"Do you think I'm still a Christian?"
My friend's question startled me. I'd just sat down with Anne over a quick lunch to catch up on our lives. Childhood friends, we hadn't seen each other for years. But now, both visiting the town of our shared childhood, we were eager to renew our friendship.
Anne and I were raised as Christians. But after high school, our lives went different directions. And when Anne and her husband moved to Utah, they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormon Church.
If you ask a Mormon if she's a Christian, chances are you'll receive an emphatic "Yes!" Many Mormons say they accept the Bible as God's Word, and that they believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They'll affirm their belief in the Jesus of the Bible, and that he's central to their faith. Often they'll remind you that the name of their church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They'll tell you they believe in sin and in the need of Jesus to be their Savior. They espouse grace and teach of heaven and the glory to come. They hold high moral standards and raise strong families. It would certainly seem Mormonism is Christian.
Mormon beliefs sound so Christian because their language is similar to Christianity's. Yet on closer investigation, the actual doctrines of Mormonism differ significantly from the historic, orthodox Christian faith. That's why it's important for evangelical Christians to be aware of the following six theological differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity.
1. The Bible
In 1842, founder Joseph Smith wrote a brief history of the Mormon Church for Joseph Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, which included 13 statements he called the Articles of Faith. In number 7, Smith states: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."
An important distinction in Mormon theology is their belief that the Bible isn't inerrant, that it's become corrupted over the years and through the translation process. Mormons say the Bible is missing important parts and doesn't contain the full gospel of Jesus Christ. At its core, Mormonism identifies biblical Christianity as an apostate and errant faith. According to Doris Hanson—a former Mormon who now works with Living Hope Ministries (www.lhvm.org), an outreach to Latter-day Saints—Joseph Smith claimed, in his book Pearl of Great Price, that Christian denominations were "all wrong … all their creeds were an abomination in his sight, and that those professors were all corrupt." Mormons have stressed they are the only true Christians, and that other branches of Christianity have lost their authority to operate.
Christianity teaches the Bible is the inspired, unique, final, inerrant Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). No "new" gospel of Jesus—as delivered to Joseph Smith from the angel Moroni and recorded in the Book of Mormon—is needed. In fact, the apostle Paul's warning in Galatians 1:8-9 should be remembered when comparing Joseph Smith's teachings with the Bible's message. According to Paul, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"
Mormons believe that while the flesh is capable of great sin, the spirit isn't. Spirits are on earth because they chose to follow God and received a body. Here they're tested to see if they'll succumb to the flesh and produce wicked acts. Mormonism also teaches that Adam and Eve's act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden was required of them so they could progress from innocence to exaltation. The Book of Mormon teaches that "Adam fell that men might be," and that the sin of our first parents actually was necessary for our salvation, or exaltation to godhood.
Christianity teaches the entire human race suffers the effects of Adam's sin (Romans 5:12, 19). God didn't tell Adam and Eve their sin was beneficial; rather, he pronounced judgment upon them for it (Genesis 3:16-19). We're all born in a state of sin (Ephesians 2:3). Christianity teaches sin is far more than just a mistake. Sin is a moral rebellion against God that enslaves and kills us. Jesus taught man is capable of great wickedness (Mark 7:20-23).
3. God the father and the trinity
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' first Article of Faith states: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."
Yet Mormons also teach God the Father was once mortal, and that he has a body of flesh and bones (Doctrine and Covenants 130:1-22). While God was the father of all humans, he also was once a man who progressed to godhood. The Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow, in Man's Destiny, states, "As man is, God once was, as God is, man may become." The LDS apostle Orson Hyde, in the Journal of Discourses (Vol.1, p. 123), states, "Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, a mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress."
Mormons also deny the Trinity. They believe in a godhead composed of three distinct personages who are so one in purpose they can act and speak in each other's place.
Christianity teaches God is an infinite, unchanging, eternal Spirit (John 4:24), not a created being who progressed through stages. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three persons in one who coexist without beginning or end. (More information on whether God has a body is available at http://www.gotquestions.org/God-physical-body.html.)
Jesus of the Book of Mormon is not the only begotten Son of God. Heavenly Father (God) and one of his spirit wives procreated Jesus, along with many other spirit children. When Heavenly Father chose Jesus, the leader of his spirit children, to redeem those who'd been born into mortal flesh, an angry Lucifer, his spirit brother, along with one-third of his spirit siblings, declared war on God and Jesus, and was cast out of heaven.
Christianity teaches Jesus was "in the beginning with God, and was God… . All things were made by him" (John 1:1). Jesus Christ is eternal, without beginning or end. Jesus is God as the Second Person of the Trinity. Orthodox Christianity teaches Jesus is God, whereas Mormonism teaches Jesus is a god. Thus, Mormonism is polytheistic (many gods), while orthodox Christianity is monotheistic (one God).
5. The afterlife
Only faithful Mormons inhabit the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of heaven. Less faithful Mormons and non-Mormons who lived morally inhabit the terrestrial kingdom. And people who were sinful throughout their lives inhabit the telestial kingdom.
After death, a faithful Mormon man may inhabit his own planet and, with his wife or wives, produce numerous spiritual children. When this spiritual family becomes large enough, he creates another world. His children, both male and female, go there to learn and follow the teachings of Mormonism and to produce children with "temporal" (or earthly) bodies. The earthly male children must follow the doctrines of the Mormon Church so they may later become gods over their own planets.
Christianity teaches people end up in either heaven or hell. Heaven is a single location for all who believe (Romans 3:22). All who reject Christ will go to "everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:46). This truth has eternal implications for those who believe in a different God, a different Jesus, and a different gospel.
Mormons equate salvation with exaltation. Jesus achieved exaltation into godhood through his death on the cross and his resurrection. He became ruler of this planet, and he offers redemption from sin for men and women so they too can be exalted into godhood.
Without a resurrected body after death, Mormon men can't be "exalted" and rule their own planet; neither can women join their husband in the celestial kingdom or rule over a planet of their own.
For those who didn't get the chance to hear this Mormon gospel and become baptized into it, they have one more opportunity: Mormons believe in baptism by proxy for the dead (Mormon Guide to the Scriptures, http://scriptures.lds.org/gs/b/6). Each deceased soul can choose either to accept or to reject this baptism.
Christianity teaches faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross justifies us, not any additional works we do. Resurrection is only part of the total redemption Jesus provides.
Baptism, a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and an indication of our desire to follow him, is performed for the living. Those who come to Christ are never exalted to equality with God. Our status as created beings makes rising to the status of uncreated being impossible. Instead, God adopts us into his family as sons and daughters who trust in Christ as our Savior. His grace alone grants us life eternal.
When Anne asked if I thought she was still a Christian, perhaps she wanted me to validate her choice or to assuage her secret worries. Whatever her reason, I knew my response could potentially destroy our friendship. I needed to answer her in love. I took a deep breath and asked, "What do you believe about Jesus Christ?"
Without hesitation Anne replied, "I believe he's the Son of God who was crucified, buried, and rose again." Anne could have been quoting from the Apostle's Creed we'd both memorized in fifth grade.
"Do you believe Jesus is God?" I ventured.
"Yes, and I've accepted him as my Savior," she replied.
We launched into a lengthy discussion of whether Latter-day Saints believe Jesus is God. She denied being taught many of the facts I mentioned about Mormon teachings on doctrines such as the Trinity.
Not all who've joined the Mormon Church fully understand its teachings. And many who leave orthodox Christianity don't understand the significance of such doctrines to their faith. The sense of belonging or community they find may be more important to them than doctrinal truth.
As an evangelical who holds to the traditional, biblical teachings of Christianity, I don't believe Mormonism is Christian. I believe my friend's following a gospel contrary to the one of her youth. Ultimately God—not I—will decide who's a Christian. But Mormonism is not just another form of Christianity or a different denomination. No matter how sincere, moral, and kind its followers may be, they still follow a false gospel.
Anne isn't ready yet to re-embrace the Truth she abandoned. But with love and persistence, I pray one day she will.
Jan Brown is a freelance writer, apologist, and ministry consultant. She lives in North Carolina with her family.
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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