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.
Rather, I believe the most significant difference between our faiths is in the Mormon belief that God – YHWH; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the Alpha and Omega; Beginning and the End – was at one point just a normal, mortal, human man that was born to human parents, lived a human life, and possibly died a human death. Some Mormons will even tell you that God was once sinful.
Speaking For Themselves
The clearest and most widely recognized statements on this issue come directly from Joseph Smith in his now-infamous King Follett Discourse given shortly before his death and 5th President Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet.
Contrary to these clear statements, there are portions of LDS Scripture that teach the opposite.
Given that the whole concept of Eternal Progression is about changing from mortality to immortality, from being limited in knowledge and wisdom to omniscience, from being limited in power to omnipotence, it seems to me that the verses above stand in stark contrast to Mormon Orthodoxy. The verses above seem to indicate that the Mormon God was always divine, from eternity (endless time) past to eternity future. This is a view of God that is more Christian than Mormon.
When Christians speak of the immutability of God, or his unchanging nature, we are not speaking of a physical state (which the LDS Apologists at FairMormon.org seem to believe), and so are not bothered by the physical and intellectual growth of Jesus during his earthly ministry. This approach makes even less sense in the context of Christianity since we do not believe God to be a physical being, so a change in the Father’s physical state is like speaking of the color Red slowing down. Rather, what we’re talking about is the essential nature of God; the definable attributes at the very core of who and what he is. To be unchanging is simply part of what it means to be God.
Christian philosophers as far back as Anselm have defined God as “the greatest possible being” and this is the heart of what the lay Christian means when we speak of God as “perfect”. We do not simply mean that he is sinless, though moral excellence is a part of it. If we’re only referring to a lack of sin, then any inanimate object could rightfully be called “perfect”. A table has never sinned. A bowling ball or a lamp or a pencil could never break one of God’s commands and be called sinful. The concept of being “perfect” when we speak of God expresses that God has no metaphysical, moral, or ontological flaws. He cannot be undermined, exploited, corrupted, tricked, or overridden. He can always and in all situations be depended upon to act with perfect wisdom, perfect justice, perfect mercy and perfect timing. He depends on nothing outside himself for his existence. He cannot be exhausted, worn out, or used up. Most important of all, he cannot change. We will never wake up one day to find out that God is suddenly only 99% holy, or 99% good, or 99% powerful. In fact, one might say that a God who is capable of learning (which is to say that he lacks knowledge) or is capable of progressing in goodness, wisdom, or power (which is akin to saying that he lacks those things in some way) cannot rightfully be called God at all. It would be a contradiction in terms.
However, at its core, Mormon theology requires that God be able to change in his essential nature since, at some point in the past according to Mormon doctrine, he was not divine. At some point, the Mormon God was capable of deceit, capriciousness, failure, mistakes, and bigotry. If he was capable of those things in the past, who is to say that he is not capable of those things now? Or could not be in the future?
The idea of a changing God cuts at the very core of not only the Christian faith, but also of the very definition of God whether you are a Jew, a Muslim, a Mormon or a Witness.
What God Says About Himself
These are not ideas simply based on abstract philosophical concepts, rather they are the testimony of God concerning himself and, after all, who better to speak on this issue? God cannot change, he has never changed, and there was never a point when he was not God.
"I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Malachi 3:6 NIV) - God does not change in his nature. He remains faithful even while we are faithless, because he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13) and will never change his methods or act in a way that is inconsistent with his nature.
“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2 NIV) - From everlasting to everlasting, or from eternity past to eternity future, God is God. The Psalmist is clear that God was never anything less than what he is now.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17 ESV) - James also affirms this truth. There is no variation in God coming from a change in his nature.
Progressive Revelation or A Different God?
Both Christianity and Mormonism hold to a concept of Progressive Revelation, that is to say that God did not spell out everything we needed to know about him on day one, but has continued to provide new hints and revelations over time in order to give us a more complete picture of himself. However, there are distinct differences in how this works out between the two faiths. Christianity holds to a position of absolute non-contradiction. God cannot and will not contradict himself about revealed truths, regardless of when or where the revelation is given. This is precisely what we see going on with Mormonism. Throughout the history of the Christian faith and its roots in Judaism – from the original writing of the Pentateuch (Exodus 3:14) clear through the Apostolic Era in the first-century AD (James 1:17) over a millennium-and-a-half later and for the following eighteen centuries – God has always been understood as a self-existent and unchanging being. It is not until Smith’s King Follett Discourse in 1844, fourteen years after the publishing of the book of Mormon and the supposed revelation of D&C 20 (both in 1830) and thirteen years after D&C 76, that we are introduced to the concept of a God that was not always divine.
So, what happened? What caused the proverbial hard-left-turn that would so heavily separate Mormon theology from its Protestant roots?
It seems to me that the Mormon is left with three options:
The first option does not seem to be viable for a number of reasons, the first of which is that since God allowed such clear (and apparently false) statements about his nature to be canonized as scripture and circulated for over three millennia without correction seems to make God complicit in a massive deception. This is even more problematic in light of Mormon scriptures such as D&C 20 and 76 which are believed to be the words of God himself given directly to Joseph Smith, or those of Moroni 8:18 which are the words of a mortal man, but are believed to have also been given directly to Joseph Smith through the translation process. If God was not always divine; if God was on a path of Eternal Progression and had changed over his mortal and exalted lifetime, wouldn’t he wish to correct Moroni’s error while Joseph was translating? Why would he pass along such erroneous information in his 1830-32 revelations? Certainly, we can assume that God did not go from being unchangeable in 1832 and the three millennia prior to changeable in 1844. Such a position would be patently incoherent and absurd. Furthermore, since the Israelites were coming out of the pagan culture of ancient Egypt when the Pentateuch was given and they would have been familiar with the concept of finite gods that came into being or changed from one state to the next. It was the concept of an eternal and unchanging God that would have been a radical departure for them, not the opposite, and so there’s no discernable reason for even the origin of such a belief if Mormonism is true. If this is to be explained as Progressive Revelation, we would have to liken it to slowly pulling a sheet off a large object. As the sheet comes off we first see a tire, then the wheel, then a bumper, a tailgate, until one final tug is given and the object is revealed as… a chicken!
The second option is not much better, and partly for the same reasons. The question of corrupted texts and the reliability of the bible is one that needs to be handled on its own, but even if we grant that to the Mormon, it doesn’t explain the problems with contradictory Mormon scriptures that I’ve laid out. Mormon scripture itself is inconsistent on this subject wholly apart from the Christian tradition it is supposed to be a part of.
The third option seems to be the best explanation. As Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace has pointed out, the historical record indicates that Joseph was not so much receiving new revelation or restoring old truths as he was straying from his protestant upbringing and developing a new concept of God over time. This, according to God, is the very definition of a false prophet.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.