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.
Mormon Apostle M. Russell Ballard once said “Perhaps now, more than ever, we have a major responsibility as Latter-day Saints to define ourselves, instead of letting others define us.” I completely agree, so perhaps there is no better starting point than that provided by the LDS Church themselves in their published manuals:
Even still, a fuller explanation is required.
The Mormon Narrative
According to Mormonism, God (or Heavenly Father as he is more commonly referred to by Mormons) has not always been “God” in the sense that we typically mean when we speak of divinity. Rather, God was at some point in the past a mortal man named Elohim with a physical body. He was born, grew old, followed the same principles and laws that modern Mormons currently follow (under his own god) took a wife (or wives) and then died, whereupon he was resurrected to a state of Exaltation or godhood.
Upon being Exalted, God gained many of the attributes that we typically ascribe to deity: omnipotence, omniscience, immortality, etc. However, God retained his physical body and remains united to it as a resurrected being and is not, therefore, omnipresent. After attaining all the attributes of deity, God would organize (not create) his own world to rule over and begin physically procreating innumerable spirit children with his wife/wives. The title “Heavenly Father” is quite literal. This period of existence, before the first humans on earth, is what Mormons refer to as the First Estate, where all of God’s children lived with him in the spirit realm. However, in order for his children to follow in his footsteps and attain their own exaltation, they would need to take on physical bodies, live mortal lives, and prove themselves worthy of such an existence. It was at this point when God called a great council that consisted of all his spirit children, including you, Queen Elizabeth, Joseph Stalin, Noah, Abraham, President Nixon, etc. At this council, God’s two eldest children each presented their own plan for getting humanity through the Second Estate (mortal life) since, once mortal, we would all lose all memory of the First Estate.
Heavenly Father’s firstborn son, Jesus (or Jehovah as he was called then), presented his plan. On this plan, people would sin, fall, do horrible things to each other and Jesus would eventually need to enter into history to provide an atonement that would allow us to continue on our path of eternal progression. Not everyone would make it, but each of us would retain our agency or free will and be able to freely choose our own destinies. God’s second-born son, Lucifer, then presented his own plan. On Lucifer’s plan, he would remove the free agency of mankind and force them to the correct path, but by doing so ensure that none were lost. His own condition being that he get all the credit rather than God. When Lucifer’s plan was rejected, he led an open war against God and Jesus with a third of his spirit brothers and sisters. They were defeated and condemned to being demons, remaining as spirit beings for the rest of eternity and unable to progress any further to godhood.
After the war, the biblical story takes over and we see familiar figures like Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, etc.; each of God’s spirit children living their own lives and obeying the laws and ordinances of the Mormon Gospel in the hope of attaining Exaltation in the next life. However, because man is sinful, we still needed the work of a Redeemer, Jesus, to give us an extra boost. If we trust in the atoning work of Christ, keep the eternal laws and ordinances of the LDS Church, cleanse ourselves of all ungodliness, then we too can eventually ascend to godhood as our heavenly father did and start the cycle all over again.
Needless to say, any informed and theologically orthodox Christian, upon reading that summary, will find many concepts that are disturbing, to say the least. Frankly, there’s enough heresy there to choke an entire ecumenical council. While these concepts do not represent the entirety of the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity, they do represent some of the most serious because they directly influence the essential nature of God, the essential nature of man and the essential nature of salvation. I plan to go into each one of these in depth later, but for now I will simply name them:
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.