NAME: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(LDS, Mormons) FOUNDER: Joseph Smith Jr., on April 6,
1830 CURRENT LEADER: Gordon B. Hinckley (b. 1910)
Salt Lake City, Utah
(1998): Worldwide: 10.3 million in 28,670 wards
and branches in 162 countries; United States: 5.1 million
in all 50 states and D.C.; Canada: 152,000.
The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph F. Smith
Jr. (1805–1844). Smith claimed to have had a visitation
from God in 1820 in which God directed him to establish
the true church. Consequently he organized the Mormon
Church on April 6, 1830, with six original members.
Beginning with a few hundred followers the church moved
to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois before Smith’s
death at the hands of a mob at the Carthage, Ill., jail.
Smith had been arrested for encouraging the destruction
of the Expositor, a Nauvoo, Ill., newspaper. After Smith’s
death, Brigham Young was affirmed as president of the
church by a majority of the church’s leaders and
led several thousand followers to Utah where they established
Salt Lake City in 1847. Joseph Smith’s widow,
Emma, resided in Independence, Mo. Those who affirmed
her son, Joseph Smith, as the true successor of his
father and as prophet of the church helped found the
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,
now headquartered in Independence, Mo., in 1852.
MAJOR BELIEFS OF MORMONS
The Mormon church claims to be the only true church.
In God’s supposed revelation to Joseph Smith,
Jesus Christ told him to join no other church for "they
were all wrong . . . their creeds were an abomination
. . . those professors [members] were all corrupt"
(The Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History —1:19).
Mormons teach that after the New Testament all churches
became heretical and no true saints existed until the
"Church of the Latter-day Saints" was organized,
hence their name. Non-Mormons are thus called "Gentiles."
The new revelations given to Smith, the institution
of the prophet and apostles in the church, the restoration
of the divine priesthoods, and the temple ceremonies
make the church authentic. True and full salvation or
exaltation is found only in the LDS Church. Biblical
Response: The true church of Jesus Christ has had an
ongoing presence and witness in the world since Pentecost.
Jesus Christ promised that His church, true baptized
and regenerate believers, would not fail (Matt. 16:17–
18). The marks of a true church include faithfulness
to the teaching of the first apostles (Acts 2:42)—not
the creation of new doctrines.
OF THE PROPHET:
The president or prophet of the Church is thought to
be the sole spokesman and revelator of God. Joseph Smith
was the initial prophet, but each successive president
holds that position. Through him God’s will can
be made known to the church. All revelations are made
scripture and no Mormon can attain godhood without accepting
Joseph Smith as a true prophet. The Mormon scriptures
state that Latter-day Saints "shalt give heed unto
all his [the prophet’s] words andcommandments
. . . For his word ye shall receive as if from mine
[God’s] own mouth" (Doctrine and Covenants
Biblical Response: Old and
New Testament prophets were God’s spokesmen. Their
words were always consistent with the Bible and pointed
to God’s Son, Jesus Christ. A test of genuineness
for prophets was that any prediction they proclaimed
would come true (Deut. 18:20–22). For example,
Joseph Smith predicted that the temple of the church
would be built in Independence, Mo., within his lifetime
(Doctrine and Covenants 84:2–5). No temple has
yet been built there. New Testament prophets spoke,
along with teachers, pastors, and evangelists, in evangelizing
with and edifying the church (Eph. 4:11–13).
Mormons accept four books as scripture and the word
of God. The King James Version of the Bible is one of
them, but only "as far as it is translated correctly"
—seemingly allowing for possible questions about
its authority. Joseph Smith made over 600 corrections
to its text. Other "standard works" are the
Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl
of Great Price. The Bible is missing "plain and
precious parts" according to the Book of Mormon
(1 Nephi 13:26) which the other three volumes complete.
The Book of Mormon has the "fullness of the gospel"
and tells the story of a supposed migration of Israelites
in 600 B.C. to the American continent. These Israelites
subsequently lapsed into apostasy although their story
was preserved on golden plates written in Reformed Egyptian.
Joseph Smith, it is said, translated the plates by the
"gift and power of God" (Doctrine and Covenants
135:3). Reformed Egyptian does not exist as a language.
The golden plates were returned to the angel Moroni
after they were transcribed and Moroni returned them
to heaven. The Book of Mormon does not contain explicit
Mormon doctrine. Doctrine and Covenants contains the
revelations of the Mormon prophets—138 in number
along with two "declarations." Here most of
Mormon doctrine can be found including the priesthood,
baptism for the dead, godhood, and polygamy. The Pearl
of Great Price contains Smith’s religious history,
the Articles of Faith, the Book of Abraham, and the
Book of Moses. Biblical Response: The Bible explicitly
warns against adding to or detracting from its teaching
(Rev. 22:18; Deut. 4:2). The New Testament contains
the inspired and totally accurate witness of contemporary
disciples and followers of Jesus. It alone claims to
be fully inspired of God and usable for the establishment
of doctrine (2 Tim. 3:15–17; 2 Pet. 1:19–21).
The first Mormon temple was constructed in Kirtland,
Ohio, in 1836. Subsequently, a temple was constructed
in Nauvoo, Ill., in 1846. Presently there are at least
53 operating temples throughout the world including
the one finished in Salt Lake City in 1893. The purpose
and function of temples is for the practice of eternal
ordinances including primarily baptism for the dead,
endowments, and celestial marriages. Baptism in the
Mormon church, for both the living and the dead, is
essential for the fullness of salvation. The dead often
are baptized by proxy which affords them after death
the opportunity to become Mormons. Celestial marriage
for "time and eternity" is also a temple ordinance.
It is necessary for godhood and seals the marriage forever.
Temples form an essential part of Mormon salvation.
Only Mormons in possession of a "temple recommend"
by their bishop may enter a temple.
Biblical Response: The Temple
of the Old Testament was a place of symbolic sacrifice
forefiguring the sacrifice of Christ. Worship in the
Jewish temple in Jerusalem was a practice of early Jewish
believers (Acts 2:46). Otherwise there is no mention
of any such practice in the New Testament. Never was
the Jewish temple used for baptism for the dead, marriage,
or other secret ceremonies. It was the place in the
Old Testament where the glory of God occasionally dwelt.
Today the individual believer is God’s dwelling
place and not a physical building (1 Cor. 3:16).
IS AN EXALTED MAN:
Elohim, the god of this universe, was previously a man
in a prior existence. As a result of having kept the
requirements of Mormonism, he was exalted to godhood
and inherited his own universe. God is confined to a
"body of flesh and bones" (Doctrine and Covenants
130:22) and yet is thought to be omniscient and omnipotent.
He obviously cannot be omnipresent. There are an nfinite
number of gods with their own worlds—these too
were previously men. The Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ, and
"Heavenly Father" comprise three separate
and distinct gods. Heavenly Father sires spiritual children
in heaven destined for human life on earth. All humans,
as well as Jesus Christ and Lucifer, are god’s
heavenly children. (See Doctrine and Covenants 130:22;
God, Jesus, and the Spirit thus had beginnings.)
Biblical Response: God is
Spirit and is not confined to a physical body (John
4:24). Jesus Christ was incarnated through a miraculous
and non-physical conception through the Virgin Mary.
He was fully God from the beginning (John 1:1). Together
with the person of the Holy Spirit they form the triune
(three-in-one) eternal God. JESUS IS GOD’S "SON":
Jesus was Heavenly Father’s firstborn spirit child
in heaven. He was begotten by God through Mary as in
a "literal, full and complete sense" in the
same "sense in which he is the son of Mary"
(Bruce McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith
[Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1993], 67). These
two elements of Jesus being literally God’s son
form his uniqueness in Mormon theology. In the Garden
of Gethsemane as well as on the cross Jesus atoned for
Adam’s sin and guaranteed all humankind resurrection
and immortality. Jesus visited the Israelites or Indians
of North America after his resurrection and established
the true church among them. We are the spiritual, but
literal, younger brothers and sisters of Christ. Some
Mormon documents claim that Jesus was married at Cana
in Galilee (Mark 2) and had children himself.
Biblical Response: Jesus
is viewed as God, the Word or Son, eternally existent
with the Father and worthy of identity as God (John
1:1–14). He was born of the Virgin Mary who had
conceived him supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. He
lived a perfect life, died on the cross for the sins
of the world, and was raised from the dead. He will
come again and reign as Lord of lords.
ARE GODS IN EMBRYO:
Every human being has the potential of becoming a god
by keeping the requirements of Mormonism. A well-known
statement within Mormonism is, "As man is god once
was, as god is man may become." From a prior spirit
existence in heaven, humans may be born on earth in
order to exercise freedom to choose good or evil and
to have a body for the resurrection. Basically humans
are good, but they will be punished for their sin. But
by keeping Mormon teaching and obeying the church and
the Prophet, after the resurrection worthy Mormon males
may pass the celestial guards, bring their wives with
them, and achieve a status similar to Elohim—the
god of this world. The consequences of their sin are
erased by their allegiance to the tenets of Mormonism.
In resurrection faithful Mormons receive exaltation
to godhood and will exercise dominion over their world.
Biblical Response: Human beings are God’s special
creation. There is no evidence from Scripture of preexistence,
rather God acknowledges that it was in the womb of our
mothers that He formed us (Isaiah 44:2). A sinful nature
is part of humanity’s experience. Liberation from
the power and presence of sin is experienced as a result
of faith in Christ. At that point God’s image
is begun to be remade in every Christian. Although the
believer is being transformed to Christlikeness, the
Bible does not teach literal godhood as the inheritance
of the saints (Rom. 8:29; Rev. 1:5– ).
PLAN OF SALVATION:
The Mormon plan of salvation is built on the
idea that all people have eternal life, but only the
most faithful Mormons have godhood or enter the celestial
Kingdom. In order to obtain this ultimate step, Mormons
must exercise faith in the God of Mormonism, its Christ,
and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints;
exercise repentance; and be baptized in the LDS Church.
Additionally Mormons must keep the "Word of Wisdom"
by abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine; tithe
to the church; attend weekly sacrament meetings; support
the Mormon prophet; do temple works; and be active in
their support of the church.
Biblical Response: Salvation,
according to the Bible, is due to God’s grace
and love. He provided Jesus as the sacrifice for the
sins of the world. It is through faith in the crucified
and risen Jesus that we may be saved. Works are excluded
(John 1:12; 3:16; Rom. 10:9–13; Eph. 2:8–9).
Know clearly the Christian
faith and the gospel.
Be aware of the unique
Mormon doctrines as presented here.
Remember, Mormons use
Christian vocabulary (gospel, atonement, god) but radically
redefine their meanings. Define clearly what you mean
when you use biblical words.
Present a clear testimony
of your faith in Christ alone for your salvation.
Show your Mormon friend
that the Bible teaches salvation alone through the cross
of Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 10:4,10–13; Eph. 2:8–9).
Emphasize that salvation is a gift to be received, not
a merit to be earned.
Warn the Mormon about
trusting in feelings (i.e., the burning in the bosom)
for a validation of Mormonism’s truth claim. Without
historical, objective verification, feelings are useless.
When Mormons use a Bible
verse, read carefully the verses before and afterward
to make clear the exact meaning and purpose of the passage.
Don’t let them take Bible verses out of context.
Read carefully the full reference in the Bible before
deciding what any one verse means.
Keep the central doctrines
of the faith as the focus of your discussion.
Do the basics: pray, trust
the Holy Spirit, and be loving, patient, and steadfast.
Phil Roberts, Director of Interfaith
Evangelism. Copyright 2000 North American Mission Board
of the Southern Baptist Convention, Alpharetta, Georgia.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.