(LDS or Mormons)
Introduction: The most visible representatives of the Mormons are young men on bicycles wearing white shirts and neck-ties. Nearly every household in America has been visited at least once by such Mormon "elders" seeking to spread their faith. If this were the only way Mormon ideals were spread in our society, it would be enough to warrant the attention of Christians. In point of fact, it is just the tip of the iceberg.
As of December 31, 1997, there were 4.9 million Mormons in the United States
alone, and as many as 10 million in 24,670 growing congregations worldwide (LDS Global Media Guide). In 1980, there were only 4.2 million Mormons in 10,000 congregations (Mead). This growth is not just the result of missionary work; it reflects the influence of a vast religious and financial empire which has an income of over 2 billion dollars per year (Heinerman & Shupe, 1985). Besides their religious and educational facilities (which include Brigham Young University), the Mormons also own shares in several public utility companies and blue chip stocks (AT&T, IBM, GE, Sears, etc.); The LDS church owns and operates a ranch system bigger than the 825,000 acre King Ranch in Texas. It possesses 27 granaries and flour mills, 7.5 million dollars worth of commercial real estate, a dozen commercial radio stations, and a large number of shares of Times-Mirror Broadcasting (Heinerman & Shupe, 1985). In the early 1990's Times-Mirror owned seven commercial television stations, including an NBC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama. The Mormon church uses its holdings to promote itself; for example, their Birmingham NBC affiliate has broadcast family oriented "public service" messages which display the logo of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints alongside the station's logo.
Christians definitely need to be aware of the basic teachings and goals of this influential religious group. When Mormons knock at our door, we need to know how we "ought to answer each one" (Colossians 4:5).
< Point of Origin >
The LDS church was founded by Joseph Smith in the mid 1800's. Smith's family lived in what was then Ontario County, New York. He was brought up amid the religious confusion and denominational rivalries of his time. Smith claimed that as a boy of 14 or 15, God and Christ appeared to him and informed him that all the existing religious groups were wrong and he should join none of them. Later, he said, an angel named Moroni appeared to him; eventually he was guided to a pair of Golden Plates hidden in the hills of New York on which were written reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics. From these, Smith professes to have translated the Book of Mormon during the years 1827-1829. In translating, Smith alleged that Moroni provided him with a supernatural tool (the "Urim and Thummim") so that he could decipher the writing correctly; Smith dictated much of what was on the plates to Oliver Cowdery, a friend who worked as his scribe. On May 15, 1829, it is said that Smith and Cowdery were visited by John the Baptist who conferred upon both of them the Aaronic Priesthood.
In 1830, when the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, along with Smith's brothers Hyrum and Samuel, and David and Peter Whitmer, founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Fayette, New York. Soon this nucleus moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where it increased in number to about 1,600. Early on, a few zealous preachers were converted to Mormonism from other groups. These include men such as Parley Pratt and Sidney Rigdon, who had been a powerful "Campbellite preacher" (Martin, 1982). Their work was a key to the early growth of Mormonism.
Smith ventured into Missouri, where he purchased 63 acres of ground on which the temple of Zion, the earthly headquarters of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, was eventually to be built. The strange, irritating and sometimes obnoxious ways of the Mormons did not sit well with the people of Jackson County, and the Mormons were expelled from Missouri. They moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they grew and prospered for a time. Eventually, controversy over Mormon doctrine (especially polygamy) sparked violence. An anti-Mormon Newspaper office was wrecked. Joseph and Hyrum Smith were jailed to await trial for their part in it. An angry mob stormed the prison and killed both Joseph and Hyrum. After this, most Mormons accepted Brigham Young as their new prophet and president. Young led them to settle in Utah, the modern center of Mormonism (Martin, 1982).
< Distinctive Points of Pentecostal Belief >
Before we look at Mormon beliefs, it should be noted that there are at least five differing Mormon denominations. The main LDS group, centered in Utah, is the primary subject of our discussion. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not follow Brigham Young; among other differences it has with the Utah group, it contends that the Mormon presidency should fall to the direct descendants of Joseph Smith. Another group with only about 6,000 members is known as the Church of Christ (Temple Lot); it owns title to the lot near Independence, Missouri, on which Joseph Smith said the temple is to be built. Two other churches were organized in the mid--1800's by William Bickerton and James Strang, both dissenters from the main group.
1. God's Word. The main writings of Joseph Smith (The Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price) are all believed to be the word of God. Mormons accept the "revelations" of Joseph Smith and his successors through the present day; they explain their belief in a continuing revelation of God's word as follows:
"Divine revelation for the direction of the entire Church comes from God to the President of the Church. The Presidents of the Church down through the years since it was restored in 1830 have been and are viewed by Latter-day Saints as prophets in the same sense as are Abraham, Moses, Peter, and other such biblical leaders" (Global Media Guide, 1998).
Mormons also claim to believe the Bible to be the word of God "as far as it is translated correctly." However, if a verse in the Bible is found which contradicts their teachings, Mormons quickly point out that there are have been problems transmit-ting the true text of the Bible to us through the centuries and that many mistranslations have surely occurred. [Note: This may sound like good reasoning, until one learns that Joseph Smith claimed to make an inspired translation of the Bible, much of which is the same as the KJV Bible. The Utah LDS do not use the "Inspired Translation" because the Reorganized LDS possess the manuscript (Mat-thews, 1975).]
2. The Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon purports to be an account of significant events on the American continent from 600 B.C. to 421 A.D. Israelites who left Jerusalem in 600 B.C. came to America and became American Indians. Christ appeared to them after His crucifixion and commanded them to repent and be baptized. Eventually, there was a falling away. Unbelieving Lamanites destroyed the believing Nephites. Much of the record of these events was inscribed on metal plates by Mormon and his son Moroni. Moroni, last of the Nephite prophets, hid these plates in 421 A.D.
3. The Nature of God and Man. Mormons believe that God was once a man in mortal flesh who has achieved status as an exalted being and has become the Father of our spirits. Even now, God is said to have a body of flesh and bones like man. Men were created by God for the purpose of becoming gods themselves. Mormons assert that John 10:33-36 teaches that man is supposed to be exalted to be a god.
4. Millennialism. Mormons believe that 10 tribes of Israel will be restored and that Zion will be built on the American continent. They hold that Christ will personally come to reign upon the earth.
5. Inherited Sin. The book of Mormon states that all men were lost "because of the transgression of their parents" (2 Nephi 2:21). However, Article 2 of their Articles of Faith states, "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression." Former Mormon President David McKay wrote that the only people who are exempt from the necessity of baptism are "children who die in infancy, having no sin to expiate" (McKay, 1974, p. 8).
6. Salvation. Faith, repentance and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins are believed to be the necessary steps to salvation. The Latter-day saints Global Media Guide explains the LDS position as follows:
"As stated by Joseph Smith, the first principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are, 'first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost' (Articles of Faith 1:4) which constitutes confirmation into the Church. Baptism follows the biblical example of immersion and is for the remission of one's sins. Since young children are incapable of sin, they are not baptized until the age of eight, the age when they become accountable for their actions."
After baptism, one is to receive laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. To be valid, baptism must be performed by one who has been "called of God, by prophecy and by the laying on of hands" to administer the ordinance (Articles of Faith, 4 & 5).
7. Church Organization. Mormons believe the proper organization of the church was revealed by Joseph Smith in Doctrines and Covenants. The First President is revered as living prophet. The President and his two Counselors are chosen from among the High Priests. Together with the Council of Twelve Apostles, they constitute the highest court of the church. Under them are the Council of Seventy, Presiding Bishops, Ward Bishops, Elders, Deacons and Teachers. Every male member is a part of either the Melchizedek Priesthood (which officiates in church offices) or the Aaronic Priesthood (which administers the outward ordinances).
<Distinctive Points of Practice>
1. Mormon marriage. Mormons believe that marriage and family are designed to be eternal relationships. They say the power to bind marriage in heaven and on earth was given to the apostles in Matthew 16:19. This power has been reinstated through the Priesthood of the Mormon church, so that couples who are married in a Mormon temple will continue as a family "into the eternities" (McKay, 1974). Heads of families will become the "fathers" of future worlds over which they will be as God is to us.
2. Baptism for the dead. Mormons hold that baptism is essential for salvation, whether one is physically dead or alive. Those who have lived and died without hearing the gospel will have an opportunity to hear it in another world. Those living in this world may therefore be baptized in a Mormon temple on behalf of the deceased. I Corinthians 15:29 and I Peter 3:19-20 are the passages usually cited to justify this belief. Therefore, Mormons "have zealously searched the records of the world for the history of their ancestors that their forefathers might receive vicariously the blessings of the gospel of Christ." To facilitate this, the Mormon church maintains an enormous genealogical organization (McKay, 1974).
3. Missionary Work. In 1980, nearly 28,000 young Mormons were serving as full-time missionaries without compensation. Usually, each missionary will give two years to spreading Mormon doctrine (Mead, 1980).
The following is a comparison of only a few of the many points where official Mormon doctrine contradicts the Bible. .
1. Completed VERSUS Continued Revelation. "Wherefore, because you have a Bible you need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need you suppose that I have not caused more to be written."(2 Nephi 29:10). "Thou fool that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible and we need no more Bible..." (2 Nephi 29:6). "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Articles of Faith, 9). "Revelation for the direction of the entire Church comes from God to the President of the Church." (Global Media Guide, 1998) (See also Doctrines & Covenants 124:41).
2. Jesus' Birthplace. "And behold he shall be born of Mary at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers..." (Alma 7:10).
3. Darkness at Jesus' Death. "...there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death, for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead." (Helaman 14:20).
4. The First Christians. According to the Book of Mormon, in 73 B.C., "true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come." (Alma 46:15).
5. Establishment of the Church. In 145 B.C., those baptized in the waters of Mormon "we called the church of God, or the church of Christ from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church" (Mosiah 18:17).
6. Nature of God. "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's..." (D & C 130:22). "... and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood..." (Ether 3:6ff.) "We believe in a God who is Himself progressive, whose majesty is intelligence; whose perfection consists in eternal advancement -- a Being who has attained His exalted state by a path which now His children are permitted to follow...the Church proclaims the eternal truth: 'As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be.'" (LDS Apostle James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, Ch.24, p.430 - p.431).
7. Man becoming god. "The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like himself" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, cf. D & C 132:20-22).
8. The Head of the Church. Concerning his relationship with Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery was commanded, "Thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church; For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead." (D & C 28:6-7).
9. Aaronic Priesthood. "And the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations, which priesthood also continueth and abideth forever...." (D & C 84:18).
10. Christ dwelling in men. "...the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man's heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false" (D & C 42:18).
1. Completed VERSUS Continued Revelation. "...contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). "Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail..." (I Corinthians 13:8). "As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3). All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work"(2 Timothy 3:16-17).
2. Jesus' Birthplace. "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea..." (Matthew 2:1).
4. The First Christians. "And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).
5. Establishment of the Church. "Upon this rock I will build my church..." (Matthew 16:18). "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).
6. Nature of God. "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). "...a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have" (Luke 24:39).
8. Head of the Church. "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead..." (Colossians 1:18). "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church" (Ephesians 1:22).
9. Aaronic Priesthood. "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law" (Hebrews 7:12).
< Weak Points of Mormonism >
1. Questionable Origin of the Book of Mormon. There are many questionable aspects of Joseph Smith's account of the events which led him to the golden plates on which the book of Mormon were written. For instance, Smith said his initial interest in the question of which religion was right was prompted by a competitive revival among Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists in Palmyra, New York during the year 1820. Records indicate that no such revival took place in 1820. Two preachers Smith claimed led the revival, did not arrive in Palmyra until 1824 (Walters, 1967).
The fact that the Book of Mormon closely resembles other previously written books has also prompted many to doubt Joseph Smith's claims concerning its origin. Many verses and even whole chapters of the King James Version of the Bible are found word for word (including interpolations) in the Book of Mormon. Several other books, written prior to the publishing of the book of Mormon include stories to the effect that American Indians are the descendants of the Israelites. Among these works were Elias Boudinot's Star in the West (1816), Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews (1823), and Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence (1824) (Jones, 1964). These books use exactly the same scriptures and reasoning to support their theory concerning the American Indians that early Mormon preachers used. On top of this, an historical novel written in the early 1800's by Solomon Spaulding entitled "The Manuscript Found" had almost exactly the same plot as the Book of Mormon.
The three witnesses, whose written testimony concerning seeing the plates from which The Book of Mormon was translated is found in the introduction to The Book of Mormon, all fell away from the Mormon faith in later years. Concerning his part in transcribing The Book of Mormon from Joseph Smith's dictation, Oliver Cowdery said, "I have sometimes had reasons of skepticism, in which I did seriously wonder whether the Prophet and I were men in our sober senses when he would be translating from plates...and the plates not be in sight at all." Concerning Joseph Smith, Cowdery said, "I could rehearse a number of things to show either that I was then deceived, or that he has since fallen from the lofty place in which fond affection had deemed him secure" (1937, p. 3).
2. Weak view of inspiration. It is hard to understand what Mormons mean when they claim inspiration for The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's translation of it, Doctrines & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. When they call these works "inspired" and "God's word" they do not seem to mean the same thing Christians mean when they call the Bible inspired. For one thing, The Book of Mormon itself contains several statements indicating that there could be errors in it because it was written according to human knowledge. Jacob 7:26 states, "I conclude this record declaring that I have written according to the best of my knowledge," and Mormon 8:12 says, "And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these..." (see also I Nephi 1:3; 19:6; Jacob 1:2; Mormon 9:32-33; 3 Nephi 8:1-2; 5:16).
The "inspired" Mormon writings not only contradict the Bible, they are frequently at odds with one another. For instance, Jacob 2:23-24 says that polygamy is "abominable" before the Lord, but Doctrines and Covenants 132:61-62 says that a man who takes ten wives is justified. A declaration concerning polygamy made by Mormon President Wilford Woodruff in 1890, and now included in Doctrines and Covenants, advises Mormons "to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land."
Furthermore, literally hundreds of changes have been made in The Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price since their original publications. These changes are much more than what is needed to correct typographical errors or the many grammatical errors found in Smith's translation. If The Book of Mormon is God's word and has been perfectly translated by Smith, how can men change it?
3. Unreliability of Mormonism's founding prophet. Historical testimony concerning Joseph Smith is contradictory. Mormons depict him as a true saint, much like Muslims do Mohammed. However, many non-Mormons testify that Joseph Smith was a treasure hunter, a yarn spinner, a liar and a moral reprobate. While reading the details of this kind of testimony is fascinating, it should be noted that personal morality is not the test of a true prophet of God. Accuracy is (see Deut. 18:21-22).
In Doctrines and Covenants 87, Joseph Smith prophesied that the war between the Southern States and the Northern States would involve Great Britain and eventually be "poured out upon all nations." He said the Indians would become involved and would "marshal themselves...and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation." God would make "a full end of all nations" in order to avenge the Latter--day saints of their enemies. Obviously none of this happened. Joseph Smith was a false prophet.
4. Mormons rely on "feelings" as evidence. Mormons typically ask us to read the Book of Mormon, pray about it, and see how we feel. They assure us that our feelings will lead us to acknowledge the Book of Mormon as truth. If this is correct -- if feelings can be relied upon as evidence for determining what is true -- then the Muslim who has read the Koran and feels that it is the truth is as correct in his religion as the Mormon. If merely feeling that we have God's truth is reliable evidence that we have it, then every religion must have God's truth, for surely every religion has adherents who feel that they are right.
Review Questions on Mormonism
1. Name several ways Mormon teaching and influence is spread.
2. Who founded the LDS church and when?
3. Name four books Mormons claim are inspired by God.
4. According to Mormons, what must one do to be saved?
5. Name at least two things Mormons practice that are unique?
6. Summarize what Mormons believe about each of the following topics, and then give the Scripture their teaching contradicts.
Continued revelation today.
The nature of God.
Men becoming gods.
7. STUDY on your own to answer the following questions:
a. The Mormons claim that the two sticks mentioned in Ezekiel 37:16ff. represent the Book of Mormon and the Bible. What do the two sticks really represent?
b. The Mormons claim that the "other sheep" Jesus refers to in John 10:16 are the Indians that He would go to in America. Who is Jesus really speaking of and how do we know this?
8. In your opinion, what is the weakest point of the Mormon religion?
References on Mormonism
Bennett, W. F. (1950). Why I am a Mormon. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons.
Cowdery, O. (1937 reprint of 1839 document). Second elder Oliver Cowdery's Renunciation of Mormonism and his "defence" for so doing. Cleveland, OH: The Utah Gospel Mission.
Heinerman, J. & Shupe, A. (1985). The Mormon corporate empire. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Jennings, A. (1973). Traditions of men versus the word of God. Fort Worth, TX: Star Bible Publications.
Jessee, D. C. (1984). The personal writings of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
Jones, W. M. (1964). A critical study of book of mormon sources. Detroit, MI: Harlo Press.
Martin, W. (1982). The kingdom of the cults. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
Matthews, R. J. (1975). A plainer translation: Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible, a history and commentary. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press.
McKay, D. (1974). The purpose of the temple. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mead, F. S. (1980). Handbook of denominations in the United States. Nashville, TN: Abingdon.
North, S. (1977). Handbook on church doctrines. Oklahoma City, OK: OCC Bookstore.
Olbricht, O. D. (1972). Studies in denominational doctrine (book two). Delight, AK: Gospel Light Publishing Company.
Smith, J. (1981 ed.). The book of mormon. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Smith, J. (1982 ed.). The doctrines and covenants of the church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints.
Smith, J. (1982 ed.). The pearl of great price. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints.
Walters, W. P. (1967). New light on mormon origins from the Palmyra revival. La Mesa, CA: Utah Christian Tract Society.
_________ (1998). Global Media Guide. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints (accessed via the World Wide Web at http://www.lds.org/).