Teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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. While first known as the Church of Christ (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:1) from 1834 until 1838 the official name was simply: "The Church of the Latter-day Saints"! The change was made by an unanimous vote at a priesthood conference in which Joseph Smith was present (see History of the Church 2:63). Even though the name of Christ was returned to the LDS Church's name, there are still many differences between the LDS beliefs concerning God, Christ and salvation from that of traditional Christianity.
Mormonism is made up of a complex collection of evolving doctrines and 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 and teachings of it's founding prophet-leader Joseph Smith.
"Mormonism, as it 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 or Protestant, but is the ancient Christian faith that had fallen into a complete state of apostasy soon after the Apostles of Christ were killed.
As traditional Christians we would counter that while the Bible predicts a "falling away" (2 Thess. 2:3), it could not be a complete apostasy as Mormonism claims. Otherwise Christ would not have declared that "the gates of hell will not prevail" against His church (Matthew 16:18).
JOSEPH SMITH: THE FIRST MORMON
Joseph Smith founded 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 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 as 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 possesion 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).
Principles of the First Vision:
- God is a glorified man with a physical body.
- The Father & the Son are two separate Gods.
- A complete apostasy has occurred leaving Christendom in chaos.
- All churches are wrong, all Christian creeds are an abomination to God, and the professors of those creeds are all corrupt!
How strange then, after being forbidden from joining with any church, Joseph Smith proceeds to join his in-laws Methodist church in 1828 in Harmony, Pennsylvania!
(The Amboy Journal, Amboy, IL, cites the cousins of Emma Smith explaining Joseph's activities 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 being 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.
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:
1. The Garden of Eden: Located in Jackson County, Missouri near Kansas City (Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce R. McConkie p. 20).
2. Adam's Altar: Identified by Smith as being in Daviess County, Missouri in 1838. He said the altar (built after Adam's banishment from the Garden) had survived down through the ages (Mormon Doctrine, p. 21).
3. Noah's Ark: Constructed in or near Carolina in the Eastern U.S.. "...according to the words of the Prophet Joseph, mankind in that age continued to emigrate eastward 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).
4. Zion: The "center place" capital of the kingdom of God on earth was said to be Jackson County, Missouri. To this day Mormons believe that Christ will return to rule the nations from Independence, Missouri (Mormon Doctrine, p. 20).