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Mormonism and Christianity
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Mormonism and Christianity

Mormonism has had an uneasy relationship with traditional Christianity from its earliest days in the late 1820s, when its founder Joseph Smith, Jr claimed to have located and translated a buried set of Golden Plates containing a new work of scripture called the Book of Mormon, which castigated the ministers of organized religion of Smith's day as "abominable" and as having apostatized from the original "true" Christianity of Jesus Christ and his early disciples.

Perhaps due to the combination of bold doctrinal claims, exponential growth, and unusual practices, Mormons have had a difficult time reconciling with more well-known and mainstream forms of Christianity. In the early days of Mormonism, Mormons suffered greater than usual opposition, compared to other anti-traditional sects of their time. At times this conflict turned violent, complicating the relationship that Mormons have with traditional Christianity.

Adherents of Mormonism always have considered themselves to be Christians because they believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the Son of God. Those who practice Mormonism call themselves Latter Day Saints because they believe the Latter Day Saint movement is a restoration of the original Christian church of the New Testament (see Church of Christ (Mormonism)). However, as Mormonism from its beginning rejected the traditional churches, including all their sacraments, history, creeds, and debates, so various Christian churches and movements have adopted stances of regarding Mormonism as a heretical or apostate form of Christianity, a departure from the Christian faith, or more pejoratively, a cult.

On the other hand, Mormonism, or the Latter Day Saint movement, is not monolithic. Some of the doctrines and practices that distinguish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from other Jesus-based churches originated later in the life of Joseph Smith, Jr. in Nauvoo, Illinois, or under the leadership of Brigham Young among the Mormons who followed him to Utah after the Latter Day Saint movement had experienced various schisms. As the movement has grown and gained worldwide fame, some denominations within the movement such as the Community of Christ have attempted to respond to charges through extensive ecumenical efforts, including engagement in dialog with mainstream Christianity and sometimes even relinquishing their earlier doctrines and practices. Still, many denominations within the movement, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (by far the largest) and many of its splinter groups including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints still retain many, if not most, of Smith's original doctrines and practices that many Christians denounce.

Table of contents
1 Historical background
2 Current Trends of Conflict
3 Classic Differences
4 Unorthodox Latter Day Saint Practices
5 See also
6 References
7 External links

Historical background

Conflicts between early Mormonism and traditional Christianity

The origins of Mormonism are closely tied to the folk magical practices and beliefs of Joseph Smith, Jr's family, which was the predominant religious experience of about 80-90% of early Americans in the 1820s. (Quinn, 1994, p. 2.) As part of the Second Great Awakening, organized Christianity, which was a minority in America of about 10-20% at the time (id.), began a campaign to root out the popular magical folk religion; that campaign was never more energetic than in the Burned-over district of western New York where Joseph Smith, Jr was raised.

Smith's earliest religious experiences, which involved heavenly visions and visitations, the use of seer stones to obtain obscure knowledge and to locate buried treasure, were not uncommon where Smith lived, and the fashionably elite Protestant clergy of the area were not impressed by Smith's early visions and divinations, but neither were they likely surprised or alarmed. Smith's own family was split on the issue of organized religion: Smith's father rejected organized religion entirely, while Smith's mother joined the Presbyterians without her husband. At times, Joseph Smith, Jr himself followed his father in keeping himself aloof from organized Christianity, and at other times, he associated with Methodism.

However, in the late 1820s when Smith claimed to have begun using his seer stones to produce new scripture from buried Golden Plates (published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon), organized Protestant denominations began to take notice. The Book of Mormon largely mirrored the teachings of the Bible; however, it also contained bold stands on many of the controversial Christian ideas that had been circulating in Smith's era, and castigated modern churches for their false doctrines. For example, the Book of Mormon adopted the view of many contemporary Restorationists that there had been an apostasy after the death of Jesus Christ. The book indicted modern churches, saying of them:

They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.... But behold, that great and abominable church, the whore of all the earth, must tumble to the earth, and great must be the fall thereof. (2. Nephi 28:14, 18.)

In 1830, Smith also formed a church, which purported to be a restoration of the "true" original Christianity and the "true" priesthood. Later, Smith made relatively radical doctrinal assertions, such as that the human soul was in the beginning with God, that God was once a man, that God is the literal Father of the human spirit, and that mankind has the intended destiny of becoming like their Father, subordinate to his authority, but equal to him in divinity. The oft-quoted saying (by Lorenzo Snow) that captures this idea is, "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be."

Apart from his controversial doctrine, Joseph Smith also upset many ministers of traditional Christians because of rapid church growth (as a result of vigorous proselytizing by Smith, his family, and associates), and its political viewpoints and the tendancy to vote in a bloc in Missouri and, later, Illinois, where they were forced to flee after the state of Missouri issued an "extermination order".

Smith not only opposed slavery, but had plans to establish a utopian American theocracy in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Then in Nauvoo, Illinois, circa 1840-1844, Smith and selected Mormons began practicing polygamy and conducting secret ceremonies. Later, 12,000 Saints abandoned their homes in Nauvoo and tens of thousands more left their homes in neighboring areas with a feeling that they were being forced from their homes and the United States to settle in the deserts of Utah.

Early Mormon antagonism toward mainstream Christianity

Latter Day Saints are expected to be tolerant of other religions and religious lifestyles. In Joseph Smith's Wentworth letter, he listed the following as the 11th Article of Faith:

"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may" (11th Articles of Faith).

On occasion, early leaders and members of the Latter Day Saint movement voiced criticisms concerning other Christian churches (generally as a whole). Much of this, however, had to do with the sometimes violent and deadly conflicts that early Latter Day Saints had with mainstream Christians.

The Church's founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., expressed what he saw as important flaws in Christianity. He once said,

"we may look at the Christian world and see the apostasy there has been from the apostolic platform; and who can look at this and not exclaim, in the language of Isaiah, 'The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant?'" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 15).

In another instance, Smith said,
"The teachers of the day say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and they are all in one body and one God. Jesus prayed that those that the Father had given him out of the world might be made one in them, as they were one [one in spirit, in mind, in purpose]. If I were to testify that the Christian world were wrong on this point, my testimony would be true" (Ibid, pg 311).

Regarding Catholicism and Protestantism, Smith had these words:
"Here is a principle of logic...I will illustrate by an old apple tree. Here jumps off a branch and says, I am the true tree, and you are corrupt. If the whole tree is corrupt, are not its branches corrupt? If the Catholic religion is a false religion, how can any true religion come out of it?" (Ibid, pg 375).

Smith's criticism regarding other religions was primarily doctrinal in nature. Smith's personal, or secular, point of view, however, showed considerable tolerance and acceptance for the members of other faiths:
"I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves" (Ibid, pg 313).

Mormonism and Christian Ecumenism

Typically, Latter Day Saints believe that most traditional Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant adherents have much truth, and strong faith in Christ, which is essential for their salvation. They also believe that most of these people will have the opportunity to accept the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ prior to the "final judgment," and that many (if not most) that truly have faith in Christ will be "saved" or possibly even exalted.

Mormons believe that differences in the Trinity and some Latter Day Saint conceptions of the Godhead are relatively minor and can be supported by biblical scripture, ante-Nicean tradition, similar beliefs in some protestant churches and modern revelation.

Ecumenical Efforts by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Brigham Young, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the majority of Mormons after Smith's death, also sounded a conciliatory tone, saying,
"Some who call themselves Christians are very tenacious with regard to the Universalians, yet the latter possess many excellent ideas and good truths. Have the Catholics? Yes, a great many very excellent truths. Have the Protestants? Yes, from first to last. Has the infidel? Yes, he has a good deal of truth; and truth is all over the earth." (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg 10).

In the last several decades, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been making a sustained effort to demonstrate that Latter-day Saints' beliefs are associated with Christianity. These efforts have included participation in ecumenical endeavors, adding the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to
The Book of Mormon, and recently re-branding of the church's official logo to place more emphasis on the phrase "The Church of Jesus Christ."

Ecumenical Efforts by the Community of Christ

More so than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ has made dramatic efforts to reconcile its doctrines with mainstream Christianity, and to appear more orthodox to Christians.

Current Trends of Conflict

Claim that Mormons believe in "a different Jesus"

It is currently common to hear Mormonism accused of believing in "a different Jesus" than traditional Christianity. Framed in many ways, often including that the Mormon Jesus "is the Brother of Lucifer," this accusation likely has its root in the rejection of the traditional Christian creeds that marked the birth of Mormonism. Latter Day Saints believe that these creeds were departures from the teachings of Christ and his apostles. But many of the Christian creeds have enjoyed a general consensus among Christians for many centuries, and for those who believe what they teach, they have come to represent a litmus test for recognizing genuine and false Christianity.

Also, while Mormonism is based on a biblical belief in Jesus as the Christ, the teachings of Mormonism concerning God and Man (expounded first circa 1840 near the end of Smith's life) extend beyond the biblical narrative in ways rejected by most traditional Christian churches, including that God the Father is completely separate from Jesus Christ; that God the Father is the father of us all, and of his son, Jesus Christ, and of all the evil spirits, including Satan.

Differing Biblical Interpretations

In Mormonism, like in traditional Christianity, Jesus Christ is considered to be the Messiah, the Savior, the son of God and of the virgin Mary. In addition, Jesus is considered to have lived a perfect life, was a sacrifice for sin, and was resurrected. To this point, the Mormon narrative of Jesus' birth, death, resurrection, and future coming is the same as the Christian narrative, such as described in the Apostles Creed.

Nevertheless, Mormon extrapolations regarding Jesus are in many ways more similar to the earliest Christian heresies. For example, unlike in traditional Christianity, in Mormonism Jesus, the Son, is distinct from the Father not just in "person" but also is a separate being. In addition, while Latter Day Saints believe that the "mind" of Jesus was coeternal with God the Father, Mormon followers of Brigham Young generally believe in Young's doctrine that Jesus was "born" into a "spirit body", like the rest of humanity, and remained in that state until his Incarnation.

When the Latter Day Saint movement was founded in the early 19th century, most early Latter Day Saints came from a Protestant background. But Protestantism at the time was undergoing a widespread loss of consensus concerning the Trinitarian conception, as various types of transcendentalism, theosophy and unitarianism were gaining strength, especially in the region of the country where Mormonism originated. Early public teachings of Joseph Smith, Jr. contained only hints of the later full-blown rejection of the Trinity. He claimed to have received revelation only after asking questions about a subject, pondering, and praying to God for an answer. As Smith's teachings evolved, his later teachings painted a strikingly different picture of the Father and the Son with physical celestial bodies, being one in purpose together with the Holy Spirit. However, Mormons believe in one supreme God, the Father, but not three beings sharing identity as the same God as described by the Trinity. They also believe God is supreme with respect to his creations, and it is presumed that God Himself is the spiritual child of another God, who is also the spiritual child of another God, and so on.

Some Latter Day Saint churches such as the Community of Christ have chosen to adopt some of the creeds of orthodox Christianity. Most others, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teach some of the unique doctrines taught by Joseph Smith toward the end of his life. See Godhead (Mormonism).

Jesus as a physical being distinct from God the Father and the Holy Spirit

The Book of Mormon, published in 1830, describes God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as being "one", with Jesus appearing as a spirit before his birth, and as a physical being after his resurrection to thousands of witnesses, who were commanded to feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet. Mormons claim Jesus has stated in The Third Book of Nephi that he has come down from heaven from the Father, and that he will endow the people with the Gift of the Holy Ghost as a comforter.

In 1835, Joseph Smith, Jr. (with the involvement of Sidney Rigdon), publicly taught the idea that Jesus Christ and God the Father were two separate beings. In the Lectures on Faith, taught in 1834 to the School of the Prophets, the doctrine was first presented that within the Godhead, the Father and the Son were two distinct "personages" who were nevertheless "one" because they possess "the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power, and fullness" (Lectures on Faith 5:2m). Many Mormons believe this isn't actually very far from what the Nicene Creed says.

In 1843, in Smith's later years, he elaborated on the doctrine of Jesus being a separate personage from the Father, providing his most well-known description of the Godhead, where God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit were each three distinct personages: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." D&C; 130:22. See Godhead (Mormonism). Traditional Christianity teaches that only Jesus has a physical body, and that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit do.

Jesus as coeternal with God, and as the Father's "firstborn"

From the beginning, Joseph Smith, Jr. taught that Jesus Christ was coeternal with the Father. Beginning in 1833, Smith began to elaborate on the nature of "creation" and what it means to be eternal. In a revelation Smith dictated that year, Jesus Christ purportedly stated: "I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn.... Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be." (LDS D&C; 93:21-23.) In his King Follett Discourse, Smith taught:

"[T]he soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation.... We say that God himself is a self-existent being.... Man does exist upon the same principles.... The Bible does not say in the Hebrew that God created the spirit of man. It says 'God made man out of the earth and put into him Adam's spirit, and so became a living body.' The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself.... Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had not beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven."

Thus, Smith taught that not only was Jesus Christ coeternal with the Father, but that so was the rest of humanity, and that the "spirit of man" cannot be created nor destroyed. Traditional Christianity has generally understood that God alone is eternal, and that all else came into existence after time began, after being created by God or later through natural processes.

Smith also stated that Jesus was the "Firstborn" of the Father, a characterization that is also found in Colossians 1:15, which described Jesus as the "firstborn of every creature". While Smith never stated that Jesus Christ was literally "born" as a spirit child of God the Father prior to his physical birth to Mary , this doctrine was taught by some other Latter Day Saint leaders, primarily within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its breakoffs, where the idea is now widely-accepted that Jesus (and humanity) were born as spirits by the Father. In 1857, Brigham Young taught that every person, including Jesus, was "a son or a daughter of [the Father]. In the spirit world their spirits were first begotten and brought forth, and they lived there with their parents for ages before they came here." 4 J.D 218.

In 1909, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement:

Jesus, however, is the firstborn among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God. All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity." MFP 4:203.

Therefore, among followers of Brigham Young, and particularly Latter Day Saints, it is widely accepted that Jesus is a created being, although it has also been postulated that Jesus (and humanity) had a kind of pre-spirit "intelligence" that always existed and that was coeternal with God. Among other Latter Day Saint denominations, however, there is a difference of opinion. Notably, many within the Community of Christ teach that Jesus is coeternal with the Father, more in the sense taught by trinitarianism.

Traditional Christianity has taught that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16; 6th century hymn O Only Begotten Son); the Nicene Creed states that Jesus was "begotten not made", while also saying that God is the creator of "all things, visible and invisible". Thus Jesus is not made, being God, but the rest of humanity and indeed of all Creation is made, in this understanding.

A Different Salvation

A second accusation currently common against Mormonism is that it contrasts with the Calvinistic tradition in teaching a "Man-based salvation" rather than a "God-based salvation". Mormonism teaches strongly that God has given humans the freedom to act and not to be acted on. This teaching puts the responsibility to accept the grace of God squarely on humans, while modern Calvinistic tradition makes God ultimately responsible for who is saved and who is not saved.

Authoritarianism

Some Christians, American evangelical Christians in particular, contend that the LDS Church is an excessively authoritarian organization with overly zealous followers, conducting its affairs in particularly secretive ways and engaging in uncritical dogmatism. See Authoritarianism and Mormonism.

Different Meanings

Many Christians accuse Mormons of co-opting their language, distorting the intent by creating different meanings for the words. Even those favorable toward Mormonism have sincere difficulty because through years of separation from mainstream Christianity, Mormonism has indeed evolved a different dialect of Christian terminology. The glossary below will facilitate dialogue between mainstream Christians and Mormons.

Most likely meaning in Mormonism or LDS Church Term Most likely meaning in mainstream Christianity
Adam Archangel Michael Archangel Michael
Messenger: God, resurrected human, human spirit, or mortal human angel Bodiless spirit created by God; servant of God; neither god nor human
Covenant immersion in water by authorized servant of God. Sacrament necessary for highest reward in heaven. baptism Sacrament generally associated with becoming a Christian
The greatest virtue. The greatest of all. The pure love of Christ. God is love. charity Love
Held back in spiritual progress or failing to achieve the highest reward in heaven. Reaping hell, albeit temporarily. damned/damnation Reaping hell without hope of redemption. Like outer darkness or Son of Perdition in Mormonism.
Separation of spirit from body (physical) or spirit from God (spiritual). A legacy of the Fall of Adam. death
Spirit child of God cast here without body due to rebellion. Follower of Satan or Satan himself. devil Demon, or Satan himself; all are angels who rebelled against God and tempt humans to sin
God's existence. (The realm) Of God or external to time and space. eternity/eternal Outside of time and space; "forever"
A motivating belief in things that are spiritual but not physically evidenced. One of the three great virtues. faith Trusting belief, distinct from hope (another of the three great virtues)
God the Father, Man of Holiness, Father of Spirits, Elohim, Ahman. Less commonly God the Son or God the Holy Ghost or God the Godhead. God Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is one in essence, undivided, whose persons are distinct and unconfused
A hold amid sorrow on the future joy of the resurrection of the dead and of eternity. One of the three great virtues. hope
The premortal name of Jesus Christ, who is the god of the Old Testament (current usage). God the Father (in 19th century; now obsolete). Jehovah The Hebrew name for the one, true God in the Old Testament.
Eternity, realm of spirits, where humanity, angels, and devils came from, and where humanity will return through redemption of Christ after the resurrection. Many levels of glory or reward in heaven depending on thoughts, words, and deeds on earth. heaven
Separation from God. Temporary suffering before the resurrection for most. Final separation after the resurrection (no redemption) for the Sons of Perdition. Most who go to hell will be redeemed to heaven at the resurrection. hell
Unique spirit child of God sent here to receive body, be tested, and grow to be more like God. human Person, unique and unrepeatable, created in God's image, whose existence begins with their body's conception in the womb
In its purity, charity, the greatest of all. The greatest of the three great virtues. love
Final union of spirit with glorified body of flesh and bones. Victory over physical death. Signals end of hell for most of the wicked. resurrection Victory over death; union of spirit and body in which both are incorrupt
Sacrament of The Lord's Supper sacrament Any of several sacred ceremonies of the church received by believers. Some Christian churches define sacraments only as practices instituted and commanded by Christ. Ordinance in LDS terms.
Restored relationship with God and reunion of human spirit with incorruptible body in heaven salvation Restored relationship with God and consequent fullness of life
Lucifer. The premier rebelious, fallen child of God, cast here without hope of redemption. Satan
Rescued from death (physical and spiritual) saved
Body plus spirit. Or (less often) spirit only. soul
Spirit body with form and likeness spirit

Classic Differences

Revelation

Mormonism is founded on the idea of continuous revelation. The Latter Day Saint movement opened with a vision of God, followed by visits of angels, the publication of new scripture, and revelation of new priesthood. The Book of Mormon teaches that revelation, spiritual gifts, and angelic ministrations will never cease as long as the earth lasts, unless there is no faith among men. In contrast, the traditional Christian view is as expressed by a Methodist minister friend of Smith's on hearing his claim of a vision, "that it was all of the devil, there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them." (Joseph Smith's History). Some other Christians continue to believe in visions and revelations in these days, but disagree with Latter-day Saints as to whether Smith's revelations contradict the Christian Bible.

Latter-day Saints accept as scripture several books which other Christian groups do not recognize, and which Mormons hold to be revealed by God - particularly the Book of Mormon. In addition, Latter-day Saints believe the Bible to contain errors and omissions regarding basic principles of the gospel necessary for salvation, some of which Joseph Smith corrected in what the church calls the "Inspired Version." This unorthodox stance toward the Bible is a source of difficulty particularly between Mormons and evangelical Protestants. Nevertheless, the church's Articles of Faith asserts that the Bible is authoritative "as long as it is translated correctly." The King James Bible is used in the church's English language services, with Smith's corrections added as footnotes.

Priesthood and Church

Mormonism claimed from the day the church was first organized on April 6, 1830 to have sole earthly authority to administer a church with the ordinances (sacraments) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At no time did Mormonism accept the authority nor the sacraments of other churches. LDS missionaries carry as a central portion of their message, explicitly or implicitly, that holders of the priesthood in the LDS Church alone are authorized by deity to baptize, and that other clergy (Christian or otherwise) are not. Likewise, the LDS Church claimed (and most Mormon sects still claim) that it alone was authorized as the Church of Jesus Christ. While the LDS Church participates in interfaith activities where possible, the matter of Christian ecumenism is an uncompromisible position in the Church. This contrasts with the practices of some Protestant denominations which accept each other's sacraments.

The hierarchical nature of the priesthood in Mormonism can be contrasted with the Protestant doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers. Despite this hierarchy, a direct relationship with God without an intermediary priest is a fundamental principle to Mormonism. In Mormonism, the First Vision is an important event in part because it is a model of a direct, personal relationship and revelation to which every Latter-day Saint should aspire. The lay clergy in the Church is also a reflection in part that every worthy LDS is entitled to and should become a "priest" or "priestess" to God. In Mormonism, Moses' cry that "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets" (Numbers 11:29) is taken as a personal challenge.

Another observation with regards to the Mormon priesthood is that some teachings and practices are purportedly taught or practiced only in a Mormon temple, to which access is tightly controlled. The LDS Church, for instance, requires a member to be in "good standing" before access is permitted. Those who are given access are instructed to not reveal what goes on within the temple, otherwise they are at the risk of losing their membership in the church.

Nature of humans

After the 1830's, Smith taught that God was once like man and that the purpose of creation was that His children might be made like Him. The deification or exaltation of humanity is a central tenet of Mormonism. Latter-day Saints consider this tenet to correspond with Biblical teachings, including Jesus Christ's citation in John of Psalms 82:6, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" and Paul's promise in Romans 8:17 that believers would be "joint-heirs with Christ," and thus receive the fulness of the Father.

The Mormon doctrine of theosis or deification differs significantly from the theosis of Orthodox Christianity. In Mormonism it is usually referred to as exaltation or eternal life. While the primary focus of Mormonism is on the atonement of Jesus Christ, the reason for the atonement is exaltation which goes beyond mere salvation. All men will be saved from sin and death, but only those who are sufficiently obedient and accept the atonement of Jesus Christ before the judgment will be exalted.

Of all the Mormon doctrines including polygamy, critics generally deem this doctrine the most offensive or even blasphemous. Some Mormons also suggest that discussions of theosis by early Church fathers show an early belief in the Mormon concept of deification, although they disagree with much of the other theology of the same Church fathers, most notably the doctrine of the Trinity.

Nature of God

After the 1830's, starting in Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith taught that God was once a man, and had Himself a Father. As such, some Mormons acknowledge the existence of other gods; though the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost of the New Testament are the only gods worshipped by Mormons, as Mormons believe They are the one God (Godhead) of our universe.

Some Mormons, particularly Latter-day Saints, believe that God is married to an exalted woman, whom they speculatively call a Heavenly Mother. Her existence is referred to briefly in the Church hymn titled "O My Father" (Hymn number 292), and it is presumed in Church teachings that proclaim that each person is "a spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents." Her existence is acknowledged by Church members and leadership, though She is not worshipped.

There are no Mormon teachings about an ultimate or first Creator—such as the "Unmoved Mover" first taught by Aristotle and incorporated into Muslim and most Christian religions—and it is common in Mormonism to hear that the existence of other gods is not pertinent to salvation.

Creation and the Universe

After the 1830's, starting in Nauvoo, Illinois, the teachings of Smith indicated that humans existed as spirit children of God before the creation, and that the purpose of Creation was to provide a probationary estate for humans, who were in reality children of God, or divine children. Additionally, Smith taught (in Doctrine and Covenants 93:29) that man, or intelligence, cannot be created or made. This may also explain Mormonism's teaching that man and God are co-eternal (carefully distinguished from equality). Traditional Christianity is silent on anything prior to birth or beyond the resurrection of the dead, and has always taught that man is made or created.

Life and Salvation

Mormonism teaches that all men will be judged according to their thoughts, words, and deeds. It emphasizes the importance and reality of the agency of man, that God will not alienate from man the ability to walk his own path, and that man is an agent to act and not to be acted upon, save by the eternal law at the last day. The atonement of Christ gives sinful man power and forgiveness to walk in holiness by faith day after day (Moroni 10:34), moving with a clean slate to ever greater faith, hope, and love.

All mankind, regardless of their opportunities on Earth, will eventually have to choose whether to follow Christ (regardless of what He chooses to call that following), and be baptized by one holding the priesthood. After an individual dies, they will continue to "live" in their spirit form until the resurrection. During that time individuals enjoy the same associations that they do in mortal life. There is a missionary effort there, which presents the teachings of Jesus Christ to all who have not yet made the choice whether to follow Christ. Those who are taught may then accept or reject a proxy baptism (a baptism on their behalf), which is performed in Mormon temples. Individuals who choose to accept their proxy baptism begin their journey as disciples of Christ just as though they had been baptized in mortality.

At the resurrection all will receive salvation, except Sons of Perdition. As explained elsewhere, exaltation is reserved for those who are capable of obedience to the laws of exaltation. Furthermore, the opportunities afforded to each individual for continued growth through learning are also based on the ability of each individual to obey the necessary laws for that growth.

Mormonism teaches that faith, repentance, baptism, laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the temple endowment, and eternal marriage are all necessary for those who wish to receive exaltation.

Unorthodox Latter Day Saint Practices

In addition to the classic differences, those arguing to exclude Mormonism as a branch of Christianity propose that the practices of Mormonism are not within the range of permissible Christian practices.

Latter Day Saint Rituals

Salvation by means of ritual and good works

While Mormonism is certainly not alone among organizations which practice symbolic rituals in the name of Jesus Christ, some Christian organizations exclude Mormonism from Christianity because of the misconception of Latter Day Saint belief that God's gracious salvation is obtained by means of certain rituals, and by a virtuous life. In fact, Mormonism teaches that while salvation is free to all, the size of our mansion (so to speak) is not.

Calvinism, a type of evangelicalism, teaches that salvation is based on God's granting to some the gift of faith, and of good works. Their ability to believe, and to do works that are acceptable to God, is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. The gift of the Spirit is not granted because of their first believing, or because of the performance of any ritual, or because of their good works meriting God's acceptance. In other words, salvation is God's rescue of sinners from the penalty and the power of sin, not the reward due to righteous actions, according to Calvinism.

Although Calvinists and Evangelical Protestants do not deny the need for works, most adhere to the belief that grace alone will save man (sola gratia). That is, they teach that good works are not the basis of their acceptance by God, but rather the product of his acceptance. Faith, not works, is the instrument by which salvation is received; and works proceeding from faith do not make the person worthy of salvation, but rather are the outworking of salvation already received by faith, according to the evangelical understanding.

Many evangelicals, especially dispensationalist Protestants, teach that sola fide, "salvation by faith alone", means that if only a person professes belief in Jesus Christ, they are Christians and they are saved. These evangelicals are particularly distrustful of any form of doctrine which speaks of the necessity of good works. Nevertheless, many of those who adopt this view do not believe that Latter Day Saints who profess belief in Jesus Christ are Christians. This is because their understanding of salvation rests on the eternal deity of Christ, according to the trinitarian conception.

Baptism for the dead

One unorthodox practice is baptism for the dead, practiced by some Mormons including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which demonstrates the teaching that non-Latter Day Saints do not have the priesthood authority to act in the name of God, and that non-Latter Day Saint ordinances—including baptism—are not legitimate. The LDS Church conducts baptisms and other ordinances for everyone (by proxy if not done while the person is living) who has not been baptized by an LDS priesthood holder. Many Christian churches interpret this to mean that the LDS Church does not recognize their own authority. By baptizing Catholics, Orthodox, and other Christians by proxy in the same way that they baptize Jews, Muslims, and members of other non-Mormon churches by proxy, they demonstrate their belief that no other church has the authority to perform binding baptisms. Mormonism believes that everyone needs to be given the chance to become members of it (in this life or after it), so that they can enter the Kingdom of God in exaltation.

Polygamy

Smith claimed to receive a revelation from God transcribed in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 (LDS version) that he was to restore the ancient Abrahamic practice of polygamy or "Plural Marriage" as it is known among the LDS. He took two other wives in addition to his first, Emma Hale Smith, who was probably not aware of the marriages until a later time. Emma's feelings vacillated about polygamy, and it has never been accepted by her son's church, the Community of Christ. By the time of his death, Smith had about thirty-three wives. Among early LDS Church leaders, many had plural wives, including Brigham Young who had twenty-seven wives; but Heber C. Kimball had the most with forty-three wives.

The LDS Church officially prohibited polygamy in the 1890 Manifest given by Wilford Woodruff who was President of the LDS Church at the time. In 1910 the LDS Church followed the first manifesto with a declaration to excommunicate any LDS who continued to enter into polygamous lifestyles.

Non-Use of the Cross

Latter-day Saints do not use the Christian cross as a symbol of their faith. While the weather vanes that were built atop the earliest Latter Day Saint temples often resembled the form of a cross, Mormon buildings are not adorned with the cross externally or internally.

See also

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