The beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), commonly known as Mormons, are the object of much curiosity these days.
Mormons assert that they are Christians.
The LDS church names Jesus in its title, and acknowledges His divinity and resurrection. The New Testament, along with other texts is used to justify various Mormon doctrines. Mormons call themselves Christians, so yes, Mormons are Christians.
Mormon Christianity differs from what is thought of as “mainstream” Christianity in several respects. Readers who want to know more about these differences will find plenty of information on the web. I’ll just touch on a few things here.
The origin of the name “Mormon”
Actually, there is no such thing as “the Mormon religion.” The church’s official title is the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Its adherents are “Latter-day Saints,” but non-Saints tend to prefer to talk about “Mormons.”
“Mormon” comes from the name of the visionary personage who told Smith about the engraved plates containing the story of Jesus’s North American ministry.
According to a Mormon-friendly site run by Jeff Lindsay,
“The ‘Mormon’ of the Book of Mormon was the primary editor of the ancient text. He was a prophet of God who lived around 400 A.D. in the New World.”
The Founder of Mormonism
Joseph Smith (1805-1844) founded the LDS church in 1830. His spiritual visions began when he was about 15 years old and was trying to decide which Christian denomination to join. In a series of visions, God, Jesus, angels, and the spirits of men who had lived previously in North America appeared to Smith. According to these visions, Jesus came to North America after his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.
His visions informed Smith that records of Jesus’s American ministry were engraved on golden plates that had been buried for safe-keeping. Directed by his visions, Smith dug up the plates and translated them into English. The result was the Book of Mormon, published by Smith in 1830.
Today the LDS church is headed by a President who is regarded as High Priest and Prophet. Mormons believe that prophecy is still active and that leaders reach their decisions about Church doctrine and policy by means of inspired prophecy.
Here are some of the more striking differences between Mormon belief and mainstream Christianity:
• The three persons of the Trinity are different in substance. God the Father and Jesus possess physical bodies. The Holy Spirit does not possess a body.
• God is literally the father of all spirits. Jesus is is first-born son, but all other spirits are his children as well. All the spirits that inhabit bodies now have existed from the beginning. Jesus got his body from God and God’s heavenly wife, but all other people who are born get their bodies from their earthly parents, (although their spiritual bodies are also substantial:
“We also know that the spiritual body we obtained in our birth into the pre-mortal realm is an item of substance. The spirit body is material, but it is material made up of matter that is finer or purer than anything discernible with the naked eye.
• God has a body:
“Yes, God the Father has flesh and bones. He lived a mortal life just like Jesus and rose to immortality and eternal life just as Jesus did. After having done this, He begat countless spiritual children.”
• God has a wife:
“We know that our spiritual birth in our pre-mortal existence was brought forth by a mother… We do not know the actual process whereby our heavenly mother brought forth our spirit body. It is possible that the process could be very similar to the process whereby the physical body is formed, but it is just as possible that the process is entirely different. We simply don’t know…All that we do know is that this spirit body was in some manner given to us by our Heavenly Father through some virtue or action of our heavenly mother.”
The Mormon Afterlife
The LDS concept of the afterlife differs from conventional Christian beliefs. The Mormon heaven has several sections or levels. People who reach the highest level will become gods and goddesses with their own planets to rule.
“Joseph Smith taught that the celestial kingdom itself is subdivided into three “heavens or degrees”. Only those individuals who are sealed in celestial marriage to a spouse in a temple while alive (or after death by proxy) will be permitted to enter into the highest degree of celestial kingdom. These individuals will eventually become “exalted” and will be permitted to live “the kind of life God lives” as literal gods and goddesses, as Doctrine and Covenants 132 explains. The nature of the other two degrees within the Celestial Kingdom have not been described, except to say that the people who go there will become ‘ministering angels’.”
Because marriage and family are of such extreme importance in Mormon belief, the LDS church maintains extensive genealogical facilities so that the living can make sure that any unmarried ancestors can be identified and married before the Last Judgement. Although earthly polygamy was officially renounced by the LSD church in 1890, men who have passed on can have any number of wives in the spirit realm.
Unconventional, but still Christianity
No doubt about it, LDS theology seems bizarre when compared to the more familiar theology of the mainstream churches, but then, many traditional Christian beliefs seem bizarre to non-Christians.
When it comes to non-theological matters, Mormons are taught to value education, self-reliance, and large families. Mormon teachings condemn murder, abortion, adultery, and homosexuality as very grave sins. In such things, Mormons do not differ greatly from many mainstream Christians.
More about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be found at these links. (The quotations in this post come from these articles.)