Mormon Theology

When I was in seminary back in the 1980′s I wrote a paper on Mormonism, reading a lot of their original and sacred documents. I sense I have a pretty firm grasp of their history and teachings, but let this be a brief synopsis of their theology.

This information does not endorse Mormonism as a valid theological belief system, so allow the Person of the Holy Spirit to guide you in knowing the truth that will set you free (John 8:32). I firmly believe that YOU CAN’T read the Bible from cover to cover and come to the conclusion that Mormonism is true.

The LDS MUST rely on lofty teachings and arguments, with secret knowledge given through their self-appointed apostles. There is biblical condemnation for false teachers by the early apostles:

These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ.You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. (Galatians 1: 6-9)

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong. (Colossians 2:3-5)

Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

Statistics:

  • Founder: Joseph Smith
  • Founding Date: April 6, 1830
  • Scriptures:
    • Book of Mormon
    • Doctrine and Covenants
    • Pearl of Great Price

Organizational Structure:

  1. One prophet leads the Church.
  2. Beneath the prophet in authority is the Council of the Twelve Apostles.
  3. A third group of men are called the First and Second Councils of the Seventy.
  4. All of these men together are called the General Authorities.

Unique Terms:

  1. Local churches called Wards or Stake Centers.
  2. The Temples are not for worship, but are used for ceremonies for the living and the dead.
  3. Less than ten percent of all LDS are allowed to enter these structures.

Theological History:

Born in 1805 in Sharon, Vermont, Joseph Smith would begin just a few years later what would become one of the world’s largest and fastest growing non-Christian religions.

According to the official story of the LDS Church, in 1820 Smith was visited by God the Father and God the Son after praying about which church he should join. He was told by Jesus, he should join none of them for they were “all wrong” and all the Christian church’s doctrines “were an abomination” (Joseph Smith – History 19, Pearl of Great Price).

This First Vision was followed by several visits from an angel named Moroni who, in 1827, allowed Smith to find a set of Golden Plates which had been buried in a hill near Smith’s home in Palmyra, New York. These golden tables became the Book of Mormon, published in 1830.

Doctrines:

Trinity: Mormonism is a polytheistic religion. Joseph Smith declared, “I will preach on the plurality of Gods. 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” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 370).

Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie spoke about the Godhead in this way, “Plurality of Gods: Three separate personages: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, comprise the Godhead. As each of these persons is a God, it is evident, from this standpoint alone, that a plurality of Gods exists. To us, speaking in the proper finite sense, these three are the only Gods we worship. But in addition there is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 576-577).

God the Father: Joseph Smith explained, “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, and take away the veil, so that you may see. He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did” (LDS History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 305).

God the Son: Brigham Young stated, “The birth of the Saviours was a 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” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, p. 115).

Mormon Apostle McConkie explained, “And Christ was born into the world as a literal Son this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. He was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events (Mormon Doctrine, p. 742).

Jesus, according to Milton Hunter of the LDS First Council of the Seventy, is the brother of Lucifer. “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, son of the morning. Haughty, ambitious, and covetous of power and glory, this spirit-brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind” (The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15).

God the Holy Ghost / Holy Spirit: In Mormonism a distinction is drawn between the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit.

As LDS Apostle Marion G. Romney stated, “The Holy Ghost is a person, a spirit, the third member of the Godhead” (Ensign May 1977, 43-44).

The sixth LDS prophet, Joseph F. Smith explains that the Holy Spirit is not a person but rather an impersonal force. “You may call it the Spirit of God, you may call it the influence of God’s intelligence, you may call it the substance of his power; no matter what it is called, it is the spirit of intelligence that permeates the universe” (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, pp. 752-753).

Man’s Destiny: As Lorenzo Snow, fifth prophet of the LDS Church exclaimed, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be” (Ensign, February 1982, pp. 39-40). This means that every worthy male, according to the standards of Mormonism, will become a god and rule over their own planet. But what about the women? That question was answered by Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth prophet of the Church, when he spoke of Man’s salvation or exaltation as it is called in Mormonism.

“The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fullness of his kingdom. In other words we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fullness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over world, and these world will be peopled by our own offspring. We will have an endless eternity for this” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 48).

Other Doctrines Worth Noting:

  1. God the Father is married and there is a Mother God (Answers to Gospel Questions, Joseph Fielding Smith, Vol. 3, pp. 143-144).
  2. All men and women who have ever lived on the earth are the spirit offspring of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Every person was conceived and born in a pre-existent spiritual realm (Mormon Doctrine, p. 589).
  3. Black people are black because of their misdeeds in the pre-existence (Three Degrees of Glory, LDS Apostle Melvin J. Ballard, p. 21).
  4. Temple ceremonies include Baptism for the Dead, Washing and Anointing for the living and the dead (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, pp. 72-74, 226-228).
  5. Salvation or exaltation, whereby men become gods, is based on one’s own good works or merit (Church News, October 8, 1988, p. 23 and The Religion of the Latter-day Saints, Lowell Bennion, LDS Institute of Religion Director, p. 160).
  6. The Bible is considered usable, but suspect due to its many errors and missing parts (Articles of Faith No. 8, Ensign January 1989, pp. 25, 27).

Biblical Response:

  1. Only one God (Isaiah 43:10, 44:6-8, 45:5-6, 18, 22, 46:9, 48:12, 1 Corinthians 8:4).
  2. Mankind is not a son or daughter of God from a pre-existent birth (John 1:12 “power to become”).
  3. Salvation is a free gift from God, not something to be worked for or earned (Romans 3:24, 4:4-5, 5:1, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5-7).
  4. Holy Spirit is a Person, not simply a force (John 16:13-14).

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Being a Disciple of Jesus

This is a poem written by Jefferson Bethke to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the Bible, Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification.

Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights his journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel “not good enough” for God.

With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you; you don’t represent yourself. His sacrifice is perfect, putting us in perfect standing with God!

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New Ways of Experiencing God

I was reading about the new Barna research that indicated Americans are exploring new ways of experiencing God, and the results are interesting. Since I am passionate about men’s ministry, I wondered how this information might be applied to our situation at King’s Grant, and the Men of Steel in particular.

 

88% of American adults say that “my religious faith is very important in my life.”

Faith is not going away despite the prolific media attention devoted to the demise of traditional faith practices and beliefs. Nine out of ten adults admit that their faith plays a meaningful role in their life. There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that this is likely to change in the foreseeable future.

If this is so, and that KGBC might be considered average, we would also have a high percentage of people understanding that faith is an important aspect of life (at least ideologically). For those who have responded to the call of Christ, I would hope that belief would manifest itself in an active pursuit of godliness, turning from vices that enslave, and understanding the need for authentic community in the development of one’s faith.

 

75% say they sense that “God is motivating people to stay connected with Him, but in different ways and through different types of experiences than in the past.”

There is a growing sense of release from traditional religious practices in this country. People are suggesting that they want more of God and less of the stuff that gets between them and their relationship with God.

There is talk and evidence that the church might not be the place to find God, so people are seeking out alternative experiences and expressions of spirituality, (I’ve also read that while people may love Jesus many hate the church). The church might be one of those issues that get between God and them. My concern is that without the community of faith (the church), just what do people get involved with, and what do they believe? The Bible warns about false doctrine (2 Peter 2:1). It is not just an archaic notion of controlling the masses, but if we really believe that God has “given us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (through the true knowledge of God – 2 Peter 1:3), then we have a solid standard for belief, faith and practice. The Bible was written for a purpose (1 John 5:13), that we might know that we have life. If God was going to reveal new information at a later time, the New Testament writers would have made a mistake… primarily that they were not given everything pertaining to life.

 

45% say they are “willing to try a new church.”

A staggering number of Americans – almost half of the nation’s 230 million adults – are open to changing their church home, demonstrating their lack of connection with their present community of faith and their desire to have a more significant connection. It may also be a reflection of people’s increasing lack of loyalty to both organizations and personal relationships, and the growing sense that there is always something better available if you can simply find it.

I read this statistic as people seeking faith yet lacking connection to the community of faith. They don’t trust the organized church. Christian leaders have moral failures. Role models have let us down. People are skeptical about this whole church thing so they stay at a distance.

 

I understand the lack of loyalty in this generation: if it gets hard, quit; if you no longer love her or she doesn’t meet your needs, divorce; if I deserve a pay raise but don’t get it, steal; if my church does not go in this direction, leave and look for another one. Some people change churches for completely legitimate reasons, but often the main reason is less than noble. If the church is “all about me and what I want” rather than “all about God and what He deserves,” we’ve lost focus.

 

Lack of loyalty to a church also manifests itself by lacking personal relationships within the organization. The churchy word for this is fellowship. We are so busy in the business world that we think we don’t have time for developing spiritual connections that will help us grow in Christ, be a better husband, a better father, neighbor, boss, employee, you name it. Spending time with the Men of Steel may not get you connected to the people who can give you that promotion, but it will help develop your character by connecting to other men who also desire spiritual and relational connection and growth. We don’t have to go through our spiritual lives alone. Life transformation takes place in community, not in a cocoon.

 

50% say “a growing number of people I know are tired of the usual type of church experience.”

It is not just the survey respondents who indicated their willingness to change churches or to consider different forms of church experience. Half of all adults said they are aware of such a willingness to experiment on the part of people they know because those individuals are tired of the common church experience.

If the church is not what we are looking for (socially, relationally, professionally, spiritually) we tend to bail out or simply not participate. Why participate in something you don’t feel is a benefit to your life goals and personal vision? But as a believer, what better life goal and vision than to prepare yourself and your family for eternity? How are you the spiritual leader of your home? What behaviors are you modeling for your children? How does your wife know that you love her as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25)? How does all that you do at home, at work or in the community reflect your love for God (Colossians 3:17)?

 

How many men do you know who are totally “satisfied” with the status quo? I put satisfied in quotes because I believe that men are never satisfied with being mediocre. Men are conquerors and hunters and are never satisfied with a measly existence. Men want their lives to count for something. Men want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. How can a man do that and be satisfied with the status quo? How many men come to church only because the wife brings him? Maybe if more women got on board with men’s ministry, they would see the benefit of the Men of Steel and push their husbands out of the house on Saturday mornings! (See Barna’s quote below). Get a man tired of the common church experience and he’s the one who is going to make a difference in life, the family and the workplace.

 

71% say they are “more likely to develop my religious beliefs on my own, rather than to accept an entire set of beliefs that a particular church teaches.”

Levels of distrust toward churches, church leaders and organized Christianity have been growing over the past two decades. That concern – along with the heightened independence of Americans and the profound access to information that has characterized the past decade – may have led to the emergence of a large majority of adults feeling responsible for their own theological and spiritual development. Other studies have shown an inclination for people to view a local church as a supplier of useful guidance and support, but not necessarily a reliable source of a comprehensive slate of beliefs that they must adopt.

Across the board, the research showed that women are driving these changes. This is particularly significant given prior research from Barna showing that women are more spiritually inclined, are the primary shapers of family faith experiences, and are the backbone of activity in the typical conventional church. Specifically, Barna discovered that women were more likely than men to pursue their faith in a different type of structure or environment (68% of women, 59% of men); to sense that God is motivating people to experience faith in different ways (79% vs. 60%, respectively); and to be willing try a new church (50% vs. 40%).

It’s great that people want to take control of their own spiritual development, but how often does this lead to spiritual syncretism, a blending of beliefs, (sometimes contradictory beliefs) to form one’s own theology. This is a product of our post-modern society that emphasizes truth is relative. What is true for one person may not be true for another. So we develop an Oprah-styled theology mixing in what we like and eliminating that which we don’t. The positive side is that people are taking responsibility for their spiritual growth, which is a sign of spiritual maturity. It’s not necessarily the responsibility of the church, the pastor or the Sunday school teacher, but it’s up to the believer to work out their salvation (Philippians 2:13). But remember that we don’t do this alone, God is the one who will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6), and He uses the church to help people grow in godliness (Hebrews 10:24-25).

 

This post is certainly long enough (and I’m concluding) but I see men’s ministry in the context of the local church. I am not seeking a group to replace the Sunday school hour. It’s not about adding another Bible study during the week. It’s not about numbers or starting new groups. I ask myself, “How many men have simply told God that all He gets is one or two hours a week on Sunday mornings, and it’s unreasonable to think about being involved any more?” It’s about growth, development, and sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). I value the Men of Steel… manly fellowship, commons struggles, open dialogue, becoming what God intended from the beginning and passing it on to the next generation.

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Can a True Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

While I never have claimed to be a theologian, I read Al Mohler’s scholarly article on this topic and he summarizes and illustrates the issue:

Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? The answer to that question must be a decisive No. Those who deny the virgin birth reject the authority of Scripture, deny the supernatural birth of the Savior, undermine the very foundations of the Gospel, and have no way of explaining the deity of Christ.

Anyone who claims that the virgin birth can be discarded even as the deity of Christ is affirmed is either intellectually dishonest or theological incompetent.

Several years ago, Cecil Sherman–then a Southern Baptist, but later the first coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship–stated: “A teacher who might also be led by the Scripture not to believe in the Virgin Birth should not be fired.” Consider the logic of that statement. A Christian can be led by the Bible to deny what the Bible teaches? This kind of logic is what has allowed those who deny the virgin birth to sit comfortably in liberal theological seminaries and to preach their reductionistic Christ from major pulpits.

Christians must face the fact that a denial of the virgin birth is a denial of Jesus as the Christ. The Savior who died for our sins was none other than the baby who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin. The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine, it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ. With it, the Gospel stands or falls.

I have to admit that I find his teaching to be intriguing and thought provoking, if not downright logical. But for me, the discussion must also include the doctrine of salvation itself. Just what is salvation and what is it that makes one a Christian; a follower of Jesus or a disciple of Christ?

  1. Is a true Christian one who believes a defined set of propositional statements about Jesus?
  2. Is it that one knows and understands the Four Spiritual Laws?
  3. How much of the Bible must one know and understand and believe to be saved?

If we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), if we answer the call to “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19), if we confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10) and we call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13), where is the command to believe in the virginal conception of Jesus? Back to Al Mohler’s point, it is not about belief in the virgin birth, but the active denial of it.

I believe that we can be saved without the knowledge of the virgin birth, but once we learn about it, how could a true believer not accept this detail that explains the divinity of Jesus? How can someone read the Bible, claim to believe in its truth and accuracy, and at the same time deny the passages that talk about the virgin birth? Is it the same as John’s instruction about those who deny that Christ came in the flesh (2 John 1:7, 1 John 4:3)? What do you think?

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What Child is This?

At this time of year, it is a good question to ask, “What child is this?”

  1. Some say He was just a good teacher, but good teachers don’t claim to be God.
  2. Some say He was merely a good example, but good examples don’t mingle with prostitutes and sinners.
  3. Some say He was a madman, but madmen don’t speak the way He spoke.
  4. Some say He was a crazed fanatic, but crazed fanatics don’t draw children to themselves or attract men of intellect like Paul or Luke to be their followers.
  5. Some say He was a religious phony, but phonies don’t rise from the dead.
  6. Some say He was only a phantom, but phantoms can’t give their flesh and blood to be crucified.
  7. Some say He was only a myth, but myths don’t set the calendar for history.

Jesus has been called the ideal man, an example of love, the highest model of religion, the foremost pattern of virtue, the greatest of all men, and the finest teacher who ever lived. All of those descriptions capture elements of His character, but they all fall short of the full truth. The apostle Thomas expressed it perfectly when he saw Jesus after the resurrection, and exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28).

** Adapted from John MacArthur, in God With Us, the Miracle of Christmas, 1989.

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