Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Distinctive Beliefs of the Mormon Church

Are Mormons Protestants? No, but their founder, Joseph Smith, came from a Protestant background, and Protestant presuppositions form part of the basis of Mormonism. Still, it isn’t correct to call Mormons Protestants, because doing so implies they hold to the essentials of Christianity—what C. S. Lewis termed "mere Christianity." The fact is, they don’t. Gordon B. Hinckley, the current president and prophet of the Mormon church, says (in a booklet called What of the Mormons?) that he and his co-religionists "are no closer to Protestantism than they are to Catholicism.

"That isn’t quite right—it would be better to say Mormons are even further from Catholicism than from Protestantism. But Hinckley is right in saying that Mormons are very different from Catholics and Protestants. Let’s examine some of these differences. We can start by considering the young men who come to your door. They always come in pairs and are dressed conservatively, usually in white shirts and ties. As often as not, they get from place to place by bicycle.They introduce themselves to you as Elder This and Elder That.

The title "Elder" does not refer to their age (many are not even shaving regularly, yet) but means they hold the higher of the two Mormon priesthoods, the "Melchizedek" order. This priesthood is something every practicing Mormon male is supposed to receive at about age 18, provided he conforms to the standards of the church. The other priesthood—the Aaronic—is the lesser of the two and is concerned with the temporal affairs of the church, and its ranks are known as deacon, teacher, then priest. The Melchizedek priesthood is concerned mainly with spiritual affairs, and it "embrac[es] all of the authority of the Aaronic," explains Hinckley.

The Melchizedek ranks are elder, seventy, and high priest. At age twelve boys become deacons and thus enter the "Aaronic priesthood." If the terms for the various levels of the Mormon priesthood are confusing, still more confusing is Mormonism’s ecclesiastical structure. The basic unit, equivalent to a very small parish, is the ward.Several wards within a single geographical area form a stake, which corresponds to a large Catholic parish. The head of each ward isn’t called a priest, as you might expect, but a bishop. A Mormon bishop can officiate at a civil marriage, but not at a "temple marriage," which can be performed only by a "sealer" in one of Mormonism’s temples.


Mormons try to attract new members by projecting an image of wholesome family life in their circles. This is an illusion—Mormon Utah has higher than average rates for suicide, divorce, and other domestic problems than the rest of the country. And if Mormonism’s public image of large, happy families, and marriage bring to mind anything, it is polygamy. Hinckley explains that"Mormonism claims to be a restoration of God’s work in all previous dispensations. The Old Testament teaches that the patriarchs . . . had more than one wife under divine sanction.

In the course of the development of the church in the nineteenth century, it was revealed to the leader of the church that such a practice should be entered into again."Although polygamy was permitted to Mormons, few practiced it. But enough did so to make polygamy the characteristic that most caught the attention of other Americans. Mormonism, you should understand, is one of those religions which is peculiarly American. (A few others come to mind immediately, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science.)

Although now spread beyond the borders of the United States, Mormonism is so tied to a certain brand of American nationalism that you couldn’t imagine the religion starting anywhere else.

Mormonism: Made in America

If many of today’s Fundamentalists are known for their belief that America is destined to play a key role in the events of the Last Days, Mormons are identified even more closely with America. The Mormons’ theory is that Christ also established his Church here, among the Indians, where it eventually flopped, as did his original effort in Palestine. The situation is somewhat similar to that of the Anglican church. In England, the Anglican church is not just the church of Englishmen; it is the Established Church.

In theory, and even at times in practice, Parliament can decide what Anglicans are to believe officially and can make and unmake clerics of all grades, from the lowliest curate to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Just as Anglicanism is tied to England, so Mormonism is tied to the United States. Although it is not the established religion of this country, Mormonism has allowed itself to be modified by Congress. "In the late 1880s," says Hinckley, "Congress passed various measures prohibiting [polygamy].

When the Supreme Court declared these laws constitutional, the church indicated its willingness to comply. It could do nothing else in view of its basic teachings on the necessity for obedience to the law of the land. That was in 1890. Since then officers of the church have not performed plural marriages, and members who have entered into such relationships have been excommunicated." Before Congress acted, Mormons were convinced polygamy was not merely permissible, but positively good, for those "of the highest character who had proved themselves capable of maintaining more than one family."

(Section 132 of Doctrine and Covenants is officially subtitled this way: "Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, as also plurality of wives.")

Yet this position was dropped when Washington, D.C., threatened to deny statehood to Utah. Similarly, and more recently, a "revelation," saying blacks would no longer be denied the Mormon priesthood, was given to Mormon leaders when the federal government became involved.

Continuing Revelation

These continuing revelations are not exceptions to Mormon practice. "We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things"—this is the ninth article of faith for Mormons and is an official statement of doctrine. Hinckley notes that "Christians and Jews generally maintain that God revealed himself and directed chosen men in ancient times.

Mormons maintain that the need for divine guidance is as great or greater in our modern, complex world as it was in the comparatively simple times of the Hebrews."Thus, revelation continues. It might be added: public revelation continues. Catholics hold that public or "general" revelation ended at the death of the last apostle (Catechism of the Catholic Church 66, 73), but private revelations can be given still—and have been, as Marian apparitions at such places as Fatima and Lourdes testify (CCC 67).

Such revelations can never correct, supplement, or complete the Christian faith, which is precisely what Mormon "revelations" claim to do.

Mormonism’s Debt to Puritanism

"Mormon theology," says Hinckley, "deals with such widely diversified subjects as the nature of heaven and the evils of alcohol. Actually, in this philosophy the two are closely related. Since man is created in the image of God, his body is sacred. . . . As such, it ill becomes any man or women to injure or dissipate his or her health." So alcohol (as well as tobacco, tea, and caffeine) is out for the believing Mormon. Here we have an example of Mormonism borrowing from Puritanism. The religion Joseph Smith developed uses elements of various forms of Protestantism.

The emphasis on "temperance"—which, to the old-line Protestants, meant not the moderate use of alcohol, but outright abstinence—is one such borrowing. The curious thing is that this attitude is contrary to the Bible. It is one of those doctrines, shared by Fundamentalists and Mormons, that is believed independently of the Bible, though the Bible has been searched unsuccessfully for verses that seem to back it.

Jesus Wasn’t a Teetotaler

The ancient Jews were a temperate people—temperate used in the right sense. They used light wine as part of the regular diet (1 Tim. 3:8). Jesus, you will recall, was called a wine-drinker (Matt. 11:19), the charge being not that he drank, but that he drank too much (that, of course, was false, but the charge itself reflects the fact that he did drink alcoholic beverages, such as the wine that was required for use in the Jewish Passover seder). The New Testament nowhere says the Jews claimed Jesus should have been a teetotaler.

Wine was used also at weddings, and our Lord clearly approved of the practice of wine drinking since he made wine from water when the wine was depleted at Cana (John 2:1–11). Something Mormons seldom refer to is wine’s medicinal uses (Luke 10:34). You will recall that Paul advised Timothy to take wine to ease stomach pains (1 Tim. 5:23). Such apostolic admonitions co-exist uneasily with Mormonism’s strictures against wine.

Mormons practice tithing, yet would be shocked to learn that in a key Old Testament passage where tithing (the practice of donating 10% of one’s income for religious use) is discussed, God says: "you shall turn [your tithe] into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses, and spend the money for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves; and you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household" (Deut. 14:25-26).

We’re also told, "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more" (Prov. 31:6–7).Often when founders of new religions get an idea, they take it to an extreme. So Joseph Smith confused the misuse of wine with its legitimate use. The Bible does condemn excessive drinking (1 Cor. 5:11; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Pet. 4:3), but the key here is the adjective "excessive." This is why Paul says Church leaders must not be addicted to wine (1 Tim. 3:8).

When Hinckley refers to the "evils of alcohol," he gets it wrong. Alcohol itself is not evil, but the misuse of it is, just as a hammer, which can be used to pound in nails, can be misused to pound in skulls.

Plural Heavens

Polygamy was a doctrine some Mormons found hard to accept. Abstinence from alcohol is a teaching many find difficult. But one unique Mormon belief has supposedly brought blessing and relief to many souls, particularly potential converts. Mormonism teaches that practically no one is forever damned to hell. Aside from Satan, his spirit followers, and perhaps a half-dozen notorious sinners, all people who have ever existed will share in heavenly "glory." Not, mind you, all in the same heaven.

There are, in fact, three heavens. The lowest heaven is populated by adulterers, murderers, thieves, liars and other evil-doers. These share in a glory and delight impossible to imagine. Their sins have been forgiven, and they now enjoy the eternal presence of the Holy Ghost. The middle heaven contains the souls and bodies of good non-Mormons and those Mormons who were in some way deficient in their obedience to church commandments. They will glory in the presence of Jesus Christ forever.The top heaven is reserved for devout Mormons, who go on to become gods and rulers of their own universes.

By having their wives and children "sealed" to them during an earthly, temple ceremony, these men-gods will procreate billions of spirits and place them into future, physical bodies. These future children will then worship their father-gods, obeying Mormon commandments, and eventually take their place in the eternal progression to their own godhood. Mormons think this doctrine is a strong selling point.They point out (erroneously) that only their church offers families the chance to be together forever in eternity.

But read the fine print. The only way you can have your family with you is if each one of them has lived a sterling Mormon life. Otherwise, a spouse, parent, or child may be locked forever in a lower heaven. Indeed, the faithful Mormon wife of a lukewarm Mormon man will leave him behind in an inferior place while she goes on and is sealed to a more devout Mormon gentleman. These two will then beget and raise their own, new family.The LDS slogan, "Families are forever," means fractured families.

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827permission to publish this work is hereby granted. +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004


The Gods of the Mormon Church

George Orwell, in his novel 1984, did Catholic apologists a great favor by coining the term "doublethink," which he defined as "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." It’s the most succinct way of describing certain religious beliefs. For an illustration of doublethink one need look no further than the Mormon church’s doctrines about God. Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, taught the doctrine of a "plurality of gods"—polytheism—as the bedrock belief of his church.

He developed this doctrine over a period of years to reflect his belief that not only are there many gods, but they once were mortal men who had developed in righteousness until they had learned enough and merited godhood. The Mormon church uses the term "eternal progression" for this process, and it refers to godhood as "exaltation." Such euphemisms are used because the idea of men becoming gods is b.asphemous to orthodox Christians. Needless to say, Smith encountered much hostility to these doctrines and so thought it wise to disguise them with unfamiliar terminology.

Although he softened his terms, Smith minced no words in explaining his beliefs. "I will preach on the plurality of gods. I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see" (King Follett Discourse).

Mormonism’s founder concluded that his flock didn’t understand the nature of God. No mortal entirely does, of course, but this particular group was handicapped, not helped, by the strange theories expounded by Smith. True to his word, Smith took away the veil of misunderstanding, only to replace it with a monolithic wall of doublethink.

After all, to teach that the all-sovereign God, the infinite and supreme being, the Creator and Master of the universe, is merely an exalted man is a fine example of what Orwell had in mind.

Progressive Revelation To Smith

In 1844, shortly before his death in a gunbattle at a jail in Carthage, Illinois, Joseph Smith delivered a sermon at the funeral of a Mormon named King Follett. The King Follett Discourse has become a key source for the Mormon church’s beliefs on polytheism and eternal progression. It’s short and can be purchased at any LDS bookstore for about a dollar. You can read it in half an hour. To appreciate the extent of Smith’s departure from traditional Christian thought, it’s important to realize that his doctrines weren’t "revealed" to his church all at once or in their present state.

From his first vision in 1820 until his death in 1844, Joseph Smith crafted and modified his doctrines, often altering them so drastically that they became something else entirely as years passed. Early in his career as "prophet, seer, and revelator" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, which he claimed to be the "fullness of the everlasting gospel." In it are passages that proclaim there is only one God and that God can’t change. The next time you speak with Mormon missionaries, cite these verses: "I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity" (Moroni 8:18).

"For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and in him there is no variableness, neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles" (Mormon 9:9-10). It’s hard to be more explicit than that. In his early years Smith did not believe in the "law of eternal progression." He had an orthodox understanding of God’s immutable nature. But at some point in his theological odyssey, he veered into the land of doublethink.

Contradictory Views

Remember, Smith maintained the inspiration and truth of the Book of Mormon at the same time he believed the following: "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image, and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another" (King Follett Discourse).

This is one of Smith’s more spectacular displays of doublethink. Fourteen years after penning the Book of Mormon, he contradicts his earlier writings with this sermon—but he doesn’t throw aside his earlier teaching. Both are to be accepted.

The Missionary’s "Testimony"

If you question a Mormon missionary, he’ll be familiar with the King Follett Discourse (or should be), and he’ll have a "testimony" about the truth of the doctrine of eternal progression. If you have both the Discourse and the Book of Mormon on hand, read these passages to the missionary. Watch his reaction and press for an explanation. Ask him how it’s possible to hold both positions. Mormons revere Joseph Smith as the highest authority in their church. What he said is scripture, and they’re stuck when it comes to this topic.

These two teachings from the prophet obviously don’t agree with each other. This is where doublethink kicks in. If Mormons couldn’t believe two contradictory doctrines at once, they’d be forced to throw up their hands in bewilderment. They can’t believe that God is at once immutable and changing, that from all eternity he was as he now is, yet he evolved from a mere man. To Mormons this theological contradiction poses no problem because they don’t think through the ramifications of such a position.

Your job as an apologist is to show them there is a problem and then to offer a solution to it. It’s not enough to say God is eternal and to leave it at that. We need to take his infinite perfection into account. This is where the Mormons falter. They believe that although God is perfect now, he wasn’t always so. Once he was imperfect, as a mortal, and he had to arrive at perfection through his own labor. (You might call it a sort of "hyper-Pelagianism.")

Jesus Christ

According to Mormon teaching, at one point in the eternities past, this man-become-God, or "Heavenly Father," begat the spirit body of his first son. Together with his heavenly wife, the Father raised his son in the council of the gods. Before the creation of this world, Jesus Christ presented to his father a plan of salvation which would enable the billions of future human beings the opportunity of passing through mortality and returning to heaven, there to become gods of their own worlds.

At the same time, another son of the Heavenly Father and brother of Christ offered a competing plan. When Christ’s was chosen, the rejected Lucifer led a rebellion of one-third of the population of the heavens and was cast out. In time, Mormons believe, the Heavenly Father came to earth and had physical, sexual intercourse with the Virgin Mary. Rejecting both the testimony of Scripture (Luke 1:34-35) and the constant teaching of the Christian Church, Mormons believe Christ was conceived by the Father, and not by the Holy Spirit. (Journal of Discourses 2:268.)

Moreover, Mormons teach that Christ is a secondary, inferior god. He does not exist from all eternity. (Nor, for that matter, does his Father.) He was first made by a union of his heavenly parents. After having been reared and taught in the heavens, he achieved a certain divine stature. Through carnal relations with her Heavenly Father, the Virgin became pregnant with this lesser god. Mormons now believe that Christ’s divinity is virtually equal to that of his Father’s.

As we have seen, this is a compromised godhood: Jesus Christ merely joins the end of a long line of gods who have preceded him, an infinite "regression" of divine beings whose origin Mormons cannot explain. (Nor, for that matter, can they explain its end, as we will see when we discuss the doctrine of men becoming gods.)

The Holy Ghost

The LDS church teaches that all men must pass through mortality in human bodies before they can reach godhood. Yet their third, separate god, called the Holy Ghost, has not yet received a mortal body, even though he is considered to be another god. Mormon theology typically does not address this contradiction. However, that’s not to say that the Holy Ghost is without any body. In fact, he has a "spiritual body," in the actual shape of a man, with head, torso, and limbs. He can be in only one place at once (in this he’s no different from his two superiors in the Mormon "Godhead.")

Though to the Holy Ghost is now ascribed the power of each Mormon’s individual "testimony" or feeling concerning the truth of Mormon doctrines, he was not always so honored. In fact, Joseph Smith originally acknowledged only two divine personages, referring to the Holy Ghost merely as the "mind" of the two. (Lectures on Faith, 48-49.) Latter-Day Saints do not believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the only three gods there are. Rather, they believe in (though do not worship) a "plurality" of gods, gods without number, each one ruling his own creation.

Thus, the three separate gods who rule our universe are finite in power—they sustain and govern only a tiny portion of all that exists. The other gods have either preceded or followed the Heavenly Father who organized our world. In fact, men living today on this planet will one day become gods of their own universes. As such, they will mate with heavenly wives, beget spirit children, populate new worlds, and receive the worship and obedience we are now expected to give to our particular, current God.

Smith—And All Men—To Be Gods

The Mormon founder taught that faithful Mormon men can ascend to divinity. In the King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith said, "My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same. And when I get to my kingdom [godhood], I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself."

In any discussion with a Mormon about Mormonism’s conflicting teachings on the nature of God, you have to cut away the camouflage. You have to get to the central facts. It’s simple, really. Just show them how the Book of Mormon conflicts with Smith’s later teachings. If he was right about God, when was he right? Take your pick, but you can’t pick both, and neither can a Mormon, except if he uses doublethink. If a Mormon chooses either teaching as correct and admits the other must be wrong, Smith’s credibility as a prophet collapses.

Don’t Aim to Win an Argument

Be forewarned that your first discussion about the nature of God won’t produce any visible change in your Mormon acquaintance. He’s unlikely to admit the cogency and simplicity of your argument. He’s probably working in good faith, and he’s sincere in his beliefs. But psychologically you’re at a disadvantage, since he wants to maintain his faith as he’s known it. Be patient as you help him see these theological "black holes." Keep in mind your ultimate goal isn’t to win an argument, but to win a soul for Christ.

What the Catholic apologist offers isn’t just sound logic, or a preponderance of Bible quotations, or even the blunders Joseph Smith made. No, what he offers is the truth of the Catholic faith. But you do need sound logic, buttressed by thorough homework, and you need patience that’s sustained by charity. Above all, you need to pray that God will use your efforts to prepare your acquaintance’s soul for the gift of faith. Doublethink isn’t invincible. It’s just an intellectual impediment, and it can be overcome.

You need to do some homework first, of course. You need a solid understanding of God’s nature. We recommend reading the appropriate passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Fr. John Hardon’s Catholic Catechism, and Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity. These books are available in inexpensive paperbacks, and they should be a part of every Catholic’s library. You should also have on hand, a copy of the Book of Mormon and of the King Follett Discourse. If you have your references already marked in these books, you’ll be ready the next time a Mormon missionary comes to your door.

Mormon Stumpers

In your discussions with Mormons, they will most often wish to direct the topics presented into those areas where they feel most informed and comfortable. Whether they are the young missionaries at your door or friends or colleagues, they have all been taught several lines of approach and have been drilled in making their points. We suggest that you take charge of such conversations. Besides acquainting yourself with the basics of Mormon teaching (in addition, of course, to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith), consider presenting the Mormon apologist with a few "stumpers."

"We don’t bash your church, why bash ours?"

Somehow, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been persuaded by their leaders that they have always been on the receiving end of uncharitable comments and unjust accusations. From the time Joseph Smith began his work in 1820, the Mormon church has gloried in the "fact" that it is a persecuted people. For them, this is a sure sign that it is the Lord’s true church; all opposition comes ultimately from Satan. So, if you do offer a question or a criticism, be prepared for this reaction.
Many Mormons, including their hierarchy, look upon any criticism—regardless of how honest and sincere—as perverseness inspired by the Evil One. But these same individuals ignore their own past (and present) attacks on Christian churches. You might like to point out a few of these to those Mormons who say their church "never attacks other churches."

1. "I was answered that I must join none of them (Christian churches), for they were all wrong…their creeds were an abomination in [God’s] sight; that those professors were all corrupt" (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

2. "Orthodox Christian views of God are pagan rather than Christian" (Mormon Doctrine of Deity, B. H. Roberts [General Authority], 116).

3. "Are Christians ignorant? Yes, as ignorant of the things of God as the brute beast" (Journal of Discourses, John Taylor [3rd Mormon President], 13:225).

4. "The Roman Catholic, Greek, and Protestant church, is the great corrupt, ecclesiastical power, represented by great Babylon" (Orson Pratt, Writings of an Apostle, Orson Pratt, n. 6, 84).

5. "All the priests who adhere to the sectarian [Christian] religions of the day with all their followers, without one exception, receive their portion with the devil and his angels" (The Elders Journal, Joseph Smith, ed. Vol. 1, n. 4, 60).

6. [Under the heading, "Church of the Devil," Apostle Bruce R. McConkie lists:] "The Roman Catholic Church specifically—singled out, set apart, described, and designated as being ‘most abominable above all other churches’ (I Ne. 13:5)" (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, 129).

7. "Believers in the doctrines of modern Christendom will reap damnation to their souls (Morm. 8; Moro. 8)" (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, Bruce R. McConkie, 177).

Some contemporary Mormons, embarrassed—at least publicly—by McConkie’s ranting, will respond with, "That’s only his opinion." This is disingenuous at best. Keep in mind that McConkie, who died in 1985, was raised to the level of "apostle" in the Mormon church after he had written all these things. And still today, his Mormon Doctrine is published by a church-owned publishing company and remains one of the church’s bestsellers.

"We have no revelation on abortion"

Didn’t you assume Mormons were pro-life? That’s certainly the image their church attempts to broadcast, and most Mormons, in fact, mistakenly believe their church opposes abortion and regards it as an objective evil. But not so. Indeed, the Mormon church accepts abortion for a number of reasons. The Church Handbook of Instructions, approved in September, 1998, states that abortion may be performed in the following circumstances: pregnancy resulting from rape or incest; a competent physician says the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy; or a competent physician says that the "fetus" has severe defects that will not allow the "baby" to survive beyond birth.

In any case, the persons responsible must first consult with their church leader and receive God’s approval in prayer (156). This same Handbook, the official policies of the Mormon church to be followed by all local church leaders throughout the world, also claims: "It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body" (156). Previous teachings by former Mormon prophets referred to the unborn child as "a child," "a baby," a "human being," and decried abortion as "killing," "a grievous sin," "a damnable practice." Spencer W. Kimball, the prophet who died in 1985, taught, "We have repeatedly affirmed the position of the church in unalterably opposing all abortions" (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 189).

It appears that this "unalterable" position, constantly "affirmed," is just another in a series of doctrinal and moral teachings that Mormons have reworded, reworked, rescinded, or reneged—though never officially renounced. Such is the quality of the Mormon belief in "continuing revelation." Don’t expect dogmatic or ethical consistency. Rather, look for expediency and conformity with "the times." A further statement in the Handbook says: "The church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion (156)." While the Mormon prophet claims to speak the mind and will of God, he can neither figure out when the unborn child becomes human or if it is God’s desire that we protect the unborn unconditionally.

Your Mormon friend will offer the excuse that his church leaves many decisions to the free agency (free will) of its people, and that abortion is one such concern. You might point out the irony in the fact that the Mormon church has no hesitation or uncertainty in making the following declarations:

1. "The church opposes gambling in any form" (including lotteries). Members are also urged to oppose legislation and government sponsorship of any form of gambling (Handbook, 150).

2. The church also opposes [correctly, of course] pornography in any form (158).

3. Church members are to reject all efforts to legally authorize or support same-sex unions (158).

There is no need for a member to pray for divine guidance or seek church approval for such activities, for there will be no divine or ecclesiastical finessing of morality to permit even an occasional bingo game. A prayerful game of poker, unrepented, will bar the member from the temple and ultimate salvation; a prayerful, by-the-book abortion, unrepented, won’t.

Something’s wrong here

"Only Mormons teach the true nature of God."

Because they believe the Church established by Christ 2,000 years ago fell completely away from his teachings within a century or so of his death, Mormons argue that only a thorough "restoration" (and not a simple "reformation") of the true Church and its holy doctrines would lead man to salvation. Joseph Smith organized this "restored church" in 1830. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints preaches a belief central to most religions: one must know the true nature of God. "It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God" (Teachings of Joseph Smith, 345ff).

No Christian disputes the absolute necessity of knowing the nature of God (to the extent our reason, aided by grace, can apprehend this great mystery). Indeed, the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations have been united in a constant belief in the supreme God as almighty, eternal, and unchanging. Mormons have not been favored by similar clarity from their self-described "prophets" who receive "direct revelation" from the gods.

You may wish to ask your Mormon acquaintance to consider the following authoritative statements by their earlier and present prophets.

1. In an early book of "Scripture" brought forth by Joseph Smith, the creation account consistently refers to the singular when speaking of God and creation: "I, God, caused . . . I, God, created . . . I, God, saw. . . . " The singular is used 50 times in the second and third chapters of the Book of Moses (1831).

2. In another of Smith’s earlier works, the Book of Mormon (1830), there are no references to a plurality of gods. At best, there is a confusion, at times, between the Father and the Son, leading at times to the extreme of modalism (one divine person who reveals himself sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son) or the other extreme of "binitarianism," belief in two persons in God. The Book of Mormon also makes a strong point for God’s spiritual and eternal unity (see Alma 11:44 and 22:10-11, which proclaims that God is the "Great Spirit").

3. Another early work of Smith is the Lectures on Faith (1834-35). There is continual evidence that the first Mormon leader taught a form of bitheism: the Father and the Son are separate gods. The Holy Spirit is merely the "mind" of the two.

4. At about the same time, we begin to see a doctrinal shift. Smith had acquired some mummies and Egyptian papyri. He proclaimed the writings to be those of the patriarch, Abraham, in his own hand, and set out to translate the text. His Book of Abraham records in chapters four and five that "the gods called . . . the gods ordered . . . the gods prepared" some 45 times. Smith thus introduces the notion of a plurality of gods.

5. The clearest exposition of this departure from traditional Christian doctrine is seen in Smith’s tale of a "vision" he had as a boy of 14. Both the Father and the Son appeared to him, he wrote; they were two separate "personages." This story of two gods was not authorized and distributed by the church until 1838, after his Book of Abraham had paved the way for polytheism.

6. Readers will notice that the Father is said to have appeared, along with his resurrected Son. In his final doctrinal message, Smith showed how this was possible.

In the King Follett Discourse (a funeral talk he gave in 1844), Joseph Smith left his church with the clearest statement to date on the nature of God:

"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens[.] That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man. The scriptures inform us that Jesus said, ‘As the Father hath power to himself, even so hath the Son power’—to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious—in a manner to lay down his body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. Do you believe it? If you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. The scriptures say it and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it."

As the Mormon church has taught since that time, God the Father was once a man who was created by his God, was born and lived on another earth, learned and lived the "Mormon gospel," died, and was eventually resurrected and made God over this universe. As such, he retains forever his flesh-and-bones body.

7. Aside from some temporary detours (Orson Pratt said the Holy Ghost was a spiritual fluid that filled the universe; Brigham Young taught that Adam is the god of this world), the Mormon church has constantly taught that God the Father is a perfected man with a physical body and parts. Right-living Mormon men may also progress, as did the Father, and eventually become gods themselves. In fact, fifth president, Lorenzo Snow, summed up the Mormon teaching thus: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be." Snow frequently claimed this summary of the Mormon doctrine on God and man was revealed to him by inspiration. (See Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian?, 60, note 1.)

8. "Thou shalt not have strange gods before me." What is stranger than a God who starts off as a single Spirit, eternal and all-powerful; who then becomes, perhaps, two gods in one, and then three; who never changes, yet was once born a man, lived, sinned, repented, and died; who was made God the Father of this world by his own God; and who will make his own children gods someday of their own worlds?

That all believing Christians are shocked and disturbed by this b.asphemy may—just may—be nudging the Mormon leadership to soften their rhetoric (if not actually change their heresy). A case in point is an interview with current church prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 13, 1997. When asked: "[D]on’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?" Hinckley demurred. "I wouldn’t say that. There’s a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’ Now, that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about" (3/Z1).

A surprising admission, as Hinckley seems to disparage the constant teaching of all his prophetic predecessors. Choose, if you like, any one of these three attacks: on Christians; on the sanctity of life; on God. Ask your Mormon listener to explain the contradictions of his church. Don’t be satisfied with a personal, subjective, emotional "testimony." Demand clarification of confused and contradictory teachings.

When they aren’t forthcoming, be prepared to offer the truth.

Mormonism's Baptism for the Dead

The first step toward being able to go to a Mormon temple is an interview with the "ward bishop" (roughly equivalent to a parish priest). During this interview a Mormon is questioned by the bishop to see if he has been faithful in his commitment to the teachings and ordinances of the Mormon church. The questions cover a variety of subjects, including his tithing track record; use of alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine; sexual immorality; and any failures to adhere to church doctrines and disciplines. If the applicant has had difficulties in any of these areas, he will not receive a temple recommend. For the one who does not pass the interview, there is no trip to the temple. It is interesting to note that the majority of Mormons do not have temple recommends.

This is not to say that they fail their interviews with their bishops. Actually, for a variety of reasons, most Mormons never make the effort to obtain a temple recommend. But for the minority who do obtain one, their chief duties in the temple include baptism for the dead. On any given day, in more than fifty Mormon temples around the world, thousands of faithful Mormons are baptized vicariously for the dead. Most non-Mormons are dimly aware that the Mormons are interested in genealogy, but they are not sure why. While there is nothing wrong with being interested in genealogy as a hobby, this is far from a hobby for Mormons.

They believe people who have died can be baptized by proxy, thus allowing them the opportunity to become Mormons after their death. The idea behind baptism for the dead is this: God wants each of us to be with him in glory. To effect this, he allows us to accept the Mormon gospel here on earth. If we do not, he sends us to a "spirit prison" until the Mormon gospel has been preached to us there and we convert. Mormons believe that their church has missionaries in the "spirit world" who are busy spreading the Mormon gospel to dead people who have not yet received it.

Should any of these dead people want to convert to Mormonism, they are required to abide by all its rules, one of which is water baptism. Hence the need for proxies to receive the corporeal waters of baptism. You might be surprised to learn that the Mormon church has teams of men and women microfilming records of Catholic and Protestant parishes, cemetery records, birth and death certificates—virtually any sort of record pertaining to past generations. Temple Mormons hope, in time, to have all of the dead of previous generations baptized posthumously into the Mormon church.

Baptism for the Dead v. Baptism of Desire

One reason Mormons advance the practice of baptism for the dead is a sense of justice. Billions of people have died without ever hearing the gospel of Christ and without having the chance to be baptized into his Church. How could God consign such people to damnation without giving them the chance to be saved? Surely he would give them that chance. But if they never heard the gospel in this life, when else could they hear and respond to it except in the next life? There are a number of problems with this line of reasoning. Scripture is very clear in stating that this life is the only chance we get.

Once we die, our fate is sealed: "It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27). There are no "second chances" after death. Consequently, God judges individuals based on their actions in this life. Since he is a just judge, he does not hold people accountable for what they did not and could not have known. Thus, those who do not hear the gospel in this life will be judged based on the knowledge they did have in this life. God gives his light to all people (John 1:9), and the universe itself gives evidence of God (Ps. 19:1-4), evidence which is sufficient to establish basic moral accountability (Rom. 1:18-21). For those who are ignorant by no fault of their own, God will not hold their ignorance against them; but it is wrong to assume that people have no light from God unless they hear an oral proclamation of the gospel.

If they live up to the light that has been shown to them and would have embraced Christ and the gospel had they known about them, then they can be saved (Rom. 2:15-16). Neither is their lack of baptism an obstacle. Scripture reveals that sometimes the graces that normally come through baptism are given early, to those who have not yet been baptized (Acts 10:44-48). Such people have what the Church terms "baptism of desire" and are united to God through their desire to do what he wants of them. In the case of those who have not yet heard the gospel or learned of God, but who nevertheless seek to follow the truth as they understand it, they have an implicit desire for God since they desire to follow the truth.

They simply do not know that God is the truth. Consequently, they also can be saved through baptism of desire; therefore, a proxy baptism is superfluous, either before their death or after it. They are already united to God, even if they are not fully aware of it in this life (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 847-848, 1257-1260). Thus the Mormon argument from fairness is not persuasive. There are other ways for accounting for God’s justice and mercy in dealing with those who have not heard of God and the gospel. It is not necessary to postulate another preaching of the gospel and second chance of repentance in the afterlife, much less the necessity of proxy baptism for the dead, on that basis.

God can simply let whomever he wants into heaven, whether they have water baptism or not. God is not bound by the sacraments he himself instituted (CCC 1257). The practice of baptism of the dead, then, must stand or fall based on the direct evidence concerning it, and that is where the Mormon position runs into fatal problems.

The Bible Doesn’t Teach It

The doctrine of baptism for the dead was first given to the Mormon church by Joseph Smith in 1836 and is found in his Doctrine and Covenants, (but not, as we’ll see, in the Book of Mormon). In Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth, he treats a number of subjects. This letter was written to counteract problems he saw developing in Corinth after he had established the church there. Corinth had its share of pagan religions, but there were also quasi-Christian groups that practiced variations of orthodox Christian doctrines. Enter baptism for the dead. Mormons cite a single biblical passage to support baptizing members on behalf of dead persons, "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?

Why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1 Cor. 15:29). Mormons infer that in 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks approvingly of living Christians receiving baptism on behalf of dead non-Christians; however, the context and construction of the verse indicate otherwise. The Greek phrase rendered by the King James Version as "for the dead" is huper ton nekron. This phrase is as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English. The preposition huper has a wide semantic range and can indicate "for the sake of," "on behalf of," "over," "beyond," or "more than." Like the English preposition "for," it does not have a single meaning and does not require the Mormon idea of being baptized in place of the dead.

Such a reading would be unlikely given the more plausible interpretations available, and even if huper were taken to mean "in the place of," it doesn’t mean Paul endorses the practice. First Corinthians 15 is a key chapter for Paul’s teaching on the resurrection of the body. He makes no statement on baptism for dead persons except to note that some unnamed "they" practice it. While the rest of his teaching in chapter fifteen refers to "we," his Christian followers, "they" are not further identified. Who this group was may not be known with certitude today, but there are some reasonable interpretations:

1. Some commentators assume this verse refers to the practice of giving newly baptized children the names of deceased non-Christian relatives, with the hope that the dead might somehow share in the Lord’s mercy.

2. Another interpretation envisions the baptism of catechumens who have witnessed the persecution and martyrdom of their Christian predecessors. With their belief that the dead do rise, the Christian candidates come forward boldly and accept both the faith and its consequences.

3. A related view holds that the group consists of those baptized in connection with a dead Christian loved one. In the first century, many families were split religiously, as only one or two members may have converted to Christianity. When it came time for these new Christians to die, they no doubt exhorted their non-Christian family members to consider the Christian faith and to embrace it so that they could be together in the next world. After the deaths of their Christian loved ones, many family members no doubt did investigate the Christian faith and were baptized so that they could be reunited with their loved ones in the afterlife. At the time, many pagans had at best an unclear idea of what the afterlife was like, and there were a large number of sects promising immortality to those who were willing to undergo their initiation rituals. A pagan husband mourning the death of his Christian wife might thus have an unclear idea of what her religion was all about, but still have it fixed in his mind: "If I want to be with her again, I need to become a Christian, like she was, so I can go where Christians go in the afterlife." This, then, could prompt him to investigate Christianity, learn its teachings about the afterlife and the resurrection, and embrace faith in Christ, receiving Christian baptism for the sake of being united with his dead loved one. The same is true, by extension, for other family relations as well, such as parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren. Even today deathbed exhortations to live the Christian life are not uncommon. People still resolve to live as Christians in order to please dead loved ones, to honor their memories, and to be united with them in the next life. The difference is that, today, most of those being exhorted have already been baptized.

4. Others advance the possibility that Paul was referring to the practice of a heretical cult that existed in Corinth. On this theory, Paul was not endorsing the practice of the group, but merely citing it to emphasize the importance of the resurrection. Rather, his point was: If even heterodox Christians have a practice that makes no sense if there is no resurrection of the dead, how much more, then, should we orthodox Catholics believe in and hope for the resurrection of the dead. There is no other evidence in the Bible or in the early Church Fathers’ writings of baptism being practiced on the living in place of the dead. Some Mormon writers assert that some Christian commentators have discussed the possibility of a kind of "baptism for the dead" among some in the Corinthian community in Paul’s time. But these commentators do not suggest that the practice was accepted or mainstream. Given the silence of Scripture and tradition, we conclude rightly when we see this behavior as another aberration within a community of believers already soundly scolded by Paul for its lack of charity, its factionalism, its immorality, its abuse of the Eucharist, and other matters. Although we have no way of knowing for sure who was engaging in this practice, it is certain that Paul was not referring to orthodox Christians baptizing the dead. Catholic and Protestant scholars agree on that.

A Flat-Out Contradiction

The case against baptism for the dead is also made by the Mormon scriptures themselves. The current Mormon doctrine on baptism for the dead is quite unlike what Joseph Smith first taught. As in other cases, the Book of Mormon becomes an important tool for the Christian apologist. It contradicts much Mormon theology, and baptism for the dead is no exception. In Alma 34:35-36 we read: "For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he does seal you his. Therefore, the spirit of the Lord has withdrawn from you and hath no place in you; the power of the devil is over you, and this is the final state of the wicked."

In other words, those who die as non-Mormons go to hell, period. There’s no suggestion of a later, vicarious admission into the Mormon church. We also see present-day Mormon doctrine contradicted in 2 Nephi 9:15: "And it shall come to pass that when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must appear before the judgment seat of the Holy One of Israel, and then cometh the judgment and then must they be judged according to the holy judgment of God. For the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy . . . shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end."

It is unfornate that Smith abandoned his own, earlier doctrine. It would not have made the Mormon scriptures any more authentic, but it would have prevented millions of futile Mormon proxy baptisms from being performed.


Problems with the Book of Mormon

In these "latter days," there are few people who haven’t been visited at least once by Mormon missionaries. At some point in your doorstep dialogue, these earnest young men will ask you to accept a copy of the Book of Mormon, read it, and pray about it, asking the Lord to "send the Holy Ghost to witness that it is true." Then, very solemnly, they’ll "testify" to you that they know the Book of Mormon is true, that it’s God’s inspired word, and that it contains the "fullness of the everlasting gospel." They’ll assure you that if you read their text in a spirit of prayerful inquiry, you, too, will receive the testimony of the Holy Ghost.

That testimony supposedly will convince you beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon is exactly what they claim it to be. Keep in mind that the missionaries want you to have a feeling about the Book of Mormon after reading it. They’ll tell you that you’ll receive the witness of the Holy Ghost in the form of a "burning in the bosom"—a warm, fuzzy feeling—after reading and praying about it. This feeling is the clincher for them. It’s the real "proof" that the Book of Mormon is inspired Scripture, and everything else follows from that conclusion. But think about it. How often have you felt strongly about something or someone, only to learn your feelings were misguided?

Feelings, although a part of our human makeup, can’t be a yardstick in matters like this. After all, some people might get a good feeling after reading anything from the Communist Manifesto or the Yellow Pages. They could pray about such a feeling, and they could take the lingering of the feeling as some kind of divine approbation, but no such sensation will prove the inspiration of Marx’s or Ma Bell’s writings. When you tell the missionaries you don’t need to pray about the Book of Mormon, they’ll think you’re copping out, that you’re afraid to learn the truth. Admittedly, you’ll seem like a cad if you simply refuse and leave it at that.

You need to provide them with an explanation for refusing. The devout Mormon believes this text is inspired because Joseph Smith said it is. He believes Smith had the authority to claim divine inspiration for the Book of Mormon because the book itself says Smith was a prophet and had such authority.

Jesus Visited America?

Let’s take a closer look at the text the missionaries offer. At first glance the Book of Mormon appears to be biblical in heft and style. It’s couched in tedious "King James" English, and it features color renderings of Mormon scenes made to look like Bible illustrations. The introduction tells you that the "Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel."

There it is again—the "fullness of the everlasting gospel." Naturally, you ask yourself just what that phrase means. According to the Mormon church, authentic Christianity can’t be found in any of the so-called Christian churches—only, of course, in the Mormon church. Mormons teach that, after Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles taught the true doctrines of Christ and administered his sacred ordinances (roughly the equivalent of Catholic sacraments). After the death of the apostles, their successors continued the work of the gospel, but with rapidly declining success.

Within a few generations, the great apostasy foretold in the Bible had destroyed Christ’s Church (contrary to Jesus’ own promise in Matthew 16:18). The Mormon church asserts that the Church Christ founded became increasingly corrupted by pagan ideas introduced by nefarious members. (Sound familiar?) Over a period of years, the Church lost all relationship with the Church Christ established. Consequently, the keys of authority of the holy priesthood were withdrawn from the earth, and no man any longer had authorization to act in God’s name.

From that time onward there were no valid baptisms, no laying on of hands for the receipt of the Holy Ghost, no blessings of any kind, and no administration of sacred ordinances. Confusions and heretical doctrines increased and led to the plethora of Christian sects seen today. Mormons claim that to restore the true Church and true gospel to the earth, in 1820 God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in a grove of trees near his home. They told him that all professing Christians on the face of the earth were abominable and corrupt and that the true Church, having died out completely shortly after it began, was to be restored by Smith.

Mormons run into no small difficulty in reconciling the great apostasy theory with Christ’s promise in Matthew 16:18: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." How could it be that Christ, who should have known better, would promise that his Church wouldn’t be overcome if he knew full well a great apostasy would make short shrift of it in a matter of decades? Was Christ lying? Obviously not. Was he mistaken? No. Did he miscalculate things? No, again.

Christ’s divinity precluded such things. What are we left with then? Could it be that Mormons are mistaken in their interpretation of such a crucial passage? This is the only tenable conclusion. If there were no great apostasy, then there could have been no need for a restoration of religious authority on the earth. There would be no "restored gospel," and the entire premise of the Mormon church would be undercut. The fact is that the only church with an unbroken historical line to apostolic days is the Catholic Church. Even many Protestants acknowledge this, though they argue that there was a need for the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century.

As non-Catholic historians admit, it can be demonstrated easily that early Church writers, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Eusebius, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp, had no conception of Mormon doctrine, and they knew nothing of a "great apostasy." Nowhere in their writings can one find references to Christians embracing any of the peculiarly Mormon doctrines, such as polytheism, polygamy, celestial marriage, and temple ceremonies. If the Church of the apostolic age was the prototype of today’s Mormon church, it must have had all these beliefs and practices.

But why is there no evidence of them in the early centuries, before the alleged apostasy began?

Church History Is Catholic

The fact is that there is no historical or archaeological indication of any kind that the early Church was other than the Catholic Church. When dealing with Mormon missionaries, remember that all the evidence is in favor of the claims of the Catholic Church. If you want to watch their sails go slack quickly, ask the missionaries to produce any historical proof to support their claim that in the early centuries the Church was Mormon. They can’t do it because there is no such evidence.

The Book of Mormon itself suffers the same fate when it comes to its own historical support. In a word, it hasn’t got any. The Book of Mormon describes a vast pre-Columbian culture that supposedly existed for centuries in North and South America. It goes into amazingly specific detail describing the civilizations erected by the "Nephites" and "Lamanites," who were Jews that fled Palestine in three installments, built massive cities in the New World, farmed the land, produced works of art, and fought large-scale wars which culminated in the utter destruction of the Nephites in A.D. 421.

The Latter-Day Saints revere the Book of Mormon as the divinely-inspired record of those people and of Christ’s appearance to them shortly after his crucifixion in Jerusalem. The awkward part for the Mormon church is the total lack of historical and archaeological evidence to support the Book of Mormon. For example, after the cataclysmic last battle fought between the Nephites and Lamanites, there was no one left to clean up the mess. Hundreds of thousands of men and beasts allegedly perished in that battle, and the ground was strewn with weapons and armor.

Keep in mind that A.D. 421 is just yesterday in archaeological terms. It should be easy to locate and retrieve copious evidence of such a battle, and there hasn’t been enough time for the weapons and armor to turn to dust. The Bible tells of similar battles that have been documented by archaeology, battles which took place long before A.D. 421. The embarrassing truth—embarrassing for Mormons, that is—is that no scientist, Mormon or otherwise, has been able to find anything to substantiate that such a great battle took place.

"Lifting" from the King James Bible

There are other problems with the Book of Mormon. For example, critics of Mormonism have shown convincing proof that the Book of Mormon is a synthesis of earlier works (written by other men), of the vivid imaginings of Joseph Smith, and of simple plagiarisms of the King James Bible. The only Bible that Joseph Smith relied on was the King James Version. This translation was based on a good but imperfect set of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible. Scholars now know the Textus Receptus contains errors, which means the King James Version contains errors.

The problem for Mormons is that these exact same errors show up in the Book of Mormon. It seems reasonable to assume that since Smith was a prophet of God and was translating the Book of Mormon under divine inspiration, he would have known about the errors found in the King James Version and would have corrected them for when passages from the King James Version appeared in the Book of Mormon. But the errors went in.

The "Fullness" of the Gospel?

According to a standard Mormon theological work, Doctrines of Salvation, one finds this definition: "By fullness of the gospel is meant all the ordinances and principles that pertain to the exaltation of the celestial kingdom" (vol. 1, p. 160). That’s an official Mormon statement on the subject. But there’s a problem. If the Book of Mormon contains all the ordinances and principles that pertain to the gospel, why don’t Mormonism’s esoteric doctrines show up in it? The doctrine that God is nothing more than an "exalted man with a body of flesh and bones" appears nowhere in the Book of Mormon. Nor does the doctrine of Jesus Christ being the "spirit brother" of Lucifer. Nor do the doctrines that men can become gods and that God the Father has a god above him, who has a god above him, ad infinitum.

The Book of Mormon is Anti-Mormon

These heterodox teachings, and many others like them, appear nowhere in the Book of Mormon. In fact, pivotal Mormon doctrines are flatly refuted by the Book of Mormon. For instance, the most pointed refutation of the Mormon doctrine that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are actually three separate gods is found in Alma 11:28-31: "Now Zeezrom said: ‘Is there more than one God?’ and [Amulek] answered, ‘No.’ And Zeezrom said unto him again, ‘How knowest thou these things?’ And he said: ‘An angel hath made them known unto me.’"

The Bottom Line

The Book of Mormon fails on three main counts. First, it utterly lacks historical or archaeological support, and there is an overwhelming body of empirical evidence that refutes it. Second, the Book of Mormon contains none of the key Mormon doctrines. This is important to note because the Latter-Day Saints make such a ballyhoo about it containing the "fullness of the everlasting gospel." (It would be more accurate to say it contains almost none of their "everlasting gospel" at all.) Third, the Book of Mormon abounds in textual errors, factual errors, and outright plagiarisms from other works.

If you’re asked by Mormon missionaries to point out examples of such errors, here are two you can use. We read that Jesus "shall be born of Mary at Jerusalem, which is in the land of our forefathers" (Alma 7:10). But Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem (Matt. 2:1). If you mention this to a Mormon missionary, he might say Jerusalem and Bethlehem are only a few miles apart and that Alma could have been referring to the general area around Jerusalem. But Bethany is even closer to Jerusalem than is Bethlehem, yet the Gospels make frequent reference to Bethany as a separate town.

Another problem: Scientists have demonstrated that honey bees were first brought to the New World by Spanish explorers in the fifteenth century, but the Book of Mormon, in Ether 2:3, claims they were introduced around 2000 B.C. The problem was that Joseph Smith wasn’t a naturalist; he didn’t know anything about bees and where and when they might be found. He saw bees in America and threw them in the Book of Mormon as a little local color. He didn’t realize he’d get stung by them. Tell the Mormon missionaries: "Look, it is foolish to pray about things you know are not God’s will.

It would be wrong of me to pray about whether adultery is right, when the Bible clearly says it is not. Similarly, it would be wrong of me to pray about the Book of Mormon when one can so easily demonstrate that it is not the word of God."

The Great Heresies

From Christianity’s beginnings, the Church has been attacked by those introducing false teachings, or heresies. The Bible warned us this would happen. Paul told his young protégé, Timothy, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (2 Tim. 4:3–4).

What Is Heresy?

Heresy is an emotionally loaded term that is often misused. It is not the same thing as incredulity, schism, apostasy, or other sins against faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (CCC 2089).

To commit heresy, one must refuse to be corrected. A person who is ready to be corrected or who is unaware that what he has been saying is against Church teaching is not a heretic. A person must be baptized to commit heresy. This means that movements that have split off from or been influenced by Christianity, but that do not practice baptism (or do not practice valid baptism), are not heresies, but separate religions. Examples include Muslims, who do not practice baptism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not practice valid baptism.

Finally, the doubt or denial involved in heresy must concern a matter that has been revealed by God and solemnly defined by the Church (for example, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass, the pope’s infallibility, or the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary). It is important to distinguish heresy from schism and apostasy. In schism, one separates from the Catholic Church without repudiating a defined doctrine.

An example of a contemporary schism is the Society of St. Pius X—the "Lefebvrists" or followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre—who separated from the Church in the late 1980s, but who have not denied Catholic doctrines. In apostasy, one totally repudiates the Christian faith and no longer even claims to be a Christian. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the major heresies of Church history and when they began.

The Circumcisers (1st Century)

The Circumcision heresy may be summed up in the words of Acts 15:1: "But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’" Many of the early Christians were Jews, who brought to the Christian faith many of their former practices. They recognized in Jesus the Messiah predicted by the prophets and the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Because circumcision had been required in the Old Testament for membership in God’s covenant, many thought it would also be required for membership in the New Covenant that Christ had come to inaugurate. They believed one must be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law to come to Christ. In other words, one had to become a Jew to become a Christian. But God made it clear to Peter in Acts 10 that Gentiles are acceptable to God and may be baptized and become Christians without circumcision. The same teaching was vigorously defended by Paul in his epistles to the Romans and the Galatians—to areas where the Circumcision heresy had spread.

Gnosticism (1st and 2nd Centuries)

"Matter is evil!" was the cry of the Gnostics. This idea was borrowed from certain Greek philosophers. It stood against Catholic teaching, not only because it contradicts Genesis 1:31 ("And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good") and other scriptures, but because it denies the Incarnation. If matter is evil, then Jesus Christ could not be true God and true man, for Christ is in no way evil. Thus many Gnostics denied the Incarnation, claiming that Christ only appeared to be a man, but that his humanity was an illusion. Some Gnostics, recognizing that the Old Testament taught that God created matter, claimed that the God of the Jews was an evil deity who was distinct from the New Testament God of Jesus Christ. They also proposed belief in many divine beings, known as "aeons," who mediated between man and the ultimate, unreachable God. The lowest of these aeons, the one who had contact with men, was supposed to be Jesus Christ.

Montanism (Late 2nd Century)

Montanus began his career innocently enough through preaching a return to penance and fervor. His movement also emphasized the continuance of miraculous gifts, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy. However, he also claimed that his teachings were above those of the Church, and soon he began to teach Christ’s imminent return in his home town in Phrygia. There were also statements that Montanus himself either was, or at least specially spoke for, the Paraclete that Jesus had promised would come (in reality, the Holy Spirit).

Sabellianism (Early 3rd Century)

The Sabellianists taught that Jesus Christ and God the Father were not distinct persons, but two.aspects or offices of one person. According to them, the three persons of the Trinity exist only in God’s relation to man, not in objective reality.

Arianism (4th Century)

Arius taught that Christ was a creature made by God. By disguising his heresy using orthodox or near-orthodox terminology, he was able to sow great confusion in the Church. He was able to muster the support of many bishops, while others excommunicated him. Arianism was solemnly condemned in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea, which defined the divinity of Christ, and in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. These two councils gave us the Nicene creed, which Catholics recite at Mass every Sunday.

Pelagianism (5th Century)

Pelagius denied that we inherit original sin from Adam’s sin in the Garden and claimed that we become sinful only through the bad example of the sinful community into which we are born. Conversely, he denied that we inherit righteousness as a result of Christ’s death on the cross and said that we become personally righteous by instruction and imitation in the Christian community, following the example of Christ. Pelagius stated that man is born morally neutral and can achieve heaven under his own powers. According to him, God’s grace is not truly necessary, but merely makes easier an otherwise difficult task.

Semi-Pelagianism (5th Century)

After Augustine refuted the teachings of Pelagius, some tried a modified version of his system. This, too, ended in heresy by claiming that humans can reach out to God under their own power, without God’s grace; that once a person has entered a state of grace, one can retain it through one’s efforts, without further grace from God; and that natural human effort alone can give one some claim to receiving grace, though not strictly merit it.

Nestorianism (5th Century)

This heresy about the person of Christ was initiated by Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, who denied Mary the title of Theotokos (Greek: "God-bearer" or, less literally, "Mother of God"). Nestorius claimed that she only bore Christ’s human nature in her womb, and proposed the alternative title Christotokos ("Christ-bearer" or "Mother of Christ"). Orthodox Catholic theologians recognized that Nestorius’s theory would fracture Christ into two separate persons (one human and one divine, joined in a sort of loose unity), only one of whom was in her womb.

The Church reacted in 431 with the Council of Ephesus, defining that Mary can be properly referred to as the Mother of God, not in the sense that she is older than God or the source of God, but in the sense that the person she carried in her womb was, in fact, God incarnate ("in the flesh").

There is some doubt whether Nestorius himself held the heresy his statements imply, and in this century, the Assyrian Church of the East, historically regarded as a Nestorian church, has signed a fully orthodox joint declaration on Christology with the Catholic Church and rejects Nestorianism. It is now in the process of coming into full ecclesial communion with the Catholic Church.

Monophysitism (5th Century)

Monophysitism originated as a reaction to Nestorianism. The Monophysites (led by a man named Eutyches) were horrified by Nestorius’s implication that Christ was two people with two different natures (human and divine). They went to the other extreme, claiming that Christ was one person with only one nature (a fusion of human and divine elements). They are thus known as Monophysites because of their claim that Christ had only one nature (Greek: mono = one; physis = nature). Orthodox Catholic theologians recognized that Monophysitism was as bad as Nestorianism because it denied Christ’s full humanity and full divinity. If Christ did not have a fully human nature, then he would not be fully human, and if he did not have a fully divine nature then he was not fully divine.

Iconoclasm (7th and 8th Centuries)

This heresy arose when a group of people known as iconoclasts (literally, "icon smashers") appeared, who claimed that it was sinful to make pictures and statues of Christ and the saints, despite the fact that in the Bible, God had commanded the making of religious statues (Ex. 25:18–20; 1 Chr. 28:18–19), including symbolic representations of Christ (cf. Num. 21:8–9 with John 3:14).

Catharism (11th Century)

Catharism was a complicated mix of non-Christian religions reworked with Christian terminology. The Cathars had many different sects; they had in common a teaching that the world was created by an evil deity (so matter was evil) and we must worship the good deity instead. The Albigensians formed one of the largest Cathar sects. They taught that the spirit was created by God, and was good, while the body was created by an evil god, and the spirit must be freed from the body. Having children was one of the greatest evils, since it entailed imprisoning another "spirit" in flesh. Logically, marriage was forbidden, though fornication was permitted. Tremendous fasts and severe mortifications of all kinds were practiced, and their leaders went about in voluntary poverty.

Protestantism (16th Century)

Protestant groups display a wide variety of different doctrines. However, virtually all claim to believe in the teachings of sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone"—the idea that we must use only the Bible when forming our theology) and sola fide ("by faith alone"— the idea that we are justified by faith only). The great diversity of Protestant doctrines stems from the doctrine of private judgment, which denies the infallible authority of the Church and claims that each individual is to interpret Scripture for himself. This idea is rejected in 2 Peter 1:20, where we are told the first rule of Bible interpretation: "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation." A significant feature of this heresy is the attempt to pit the Church "against" the Bible, denying that the magisterium has any infallible authority to teach and interpret Scripture. The doctrine of private judgment has resulted in an enormous number of different denominations. According to The Christian Sourcebook, there are approximately 20-30,000 denominations, with 270 new ones being formed each year. Virtually all of these are Protestant.

Jansenism (17th Century)

Jansenius, bishop of Ypres, France, initiated this heresy with a paper he wrote on Augustine, which redefined the doctrine of grace. Among other doctrines, his followers denied that Christ died for all men, but claimed that he died only for those who will be finally saved (the elect). This and other Jansenist errors were officially condemned by Pope Innocent X in 1653. Heresies have been with us from the Church’s beginning. They even have been started by Church leaders, who were then corrected by councils and popes. Fortunately, we have Christ’s promise that heresies will never prevail against the Church, for he told Peter, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). The Church is truly, in Paul’s words, "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).