MORMONISM and CHRISTIANITY
-A Definitive Public Statement-
By Ron Woodworth D.R.S.
Doctor of Religious Studies
President, Ron Woodworth Ministries & Resources Inc.
Founding Board Member
(4th Edition, November 7, 2005)
I have written the following because of the general state of confusion regarding how to respond to the growing challenge posed to the Body of Christ from Mormonism. The confusion about which I am speaking however, is not just one-sided. Many Mormons and Christians seem equally clouded about what the other believes and how to make an accurate comparison between the two.
In addition to my research of the great body of literature on both sides of the subject, I have also had the privilege of having personally spent the first nineteen years of my life in a family that was committed to Mormon teaching. As a result, my perspective has the advantage of being both academically oriented and yet experience based. And, though in this text, my personal experience is not referenced, I do write from a genuine sense of empathy for the Mormon people. Indeed, most of the Mormon individuals I know are morally decent, hard working, and religiously zealous. In fact, I have often made public statements commending Mormons for their commitment to family, stewardship, and evangelism—as opposed to the general apathy, which often characterizes many who claim to be “true” Christians.
As a result, I make a distinction between Mormonism, as a doctrine, and people who are Mormons—many of whom are God-fearing seekers of truth who do not know what to make of the Mormon Church’s teachings referenced in this article. To those Mormons who are sincere about serving God I only want to encourage you, without fear or intimidation, to reinvestigate these classic claims of Mormonism in order to see if the things about which I write are accurate. To that end, please feel free to email me directly with any of your questions or comments at Dr.Ron@RonWoodworth.org.
Finally, because of the vast amounts of research literature readily available to any diligent inquirer, I have chosen to use more of a straightforward conclusive approach in this article. In other words, rather than rehash that which is historically obvious, I have decided instead to clearly state that which is biblically important. By so doing, I hope to serve all who are sincerely hungry for an accurate comparison between Mormonism and Christianity. May the Lord Jesus be pleased to use this text to draw all those who read it to himself.” (John 12:32)
At a lunch invitation by a prominent Mormon leader in our community, I was recently asked to explain why some Christians consider Mormonism a cult instead of a legitimate expression of Christianity. After all, Mormons perceive themselves as the true defenders of the “restored” Christian faith–so why don’t contemporary Christians agree? Since the invitation and question were sincere, I felt an obligation to truthfully and yet graciously respond. What ensued was an hour and one half explanation of the basic tenets of Mormonism compared to biblical Christianity. Before we share some of those comparisons, a little history of Mormonism itself may be helpful.
Mormonism, A Brief History…(Primary historical-objective source: Davis Bitton, Encarta Encyclopedia)
Mormonism, officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was founded in 1830 by the prophet Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-44). Between the ages of 14 and 25 Smith testified that he experienced numerous divine visions, through which he was called to restore the true Christian religion–which, was at that time, not in existence on the earth. According to his account, an angel, named Moroni, guided him to a set of golden plates buried in a hill near the Smith farm in Palmyra, in upstate New York. These golden plates contained a narrative written in a hieroglyphic script, which he subsequently translated into English.
The result was published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, which he believed to be a record of ancient immigrants from Jerusalem to America. Led by the prophet Lehi about 600BC, these early pilgrims ultimately settled in America and established a civilized society. The record asserts that after his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus Christ actually visited these people in the New World. In AD421 a group of people called the Nephites was annihilated by a dark-skinned group, the Lamanites, who were among the ancestors of the Native Americans. A complex narrative, containing flashbacks within flashbacks, the Book of Mormon is replete with religious teachings emphasizing the free agency of humankind and America’s destiny as a chosen land.
The newly established Mormon religion drew converts rapidly, but also garnered severe persecution because of suspicions regarding the church’s economic power and political agenda–as well as conflicts over some of its unorthodox doctrines including the then authorized Mormon practice of polygamy. Imprisoned under suspicion of treason and conspiracy, Joseph Smith, and his brother Hyrum were assassinated by an angry mob in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844.
After Smith’s death the leadership of the majority of the Mormons was assumed by Brigham Young who successfully led an exodus from Illinois to the Great Basin in the Rocky Mountains–in the area now known as Utah. Headquartering in Independence, Missouri, the leadership of the largest splinter group–The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was assumed in 1860, by Joseph Smith III. Modern Mormonism, now more than 10 million members, is a rapidly growing enterprise–due in large part to its high membership birth rate and its vigorous missionary and proselytizing campaign.
The Mormon Scriptures…
In addition to the Book of Mormon, Mormons also hold as sacred writings: theDoctrine and Covenants (135 revelations and other statements, almost all of them issued by Joseph Smith in the 1830’s and early 1840’s), the Pearl of Great Price (1842, a compilation of shorter works, both ancient and modern), and the Bible–“in so far as it is correctly translated.” One should also note that the truths enunciated in the various scriptures are all subject to interpretation and expansion by church leaders who are believed to receive additional revelations and inspiration.
Mormonism defines itself as a Christian restorationist movement, in that it is seeking to restore the true Christian gospel that was historically corrupted by an “apostate”–or fallen Christian church. Such a restoration, however, required a new revelation from God to purify Christianity and to reestablish the divine sacerdotal–or priestly authority. This sacred authority of the ancient apostles is believed to have been reestablished by God and exclusively conferred upon the Mormon Church hierarchy.
Mormonism and Christianity compared…
With this introduction, let’s return now to the lunch conversation with my Mormon friend. I began by explaining that generally speaking, a cult is “a religious organization that, though claiming a Christian identity, is nevertheless shown to embrace a rejection of, or a contradiction to, the historic teachings of the Christian faith.” Even though Mormons vehemently deny any contradiction between their teachings and the Bible, it is relatively easy, for any serious student of the Bible, to demonstrate that such differences occur at the most fundamental levels. Seven examples of such extreme contradictions should suffice to demonstrate the divergence between Mormonism and Christianity.
Issue #1: The Entrusting of the Gospel…
The Bible teaches that God’s plan for salvation and our common faith was “once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3) Mormonism, on the other hand, asserts that the gospel of our salvation had to be re-entrusted to Joseph Smith. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that even if an “angel from heaven” [which is exactly what Joseph Smith purports] should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you–let him be eternally condemned.” (Galatians 1:6-9) Rather than conversing with an “angel of light,”according to the Apostle Paul, Smith perhaps should have more seriously heeded the warning regarding angelic imposters. (2 Corinthians 11:14)
Issue #2: The Exaltation of Joseph Smith…
Mormons must understand that Christians utterly reject the extra-biblical claims as those of Brigham Young who boldly stated that “…no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith…every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are…He [Joseph Smith] holds the keys of that Kingdom for the last dispensation–” (Ensign, June 1994 P22) In the first place, according to the Bible, Jesus Christ–not Joseph Smith, is the only Eternal King of the Kingdom of God, who has alone been given the keys of death and Hades! (Revelation 19:16; 1:18) Though it is not difficult for Christians to understand the Mormon value placed on Joseph Smith–or the Buddhist value place on Buddha–or the Islamic value placed on Mohammed, Mormons must understand how entirely idolatrous is the notion that Joseph Smith is now handing out passports to heaven! Access to the presence of God has already been eternally vested in Jesus Christ alone. (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18; 3:12) Furthermore, this dispensational mediation of Joseph Smith is a direct contradiction to 1 Timothy 2:5, which says that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The exaltation of the prophet Joseph Smith would seem to fall within the parameters of the biblical warning regarding false prophets who would cleverly devise fantastic stories in an effort to “draw away disciples after themselves.” (2 Peter 1:16; Acts 20:29-31)
Issue #3: The Reliability of the Bible vs. the Book of Mormon…
Another issue between Mormons and Christians is the not too subtle Mormon claim that their scriptures are, in a sense, superior to the Bible. The Bible, Mormons glibly quote, is reliable “only in so far as it is correctly translated”–whereas their Book of Mormon, similar to the Koran, is flawlessly transcribed and beyond rational dispute. However, in defense of biblical reliability, one only needs to compare the Old Testament transcripts with such classical-historical evidences as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Masoretic text, the Septuagint, the reverence and accountability with which the ancient Jewish scribes worked–not to mention the more than 5,000 manuscripts (whole or in part) of the Greek New Testament! Comparatively speaking, how many manuscripts (whole or in part) verify the Book of Mormon? Not one. According to Smith, the golden plates were taken back to heaven having been seen by only a few of his close friends. Hence, what we are left with is the lone testimony of Joseph Smith Jr. and a handful of his companion-witnesses. With such scant evidence, the claims of Mormonism are hardly sufficient to countermand nearly 2,000 years of Christian history.
Issue #4: Temples and Priesthoods…
This leads us to another basic contradiction between Mormonism and biblical Christianity–the existence of temples and priesthoods. According to the New Testament, we, the Body of Christ, are the temple of God. (Ephesians 2:19-22) And Jesus alone is the high priest of our confession. (Hebrews 3:1) Contrary to this understanding, the Mormons construct elaborate temples in which they carry out the secret rites of baptism for the dead, the sealing of eternal marriages, etc. Just the fact that Mormons have temples and priesthoods–be they Melchezidek, Aaronic, or Levitical, indicates that they still do not understand the New Covenant of Grace. The entire Mormon frame of reference is built on an Old Covenant religious construction, which, according to Hebrews chapters 7-10, has been superceded by the New Covenant. Mormonism is, in essence, a throwback to a modified form of the Old Testament Law.
Issue #5: Righteousness By Faith or By Keeping Religious Laws…
In the New Testament (or Covenant), a right-relationship with God is established and maintained by grace through faith. In Mormonism, you must keep the laws of the church in order to receive a temple recommend, which certifies one’s sincerity and holiness. Though Christians are not free from the law to sin, Mormons have never experienced freedom from their laws to truly choose to serve. From the biblical perspective, their service is duty bound instead of being grace motivated. As a result, Mormonism, as in any religious system with a code of behavior, is fear-based. To not obey the rules of the church, as contained in statutes and ordinances, is to sin against God and to incur the consternation–and potential discipline of the church. In the New Testament, learning to walk in the Spirit is the New Covenant replacement to the keeping of any religious laws. As Christians, our obedience springs from love and a godly fear of the Lord–a worshipful submission, not the fear of man. Although the Mormon zeal for God is commendable, the Apostle Paul’s burden for his Jewish brethren could again be expressed for our sincere Mormon friends, “Brother’s, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites [Mormons] is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on [accurate biblical] knowledge. [For] Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4)
Issue #6: Polytheism and Human Deification…
Another huge difference between Mormonism and biblical Christianity is the Mormon assertion that we, as human beings, can progress to the state of deity–ultimately even ruling our own universe. This decidedly makes Mormonism a polytheistic religion with potentially multiplied millions of gods. Biblically, there is and will ever be only One God, with whom we will be glorified in the resurrection. In that resurrection state, we will always be servants of the Lamb and live with him forever. (Revelation 22:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Issue #7: The True Church of Jesus Christ…
It is an indisputable fact that the Mormon Church considers itself the true church of Jesus Christ on the earth today. While Mormons have conceded that other churches may be “Christian,” they nevertheless maintain that “eternal opportunities” are available only through the Latter-Day Saint (LDS) Church. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the Body of Christ which contains all of those who have committed themselves to the Lordship of Christ and whose primary ambition in life is to seek first God’s Kingdom. (Ephesians 2:22 & Matthew 6:33) Additionally, this Mormon claim of exclusivism violates the very spirit of the New Testament–which insists there is “only one body.” (Ephesians 4:4) The Bible specifically warns to “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own desires.” (Romans 16:17-18)
A Host of Other Issues…
In addition to this sampling of contradictions between Mormonism and Christianity could be added a host of other issues including the Mormon doctrines of proxy baptism for the dead, eternal marriages, the existence of Mother God, their disbelief in the virgin birth, the denial of original sin, the prenatal existence of human souls, “open” revelation, the two stick misinterpretation of Ezekiel 37, the complete lack of archeological evidence in support of the Book of Mormon’s claims, the flagrant contradiction of the triune nature of the one God, the three heavens misunderstanding, the insistence that a subjective testimony alone is sufficient proof of truth, and on and on and on. Though time and space doesn’t permit an elaboration of the biblical refutation of these Mormon tenets, all Christian bookstores are stocked full of a growing number of thoroughly documented pieces of literature in refutation of the “Mormon gospel.” (Titus 1:9)
The DNA Evidence…
One of the leading scientific contradictions to Mormonism today is the DNA evidence. Basically, the Book of Mormon, and its hierarchy, has claimed since its inception that the Lamanites were the ancestors of the American Indians, who are themselves direct descendants from Israelites—the Hebrews of old. These wandering lost tribes of Israel actually migrated to the New World and constitute, according to Mormonism, the “other sheep” of John 10:16, who were to “listen to my voice,” a reference which Mormons say “proves” that Jesus intended on coming to the northern hemisphere after his resurrection. Regardless of the obvious eisegetical error [putting into the text something not even remotely there] the bigger problem for Mormonism is the fact that mitochondrial DNA tests show that 96.5% of the 7,000 Native Americans tested from 175 different groups, stretching from Alaska to Southern Argentina, are actually of Asian not Hebraic ancestry. (For a detailed look at the scientific evidence see:http://www.irr.org/mit/Lamanites-DNA-Book-of-Mormon.html)
Suffice it to say, it is our confident researched assertion that Mormonism would be hard-pressed to find even one recognized evangelical theologian or scholar in the world today, who would agree with their doctrinal interpretations! Therefore, on the preponderance of the evidence and arguments contained herein, to continue to deny that there are profound differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity is at best dishonest, and at worst deceptive! In the face of such a reasoned defense of the Christian faith, even my Mormon friend–though unconverted, was forced to admit that at last he understood, and agreed, that significant and serious differences do indeed exist.
In light of the above issues, the inescapable conclusion must be that Mormonism, though a zealous religious sect is nevertheless NOT Christian in origin, development, or destiny. Therefore, we challenge every sincere believer in Christ Jesus, which within the Mormon Church would be substantial, to honestly consider the facts of this article. Mormon doctrine must be critically assessed from a biblical perspective and if found contradictory, such doctrines must be refused as heretical. (Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Timothy 1:3; 6:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; Romans 16:17-19; 2 Timothy 3:5; 2 John 10)
Additionally, we call on the Mormon hierarchy to cease its inaccurate claims of association with Jesus Christ and His true followers on earth. Though we must always maintain honorable civility and common courtesy in our social interactions with the Mormon people (2 Timothy 2:23-26), the great chasm that exists between Mormon doctrine and the historic Christian faith must be clearly shown to all men and women who value authenticity. Our sincere prayer is that the followers of Joseph Smith, much like what recently happened to the followers of Herbert Armstrong’s, World Wide Church of God, will repent of their religious error and come to a true knowledge of the eternal and unchangeable gospel, which, through Jesus Christ alone, “has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light.” (2 Timothy 1:10)
Let the Lord be magnified!
Dr. Ron Woodworth