Mormons like Glenn Beck and Senator Orrin Hatch have long given a high profile to this American-grown faith. And with Mitt Romney in the running for the Republican nomination, the question of exactly how to categorize Mormonism has become news. An Evangelical pastor who supports Rick Perry told reporters he thought Mormonism is “a cult”, prompting a denial of the opinion by the Perry campagn, and a characterization of it as “bigotry” by former member of the Reagan cabinet, Bill Bennett, speaking in support of Romney. Mormons, meanwhile, very openly express the hope that having a Mormon running in the presidential race will help people to see their religion as “mainstream.”
Mormons have been publicly asking to be accepted as “Christians” and have their church, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”, viewed as just another Christian denomination for decades now. But their own history makes this problematic. Their founder, Joseph Smith, claimed to have been told in a vision regarding the Christian churches that God “forbade me to join with any of them” and “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight.” It is hence Mormons (not Christians) who established, from the beginning of their group, an antagonistic relationship with those Christian groups already in existence, although in recent years Mormons have sought to downplay this antagonism. Still, even while they seem to be natural political and social allies with Evangelicals, many Evangelicals continue to refer to the Mormon faith as a “cult.” (To make it more confusing for a Catholic, some of these same Evangelicals might call the Catholic Church “a cult.”) Meanwhile, when Mormons are not trying to make common cause with Evangelicals, they will boldly challenge Catholics with their assertion that the Mormon church is the only true church.
In one sense, clearly, Mormonism is Christian. If you were going to categorize Mormonism according to world-religion criteria, you would have to say they are Christians. World religions are the major belief systems found around the world that frame a tradition of enough cultural richness to support a civilization. The major world religions are Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism and Islam. Clearly Mormonism fits into the broad “Christian” category. And so would many other groups whose relationship with the wider Christian world is antagonistic: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, etc.
Also, we have to remember that individual Mormons may be Christians in spite of being Mormons. Some Mormon converts were baptized as Christians at some point before becoming Mormons. So when we talk about whether Mormons are Christians, we really are talking about whether Mormonism as a belief system is Christian, not judging the faith claim of an individual.
America’s Lost Tribe
It may be that in the not-too-distant future, we will have to categorize Mormonism as a separate world religion. It is the fifth-largest religious group now in the US, having passed the Lutherans, and the LDS are experiencing rapid expansion in other countries. In many ways its development parallels that of Islam. Both religions were founded by prophets who claimed to have been visited by an angel. They borrow heavily from Judaism and Christianity, yet reject their central tenets. Both rely upon strange revisions of history. The Koran identifies Mary, the mother of Jesus, with Miriam the sister of Moses, who lived over fourteen centuries earlier. The Book of Mormon makes numerous claims regarding the peoples of the Americas (including the idea that the American Indians descended from a lost tribe of ancient Israelites) that have been refuted by history, archeology, and anthropology. Both Islam and Mormonism claim that where their sacred writings contradict the Bible, the Christian and Jewish scriptures have been corrupted.
It might be argued that Mormons have the right to say that they are “Christians” and no one should deny what they say about themselves. It is possible, however, for us to respect their right to call themselves whatever they wish without feeling compelled to validate that claim ourselves. This is complicated by the fact that to many Catholics, Mormonism seems no more strange than the Baptist faith, or that of any other Protestant denomination. In part this is because Mormons themselves generally use the language and terminology common to (especially Protestant) Christians. In their initial approach to you, they will do all they can to hide or gloss over the distinctive beliefs of their church. Statements of Mormon belief sound so much like statements of the Christian faith that many Catholics and Protestants are quite willing to recognize Mormons as “Christians,” not merely in the world-religion sense, but in the sense in which we Catholics recognize Protestant Christians as our “separated brethren.” This is a serious error with two major consequences.
First, Christians (including Catholics) are misled into the Mormon church where they are indoctrinated in a religion which rejects the central doctrines of the Christian faith, resulting in them bringing their children up as non-Christians. Second, Christians embrace Mormons as fellow Christians instead of evangelizing them.
In order to protect Christians from this deception and to help Mormons learn the truth, we must understand how Mormon doctrine differs from the historic Christian faith that we share with Protestants. To do this, we will examine first what Mormons say, then how they define the terms they are using and how that differs from the Christian faith. Finally we provide a biblical, Christian response and suggestions for how to discuss these things with a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The Central Question: Who is God?
What Mormons will say they believe about God:
- We believe in God the Father who is the Father of Jesus Christ.
- We worship God the Father and pray to him in Jesus’ name.
- Jesus is our Savior.
Why the Mormon God the Father is not the Christian God the Father:
- “God the Father” to a Mormon is not God the Father, first Person of the Holy Trinity, Whom Christians confess. He is one of many gods (D&C 130: 22-23).
- The Mormon worships God the Father because He is the god of this planet, but other planets have other gods equal to or even greater than God the Father. (Joseph Smith King Follett Discourse, 1844).
- The Mormon “God the Father” had a father and was once a man on a planet who worshiped his own Father God. He was subsequently exalted to godhood. He has a physical, human body (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345).
- It is the hope of the male Mormon to progress to the point where he too will be a god like God the Father and be ruling over his own planet (Ibid, p. 346,7)
- The Mormons have a saying: “What man is, God once was; what God is, man may be” (LDS Church President Lorenzo Snow’s summation). This is polytheism.
- The God of the Bible is the Creator and God of all the universe, of all worlds, not just our planet. He made the heavens and the earth; there is no other God; there never has been any other God, nor will there ever be another (Gn 1:1; Is 43;10; 44:6, 8, 24).
- God the Father was never a man.
- You will never be God.
- True Christianity, like Judaism, is monotheistic. As our creed states “We believe in one God.”
Jesus: Brother of Lucifer?
Why the Mormon Jesus is not the Christian Jesus:
- The Mormon Jesus is the spirit-brother of Lucifer (Satan). They were both born in heaven by God the Father’s union with one of his many spirit wives (Mormon Doctrine pp 192, 516; Ensign Magazine June, 1986, p 25)
- According to Mormon teaching, when it was time for Jesus to come down to earth, God the Father sent down one of his spirit wives from heaven to be born as a woman, Mary. Then he came down and had physical, marital relations with her in order for her to give birth to a human body inhabited by Jesus coming from heaven. This is a denial of the Virgin Birth (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:50-51; Orson Pratt, The Seer, Oct. 1853, p. 158).
- Since God the Father does not have a physical human body, He did not impregnate Mary by a physical union (2 Chr 6:18; Jn 4:24).
- Jesus became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary (Mt 1:23; Lk 2:30-35).
- God the Father does not have a wife or wives in heaven.
- Jesus is the eternally-begotten Son of God, one in being with the Father (Jn 1:1-18).
- He is not the older brother of Lucifer.
- He is the older brother, as well as Lord and God, of those born again by water and Spirit, God’s adopted children (Jn 3:3-17; Rom 8:14-17, 29).
Why the Mormon doctrine of man is not the Christian doctrine of man:
- According to Mormonism, all human beings existed as spirit children of God and his wife in heaven before coming to earth (http://www.mormonwiki.com/Pre-Mortal_Life).
- They grow to spirit “adulthood” serving God (even fighting in heavenly battles), and are then sent to earth to be babies of human parents (ibid).
- The earthly life is their opportunity to become gods themselves, like their heavenly Father, by “obeying the laws of the Gospel” just as the god of this planet once did (Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.69 – p.70)
- There is no biblical support for the idea that human beings were spirit children of God in heaven before coming to earth.
- Jesus was unique in being a human being with a pre-human existence (Jn 1:18; 3:13, 31; 8:23, 58).
- Jesus took on human nature at the Incarnation. God became man — not the other way around. His human nature was glorified at His Resurrection.
- We will be like God in that we will have the same kind of glorified human nature which Jesus possesses, not in becoming gods and ruling planets ourselves (1 Jn 3:3; Rom 8:22, Phil 3:20-21).
- While heaven is the presence of God with unfettered communion, the distinction between God and creatures remains (Rv 5:13, 14).
What is Salvation?
What Mormons will say they believe about salvation:
- All are redeemed by the Savior’s self-sacrifice, from the consequences of the fall.
- Immortality comes as a free gift, by the grace of God alone, without works.
- Jesus is our Savior.
Why Mormon salvation is not Christian salvation:
- According to Mormonism, everyone and everything — all of creation — has been redeemed and therefore “saved” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23; Mormon Doctrine pp. 669-671)
- This salvation gains, for all human beings, a physical resurrection only — not eternal life. Eternal life is not “salvation”; it is “exaltation” (Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.2, p.9).
- If you ask a Mormon if he is saved (per Evangelical parlance), he will answer yes.
- If you ask him if he believes you are saved, he will answer yes. This confuses Christians who do not understand that being “saved” and gaining “eternal life” are not the same thing in Mormon thinking (D&C 14:7; Mormon Doctrine, pp. 237, 376-377, 670).
- It is further confused by the Mormon distinction between “immortality” (salvation to physical resurrection) and “eternal life” (exaltation to godhood).
- The Mormons have a saying: “Salvation without exaltation is damnation.”
- Therefore, a Mormon can, with a straight face, tell you he believes you are “saved,” while he also believes you are damned! (Mormon Doctrine pp. 669-669).
- We define salvation according to what we are saved from. We are saved from sin and from the wages of sin — death.
- To be saved from sin is to be justified and sanctified. To be saved from death is to receive eternal life (Rom 6:22, 23).
- Being saved, justified, sanctified and given eternal life by the grace of God are all things which are interconnected in the Scriptures. There is no biblical basis for separating them (Rom 5).
- Seeking exaltation is contrary to the spirit of Christ. We are rather to humble ourselves, recognize our sinfulness and call upon the Lord for mercy and forgiveness (Js 4:6-10).
Why the Mormon hope is not the Christian hope:
- It is the hope of the male Mormon to progress to the point where he will be a god like God the Father and be ruling over his own planet. This is “exaltation,” and depends upon the Mormon “Plan of Eternal Progression” (Joseph Fielding Smith ed, Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, 346-48, The Ensign, Nov. 1975, 80).
- The hope of Mormon females depends upon their being married, in a temple ceremony, to a Mormon male who achieves exaltation (LDS.org lesson for young women; Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p. 291).
- Mormon women married to non-Mormons (“Gentiles”) can arrange for a “temple sealing” (marriage by proxy) to a Mormon male after their death. This is to assure that in eternity they are considered to have been married to and produced their children from a Mormon husband so that they and their children can be exalted.
- Mormon males expect to produce offspring in heaven with their mate(s), offspring who will subsequently be sent to populate their planet and achieve their own exaltation to godhood and so on and so on…
- The God of the Bible is the Creator and God of all the universe, of all worlds, not just our planet. He made man for Himself and in His image to be in communion with God and enter into the love of the Holy Trinity.
- When man fell into sin and marred the image of God in his own being, the second person of the Trinity became incarnate — taking human nature to Himself.
- He then did what He could not do in the form of God: He died to save us from sin and death, so that we could come back into communion with God and share the love of the Holy Trinity. Our hope is to be with God, not to be God (Gn 1-3; Phil 2:5-11).
When Talking to a Mormon
Remember that the Mormon is trained to hide the difference between his beliefs and yours and to present himself as a Christian. However, his belief that he is a Christian is sincere, and his efforts to hide the distinctive of the Mormon religion are pursued in his desire to get you to accept Mormon teachings.
Do not allow glib, surface responses to go unchallenged; press the Mormon to define the Christian-sounding words he is using.
Define your own terms also. Draw the contrast for the Mormon. Calmly and clearly insist that what you and he believe about the nature of God, the identity of Jesus, the nature of man, salvation and eternal life are different. To pretend otherwise is dishonest.
Appeal to his honesty and sense of fairness. You might say, “Look, we are not going to get anywhere unless we are honest with each other. Without making any statement about which one of us is right, can’t we just acknowledge that we do not worship the same God?” or “Can’t we just acknowledge that we do not have the same hope for the future?”
Help the Mormon to consider the logical and philosophical problems with the Plan of Eternal Progression: If God had a Father and He had a Father and so on — then who was the first God? Mormons say it is an “infinite regression.” But since there is no way to cross an infinite distance or pass an infinite amount of time, there would be no way to get to “now” and to “us” from an infinite past. Time has to have had a beginning and it did. It began with the creation “of all things seen and unseen” by God. Mormons say that God is omnipotent (almighty, all-powerful), yet they say there are many gods. There cannot be more than one omnipotent being, so the Mormon conception of God is shrunken and distorted.
A big selling point of the Mormon hope for the future is the idea that families will be together eternally. But if Mormons become Gods of planets and then their children become Gods of other planets — how do the children and parents get together? Can a God leave his planet unattended while he goes to a celestial family reunion? This Mormon selling point would be diminished if we Christians were more vocal about our hope for the “new heavens and new earth” in which we know one another in the all the relationships of our present lives, only in glory (2 Pt 3:13; Rv 21:1).
Welcome the participation of Mormons in causes which we share for the common good: strengthening family life, fighting pornography and abortion, fostering the virtue of patriotism, and defending the Constitution. We honor each Mormon as a person who desires what is genuinely good for himself, his family and his society – and when we share the truths of the Christian faith with him.
[For more on the political implications of Mormonism see here.]
© Copyright 2011 Mary Kochan.