ness trip. Having spent a few days in Utah, it is of course unsurprising that my mind is on the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormonism. And I realize that I have never written about the Mormons and their beliefs before.
Let me begin with a statement of caution: of course, this article is going to be largely focused on why I do not believe in Mormonism. This is not the same as saying that I dislike Mormons. I can honestly say that I have never had a negative moment interacting with Mormons. I have found them unfailingly polite, generally quite intelligent, and virtuous. I worked for a Mormon for a few years early in my career, and have always said that he was the best boss I've ever worked for (though, my current boss probably beats him for that title).
So understand that I am not criticizing Mormons as people. I have found them to be quite good people.
Instead, I am looking at the doctrines of their church.
Now, the Mormons believe quite a few things that you won't find on their official website. They will allude to these more strange beliefs, but not advertise them openly. For example, on their website they will say that God will reward us each according to our goodness (which many would find okay)...they do not share the more objectionable view that this reward for some will be to become gods of other planets (see here and here).
But for now, let me stick to what they publish openly, on www.mormon.org.
I have taught for years--and maintain it to be the proper way of viewing the world, the way that the apostles did--that to be honoring followers of God, we must be aligned on essential truths but can disagree on non-essential truths.
So the question is...do the Mormon's beliefs differ only in non-essential ways, or are they actually heretical (i.e., non-Christian orthodoxy)?
Orthodox/Traditional Beliefs Shared by Mormons
- Jesus is divine, the Son of God, was born and lived in a physical body, and His death redeems us for our sins.
- True faith should lead to works
- You should be baptized
- Salvation involves receipts of the Holy Spirit
- The Old and New Testaments are Scripture
- There was a real Adam and Eve
- There was a real Fall of Man
- God judges all at the end of time
- The apostles had a special place and exhibited special gifts of God
- Jesus will come again
- God's commandments are good guidance for our lives
- You should pray often
- The two great commandments are Love God and Love Others
- God's Spirit gives guidance
Non-Traditional Unique Mormon Beliefs
- The Book of Mormon is prophesy and equivalent to a Newer Testament (refines and clarifies past revelation)
- Christianity after the Apostles (c. 100 AD) "fell away" and no authority was held; Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant are all equally incorrect.
- Joseph Smith's vision at age 14 was legitimate and the prophets since him are the only proper authority over Christ's Church
- Baptism is required for salvation (stronger statement than Catholics or Orthodox; even may have to be done posthumously, martyrdom is not sufficient)
- Laying on of hands is required for salvation
- Failure to follow continuously can result in a loss of salvation (direct quote from the website of what you have to do for Atonement: "exercise faith in Him, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, choose to follow His teachings the rest of your life"
- You existed as a spirit before you were born, but have forgotten that
- God sent your spirit-body here to learn the joy and pain of having a physical body
- God also has a physical body
- Adam and Eve's fall was "not all bad" (direct quote)--without the Fall we would not have been able to make free choices, and free choices are the only way to God
- God wants us to be happy -- and by "happy", the Mormons mean, "in perfect obedience to the commandments" (hence by this logic: happiness only comes from choosing good over evil, this was not possible until the fall, thus the fall was good because without the chance to choose evil we cannot choose good and thereby can't be happy)
- God will reward you based on what your behavior was like in eternity (up to and including godhood)
- All of Christian history is the "dark ages" where the Gospel was not understood
- The "keys of the apostles" were taken away and not given until given again to Joseph Smith
- Jesus' Second Coming was not the final coming; He also appeared to the American Indians and again later to Joseph Smith
- The modern church leaders of the Mormon Church are prophets in the power and authority of the Apostles
- God gave a diet plan to Joseph Smith, called the Word of Wisdom. It prohibits drinking alcohol, using tobacco, drinking coffee or tea, implies a lack of using prescription drugs, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and grains and not much meat.
- Tithing is required
- You should keep an "adequate supply" of food, water, and reserves for disasters
- Intense focus on family history and ancestry
- The ten tribes of Israel will be restored and regathered on American continent
- Mormons believe God is our 'father' but not the Creator--we are literally His offspring, but He did not make the universe ex nihilo
Are These Essential Variances?
Some of these are of course not essential variances. I could argue that being a 'prepper' goes against the principle of relying in God and not storing up against the future, or that tithing is not the rule of the New Testament, or that drinking is in fact explicitly condoned in the New Testament (I've argued all three of these, in fact, on this blog). But none of these things are critical.
However, some of these are very much outside of the definition of traditional or orthodox Christianity and enter the realms of heresy.
My Essentials page brings together the basic, orthodox beliefs of the ancient apostolic church (you may hear Mormons refer to this as the "primitive church").
Below are the key/significant disagreements with this doctrine:
- Gentile believers are not bound by the Mosaic Covenant (cf Acts 15:23-29), yet the Mormon church explicitly highlights this as a requirement of faith. In this way, they are repeating the Ebionite heresy.
- Christians believe in only one God, in three persons. The Mormons believe it is possible for many levels of godhood, including attaining it ourselves. This is a heresy unique to Mormonism but which builds on some aspects of an ancient heresy called Audianism.
- Christians believe God is the Creator of everything; Mormons believe He is our father (literally, we are His spiritual offspring) but not the Creator. This doesn't have an ancient heretical counterpart because even the ancient heretics believed in ex nihilo creation.
- Christians believe that Jesus was God simultaneously to the Father being God, but Mormons believe that Jesus was a divine son of God--that is, not co-equal with God. This is a special heresy related to Arianism.
- Christians believe the Holy Spirit is co-equal to God, a separate person; Mormons do not. This is the ancient heresy called Macedonianism.
- Christians believe that Jesus' return will be for the Second Coming, where He will defeat evil and judge the living and the dead. The Mormons have a unique belief that Jesus already returned at least twice. This is a special heresy unique to Mormonism.
- Christians believe that the Holy Spirit spoke through the Scriptural Canon, all agreeing on the Old and New Testaments, with some minor disagreements over some less important works (the Apocrypha). Mormons alone believe that the Holy Spirit spoke through a later prophet, Joseph Smith, wrote another book, The Book of Mormon, and continues to speak through prophets today. This (and their belief that they alone hold the secret of true wisdom) is a special version of Gnosticism, or "hidden knowledge" that they claim above and beyond the writings of the apostles.
- Christians believe that it is only by God's grace that one may attain eternal life, not due to the works of man--this was explicitly taught by Paul himself. Mormons believe that you must earn and continually live without sin to assure "how high" in heaven you will go. This is an ancient heresy called Donatism.
So -- Are They Christian?
As you can see by the above, Mormonism is by no means simply a branch of Christianity. In fact and actually, very little of Joseph Smith's "revelation" was all that revelatory--versions of most of this were being taught even in ancient times (and being rejected, by the way, as dangerous heresy).
Mormonism's brilliance is similar to that of a great conspiracy theory: its very definitions make any counter-argument a part of its story. You see, by claiming to be teaching the only "true Gospel" and that historic Christianity is instead 'mislead', all of these differences become examples to them of how historic Christians "got it wrong" when writing the creeds.
To say that this stretches imagination is an understatement. Many of the heresies that they teach were explicitly denied by personal students of the Apostles, making it impossible to accept that they were so fundamentally misunderstood. Furthermore, notice the hodgepodge of heresies involved here--no heretical group agreed with everything the Mormons believed; it is a veritable buffet of early pagan gnostic heresies, all thrown onto one plate and presented as fresh revelation.
So to what do I compare Mormonism? Think of it like this. Narnia and the Lord of the Ring's Middle-Earth both talk about magic, wizards, witches, elves, and dwarves; and yet, they exist in different universes, where the "elves" of one are different from the "elves" of the other, sharing only a name and a few very general similarities.
I would say the same is true of Christianity and Mormonism. Yes, they use some of the same terms: but what the Mormons mean by the word "God" isn't what Christianity means by that word; what they mean by the words "Jesus", "salvation", "heaven", "grace", "Holy Spirit" and "judgment" are likewise, all very different.
We use the same terms, but inhabit entirely different universes, and even those words we share don't mean the same things in those two universes.
Mormonism is the perfect heresy for the American ideal: a "pick yourself up by your bootstraps," hard-working, pseudo-Christian sect that assures you that through hard work and clean living you too can be like God, and that America has a special place in God's plans for the future. With that comes a lot of good--I would have no worries electing a Mormon; I'm sure he or she would be hard-working, intelligent, thoughtful, calm, patient, and try their hardest to achieve the Ten Commandments.
One could argue that in the coming years this may prove to be among the most dangerous heresies of history, due in no small part to its embracing of Americana values and its ability to use out-of-context Scripture to give it false legitimacy.
While Mormons should be loved and respected, Mormonism should not.
Because, to put it very straightforwardly: Mormonism at its core embraces with open arms the fundamental teachings of Satan.
I know, that sounds harsh. But consider: Mormonism teaches that the Fall was "not all bad", because it gave us the ability to choose between good and evil, and this choice ultimately gives us the chance to become like God and rule over other planets.
Does that sound familiar? It should. Consider Satan's lie in Genesis 3:5--
"For God knows that when you eat [the fruit of the forbidden tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Mormonism's core doctrines openly and unabashedly preach the same thing that Satan preached in the book of Genesis. And if you think that is what God wants, then just go ahead and finish the rest of Genesis 3, and see how He responds.
Be kind to Mormons. But don't ever forget Mormonism for what it is--a perfect blend of the exact promise of Satan, the heresies of the early gnostics, and the sensibilities of Americana, all thrown into a pot and mixed together by a 14-year old boy in the late 19th century.