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From Fortune Teller to Fortune 500: The History and Beliefs of Mormons

By Clete Hux

Many people in both North and South America have been visited in their homes by Mormon missionaries. Practically everyone who has a television set has seen the commercials promoting the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). The image the church project s is, for the most part, very positive and successful. Their wealth and success cannot be denied. It has been reported that the church has between $25 and $30 billion in assets, controlling over a hundred companies and businesses. It s interest s in stocks, land, real estate and agriculture account for several billion more dollars.1

Also, the church’s success in adding members is phenomenal. For example, in 1950, their membership was about one million worldwide.2 Over the next four to five decades, they grew to more than ten million members. Today, the church has roughly 12 million members and is expected, if the same trend continues, to nearly double in the next four decades. In order to accomplish this, they have a missionary task force of approximately 60,000, which is larger than any Protestant church missionary task force.

MORMON BEGINNINGS

On the surface, the modern-day Mormon Church is indeed impressive. However, to understand Mormonism is to understand its early history and development. How did it get to where it is today? How did it begin? The LDS as we know it today was started by Joseph Smith, Jr. who was born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont. He was the fourth child of Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Smith. A former Mormon historian has documented that both father and son were treasure seekers who used occultic practices such as seer stone divination, divining rods, talismans, and implement s of ritual magic.3

When Joseph Jr. was about ten or eleven years of age, his father moved the family to Palmyra, New York. A few years later, they moved to Manchester, New York. It was there that Joseph, at the age of 14, became aware of a growing religious fervor in this community, spreading out among the different denominations. Revival was taking place and Joseph was encouraged to join in, but he was confused as to which church was the right church he should join.

According to Mormon doctrine, in 1820, Joseph retreated to the woods near his home to pray about his decision, and was visited by two personages whom he described as God the Father and Jesus. They told him that he should join none of the Christian denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian or Baptist), for they were all wrong and were an abomination in God’s sight.4 This event is officially known as the “First Vision.”5

Smith reported a second vision three years later when an angel called Moroni, supposedly at one time a member of a race called the Nephites, appeared to him and told him where some golden plates could be found. The content of these plates, inscribed in “Reformed Egyptian” hieroglyphics, would be the basis for what became the Book of Mormon.6 The plates are said to tell the story of the Nephite people who were one of the “lost” tribes of Israel who migrated to America around 900 B.C.

According to LDS tradition, Smith retrieved these plates in 1827, and the angel Moroni instructed him to begin the translation process. According to Smith, as he was translating the plates, John the Baptist appeared to him, telling Smith that he was going to restore the true church and the true gospel which had been lost during church history. Not only that, but in 1829, Smith allegedly visited by Peter, James and John for the purpose of bestowing upon him the Melchizedek Priesthood.7

On April 6, 1830, Joseph and five other men joined together to organize the Mormon Church, which was initially called the Church of Christ. Smith was designated the prophet of a new dispensation. Over the next decade the church would move from New York to Kirkland, Ohio, then to Independence Missouri, then to Nauvoo, Illinois.

It was in Nauvoo that social tensions between Mormons and their neighbors intensified. After being accused of breaking some laws in Nauvoo (for destroying a printing press that was publishing critical information on Mormonism), Joseph and his brother Hyram were jailed in Carthage, Illinois. Both men were killed when a mob stormed the jail. For this reason, Smith is viewed by the Mormons as a martyr, as a lamb led to the slaughter, even though his death was actually the result of a shootout.8

After Joseph’s death, the Mormons divided into two groups. One was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, led by Smith’s widow who took them back to Independence. This group claims to be the true church, and that succession of the church’s presidency was given to Joseph’s son by Joseph Smith himself and would continue in his bloodline. The other group, the LDS most familiar today, was led by Brigham Young, who took his followers to Utah in 1847, finally settling in what is now Salt Lake City. Under Young’s leadership, the tragic Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 took place. A band of Indians and Mormons attacked a wagon train of immigrant’s passing through Utah. Approximately 100 immigrants were murdered.9

Since Young’s reign, the LDS church has had many presidents/prophets. Today, Gordon B. Hinckley is the Prophet of the church, which along with two assisting Apostles, is known as the First Presidency. Also in authority is the Council of the 12 Apostles.

MORMON DOCTRINE

Members of the LDS church understandably have a negative reaction when they’re called a “cult” (though, ironically, they often seem unconcerned when Christians react adversely when the essentials of their faith have been distorted by Mormonism). In any case, it is wise when dealing with an individual Mormon to not refer to Mormonism as a cult. There would be no reason to react so strongly, of course, if it were just a matter of disagreement on non-essentials. However, the nature of pseudo-Christianity is such that it tries to look like orthodoxy, yet it counterfeits Christianity’s basic doctrines. Indeed, Mormonism presents a different authority, a different God(s), a different Jesus, and a different gospel. To this end, we will examine how the Mormon Church distorts Biblical orthodoxy regarding revelation, God, man, Christ, and salvation.

Revelation

There are some fundamental differences between the Christian view of revelation and that held by Mormons. Orthodox biblical Christianity holds that revelation has ceased. With the canonization of the scriptures of the Old and New Testament s, the Bible is Gods complete and final revelation of His will to mankind. However, Mormons hold that revelation continues today and that the Bible is only one of four revelatory “Standard Works.”

Their view can be likened to a staircase. At the lowest level is the King James Version of the Bible. This of course is the version that Joseph Smith used and also plagiarized when writing the Book of Mormon (BOM). This latter work is considered higher revelation than the Bible because the Bible as we have it today contains errors and has much material missing (cf. 1 Nephi 13:28). The LDS’s eighth article of faith says, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” In practice, what they actually mean is transmitted correctly because they believe only in the King James Version translation. The rest of the eighth article of faith says, “We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”Accordingly, the BOM does not have to be scrutinized like the Bible because the Book of Mormon is the higher and more perfect revelation.

The third standard work is Doctrines and Covenants (D&C). Mormons tell people that what they believe is contained in the Book of Mormon. Actually, the more novel and controversial Mormon doctrines are found in D&C. Because Joseph Smith plagiarized so much of the Bible in writing the BOM, it actually contradicts Mormonism on a number of important doctrines. But, what Mormons really believe-the doctrines that set them apart from orthodox Christians-are found largely in D&C.

The fourth step in the staircase is the Pearl of Great Price (PGP). This book is a collection of five other writings and “translations” of Joseph Smith, including the LDS Articles of Faith. In addition to these four standard works, since the president of the church is looked upon as a prophet, seer, and revelator, selected official speeches and writings are also seen as revelatory.10

God

There are vast differences between the Mormon view of God and the God revealed in the Bible. Biblical Christianity teaches monotheism, the belief in only one God by nature (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10, 44:6, 45:5, 45:21, 46:9; 1 Tim. 2:5), whereas Mormonism teaches that there is a plurality of gods. In fact, they teach that the three Persons of the trinity are three separate gods. Thus, Mormonism holds a polytheistic view of God (i.e., belief in more than one god).

Joseph Smith himself said, “Many men say there is one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God! I say that is a strange God anyhow-three in one and one in three. . . .It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God-he would be a giant or a monster.”11 He continues, “I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ, a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”12

There is more. According to LDS doctrine, God used to be a man on another planet called Kolob. It is there that God the Father, who has a body of flesh and bones, worked out his godhood, just like his father before him, and became a god after learning truth, aggressively pursuing godhood, and being obedient to all the laws and commandments of God.13 This process of men becoming gods has been going on for an infinite amount of time, producing an infinite number of gods since eternity past. Thus, it is called the Law of Eternal Progression.

The god of Mormonism also has a changing nature. As noted above, he was not always god, unlike the God of the Bible (Ps. 90:2). Joseph Smith declared, “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. . . . God himself, the father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.”14 Prior to this, Smith stated, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”15

Mormon theology makes a distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost. When speaking of the Holy Spirit, Mormons refer to Gods presence by way of an essence or spirit of intelligence that permeates the universe, not a personal being. However, when talking of the Holy Ghost, Mormons speak of a person, a spirit, the third member or god of the Godhead.16 If the Christian points to those verses revealing that there is only one true God, the typical Mormon responds that they are referring to “one God for this world”-the Father. But then what are we to make of their belief that there are three gods for this world (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)? They have no answer. In the Scripture, God clearly declares: “Before Me there was no God formed and there shall be no God formed after Me “(Isa. 43:10; cf. 44:6,8).

Because Mormonism distorts the nature of the one true God by making him into an exalted man, they therefore localize him in sp ace. If this is the case, then God is not omnipresent. If He is not present everywhere the way the Scriptures say that He is (Ps. 139:7-12; Jer. 23:24), His eternal attributes of omnipotence and omniscience are likewise undermined.

The LDS church teaches the same regarding the Holy Ghost: “The Holy Ghost as a personage of Spirit can no more be omnipresent in person than can the Father or the Son.”17 There is yet another problem for the LDS concept of the Holy Ghost. According to Joseph Smith and Mormon doctrine, all gods have had to progress through the Law of Eternal Progression, starting out as a man with a physical body before gaining a glorified body and becoming a god. So how can the Holy Ghost be a god without a body? They have no answer.

Jesus

The Mormon Jesus is a different Jesus than the one we find in the Bible (2 Cor. 11:4-5). The Jesus of Mormonism first preexisted as raw, unorganized matter or pre-intelligence with all life that ever was or ever will be. This matter of intelligence (Jesus) then became organized into a spirit being by being sexually procreated as the first spirit child of Elohim and one of his goddess wives.18 So, before he was a man, Jesus existed in the spirit world as the eldest of many spirit children born to God the Father by one of his many goddess wives.

Jesus had no virgin birth in Mormonism. Brigham Young taught that “the birth of the Savior was as natural as are the births of our children. It was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood, was begotten of his Father, as we were of our father.”19 Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie taught, “And Christ was born into the world in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mort al father . . .[H]e was begotten, conceived, and born in the normal and natural course of events.”20 So, Elohim (God the Father) came to earth to have physical relations with Mary to provide Jesus with a physical body of his own. Since God is an exalted man with a physical body, Jesus has to have a physical body to become a god. Moreover, since Mary was Elohim’s daughter in the preexistence, we appear to have as well a case of celestial incest.

Not only this, but the Jesus of Mormonism was the spirit-brother of Lucifer in the preexistence. In fact, we were all spirit-brothers and sisters with Jesus and Lucifer in the preexistence. Lucifer became the devil after his plan to be savior of the world failed. As LDS general authority Milton Hunter explains,

The holy Scripture gives an account of a great council which was held in the spirit world before man was placed on the earth. This meeting. . .was presided over by God our eternal Father and those in attendance were His sons and daughters. . . . Eternal Father explained to the assembled throng. . . the great Gospel plan of salvation. The appointment of Jesus to be the Savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer. . . .[T]his spirit brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior.21

This is not the Jesus of the Bible. That Jesus is the “only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). He was conceived of a virgin. And he had no competition from the devil to be the Savior of the world (2 Tim. 1:9). Indeed, Jesus created Satan (Col. 1:16-17)!

Man

In accordance with the Mormon doctrine of God outlined above, Mormons believe that

[l]ife, intelligence, mind, the light of truth, or whatever name one gives to the creator of the personality of man, is an uncreated, eternally existent, indestructible entity . . . .In the first stage, man was an eternally existent being termed an intelligence. . .

. . .The next realm where man dwelt was the spirit world. . . . [There] eternally existing intelligences were clothed with spirit bodies. . .

. . .[N]umerous sons and daughters were begotten and born of heavenly parent s into that eternal family in the spirit world.22

All human beings were first eternal intelligent matter or energy until they obtained a body, which is necessary to progress to godhood.

In Mormonism, the question of mans purpose for being here on earth is answered by his obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. To keep these progressively is the key to becoming gods. According to the fifth prophet of the LDS church, Lorenzo Snow, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”23 By the way, women cannot become goddesses on their own. They must be married to a Mormon man who then chooses whether or not to allow her to accompany him into the celestial glory to enter goddess status.

Obviously Scripture teaches something entirely different about man than does Mormonism. Biblically, human beings did not preexist before being born into this world (John 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:47). Often

Mormons will use passages such as Jeremiah 1:5 to build a case for preexistence, but this text testifies to God’s foreknowledge of Jeremiah and not to a prior existence of Jeremiah. Far from being an eternal being, man is finite and Adam was created at a specific point in time (Gen. 1:26-29, 2:7; 1 Cor. 15: 45-49).

Salvation

Bible-based cults typically use Christian terms. However , entirely different definitions are given to these terms. This is prevalent nowhere more than in Mormonism’s teaching on salvation. Take, for example, their view of the terms fall and sin. According to Mormon theology, it was good and necessary that Adam and Eve fall into sin. Their fall allowed them to became “mortal” which then enabled them to procreate earthly bodies for God s spirit children to inhabit.24 Thus, their fall actually became the channel through which men and women could achieve godhood.

This clearly implies a watering down of both the “fall” and “sin”. Sin is viewed as a mistake or inadequacy, or misjudgment, not necessarily breaking God’s law or “falling short”. The “fall” is seen as a necessary step toward Godhood. So, in essence, Mormonism views the fall as “upward.”

 LDS members make a distinction between “general or unconditional salvation” and “eternal life or conditional salvation.” So, don’t ask a Mormon if he knows he is going to Heaven when he dies. Mormons believe that because of Christ’s resurrection, all people will be resurrected to heaven (general salvation).

But, Mormonism teaches that there are three levels of heaven or glory: telestial, terrestrial and celestial. Only the latter involves eternal life in God’s presence. For Mormons, “eternal life” is equated with exaltation to godhood in celestial glory.

Jesus provides resurrection or general salvation for all, but it is up to the individual to work out his degree of glory through his own efforts or works. “Grace” is just God enabling the individual to help himself toward that end; it is not a free gif t. This is why Spencer W. Kimball (a past LDS president) taught, “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God, that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.”25 The fact is that, in Mormonism,” individual salvation” or “exaltation” pertains to that which people merit through their own works by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the LDS church. In Mormonism, eternal life is a reward for one’s efforts and not a gift. This is why the BOM teaches, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23b).

Clete Hux is the Counter -Cult specialist of the Apologetics Resource Center.

NOTES

1 Richard and Joan Ostling, Mormon America (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1999), 115-117.

2 Christianity Today, Front Cover Chart (June 15, 1998).

3 D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 194.

4 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1973), 1:17,19.

5 There are actually nine documented but suppressed versions of this “First Vision” that are often contradictory.  These are well-documented in Gerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Chicago: Moody, 1980), chap. 6.

6 Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2003),  201, 209.

7 Joseph Smith, The Pearl of Great Price 1:68-73.

8 Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 617-618.  See also Richard and Joan Ostling,  Mormon America, 115-117.

9 Richard and Joan Ostling, Mormon America, 54-55.

10 Gospel Principles, rev. ed. (Salt    Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1986), 51.

11 Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 474.

12 Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1958), 114-115.

13 Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 238-239,  669-671; and Gospel Principles, 290-292.

14 Times and Seasons, Vol. 5, pp. 613-614.

15 Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p. 3.

16 Bruce McConkie,  Mormon Doctrine, 752-753.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid., 129, 516-517; 589-590.

19 Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, p. 115.

20 Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 547, 742.

21 Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 15.

22 Ibid., 127-128.

23 Lorenzo Snow, The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), 2.

24 Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 268-269.

25 Book of Mormon Student Manual (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints1989),36.

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