See also: Can Christians Vote for Mormons?
“Mormon Church Attacks Christian Churches”
REALITY CHECK, Utah — Yes, that is a provocative headline. I wanted to get your attention. Now, would you permit me a few minutes to explain the headline? The headline is not tongue-in-cheek. This should only take a few minutes to clarify.
»—« On Being Passive-Agressive »—«
Increasingly I encounter Mormons euphemizing the critical distinctiveness of the Mormon Church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). For example, while in Brigham City, Utah (my hometown), this summer, following a tour of the new Mormon temple, a missionary assured me that their goal was “never to encourage people away from their own churches.”
Really? Is that true when the LDS missionary lessons take people toward baptism in the Mormon Church? No, it isn’t. It was an evasive and deceptive maneuver given that Mormon missionaries are tasked with getting people baptized as members of the Mormon Church. I personally found the response fundamentally dishonest and dishonorable.
What often is not realized by non-Mormons is that the Mormon Church sees itself as “the one true church” restored to the earth. And if there is a need for a restoration of the one true church, then there must have been some great apostasy. So the reasoning goes. And if there was such an apostasy, and the Mormon Church is the one true church restored to earth, then, of course, this implies that Christian churches are not true churches. And this isn’t simply an implication; below we will see that this is precisely what the Mormon Church teaches.
The idea is really quite simple: In the eyes of the Mormon Church, while Christian churches might indeed point people to Jesus, what they teach about God, what they teach about salvation, their lack of spiritual and priesthood authority, all combine to mean that they are false churches advocating falsehoods that are misleading people. Thus the need for the one true church to be restored to the earth, to advance true doctrines and practices, to hold priesthood authority, and to advocate the need for others to join the one true church.
This is why Mormon missionaries regularly draw from Christian churches around the world. Only the Mormon Church is seen to have the proper authority to administer the sacraments. Only the Mormon Church is seen to preach the true gospel. Only the Mormon Church is seen as the restoration of the one true church.
Many Mormons are not shy about this. Some are. But the official teaching is not difficult to uncover or to encounter or to counter.
»—« Charges of Apostasy and Satanic Oversight »—«
In the LDS scripture, The Pearl of Great Price, we find “Joseph Smith—History,” in which Smith recounts his alleged “first vision” of God the Father and Jesus Christ (two separate personages, and thus, according to Mormon theology, two separate Gods):
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (1:18-19)
Some Mormons have thought that these words pertain only to the churches on offer in Smith’s day, in that region. This is not how the Mormon Church has understood it. If Mormons are interested in downplaying this doctrine, intimating that the Mormon Church no longer holds this belief (which is a position Mormons often intimate when challenged to own up to the doctrine or its implications), they are free to do so. It might express a personal desire, and perhaps a personal opinion. But it would be neither true nor accurate to the teachings of the Mormon Church.
Consider some more recent and contemporary explanations.
In the mid-1980s the Mormon Church’s official magazine, Ensign, published a piece on “the great apostasy” that was perspicuous on this point: “Early Signs of the Apostasy” (Dec 1984). It was written by Kent P. Jackson, at the time an assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and a member of the Mormon Church’s Gospel Doctrine Committee. He wrote the following about 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12:
The “man of sin,” generally equated with Satan, would exalt himself over all that is divine and assume the place of God in the Church. Of historical and theological significance is the fact that in Paul’s prophecy the church structure survives. But God is not at its head, making that church—following the appearance in it of Satan—no longer the church of God.
To say that Satan sits in the place of God in Christianity after the time of the Apostles is not to say that all that is in it is satanic. Indeed, Latter-day Saints should rejoice—as the heavens undoubtedly do—at the great works of righteousness and faith, and the leavening influence on the world, of those whose lives are touched in any degree by Him whose gospel the Saints enjoy in its fulness. Still, “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16) is absent from all but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which the Lord himself has proclaimed to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30). Satan’s goal of hindering many of God’s children from returning to their Father’s glory is thus realized. How appropriate, therefore, is Paul’s description of him sitting in the place of God in the church of the apostasía.
What do we take away from this? Several observations stand before us:
- Satan sits in the place of God in Christianity
- even so, not everything in Christianity is satanic
- Mormons, “the Saints,” enjoy the fulness of the gospel
- the gospel “is absent from all” but the Mormon Church
- indeed, the LDS Church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth”
- Satan has accomplished his goal through Christianity
- Christian churches are “the church of apostasía”
- Satan is the head of the Christian churches
Well, that is clear enough, is it not? Hence my headline above: “Mormon Church Attacks Christian Churches.”
Perhaps these sentiments are now out of date. Perhaps they were just so 80s. Might we have anything more recent? Yes.
The following words are from Spencer W. Kimball, the twelfth President of the Mormon Church (from 1973-1985). He explains:
This [the Mormon Church] is not a continuous church, nor is it one that has been reformed or redeemed. It has been restored after it was lost. It was lost—the gospel with its powers and blessings—sometime after the Savior’s crucifixion and the loss of his apostles. The laws were changed, the ordinances were changed, and the everlasting covenant was broken that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to his people in those days. There was a long period of centuries when the gospel was not available to people on this earth, because it had been changed. (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 423)
Did you catch that? The gospel was not available to people on this earth from some time shortly after the deaths of the apostles until it was restored through Joseph Smith. This is a serious attack on Christian churches. But Kimball continues:
In the early centuries of the Christian era, the apostasy came not through persecution, but by relinquishment of faith caused by the superimposing of a man-made structure upon and over the divine program. Many men with no pretense nor claim to revelation, speaking without divine authority or revelation, depending only upon their own brilliant minds, but representing as they claim the congregations of the Christians and in long conference and erudite councils, sought the creation process to make a God which all could accept.
The brilliant minds with their philosophies, knowing much about the Christian traditions and the pagan philosophies, would combine all elements to please everybody. They replaced the simple ways and program of the Christ with spectacular rituals, colorful display, impressive pageantry, and limitless pomposity, and called it Christianity. They had replaced the glorious, divine plan of exaltation of Christ with an elaborate, colorful, man-made system. They seemed to have little idea of totally dethroning the Christ, nor terminating the life of God, as in our own day, but they put together an incomprehensible God idea. (Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 425)
Someone might suppose that even these words too are out of date, the voice of a previous generation. Again, they’re just so 80s. Except these words were reprinted as “supporting statements” in a chapter on “The Apostasy” in Doctrines of the Gospel – Student Manual, published by the Mormon Church in 1986 and 2004, and currently used in the Institutes of Religion classes (Religion 430 and 431). This is no outdated opinion. The witnesses could be expanded with some ease. Just do a search at www.lds.org.
Of course, Mormons may disagree with these teachings. To my mind, that would be good. But these are the official teachings of the LDS Church nonetheless. And they are clarified and expanded in other official publications. Thus the Mormon Church has attacked Christian churches. It has attacked Christian churches in the past. It continues attacking Christian churches to this very day. The LDS Church has never renounced this view (and all the quotes above were accessed at the Mormon Church’s official website: www.lds.org). Thus it should not surprise when Christian churches bristle just a bit (what, with Satan at the head of their churches anyhow!) and respond with incisive criticism of distinctive Mormon doctrines and practices. What would you expect?
»—« The Great Contention »—«
Naturally, the Mormon Church’s assertions regarding “the great apostasy” are significant, even spiritually contentious. Then again, without such a contention there would be neither a need for the alleged “restoration” of the church, nor any foundation for the church’s to claim to be “the one true church.” So, that positioning is quite necessary. Yet it also is deeply objectionable, palpably offensive, and, thankfully, fundamentally false.
Contrary to the claims of the Mormon Church there has been no “great apostasy.” The Bible verses so often employed (e.g., Acts 20:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1) speak nothing of “a great apostasy,” let alone “a universal apostasy” wherein an alleged priesthood authority and the true gospel would be lost from the earth. No, that is a foreign imposition upon those Bible passages. Yet, the Mormon Church teaches its members to know these passages, to quote them, and to use them in support of this nefarious doctrine.
And for shame!
They dishonor Jesus, the husband to the bride, his church, by saying that he lost her (and that they now won’t!). How tragic a position that must be. Again, in Matthew 16:18 Jesus declared, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Given that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, we can trust that this promise would not fail (Matthew 28:18).
Again, while there are several passages that refer to apostasy, it is never said to be a universal or complete apostasy (e.g., Acts 20:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1 — go ahead and read them). Rather, we know that God will be glorified in his church throughout all ages (Ephesians 3:21), and that Christians have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28; cf. Daniel 2:44 — Mormons sometimes want to suggest that these verses apply only to the restored church, not the one Jesus built in the first century).
Was there really a great apostasy? Did the true Church die out so we now need a restored church? The answer is a confident negative. More positively, Jesus builds his church, it is his bride, and he has authority and is with us at all times. Does this sound to you like Jesus thought there could be a total, a universal apostasy? Could Jesus have been wrong or weak? Could his authority be universally thwarted on Earth? How about in heaven? How could he so utterly fail for over a millennium? Then again, here is what Joseph Smith, the founder and first prophet of Mormonism once said:
I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. (History of the Church, 6:408-409)
»—« A Few Final Remarks »—«
My goal is not to encourage Mormons to adopt dissembling rhetoric. If you are a Mormon, please be clear, do be plain, we need you to be honest. Either own the distinctive doctrines of the LDS Church or disown them. Of course, to my mind, the latter would be preferred. I disowned them nearly twenty-five years ago due to encountering the unfailing love of Jesus Christ, my Savior.
As Christians, we love Jesus, trust his word, and seek to glorify his name throughout all ages. Naturally, we get a bit bothered when we are slandered, directly or by implication. But we are much more greatly troubled when the reputation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is verbally defamed. No, we believe Jesus should be glorified. That is, we believe we should spread his fame far and wide.
Despite all this, I still think Christians can vote for Mormons. Why? Well, you’ll have to read the essay.
For further reading
• Do Muslims, Mormons, and Christian Worship the Same God? — Here we explore the concepts of identity, idolatry, and blasphemy.
• Mormonism and Lesser Gods — On the Mormon Church’s downgrading of God.
• I Am a Mormon . . . Aren’t Christians Mormons Too? — This is a composite recollection of my discussions with Mormon friends, illustrating that the Mormon claim to be Christian is no more sensible than a Christian claim to be Mormon.
• Learning a Lesson from the LDS Newsroom — Even the Mormon Church objects with other groups use the name “Mormon.”
• Mormonism: A Survey and Biblical Assessment — This is a larger-scale discussion of Mormonism, including a biblical assessment and witnessing tips.
• Mormonism on the Fall — This essay illustrates the radical differences between the Bible and Mormon teachings regarding the fall of Adam and Even, and also of human nature.
• Mormon Theology, God, and the Original Catch-22 — In this essay we investigate the Mormon Church’s view of the fall of Adam and Eve, and how the church teaches that God gave them conflicting commands.