Mormon Beliefs and Christianity

by Kelsey Arkills

For many decades, people of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have claimed that they hold the same beliefs that Christians do. However, many of their beliefs differ from what contemporary and traditional Christians believe today. The views of creation, salvation, and heaven differ greatly from Christianity when looked into in depth but can easily be related to ideals such as Calvinistic theories from the surface level.

Beginning with their beliefs on creation, and the belief that God just organized matter and did not create it, these claims alone prove that Mormonism is not a sect of Christianity, based on what they believe in the Book of Mormon. First, the Book of Mormon describes creation as not so much a creation, but more of “‘organization’ of pre-existing material and the external nature of life or the ‘vital force’ that may be infused into ‘organized material’.”[1] The whole process and belief of creation is introduced in the Book of Abraham. As Stephen O. Smoot writes, “although the doctrine of the premortal existence of mankind is spoken of elsewhere in Mormon scripture, it is the Book of Abraham that this teaching is more fully elucidated.”[2] This book focuses on what is called the “premortal council” which refers to the intelligences that were organized before the word was organized, found worthy in God’s sight. These became rulers and helpers to the Lord.[3] Continuously, the book of Abraham describes creation as a work of “Gods”, or a council, not just one divine being. One most important difference between Mormonism and Christianity is the act of creation. In Mormonism, the church does not believe that God or a divine being created the matter that would eventually form the components of the world, but instead that he organized what was, “God created the early not ex nihilo, or out of nothing, but rather ex materia, or from preexisting matter…the presence of preexistent matter that the Gods forma and organize is also apparent.”[4] Christians believe that everything was created at the hand of God, which ties in to a multitude of beliefs that go throughout the religion of Christianity. For example, the idea of redemption is often pointed towards God’s ability to redeem and re-create a life or soul because he had that ability at the beginning of time to create the world out of nothing. This is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:17, where it states, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come”. Mormons would most likely struggle with this verse because of the fundamental ideas at the beginning of time.

Furthermore, another fundamental belief in Mormonism is the concept of salvation and works and good deeds to gain a spot in the three kingdoms of heaven. The idea of this was most often condensed into one word that many often tie to Calvinism: but it has its limits. Mormons use the word “sealing” to describe what is like “election” in the Christian church. However, sealing is based on acts, and predestination and election in accordance to Calvin is based on God’s sovereignty, not works of humans. But in opposition to this, many believers of Christianity during the time where Mormonism was founded made the claim that their definition of sealing was equal to predestination and election of Calvinist theories. Mormonism was more appealing than Calvinism to some, however, because “a Calvinist legacy could theoretically leave the dying believer uncertain of salvation even on her deathbed – to know heaven before the Judgment was to commit the sin of pride…”[5] Mormons have a more definite idea of if their salvation is sealed with the practice of sealing in the church, so they are positive they will go to heaven and be saved. Smith taught the idea of sealing, “the temple rituals worked together to create the fabric of the cosmos. Mormon sealing, whether for marriage, for children, or for the fullness of the priesthood, sealed in the traditional sense of guaranteeing salvation…these bonds were the material heaven…from the first child-to-parent sealings – whether for biological or for adopted children – the parents, whether living or dead, had to have been members of the church in good faith.”[6] This greatly differs from contemporary Christian beliefs based on some of the most fundamental verses and ideas in the bible, such as in Matthew 6, where it states that we should be cautious about practicing our righteousness before others in order to be seen for others, because we will have no reward from the Father in heaven for the god deeds we do and perform. Furthermore, Smith writes, “all men who become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ will have to receive the fullness of the ordinances of his kingdom; and those who will not receive all the ordinances will come short of the fullness of that glory…”[7]

Finally, the concept of the levels of heaven are discussed in the book of Mormon and many Mormons attempt to get to the highest level of heaven. The celestial level of heaven is the highest level and the one most pursued by all Mormons through doing good deeds, having a large family, and following the commandments and honoring God’s creation. The people who get into this level of heaven are those “who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized…that by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit…”.[8] The celestial level of heaven is the level most desired by Mormons. This is where many controversies around the idea of polygamy come about. For example, Brigham Young himself had 55 wives and 56 children because he believed that “Mormon plural marriage was enacted with the widespread understanding that the Saints were preparing for a kingdom in which each man rules his family kingdom, a kingdom that is more potent and more prepared for eternal increase with every wife that is acquired…” [9] The idea of polygamy today is still controversial and discussed among people of other religions as a sign that they do not follow the religion of Mormonism. Most sects of Mormonism do not practice polygamy but there are a select few who do so in secret because of legality issues.

Ultimately, Mormons cannot claim that they are Christians. In more depth, their fundamental beliefs about Jesus Christ differ immensely from those of the faith of Christianity, as well as their cult-like views on creation, good deeds to bring them into heaven, and the different levels of heaven. The history of Mormonism and study of its origin can be important for Christianity because of the vast differences that it holds against Protestantism while claiming to be a sect of Christianity. From this paper, it is easy to understand the differences between these religions and what it holds for Christians today. Although Mormons are of a different religion but claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must pursue them as evangelicals and love them as Christ would but understand their theological views and how they differ from our own.

 

NOTES

[1] Davies, Douglas J., Professor. 2010. Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Satanic Opposition : Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Accessed April 19, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.
[2] Smoot, Stephen O. 2013. “Council, chaos & creation in the Book of Abraham.” Journal Of The Book Of Mormon And Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2: ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed April 19, 2018).
[3] Translated by Joseph Smith, Jr. The Book Of Mormon: an Account Written by the Hand of Mormon, upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi. New York :Pub. for the Deseret University by Russell Brothers, 1869.
[4] Smoot, Stephen O. 2013. “Council, chaos & creation in the Book of Abraham.” Journal Of The Book Of Mormon And Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2: ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed April 19, 2018).
[5] Brown, Samuel Morris. In Heaven as It Is on Earth : Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
[6] Stapley, Jonathan A. The Power of Godliness Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
[7] Smith, Joseph, and Joseph Fielding Smith. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2002.
[8] “The Final Judgment.” Chapter 46. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-46-the-final-judgment?lang=eng&_r=1.
[9] Pearson, Carol Lynn. 2016. “THE CELESTIAL LAW.” Dialogue: A Journal Of Mormon Thought 49, no. 3: 21-40. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 20, 2018).