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Mormonism and Christianity

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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“A cult . . . is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Christ Jesus” (Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults).

Basic traits

  • Authority figure
  • Extrabiblical text
  • Unorthodox theology, somewhat related to Christianity

General characteristics

  • Presents a Jesus different from that of orthodox faith
  • Claims new truth
  • Offers new, non-orthodox interpretations of Scripture
  • Cites non-biblical authority source(s)
  • Rejects major tenets of orthodox Christianity
  • Generally develops a changing, often contradictory theology
  • Strong leadership, usually centered in a single person or group of persons
  • Almost always offers a salvation by works
  • Generally makes unsubstantiated prophetic claims

Contemporary Mormonism: “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”

Membership

  • 13 million worldwide in 20,081 wards and branches in 146 countries
  • 4.2 million in all 50 states of America; Canada: 125,000
  • Missionaries: 46,025 in 95 countries
  • Fastest-growing “religion” in America
  • Has quadrupled in less than 50 years
  • Gained almost 315,000 converts last year
  • At current growth rates, would number 250 million within a century, larger than any Christian body except the Roman Catholic Church
  • 45% of adherents live outside the U.S. today

The Mormon Church is an $8 billion-a-year corporation. $4 billion contributed by members each year; would rank 110th among the Fortune 500; one of the largest landowners in the U.S.

History of Mormonism

Founder: Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) founded the Mormon Church. He was born December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont, the fourth of 10 children to Joseph and Lucy Mac Smith. In 1817 he moved to Palmyra, NY. Most of his family soon joined the Presbyterian Church, but young Joseph remained undecided. He saw conflict and strife in all Christian denominations.

He claimed to have visions which led to the founding of the church:

First vision: 1820 (14 years old)–it was revealed to him that no Christian church was right (The Pearl of Great Price 2.18,19).

Second vision: September 21, 1823–Moroni, a heavenly messenger, revealed to him a book on golden plates; finally on September 22, 1927 he was given these plates. The book was translated by Smith and published on March 26, 1830

The church’s founding

The church began on April 6, 1830 at Fayette, New York as the “church of Christ”; the name eventually changed to the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” The group began to grow and moved to Kirtland, Ohio Expansion engendered opposition with battles fought between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri and Illinois.

Smith’s death

Smith was imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois with his brother Hyrum for destroying and burning printing presses and newspapers opposing his movement.

On June 27, 1844, a mob of about 200 stormed the jail and killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith; Joseph shot several of the mob members with his gun before his death. The Mormons consider him a martyr for the cause.

Brigham Young

The President of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young led the group after Smith’s death. They moved westward, and on July 24, 1847, arrived at Salt Lake Valley in Utah. This became their national headquarters

By his death in 1877, there were approximately 150,000 members. Smaller group, descended from Smith, established its headquarters in Independence, Missouri and became the “Reorganized Latter-Day Saints”

Sources of authority

The Bible: “We believe the Bible to be the Word of God in so far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Article 8). However, the Book of Mormon claims that a correct translation of the Bible is impossible since the Catholic Church has corrupted it (1 Nephi 13:26b,27). Thus the church depends much more on its other books than on the biblical materials.

The Book of Mormon: “We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God” (Articles of Faith, Section Eight). Supposedly there is an account of the original inhabitants of America, to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection.

Claims that in early times America was peopled by descendants of Israel

Nephites (a race of righteous white people)

Lamanites (a race of warlike, evil, and dark-skinned people; they are supposed to be the ancestors of the Native American population of today)

Jesus appeared on this continent and founded a group

Mormon, the last leader of the Nephites, supposedly collected the record of his people, and inscribed it on golden plates. It describes reported religious practices of the ancient Americans, including that the Nephites continued their Jewish traditions on this continent, building temples to God, having spiritual revivals, and even establishing a Christian church. Mormon records a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ himself among the Nephite people (3 Nephi 11). Thus the Mormon Church contends that the Book of Mormon is “another testament of Jesus Christ.”

Moroni, the last surviving Nephite (after their destruction by the Lamanites) and son of Mormon supposedly buried the plates in a hill in what later became Manchester County, New York. Joseph Smith supposedly recovered these plates in 1827 when the resurrected Moroni, appearing as an angel, told him where to dig for them; Moroni later took the plates to heaven (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith–History, 1:27-65). The inscriptions were written in a language Smith called “reformed Egyptian” which he was supposedly able to decipher miraculously; he published these inscriptions as the Book of Mormon.

Doctrine and Covenants: a record of 136 revelations concerning some of Mormonism’s distinctive doctrines, such as baptism for the dead and celestial marriage.

The Pearl of Great Price:

“Book of Moses”–roughly equivalent to the first 6 chapters of Genesis

“Book of Abraham”–translation of an Egyptian papyrus

Extract from Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible

Extracts from the History of Joseph Smith, his autobiography

The Articles of Faith

The Living Prophet

Basic beliefs

View of God/ultimate reality

Mormon statement: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” (The Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith, 59).

Actual concept: there are many gods, and God himself was once a man; Mormon males have the possibility of attaining godhood.

Joseph Smith writes in The King Follett Discourse: “I am going to inquire after God: for I want you all to know him and be familiar with him…I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show you what kind of a being God is. God was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens…I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in the form like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form of a man.

“I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so that you may see.

“It is the first principle of the gospel to know for certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with him as one man with another, and that 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 did (pp. 8-10).”

Doctrine and Covenants (130:22): “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”

According to Mormon Doctrine (278, 589) Jesus Christ was a preexistent spirit like the rest of us, and is the first spirit child born to the Heavenly Father and Mother. Also, God the Father in his glorified physical body had sexual intercourse with the virgin Mary, resulting in the conception of the physical Christ (Mormon Doctrine 547; Journal of Discourses 1:51; 4:218).

Doctrine and Covenants (93:21-23): “And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; and all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn. Ye were also in the beginning with the Father.”

Mormons believe Satan (Lucifer) was originally the spirit brother of Christ (The Gospel Through the Ages 15). All existence is material; material is eternal; God is therefore physical and material. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct gods (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 370, 372)

View of mankind

Mormons believe we are preexistent souls who take our bodies at birth. We have always existed, but merely move from one existence to another. Joseph Fielding Smith says in Progress of Man: “Man is a spirit clothed with a tabernacle. The intelligent part of which was never created or made, but existed eternally–man was also in the beginning with God.”

They further believe God the Father has Eternal Wives through whom spirit children have been and continue to be born (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 516)

Adam’s fall was necessary for the propagation of the human race (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 5:10-12); it was a “necessary, honorable act in carrying out the plan of the Almighty” (Joseph Smith–Seeker After Truth 160).

We can one day become gods ourselves in the celestial kingdom (Doctrine and Covenants 132.20)

A baptized Mormon convert has his Gentile blood purged and replaced by the blood of Abraham through the Holy Spirit. In this way he becomes the actual offspring of Abraham (History of the Church 3:380).

There are two priesthoods in the church now:

Melchizedek (highest)

Aaronic (secondary)

Every Mormon is expected to give 2 years to mission service. Women are secondary or inferior to men; blacks were considered cursed for much of Mormon history

Central focus of the Mormon Church is obedience to God by his revelation through Joseph Smith. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses: “No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the Celestial Kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith…every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, Junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansions where God and Christ are–I can not go there without his consent . . . He reigns there as supreme, a being in his sphere, capacity, calling, as God does in Heaven (6:299; 7:289).

Salvation: “We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Mormon Articles of Faith 3). His shed blood only provides for the universal resurrection of all people and does not pay for personal sin (Third Article of Faith; Mormon Doctrine 62, 669); it atones for most personal sin, but not all.

Obedience, as judged by Joseph Smith, Jr., is essential for entrance to the celestial kingdom. Thus emphasis on obedience and works.

Godhood: The power to attain godhood and have children in heaven can only be achieved by obedience to the Mormon church and having one’s marriage sealed in a Temple ceremony by the Mormon priesthood (Journal of Discourses 11:221).

Bible: The Mormon church restored the true gospel to the earth through Joseph Smith, and the true gospel is found only in that revelation today (Mormon Doctrine 334).

Ultimate destiny: There is a general salvation for all and an individual salvation for each person. There is no such thing as hell or everlasting punishment.

At death:

Mormons go to Paradise

Non-Mormons are assigned to a temporary spirit prison-hell to wait for resurrection and judgment

Baptism for the dead allows ancestors in this prison-hell to gain exaltation.

Three levels of glory:

Celestial kingdom: reserved for the Melchizedek priesthood members who will become gods

Terrestial kingdom: for those who fail the requirements of exaltation

Telestial kingdom: for those who have no testimony of Christ

The return of Christ: will occur at Independence, Missouri during the millennium; this is often called “Zion” or “the Center Place.”

Marriage: Mormon marriage is eternal. Joseph Smith described plural marriage as “a new and everlasting covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:1,4); under pressure from the United States government, Wilford Woodruff, President of the Mormon Church in 1890, affirmed that the church was no longer teaching plural marriage.

Apologetics and Mormonism

Prepare

Learn basic Mormon theology

Realize that Mormon language can be deceptive

Build a long-term relationship

How the person became a Mormon

What he or she thinks about the Bible

How much he or she knows about Mormonism

Point out problems with the Book of Mormon

Some 3,000 changes from the 1830 edition to the modern edition

Regarding archaeology:

No Book of Mormon cities have been located

No Book of Mormon names have been found in New World inscriptions

No genuine inscriptions have been found in Hebrew in America

No genuine inscriptions have been found in America in anything which could correspond to Joseph Smith’s “reformed Egyptian”

No ancient inscriptions of any kind in America have been found indicating that the ancient inhabitants had Hebrew or Christian beliefs

No mention of Book of Mormon persons, nations, or places has been found

No artifact of any kind which demonstrates the Book of Mormon is true has been found

No ancient copies of Book of Mormon scriptures have been found

Regarding historical inaccuracies:

1 Nephi 2.5-8 states that the river Lyman emptied into the Red Sea; no river in Arabia at all has ever emptied into the Red Sea

2 Nephi states that no more than 20 persons were left in Jerusalem in 600 B.C. to emigrate to the New World; less than 30 years later, according to 2 Nephi 5:28, they became two populated nations

Alma 7:10 says that Jesus was to be born at Jerusalem, not Bethlehem

Helamen 14:20,27 states that darkness covered the whole earth for three days, not the three hours of Mt. 27.45

Alma 46:15 indicates that believers were called “Christians” in 73 B.C.

Many Mormon scriptures, said to be in the possession of the Nephites in 600 B.C., quote passages from the Old Testament which were written years or centuries later

There are more than 400 examples of New Testament quotations in the Book of Mormon (again, supposedly possessed by the Nephites in 600 B.C.).

Point out the contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the Bible regarding the nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Point out the internal conflicts within the Book of Mormon regarding the nature of God. For instance, the following passages do present a biblical picture of God: 2 Nephi 11:7; 26:12; 31:21b; Mosiah 15:2-5; Alma 11:22-29; 3 Nephi 11:27b, 36; Mormon 9:9-11, 19b; Moroni 8:18.

Then present the Christ of the Bible, and your personal witness to his life-transforming truth and power.

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The following resources have been helpful to this survey: The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, trans. Joseph Smith, Jr. (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981); John H. Gerstner, The Teachings of Mormonism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1960); and especially Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Understanding the Cults (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1982), 83-104.