of having Revelation 22:18-19 quoted to them to prove that they are heretics. The Books of the New Testament are ordered by length, not by chronology. Other books were written after the Book of Revelation, including the Gospel of John, and compiled into the New Testament even later. Thus, the “curse” can only apply to the Book of Revelation. Since the book of Revelation is neither a gospel nor an epistle, it was placed at the end of the canon in its own category. Therefore, John cannot have intended the last few sentences of Revelation to apply to the entire Bible, since he was not writing a ‘final chapter’ for the New Testament and since the Bible would not be completed and canonized for some centuries later.
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand…Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
- Mormons believe what the Lord has said in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 29:
- Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.