Mormons call themselves Christians. They talk about the gospel, being saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, and even claim belief in the Bible. Their nicely dressed missionaries are respectful and kind, yet their exact beliefs are often a mystery to those outside of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Some refer to the Mormon church as a cult while others believe that the Church of Latter-Day Saints is simply another denomination of Christianity. So which is it? This post brings clarity by comparing the core teachings of the Church of Latter-Day Saints to biblical teachings about the same matters. Those theological teachings include: The nature of God, Jesus, eternal salvation, and Creation.
The founder of the LDS church, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), penned the book of Mormon and taught several sermons that were influential in the formation of Mormon doctrine and thought. In one of his best known sermons, entitled The King Follet Discourse*, he taught what he considered to be true about the nature of God, how God came to be, and how Mormons will one day themselves become a God. In that sermon, Joseph said, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form…We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea…God himself, as the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did…” Joseph Smith’s claim was that God began as a man who was eventually exalted to the position of God in the same way that Jesus was a man who was eventually exalted to godship. Joseph taught that Yahweh was one of many gods, as is Jesus.
In Isaiah 45:6, we read where God said, “I am the LORD, and there is none other, besides me there is no God.” Deuteronomy 4:35, “Yahweh, He is God; there is no other besides Him.” Isaiah 45:21, “There is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; there is none except me.” 1 Timothy 1:17, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible the only God.” It is clear that Christianity teaches that there is only one God and that there is none other. The Bible teaches that he is the only eternal God, which means he had no beginning, nor was he ever a finite man. Furthermore, Jesus claimed to be one with God in John 10:30. To dispel any ideas that he was a created finite man, he even said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Of course, “I am,” was the name that Yahweh gave to himself in Exodus 3:14, which is why the Jews picked up stones with which to stone Jesus for what they believed to be blasphemy following his claim to be the eternal I am.
Doctrine of God Contrast: Joseph Smith taught that Yahweh had a beginning and that he was a man before he became one of many gods, as did Jesus. In contrast, the Bible teaches that Yahweh is the only eternal God. Joseph Smith also seemed to understand Jesus to have been a separate God from Yahweh, yet the Bible teaches that Jesus is one with the Yahweh.
In the King Follet Discourse, Joseph Smith also discussed salvation. “Here, then, is eternal life- to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves…as all gods have done before you…until you attain the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power…so it is with the principles of the gospel – you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation.” Smith taught that salvation entails humans becoming gods through the process of exaltation. In his belief, he taught that there are many gods and that there will be many more. In the book of Mormon, he also wrote, “…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”** Smith taught that humans must do works, which are accompanied by God’s grace, through their process of exaltation and unto salvation. Therefore, his definition of salvation is not achieved by grace alone, but by “grace after all we can do.”
However, because the Bible teaches that there is one God, as we saw in the previous section, biblical salvation does cannot be understood to mean that humans “humans [become] gods through the process of exaltation” as Joseph Smith taught. Instead, Revelation 21:3-4 describes the eternal state of those who receive salvation from God. It reads, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall they be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” While there are more biblical teachings about Heaven, it is clear that humans will not be exalted to deity or become gods. Instead, they will remain human beings with glorified eternal bodies and will dwell with the one true God for eternity. Concerning how Christians receive salvation, Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Doctrine of Salvation Contrast: Joseph Smith taught that salvation entails human beings working through the process of exaltation to become gods. He taught that they do not achieve salvation as a gift from God or by grace alone. Rather, Smith taught that men must do works in conjuntion with God’s grace to reach salvation, or exaltation, and to become gods as have all of the other gods. This doctrine makes clear that Mormonism is not a monotheist faith. Instead, it is a polytheistic religion with innumerable gods. In contrast to Joseph Smith, the Bible teaches a monotheistic message that establishes that humans will never become like God, nor will they reach a state of deity. Instead, they will live with God in eternity as children of the King, who have been rescued from an eternal separation from Him through faith in Jesus. The Bible teaches that this salvation has nothing to do with the works of man – it is a free gift from God.
Finally, Smith provided his insights on Creation in the King Follet Discourse. He said, “In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create a world and people in it…Now I ask why the learned men who are preaching salvation, say that God created the heavens and the earth our of nothing? The reason, that they are unlearned in the things of God and have not the gift of the Holy Ghost… But I am learned, and know more than all the world put together…we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter…”
Contrary to Smith’s teaching, the Bible teaches that in the beginning God created the universe. There was no council of gods involved in his decision making process, nor did they exist. There was only Yahweh. Furthermore, Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible,” so God’s creating was a much greater miracle than simply organizing chaotic material. God spoke and the universe came into existence.
Doctrine of Creation Contrast: Smith’s polytheistic beliefs informed his belief that Yahweh conferred with other gods prior to creating the universe out of previously existing materials. In contrast, the strictly monotheistic message of the Bible teaches that Yahweh created the universe from nothing more than his Word, which John 1 teaches was personified in Jesus.
Conclusion: Joseph Smith and the Latter-Day Saints teach much about core Christian doctrines (i.e. God, Jesus, the gospel, salvation, and creation). However, while their terminology is very similar to that of biblical Christianity, their teachings about those core Christian doctrines often seem to be in opposition to what is plainly stated in the Bible.
“There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who brought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” 2 Peter 2:1-2