With the current presidential debates heating up, the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith has been a question for many. Below is a brief description of some of the beliefs and history of the Mormon faith. Please note that this is not an endorsement or an attack on any candidate. Indeed it is good to remember that some of the finest presidents in American History were not Christians in the traditional sense.
What is characteristic of a heresy is the plain alteration or rejection of the fundamental teachings of the Church. Please note that our goal here is not to point fingers or condemn others but to come to the knowledge of the truth. One of the subtle but devious undercurrents in religion is the idea of pluralism. It is an acceptance of the concept that two or more religions with mutually exclusive truth claims are equally valid. We sometimes hear people say “oh it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe in something.” It is true that people are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but it is not true that all opinions are true or equal. The noted writer GK Chesterton once wrote,
“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”
Part of being Christian is having firm convictions in the teachings of Jesus Christ and His bride the Church. Part of being a disciple of Our Lord is hating falsehood and every untrue thing. Part of following Christ is desiring that others would know such joy.
The first group we will discuss is Mormons. In our time they are known as “The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints.” I am starting with them because they have been putting up giant billboards around the area in New Hartford and Utica. Some of these signs read “Does God have a plan for my life?” and “What happens when I die.” In fact they are experts at advertising and they have a great amount of capital to do it since the Mormon community is one of the largest private landholders in America. Some famous Mormon institutions include Brigham Young University (BYU) and the Marriott Hotel chain. They are growing faster than many other Churches around the world. One reason is their vast wealth and generous giving, which are commendable. The other reason is that every male must spend 2 years as a missionary. They go out usually on bike and preach to many strangers bringing a message that seems like any other Christian church. Many are in fact drawn to their clean-cut nature, they prohibit drinking, smoking and even caffeine. But their message is more than just simple Christian morality…..
How did Mormonism begin? Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 in the great state of NY. It was known as the Church of Christ. Later, the church became officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1834. According to the latter-day saints Church, Joseph Smith was visited by God the Father and God the Son after praying about which church he should join. He was told that he should join none of them because they were all an abomination to God. It was after this event in 1820 that young Joseph was led by the angel Moroni to discover the Book of Mormon and later establish the Mormon church.
We might be thinking to ourselves “well what if he really was visited by an angel, how would we know?” But thank God we are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul who writes in Galatians chapter 1 “But even if we or and angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” So here is our first problem with Mormonism. There can be no new doctrines, Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the revelation of God.
What do Mormons believe? First they believe that doctrine is obtained from two sources, the living prophet and the standard works. Those works include the Bible, the book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. The living prophet however is the first line of authority and a present prophet can overturn any prior teaching of a prophet. Mormons use the Bible but believe that it has serious shortcomings along with the omission of precious truths. On this statement we could direct them to the end of the book of revelation 22:18-19 “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life and from the things which are written in this book.”
What do Mormons believe about God? A key point to Mormon doctrine and to their plan of salvation is the idea that God once existed as a man just as we exist. This idea can be found in Joseph Smith’s own words. “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens… 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 rebuke that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see…”
Joseph Smith continues saying “Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourself.”
We must counter this thought with the scriptural understanding that God is the creator and author of all life. God is thoroughly other than we are……because God has at least one characteristic that we do not have. Only God is uncreated. Everything and everyone else is part of the created world, but God is eternal and without beginning.
Mormon teachings on Jesus: this is where the most important differences lie. Let’s be clear about one thing, if Jesus Christ is not exactly who the Church claims him to be then we are wasting our time here and there is no salvation for us. For 2000 years there have been many who claimed this or that and tried to steal away the truth for their own gain, but rest assured that the Church has safeguarded the teachings of Christ, even when that meant her own blood.
Mormons believe that Jesus was born through a natural birth not a virgin birth. In the book “Mormon Doctrine” it states that “Christ was born by an immortal father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers….simplified of course this means through sexual union. The Church throughout the ages does not teach that God the Father had intercourse, He has no flesh, God is spirit. We teach that the conception of Our Lord was nothing short of mysterious and miraculous. I could say much more but we must be brief. Let me reiterate that doctrines such as the Virgin Birth of Christ are not expendable or optional as some modern theologians claim, they are fundamental to our faith.
Another Mormon doctrine concerning Jesus is that He is a literal spirit-brother of Lucifer, a creation, as mentioned in the Mormon work Gospel through the ages. The Church however, teaches us that Our Lord is uncreated and eternal, the second person of the Trinity. As we proclaim in our creed, Jesus is “light of Light, true God of true God, Begotten not made, Of one essence with the Father.” This can be substantiated by His own words in John 8:58 “before Abraham was I AM” (use of the divine name). Any doctrine that teaches that Jesus is less than the immortal God is not scriptural and it is false. Let me remind you that if Jesus was not fully God and fully man, hanging upon the cross, then we are still in our sins. His death would have been merely a death, and nothing special at all. Early Mormon prophets also taught that Jesus was a polygamist and they encourage such behavior because each man needs to populate his own planet when he becomes a god. Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2
Lastly I’d like to look at just a few of the sayings of the so-called prophet Joseph Smith. These are all from the book Documentary History of the Church, which is the official history of the Mormon religion. Smith said, “God made Aaron to be the mouthpiece for the children of Israel, and He will make me to be God to you in His stead, and the elders to be mouth for me; and if you don’t like it, you must lump it” He also said, “I have more to boast of than any man ever had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.”
This is the legacy of Joseph Smith, who made himself as a god over his people. A man who taught a different gospel and a false Christ either through delusion or ambition. One thing is certainly clear: It wasn’t through divine inspiration.
Those who follow the teachings of Joseph Smith are sorely mistaken if they define themselves as Christians.
(Originally preached on Sept. 28, 2008 as part of a series on modern heresies)