Thursday, 20 October 2011

Understanding Mormonism

Some time ago I was stuck in traffic on O’Connell Street in Limerick.  As I looked out at the people on the pavement I noticed two well-dressed young men approaching people looking to talk with them.  A little further down the street I lowered my window to hear what they were saying.  They were Americans, and they were bravely continuing in their work despite the fact that everyone they approached ignored them.  No doubt they were Mormons.

All I knew about the Mormons was that their church is called The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints; they had a book called The Book of Mormon, which they claim supplements the Bible; and, there was some strange notion about God coming from another planet.

Can I say from the outset that there is much to be admired about this group of people?  They encourage family values and their missionary zeal is to be admired.  Mormons have a history of being persecuted for their beliefs and I would not want to write anything that would contribute towards treating them disrespectfully.

In this blog I want to look at Mormon belief so that we will be better equipped for sharing our faith with Mormons.

The origins of Mormonism
Joseph Smith junior (1805-1844) claimed that when he was fourteen he had a vision in which the Father and the Son appeared to him. He asked them which denomination he should join and they told him to join none of the existing denominations as they were all wrong and corrupt.

Smith claimed that when he was seventeen, he saw an angel called Moroni at his bedside.  Moroni apparently told him about a book written on golden plates by former inhabitants of the American continent.  Four years later Smith dug up the plates and began translating their ‘Reformed Egyptian.’  Interestingly, Mormons claim that the 'stick of Joseph', in Ezekiel 37, is the Book of Mormon.  However, the context (verse 22) shows that the sticks of this chapter or the Old Testament nations of Israel and Judah.

The Book of Mormon covers the history of two civilisations, the most important of which arrived in America from the Middle East around 600 BC.  These Jewish people are reported to have become two great nations, the Nephites and the Lamanites.  It is claimed that most of the Book of Mormon was put down on gold plates by Mormon, commander and chief of the Nephites.  The Book of Mormon also contains an account of a visit Jesus Christ is said to have made to America following his death and resurrection.  The Book of Mormon claims to be have been originally completed around A.D. 400, yet it contains large sections of the King James Version, which was translated in 1611.

According to the Book of Mormon the Nephite and the Lamanite nations that had huge populations and lived in large fortified cities, apparently the warring between these nations culminated in a conflict in A.D. 385 at Hill Cumorah in which hundred of thousands of people were killed.  Mormon was the man who wrote down the histories of these people, and his son became the angel who delivered this book to Joseph Smith.  The Smithsonian Institute states that ‘Smithsonian archaeologists see no direct connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book [of Mormon].’

As well as The Book of Mormon Smith claimed to receive further revelations in the 1830s and 1840s which were published under the title The Book of Commandments (later being released as Doctrines and Covenants). 

A fourth scripture, the Pearl of Great Price, was translated (in part) from papyri fragments, which Smith bought from a travelling lecturer in 1835.  He claimed that the Egyptian hieroglyphics on the parchment were a record of writings of Abraham.  The 'Book of Abraham' became a part of the Pearl of Great Price.  These papyri fragments turned up in 1967 and were given to the church.  However, Egyptologists showed that the papyri contained nothing more than an Egyptian funeral text with instructions to embalmers.

Not only do Mormons hold to these added Scriptures, they also believe that the presidents/prophets of the church give infallible revelations to the church right up to this day.

Smith and his followers were treated dreadfully by certain non-Mormons.  They were driven into Illinois, where Smith established the thriving city of Nauvoo.  It was here that he came up with his ideas on polygamy, the origin and destiny of the human race and the sacred temple ordinances.  Smith claimed that John the Baptist descended from heaven in a cloud of light and ordained him and an early convert, Oliver Cowdery, to the Aaronic priesthood.  Later he claims that the apostles Peter, James and John came to ordain them to the Melchizedek priesthood. 

Tensions between Mormons and non-Mormons increased when The Nauvoo Expositor published stories concerning the Mormon practice of polygamy.  As mayor of Nauvoo, Smith ordered the destruction of the newspaper.  He ended up in jail in nearby Carthage, Illinois, awaiting trial.  A crowd of two hundred attacked the building and a battle ensued.  Smith died in this battle.

The Mormon Understanding of God
According to Mormon teaching, God the Father, once lived on another planet, and had many wives.  He himself had a father.  Eventually, he, his wives, and his children died and were subsequently resurrected.  He progressed to where he reached godhood.  He was then given the space to create his own heaven, where he and his wives would sexually procreate children in spirit-form.  The first born was Jesus.  The second born was Lucifer.  All people who have ever inhabited the earth were first born in spirit form in heaven.  In other words they believe that the devil was Jesus' brother, and both of them are our older brothers.

Mormons teach that ‘Jehovah’ (Yahweh, LORD) in the Old Testament is exclusively referring to Jesus.  It is taught that Jesus was conceived by an act of physical sex between God the Father and Mary.  It is believed that Jesus was married to both Mary and Martha.   Mormons believe that they also were, in their pre-mortal existence, are spirit children of God the Father and Mary.  Unlike everybody else, Jesus is considered to have been a god before talking on a mortal body—even though the Book of Mormon (Abraham 3:25) says that taking on a physical body is a prerequisite to eternal progression.

The Mormon Understanding of Humanity
According to Mormonism  God the Father and his wives sexually procreate children in spirit-form.  Therefore all people who live pre-existed.  When the Father chose Jesus to be the Saviour of the World his brother Lucifer was angered and rebelled.  There was a war in heaven.  Those who joined with the devil remain merely spiritual beings.  Those who sided with God were allowed to be physically born.  So the fact that we exist on this earth shows that we got it right in our previous existence.  However there is a racist tone at this point, it is believed that people are born black because they fought less valiantly in the war in heaven..

The Mormon Understanding of Salvation
Not only do Mormons believe that there are many gods, they also believe that we can become gods.  They limit the work of the cross to that of enabling people to have a resurrected body.  A resurrected body is needed so that people can continue there journey to godhood after this life.  Mormonism opposes the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.  It is essentially a religion of good works.

Linked to this life of religious works is a restored priesthood and temple.  Mormons believe that in May 1829 Joseph Smith and his friend Oliver Cowdery were conferred into the priesthood of Aaron at the instruction of John the Baptist. However, this is not possible given that the Aaronic priesthood was limited to descendants of Aaron (cf. Hebrews 7:14). Smith claims that some time later Peter, James and John conferred the Melchizedek priesthood on him.  The Book of Hebrews (chapters 5-8) relates the Melchizedek priesthood to Christ alone. The point is simply that, like Melchizedek, Jesus combined the role of priest and king. The Book of Hebrews points out that those things seen in the priesthood were fulfilled in Jesus. Therefore there is no longer a need for a set aside priesthood. Indeed, you will not find any reference to a special category of priests (apart from the priesthood of all believers) in the New Testament.  It is worth asking Mormons why, if they have a restored temple and priesthood, are the functions and practices of these so different to those seen in the Old Testament.

Mormon Heavens
Mormons believe in three levels of heaven: telestial, terrestrial and celestial and that while most of humankind will enter one of these levels of heaven eternal life in celestial heaven is for Mormons only.  Interestingly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints taught that no-one can attain the fullness of the blessings of the celestial heaven if they are not married.  Mormons have two forms of marriage, there are those that end at death and there are those preformed in the temple that go on for eternity.

Some of the more unusual teachings of the Mormons
In the Journal of Discourses (July 24th, 1870) Brigham Young said that the sun and moon were inhabited.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints doesn't deny that there have been changes to the book of Mormon (there have been over 3,900 changes).  Their magazine Ensign defends these changes saying that most of them are related to such things as grammar, misspellings or style. However, the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims that after Smith had finished translating the Book of Mormon he heard a voice that told him the translation was correct.  Example of changes include 1 Nephi 11:21, 11:32 and 13:40 where the person described has been changed from a description of the Father to the Son, and Mosiah 21:28 the name of King Benjamin has been changed to King Mosiah (this is related to the fact that from the chronology of the Book of Mormon king Benjamin would have been dead at this time).

Mormons believe that prior to the fall Adam and Eve were unable to have children.  Therefore the Fall is actually seen as a good thing because spirit-children need bodies before they can progress towards godhood.

Mormons abstain from tea, coffee and alcohol.

Mormons believe that Jesus was married to both Mary and Martha.

It is claimed that such total apostasy occurred some time after the death of the apostles and that the church was then restored at the time of Joseph Smith.  This would seem to contradict the promises of Jesus -  who said that he would build his church, and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 28:20) and that he would be with his disciples to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Similarly, the apostle Paul speaks of the glory of Jesus in the church throughout all generations (Ephesians 3:21).

Mormons claim that the Bible has been thoroughly corrupted.

In History of the Church we are told that Joseph Smith prophesied that the United States government would be overthrown in the 1800s.

Sharing you faith with Mormons
Because Mormons believe that the Bible is corrupted conversation could be frustrating.  For example we could point out that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit rather than the Father (Matthew 1:18) but they believe that this verse hase been altered

Be aware that Mormons will appeal to some of the most confusing verses of the Bible to back up their claims.  For example they practice 'baptism of the dead' for ansestor who were not Mormons, because the process of good works and rituals goes beyond this life.  1 Corinthians 15 refers to this baptism of the dead, and while scholars have apparently offered many explantations for what it is, no evangelical would understand it as a Mormon does.  There is no harm when facing a question that you are unsure about in saying, 'I don't have an answer to that now, but will you let me go away and look into it and come back to you?'

It is good to be certain of some of the centralities of our faith.  For example, we can point the Mormon to the uniqueness of God (e.g. Isaiah 45), the truth of justification by grace through faith (e.g. Romans 1-5, Ephesians 2:1-8) and the fact that the Bible only speaks of two destinations for those who have died.

As in sharing your faith with anyone, remember the importance of prayer and the fact that people are only put on the defensive if you are in any way agressive.  The apostle Peter tells us to give an account of what we believe with gentlesness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

Some verses from the Book of Mormon to highlight
Remember that the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints believes that its presidents/apostles have a revelatory authority on a par with Scripture.  Therefore there is a credibility problem with the whole Mormon belief system when it can be shown that there is disagreement between the church's current teaching and that found in The Book of Mormon.

Mormons believe that there is a plurality of gods.  However, in The Book of Morman a man called Amulek, who says that he cannot say anything contray to God's Spirit claims that there is not more than one God (Alma 11:28-29).

Moriah 7:45 sounds as if Joseph Smith lifted in directly from the King James Version of 1 Cor. 13:4.

Elder Bruce McConkie explains that 'as each of these persons is a God [Father, Son and Holy Spirit] it is evident, from that standpoint alone that a plurality of Gods exists.'  Yet 2 Nephi speaks of the 'Father' 'Son' and 'Holy Ghost' 'which is one God, without end.'

Some verses of Scripture to point out to Mormons
Former President, Spencer W. Kimball, made the following comment to a group: 'Brethern 225,000 of you are here tonight.  I suppose 225,000 of you may become gods.'  But in Isaiah 43:10 God states, 'Before me no god was formed [Mormons believe that God the Father had a father, who had a father etc.], nor will there be one after me [Mormons believe that there was a time when the Son did not exist, and that faithful Mormons may become gods].'

'Hear, O Israel: The LORD [Yahweh/Jehovah, who the Mormons wrongly exclusively associate with the Son] our God [Elohim, who the Mormons wrongly associate exclusively with the Father], the LORD is one' (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Mormonism is basically a work-based religion.  So it is important to be clear on such passages as Ephesians 2:1-10.

Mormons believe that the Father impregnated Mary, but Luke (1:34-35) teaches that Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Mormons teach that the path towards ultimate salvation continues after this life, and that the dead can be initiated by baptism for the dead.  However, the author of Hebrews teaches, 'man is destined to die once, and after that face judgement' (Hebrews 9:27).

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