An Analysis of Mormonism & Its Beliefs

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Part 3 – An Analysis of Jehovah Witnesses & Their Beliefs
Part 5 – To come.

In part 4 of this series we will be briefly looking at Mormonism, its founder, scripture, view of God, Jesus, the church, and the afterlife.

The Founder

The founder of Mormonism was James Smith, born on December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont. He grew up near Palmyra, New York. When Smith was 14 he became disturbed by religious confusion of the time and decided to retreat into the woods. During this retreat he asked God for wisdom about which church he should join, and later claimed that God the Father and God the Son visited him. According to Smith, Jesus said that he should join none of the churches because they were “all wrong” and their doctrines “were an abomination” (Joseph Smith-History 1: 19). He also claimed that an angel had visited him and had led him to golden plates hidden on a hill near Palmyra. Smith translated these plates into what is now known as the Book of Mormon. At a later point in his life, while as a mayor and a political figure, Smith destroyed a newspaper (the Nauvoo Expositor) because it criticized his use of power and practice of polygamy (1). This led to Smith’s arrest and imprisonment. He was jailed in Carthage where some 200 men stormed the jail cells and attacked him, shooting him as he tried to escape through a second floor window from which he fell to his death (2).

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Smith’s revelation while in the woods. Source

Holy Scripture(s)

Beginning in 1823, Smith claimed a series of revelations in which he was visited by the angel Moroni. Moroni informed Smith about golden plates buried in a stone box on a hill near Palmyra. The golden plates were believed to have been written by Moroni’s father, the prophet Mormon, and thus contained important writings. Smith was also informed of a way to translate the writings on the plates of which he did between 1827-1830. The golden plates were received along with some stones named the Urim and Thummim (3). These stones helped Smith with part of the translation from the reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics into Elizabethan English. Smith finally published the translation in 1830 as the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon became the first of several scriptures for the Mormon Church, and stood in as a final word from God to end the religious confusion of Smith’s day. Mormonism includes several other scriptures. This includes the Bible (the King James version) which is viewed as usable but suspect due to its many errors and omissions as a result of its transmission process (4). Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon includes these details and truths missing from the Bible (5). Additional Mormon texts include the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of writings containing doctrine and prophecy, and the Pearl of Great Price. The Pearl of Great Price, derived from Jesus parable of the pearl in Matthew 13, includes some biographical details of Smith’s life, Smith’s retranslations of certain parts of Matthew’s gospel, commentaries, a story of Abraham’s early life based on a translation of an Egyptian papyrus, and several articles of faith.

View of God

Mormonism holds that there is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, it also teaches that these are three separate and distinct beings with the Father and Son having perfected physical bodies and the Holy Ghost having only a body of spirit (6). Despite being physically distinct, Mormons believe they are still one in thoughts, actions, and purpose (7). This differs from the Christian concept of the Trinity which holds that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are a single being expressed in three distinct persons. Mormons mostly prefer using the term “Godhead” as a means to avoid confusion. The late Mormon leader Bruce D. Porter was helpfully clear on this point explaining that,

“The Book of Mormon refers in several passages to God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost as “one God,” but Latter-day Saints understand this to mean they are one in mind, purpose, will, and intention. Their unity is the same unity of which Christ spoke in his high-priestly prayer following the Last Supper: that his disciples may “be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). Hence, Latter-day Saints rarely use the term Trinity, but prefer the title Godhead to refer to the three divine beings who govern our universe in perfect oneness” (8).

Mormon belief in God is also viewed as henotheistic as opposed to polytheistic, despite many deeming it polytheistic. Religious scholar Gerald R. McDermott explains that “Polytheism portrays a world in which competing gods either vie for ultimate authority or have delimited provinces over which they rule. The Mormon picture is closer to henotheism, which posits a supreme God over other lesser, subordinate gods. The Mormons say that the Father is at least functionally over the Son and the Holy Ghost, and they are the only Gods with which we have to do” (9).

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Discovering the golden plates. Source.

View of Jesus Christ

In several ways the Mormon view of Jesus is similar to traditional Christianity’s (10). They believe in the prophetic declarations in the Old Testament referring to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, as a 1st century Jewish man, was too susceptible to pain, suffering, and temptations, as Christians believe. Jesus could also work supernatural miracles over nature and in healing people of ailments, many of which the New Testament gospels have recorded. Mormons also believe that Jesus was resurrected for the sins of mankind, after which he received an immortal, incorruptible, eternal, and glorified body like that of the Father (11). Jesus will act as judge of mankind. Overall, Mormons believe that Jesus’ life was perfect and thus one certainly worth emulating. The differences to traditional Christianity’s concept of Jesus are of significance too. Mormons believe that Jesus was the firstborn spirit-child of the heavenly Father and a heavenly Mother (12). Jesus subsequently progressed to deity in the spirit world, and was later physically conceived in Mary’s womb, as the literal “only begotten” Son of God the Father in the flesh (13). Unlike Christians who believe Jesus was God incarnate, Mormons believe that he was an individual being, separate from God the Father in corporeality and substance (14).

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The Book of Mormon, one of several texts used by Mormons. Image source.

The Church

The first Mormon church, The Church of Christ, begun on April 6, 1830, and four years changed its name to the Church of the Latter-day Saints. In 1838 the church finally settled with the name Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is known today. Mormons believe that God re-established the early Christian Church as found in the New Testament through Joseph Smith, and thus believe that their Church is the “only true and living church” because divine authority was restored to it through Smith (15). Mormons believe that Smith and his successors are modern prophets who receive revelation from God to guide the church. This is part of the doctrine of continual revelation: “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” (Articles of Faith 1:9). Mormons thus believe that apostolic revelation is inspired, but not infallible, and can supersede previous revelation, including that found in their scriptures.

View of the Afterlife

Mormons believe that physical death occurs when the spirit separates from the mortal body. Death, however, is not believed to be the end of the spirit. A person’s spirit has existed in the pre-mortal world with God before he or she was born and it will exist for all eternity (16). In the first of the three stages post-death, there are one of two places a person’s spirit enters upon death: spirit paradise or spirit prison (17). Spirit paradise is for those who die righteous, and whose spirit will be “received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow” (Alma 40:12). Spirit prison is for those who “died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:32). However, given the atoning work of Jesus, spirits have the opportunity to leave spirit prison and enter spirit paradise. Mormons believe that in spirit prison, spirits are taught by righteous spirits about faith in God, repentance, baptism, and other principles of Christ’s gospel. In this place spirits are tormented by guilt and are denied rest. The second stage of post-death judgement occurs after Jesus’ return to the Earth where he will judge people. This includes a three-tiered hierarchy of heavens described by Joseph Smith (18). These are exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom for faithful Mormons where people may become gods or angels (Doctrine and Covenants 132:20), the Terrestrial Kingdom for righteous non-Mormons (Doctrine and Covenants 76:75-76), and the Telestial Kingdom for wicked and ungodly (not to be confused with hell) (Doctrine and Covenants 76:103-104). God exists in the Celestial Kingdom and to live with him again for eternity people must accept the gospel of Jesus and live out its laws.

References

1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 1912. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. p. 430-432.

2. Michael, Q. 1992. On Being a Mormon Historian (And Its Aftermath). In Smith, G. Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History. p. 141.

3. Quinn, M. 1998. Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. p. 169-70.

4. Ludlow, D. 1992. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. p. 106-107; Matthews, R. 1990. A Bible! A Bible. p. 13.

5. Ludlow, D. 1992. Ibid. p. 111.

6. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Godhead. Available.

7. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Godhead.

8. McDermott, G. 2008. Is Mormonism Christian? Available.

9. McDermott quoted in Carter, J. 2012. The FAQs: Are Mormons Christian? Available.

10. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. What Mormons Believe About Jesus Christ. Available.

11. McDermott, G. 2008. Ibid.

12. Carter, J. 2014. 9 Things You Should Know About Mormonism. Available.

13. Carter, J. 2014. Ibid.

14. McDermott, G. 2008. Ibid.

15. Oaks, D. The Only True and Living Church. Available.

16. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. What Do Mormons Believe about the Afterlife? Available.

17. Patheos. Afterlife and Salvation. Available.

18. Taysom, S. 2010. A Hierarchy of Heavens. Available.

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One response to “An Analysis of Mormonism & Its Beliefs

  1. Pingback: An Analysis of Jehovah Witnesses & Their Beliefs | James Bishop's Theological Rationalism·

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