Are Mormons Christians?

This article was originally published in the October 2012 Hometown Journey Magazine.

Are Mormons Christians?

I’ve had many people ask this question because of the attention Mormonism is getting due to Mitt Romney’s campaign for the White House. I think it is an important question, one for which Christians ought to have a good answer.

Are Mormons Christians? Here I must part with the famous Joel Osteen, who said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer back in April, “When I hear Mitt Romney say that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God—that he’s the Christ, raised from the dead, that he’s his Savior—that’s good enough for me.” He went on to say, “Mormonism is a little different, but I still see them as brothers in Christ.”

I pray that America’s most famous pastor was speaking out of sheer ignorance. While Mormons are very moral people and model citizens, their doctrine clearly contradicts the way the Bible has been interpreted by historic Christianity. I’ve known many Mormons, and I care about and love them. I want the very best for them. And it is this reality—my love for them—that does not allow me to ignore the gulf between their church’s teaching and the teaching of the Bible.

One of their most famous early prophets, Brigham Young, challenged people: “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it and see if it will stand the test.”[1] So let’s do this. Let’s examine the evidence.

First, let’s consider the most basic question of where we can learn about God. Historic Christianity believes that the Bible alone is God’s inspired, inerrant Word, the only sure source of divine truth. Mormons publish their own King James Version of the Bible, which include in the back a note saying that they recognize the Bible “is not a complete nor entirely accurate record…”[2] So Mormons add to their scriptures other books: the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Additionally, they believe that the president of the Church of Latter-day Saints is a modern day prophet who can speak with authority equal to that of the Bible.[3]

Next, let’s consider the very basic question of who God is. Historic Christianity has taught that God is one Being in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of these Persons is equally God, all being eternal and essential to the very Being of God. Catholics and Protestants alike agree upon the doctrine of the Trinity, and from very early in the church’s history have considered those who do not hold to the doctrine of the Trinity to be outside the boundaries of the Christian faith.

Mormons reject the Christian teaching of the Trinity. Whereas the Psalmist proclaims, “From everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2), Mormons believe that God the Father has not eternally been the Creator God of all. Instead, their founder, Joseph Smith, taught, “God himself was once as we are now, and is exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens… We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil, so that you may see.”[4] They also believe many gods exist. The Mormon theologian and Apostle of the Church Bruce McConkie claims, “A plurality of gods exist…there is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods.”

Whereas historic Christianity teaches that Jesus is the only Person of the Godhead who united humanity and divinity by becoming a man, Mormons teach that God the Father has a literal body. They also teach that God the Father is a man: “Therefore we know that both the Father and the Son are in form and stature perfect men; each of them possesses a tangible body…of flesh and bones.”[5] Joseph Smith even taught that the Heavenly Father lives on the planet or star “Kolob” with Heavenly Mother, a goddess of flesh and blood.[6]

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, God in the flesh, and the One through whom all things were created (John 1:1, 14; Col. 1:15-17). We believe the eternal Son took on flesh when he was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit by Mary, a virgin. Mormonism teaches that Jesus is a created being, the first spirit child of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, and brother of Lucifer.[7] They also deny the virgin birth: “The birth of the Saviour 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.”[8] They believe that the Heavenly Father, of flesh and blood, impregnated Mary in the manner of regular conception. (UPDATE: I was corrected on the LDS doctrine of the incarnation. You can read my correction here.)

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit (who is also called the Holy Ghost) is the third Person of the Trinity. He speaks, can be grieved, and can be blasphemed. He is God, as much as the Father and the Son. Mormons teach that the Holy Spirit refers to the spiritual essence of Heavenly Father, an immaterial force, but that the Holy Ghost is a being unto himself who has been given divine attributes.[9]

You see, Mormonism uses a common vocabulary with biblical Christianity, but they mean very different things by these familiar words. Consider “salvation.” The Bible teaches that salvation is forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, not based upon any work of our own, but entirely a gift of grace that is received by faith.

Mormons believe the atonement of Jesus took place not on the cross, but in the Garden of Gethsemane. It accomplished two things: “The first effect is to secure to all mankind alike, exemption from the penalty of the fall, thus providing a plan of General Salvation. The second effect is to open a way for Individual Salvation whereby mankind may secure remission of personal sins.”[10] In other words, Jesus’ atoning work secured for all people—regardless of their faith—restoration from the effects of Adam’s fall. This way they are then only responsible to make up for their own personal sin.

Whereas the Bible teaches that humans can never earn forgiveness for sins but must completely rely upon God’s mercy to forgive, the Latter-day Saint Church teaches that individuals must work for their forgiveness: “As these sins are the result of individual acts it is just that forgiveness for them should be conditioned on individual compliance with prescribed requirements—‘obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.’”[11]

The Bible teaches that those who repent of their sin and trust in the atonement of Christ on the cross will spend eternity with God in heaven. Mormons teach that faithful Latter-day Saints will become gods of their own planets. Brigham Young taught, “God the Father was once a man on another planet who ‘passed the ordeal we are now passing through…’”[12] Those who faithfully “pass the ordeal” of this earth will find themselves ruling over an earth of their own in a physical body. Women can look forward to eternal pregnancy as they produce spirit children who will be sent to a planet to “pass the ordeal” and gods themselves.[13]

In summary, the Bible teaches that there is only one God, Creator of all, who has eternally existed as three Persons. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was born of the virgin Mary and lived a sinless life in order to pay completely the debt of sin for all who would repent of their sins and trust in his atoning work. Those who do so are forgiven and promised eternal life in heaven with God. Mormons believes that God was once a man like us who attained godhood through his own merit, and by righteous works men today can become gods of their own planets when they die. Jesus is not the uniquely divine Son of God, but merely our “elder brother,” the first spirit child, who paved our way to divinity.

In my experience, my Mormon friends have been quite sensitive to these conversations. They often think I’m being harsh for saying they are not true Christians. But their own doctrine says the same thing about all non-Mormon faiths. The Book of Mormon teaches that all other churches are “of the devil…the mother of abominations…the whore of all the earth” (1 Nephi 14:10). Joseph Smith started the church because he reportedly was told in a vision that all other churches were false. Mormons do not think that Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, or any other Christian denominations are really followers of Jesus. Biblical Christians have the same conviction about their Mormon friends.

Mormonism is not biblical Christianity. We should love Mormons, treating them with the respect. We should pray for them and share our understanding of Jesus Christ with them. But we cannot say that Mormonism is only “a little different” and that they are our “brothers in Christ.” They do not believe in the same Jesus that the Bible speaks of. It is up to us to introduce them to Him.

 



[1] Brigham Young, May 18, 1873, Journal of Discources, vol. 16, p. 46.

[2] Located in the back of the LDS KJV Bible, p. 624.

[3] http://www.lds.org/scriptures/

[4] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345.

[5] Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, President of the LDS Church, p. 38.

[6] Book of Abraham 3:2-3, by Joseph Smith.

[7] Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15.

[8] Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, p. 115.

[9] Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 144.

[10] Acticles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 78-79.

[11] Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 79.

[12] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 29.

[13] Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p 426.

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