“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” – Moroni 10:4
Moroni 10:4 is the famous “Burning in the Bosom” passage of the Book of Mormon. Whenever you sit down with Mormon missionaries, they will inevitably close the conversation by bearing testimony (“I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, I know that the Book of Mormon is God’s word”) and inviting you to put the Book of Mormon to the test that it presents in the verse above. The idea is this: If you read through the Book of Mormon (not necessarily all of it) and then ask God if the things in the book are true, then the Holy Ghost will confirm its truthfulness through some sort of supernatural experience.
And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.” - Isaiah 29:12
Both Mormonism and Islam claim that a new prophet arrived after the time of Christ and delivered new scripture to the world. Both Mormons and Muslims claim that contradictory teachings between their faiths and the bible are the result of corruptions in the biblical text (the Quran itself doesn’t actually support this position, but that’s another discussion). Both Mormons and Muslims have tried to validate their respective prophets by pointing to supposed prophecies in the bible foretelling their founders.
On September 18th, 2017, Deseret News ran an article wherein Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church “invites young adults to study the Bible with him.” President Nelson reported that “he is seeking to learn how the inspired and holy ancient record predicted the coming of the Book of Mormon.” He said, “I want to find its prophecies about the Restoration of the gospel in its fullness in these latter days.” The article recounts a conversation that Nelson had with an unnamed Protestant minister. In this conversation, he appeals to Isaiah 29 and Ezekiel 37 as prophecies foretelling Joseph’s delivery of new scripture. I find it interesting that the article does not recount said Protestant minister’s response to these supposed prophecies about the Book of Mormon, but I can only speculate as to why and such speculations would be pointless at best and uncharitable at worst.
While the concept of a female divine being is neither unique nor new, it has historically been something attributed to the ancient pagan mythologies or eastern religions like Hinduism. In a modern western context, it is largely confined to the anything-goes, “salad bar” approach of Wicca and the New Age Movement, but completely foreign to the faiths of the Abrahamic tradition and its offshoots. It’s for this reason that it often surprises the uninitiated when they first hear about Mormonism’s concept of a “Heavenly Mother”. According to LDS doctrine, not only do we have a Heavenly Father (God), but we also have a Heavenly Mother that was also once a mortal woman living in a different world.
The details surrounding this doctrine are fuzzy at best, primarily because the concept – by LDS leaders’ admission – is not found in any of the LDS scriptures, including the bible. She is given no name, it is unclear if there is only one Heavenly Mother or if God is a polygamist with many exalted wives, it is assumed that she (or they) achieved exaltation in the same manner as the Mormon Heavenly Father did, but I admit that I don’t know if that’s absolutely necessary. Since LDS men are supposed to call their wives out of the graves and into exaltation during the resurrection, what happens if the husband was living Celestial Law but his wife had some secret sin that she held on to or perhaps died before she could fully cleanse herself of all ungodliness? There’s a lot of speculation here simply because LDS scriptures are silent.
I spent my weekend helping out with a large-scale evangelistic event in the area. Held every year, it has become a staple of the local Christian community and something many look forward to. For the most part, it is always a positive experience with thousands of people coming to Christ, good music, and a small glimpse of heaven when we see dozens of churches working together for the sake of the gospel and joining together in communal worship. However, what has become equally common is the… well, embarrassing side of the church coming out as well.
Every year, we see that same group of protestors coming out with their signs trying to keep people from entering. Every year, we get Adventist street preachers railing against the leadership because we don’t focus on sabbath-keeping. Last year we saw the addition of a pro-life group that shows up with large, pool-table-sized pictures of bloodied, aborted babies and photoshopped pictures of crying children on fire as they’re sacrificed to Molech (Lev. 18:21, Jer. 32:35). They like to stand right at the entrance so I always have to shield my 7-year-old’s eyes or distract him as we walk by. I understand what they’re trying to do, but there’s a time and a place for grotesque imagery in the abortion debate and a family-oriented event is not one of them. Furthermore, I can’t imagine why they feel the need to protest abortion at an event organized and attended largely by people who are already pro-life. This year I came across an older man wearing a t-shirt that said, “Hetero Pride” in large, bold letters and had a crossed-out picture of stick-figure men having sex. Very classy. For whatever reason, these events always bring out the best and the worst in the church.
Note: Unless specifically stated, “Smith” in this post always refers to Ethan Smith, author of View of the Hebrews, and not Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church.
One cannot read the Book of Mormon without very quickly noticing that it makes a unique historical claim – a claim that forms the basis for the entire Mormon narrative. In fact, we do not even need to look further than the introduction:
According to Mormonism, a Hebrew family fled Israel shortly before Jerusalem was attacked and the Jews were led away into the Babylonian Exile. This family sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and established a new life for themselves in the Americas. Over many generations, this family was divided between the two patriarch brothers – Nephi and Laman – and their descendants until a great war erupted between them and the Nephites were wiped out. The Lamanites, now the primary inhabitants of the land, continued on until they came into contact with European settlers and came to be known as the American Indians.
Whenever I bring up Mormonism with fellow Christians or those who otherwise don’t follow Joseph Smith, the first doctrine that comes up will be something like “Don’t they believe they’ll become gods?” or “Don’t they believe they get their own planet when they die?” or perhaps even something about the gold plates that Joseph Smith claimed to have. However, while those aspects of Mormonism are important to understand, they do not comprise what I believe to be the most significant point of departure from Christian orthodoxy that the LDS Church holds to. Christians certainly don’t believe that we will become gods in the afterlife, but there’s no question that Christians believe we will be granted a state of glory in heaven. C.S. Lewis even commented that, if we were to see ourselves today as we will be then, we would be tempted to fall down and worship ourselves as John did when confronted by the angel in Revelation. Likewise, in his book Heaven, Christian author Randy Alcorn speculates that God may create and give to each of us our own planet to rule over as part of our ruling and reigning with Christ in the new creation, something that starts to sound suspiciously like Mormonism at first glance. To be sure, there are significant differences between the views of Lewis and Alcorn and the Mormon concept of Exaltation. Both Lewis and Alcorn would say that there is no ontological shift for us in eternity, we remain fully human but sinless. Likewise, Alcorn’s speculation about receiving and caretaking a planet as a steward under the authority of a King is a far cry from the Mormon concept of ruling over people as a god. Even so, there does seem to be some minor strains of similarity between the two faiths on these points.
Every faith system has a core belief or set of beliefs that form the basis and reference point for everything else. In Christianity, it is the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:14). In Islam, it is the greatness and omnipotence of Allah, who is unconstrained even by logic or his own commands. In Mormonism, it is Eternal Progression.
Rather than a single statement or belief, such as the resurrection of Jesus, the Mormon doctrine of Eternal Progression includes several concepts that are wholly unique to the LDS Church and, as such, cannot be stated as briefly or succinctly as others. The fifth president or prophet of the LDS Church, Lorenzo Snow, did as well as could be expected when he coined his now-famous couplet, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become”, but even that statement given without some background knowledge of Mormonism tends to invite more questions than answers. After all, the historic branches of Christianity (Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism), all affirm that we are to become more like God throughout our lives. We often refer to each other as “Godly” men and women or refer to specific actions as “Christlike”. Could this be what the Mormons mean when they talk of becoming like God? Actually, not at all. While the Christian concept of conforming our image to that of Christ speaks of changing our attitudes, behaviors, thinking and lifestyles to match those of Jesus, the Mormon concept of becoming like God is far more fundamental, even ontological.
I’ve always had a mild fascination with Mormonism. It may have started during my early years of elementary school when my brother’s best friend was a Mormon. I was young, so what I knew of their beliefs was limited to two things. First, they didn’t drink soda and, second, they believed something about getting their own something when they died (yes, it was that vague). In hindsight, I’ve been able to trace a series of touchpoints in my life where Mormons or Mormonism was always in view. As I mentioned, my brother’s best friend was a Mormon, my first crush, a girl named Tami in my third-grade class, was a Mormon, my favorite author is a Mormon, and on and on. Throughout, I’ve maintained a general curiosity about it all. I’ve never wanted to become one, but the beliefs, practices and story of the Mormon church have always been intriguing to me. How exactly did a nineteen-year-old farm boy from upstate New York convince people he was a prophet? Do they really believe they’ll become gods?
This “mild fascination” turned into an area of intense interest a few years ago, when my own studies of Christian theology and apologetics ramped up. It is often valuable when learning what is right to compare it with what is wrong. In this way, Mormonism provided a nice point of contrast since (spoiler alert) theologically orthodox Mormons will deny just about every doctrine that protestants hold dear.
So, what is Mormonism? Who are Mormons and what do they believe? Like any faith system this is not a subject that can be treated to a respectable degree in a single blog post or article, particularly because the biggest point of contention between Mormons and evangelical Christians in recent decades has been the issue of whether or not they should be considered “just another denomination” under the Christian banner. To come to an accurate understanding of the answer to that question, we need to understand the significant doctrinal differences between us. And believe me, the differences are not only highly significant, they are numerous. I plan to point out and address these differences in future posts, but for now we should cover the basics.
About this time last year, a Google Chrome extension was released on the Google store that automatically replaced the term “pro-life” with “anti-choice”. As with everything else in the abortion debate, both sides were quickly up in arms. The anonymous creator of the extension explained that he/she created it in an attempt to clarify the debate. It has been pointed out before that the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are flawed because they naturally demonize the opposing party. The implied opposite of being “pro-life” is to be “pro-death” or “anti-life” and no pro-choice advocate would ever claim such a position. Likewise, to say that you’re not “pro-choice” is to say that you’re pro-coercion or, as the extension claims, “anti-choice” which has never been the position of those fighting against abortion. However, flawed as the terms may be, the extension itself exposed a more fundamental problem. In an effort to clarify the debate by removing what the creator deemed as misleading language, all it managed to do was further confuse it. As a column on pro-life website LifeActionNews.com stated:
I recently had a discussion with someone in the YouTube comments section. Despite being one of the worst possible places to hold a conversation about controversial topics like religion – not only because of the format but also because of the constant badgering and interruptions from trolls – I felt like the outcome was generally quite positive.
The person I was speaking to introduced himself as an atheist who was considering converting to either Islam or Christianity but was having trouble deciding between them. I tried to help as best I could, but the interesting part was that he seemed unusually preoccupied with miracles. His first example was a section of the Quran where Muhammad supposedly predicted the coming of airplanes and air travel (Surah 51:7), but when I explained that this was just an oath and to take it as a prophecy was a stretch, he wanted to know about Christianity's miracles. The conversation went on for some time until I offered him my email address to continue in a better format. He accepted – though I never actually heard from him again – by telling me that he would love for me to tell him all about Christian miracles.
In hindsight, the conversation makes sense though I found it unusual at the time. As an atheist, it would seem reasonable to him that the religion which can actually provide proof of supernatural activity is the one that must be true, but I hesitate to go along with that line of thought. Not only do I have very little "solid evidence" for the sort of contemporary miracles that this man was looking for (it's out there, but since this has never been an area of real study for me, all I have is hearsay and stories which aren't all that convincing if you're not predisposed to believe them at face value), but I do not believe that this is a good reason to accept or reject any particular faith. We simply cannot evaluate the truth value of a religion based on its claims to miracles or other sorts of religious or spiritual experiences. This may seem an odd thing to say as a Christian, but I believe I have good reasons for doing so.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.