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Just Another Christian Denomination?
By Gary F. Zeolla
Mormonism: Just Another Christian Denomination? - Part One discussed Mormon teachings in regards to the Bible, the nature of God and our relationship to Him, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Person of Jesus Christ. This second half of this article will continue this discussion by looking at Mormon teachings on the work of Jesus, the afterlife, and salvation.
The Work of Jesus Christ
What does the Mormon church teach about the atonement of Jesus Christ? To answer this question requires first a look at the Mormon concept of death.
The Mormon book Gospel Principles explains, "The fall of Adam brought about two kinds of death into the worldphysical death and spiritual death. Physical death is separation of the body from the spirit. Spiritual death is separation from the Lord."1
Most Christians would agree with this idea of there being two different kinds of death (see James 2:26 for physical and Gen 2:17; 3:6-9; 5:5 for spiritual death).
But what did Jesus do about these two kinds of death? As for physical death, Principles says, "On the third day after the resurrection, Christ took up his body again and became the first person to be resurrected.... Christ thus overcame physical death. Because of his atonement all persons born on this earth will be resurrected."2
John Taylor (third Mormon prophet) concurs, "If it were not for the atonement of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice He made, all the human family would have to lie in the grave throughout eternity without hope."3 And further, "The atonement made by Jesus Christ brought about the resurrection from the dead and restored life."4
So the atonement of Christ assures all people will overcome physical death and be resurrected. But what about spiritual death? What did Jesus do about it?
Christ's atonement MAKES IT POSSIBLE for us to overcome spiritual death. Although all mankind will be resurrected with a body of flesh and bone, only those who accept Christ's atonement will be saved from spiritual death. WE ACCEPT CHRISTS ATONEMENT BY REPENTING OF OUR SINS, BEING BAPTIZED, RECEIVING THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND OBEYING ALL OF THE COMMANDMENTS. In this way we are cleansed from sin and we become WORTHY to RETURN and live with our Heavenly Father.5
First, note the words, "RETURN and live with our Heavenly Father." Return is used because of the Mormon idea of pre-existence in heaven before life on earth as discussed in Part One.
Second, Mormonism teaches that only its ordained elders can properly baptize and impart the gift of the Holy Spirit. Joseph F. Smith taught, "Baptism means immersion in water, and it is to be administered BY ONE HAVING AUTHORITY, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. BAPTISM WITHOUT DIVINE AUTHORITY IS NOT VALID."6
John Taylor stated, "He [God] has introduced in the first principles of the gospel the means of their becoming possessed of His Spirit THROUGH BAPTISM AND THE LAYING ON OF HANDS BY THOSE HAVING AUTHORITY. "7
And, of course, Mormons believe only they have the authority. Heber J. Grant, seventh LDS prophet, said, "We claim ... authority and declare to all the world that John the Baptist, who held the keys of authority to baptize, restored the Aaronic Priesthood and bestowed it upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery."8
Third, in addition to repenting, being baptized and then receiving the Holy Spirit, to be saved from spiritual death, one must obey "ALL of the commandments." Joseph Smith declared, "To get salvation we must not only do some things, but EVERYTHING which God has commanded."9 So the Mormon church obviously does NOT believe in salvation by grace alone.
Spencer W. Kimbell, twelfth LDS president, made this vividly clear, "One of the most fallacious doctrines ORIGINATED BY SATAN and propounded by man is that MAN IS SAVED ALONE BY THE GRACE OF GOD; that belief in Jesus is all that is needed for salvation."10 However, this is in fact what the Bible teaches.
Paul wrote, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph 2:8,9). Further, "And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work" (Rom 11:6). So the salvation by grace AND works system of Mormonism is Biblically and logically impossible.
As for baptism, in 1Corinthians 1:14-17, Paul separates the Gospel from baptism. In fact, baptism is so much of a concern for Paul, he cannot even remember whom he had baptized!
As for how one receives the Spirit, Jesus declared, "... how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ASK Him!" (Luke 11:13). People do not need to have hands laid on them to receive the Spirit; they just need to ask God! In Acts 10:44-48, the Spirit fell upon the people without Peter laying his hands on them and BEFORE they were baptized.
The Intermediate State
What happens after death and before the general resurrection? Historic Christianity believes "in the conscious existence of all souls between death and resurrection, of the believer in heaven with God, of the unbeliever in Hades apart from the Lord" (article #10 of Darkness to Light's Confession of Faith).
The Mormon belief is somewhat similar. After death, Joseph Smith taught, "The righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection."11 However, this "spirit world" is divided into two compartments. The righteous are in "a place called paradise."12 The wicked are considered to be "spirits in prison."13 So, in essence, Mormonism has distinct places for the righteous and the wicked to go upon death; the former to "paradise" and the latter to "prison."
But this is where the similarity ends. For historic Christians there "is a great gulf fixed" between the two places so that souls cannot pass from one to the other (see Luke 16:26). For Mormons, much traffic flows between the two.
Joseph F. Smith claims he had a vision in which:
I beheld that the FAITHFUL ELDERS of this dispensation, when they departed from mortal life, CONTINUE THEIR LABORS in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin IN THE GREAT WORLD OF THE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD.14
So Mormon missionaries are still active after death as Mormons believe people will have a chance to accept their message in the spirit world. But what is the "gospel" being proclaimed to the departed?
Joseph F. Smith relates further on his vision:
Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, VICARIOUS BAPTISM for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, AND ALL OTHER PRINCIPLES OF THE GOSPEL THAT WERE NECESSARY TO QUALIFY THEMSELVES that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.15
So the departed hear the same gospel of salvation by grace plus works that Mormons proclaim here. The problems with this system have already been demonstrated. Also, note the phrase "vicarious baptism." What this refers to is discussed next.
Baptism for the Dead
Joseph F. Smith taught:
THE DEAD ARE NOT PERFECTED WITHOUT US, NEITHER ARE WE WITHOUT THEM. We have a mission to perform for and in their behalf; we have a certain work to do in order to liberate those who, because of ignorance and the unfavorable circumstances in which they were placed here, are unprepared for eternal life; WE HAVE TO OPEN THE DOOR FOR THEM, by performing ordinances which they cannot perform for themselves and which are essential to their release from the "prison-house," to come forth and live according to God in the spirit and be judged according to the flesh.16
Remember, in Mormonism, in order to be saved one must be baptized. However, as Wilford Woodruff states, "They will not baptize anybody in the spirit world; there is no baptism there .... THE LORD HOLDS US RESPONSIBLE for going to and building temples, that we may attend therein to the ordinances necessary for the salvation of the dead."17
Joseph Smith took this even further, "Those Saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it AT THE PERIL OF THEIR OWN SALVATION."18 So being baptized for the dead is not optional for Mormons. The salvation of their departed relatives and their own salvation depends on it. But what is the Biblical basis for the practice?
Joseph Smith proclaimed, "The doctrine of baptism for the dead IS CLEARLY SHOWN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT; and if the doctrine is not good, then throw the New Testament away; but if it is the word of God, then let it be acknowledged."19
Despite this claim, there is only ONE VERSE in the New Testament that actually mentions baptism for the dead1Corinthians 15:29. The context of this verse is Paul's discussion of the resurrection of the dead. More specifically, Paul is contending with people who deny the concept of a bodily resurrection of the dead.
The verse reads in the NKJV, "Otherwise, what will THEY do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why are THEY baptized for the dead?"
First, be sure to notice the double occurrence of the word "they." Paul is not saying HE or those with him practice baptism for the dead but only the heretics he is confronting! In the next verse he mentions what "we" are doing.
Second, Paul does not commend or condemn the practice. He is simply showing how "they" are inconsistent to deny the resurrection and yet to be engaging in this practice. The purpose of his statement is apologetical not theological. In other words, he is using the heretics practice to demonstrate that their belief is wrong. He is not here teaching Christian doctrine.
Given these problems, this single verse provides pretty flimsy evidence on which to justify the millions of dollars the Mormon church spends on building temples (one major reason for which is to have a place to conduct this ceremony) and to require members of the LDS church to expend untold numbers of hours researching their "roots" to determine who they must be baptized for.
Three Degrees of Glory
After the general resurrection, then what? In Mormonism there are "three degrees of glory" one may attain to along with a place for the "sons of perdition."
Brigham Young stated, "In the Doctrine of Covenants, these glories are called telestial, terrestrial, and celestial, which is the highest. These are worlds, different departments, or mansions, in our Father's house."20
James Talmage describes the kinds of people who enter the different glories:
1. The Celestial Glory - There are some who have striven to obey all the divine commandments, who have ACCEPTED THE TESTIMONY OF CHRIST, OBEYED "THE LAWS AND ORDINANCES OF THE GOSPEL," and received the Holy Spirit; these are therefore entitled to the highest glory .... They are admitted to the glorified company, CROWNED WITH EXALTATION in the celestial kingdom.
2. The Terrestrial Glory - These are they who, though honorable, FAILED TO COMPLY WITH THE REQUIREMENTS FOR EXALTATION, were blinded by the craftiness of men and unable to receive the higher laws of God. They proved "NOT VALIANT IN THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS," and therefore are not entitled to the fullness of glory.
3. The Telestial Glory - This is for those who RECEIVED NOT THE TESTIMONY OF CHRIST, but who, nevertheless, did not deny the Holy Spirit; who HAVE LED LIVES EXEMPTING THEM FROM THE HEAVIEST PUNISHMENT .... Yet all who receive any of these orders of glory are at last saved, and upon them Satan will finally have no claim .
Then there are those who HAVE LOST ALL CLAIM UPON THE IMMEDIATE MERCY OF GOD, whose deeds have them numbered WITH PERDITION and his angels.21
A couple of explanatory comments would be helpful here. First, the phrase, "the testimony of Christ" refers to the Mormon gospel. So those who "accepted the testimony" simply means they were Mormons; those who "received not the testimony" refers to people who were not Mormons.
Thus, to enter the Celestial Glory one must have been a faithful Mormon. The Terrestrial Glory is for not so faithful Mormons or "good" non-Mormons. The Telestial Glory is for not so good non-Mormons.
Second, to be "saved" in Mormonism simply means to enter any one of the three degrees of glory. Third, the only ones who enter the place for "Perdition" (i.e. Satan) are Mormon apostates and those who heard the Mormon gospel but rejected it (like this writer).
Brigham Young summarizes these points:
All will be saved, as Jesus said, when speaking to the apostles, except the sons of perdition. They will be saved through the atonement AND THEIR GOOD WORKS, according to law that is given to them. Will the heathen be saved? Yes, so far as they have lived according to the best light and intelligence they had; but not in the celestial kingdom.
Who will not be saved? Those who received the truth, or had the privilege of receiving it, and then rejected it. They are the only ones who will become the sons of perdition, go into everlasting punishment, and become angels of the devil.22
Now a few comments are necessary. First, note the emphasis on "good works." It is for this reason that Mormonism needs "degrees of glory." With a works-based salvation, there will be some who are very good, some who are basically good, some who are not so good, and others who are not so good at all. A different final destiny is needed for each category of "goodness."
The problem with this attitude is, Jesus declared, "NO ONE IS GOOD but One, that is God" (Matt 19:17). The Bible further states, "But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). So if someone is trying to attain salvation by their good works or own righteousness, they will never make it!
Second, note the phrase in the last sentence of the extended quote from Talmage, "have lost all claim upon the immediate mercy of God." Here is the crux of the problem with the Mormon system: NO ONE HAS A "CLAIM" ON THE MERCY OF GOD!
The Bible states, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Further, God Himself declares, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion" (Rom 9:15).
God is in no way obligated to save anyone. EVERYONE deserves damnation. God's wrath is upon every person (Rom 1:18,19). Only by faith in Christ can this wrath be avoided. John writes, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God ABIDES on him" (John 3:36).
Salvation and eternal life do not depend on one's works but solely on faith in Christ. With this perspective, having different degrees of glory is unnecessary. Either someone has trusted in Christ for their salvation, or they have not (Matt 12:30). As such, only two places are needed in the afterlife: one for those who trusted Christ and one for those who did not (John 3:18).
In the Celestial kingdom Mormon men expect to be "exalted." Joseph Fielding Smith explains, "Joseph Smith taught a plurality of gods, and that man by obeying the commandments of God and keeping the whole law will eventually reach the power and EXALTATION BY WHICH HE ALSO WILL BECOME A GOD."23
Lorenzo Snow presents a distinct statement of this Mormon belief, "As man now, is our God was; AS NOW GOD IS, SO MAN MAY BE. "24
Brigham Young declares, "All those who are counted worthy to be exalted and to become Gods, even the sons of God, will go forth and HAVE EARTHS AND WORLDS LIKE THOSE WHO FRAMED THIS AND MILLIONS OF OTHERS."25
First, previously it was stated that Mormonism was polytheistic. As Mormon men are exalted to godhood, the potential number of gods is limitless.
Second, be sure to note the word "man" in the above quotes. The word is not being used in an inclusive sense. Only Mormon MEN are working to become gods and to have their own planets to rule over. The goal for Mormon WOMEN is somewhat different.
For the women, the contents of the section on "We are the Offspring of the Father" from Part One must be remembered. It contained the discussion of the Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother. She is believed to have sexual intercourse with the Heavenly Father in order to produce the spirits who will inhabit the bodies of people on this earth.
When a Mormon man is exalted to godhood and receives his own planet to rule, he will need his own goddess wife to have sex with to produce his "spirit" children.
Brigham Young declared:
After men have got their exaltations and their crowns - have become Gods, even the sons of God - are made Kings of kings and Lords of lords, they have THE POWER OF PROPAGATING THEIR SPECIES IN SPIRIT; and that is the first of their operations with regard to organizing a world. Power is then given to them to organize the elements, and then to commence the organizations of tabernacles [physical bodies].26
John Taylor received a letter from a Mormon lady. She asked several questions. One of them was, "And what is my final destiny after having obeyed the truth, if faithful to the end?"
Thou wilt be permitted to pass by the Gods and angels who guard the gates, and onward, upward to thy exaltation in a celestial world among the Gods, to be a priestess queen upon thy Heavenly Father's throne, and a glory to thy husband and offspring, TO BEAR THE SOULS OF MEN, TO PEOPLE OTHER WORLDS (AS THOU DID BEAR THEIR TABERNACLES IN MORTALITY) WHILE ETERNITY GOES AND ETERNITY COMES; and if you will receive it, lady, this is eternal life.27
But What Does the Bible Have to Say?
So Mormon men are working to be "exalted" to godhood and Mormon women hope to be their goddess wives and be used to populate their husbands' planets. But what does the Bible have to say on all of this?
God Himself declares through Isaiah, " understand that I am He. BEFORE ME WAS NO GOD FORMED, NOR SHALL THERE BE AFTER ME" (Isa 43:10). God could not have been more explicit! There is only one God; this has always been the case and always will be (also Isa 44:6,8; 45:5,6,14,18,21; 46:9).
In addition, God does not take kindly to people trying to become like Him. It was Satan's attempt to "be like the Most High" that got him kicked out of heaven (see Isa 14:12-15; also Ezek 28:11-19). Satan then used the lie of being able to "be like God" to deceive Adam and Eve into disobeying God (Gen 3:1-6; see also Acts 12:20-23; 2Thes 2:1-8).
So there is no such thing as "exaltation" in the LDS sense. But the Bible does offer something better! Both men and women can have an eternal RELATIONSHIP with the one true God who is sovereign over the entire universe (John 17:3; Psalm 115:3).
This two-part article has documented the basic teachings of Mormonism using quotations from the sermons and writings of Mormon "prophets and apostles" and books published by the LDS church. At every point, they are at odds with the beliefs of historic Christianity. Therefore, MORMONISM IS NOT "JUST ANOTHER CHRISTIAN DENOMINATION."
And further, and despite its claim to the contrary, the teachings of Mormonism have been shown to contradict the teachings of the Bible (see Isa 8:20). As such, involvement with the LDS church is incompatible with "the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation" (Eph 1:13; cp. Gal 1:6-9).
For additional study on the teachings of Mormonism, see the book Behind the Mask of Mormonism by John Ankerberg and John Weldon. It is available from Books-A-Million .
1 Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1988), p.65.
2 Ibid., p.68.
3 John Taylor. Journal of Discourses. 22:356, Jan. 29, 1882. Quoted in Daniel Ludlow, ed. Latter-Day Prophets Speak (Logon, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), p.144.
4 John Taylor. The Mediation and the Atonement, p.178, published in 1892. Quoted in Ludlow, p.144.
5 Ibid., p.68. Note: All emphases in quotations are added.
6 Joseph F. Smith. Journal of Discourses. 19:190, Sept. 30, 1877. Quoted in Ludlow, p.106.
7 Taylor. Discourses. 11:22, Dec. 11, 1864. Quoted in Ludlow, p.144.
8 Heber J. Grant. Conference Reports, p.8, April, 1935. In Ludlow, p.106.
9 Joseph Smith. Documentary History of the Church. 6:223, Feb. 21, 1844. Quoted in Ludlow, p.139.
10 Spencer Kimbell. The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1969), p.206.
11 Smith. History. 5:425, June 11, 1843. Quoted in Ludlow, p.26.
12 John Taylor. The Government of God, p.39, published August, 1852. Quoted in Ludlow, p.27.
13 Brigham Young. Journal of Discourses. 2:137, Dec. 3, 1854. Quoted in Ludlow, p.35.
14 Joseph F. Smith. Improvement Era. 22:166-170, Dec., 1918. Quoted in Ludlow, p.34.
15 Ibid., Quoted in Ludlow, p.33.
16 Joseph F. Smith. Discourses. 19:264, April 11, 1878. Quoted in Ludlow, p.129.
17 Wilford Woodruff. Journal of Discourses. 18:114, Sept. 12, 1875. Quoted in Ludlow, p.111.
18 Joseph Smith. History. 4:426, Oct. 3, 1841. Quoted in Ludlow, p.113.
19 Ibid., 5:425. Quoted in Ludlow, p.112.
20 Young. Discourses. 1:312, Feb. 20, 1853. Quoted in Ludlow, p.61.
21 James Talmage. Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1987), pp. 91-93.
22 Young. Discourses. 8:35, April 6, 1860. Quoted in Ludlow, p.142.
23 James Fielding Smith. Doctrines of Salvation. Vol.1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954), p.98.
24 Lorenzo Snow. Improvement Era. 22:660, June 1919. Quoted in Ludlow, p.72.
25 Young. Discourses. 17:143, July 19, 1874. Quoted in Ludlow, p.77.
26 Young. Discourses. 6:274-275, Aug. 28, 1852. Quoted in Ludlow, p.76.
27 John Taylor. "The Mormon." August 29, 1857. Quoted in Ludlow, p.10.
Note: All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
Mormonism: Just Another Christian Denomination? Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article was published in Darkness to Light
and posted on this Web site in September 1998.
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