- Mormonism began on the American frontier in the first half of the 1800s.
- Total world membership of all groups coming from the original Mormon movement is approximately 14 million.
- The largest of the groups, the Utah-based LDS Church, has 55,000 missionaries serving actively.
- The LDS Church is the fourth largest church group in the United States.
- “Mormon” is the popular term for the entire religious movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. Official names are: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS); The Community of Christ (RLDS) and others.
- Mormons see themselves as true Christians belonging to a restored Christianity through the prophetic ministry of Joseph Smith, Jr.
The Essence of Mormonism
Mormonism claims to be true Christianity restored after centuries of apostasy. Mormons accept Jesus’ salvation from the effects of original sin. On this basis, they may then achieve exaltation through obeying the ordinances and participation in the rites of Mormonism.
The Restoration Movement
Colonial America was a religious patchwork. The Second Great Awakening (1800-1845) was a time of intense spiritual interest. Christian pluralism and free competition became the accepted arrangement. However, many felt that the doctrinal conflicts between groups pointed to the loss of original Christianity sometime in early Christian history. Restorationists attempted to restore original Christianity through Bible study or new revelation. Mormonism, the Churches of Christ, Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are several groups that began in the Restoration movement.
Joseph Smith and Mormon Origins
Born in 1805 near Sharon, Vermont, Joseph Smith’s family had a reputation as treasure seekers and con artists. Young Joseph was disillusioned by the preaching at several revivals and Great Awakening campaigns he attended. Beginning in 1820 (age 14), he claimed to receive visions from God directing him to restore the true Christian faith, lost for centuries.
The Book of Mormon was published in 1829 as necessary, supplement to the Bible. Two other books would later complete Mormon scripture. The Mormon Church was founded in 1830. The official name was later changed to: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons were periodically forced to move further and further west and eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. In 1844, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were arrested in connection with an attack on an anti-Mormon newspaper. While in jail, they were shot and killed by an anti-Mormon mob.
The movement then split over the issue of prophetic succession. Brigham Young took the bulk of the Mormons west to Utah and formed the LDS as it currently exists.
The Mormon Handcart Migration involved thousands of European coverts who trekked from the Midwest to Utah pulling handcarts from 1856-60.
Smith’s wife, Emma, and son Joseph Smith III formed the RLDS (now the Community of Christ). Other splinter groups include: The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonites);
The Fundamentalist LDS; The Church of Christ, Temple Lot; Strangite LDS; Rigdonite LDS, now defunct. Though based on Joseph Smith’s foundation, the current Utah-LDS Church is largely the work of Brigham Young and others who continued to claim prophetic revelation.
Mormonism and Christianity Compared
- Mormonism’s Standard Works include The Bible (insofar as translated correctly); The Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants; The Pearl of Great Price.
- Christianity: The Bible is authoritative, reliable and complete. 2 Peter 1:20-21 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17. There is ABUNDANT evidence that the manuscripts we possess have not been altered or revised since the writing of the originals.
Concept of God
- Mormonism: Henotheistic (many gods, but only one is worshipped). The godhead is a sort of council composed of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. Worthy people may also attain godhood.
- Christianity: God is a loving and accessible Tri-unity. Matthew 28:19, 1 Peter 1:2, etc.
Understanding of Jesus
- Mormonism: Jesus was a man who attained divinity through obedience to the eternal gospel. He is spirit-brother to Lucifer.
- Christianity: Jesus is fully God and fully Man. John 1:1-5, 14
- Mormonism: Jesus died to cancel original sin and provide resurrection. People must trust him for this, and then faithfully obey God through participation in LDS rites and ordinances.
- Christianity: People are born sinners, but can be saved by God’s astonishing grace through faith in Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 10:9-10, etc.
Distinctive LDS Beliefs and Practices
The Restored Church. “…there has been no Christian church on the earth for a great many centuries past, until the present century…”. Apostle Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 18:172
Authoritative Priesthood. The Aaronic (Levitical) priests fulfill various tasks within local congregations. Melchizedek priests have oversight of congregations and authority outside the church.
Polygamy. Between 1852 and 1890 (when the U.S. government forced an end to the practice) polygamy was common among the LDS, with 30% of the women and nearly all of the LDS leadership involved.
The Afterlife holds four possible destinies:
- Hell: For Satan and depraved sinners
- Telestial Heaven: For worldly people
- Terrestrial Heaven: For decent people and Mormons who fall short
- Celestial Heaven: For faithful Mormons, who are exalted to godhood.
Temple Rites There are 130 LDS temples world-wide where the following rites may be performed:
- Baptism is the first step into the LDS Church. Baptism may be done by proxy for the dead.
- Endowments are special covenants made by and individual with God, such as consecration to the priesthood or to missionary service.
- Husband and wife may be sealed for time and eternity. Children may be sealed to parents.
Lifestyle Features: The LDS are to be moral, law-abiding and subject to political authorities. They are to keep the Word of Wisdom, which forbids coffee and tea, tobacco and alcohol. Diet is to consist of fruits, grains and vegetables. Meat should be consumed sparingly.
Family Values. The ideal is a loving family centered around a faithful husband and wife. Family Home Evenings encourage this.
Structure. Wards are congregations, presided over by a bishop and are part of a larger organization called a stake. The Church is directed from Salt Lake City by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. LDS people are required to give a tithing (10%) of gross income to the Church.
Weekly Church Attendance. Services are approximately three hours in length and are divided into the sacrament meeting, Sunday School, and special focus groups.
After the sacrament meeting, children under 12 have classes of their own.
Missionary Work. Missionaries serve 18-24 months and are usually self-funded. Typically missionaries are young men, but young women and older couples may also serve. They are referred to as Elder or Sister. They offer teaching sessions of approximately 45-60 minutes which introduce people to the LDS Church with a goal of baptism and membership. They may engage in door-to-door work, but prefer requests or referrals.
Reaching Out to Mormons
- Pray for them. 1 Timothy 2:1-4.
- What is not commonly known is that active LDS membership has plateaued in recent years. The annual figures recording the addition of new members is nearly offset by members who lapse in their practice of Mormonism or who quietly leave the LDS Church. Some of these people are finding new life in Jesus.
- Be polite and non-confrontational.
- Love them. John 13:34-35.
- Talk about your faith.
- Don’t forget the witness of your life. What is the principle behind 1 Peter 3:1-2?
- Use the Bible with confidence.
- Focus on key issues, such as:
- The reliability of the Bible.
- The true identity of Jesus.
- Salvation by faith alone.
Keep in mind that Mormon people can be saved in the same way anyone else may be saved: repentance and faith in Jesus. They may pay a high price to become followers of Jesus. Matthew 28:18-20: “…make disciples of all nations…”
Copyright: Michael L. Bogart