Mormonism 101

As we have a Mormon running for President of the United States, it is likely important that you be able to know an explain the differences between us a Mormons. This is a repost from Kevin DeYoung. You can see the original here.

Salt-lake-mormon-temple
Here is a repost:

Mormonism
is back in the news. And with two Mormon presidential candidates,
including Mitt Romney (the front runner for the Republican nomination),
there’s a good chance we will be hearing much more about Mormonism for
the next twelve months. Denny Burk has a very helpful piece on whether Mormonism is a cult, and Albert Mohler has written a thoughtful article on “Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking.”
I won’t repeat their arguments, except to reiterate Mohler’s reminder
that voting for a president should include examining the candidate’s
religious beliefs, but should include other considerations as well.

Presidential elections are important. But believing the truth is even
more important. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to
provide a brief overview of Mormon history and theology. I won’t try to
debunk Mormonism or prove Christianity. But I hope this quick survey
will show that the two are not the same.

A quick note on secondary sources: Christian materials do not always
treat Mormonism fairly or go the extra mile to present Mormon ideas as a
Mormon would recognize it. One book that does is Andrew Jackson’s Mormonism Explained: What Latter-day Saints Teach and Practice.

Mormon History

Joseph Smith was born in rural Vermont in 1805, the fourth of nine
children. With little success farming in Vermont, the Smith family moved
west to Palmyra, New York.  There Joseph Smith was exposed to different
revival movements, and most of his family became Presbyterians, though
Smith later said he leaned toward Methodism.

The presence of so many variations of Christianity bothered Smith.
Which one was right? How could he choose?  At one revival meetings, a
preacher quoted from James 1:5
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men
liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (KJV).  Smith,
14 years old at the time, went home, reflected on these words, and went
into the woods to pray.

According to Mormon tradition, this is when Joseph Smith had his
first vision. In this visions, which is foundational to the Mormon
faith, Smith claimed to see two “personages.” The one-God the
Father-pointed to the other and said “This is My Beloved Son.  Hear
Him!”  Smith asked them what sect he should join.  They answered that he
should join none of them.  They were all wrong.  All their creeds were
an abomination and their believers corrupt.

Three years later, Mormons believe Smith received another vision. In
this vision the angel Moroni told Smith of golden plates buried under a
hill near Palmyra.  The plates were revealed in 1827 when Smith was
provided with two reading crystals–urim and thummim–by which he could
translate the writing (Smith claimed the plates were written in
hieroglyphics).  In 1830 Smith published The Book of Mormon, which
contains the story of the lost Israelites who migrated to America in the
sixth century BC but were killed in battle in AD 428.  Smith later
received another vision from John the Baptist giving him the Aaronic
Priesthood.

That same year (1830) Smith founded the “Church of Christ.”  In 1838
he changed the name to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
Saints.”

Smith continued to receive revelations telling him to move from New
York to Ohio to Missouri and eventually to Illinois where he and his
followers built a town called Nauvoo.  There Smith and his followers
tried to live out an utopian vision of society.  They also instituted
polygamy as early Mormon leaders argued that Jesus had had many wives. 
Smith and his brother were arrested in 1844. Later a mob stormed the
jail and killed them both.  Mormons consider Smith a martyr.  Others say
he died in a violent shoot-out.

Following Smith’s death there was a schism.  A small group called the
Josephites became the Reorganized Church with headquarters in
Missouri.  Most followed Brigham Young, who became their First President
and prophet.  In 1847, Young took the followers to Utah and built Salt
Lake City.

Today there are more than ten million Mormons worldwide-about half in
the United States.  Mormonism is the largest new religious movement
from the West since Christianity (which really came from the Near
East).  It is also the first homegrown American religion.  Mormonism
continues to grow because of it missionary impulse and its commitment to
doctrinal and ethical distinctives.

Mormon Theology

Let me highlight seven areas of Mormon doctrine. Again, I won’t try
to refute the Mormon position, but I hope you will see the explicit
deviation from the historic Christian faith.

1. View of history. In Mormon thinking, the
rise of Mormonism was not merely a reformation or renewal of the
church. It was a complete restoration. Following the death of Christ’s
apostles, the church fell into complete apostasy.  The church lost
divine authority and true doctrine. There is no unbroken continuity from
the early church to the present. Christianity, for almost all of its
history, was false and without the truth—until Joseph Smith and his
revelation. As Mohler points out, Mormonism not only rejects historic
orthodox Christianity, their whole religion is based on the need for
such repudiation.

2. View of revelation. Mormons believe the
Bible (the KJV version), but do not consider it inerrant. Neither do
they consider the Bible complete. What makes Mormonism unique is their
belief in continuing revelation sustained through prophets, seers, and
revelators. So while Mormons affirm the Bible, they also affirm the
inspiration of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl
of Great Price. Through an elaborate hierarchy of President, First
Presidency, Twelve Apostles, First Quorum of the Seventy, and Second
Quorum of the Seventy, Mormons can receive authoritative interpretations
and new authoritative revelations.

3. View of man. According to Mormon
theology, men and women are the spirit sons and daughters of God.  We
lived in a premortal spirit existence before birth. In this first estate
we grew and developed in preparation for the second estate. In this
second estate we walk by faith in this second state.  A veil of
forgetfulness has been placed over our minds so we don’t remember what
we did and who we used to be in our premortal existence. Our purpose in
this life is to grow and mature in a physical body to prepare us for our
final eternal state.

Mormons do not believe in human depravity. We are not implicated in
Adam’s fall. We are basically good in our eternal nature, but prone to
error in our mortal nature. The human is a being in conflict, but also a
being with infinite potential.

4. View of God. In Mormon thought, God has a
physical body. According to Doctrine and Covenants, “The Father has a
body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also;” but “The
Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of
Spirit.”

Whether God the Father is self-existent is unclear. There was a long
procession of gods and fathers leading up to our Heavenly Father. 
Brigham Young once remarked, “How many Gods there are, I do not know. 
But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds.” What is
clearer is that the Mormon God is not a higher order or a different
species than man. God is a man with a body of flesh and bones like us.

Mormons do not believe in the Trinity. They will talk about the unity
of three personages, but the unity is a relational unity in purpose and
mind, not a unity of essence. The three separate beings of the Godhead
are three distinct Gods.

5. View of Christ. Mormons believe Jesus is
Redeemer, God, and Savior. He is endless and eternal, the only begotten
son of the Father. Through Jesus, the Heavenly Father has provided a
way for people to be like him and to live with him forever.

But this familiar language does not mean the same thing to Mormons as
it does to Christians. Jesus was born of the Father just like all
spirit children. God is his Father in the same way he is Father to all.
Whatever immortality or Godhood Jesus possesses, they are inherited
attributes and powers. He does not share the same eternal nature as the
Father. Jesus may be divine, but his is a derivative divinity. As one
Mormon theologian puts it, Jesus “is God the Second, the Redeemer.”

6. View of the Atonement. Mormons
believe Jesus died for sins and rose again from the dead. The atonement
is the central event in history and essential to their theology. And
yet, Mormons do not have a precise doctrine of the atonement. They do
not emphasize Christ as wrath-bearing substitute, but emphasize simply
that Christ somehow mysteriously remits our sins through his suffering.

While the atonement itself is not overly defined, the way in which
the atonement is made efficacious is much more carefully delineated.
Salvation is available because of the atoning blood of Christ, but this
salvation is only received upon four conditions: faith, repentance,
baptism, and enduring to the end by keeping the commandments of God
(which include various Mormon rituals).

Finally, it should be noted Mormon theology stresses the suffering
the garden rather than the suffering on the cross. Atonement may have
been completed on Golgotha, but is was made efficacious in Gethsemane.

7. View of salvation. The
goal of Mormon salvation is not about escaping wrath as much as it is
about maximizing our growth and insuring our happiness. Salvation is
finding our way back to God the Father and recalling our forgotten first
estate as his premortal spirit children.

Mormon theology teaches that we cannot receive eternal reward by our
own unaided efforts. In some respects, salvation is based on what we
have earn, but what we earn is by grace. How this plays out in Mormon
life may differ from person to person, but they stress that the gift of
the Holy Ghost is conditional upon continued obedience. Mormons must
keep the First Principles and Ordinances, which consists of the Ten
Commandments, tithing, chastity, and the “Word of Wisdom” which
prohibits tobacco, coffee tea, alcohol and illegal narcotics.

Temples are also important in Mormon doctrine and practice. Couples
must be married in a Mormon temple to have eternal marriage, and every
Mormon must be baptized in one of their 135 (and counting) authorized
Temples. Because of the importance of baptism in the Temple, baptisms
for the dead are extremely common. Mormons keep detailed genealogical
records so that their ancestors can be properly baptized. By one
estimate more than 100 million deceased persons have been baptized by
proxy baptism in Mormon temples. Those who received this baptism are
free in the afterlife to reject or accept what has been done on their
behalf.

Death in Mormon thinking is seen as another beginning, complete with
opportunities to respond to postmortem preaching in the world to come.
We will live in the spirit world, and at some point our spirit and body
will be reunited forever.

There are four divisions in the afterlife. The Lake of Fire is
reserved for the Devil, his demons, and those who commit the
unpardonable sin. The Telestial Kingdom is where the wicked go. It is a
place of suffering but not like the Lake of Fire. Most people go to the
Telestial Kingdom where they are offered salvation again. The
lukewarm-not quite good, not quite evil-go to the Terrestrial Kingdom
when they die. This Kingdom is located on a distant planet in the
universe. The Celestial Kindgom is for the righteous. Here God’s people
live forever in God’s presence. We will live as gods and live with our
spouses and continue to procreate. This is the aim and the end of Mormon
salvation.

Conclusion

I encourage you to study Mormonism for yourself if you have more
questions. I think you’ll find that though the language sounds similar
at times, the beliefs are quite distinctive. Mormons do not understand
history, God, man, salvation, heaven, hell, the cross, Jesus, or the
Trinity as the canonical Scriptures teach, nor do they agree with the
doctrine taught by the holy, catholic, apostolic church over two
millennia.

One comment
  1. A former professor referred to Mormonism as a pseudo-Christian cult, and I’m inclined to agree. Jehovah’s Witnesses are also considered a pseudo-Christian cult.

    I’m extremely uncomfortable with the idea of making a candidate’s religious beliefs a deciding factor in if you vote for them because it seems like the trend in conservative Christianity has been to make that the most important criteria, and if the candidate passes muster on the religious front, nothing else really matters. I’m all for a Christian being President, but far more important than what they believe is if they will be an effective, capable leader who will uphold the Constitution and serve the people, not their political party and campaign donors, and that they have shown themselves to be a person of honor and integrity. I’d much sooner vote for an atheist who has a record of acting with integrity and honesty, is knowledgeable about world affairs, has a good relationship with politicians from other political parties, and has a solid leadership record than a Christian who’s been unfaithful to their spouse(s), is hostile and uncooperative toward those from different political parties, has a record of being a hothead, involved in multiple unsuccessful business ventures, isn’t informed about world affairs, has a record of lying and double-talk, and the way they vote appears to have a connection to who donated the most to their (re-)election campaign.

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