What is Mormonism? History & Beliefs (Part 1)

We’re your neighbors, friends, and family members–a community of believers trying to be a little better each day with Jesus Christ’s help.

This is the motto of the Church of Latter-Day Saints of Jesus, possibly more recognized as the religion of Mormonism. Today, the official number of memberships for the LDS Church rounds out at just over sixteen million with over 30,000 congregations in more than 160 countries and territories. You may be asking yourself, “Wait. Are these the people who come to my door, trying to witness to me? The answer is yes, but, in reality, Mormonism goes well beyond a simple knock on the door and is much deeper.

In Part 1 on Mormonism, I hope to provide some background information and a theological foundation in order for you to understand a Mormon’s beliefs and position in “religion”. Part 2 will contain information and suggestions of techniques and biblical starting points in hopes to engage a Mormon with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

History of the Religion

The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is unique and imperative to the foundations of what they believe. In 1823, Joseph Smith, a regular man turned prophet, was believed to have been led by an angel to ancient records and instructed to translate them by the power of God. Like the ancient prophets who came before him, Joseph supposedly served as God’s messenger and testified of Jesus Christ’s atonement and the Savior’s ability to change our lives for good. The holy text, apparently engraved on gold plates by a Native American historian in the fourth century, told the story of Israelite people who had lived in America in ancient times. The religion sprouted communities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Joseph and his brother were murdered, and the Christian sect was heavily persecuted. Brigham Young became Smith’s successor and led a mass migration of persecuted Mormons and finally settled in Utah’s Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Today the area is known as Temple Square and the area is constructed so that the followers of the LDS Church always know how far they are from the temple downtown.

Scripture

The key books and scriptures for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are: The Book of Mormon (more historical; stories of Jesus in North America among the natives), The Bible (KJV only), Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, Continuing Revelation (unwritten from the current top 15 leaders). Joseph Smith claimed revelation, wrote scripture, and declared direct authority from God, as angels visited and gave him their powers. The Book of Mormon was created from the process of translated characters on the golden plates, which was a form of Hebrew written in Egyptian script. One of the simplest definitions of the Pearl of Great Price is that it is one of the standard works for the LDS Church and is a diverse collection of translations, narrations, and revelations written by Joseph Smith from 1830 to 1842. According to the Mormons’ ninth Article of Faith creedal statement, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Pearl of Great Price, 60).

God

Those who claim to be Latter-Day Saints would clarify that God, referred to as Elohim, is the father of the universe and each person’s spirit; however, he is not the ultimate god of the cosmos (Num. 16:22; Heb. 12:9). Elohim was not always a god, but became one by growing up a good Mormon, marrying and having children. He has physical skin and bones and grew up on a planet called Kolob (Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3:9). After his death, he inherited his own “sphere of existence” (ie. planet earth) and planned everything from there.
Mankind has a special relationship to God that sets man apart from all other created things: men and women are God’s spirit children. Mormons believe that the earth is a testing place for mortal men. In a discourse with Moses, God exclaims, “For behold, this is my word and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39). “According to Mormonism, everything in the universe is governed by eternal transcendent laws and principles; God himself is also governed by laws” (Andrew Jackson). Mormon theology regarding cosmology and God is in sharp contrast to the Christian ideal that God is above all things and continues to hold all things together.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:16-17

Jesus

Christ is considered the firstborn of the spirit child of Heavenly Father (Elohim) and Heavenly Mother, and he is referred to as Jehovah. At first, Jehovah was not Jesus Christ, but just a spirit child and his brother was another spirit child named Lucifer. Elohim told them the plan of salvation and Jehovah agreed to be the savior needed to provide salvation. However, there was conflict and Lucifer changed into Satan as Jehovah battled him. Jehovah defeated Lucifer, along with a third of the heavenly spirit children. They were changed into Satan and demons. Jehovah became Jesus the Messiah after the battle. From Jesus’ birth until his ascension, Mormons and Christians hold to very similar beliefs about Jesus and His life.

The majority of Mormons do not accept the traditional interpretation of the Bible as embodied in the creeds of Christendom, but do believe that Christ is the divine Son of God who died for humanity’s sin, was resurrected, and sits on the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34). A practicing Mormon, Richard Bushman states, “Mormons believe in what is sometimes called ‘social trinitarianism’ meaning the three beings of the Godhead are blended in heart and mind like extremely close friends but are not one being. That is to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three totally separate gods that progressed and developed into individual deities at different times prior to creation”. The LDS Godhead is not Christian Trinitarianism but rather is Mormon Tritheism.

Salvation

A central principle of Mormonism is the belief in the ongoing revelation and changeable nature of official LDS doctrine. As the prophets and apostles head the church, they receive revelation for the management of the church affairs and their word is taken over the written Bible. Salvation for a Mormon comes through these five things: (1) faith in LDS Jesus, (2) belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet, (3) baptism into the LDS Church, (4) obeying all that Elohim has commanded, (5) participating in secret temple ceremonies. Ultimately, Jesus’ atonement does not save or secure salvation, but secures the opportunity for salvation, if one obeys LDS teachings.

After death, Mormons believe in a Paradise of a Spirit Prison and final “states” which divide into three kingdoms. The first Kingdom is the Celestial, which is for those who become like God. Traditionally you become divine and receive a planet of your own. The second Kingdom is Terrestrial with the honorable people who had been deceived and are not valiant enough for Celestial. Lastly, the third Kingdom is the Telestial which is for liars, sorcerers, adulterers, and those of indescribable glory. However, keep in mind that each Mormon most likely has a different answer to what the role of both “grace” and “works” plays in salvation and impact on which Kingdom one will go to after death.

Nature of Humanity

The LDS Church holds to a belief in a premortal existence before birth and that human personality and intelligence have always been. When God created humans or spirit beings, he used this pre-existing matter so that we would strive to become like him as our “Father”. In the Pearl of Great Price, the Mormonism account of creation has an addendum which is not seen in the Genesis Creation account. Moses 3:7 describes the creation of man, “And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul. The first flesh upon the earth, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to the word”.

Mormonism teaches that finite humans can progress into infinite gods as the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit once did; signifying that humans and gods possess the same essential eternal nature (human deification and exaltation). President Russell Nelson of the LDS Church states this teaching “expresses for the Latter-Day Saints a yearning rooted in the Bible to live as God lives, to love as He loves, and to prepare for all that our loving Father in Heaven wishes for His children.” Christians advocate that through the eternal grace and power of Jesus Christ that we will become “like God” through salvation transformation, which is radically different from Mormon version of becoming “equal to God” (Jackson) (Titus 3:7) (Heb. 6:19) (2 Peter 1:4) (Romans 1:18-32).