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Just Another Christian Denomination?
By Gary F. Zeolla
Many people believe Mormonism is just another Christian denomination. But is this assumption true? This two-part article will answer this question by explaining and evaluating the basic teachings of Mormonism. But first, a look at its beginnings.
Beginnings of Mormonism
Mormonism has its roots in the early 1800's in the person of one man, Joseph Smith (1805-1844). Joseph Smith claimed he had a vision in 1820 in which God the Father and the Son appeared to him. He was told the churches of that time "were all wrong" and "all their creeds were an abomination."
Later, the angel Moroni is said to have appeared to Joseph Smith and to have told him he had been chosen to restore the true Church to the world. Joseph Smith would do this by translating inscriptions made on gold plates centuries earlier by a man named Mormon.1
The product of this work is known as The Book of Mormon. From the title of this book came the nickname for the new religion, "Mormonism."
On April 6, 1830, "The Church of Christ" was founded. The name was later changed to "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." This latter name is still the official name of Mormonism and is abbreviated LDS.
Joseph Smith was killed by an angry mob on June 27, 1844. After much dispute, Brigham Young took over the presidency of the main division of the new movement. Since then, the now Utah-based group has had a succession of 11 presidents. These men are considered to be prophets. The group also has 12 men designated as apostles at all times.2
Mormons have four "Standard Works." They are: the Bible, The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. The last two books contain revelations and other materials Joseph Smith allegedly received from God. In addition, Mormonism teaches, "The words of our living prophets are also considered as scripture."3
The main book I will use to document the teachings of these "living prophets" is Latter-Day Prophets Speak edited by Daniel Ludlow. 4 It contains extended excerpts from the writings of the first eight Mormon prophets. I purchased it from a LDS bookstore in Denver, Colorado.
Additional quotes will be taken from other books purchased from and/ or published by the LDS church. See the footnotes for specific documentation.
In any case, with three books and the words of Mormon prophets declared to be "scripture" Mormonism disagrees with the historic Christian position as presented in this ministrys Confession of Faith. The first article states in reference to the Bible that it is "the Divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life." Further, the Bible itself claims to be God's final Word to people.
As Robert Bowman states:
The epistles of 2 Peter and Jude, among the last New Testament writings to be penned, exhort the readers to avoid false doctrines by recalling the teachings of the apostles (2Pet 1:12-15; 2:1; 3:2,14-16; Jude 3-4,17). Peter and Jude did not say "Listen to the apostles living today," but instead urged believers to "remember what the apostles said"5 (see also Acts 20:27; 2Tim 3:16,17; Heb 1:1,2 and Rev 22:18,19).
The Mormon disagreement with the position of the Bible being all-sufficient for our needs stems from a couple of beliefs.
First is the claim the Bible has somehow been corrupted. Joseph Smith declared "Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors." Brigham Young adds, "... many precious things have been rejected in the compilation and translation of the Bible."6 This claim is discussed in the article Have Precious Truths Been Lost from the Bible?
Second is the Mormon allegation the Bible has been mistranslated. The second article in the LDS Confession of Faith states, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God AS FAR AS IT IS TRANSLATED CORRECTLY."7
However, if the Mormon church believes current versions of the Bible are not translated properly, why doesn't it produce its own translation? There are millions of Mormons worldwide. Surely, at least a few of these people have the necessary qualifications for Bible translating.
Further, dozens of people with the necessary qualifications worked on each of the most important versions available today. The burden of proof is on the Mormon church to show all of these versions are faulty.
But despite its low view of the Bible, Mormonism still claims its doctrines are based on it. Brigham Young proclaimed, "In all my teachings, I have taught the gospel from the Old and New Testaments. I have found therein every doctrine and the proof of every doctrine the Latter-Day Saints believe in."8
This LDS claim will be tested against the standard of the Bible on several important subjects (Acts 17:11).
The Nature of God
Joseph Smith declared:
GOD HIMSELF was once as we are now and IS AN EXALTED MAN and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! ... if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form .... It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God ... HE WAS ONCE A MAN LIKE US; yea, that God Himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.9
Brigham Young elaborates, "Our Father in Heaven is a personage of tabernacle, just as I am ... and He has all the parts and passions of a perfect man, and HIS BODY IS COMPOSED OF FLESH AND BONES, but not of blood."10 And further, "We have a God with ears, eyes, nose, mouth; He can and does speak. He has arms, hands, body, legs and feet; He talks and walks; and we are formed after His likeness."11
Fourth Mormon prophet, Wilford Woodruff, taught, "GOD HIMSELF IS INCREASING AND PROGRESSING in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end."12
But is this the God of the Bible? First, the God of the Bible does not have a physical body composed of "flesh and bones." Jesus stated very clearly, "God is Spirit" (John 4:24). Elsewhere, Jesus declared, "a spirit does not have flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39).
Also, if God had a physical body, He would be visible; but the Bible repeatedly teaches God is INVISIBLE (Job 9:11; Col 1:15; 1Tim 1:17; 6:16; Heb 11:27).
Second, it must be asked if God changes, grows and progresses. In other words, is God mutable (subject to change) or immutable (not subject to change)? Psalm 102:25-27 contrasts the changing, non-eternal nature of the universe with the unchanging, eternal nature of God.
God Himself spoke through Malachi and proclaimed, "For I am the LORD, I do not change." (Mal 3:6; see also 1Sam 15:29; Heb 6:13-20; James 1:17). These verses plainly show the God of the Bible is immutable.
Third, there is no way the God of the Bible used to be a man. Moses prayed, "Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God" (Ps 90:2; see also Num 23:19).
Lastly, it must be asked, if God is just an "exalted man" Himself, then where did He come from? Tenth Mormon prophet and descendent of Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith proclaimed, "The Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught us OUR FATHER HAD A FATHER AND SO ON."13
In other words, according to Mormonism, our God needed another God to bring Him into existence; and that God needed another God etc., extending into eternity past. This is known as an "infinite regress."
Thus Mormonism teaches polytheism (belief in many gods). Shortly, other ways in which Mormonism is polytheistic will be discussed. Yet, the Bible unmistakably teaches monotheism (belief in one God).
For example, Moses declares, " the LORD Himself is God; there is none other besides Him" (Deut 4:35). David prayed, "You are great O LORD GOD. There is none like You, nor is there any God besides You" (2Sam 7:22). Other important verses to consider are: Exod 8:10; Deut 6:4; 1Kings 8:60; Neh 9:6; John 5:44; 17:3; 1Cor 8:4-6 and 1Tim 2:5.
The Doctrine of the Trinity
The first article in the LDS "Articles of Faith" reads, "We believe in God, the eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit."14 But is this statement an affirmation of the historic doctrine of the Trinity?
Joseph Smith proclaimed, "I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Spirit was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and THREE GODS."15
Here is another instance of Mormonism's polytheism. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit "constitute three Gods." This is also a clear denial of the concept of the three-in-one God of historic Christianity.
Mormon apostle James Talmage boldly makes this denial. After quoting the Athanasian Creed (the definite articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity), Talmage writes, "It would be difficult to conceive of a greater number of inconsistencies and contradictions expressed in so few words."16
Talmage would not consider the Creed to be "inconsistent and contradictory" if he had taken the time to understand what the doctrine of the Trinity actually affirms.
Previously he had stated in reference to the first article of the LDS Articles of Faith quoted above, "This cannot rationally be construed to mean the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one in substance and IN PERSON . "17
The doctrine of the Trinity does NOT state that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in PERSON. Joseph F. Smith (sixth prophet of the LDS church) showed the same confusion. He remarked, in reference to what constitutes God's "oneness" that it is "the error so prevalent in the sectarian denominations, that it is a UNITY OF PERSONALITY."18
The doctrine actually affirms, "Within the one Being or essence of God, there eternally exists THREE DISTINCT YET EQUAL PERSONS, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit" (the third article of Darkness to Light's Confession of Faith).
"We are the Offspring of our Father"
Lorenzo Snow, fifth LDS prophet, declared, "WE ARE THE OFFSPRING OF OUR FATHER in heaven, and we possess in our spiritual organizations the same capabilities, powers and faculties that our Father possess, although in an infantile state."19
What does Snow mean when he says, "We are the offspring of our Father in heaven?" Does he mean the same thing Paul did when he used a similar phrase in Athens (see Acts 17:28). For Paul and the Bible in general, being "His offspring" means we were all CREATED by God (Acts 17:25; Gen 2:7; Job 12:10; 33:4; Zech 12:1).
However, for Mormons, the phrase is taken is quite a different sense. During this discussion, the Mormon belief in a God with a physical body EXACTLY like a human mans must be remembered.
George Albert Smith, eighth Mormon president, said, "We are the children of God. He is the Father of our SPIRITS."20 Brigham Young taught, "Man is the offspring of God .... We are as much the children of this great Being as we are the children of our mortal progenitors."21
Brigham Young elaborates, "Our Father in heaven begat all the spirits that ever were, or will be, upon this earth; and they were BORN SPIRITS IN THE ETERNAL WORLD. Then the Lord by His power and wisdom organized the mortal tabernacle of man. WE WERE FIRST SPIRITUAL AND AFTERWARDS TEMPORAL."22
And further, "There is not a person here today but what is a son or a daughter of that Being. In the spirit world their spirits were first begotten and brought forth, and they lived there with their PARENTS for ages before they came here."23
There are two points to note here. First is the reference to pre-existence. According to Mormon theology, everyone living on this earth at one time pre-existed in heaven (or the spirit world) as spirit beings. We came to this earth to receive physical bodies like God the Father.
Second, in the first quote by Brigham Young, he implies God is the Father of our spirits IN THE SAME WAY our earthly parents are of our bodies. But in order to produce our bodies, we had to have a mother as well as a father. Notice the word "parents" in the last quote by Brigham Young. This word is being applied to our pre-existent progenitors in heaven.
LDS apostle Bruce McConkie elaborates:
Implicit in the Christian verity that all men are the spirit children of an Eternal Father is the USUALLY UNSPOKEN TRUTH that they are also the offspring OF AN ETERNAL MOTHER. An exalted and glorified Man of holiness could not be a Father unless A WOMAN of like glory, perfection, and holiness was associated with him as A MOTHER. The begetting of children makes a man a father and a woman a mother whether we are dealing with man in his mortal or immortal state.
This doctrine that there is a MOTHER IN HEAVEN was affirmed by the First Presidency .... they said that man as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents . 24
Joseph Fielding Smith affirms this position when he writes, "The fact there is no reference to a MOTHER IN HEAVEN either in the Bible, Book of Mormon or Doctrine of Covenants is NOT sufficient proof that no such thing as a MOTHER did exist there (in heaven) ... does not COMMON SENSE tell us that WE MUST HAVE HAD A MOTHER THERE ALSO?"25
So, Mormonism's belief in a God with a physical body and pre-existence of all people in heaven as spirit beings leads to an interesting doctrine: Our spirits came about through physical, sexual intercourse between our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother!
But it must be asked, "How can the copulation of PHYSICAL beings (God the Father and His Goddess Wife) produce SPIRIT children?" Moreover, as already shown, the God of the Bible does not have a physical body. Hence, the whole concept of sex in heaven is simply nonsense (see Matt 22:30).
Further, the Bible does not teach we were pre-existent spirits in heaven before attaining our physical bodies on this earth. Zechariah 12:1 declares that the LORD, "forms the spirit of man within him" (see also 1Cor 15:46).
The Person of Jesus Christ
Given the above beliefs about heavenly sex, what is Mormonism's attitude towards the Person of Jesus Christ? Brigham Young professed, "We believe that Jesus Christ is OUR ELDER BROTHER. "26
Likewise, Joseph F. Smith taught, "Among the spirit children of Elohim [God the Father], the firstborn was and is .... Jesus Christ to whom all others are juniors .... Jesus Christ is not the Father of the spirits who have taken or yet shall take bodies upon this earth, for HE IS ONE OF THEM. He is the Son, as they are sons or daughters of Elohim."27
So in Mormonism, the only difference between Jesus' spirit and ours is His was conceived in heaven by our Heavenly Parents before ours were. In other words, He is simply older than we are!
But, if everyone is pre-existent with Jesus only being a little older, then why does the Bible place such an emphasis on Jesus' pre-existence?
For instance, John 1:1 begins, "In the beginning was the Word ."
Merril C. Tenney comments on this phrase:
Literally, it should be rendered "When the beginning began, the Word was already there." This is the sense of en [was], which is in the imperfect tense and implies continuing existence in the past. So before the beginning began, the Word was already in existence. This is tantamount to saying that the Word predates time or Creation28 (see also Isa 9:6; Micah 5:2; Col 1:1; Heb 7:3).
However, there is a sense in Mormonism in which Jesus is thought to be unique. Brigham Young taught, "Jesus is our elder brother spirit clothed upon by AN EARTHLY BODY BEGOTTEN BY THE FATHER of our spirits."29
Joseph F. Smith adds, "Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and BODILY OFFSPRING; that is to say, Elohim is LITERALLY THE FATHER of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also OF THE BODY in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh...."30
And further, "He is essentially greater than any and all others by reason of ... His unique status in the flesh as the OFFSPRING OF A MORTAL MOTHER AND AN IMMORTAL, OR RESURRECTED AND GLORIFIED FATHER."31
In other words, in order to produce Jesus' physical body, God came down to earth and had sexual intercourse with Mary. Thus, she was no longer a virgin when she conceived Jesus. The above words cannot be taken in any other way. So here is an denial of the historic doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus.
Of course, for this scenario to be correct requires God to have a physical body. The problems with this idea have already been discussed.
Further, according to Mormonism, Mary is the daughter of our Heavenly Father. As such, for God to have had intercourse with her would have been incest! But such behavior would have Him breaking His own Law and causing Mary to sin (Lev 18:6,7,17).
Finally, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is explicitly and implicitly taught in the Bible (Gen 3:15; Isa 7:14; Matt 1:16-25; Luke 1:26-38; John 8:41; Gal 4:4; see also "Born of the Virgin Mary").
This article is
concluded at Mormonism: Just Another Christian Denomination? -
Part Two discusses Mormon teachings regarding the Work of Jesus Christ, salvation, and the afterlife.
1 Joseph Smith. Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1982), pp. 49-58.
2 Gordon Hinckley. Truth Restored (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1979), pp. 30-32,44,71-79,130,131.
3 Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1988), pp. 49-52.
4 Daniel Ludlow, ed. Latter-Day Prophets Speak (Logon, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988).
5 Robert Bowman. "Faulty Foundation of Five-Fold Ministry." Christian Research Journal (Fall, 1987), p.31.
6 Brigham Young. Journal of Discourses. 14:135-136, May 21, 1871. Quoted in Ludlow, p.346.
7 Smith, Pearl, p.60. Note: All emphases in quotations are added unless indicated otherwise.
8 Young. Discourses. 16:73-74, May 25, 1873. Quoted in Ludlow, p.346.
9 Joseph Smith. Times and Seasons. August 15, 1844, Delivered April, 1844. Quoted in Ludlow, p.277.
10 Young. Discourses. 19:64, July 24, 1874. Quoted in Ludlow, p.278.
11 Young. Discourses. 13:308-9, Nov. 13, 1870. Quoted in Ludlow, p.278.
12 Wilford Woodruff. Journal of Discourses. 6:120, Dec. 6, 1857. Quoted in Ludlow, p.78.
13 Joseph Fielding Smith. Doctrines of Salvation. Vol.1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954), p.12.
14 Joseph Smith, Pearl, p.60.
15 Joseph Smith. Documentary History of the Church. 6:474, June 16, 1844. Quoted in Ludlow, p.273.
16 James Talmage. Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1987), pp. 47, 48).
17 Ibid., p.40
18 Joseph F. Smith. Improvement Era. 4:228, Jan., 1901. Quoted in Ludlow, p.273. The reader should note the distinction between the following three Mormon prophets: Joseph Smith (first prophet, 1830-1844), Joseph F. Smith (sixth prophet, 1901-1918), and Joseph Fielding Smith (tenth prophet, 1970-1972).
19 Lorenzo Snow. Deseret Weekly News. 20:597, Jan. 14, 1872. Quoted in Ludlow, p.276.
20 George Albert Smith. Conference Reports, p. 125. Quoted in Ludlow, p.275.
21 Young. Discourses. 9:283, Feb. 8, 1857. Quoted in Ludlow, p.275.
22 Young. Discourses. 1:50, April 9, 1852. Quoted in Ludlow, p.278.
23 Young. Discourses. 4:216, Feb. 8,, 1857. Quoted in Ludlow, p.275.
24 Bruce McConkie. Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p.516. Quoted in Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987), p. 164.
25 Joseph Fielding Smith. Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.3, p.142. Quoted in Tanner, p. 165.
26 Young. Discourses. 13:235-6, Feb. 20, 1870. Quoted in Ludlow, p.281.
27 Joseph F. Smith. Era. 19:941-942, June 30, 1916. Quoted in Ludlow, p.281.
28 Merril C. Tenney. "John" in The Expositors Bible Commentary. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), p.30.
29 Young. Discourses. 10:2, Sept. 28, 1862. Quoted in Ludlow, p.281.
30 Joseph F. Smith. Era. 19:935, June 30, 1916. Quoted in Ludlow, p.280.
31 Ibid., 19:941-942, June 30, 1916. Quoted in Ludlow, p.281.
Note: All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
Mormonism: Just Another Christian Denomination? Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article was published in Darkness to Light
and posted on this Web site in June 1998.
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