A Look at Mormonism
THE Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is far from being an insignificant religious organization. With a membership in 1960 of more than one and a half million, it is big enough to make its presence felt in this modern world. The zealous activity of 6,000 full-time missionaries and over 7,000 part-time missionaries has brought Mormonism into contact with people in many lands who know little or nothing about it. For their benefit let us take a close look at it.
Claiming to be a distinctly different religious organization, Mormons vigorously disclaim any connection with Catholicism and Protestantism. Their founder, Joseph Smith, was convinced that there was no truth in either of these big religious divisions of Christendom. Priding themselves in being different from other churches, Mormons view their church as the restoration of Christ’s church, which they believe was destroyed when the apostles died. Forgetting that Christ is the main foundation of his church, or congregation, they conclude that it could not exist without living apostles as a foundation. They believe that the restoration of Christ’s church began when Joseph Smith had visions of heavenly messengers.
It was in 1820 that Joseph Smith had his first vision. He claimed that while alone in the woods he saw a vision of two bright personages standing above him who told him not to join any church. These personages, it is claimed, were the heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Three years later he said he had another vision. This time a heavenly messenger who called himself Moroni told him of a hidden book written on golden plates. Following instructions from the messenger, he said he removed the plates from their hiding place after waiting four years. This golden book is supposed to be the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith claimed that he had another vision in 1829, at which time John the Baptist appeared to him as a heavenly messenger and conferred upon him and his associate, Oliver Cowdery, the priesthood of Aaron, after which they baptized one another secretly. This claim was made despite the fact that the Bible tells that the Aaronic priesthood was changed when Jesus Christ brought the Mosaic law to an end. This vision and a subsequent one of three apostles are believed to have given these two men authority to restore the church of Christ.—Heb. 7:11, 12, 18.
VIEWS OF THE SCRIPTURES
Mormons acknowledge that they accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God, but they are quick to qualify their acceptance by saying: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” This loophole permits them to reject any Biblical statement that conflicts with Mormon teaching. Thus Mormon teachings and writings are made the measuring rod of truth.
Since the days of the translation of the King James Version of the Bible, knowledge of Bible languages has greatly improved and thousands of very old Bible manuscripts have been found. These factors have made possible modern translations of the Bible with a textual accuracy that is very close to that of the original writings. The Bible is a dependable guide and needs neither the apocryphal writings of the Catholic church nor the Book of Mormon to make it complete.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
Like the Catholic church, which refuses to accept the Bible as the only authority on religious beliefs, Mormons insist that there are other authorities equal to the Bible. This view is vital to any religion that has teachings lacking Biblical support. In the book Why I Am a Mormon, Wallace F. Bennett expresses the Mormon view when he says: “We recognize the Bible’s limitations as well as its value. We do not ascribe final authority to any of its statements because we believe that God has re-established the authority to speak in his name and has given it again to righteous men.” On the same subject Joseph Smith, Jr., stated in the Documentary History of the Church: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.” Should not the Bible be the keystone of Christian belief?
The scripture at Ezekiel 37:16, 17, is used by Mormons to prove their contention that the Bible and the Book of Mormon were foretold in prophecy. They claim that the two sticks about which the prophet Ezekiel speaks represent these two books. But the sticks in Ezekiel’s prophecy have no reference to books, and this is indicated by Ezekiel himself. He designated one stick for Judah and the other one as “the stick of Ephraim.” The tribe of Ephraim descended from Joseph and became the head of the ten tribes that broke away in the days of King Rehoboam. Because of this headship the name Ephraim came to be applied to the ten-tribe kingdom. After the release of the Israelites from captivity to Babylon, the ten tribes were reunited with the other two tribes and the Levites. This reunion of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel was what Ezekiel foretold when he spoke of the two sticks’ becoming one stick. So the Bible lends no support to the claim that some other religious book is of equal authority to it.
CONCEPT OF THE FATHER AND THE SON
Regarding his Father, Jesus Christ said at John 4:24, “God is a Spirit.” Mormons claim that God is not a spirit but a personage of bone and flesh. “The thing I want to impress upon you,” said Joseph Smith in the Logan Journal of March 14, 1911, “is that God is real, a person of flesh and bones, the same as you are and I am. Christ is the same, but the Holy Ghost is a person of spirit.” These three form, in Mormon belief, a trinity or godhead, but not in the same manner as the trinity conceived by Catholicism. The Mormon trinity consists of three distinct personages that are united in purpose. They speak of the three as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.
Mormons point to the Bible statement that man was created in the image of God as proof of their contention that God has a body of flesh and bones, but this conclusion is not in harmony with the Scriptures. Being in the image of God does not mean man and God are similar in substance. Bodies of flesh were designed for life on earth, not for existence in the spirit realm. That is why Paul said: “The glory of the heavenly bodies is one sort, and that of the earthly bodies is a different sort.” (1 Cor. 15:40) Man resembles God because he images God’s attributes, which make man superior to the beasts.
Nothing is availed by claiming that the heavenly bodies of God and Christ are flesh and bone rather than flesh and blood. Bodies of flesh and bone cannot exist without blood, for the Bible says: “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Lev. 17:11, AS) A body of flesh and bone only would, therefore, be lifeless. It is just as impossible for a body of flesh and bone to be in the heavenly kingdom as it is for a body of flesh and blood. The apostle Paul makes this clear when he specifically states that flesh cannot go there. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 Cor. 15:50.
The resurrected Jesus Christ did not have a fleshly body when he came into the presence of God after his ascension. Peter shows that Christ was resurrected with a spirit body, not a material one of flesh and bones without blood. “Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, that he might lead you to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.” (1 Pet. 3:18) Consider also Paul’s testimony: “The last Adam became a lifegiving spirit.” (1 Cor. 15:45) The fleshly bodies Jesus had while on earth after his resurrection were materializations such as made by angels on numerous occasions down to the first century. Jesus had the power to materialize a fleshly body.
Mormonism’s unscriptural conclusion that God has a body of flesh and bone has led to the claim that God was once a man. Joseph Smith, Jr., said in Times and Seasons of August 15, 1844: “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.” For support of this view Mormons are compelled to turn to their own writings rather than to the Bible.
The conception that there is a godhead of three Gods, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, is also without foundation in the Bible. It teaches that there is only one God who is and always will be without equal. “There is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are, and we for him; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and we through him.” (1 Cor. 8:6) Rather than being part of a godhead and eventually becoming equal with the Father, Jesus Christ is a creature who, like other creatures, looks to the Father as his God and is eternally subject to him. That is why he told Mary: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.”—John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:28.
LIFE AND DEATH
Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Mormonism believes that a man’s existence extends before the day of his birth and beyond the day of his death, that it is a long progression. They base this upon their contention that man’s spirit is immortal. Regarding this, Stephen L. Richards, one of the Mormon presidents, said: “In their conception, the spirit of man not only never dies but it lives through states of eternal progression. Whatever is learned or acquired in one’s life is taken on to a succeeding life. Condemnation or ‘damning’ is but a retardation in progression. Goodness accelerates progression—badness retards it. There is no conceivable limitation to the achievements of the good. They may ultimately become through progression as intelligent and as omnipotent as God, himself.” Another Mormon spokesman, James E. Talmage, stated: “There is in man an immortal spirit that lived as an intelligent being before the body was formed, and that shall continue to exist as the same immortal individual after the body has gone to decay.”
The Bible is very plain in making known the fact that Jesus Christ existed in the spirit realm before becoming a man. If the same were true for all men, would not the Bible be equally plain about it? If such a doctrine were true, it would be of such great importance that the Bible would certainly make mention of it, but it says nothing about men having a prehuman existence.
Yet Mormons point to a question asked by Jesus’ disciples regarding a blind man as proof of preexistence. The scripture they use is John 9:1-3, which says: “Now as he was passing along he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered: ‘Neither this man sinned nor his parents.’” But Jesus did not say they had the right idea. Rather, he corrected them when he said that neither the man nor his parents had sinned. Possibly these disciples believed with some Rabbis that a person can sin in a mother’s womb before birth. Since their thinking was wrong, their question is no support for the doctrine of preexistence.
When speaking about Esau and Jacob the apostle Paul supported the Scriptural view that a man’s existence begins when he is born and not in any spirit realm before birth. Paul said: “When they had not yet been born nor had practiced anything good or vile.” (Rom. 9:11) If they had had a prehuman existence, Paul could not have said that. Jesus himself indicated that men do not come from the spirit realms above as he had. To the Jews he said: “You are from the realms below; I am from the realms above. You are from this world; I am not from this world.”—John 8:23.
Likewise the Mormon belief that a man’s spirit separates from his body at death and continues his existence in a place called “paradise” where he is given opportunity to hear the gospel and to repent of his sins finds no support in God’s Word. The Bible states that the dead cannot think and make decisions. Note what is written at Psalm 146:4: “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” Since his thoughts cease, his spirit could not be something that continues his conscious existence, but is instead the impersonal force of life. Another scripture states: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Eccl. 9:5) The hope for the dead is a resurrection, an awakening from death to life.
Peter’s words at 1 Peter 4:6 do not support the Mormon view either. He was not speaking about the spirits of dead persons when he said: “For this purpose the good news was declared also to the dead, that they might be judged as to the flesh from the standpoint of men.” Since the physically dead are “conscious of nothing at all,” the dead mentioned here are the same dead Jesus meant when he said: “Let the dead bury their dead,” and the same ones Paul meant when he said: “It is you God made alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Living persons who are dead in God’s eyes because of sins are able to hear the gospel, to think and to repent. The “spirits in prison” to whom Jesus preached were fallen angels, not the spirits of dead persons.—Matt. 8:22; Eph. 2:1; 1 Pet. 3:18, 19.
Due to the unscriptural belief that a man’s conscious existence continues after death, the contention is made by Mormons that the marriage bond also continues after death. Wallace Bennett says: “The Mormons believe that when the ceremony is performed in a temple, by one holding the necessary authority, the union is eternal in duration and extends beyond death.” There is nothing in the Bible to warrant this conclusion.
Contrary to Mormon teaching, the Bible reveals that death dissolves the marriage bond. At Romans 7:2 it is written: “A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is alive; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law of her husband.” The marriage bond no longer binds her to him. Note also what Jesus Christ said: “In the resurrection neither do men marry nor are women given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30) Since they become like the angels as regards marriage, they are single. Brigham Young acknowledged the singleness of angels when he said: “They are single, without families or kingdoms to reign over.” The truth of the matter is that death terminates the marriage bond.
Much missionary work is done by the Mormons to spread their beliefs, but nobody in the Mormon church makes missionary work a vocation or permanent occupation as did Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul. The missionaries are usually young men in their early twenties who spend two years in countries that speak English and two and a half years in countries that speak a different language. After this short stay they return home to resume their own pattern of life in their community.
During their stay in a country the missionaries work in pairs, calling from house to house. When a householder invites them in, they proceed to conduct, in a friendly manner, a series of lessons in the beliefs of their church with the objective of converting the householder to their religion. Although the householder may enjoy their friendliness and come to depend on them for spiritual instruction and leadership, they are not sufficiently interested in him to stay in the country beyond the two or two and a half years required of them. When they leave, the householder is turned over to a new set of missionaries, if a new set arrives.
There can be no question about Mormon sincerity in their beliefs, but sincerity does not make their beliefs true. Truth is not established by personal conviction. Many persons since the days of the apostles have claimed to have had visions and to be prophets of God. The firm conviction of those who believed them did not make the teachings of these persons true. Usually these self-appointed prophets had to proclaim their own writings as holy scripture in order to find the support for their teachings that the Bible does not give. The best protection against such deceptions is to compare religious teachings with the Bible. Use it as the measuring rod of truth. Follow John’s advice: “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.”—1 John 4:1.