This weekend I read an article in the Tampa Tribune that reported the following: “About 1 in 3 voters would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate. The faith draws more unfavorable ratings than any other religion; only atheists fare worse. Doubts run especially deep among evangelicals, who may account for as many as half the votes cast in Republican primaries in the South. Some evangelicals can articulate specific Mormon beliefs that disturb them: for instance, the teaching that only married couples can achieve the most exalted realms of heaven.”
As it happens, one of the assignments for the doctoral class I just finished was to compare the beliefs of Mormons with evangelicals as regarding Scripture. I knew only the basics about Mormonism before I delved into the research, but I knew enough to be disturbed whenever Mormons call themselves Christians. We may both use the term, but we define it–and several other key concepts–completely differently. My intent here is not to attack Mormons, but simply to point out the differences in our beliefs.
I wrote the following for my class paper:
Mormon theology differs from Christian theology in several key areas, though most Mormons call themselves Christians. What follows is a comparison of their position and that of orthodox Christianity in several key areas.
Mormons acknowledge the divine authority not only of the Bible, but also of The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, and continuing revelation in the official teaching of the president of the LDS church. Not only do these extra-biblical authorities contradict God’s promise that his canon would be complete, but they frequently contradict each other: for instance, in teachings on polygamy, in references to the Trinity, the appearance of God (spirit or physical?), and the fact that Mormon scriptures say that not all finite things were created. Mormon writings also contradict the Bible’s statement that Christ was born in Bethlehem, for the Book of Mormon predicts that Christ would be born in Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the prophets of Mormonism have given false prophecies. Joseph Smith claims that an angel of God told him that American Indians were descended from Jews, but modern DNA testing has proven that his prophecy is false.
Another false prophecy: in Doctrine and Covenants 84:1–5, 31, September 1832, Joseph Smith claimed that “Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem … shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased. … which temple shall be reared in this generation.” 1
Fifty-eight prophecies of Joseph Smith have failed to come to pass. As God’s word, the Bible is filled with inerrant prophecies, for no true prophet can lie. The Bible clearly says: “How will we know whether the prophecy is from the Lord or not? If the prophet predicts something in the Lord’s name and it does not happen, the Lord did not give the message” (Deut. 18:21-22).
The Bible alone is trustworthy. Furthermore, there are clear indications in the New Testament that Christ’s revelation to the prophets would complete biblical revelation. Not only was God’s complete revelation miraculously proclaimed and recorded, but it has been miraculously preserved.
Finally, we have the Bible’s own word on the subject of extra-biblical writings: “If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).
2. The Gospel
Most Mormons would say their church is built on the gospel of Christ, but they would also say that their church has been raised up because the gospel has been lost in an apostate church. Yet what do they believe about the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Mormonism is an amalgamation of concepts from Judaism (good works), Roman Catholicism (emphasis upon a hierarchy), the Campbellites (baptismal regeneration, baptism for the dead), Masonry (secret symbolism and temple ceremonies), Islam (polygamy and blood atonement), and Rosicrucian doctrine (the belief that men are gods in embryo).
Walter Martin writes that one “characteristic of [Mormonism] that is quite different from Christianity is this: Doctrinal issues are frequently capricious and subject to change. Unlike Christianity, whose essential teachings are universal and absolute and have not been subject to modification among orthodox Christians through two millenniums, [other] doctrines change according to the need of the moment. New revelation freely supersedes old revelation. The Book of Mormon, for example, has ‘required almost four thousand alterations from its original publication in 1830.’ 19 Some of these alterations have been significant. Mormonism’s rejection of polygamy and their more recent dispensation of religious equality to African Americans reflect major and far-reaching doctrinal changes.” 20
3. View of Christ
Though Mormons do believe Christ existed pre-incarnation with the Father, they do not believe he is the Son of God or equal to God in an orthodox sense of the Trinity. Rather he is a “spirit-child” as all human beings are prior to their birth.
Charles Swindoll explains: “Many people believe in the ‘preexistence of the soul,’ maintaining that the immaterial aspect of each person existed in some previous state before its union with the body. This view was popular among Greek dualists and a few early Christian theologians who were heavily influenced by Plato’s thought. He believed that souls had become incarnate from the world of Forms, making life here an attempt to return the soul to its proper home. Largely because of the influence of Augustine, this view has not been held by the Christian church since about the fifth century, though versions of it may still be found in Eastern thought and in Mormonism.”
Mormons believe that Christ is not eternally God’s son, nor was he eternally pre-eminent. He is simply the first-begotten. Whereas Christians would interpret John 1:1 as “in the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word (Jesus) was God”, Mormons would render that with a lower-case g, i.e., a god. Though they cannot accept the deity of Jesus Christ, they do claim he was the messiah. The Mormon Articles of Faith state that he was “chosen in the primeval council of the Gods and foreordained to this service.”
Furthermore, Mormons teach that the Father and Son have literal bodies of flesh and bone, despite Scripture clear asserting that God is spirit (John 4:24) and that a spirit has no flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). God is invisible (1 Timothy), and “no man has seen God” (John 1:18).
Mormons are quick to say that Christ did provide atonement for sin. But they do not believe it sanctifies believers. Instead, it wipes away original sin so that all are one with God at birth. After birth, salvation is only attainable through obedience and good works. Babies who die go immediately to heaven; other people have to work for their salvation.
Scripture says that believers are freely justified “by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25). Yet Mormon priests offer sacrifices like those described as useless in Hebrews 10:11. Furthermore, Mormons believe that unless men participate in those sacrifices, they cannot find salvation.
5. Personal faith in Christ
If we were to ask a Mormon if he or she had personally trusted in Christ as Lord, most would emphatically respond in the affirmative. Like evangelical Christians, they consider “belief” to be more than mere intellectual knowledge or even assent.
Where we differ, however, is that individual Mormons know little about fellowshipping with a living Lord. They are related to their religion through the mediation of the institutional church and its sacraments. He is not trusting in faith alone—in fact, he may consider the doctrine of justification by faith alone a dangerous heresy. In Mormon theology, grace saves a man from eternal annihilation. Christ’s death and atoning sacrifice makes him immortal. But salvation will come only through obedience, baptism by a church official, and enduring to the end in keeping the commandments of God.
By insisting on works, Mormons destroy the essence of faith as described in Romans 11:6. Joseph Smith has taken the truth of the Gospel and twisted it so that on close examination, it bears little resemblance to biblical orthodoxy.
Now that it appears we will be hearing a lot about Mormonism and a Mormon candidate, I thought it might be helpful to have a clearer understanding about the difference between the LDS church and evangelical believers.