Mormonism has had an uneasy relationship with traditional Christianity since its earliest days in the 1820s, when its founder Joseph Smith, Jr., a fourteen year old boy, claimed to have had a vision of God, who told him the creeds of the all the existing Christian churches of his day were "an abomination." In 1830, Smith published a new work of scripture called the Book of Mormon, which he claimed he translated from a buried set of Golden Plates, and he preached a divine restoration of the supposed original church established by Jesus Christ, with its gifts, priesthood, and doctrine.
Perhaps because of the combination of such bold doctrinal claims, exponential growth, a number of uncommon practices, and differences in core beliefs, many non-LDS Christians have always had a level of conflict with this new religion that was claimed to be restored. In the early days of Mormonism, Mormons suffered opposition that was greater than usual, compared to other anti-traditional sects of the time. Often this conflict turned unfortunently violent, complicating the relationships that mainstream Christians had with Mormons. In the ensuing years, the conflict strongly impacted Mormon history. In fact, because of the great persecution, the Latter Day Saints were forced to travel west in the hopes of finding a place they could worship in peace, without the conflicts experienced while living in Missouri and Illinois.
According to Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, "Mormonism differs from traditional Christianity in much the same fashion that traditional Christianity... came to differ from Judaism.", though this may not be highly accurate. While adherents of Mormonism have always considered themselves to be Christians (And sometimes the only Christians) because they believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the Son of God, they also understand that there is an essential and irreconcilable difference between Mormonism and other Christian sects. Much of this stems from the Latter Day Saint claim to have exclusive access to true Christian doctrine and priesthood.
Not all Latter Day Saints are technically "Mormons" or believe in or practice "Mormonism." There are a few hundred different denominations in the Latter Day Saint movement, some of which are called "Mormons" because they trace their heritage through Brigham Young but there are also other groups that followed other leaders such as Sidney Rigdon, William Bickerton, Granville Hedrick, J.J. Strang and Joseph Smith III. Each Latter Day Saint denomination holds that it is the restoration of the original church of Christ as depicted in the New Testament (see Church of Christ (Mormonism)). However, as Latter Day Saints from their beginnings rejected the traditional churches, so also have various Christian churches and movements adopted stances regarding Mormonism as a heretical or apostate form of Christianity, a departure from the Christian faith, or more pejoratively, a cult.
On the other hand, Mormonism, or the Latter Day Saint movement, is not monolithic. Some of the doctrines and practices that distinguish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from other Christ-based churches originated later in the life of Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, or under the leadership of Brigham Young, who, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time of Smith's murder, succeeded Smith as the next president of the Church. Though some saints chose to follow other leaders rather than Young, the majority accepted him as the next prophet and followed him to Utah.
As the Latter Day Saint movement has grown and gained worldwide renown, some denominations within the movement such as the Community of Christ have attempted to respond to charges through extensive ecumenical efforts, including engaging in dialog with mainstream Christianity and sometimes even relinquishing their earlier doctrines and practices. Still, many denominations within the movement, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (by far the largest) and many of its splinter groups (including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), still retain most of Smith's original doctrines and practices that many Christians denounce.
How early Mormonism diverged from mainstream ChristianityEdit
Mormonism arose in the Burned-over district of New York in the early 19th Century, primarily under the impetus of Joseph Smith, Jr., with the support of his father's family, David Whitmer and his father's family, trusted associate Oliver Cowdery, and later Sidney Rigdon (a former Campbellite pastor).
Smith and the early Mormons were by most accounts typical early American Christians. Until the early 1830s, many (and some have argued most) American Christians, including prominent Protestant ministers and political leaders, practiced or at least accepted a brand of Christian faith that also allowed room for a kind of folk spirituality that included visions, heavenly visitations, faith healing, spells, talismans, and divinations with seer stones and dowsing rods. (see Quinn, 1994). Thus, the beginnings of Mormonism, which incorporated many such supernatural elements (particularly visions, visitations, and seer stones), were not necessarily inconsistent with the folk Christianity of the time. (Which may or may not have been real Christianity) However, some Christians of the time viewed all visions and other supernatural occurrences as satanic, including a local Methodist minister who warned Smith that his First Vision was of the devil.
The Book of Mormon and early criticism of American ChristianityEdit
One of the first significant events in early Mormonism that created a marked departure from early American Christianity was the production of a new volume of scripture, which Smith claimed to have translated by divine power from buried Golden Plates. This Book of Mormon, published in 1830, purported to introduce a parallel history of Christianity in the Western Hemisphere, including a description of civilizations and appearances by Jesus. Latter Day Saints see it as a companion and complement to the Bible, though many Christians denounce it as heretical. Joseph Smith taught that the Bible contains the word of God, "as far as it is translated correctly" (Articles of Faith No. 8). According to the Book of Mormon, referring to the Bible, "And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb...they [evil Gentile men] have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious" (1 Nephi 13: 26). Smith dictated the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible ("inspired translation") to clarify difficult passages and, according to 1 Nephi 13, to "restore" many missing "plain and precious parts" which were "taken away from" the Bible (1 Nephi 13:23-34).
The publishing of the Book of Mormon prompted some organized Protestant denominations to attempt to discount Smith's credibility, in some cases citing his alleged skills with divination. They also attacked the doctrines taught by Smith, including continuous revelation.
According to Mormons, as well as several critics, the Book of Mormon largely mirrors the teachings of the Bible; however, it also contains bold stands on many Christian controversies, such as infant baptism, the religious status of Native Americans, and the relationship between religion and atheism. It also includes theories and controversies of Joseph Smith's day, such as anti-Freemasonry ("secret combinations", 'Gidianton robbers'), and Jesus visiting the Americas (Baptist Roger Williams was probably one who believed this). The book also castigates modern churches for their "incorrect" teaching of doctrines. For example, the Book of Mormon holds a view echoed by many contemporary frontier Restorationists, such as groups in Ohio, that there had been an apostasy after the death of Jesus Christ and His apostles. The book indicted modern churches, saying of them:
They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.... But behold, that great and abominable church, the whore of all the earth, must tumble to the earth, and great must be the fall thereof. (2 Nephi 28:14, 18.)
The exact identification of "The great and abominable church" as quoted in this passage is disputed. It is not understood by the majority to designate a particular denomination. Some Book of Mormon scholars think that any individual or group that has the indicated characteristics of pride and wickedness is a part of the great and abominable church. Others think this particularly denotes the Catholic church. Some even, who are not associated with the Utah Mormons but believe in the scriptural validity of the Book of Mormon, think it identifies the Utah Mormon church itself. The text of 1 Nephi 13 states that the Bible was pure when it was in the hands of the Jews, then "the formation of the great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches" occurred(1 Nephi 13:5-6, 26), and that this church had men who taken away "many plain and precious parts" (1 Nephi 13:23-34), "and [also] many covenants" (vs 26), from the Bible. They did this, the Book of Mormon claims, "to pervert the right ways of the Lord" (1 Nephi 13). Many cite the chronological dates of the biblical manuscripts in the Dead Sea Scroll (DSS) collection as evidence that the Bible was not corrupted in the time period or to the degree that the Book of Mormon states (It was written in 1830, about 117 years before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls). The DSS show that the Bible was transmitted in a highly accurate state, and does not substantiate what the Book of Mormon says, nor the substantial changes that Joseph Smith made to the Bible when he wrote, by claimed revelation, the Inspired Version (the RLDS/Community of Christ title, who use it as a volume), or Joseph Smith Translation (the Utah Mormon title, though they only include some of it as footnotes in their KJV Bible). With this as a backdrop, many believe the "great and abominable church" cannot be the generic view that it's anything other than the LDS Church (not a specific church), since the text says "most ... above all other churches". Who, then would all of the other churches be, if the great church is all cchurches, and more? The view that this is the Roman Catholic Church is in the minority in today's LDS Church, but looks like it has sound, textual support. One top leader who held to this view was prolific writer and doctrinal teacher, the late Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie (died: 1985), who included it in the first edition of his encyclopedic work Mormon Doctrine, until the leaders had him change it to the more generic, vague version today.
The need for a "Restoration" of the original Christian churchEdit
Smith began to organize a church that would embody the new insights about Christianity found in the Book of Mormon and later in Smith's revelations. This new church was deemed necessary because all professing Christian churches had centuries before lost all divine authority, which could not be recovered without a restoration. Therefore, on April 6, 1830, Smith formed the Church of Christ, which purported to be the restored church and Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a reestablishment of "true" original Christianity. With its criticism of modern Christianity, the Book of Mormon found an enthusiastic audience with certain Restorationists whom Smith and his followers soon attempted to proselytize, such as Sidney Rigdon and his Disciples of Christ congregation in Ohio, baptized in September, 1830.
The need for a church restoration was a departure from traditional Christian thought. Although most Christians acknowledge corruption and mistakes with the Christian tradition, and indeed, several branches of Christianity accepted the idea of differing degrees of what some call a Great Apostasy, only the Restorationists viewed traditional Christianity as so fundamentally broken that a restoration was required, rather than a mere reformation such as the Protestant Reformation. To non-Restorationist Christians, past failures and departures from the truth were seen as continuously being overcome, through councils and decrees. But despite the failures, the fundamental "apostolic succession" made by Catholic and Orthodox branches, or the broader "apostolic tradition" claimed by most Protestant denominations, remained intact. See Restorationism.
In addition to controversial doctrine, the rapid growth of the church, a result of vigorous proselytizing by Smith and his followers, upset many ministers of traditional Christian churches. Under the leadership of Smith, church members gathered in a central location, called "Zion", first in Kirtland, Ohio and then in Independence, Missouri. The gathering of so many church members in one area created friction with local residents. To make matters worse, church members tended to vote as a bloc, magnifying the electoral effect of their increasingly large population. Church members, who by and large were "Yankees," clashed with Missouri residents on matters large and small. For instance, Smith and most church members opposed slavery, a stand that did little to endear them to their Missouri neighbors.
In the end, after repeated instances of mob violence against Mormon communities by local residents (see Mormon War) and the issuance of an extermination order by Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs (though not until after the highly threatening 'Salt Sermon' by Mormon apostle Sidney Rigdon), church members were forced to flee the state.
Similar tensions with local residents continued as church members established yet another gathering point in Nauvoo, Illinois. Smith began building Nauvoo into a secular power, negotiating (with the help of John C. Bennett) a city charter that gave the city a considerable amount of independence, building the Nauvoo Legion into a military force that rivaled others in the area, and leveraging the city's voting bloc to make it a powerful force in state politics.
The end result of all this was a series of showdowns. This involved both the organized political forces of the state and self-organized mobs, as well as Joseph Smith, as mayor of Navoo, destroying a newspaper critical of his secretive polygamous relationships. All of these things culminated in the 1844 assassination of Smith, which left the remaining church members powerless and under siege. Two years later, 12,000 Saints abandoned their homes in Nauvoo and tens of thousands more left neighboring areas with a feeling that they were being forced from their homes and out of the United States.
In the end, it is very difficult to determine the exact importance of the religious aspect of this conflict between the Mormons and their neighbors in comparison with the social, economic, political and practical factors. For instance, the conflict that ended Joseph Smith's life began when Smith and other Nauvoo city leaders (most of whom were, not coincidentally, also Church leaders) ordered the destruction of a press operated by former church members who were opposed to Joseph Smith and the secret practice of plural marriage within the Mormon community (see Nauvoo Expositor). This led to a complicated series of legal, political, and military maneuvers on both sides culminating in the arrest of Smith, his incarceration (neglectfully guarded by the unfriendly militia of a neighboring town), and his murder at the hands of an unruly mob of citizens who broke into the jail.
The confluence of so many religious, political, and social factors is, in fact, no coincidence, because it considers itself the Kingdom of God on Earth. The Church reached quite deliberately beyond the traditional domain of religion to encompass the social, political, economic, and family lives of its adherents.
The next 150 years of Mormon history can be seen to a great degree as the playing out on a larger scale of the ideas embodied in these early conflicts.
The early Utah years saw the attempt to raise the ante by creating an independent and isolated State of Deseret where everything from the economy to the legal system to family life was built, centered, and controlled by on LDS ideals and beliefs as given by Brigham Young, the second Mormon prophet.
Towards the turn of the 20th Century, increasing clashes with westward-moving American civilization — particularly over the practice of plural marriage — threatened to destroy the LDS Church. Plural marriage was officially abandoned (with reluctance by some members) after the 1890 Manifesto (though they have never given up the doctrine that polygamy is a godly principle, as in Doctrine and Covenants 132, and that early Mormon leaders, like Smith, Young and others were practicing it under the approval of God), and Utah was granted statehood, with all the political and economic changes that entailed. In a few short years, the Latter-day Saints' Kingdom of God went from literal to figurative and, outwardly at least, the Church moved from the model of independent, all-encompassing theocracy to the rather limited sphere of an ordinary American religious denomination.
A new set of practices and policies gradually received emphasis, practices that allowed LDS church members to live peacefully within the mainstream culture while still maintaining the necessary separation from that culture as a separate and distinct religious tradition. These very accommodations made it possible for proselytizing efforts of the LDS missionary program to continue to reap a growing number of converts throughout the 20th Century.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the greater American culture began to become more sensitive to racial inequities that had persisted from the American slavery era. But in the LDS church, the priesthood and its blessings continued to be denied to people of African descent. The Book of Mormon discussed relations between a dark-skinned and a light-skinned people, with the dark skin being a curse that would be lifted upon righteousness (2 Nephi 5:20-25; 30:6 (1830/37 editions), Jacob 3:8, 3 Nephi 2:14-16). This, together with the Smith-produced Book of Moses 7:8-22, Book of Abraham 1:20-27(another new scripture published by Smith in the late 1830s) and certain statements by Brigham Young and his successors, helped form many Mormon beliefs and the denial of anyone with one drop of blood of the cursed seed (LDS Abraham 1:21-27) in them. This formed LDS belief and practice regarding the social and spiritual status of people of African descent. Most significantly, they formed the source for the idea that the Africans' dark skin was originally the result of a curse upon Cain and Caanan. This idea eventually resulted in the priesthood being denied to people of African descent starting in 1849 (some blacks were ordained prior to this time). It wasn't until 1978 that this ban was lifted by (according to LDS belief) revelation through Spencer W. Kimball, an LDS prophet. By then, the race issue in the U.S. had become a source of deep contention that was further exacerbated by the position of the LDS church as it continued to grow (see Blacks and Mormonism), including the growth of the Mormon Church in Brazil (Mark L. Grover, The Mormon Priesthood Revelation and the Sao Paulo, Brazil Temple, Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought 23- Spring 1990).
The very increase in the numbers of the LDS membership (280,000 in 1900 to 12.3 million as of 31 December 2004) (though has slowed down between 2001-2008) led to a degree of acceptance within the larger American culture, epitomized by laudatory articles in such publications as Reader's Digest. At the same time, the Church's size and growth threatened Christian denominations on another level, leading to campaigns to inform and inoculate mainstream Christians against the LDS Church's message and, to a lesser degree, to convert or re-convert LDS Church members (such as Utah Lighthouse Ministry and Mormonism Researched Ministry).
Latter-day Saints are fond of saying that they are "a peculiar people" and "in the world but not of the world". The LDS subculture has been (half-jokingly) described as "Mormo-American" 1. In fact, LDS culture is similar to ethnic subcultures in America: African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Latino-Americans, and so on. These subcultures partly mix with the mainstream, but partly take pride cultivating distinctive traits and traditions from their own history, traits and traditions that help maintain their boundaries as separate and distinct social groups.
Early Mormon antagonism toward mainstream ChristianityEdit
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
On a number of occasions, early leaders and members of the Latter Day Saint movement voiced criticisms concerning Christian churches (generally as a whole). Much of this, however, had to do with the sometimes violent and deadly persecution that early Latter Day Saints had suffered at the hands of mainstream Christians.
The Church's founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., expressed what he saw as important flaws in the Christian sects of his day. He once said:
We may look at the Christian world and see the apostasy there has been from the apostolic platform; and who can look at this and not exclaim, in the language of Isaiah, "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant"? (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 15)
In another instance, Smith said:
The teachers of the day say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and they are all in one body and one God. Jesus prayed that those that the Father had given him out of the world might be made one in them, as they were one [one in spirit, in mind, in purpose]. If I were to testify that the Christian world were wrong on this point, my testimony would be true" (Ibid, pg 311).
Here is a principle of logic...I will illustrate by an old apple tree. Here jumps off a branch and says, I am the true tree, and you are corrupt. If the whole tree is corrupt, are not its branches corrupt? If the Catholic religion is a false religion, how can any true religion come out of it? (Ibid, pg 375).
Joseph Smith did denounce in very strong words at times:
What is it that inspires professors of Christianity generally with a hope of salvation? It is that smooth, sophisticated influence of the devil, by which he deceives the whole world. (Ibid, pg 270).
Smith's criticism regarding other religions, however, was primarily doctrinal in nature. Smith's personal, or secular, point of view, however, showed considerable tolerance and acceptance for the members of other faiths:
I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves (Ibid, pg 313).
Reaction to Joseph Smith's distinctive assertions concerning the nature of GodEdit
Part of the reaction against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by traditional Christians arose from Joseph Smith's relatively radical doctrinal assertions concerning the nature of God. The last of these assertions, made shortly before Smith's death, was significantly different from the Trinitarianism of most modern Catholics and Protestants. Although it is not always evident in the day-to-day life of a Christian church, many Christians have historically developed and distinguished the doctrine of the Trinity from its rival doctrines such as Modalism and Arianism. Those Christians who view the Trinitarian nature of God as the central defining element of Christianity believe, as they say, that all Christian doctrines are systematically related to the doctrine of Trinity "like water from a fountain." To these Christians, the LDS (Mormon) Church's departure from the "apostolic faith" always ultimately centers upon the doctrine of the Trinity (which is that the only God exists in three Persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Joseph Smith's most radical assertions concerning the nature of God include the teaching that God the Father was once mortal, as Christ was (Ibid, pg 345), and that the Father, his Son Jesus, and the Holy Ghost "are three distinct personages and three Gods" (Ibid, pg 370, Ensign March 2008, pg 68). Springing from these doctrines is that there are other literal Gods and goddesses besides the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and that, through obeying the Mormon view of the gospel (Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 25:23, also Gospel Principles, chapter 47, 1997 edition, hereafter referenced as GP1997), some of humanity will become literal Gods and goddesses (Doctrine and Covenants 132, GP, Ibid, the 1985 Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide, "Search These Commandments": Lesson 21, pp 151-158, hereafter MPSG1985). Therefore, just as Heavenly Father and his goddess wife, our Heavenly Mother are collectively called "our heavenly parents", we too can become "heavenly parents", as well (GP1997, pp.11-15, 18, 23-19, 27). Seemingly, the Mormon Church teaches that God the Father is the only God worshiped by Mormons; Christ, as the mediator between mortals and the Father, is worshiped as Lord and Savior. It is unclear on details on how and on what basis the Mormon Church says to worship Jesus. Some Mormons deny, or are unclear, on this point. Though there are brief references in official Mormon publications (such as the Ensign) to worshiping Jesus, but the late Mormon apostle and prolific writer Bruce R. McConkie said that saving worship belongs to the Father alone. Concerning this, he said "1. We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshipping [sic] Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense--the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to Him who redeemed us. Worship in the true and saving sense is reserved for God the first, the Creator." (Bruce R. McConkie, Our Relationship to the Lord, transcript pg 5. BYU Devotional speech, March 2, 1982. Transcript from Elder McConkie's office). However, the official Church magazine, the Ensign, taught, "We worship him as Lord and Savior." ("He Is Risen, As He Said", Ensign, April 1983, online pg 3 as of 12/16/2008). Some speculate that the Holy Ghost, as third member of the Godhead, is worshiped as well within Mormonism, but there is no official LDS Church material advancing this idea, and Mormon Apostle McConkie contradicts this viewpoint.
Since the Mormon (LDS) Church teaches that the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) are "three separate Gods" (Elder James E. Faust, Ensign, May 1984, online pg 67 as of 12/16/2008), and that there are- now and in the future- more Gods and goddesses besides these three, evangelicalism and other branches of Christianity would generally consider the Mormon Church polytheistic (Polytheism: "the doctrine of or belief in more than one god or in many gods." Dictionary.com), and contradicting Isaiah 43-47, and James 2:19. Many Christians also share deep concern with this doctrine because the Mormon Church teaches that God the Father was a mortal on another earth who became a God (MPSG1985, pg 152), they firmly believe that this contradicts Psalm 90:2 (NKJV), which states, "From everlasting [from eternity past] to everlasting, you are God."
In addition, though there is no incontrovertible evidence that Joseph Smith taught this, some Mormons, particularly Latter-day Saints, believe that God is married to an exalted woman, whom they call our Heavenly Mother. The Utah LDS Church has come out officially endorsing this as truth. Her existence is referred to briefly in the Church hymn titled "O My Father" (Hymn number 292), and it is referred to in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which says that each person is "a spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents." Her existence is acknowledged by Church members and leadership, though She is not worshiped and rarely mentioned. There are references to the Mother in Heaven in official Mormon Church literature:
"and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven." (Spencer W. Kimball, quoting LDS apostle Orson F. Whitney in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, Chapter 2: Tragedy or Destiny?. 2006.
"We were then but spirit offspring of our Father and Mother in heaven." (Eldred G. Smith, Opposition In Order To Strengthen Us, Ensign, January 1974)
"Could such a regal homecoming be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother? Meanwhile, there are no separate paths back to that heavenly home." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, The Women of God, Ensign May 1978)
"You are made in the image of our heavenly mother." (The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A, Lesson 9: Chastity and Modesty)
"and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven." (As quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, in Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, p. 98.)" (Ensign, In Your Time Of Crisis, Feb 1988)
"Thereby, we might all return to the presence of our Heavenly Father and Mother. We could return to them with perfected, resurrected bodies having gained greater light and knowledge through experiences received during mortality so that during the eternities we can continue to become more like our Father and Mother in Heaven. [i.e.- Godhood]" (Theodore M. Burton, A Marriage To Last through Eternity, Ensign, June 1987)
"God is not only our ruler and creator; he is also our Heavenly Father. 'All men and women are … literally the sons and daughters of Deity. … Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body' (Joseph F. Smith, The Origin of Man, Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, pp. 78, 80). Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ (see D&C 93:21), so he is literally our elder brother (see Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 26). Because we are the spiritual children of our heavenly parents, we have inherited the potential to develop their divine qualities. If we choose to do so, we can become perfect, just as they are. ... We would need to leave our physical bodies at death and reunite with them in the Resurrection. Then we would receive immortal bodies like those of our heavenly parents. If we passed our tests, we would receive the fulness of joy that our heavenly parents have received. (See D&C 93:30–34.) ... We learned that if we followed his plan, we would become like him [i.e., exalted Gods, see GP1997, chapter 47.]. We would have a resurrected body; we would have all power in heaven and on earth; we would become heavenly parents and have spirit children just as he does (see D&C 132:19–20). ... We learned that if we placed our faith in him, obeying his word and following his example, we would be exalted and become like our heavenly parents." (GP1997, chapter 2)
"By following the Lord’s teachings, we can return to live with him and our heavenly parents in the celestial kingdom. He was chosen to be our Savior when we all attended the great council with our heavenly parents. When he became our Savior, he did his part to help us return to our heavenly home. It is now up to each of us to do our part and become worthy of exaltation." (GP1997, Chapter 3)
The above is a big reason why critics of the Mormon Church, and many other Christians, argue that the Mother in Heaven's (albeit relatively small) presence in Latter Day Saint theology and official Church literature is further proof of polytheistic beliefs in LDS Church doctrine.
Reaction to Smith's proposed relationship between God and humanityEdit
In the 1840s, Joseph Smith made significant and unusual assertions concerning the nature of humanity and its relationship with God. For example, the LDS Church published Mormon Melchizedek Priesthood manual of 1985 taught that Lorenzo Snow, "through obedience to the Gospel he could become as great as God, 'And you cannot wish to be greater'." (1985 Melchizedek Priesthood study guide, pg 151. See 151-158). Lorenzo Snow wrote this couplet, "As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be", and the founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, said to him, "Brother Snow, that is true gospel doctrine, and is revelation from God to you." (MPSG1985, pgs 151-152). Smith also argued that the human soul was in the beginning with God, that God is an exalted Man, that God is the literal Father of the human spirit, and that mankind has the intended destiny of becoming like their Father, subordinate to his authority, but equal to him.
The LDS Church doctrine is that there is a pre-existence of all humanity (LDS Book of Abraham, LDS Church pamphlets Our Pre-Earth life, and Plan of Salvation, etc), and most Latter-day Saints believe in a preexistence. This LDS pre-earth life, in which humans are literally the spirit children of God and 'Heavenly Mother', and that some element of the human spirit, called intelligence, has existed eternally with God, even before God organized them as spirit children. Smith taught, "Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29). This may also explain the Church's teaching that man and God are co-eternal (carefully distinguishing "co-eternal" from "equal"). Historic Christianity is generally silent on anything prior to birth or beyond the resurrection of the dead, and has always taught that man is made or created, and would disagree with LDS reasons to beleive in 'premortal life'.
Regarding the afterlife, many denominations of Mormonism teach of a deification or exaltation of humanity. The oft-quoted saying (by Lorenzo Snow, then a Latter-day Saint Apostle) that captures this idea is, "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be."
This doctrine of deification differs significantly from the theosis of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In the LDS Church it is usually referred to as exaltation or eternal life = Godhood. The focus of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The LDS Church teaches all men will be saved from death through the atonement of Jesus Christ, which the LDS Church teaches was primarily done when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and only finished on the cross (Marion G. Romney, First Presidency Message: The Resurrection of Jesus, Ensign May 1982). They also believe the resurrection of Jesus opened the door for all to be unconditionally resurrected. Those who believe in Mormonism, become Mormon, have faith and repent will be saved from sin if they do all the works they can do, keep all the commandments of the LDS Church (Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 25:23, GP1997, pg 10, chapter 47). Those Mormons who fully accept the LDS Atonement of Jesus Christ before judgment and qualify, will be exalted as Gods and goddesses, and as the LDS Church teaches, will become "heavenly parents", as 'our Father and Mother in Heaven' have achieved the station of Godhood as "heavenly parents" (GP1997, Doctrine and Covenants 76, 132). Those who do not earn Godhood will be angels (Ibid). There doesn't seem to be any other category between angels and Godhood in official LDS Church literature.
Reaction to Mormon rituals and priesthoodEdit
Mormonism has claimed from the day the church was first organized on April 6, 1830 to have sole earthly priesthood authority to administer the ordinances (sacraments) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At no time has the LDS Church accepted either the authority or the sacraments of other churches. LDS missionaries carry as a central part of their message, explicitly or implicitly, that holders of the priesthood in the LDS Church alone are authorized by God to baptize, and that other clergy (Christian or otherwise) are not. Likewise, the LDS Church claims (as do many other Mormon sects) that it alone is authorized as the Church of Jesus Christ. While the LDS Church participates in interfaith activities where possible, the matter of Christian ecumenism is an uncompromisible position in Mormonism, even among its various sects. This contrasts with the practices of some Protestant denominations which accept each other's sacraments (but usually not those of the LDS Church).
The hierarchical nature of the priesthood in the LDS Church can be contrasted with the Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 1-2, Rev 1:5-6, which speaks of all Christians of any age, race, or gender as priests to God, offering spiritual sacrifices to God. See also Romans 12:1-2). Despite this hierarchy, a direct relationship with God without an intermediary priest is a fundamental principle of the LDS Church. Latter-day Saints consider the First Vision an important event in part because it is a model of a direct, personal relationship and revelation to which everyone should aspire. The lay clergy in the Church is also a reflection in part that every worthy male member (since 1978) is entitled to and should become an ordained priest, then elder (which are not just the young men on missions). Although women cannot hold the LDS lay, clerical "priesthood" they have many other opportunities and positions to serve in the Church.
The Mormon priesthood may also be contrasted with both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox priesthoods. While Mormons believe that these (and all non-Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Christian groups) lost their priesthood authority after the death of the Apostles (and quite some time before the First Council of Nicaea in 325), Catholics and Orthodox believe in turn that the Mormon priesthood is invalid, and that their own priests and bishops have maintained a valid apostolic succession throughout history.
Another observation with regards to the Mormon priesthood is that some teachings and practices are taught or practiced only in LDS Temples, to which access is tightly controlled. The LDS Church, for instance, requires a member to be in "good standing" before access is permitted. Those who are given access are instructed to not reveal what goes on within the temple, because of the sacred nature of the rites that are performed there. Because of this, others consider these temple rituals and lessons as secret, and point out that the Book of Mormon is held as sacred to faithful LDS, but it is not kept secret from all those who are not temple-going Mormons.
Reaction to Smith's teachings concerning vicarious ordinances for the deadEdit
Joseph Smith also instituted the idea of baptism and other ordinances for the dead. In LDS theology, based on the saying of Jesus Christ in John 3:5, personal baptism is an ordinance required for a fullness of salvation in the afterlife. This belief supports the LDS doctrine of baptism for the dead, as mentioned by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:29). The performance of baptisms for the dead, as well as other vicarious ordinances for the dead, is a good example of a doctrine and a practice that institutionalizes the tension between Mormonism and other Christian traditions. Baptism for the dead was mentioned in some of Joseph Smith's earliest writings and prophecies, was practiced before Smith's death, and continues to be practiced by the LDS church and the Strangites.
The 19th Century LDS Church preached and practiced this doctrine, but did not pursue it in a large-scale or systematic way — church members would typically perform vicarious ordinances only for recently deceased members of their own immediate families.
Vicarious ordinance work has become an increasingly important focus of the LDS Church; during the latter half the 20th Century it came to be considered as one part of the threefold mission of the Church ("Proclaim the Gospel, Perfect the Saints, and Redeem the Dead"). Assisting in the redemption of the dead through the vicarious completion of necessary ordinances entails a long process. After genealogical research to identify individuals and family relationships, baptisms and other ordinances such as marriages regardless of previous religious affiliation, are performed for these deceased persons by proxy in LDS Temples. The completion of these ordinances does not assure one's entry into exaltation. According to LDS doctrine, in the spirit world the person has the choice to either accept or reject the ordinances performed on their behalf.
The increasing importance of this vicarious ordinance work was further emphasized beginning in the last quarter of the 20th Century by a greatly accelerated program of building LDS Temples throughout the world. The temple-building program has been accompanied by an increasing emphasis on the duty of LDS Church members to visit the temple often so as to perform ordinance work for the dead there.
The practice of vicarious ordinance work for the dead, then, shows how ingrained the LDS belief is in the illegitimacy of other Christian churches — the belief that no other church has the priesthood authority to act in the name of God, and that no other church has the authority to perform the essential ordinances such as baptism. It has also led to animosity and antagonism from living relatives of the deceased (Latter-day saints are only supposed to complete ordinance work on behalf of their own ancestors, with the permission of the closest living relative; sometimes this adjuration is ignored or forgotten).
Furthermore, it is of little surprise that doctrines that emphasize the separation between Mormonism and other Christian religions, such as vicarious ordinance work and the Word of Wisdom, came to the forefront just as the physical isolation of the Utah saints and the distinctive and controversial practice of plural marriage came to an end. The LDS (Mormon) Church seems to seek a certain degree of separation from traditional Christian traditions, wishing to remain in doctrine--but just as important, in practice--similar to, and in very key ways, distinct from, traditional Christian churches.
Modern Mormonism, Christian ecumenism, and interfaith activitiesEdit
Presently, Latter-day Saints typically believe that most traditional Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant adherents have much truth, and strong faith in Christ, which is essential for their salvation. They also believe that most of these people will have the opportunity to accept the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ prior to the final judgment, and that all that truly have faith in Christ will be saved or possibly even exalted.
Mormons—as contrasted with mainstream Christians—believe that differences between the doctrine of the Trinity and some Latter Day Saint conceptions of the Godhead are relatively minor and can be supported by biblical scripture, ante-Nicean tradition, similar beliefs in some Protestant churches, and modern revelation.
However, it remains true that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not accept the baptisms of mainstream Christian denominations as valid, though most Christian denominations do accept each other's baptisms (but often not those of the LDS Church). Also, Mormon missionaries include all Christians in their proselytization efforts, seeking to convert Christians and non-Christians alike. Likewise, other Christian churches proselyte Mormons to convert, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, who held their 1998 annual convention in Salt Lake City, with the stated aim to "bring Christianity to the Mormons."
Ecumenical and interfaith efforts by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SaintsEdit
Some who call themselves Christians are very tenacious with regard to the Universalians, yet the latter possess many excellent ideas and good truths. Have the Catholics? Yes, a great many very excellent truths. Have the Protestants? Yes, from first to last. Has the infidel? Yes, he has a good deal of truth; and truth is all over the earth. (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg 10).
In effect this showed that Brigham Young considered that other religions possessed some knowledge of truth. He obviously considered truths found within the main Christian churches to be comparable to the truths found with 'the infidel' (presumably non-Christian religions) in this regard. The overriding principal that Young sought to teach is that truth is found everywhere and that Latter-day saints recognize this fact.
In the last several decades, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been making a sustained effort to demonstrate the prominence of Jesus Christ in the church. These efforts include adding the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to The Book of Mormon and recently re-branding the Church's official logo by making the words "Jesus Christ" larger.
Ecumenical and interfaith efforts by the Community of ChristEdit
More so than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ has made dramatic efforts to reconcile its doctrines with mainstream Christianity, and to reach out to other Christians. The Community of Christ:
- has never sanctioned polygamy
- has always ordained persons of any race
- has no required creedal statement, asking only faith in Christ for baptism
- has since 1982 accepted homosexual members fully, homosexual priesthood if celibate
- has since 1984 ordained women
- has since 1994 practiced open communion
- has been in dialog with National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches, and Christian Churches Together
The Community of Christ stands on creed and homosexuality, while being more open, may render it less acceptable or "Christian" to some denominations. It is engaged in ongoing informal discussion within the church concerning further modification of its stance regarding homosexuality, and on the issue of acceptance of other Christian baptisms.
Official positions on Mormonism by traditional Christian denominationsEdit
While the Community of Christ has been generally well-received by mainstream Christians, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has thus far received relatively tepid ecumenical acceptance by most mainstream Christian denominations. The Presbyterian Church USA, for example, publishes a brochure describing the church as follows:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), declares allegiance to Jesus. Latter-day Saints and Presbyterians share use of the Bible as scripture, and members of both churches use common theological terms. Nevertheless, Mormonism is a new and emerging religious tradition distinct from the historic apostolic tradition of the Christian Church, of which Presbyterians are a part.And adds:
It is the practice of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to receive on profession of faith those coming directly from a Mormon background and to administer baptism (ibid.).Nevertheless, the brochure acknowledges that "Presbyterian relationships with Latter-day Saints have changed throughout the twentieth century. By God's grace they may change further" (ibid.).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by self-definition, does not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of Christian faith. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the LDS Church itself, while calling itself Christian, explicitly professes a distinction and separateness from the ecumenical community and is intentional about clarifying significant differences in doctrine. As United Methodists we agree with their assessment that the LDS Church is not a part of the historic, apostolic tradition of the Christian faith. 
Likewise, in 2001, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith refused to accept Latter-day Saint baptisms. The Catholic Church generally recognizes baptisms from other Christian faiths in the name of the Trinity, provided the baptizer's intent corresponds to that of a Catholic priest. However, because of differences in Mormon and Catholic beliefs concerning the Trinity (Mormons disagree fundamentally with the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity), the Catholic Church stated that Mormon baptism was "not the baptism that Christ instituted."
The Episcopal Church (USA), part of the 80-million member Anglican Communion, an Anglo-Catholic tradition, also does not recognize Mormon baptisms, though it recognizes Christian baptisms that are Trinitarian in nature.
Anti-Mormonism and efforts to counter or convert Latter-day SaintsEdit
Main article: anti-Mormonism
Evangelical efforts directed toward MormonsEdit
To fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, Mormonism differs principally from their own understanding of Christianity in its teachings about the nature of Jesus, and the nature of salvation. Evangelical Christianity teaches that Christ offers a salvation so complete that the believer did not do any works to receive this salvation (Eph 2:8-9, Rom 4:5-5:1; 11:6) and stands in relation to God as positionally accepted, and a possessor of eternal life (1 John 5:13), which is defined as guaranteed a place in heaven, not LDS Godhood. This gift of grace engenders joyous gratitude and a spontaneous life of discipleship (Eph 2:10, Heb 6:9). Though this view of gratitude is compatible with LDS Church doctrine, evangelicalism places emphasis on the Kingdom of God as a gift that cannot in any way be earned. Because the LDS Church emphasizes "we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 25:23), they believe they must obey Jesus' commandments as interpreted by the LDS Church, lest they again fall and suffer a setback in their own spiritual maturation and progress Bible Dictionary: Grace. Evangelicals thus think that Mormon doctrine is conflicting with their understanding of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the Person of Jesus alone and as encouraging its adherents to strive for individual salvation, with the ideal goal of Godhood (D&C 132< GP 1997, chapter 47).
Efforts to counter the activities of Mormon missionariesEdit
Because Mormon missionaries proselytize other Christians indiscriminately, some Christian organizations have published tracts or brochures designed to counter Mormon missionary efforts. Conciliar Press, a department of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, has published a brochure designed to protect Orthodox Christians from the proselytizing efforts of what it describes as "cultists" (Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses). The following excerpt exemplifies the strong partisan feelings involved:
Although there are important differences between ancient Gnosticism and Mormonism, the similarities are striking. They both replace biblical Christianity with a very elaborate set of legends and esoteric teachings found, for Mormons, in the fanciful tales of The Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph Smith.... Firstly, one might ask why God would have allowed His people to dwell in darkness for almost two thousand years after Christ, until the coming of Smith...to lead them to the truth. One might also ask why any intelligent person would become a part of a religious movement founded by [a man] whose dishonesty is so apparent. Finally, what good reason could there be for believing self-proclaimed prophets whose teachings contradict the clear doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, instead of holding to the truth proclaimed by the Church founded by Christ and led by His Apostles and their successors? (Cultist at my Door: An Orthodox Examination of the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, published by Conciliar Press)The text of this excerpt, in its style, tone, and quality, and the title and source of the document demonstrate the efforts and doctrinal stance of a number of Christian denominations towards the Latter-day Saint faith.
- D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power; Signature Books; ISBN 1-56085-056-6 (1994)
- Stephen E. Robinson; Are Mormons Christians?; Bookcraft, Inc.; ISBN 0-88494-784-X (Hardcover 1991)
- Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition; University of Illinois Press; ISBN 0-25201-159-7 (Hardcover 1985)
- Joseph Fielding Smith; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith; Deseret Book Company; ISBN 0-87747-655-9 (Softcover 1976)
- John A. Widstoe; Discourses of Brigham Young; Deseret Book Company; ISBN 0-87747-664-0 (Softcover 1954)
- Are Mormons Christians? FAQ - Extensive apologetic information from a Mormon perspective, written by Jeff Lindsay
- Assertion that Mormons are Christian A compilation of quotes from Mormon authors and Church leaders, from All About Mormons
- Refuting Mormonism - Biblical arguments and scripture criticizing Mormonism
- Christian criticism of LDS teachings - From Berean Christian Ministries, also includes techniques on "witnessing" to Mormons
- Official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - Official Church website
- Journal of Discourses - Various talks from early LDS Church Leaders
- Official website of Community of Christ/formerly: The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or RLDS Church - Official website. This church has become increasingly liberal, though it once was conservative, but never identical in doctrine or practice with the Utah LDS Church.
- "Survey: USA's Protestant majority might soon be no more " - Article from USA Today concerning the question on whether to consider Mormons as Protestants in surveys
- CARM pulls through for us again :)
- Utah Lighthouse Ministry - A tremendous amount of documented works and resources from Jerald and Sandra Tanner. They also have a free periodical, the Salt Lake Messenger, which doesn't have a regular time of issuance, but is well worth getting for their evangelical Christian research from decades of study. Most of their work is not a defense of evangelical Christianity, but examining and sharing their results on many facets of Mormonism (historical, doctrinal, internal, and practical).
- Mormonism Researched Ministry - Many great articles and other material from a more careful Christian research organization. MRM's heart is to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) while they share their concerns with LDS and non-LDS alike. They have a regularly published free periodical, Mormonism Researched, that you can subscribe to.
- Living Hope Ministries - Living Hope Ministries has several DVDs, a number of articles of research, and more. Good information and questions to think about while learning about the Mormon faith. They also have a presence on YouTube.
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