Mormonism

On 6 April 1830, the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” more commonly known as the “Mormon Church,” was organized at Fayette, New York. Soon the group moved to Kirtland, Ohio, not far from present-day Cleveland. Under the leadership of Joseph Smith,* the community now moved to Jackson County, Missouri. Because of opposition encountered there, the group went on to Nauvoo, Illinois. After Smith was killed by a mob, most members of the Mormon Community followed Brigham Young,* the new leader, and settled in what is now Salt Lake City, Utah, where the church still has its headquarters. Independence, Missouri, is the headquarters of the largest of the splinter groups: the “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” the current membership of which is about 200,000. The world membership of the Mormon Church at present is approaching the three-million mark, of which rather more than two- thirds reside in the USA. Mormon temples are found, not only in the USA, but in four foreign countries.

The Mormon Church uses, in addition to the King James Version of the Bible, the following sacred books as its main sources of authority: The Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants; and The Pearl of Great Price. It is also believed that the president of the church may receive revelations for the guidance of the church as a whole. By thus adding to the Bible their own additional sacred books, Mormons have placed themselves outside of historic Christianity, which recognizes the Bible alone as the final source of authority.

An examination of the doctrines taught by the Mormon Church will reveal that they deny most of the cardinal teachings of the Christian faith. Mormonism rejects the spirituality of God, claiming that God the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's. Further, it is taught that there are a great many gods in addition to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; these gods are in an order of progression, some being in a more advanced stage than others. Mormonism also teaches that the gods were once men, and that men may become gods. If a man faithfully observes all the precepts of the Mormon religion, he may advance to godhood in the life to come. One of the early presidents of the Mormon Church, Lorenzo Snow, summed it up: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”

In the area of the doctrine of man, Mormonism teaches man's preexistence. All men existed as spirits before coming to this earth. This preexistent life was a period of probation. Those who were less faithful or less valiant than others during this period of probation are born on this earth with black skins. In Mormon teaching, further, the fall of man is considered a fall upward! If Adam had not eaten the forbidden fruit, he would have had no children; because he ate the fruit, man is now able to propagate the race. “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:22-25).

Though Christ is called divine in Mormon teaching, his divinity is not unique, since it is the same as that which any man may attain. Christ's incarnation, too, is not unique, for all the gods, after having first existed as spirits, came to an earth to receive bodies before they advanced to godhood. Christ is said to have made atonement for our sins; what this means, however, is that Christ earned for all men the right to be raised from the dead. On the doctrine of salvation, Mormon teaching says that justification by faith alone is a pernicious doctrine which has exercised an influence for evil. One is saved through faith in Christ (plus faith in Joseph Smith), but especially through works. By the works one does in this life he merits his salvation.

The entire Christian Church is said to have been apostate until 1830, at which time it was restored under the leadership of Joseph Smith. The Mormon Church, therefore, claims to be the only true church. Baptism is said to be absolutely necessary for salvation; it must be done by immersion. Though infant baptism is rejected, Mormon children are usually baptized when they are eight years old. The Lord's Supper is administered weekly, though water is substituted for wine.

Mormons believe in a literal millennium during which Christ will reign over the earth from two capitals: Jerusalem and Independence, Missouri. In the final state the devil, his angels, and a small portion of the human race will be consigned to hell. Most human beings, however, will be assigned a place in one of three heavenly kingdoms: the celestial, the terrestrial, or the telestial.

Apart from the books mentioned above, works from Mormon sources include J.E. Talmage, A Study of the Article of Faith (1899); B.R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1958); J.F. Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions (3 vols., 1958) and Doctrines of Salvation (3 vols., 1960).

Books by non-Mormon authors include J. and T. Tanner, The Case Against Mormonism (3 vols., n.d.); A.A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults (1963); W.J. Whalen, The Latter-Day Saints in the Modern World (1964); W.R. Martin, Mormonism (1968).