By Phil Roberts
Official Name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Founder: Joseph Smith Jr., on April 6, 1830
Current Leader: Thomas S. Monson (b. 1927)
Headquarters: Salt Lake City, Utah
Membership (2007): Worldwide: 13.2 million in 27,827
wards and branches in 162 countries; Births/Child converts 93,698; Converts
baptized 279,218; Temples: 124; Church units: (Stakes 2,790, Districts 618,
Missions 348); United States 2006: 5.7 million in all 50
states and D.C.; Stakes: 1,390; Wards: 10,778; Branches: 1,975; Missions 106,
Temples: 60; Canada: 166,442 (.05% of Pop); Stakes: 53; Wards
305; Branches 481; Missions: 8; Temples: 6.
Missionaries (2007): 52,686
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith Jr.
(1805-1844). Smith claimed to have had a visitation from God in 1820 in which
God directed him to establish the true church. Consequently, he organized the
Mormon Church on April 6, 1830, with six original members. Beginning with a few
hundred followers, the church moved to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois before
Smith's death at the hands of a mob at the Carthage, Ill., jail. Smith had been
arrested for encouraging the destruction of the Expositor, a Nauvoo,
Ill., newspaper. After Smith's death, Brigham Young was affirmed as president
of the church by a majority of the church's leaders and led his followers to
Utah where they established Salt Lake City in 1847. Joseph Smith's widow, Emma,
resided in Illinois. Those who affirmed her son, Joseph Smith III, as the true
successor of his father and as prophet of the church in the 1850s helped found
the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now headquartered
in Independence, Mo.
One True Church
The Mormon church claims to be the only true church. In God's supposed
revelation to Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ told him to join no other church for
"they were all wrong . . . their creeds were an abomination . . . those
professors [members] were all corrupt" (The Pearl of Great Price,
Joseph Smith-History 1:19). Mormons teach that after the New Testament, all
churches became heretical and no true saints existed until the "Church of the
Latter-day Saints" was organized, hence their name. Non-Mormons are thus called
"Gentiles." The new revelations given to Smith, the institution of the prophet
and apostles in the church, the restoration of the divine priesthoods, and the
temple ceremonies make the church authentic. True and full salvation or
exaltation is found only in the LDS Church.
Biblical Response: The true church of Jesus Christ has had
an ongoing presence and witness in the world since Pentecost. Jesus Christ
promised that His church, truly baptized and regenerate believers,
would not fail (see Matt. 16:17-18). The marks of a true church include
faithfulness to the teaching of the first apostles (see Acts 2:42)-not the
creation of new doctrines.
Authority of the Prophet
The president or prophet of the Church is thought to be
the sole spokesman and revelator of God. Joseph Smith was the initial prophet,
but each successive president holds that position. Through him, God's will can
be made known to the Church. All revelations are made scripture and no Mormon
can attain godhood without accepting Joseph Smith as a true prophet. The Mormon
scriptures state that Latter-day Saints "shalt give heed unto all his [the
prophet's] words and commandments . . . For his word ye shall receive as if
from mine [God's] own mouth" (Doctrine and Covenants, 21:4-5).
Biblical Response: Old and New Testament prophets were
God's spokesmen. Their words were always consistent with the Bible and pointed
to God's Son, Jesus Christ. A test of genuineness for prophets was that any
prediction they proclaimed would come true (see Deut. 18:20-22). For example,
Joseph Smith predicted that the temple of the church would be built in
Independence, Mo., within his lifetime (Doctrine and Covenants, 84:2-
5). No temple has yet been built there. New Testament prophets spoke, along
with teachers, pastors, and evangelists, in evangelizing and edifying the
church (see Eph. 4:11-13).
Mormons accept four books as scripture and the word of God. The King James
Version of the Bible is one of them, but only "as far as it is translated
correctly"- seemingly allowing for possible questions about its authority.
Joseph Smith made over 600 "corrections" to its text. Other "standard works"
are the Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, and The
Pearl of Great Price.
The Bible is missing "plain and precious parts" according to the Book of
Mormon (1 Nephi 13:26) which the other three volumes complete. The
Book of Mormon has "the fullness of the gospel" and tells the story of
a supposed migration of Israelites in 600 B.C. to the American continent. These
Israelites subsequently lapsed into apostasy although their story was preserved
on golden plates written in Reformed Egyptian. Joseph Smith, it is said,
translated the plates by the "gift and power of God" (Doctrine and
Covenants 135:3). Reformed Egyptian does not exist as a language. The
golden plates were returned to the angel Moroni after they were transcribed and
Moroni returned them to heaven. The Book of Mormon does not contain
explicit Mormon doctrine. Doctrines and Covenants contains the revelations of
the Mormon prophets-138 in number along with two "declarations." Here, most of
Mormon doctrine can be found including the priesthood, baptism for the dead,
godhood, and polygamy. The Pearl of Great Price contains Smith's
religious history, the Articles of Faith, the Book of Abraham, and the Book of
Biblical Response: The Bible explicitly warns against
adding to or detracting from its teaching (see Rev. 22:18-19; Deut. 4:2). The
New Testament contains the inspired and totally accurate witness of
contemporary disciples and followers of Jesus. It alone claims to be fully
inspired of God and usable for the establishment of doctrine (see 2 Tim.
3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
Establishment of Temples
The first Mormon temple was constructed in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836.
Subsequently, a temple was constructed in Nauvoo, Ill., in 1846. Presently,
there are at least 106 operating temples throughout the world including the one
finished in Salt Lake City in 1893. The purpose and function of temples is for
the practice of eternal ordinances including primarily baptism for the dead,
endowments, and celestial marriages. Baptism in the Mormon church, for both the
living and the dead, is essential for the fullness of salvation. The dead often
are baptized by proxy which affords them after death the opportunity to become
Mormons. Celestial marriage for "time and eternity" is also a temple ordinance.
It is necessary for godhood and seals the marriage forever. Temples form an
essential part of Mormon salvation. Only Mormons in possession of a "temple
recommend" by their bishop may enter a temple.
Biblical Response: The temple of the Old Testament was a
place of symbolic sacrifice prefiguring the sacrifice of Christ. Worship in the
Jewish temple in Jerusalem was a practice of early Jewish believers (see Acts
2:46). Otherwise, there is no mention of any such practice in the New
Testament. Never was the Jewish temple used for baptism for the dead, marriage,
or other secret ceremonies. It was the place in the Old Testament where the
glory of God occasionally dwelt. Today, individual believers are God's dwelling
place and not a physical building (see 1 Cor. 3:16).
God Is an Exalted Man
Elohim, the god of this universe, was previously a man in a prior existence.
As a result of having kept the requirements of Mormonism, he was exalted to
godhood and inherited his own universe. God is confined to a "body of flesh and
bones" (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22) and yet is thought to be
omniscient and omnipotent. He obviously cannot be omnipresent. There are an
infinite number of gods with their own worlds-these too were previously men.
The Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ, and "Heavenly Father" comprise three separate and
distinct gods. Heavenly Father sires spiritual children in heaven destined for
human life on earth. All humans, as well as Jesus Christ and Lucifer, are god's
heavenly children. (See Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22; God, Jesus,
and the Spirit thus had beginnings.)
Response: God is spirit and is not confined to a physical
body (see John 4:24). Jesus Christ was incarnated through a miraculous and
nonphysical conception through the Virgin Mary. He was fully God from the
beginning (John 1:1). Together with the Person of the Holy Spirit, they form
the triune (three in one) eternal God.
Jesus Is God's "Son"
Jesus was Heavenly Father's firstborn spirit child in heaven. He was
begotten by God through Mary as in a "literal, full and complete sense" in the
same "sense in which he is the son of Mary" (Bruce McConkie, A New Witness
for the Articles of Faith, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1993], p.
67). These two elements of Jesus being literally God's son form his uniqueness
in Mormon theology. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as well as on the cross, Jesus
atoned for Adam's sin and guaranteed all humankind resurrection and
immortality. Jesus visited the Israelites or Indians of North America after his
resurrection and established the true church among them. We are the spiritual,
but literal, younger brothers and sisters of Christ. Some Mormon documents
claim that Jesus was married at Cana in Galilee (see John 2) and had children
Biblical Response: Jesus is viewed as God, the Word or Son,
eternally existent with the Father and worthy of identity as God (see John
1:1-14). He was born of the Virgin Mary who had conceived him supernaturally by
the Holy Spirit. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross for the sins of the
world, and was raised from the dead. He will come again and reign as Lord of
Humans Are Gods in Embryo
Every human being has the potential of becoming a god by keeping the
requirements of Mormonism. A wellknown statement within Mormonism is, "As man
is god once was, as god is man may become." From a prior spirit existence in
heaven, humans may be born on earth in order to exercise freedom to choose good
or evil and to have a body for the resurrection. Basically, humans are good,
but they will be punished for their sin. But by keeping Mormon teaching and
obeying the Church and the Prophet, after the resurrection, worthy Mormon males
may pass the celestial guards, bring their wives with them, and achieve a
status similar to Elohim-the god of this world. The consequences of their sin
are erased by their allegiance to the tenets of Mormonism. In resurrection,
faithful Mormons receive exaltation to godhood and will exercise dominion over
Biblical Response: Human beings are God's special creation.
There is no evidence from Scripture of preexistence, rather God acknowledges
that it was in the womb of our mothers that He formed us (see Isa. 44:2). A
sinful nature is part of humanity's experience. Liberation from the power and
presence of sin is experienced as a result of faith in Christ. At that point,
God's image is begun to be remade in every Christian. While being transformed
to Christlikeness, the Bible does not teach literal godhood as the inheritance
of the saints (see Rom. 8:29; Rev. 1:5-6).
Mormon Plan of Salvation
The Mormon plan of salvation is built on the idea that all people have
eternal life, but only the most faithful Mormons have godhood or enter the
celestial kingdom. In order to obtain this ultimate step, Mormons must exercise
faith in the God of Mormonism, its Christ, and the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints; exercise repentance; and be baptized in the LDS Church.
Additionally, Mormons must keep the "Word of Wisdom" by abstaining from
alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine; tithe to the church; attend weekly sacrament
meetings; support the Mormon prophet; do temple works; and be active in their
support of the church.
Biblical Response: Salvation, according to the Bible, is
due to God's grace and love. He provided Jesus as the sacrifice for the sins of
the world. It is through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus that we may be
saved. Works are excluded (John 1:12; 3:16; Rom. 10:9-13; Eph. 2:8-9).
Witnessing to Mormons
1. Have a basic and clear understanding of the Christian faith and the
2. Be aware of the unique Mormon doctrines as presented in this belief
3. Remember, Mormons use Christian vocabulary (gospel, atonement, god), but
radically redefine their meanings. Define clearly what you mean when you use
4. Present a clear testimony of your faith in Christ alone for salvation.
5. Show your Mormon friend that the Bible teaches salvation alone through the
cross of Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 10:4,10-13; Eph. 2:8-9).
6. Warn the Mormon about trusting in feelings (i.e., the burning in the bosom)
for a validation of Mormonism's truth claim. Without historical, objective
verification, feelings are useless.
7. When Mormons use a Bible verse, read carefully the verses before and
afterward to make clear the exact meaning and purpose of the passage. Don't let
them take Bible verses out of context. Read carefully the full reference in the
Bible before deciding what any one verse means.
8. Keep the central doctrines of the faith as the focus of your
9. Share the plan of salvation with your Mormon friend. Emphasize that
salvation is a gift to be received, not a merit to be earned.
10. Do the basics: pray, trust the Holy Spirit, and be loving, patient, and
Other Common LDS Terms
Aaronic Priesthood: The lesser of the two divisions of the
Bishop: Presiding high priest of a local LDS ward.
Endowment: Ceremony in LDS temples in which worthy members
learn sacred (secret) details of the LDS plan of salvation.
First Presidency: Highest leadership and authority group in
the LDS church. Normally consists of the president of the church and his two
Gentiles: All people who are either not Jewish or not members
of the LDS church.
Godhead: According to LDS, is three separate divine entities
(gods)-the Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. They are
united in one purpose.
Gospel: The full system of LDS belief and practice.
Holy Ghost: Divine entity in LDS godhead who is a personage of
Melchizedek Priesthood: The higher of the two divisions of the
Mission: The specific time and place in which a Mormon serves
as an LDS missionary.
Restoration: Refers to Heavenly Father's restoring true
Christianity and the true church to the earth through Joseph Smith Jr. in the
1820s and 30s.
Sacrament: Ordinance in which elements of bread and water are
partaken by LDS members in weekly ward services.
Sealing: Temple services uniting LDS husbands, wives, and
children as a family unit for eternity.
Testimony: A subjective experience that validates the LDS
church and doctrine to the Mormon. It is sometimes described as a "burning in
Tithe: Payment of one-tenth of their annual income made by LDS
members to the church.