Are Mormons Christians? Many believe so, since the name of Jesus Christ is in the official name of the Mormon Church. This was not always the case though. From 1832-1834 the official name was simply: The Church of Latter-day Saints! Even though the name of Christ was returned to the LDS Church after a two-year hiatus, there are still many differences between LDS beliefs concerning God, Christ & salvation from that of traditional Christianity.
Mormonism is made up of a complex collection of evolving doctrines & practices. The following material is our attempt to explain the most important aspects of Mormon beliefs and how they differ from Christianity.
First of all, the Mormon religion cannot be separated from the visions & teachings of it's founding prophet-leader Joseph Smith.
"Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground" (Doctrines of Salvation, 1959, Vol. 1, page 188).
Mormon leaders continue to elevate the role of Joseph Smith in the lives of their followers:
"Everyone who claims membership in the Church must have his own personal witness concerning the truthfulness of the story of Joseph Smith" (Church News, July 3, 2004 p. 5).
The basic premise of Mormonism has been that it is more than just a religious denomination. Mormons believe that their church is neither Catholic nor Protestant. They believe that the LDS Church is a restoration of the ancient Christian faith that had fallen into a complete state of apostasy soon after the Apostles of Christ were killed.
JOSEPH SMITH: THE FIRST MORMON
Joseph Smith founded the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6th, 1830 in Palmyra, New York. The very basis for doing so was the various visitations he claimed to have had from the spirit-world. These encounters allegedly began after Joseph Smith prayed to know which church he should join:
"…so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong…The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and the Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others…"
(Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Church Volume 1 p. 3-4)
The First Vision
"When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said—pointing to the other—‘This is my beloved son, hear him.’
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt; that "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrines the commandments of men: having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof." He again forbade me to join with any of them: and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, "Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off." I then said to my mother, "I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true" (Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Church Vol. 1 p. 5-6).
Pictured at right: Statue on display in the LDS Visitor Center in Nauvoo, Illinois. The statue depicts Mormonism's foundational "First Vision" account with God the Father & Jesus Christ appearing to Joseph Smith.
Principles of the First Vision:
How strange then, after being forbidden from joining any church, Joseph Smith proceeds to join his in-law's Methodist church in 1828 in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
(The Amboy Journal, Amboy, IL, cites the cousins of Emma Smith explaining Joseph's activity in the Methodist Church. April 30, 1879 p. 1; May 21, 1879 p.1; June 11, 1879, p.1; July 2, 1879 p.1.)
Problems with the First Vision:
The official account of the vision (above) that is now used by the LDS Church, was not published until 1842 – twenty-two years after Joseph Smith claimed that it occurred. The First Vision (as we know it today) was unknown in the early years of Mormonism. Why was the mention of an alleged event of such tremendous significance absent from early Mormon writings?
There are as many as nine different versions of the "First Vision" story that Smith did share with his contemporaries. His age, his purpose in going to the woods to pray (one account says he was only seeking forgiveness of sins), what celestial beings appeared (sometimes he said it was an angel or a group of angels that appeared), and what he was told vary in these accounts. It is not possible to harmonize these varying "First Vision" stories.
The religious revival, which was said to be the stimulus for Smith's search for a true church, did not occur in 1820 as reported in the Pearl of Great Price (Joseph Smith History 1:5) but instead took place in 1824. We know this because the records of area churches clearly indicates a dramatic surge in membership during 1824 - but not before then.
VIEW OF OTHER CHURCHES
Joseph Smith's First Vision account set Mormonism on a path of hostility toward other churches. Consider the following statements by LDS leaders:
"In large part the worship of apostate Christendom is performed in ignorance, as much so as was the worship of the Athenians who bowed before the Unknown God..." (Mormon Doctrine, Bruce R. McConkie, Second Edition p. 374-375).
"The Devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work than the Christianity of the nineteenth century" (John Taylor, 1858 Journal of Discourses 6:167).
"But to return to the Christian's idol... Their god is overlaid with gilt and tinsel... Yet this loathsome, filthy, debauched, degraded monster is held up for our veneration and worship by its corrupt Christian devotees..." (John Taylor, 1882 Journal of Discourses 23:36).
"I do not know but [traveled] hundreds of thousands of miles, and mingled with all classes and creeds and conditions of men, religious and irreligious... But I never found anywhere, wherever I went, any person holding the doctrines of Christ as taught by Him..." (John Taylor, 1884 Journal of Discourses 25:263).
"...when we come and tell you that if you do not repent of your sins--you Catholics, Protestants, and all other denominations--and receive the message that God has commissioned his servants [The Latter-day Saints] to declare in your hearing that everyone will be damned" (Orson Pratt, 1880 Journal of Discourses 23:164).
"The Christian world, so called, are heathens as to their knowledge of the salvation of God" (Brigham Young, 1860 Journal of Discourses 8:171).
AN AMERICAN FAITH
One of the unique aspects of the Mormon religion is it's strong ties to frontier America. Not only was the LDS Church birthed in the United States, the theology of the new church itself was firmly "American" in nature. Joseph Smith placed a religious focus on the New World:
"...according to the words of the Prophet Joseph, mankind in that age continued to emigrate eastwardly until they reached the country on or near the Atlantic coast; and that in or near Carolina Noah built his remarkable ship, in which he, his family, and all kinds of animals lived a few days over one year without coming out of it" (The Juvenile Instructor, Nov 15, 1895, pages 700-701).