When asked about Mormonism, the average person thinks of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, of clean-cut young missionaries on bicycles, of a nonsmoking, non-drinking people who are industrious, family-oriented, prosperous, and have an avid interest in genealogical research. This rather vague and rosy image has been clouded in recent years by media reports of vendetta-murders involving various Mormon polygamist groups; and in 1985 public attention was drawn to some bombing murders in Salt Lake City, related to several forged documents embarrassing to Mormon historians. But basically there remains the picture of a respectable citizenry with a strong commitment to their Church--the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints"---now over 5 million strong throughout the world. (Permission was recently granted for the erection of a Mormon temple in Poland, and a Russian version of the Book of Mormon has recently come off the press as part of a major mission venture into the USSR! With nearly 30,000 full-time missionaries, this is one of the fastest growing religions, especially in America, with an average of two new churches or local "parishes" opening each day.
All this, however, does not answer the question about Mormonism. What, precisely, do the Mormons believe? They profess to be Christians. They claim that the Bible and the Book of Mormon "complement each other. They both contain the word of God. They have become one.'' (1) The introduction to the Book of Mormon states that it was written "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.” In fact, Mormonism is "one of the most effective counterfeits of biblical Christianity ever devised’’. (2)
The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, was born in Vermont in 1805. As a youth Smith is described by Mormons as "honest and sincere, devout and intelligent...humbly seeking the truth. (3) According to other sources, however, he was "a poorly educated, superstitious youth" who 'made extensive use of divining rods and peek stones" as he accompanied his father on expeditions in search of buried treasure. (4) As a young man he was much involved m various psychic and occult activities Objective investigators have concluded that he was probably a teenage psychopath:
"In his self-hypnosis, ideas from the subconscious replaced critical thinking. His abnormal temperament revealed itself in a capacity for clairvoyance. Repeated experiments in this pressed clear, conscious thinking more and more into the background, and the dividing line between the real world of the senses and the world of dreams disappeared almost completely? (5)
Smith's youth coincided with a period of Protestant revival among a multiplicity of sects. In response to his prayer to be guided towards the true religion, Smith claimed to have a series of visions, beginning in 1820. The two "Personages" in his first vision were interpreted to be God the Father and God the Son, and the message was that he should join none of the existing churches, none of them was right, "but that at some future time the fullness of the gospel would be made known to him.” Four years later Smith prayed for another divine manifestation, and a "heavenly being," calling himself Moroni, appeared to him and told him of some gold plates, engraved with "the fullness of the everlasting gospel," buried in a nearby hill, They were written in an ancient language and Joseph Smith was chosen to have "the glorious privilege of translating the characters on the plates and becoming the instrument in God's hands in restoring the gospel and reestablishing the Church" (6) Besides the plates, Moroni told him, "lay two crystals joined together by a silver frame and fastened to a pectoral: the ancient Urim and Thummim of the Jewish high priest, a sort of divine pair of spectacles, with which to decipher the writing on the plates.'' (7) Smith's translation was first published in 1830 and titled the Book of Mormon.
Soon after the publication of his "scripture”, Joseph Smith proclaimed himself a "latter-day" prophet equal to the prophets of the Old Testament and began to gather a following which, by the time of his murder ("martyrdom," in Mormon history) at the hands of an angry mob in 1844, numbered at least ten thousand.
Their reputation sadly compromised, most of the community then elected to follow Brigham Young --Smith's successor as "Prophet, Seer and Revelator"---and, after, in arduous trek, settled in the Utah territory, with Salt Lake City as their religious capital. Today, 75% of the population is Mormon. Visitors to the city's Temple Square--the "Vatican" of Mormonism --may tour an elaborate complex, complete with films, dioramas, and lectures on Mormon history and theology, based on the Book of Mormon and revelations of later "prophets".
Reading very mach in the style of the King James Version of the Bible (indeed, there are whole passages lifted from the KJV), the Book of Mormon is purported to have been written c. 600 B.C. to 421 A D. by various "prophet-historians." it tells the rather fantastic story of a Jewish prophet Lehi, living in the reign of King Zedekiah (II Chron. 36:10), who was instructed by the Lord to take his people and leave Jerusalem. hey sailed to the shores of Central or South America where they established a great civilization. Lehi's eldest son Laman was rebellious, and he and a group of followers broke away from the youngest son Nephi, who had earlier been chosen by God to rule over his brothers. Nephi exhorted his people to respect the law of Moses and also prophesied the coming of Christ. Other prophets followed Nephi, and their teachings and prophecies were added to the collection of engraved metal plates-containing the law of Moses and the writings of earlier prophets--which had been brought from Jerusalem. After Christ's ascension, according to this Mormon history, He appeared also to these people of the New World. “Here, too, He ordained disciples and gave them authority to carry on his work.” (8) His appearance ushered in two centuries of harmony between the Nephites and Lamanites, but then they began again to fight. The last Nephite prophet, Mormon, seeing that his people were being destroyed, took all the engraved plates and abridged them into the Plates of Mormon. After his death in battle, his son Moroni, the sole survivor of the Nephites, added some of his own writings and then buried the plates in a hill, "so that they would be preserved until the Lord was ready to bring them forth in the latter days? (9)
Historically, The Book of Mormon is not supported by any archaeological evidence and has no correspondence to what is known of pre-Columbian civilizations. Mormon adherents seem untroubled by this fact, relieving that it's "just a matter of time" before such evidence is uncovered. Their claim that the American Indians are descendants of the Lamaniles is likewise unfoundecl; they are of Mongolian stock, not Semitic.
Theologically, the Mormons' "gospel" is equally false. A close study of the Mormon belief-system shows it to be an amalgam of many heresies, although its doctrine of the Trinity appears to be unique. They teach that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not comprise one divine being in essence, but are actually three "gods”, who have a highly developed, perfected human nature. God the Father is "Elohim”, who has "a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's" Smith: Doctrine and Covenant 130:22). Brigham Young identifies God the Father as Adam, and Mormons teach that it was not through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but through the physical union of this immortal Adam-God and the mortal Virgin Mary that God the Son, "Jehovah" or Jesus Christ, was born in the flesh. He had earlier been begotten of the Father as a spirit, together with a multitude of spiritual beings who are all waiting to be born to earthly men in order that they might eventually become gods even as their "elder brother" Jesus Christ
To become gods. This fundamental aim of all faithful Mormons was clearly spelled out by Brigham Young who wrote: "Gods exist, and we had better strive to be prepared to be one of them" (Journals of Discourse,: or again, in the words of former president of the Mormon Church, Lorenzo Snow: "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become;" These statements alone are very revealing: they show Mormonism to be polytheistic, and contain in a nut-shell the Mormon belief in eternal progression and pre-existence none of which find any place in Christian theology. According to these, heretical doctrines, 'Elohim" is the supreme God of this world, but there also exist other gods in other worlds. Before we were born in the flesh we lived as spirits in the presence of this Father of Spirits and "what we did there influenced our lives here, just as what we do here will reward or retard us m the life hereafter? (10)
Mormons place great emphasis on marriage. It is only through marriage sealed in the Temple ("celestial" marriage "for time and eternity') that one is eligible to attain the highest glory. It is also the duty of good Mormons to have children, so as to provide bodies for existing spirits, for this earthly sojourn is a necessary stage in the progress towards godhead. Error begets error, and on the basis of these teachings, Mormons have rationally inferred that Christ must have been married (to the two Mary’s and Martha!) and conceived children, otherwise He could not have attained divinity.
One wonders how a religion claiming authority from Jesus Christ Himself could be so far outside the mainstream of Christianity. Based on Joseph Smith's first revelation, that "all religions arc in error,'' Mormons believe that the great "falling away" foretold in Scripture (II Thess. 2:3) occurred very soon after the deaths of the Twelve Apostles, and apart from a branch in the New World, which remained faithful for another 200 years, the Church quite literally disappeared until its revival by Joseph Smith. This view of Church history flatly contradicts Christ's promise: I will build My Church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18), and allows Mormons to deny the validity of the Ecumenical Councils where such fundamental Christian doctrines as the nature of the Trinity were elucidated. As for the Bible, Mormons believe it only "as far as it is translated correctly."
For all its far-fetched teachings, Mormonism is in some respects very rational (a sign, perhaps, of its human origin). The fact that the world lay in darkness for so many centuries, providing no opportunity for salvation, inspired the Mormon practice of vicarious baptism for the dead. This allows a person to be baptized and commute the "grace" to a deceased relative, thereby providing the relative an entry into "salvation" (i.e., progress towards becoming a god). This explains the avid interest devout Mormons have in their family genealogies, trying to "save" as many relatives as possible, the seriousness of their research accounts for Salt Lake City's 5 story Family History Library with its more than 1200 branches in 44 countries.
One of Mormonism’s greatest weaknesses lies in the fallibility and contradictions of its gospels. The Book of Mormon, for example, contains a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews - God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and in Him thee is no variableness neither shadow of changing (Mormon 9:9)--and other passages from Holy Scripture which are contradicted by the revelations of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and later prophets. New revelations can replace, older revelations. Young is said to have claimed that he could "write revelations as fast as a dog trots.'' (11)
No less than four new doctrines and practices were introduced by "the Prophet" in the winter of 1841-42. The most radical was polygamy or the "great and glorious principle of plural marriage.’ Smith's revelation' on this subject was initially met with such resistance that the practice was kept secret for several years before it was committed to writing in 1843. Smith went so far as to tell his friend Heber Kimball that if he did not take a "plural wife," he would lose his apostleship and be damned (12) (During the last five years of his life, Smith lived in polygamy with some twenty wives.) In 1890 a Federal law forced the Mormons to abandon polygamy, and they substituted the practice of "celestial marriages”.
Mormon doctrine regarding blacks has also undergone revision. They had always taught that blacks were the descendents of the murderer Cain, and therefore they were inferior to whites and were not admitted into the Mormon priesthood As the civil rights issue gained prominence, this teaching became a liability,. In 1978, however, Mormon Church president Spencer Kimball announced that he had received a new revelation, and that the Mormon Church was now free to ordain blacks.
Here one might also point out that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and many other prominent figures in early Mormon history were Freemasons (although it appears that the Mormon lodges were regarded with some distrust if not hostility--by a majority of Masons; scholars have shown some similarity between certain aspects of Masonic ritual and the 'temple rites" of Mormonism.
These are not the issues and doctrines which Mormons are eager to divulge to prospective converts. Door-to-door missionaries instead play on the family-oriented aspects of Mormonism, offering a profound but worldly psychological security within the context of a false version of early Christian history and an exotic theology.
With a clearer understanding of what Mormonism teaches, we can be better prepared when a Mormon missionary comes to our door--not only to defend ourselves against his arguments, but also to challenge his understanding of the Scriptures, the history of the Church and the nature of God, and invite him to examine the eternal truths of the Orthodox Faith, a Faith which, like its Head, Jesus Christ, is yesterday, today, and forever the same.
1. Meet the Mormons Deseret Book Co, Salt Lake City, UT, 1967; p, 45
2. Kenneth Boa, Cults, World Religions, And You, Victor Books, Wheaten, IL, 977, p. 64
3. Meet the Mormons, p. 27
4. Boa p 65.
5. Konrad Algermissen, Christian Sects.
6. Meet the Mormons, p 67.
8. Meet the Mormons, p. 36
10. Ibid, p. 82
11. L.J, Arrington, Brigham Young American Moses, Knopf, NY,: 83, p 305
12. S.I L Goodwin. Mormonism and Masonry, The Masonic Service Association, Washington, D.C., 1924, p. 16.