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ARTICLES
July 9, 2007

Are Mormons Christian?
Contributing Author

This issue is fundamentally about representation.  The question is not whether Mormons espouse Christian-like values or nominally acknowledge Jesus Christ.  This is not in dispute; Mormons are generally family-oriented, compassionate, and devoutly religious.  The issue is whether Mormons believe in traditional Christianity, do they worship the same Jesus Christ of the Christian Bible, and do they have the same concept of man and God?  Not believing such does not make Mormons immoral, nor does adherence to any other creed for that matter.  The world is not divided between Christian and “other,” though a cursory glance at Sunday morning television might suggest otherwise. 

Mormons are trained how to respond to this question; usually by the auto-response “Of course we are!  IT’S IN THE NAME!” referring to the full name of their church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Need more proof?  The sub-title of the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”  If you open to just about any page in the Book of Mormon, you can find a reference to “Jesus” or “Christ.”  Mormons are also taught to end all their prayers with “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”  The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), a research group within Brigham Young University (BYU) qualifies the term Christianity by stating:  

 

 “The Latter-day Saint beliefs are in harmony with what the Bible calls Christian. The terms Christian or Christians occur only three times in the New Testament (at Acts 11:26; 26:28; and 1 Peter 4:16). In each case these terms simply refer to those who follow Christ, which applies fully to Latter-day Saints.”

 

By this very same logic, Jim Jones and David Koresh led Christian churches as well; the definition is clearly in the eye of the beholder.  When asked to elaborate on specific Mormon beliefs, Mitt Romney succinctly states that Mormon beliefs are the same as the other Christian traditions [VIDEO]. To understand Romney, you must understand the culture and methodology of the LDS Church; in practice the two are indistinguishable.

The LDS Church learned much over the years and chooses its words wisely and deliberately.  The example above illustrates this in no uncertain terms.  Notice the Mormon criteria for being Christian is limited to their beliefs being “in harmony with what the bible calls Christian,” but is then further reduced to simply “those who follow Christ.”  The pivotal question is do Mormons and traditional Christians worship the same Christ?  The answer is a categorical no, and one not disputed by the current LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley [LINK].

Since we must define Christian for this exercise, major Christian denominations believe in ONE God the Father, Jesus Christ, one in being with the Father, who died for our sins and resurrected in keeping with the scriptures.  At the top of the hierarchy of truths, Christians have the same fundamental beliefs, from then on there are degrees of variance in doctrine, practice and tradition.  Anticipating the flurry of responses to my last statement, this debate is not centered on differences between the major traditional Christian denominations.  We prefer to wait until the apocalypse to see who was right on the details; it's any day now right?

Mormonism is one of the most misunderstood religions in America, but this in not solely attributable to our own parochial views; the LDS Church does much to obscure many of its true beliefs.  The real question is why?  Mormon missionaries believe they are bringing the truth to you, though they may have to package it for general consumption.  To make their message more palatable to traditional Christians, Mormons encase it in neo-Christian veneer; one they insist was present from the very beginning.  This is why questions to Mormon missionaries must be deliberate and unambiguous; they will respond to all your questions, but they might not answer the question you asked [VIDEO].

Our objective here is not to prove that Mormon doctrines are false, but fundamentally different than traditional Christianity.  The exception is when the LDS Church teaches a doctrine that runs contrary to or supersedes the accepted Christian belief, i.e. correcting Christianity or steering it in a new direction.  In those cases, if relevant, we will highlight Mormon doctrines when they have been empirically proven to be incorrect or when prophecies have not come to pass.

We are committed to accurately representing the teachings of the LDS Church.  To accomplish this, when stating LDS doctrine we reference only canonized LDS scriptures and approved LDS literature.  Quotes defining or clarifying LDS doctrines are attributed directly to LDS Prophets, Apostles, and members of the first Council of Seventy.  If we quote a Mormon scholar, he or she is a recognized authority within the LDS Church, BYU, or FARMS.  All quotes by are kept in the proper context, references are cited and when possible we provide a link to the complete online document, article or book.  To avoid conjecture, we make thorough use of extensive LDS video and audio.  Often Mormons claim that critics fabricate claims or misrepresent their church’s doctrine and beliefs; this is not always an untrue statement.  Thanks to YouTube, we can now provide actual video footage conforming statements and teachings of the Prophet and church leadership.

For Christians and non-Christians, it’s difficult to get a straight answer regarding basic Mormon beliefs.  Mormons missionaries rarely provide anything more than a cursory overview intermingled with a number of faith-promoting stories.  Mormons are not ashamed of their beliefs; however, they are acutely aware of the controversies and increased scrutiny by scientific, academic, intellectual, and religious communities.

The following list underscores some essential Mormon doctrines; each one is described in detail, confirmed through LDS teachings, and contrasted to traditional Christian beliefs.

  --- Essential Mormon doctrines:  
 
  • Polytheism, i.e. belief in multiple Gods
  • Rejection of the Holy Trinity
  • Our God was once a mortal man
  • All men can become Gods and have their own worlds
  • Our God has a body of flesh and bone
  • Denial of the Virgin Birth
  • Plural Marriage (Polygamy)
  • God has a wife – Our Heavenly Mother (possibly more than one)
  • Jesus’ brother is Lucifer
  • The Book of Mormon is superior to the Bible
  • All other Christian creeds are an abomination in God’s eyes.
 
Sound Christian to you?  Of course not, and that’s only the beginning.



Polytheism / Henotheism

Mormons believe in a plurality of deities, i.e. multiple gods.  They will, however, tell you they worship only one.  Insist they answer the question at hand: “Is there more than one god?”  To be pedantically exact, Mormonism is henotheistic - the worship of one deity without denying the existence of other deities.  Christianity, Judaism and Islam are monotheistic – belief in the existence and worship of only one god.
 

“…and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.  Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me”

 

Isaiah 43:10-11

 

“In the beginning the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and the people on it… in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods”

 

Joseph Smith, History of the (Mormon) Church, Vol. 6, pg 308, 474

This leads us to another theological dilemma.  Mitt Romney says he is a Christian.  The LDS leadership claims their beliefs are in harmony with biblical Christianity.  If the Mormons say they worship only one god the Father (Eloheim), what about Jesus Christ?  According to Joseph Smith’s teaching [First Vision], Jesus and the Father are completely different personages, not one in being with the Father according to the Trinity.  If Mormons worship only the Father, then they cannot possibly worship Jesus as this would place them squarely within polytheism.  Bruce R. McConkie, former member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles described their relationship with the God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost during a devotional address to BYU on March 2, 1982.

 

We worship the Father and him only and no one else….We do not worship the Son, and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshipping Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense--the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to him who has redeemed us. Worship in the true and saving sense is reserved for God the first, the Creator.”

 

Bruce R. McConkie, March 2, 1982
Complete transcript from BYU website




Rejection of the Trinity

Mormons reject the trinity.  Jesus is the son of the Father (Eloheim), but a completely separate personage as described in Joseph Smith’s first vision [LINK].  Jesus was not "begotten of the Father" according to the Christian concept, but conceived through an act of physical sex between the Father and Mary.

 Joseph Smith publicly ridiculed the Trinity, believing it to be an invention of man. He states as follows: 

 

Many say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God.  I say that is a strange God anyhow- three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization all are crammed into one God according to Sectarianism [Christian faith].  It would be the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God- he would be a giant or a monster. 

 

Joseph Smith, Sermon on Plurality of Gods, June 16, 1844
History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 473-479
TPJS, p. 372; cf. John 17:9-11, 20-21; also cf. WJS, p. 380

Mormons find support in their beliefs by claiming that the Christian doctrine of the trinity dates from the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and is therefore an invention of man.  Mormons might be less inclined to use this logic if they realize that it too can be applied to their church in its entirety.  Ecumenical Councils do not create new beliefs, but clarify and confirm existing beliefs as doctrine, typically in the face of heretical movements.  The Council of Nicaea and the final Creed of 381 A.D. specifically countered the Arian heresy regarding the relationship between God the Father and Jesus.  Mormons claim prior to Nicaea there was no evidence supporting the Trinity, despite biblical references attributed directly to Jesus Christ: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) and "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).



God has a Body of Flesh and Bone

The Mormon belief that God has a body of flesh and bone, not unlike us, is in part derived from their understanding of God’s status as an exalted man.  This doctrine originated with Joseph Smith and has been reaffirmed throughout official LDS teachings by the Prophets and Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
 

"The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones but is a personage of spirit...Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him, and not tarry with him. (4)"

 

 

“… God… is a personal Being, a holy and exalted man, a glorified, resurrected Personage having a tangible body of flesh and bones, an anthropomorphic Entity…” (MSR 164)

 

Bruce R McConkie (member of the first Council of Seventy)
Mormon Doctrine, p.247-56 [Online]

This belief is in direct contradiction to Christian doctrines and scriptures, which state God is a spirit.  In John 4:24, Jesus affirms “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.”   In John 14:9, Jesus said to see him was to see the Father; the wording by the early Christian writers was deliberate to reinforce the trinity and it should not be misinterpreted to mean that the Father has a physical body. 

LINK MORMON LOGIC



Denial of the Virgin Birth

The concept of God having a physical body highlights another Mormon doctrine, that of Jesus’ conception, which many Christians find shocking as it deviates significantly from traditional Christianity.  Mormons believe that God is the literal father of Jesus, i.e. conceived through the physical act of sex with Mary.  Ezra Taft Benson, former Prophet and President of the LDS Church, reaffirmed this doctrine as recently as 1988:
 

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in THE MOST LITERAL SENSE. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was SIRED by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father."

 

Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 6

The Mormon doctrine of Jesus’ physical conception is explicit; Prophets and Apostles have arrogantly proclaimed that to suggest otherwise is absurd, i.e. how else does one expect to create a child?, This is not an unreasonable supposition, even within the creation accounts in ancient mythology the Greek and Roman gods all engaged in physical sex to create other gods and goddesses.  Thus there is a certain rational to the Mormon argument, though we must remit this to the category of “matters of faith,” as we can neither prove nor disprove the premise.  Although a virgin birth among humans is a scientific impossibility, considering the concept resides in the framework of a God that supposedly created the heavens, the Earth, the light and all the animals and plants, it does not take a leap of faith to accept a virgin birth.

Brigham Young, the second Prophet of the Church, addressed the mystifying question of where God physically impregnated Mary.

 

"When the time came that His first-born, the Saviour, should come into the world and take a tabernacle, the Father came Himself and favoured that spirit with a tabernacle instead of letting any other man do it. The Saviour was begotten by the Father of His spirit, by the same Being who is the Father of our spirits."

 

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, page 218, 1857

The language is not exact and there are few references to the location; however, the words “the Father came himself” implies God came to Earth and physically impregnated Mary, as opposed to Mary being brought to God’s residence by Kolob.  Kolob is a star or planet mentioned in the Book of Abraham as being nearest to the celestial throne or residence of God.  The literal existence and the exact nature of Kolob is a controversial topic in LDS theology, as is the Book of Abraham, which has not been canonized by other Mormon denominations and is widely believed by many non-LDS scholars and academics to be a fraud [LINK].

The New Testament states Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father.  In Hebrew “begotten” means heir, not offspring.  The belief is affirmed in the Apostle's Creed and Nicene Creed - a confession of faith shared by many Christian denominations.


God was once a Man – Eternal Progression
Heavenly Father according to LDS doctrine was a mortal man, who became a god.  It’s central to Mormon beliefs and practices – it’s what celestial marriage and temple vows are all about.  Mormon men, by doing their temple work, are striving for exaltation by which they, too, shall one day become gods.  A man’s wife will become the heavenly mother of his own world(s) and together they will produce spirit children, which they will then clothe in mortal bodies, just as our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother have done since the dawn of our own world.

Eternal progression is doctrinal, it is taught, and it is believed, but the esoteric nature of the religion ensures it is taught or emphasized only to the initiate. Missionaries certainly never mention it and most Mormons do not openly declare this as doctrinal to the general public, yet it is paramount to their faith. Gordon B. Hinckley made the unusual move of confirming Eternal Progression to TIME magazine back in 1997 [LINK- PBS].

According to traditional Christianity, the God of the Old and New Testament is not an exalted man.  God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.  The Bible states he is the only God and there are no other Gods.  He had no beginning and has no end.


All Men can become Gods
Since Heavenly Father of this world was once a finite being who achieved his exalted rank by "progressing," so we to can become gods. See Eternal Progression.

 

“There is a statement often repeated in the Church, and while it is not in one of the Standard Church Works, it is accepted church doctrine, and this is ‘As man is, God once was; As God is, Man may become’”(MSR 164)

 

Mormon Apostle LeGrand Richards
Letter to Morris L. Reynolds on July 14, 1966


 

“The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming gods like himself”

 

Brigham Young
CONFIRM Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 93



Our Heavenly Mother – No it’s not Mary!
God has a wife; not an unreasonable supposition for those completely unacquainted with Judeo-Christian theology.  In fact, this doctrine is oddly reminiscent of ancient Greek and Roman mythology – Zeus and Hera, Jupiter and Juno.  The LDS Church teaches that because God is an exalted man, it logically follows that He has mother and a wife.  This doctrine is tied in with their beliefs that we all existed as "spirit children" in the spirit world with a heavenly "father" and "mother" before being clothed in a mortal body.

The LDS Church did not formally acknowledge the existence of a Heavenly Mother until 1909, when the First Presidency, under Joseph F. Smith, issued a statement on the origin of man that teaches that "man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father," as an "offspring of celestial parentage," and further teaches that "all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity" (Smith, pp. 199-205).

 

“Brother Kimball quoted a saying of Joseph the Prophet, that he would not worship a God who had not a father; and I do not know that he would if he had not a mother; the one would be as absurd as the other”

 

Brigham Young
(Journal of Discourses, vol 9, pg 286)


 

“The stupendous truth of the existence of a Heavenly Mother, as well as a Heavenly Father, became established facts in Mormon theology.”

 

Milton R. Hunter, the First Council of Seventy
(The Gospel Through the Ages, 1958, p.98)

Although Mormons do not worship God’s wife, they consider her to be the “Heavenly Mother.” She is a shadowy figure without real definition; sung about in a few church hymns, but rarely discussed in official Church literature and sermons. Orson Pratt, member of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles under Joseph Smith advocated worshiping the Heavenly Mother, though his doctrinal declaration was later condemned by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1865.

 

"But if we have a heavenly Mother as well as a heavenly Father, is it not right that we should worship the Mother of our spirits as well as the Father?  No; for the Father of our spirits is at the head of His household, and His wives and children are required to yield the most perfect obedience to their great Head."

 

Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, Vol.1, No.10, p.158

Speaking and writing about the Heavenly Mother is severely discouraged.  In September 1993, six noted Mormon intellectuals and feminists, dubbed the “September Six”, were expelled from the LDS Church after challenging historical and doctrinal claims.  All of the “September Six” were excommunicated, except for Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, a feminist noted for speaking on the "Mother in Heaven" was disfellowshipped, a less-severe sanction. A recent PBS documentary on Mormonism highlighted the fact that this public censure of intellectuals continues today.  Margaret Toscano was excommunicated from the LDS Church in 2000 for disregarding warnings from church leadership and continuing to write and speak critically about the role of women in Mormonism and the theological doctrine of the Heavenly Mother. Toscano was interviewed on January 27, 2006 for the PBS documentary The Mormons [Transcript - PBS].

Although there’s no general consensus, some suggest that the rationale behind the lack of openness with regard to the Heavenly Mother might be that her scared status demands she be protected from irreverent or blasphemous proclamations at all costs. The prevailing belief among many Latter-day Saints that plural marriage is a true principle still practiced in heaven leads some to conclude that there may more than one Heavenly Mother; a reasonable inference considering the other aspects of Mormon theology.

 

"We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity, by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His First Born, and another being upon the earth by whom He begat the tabernacle of Jesus, as His Only Begotten in this world."

 

Orson Pratt, The Seer page 172

According to traditional Christianity and its canonized scriptures, there is no evidence or mention of a heavenly mother. 
......

 

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