Over the years as I’ve witnessed and talked to Mormons, I have always made it my goal in our conversation to demonstrate that Mormonism and Christianity are two entirely different religions. The reason I take this approach is because Mormons call themselves Christians, use Christian terms, and claim to be the restored (i.e., true) church of Jesus Christ. These claims are confusing, both to practicing Mormons and those with whom they converse.
My goal is the same for this brief article. I want you to see clearly that Mormonism is not a branch or denomination of Christianity, but that it is something entirely different. I want you to see that Mormonism is, in the final analysis, a false religion that holds no resemblance to historic Christianity.
Joseph Smith: The Founder of Mormonism
In order to understand Mormonism, you must first understand their founder, Joseph Smith (1805-1844). Despite his status as a prophet of God in the Mormon Church and the high esteem to which contemporary Mormons ascribe to him, history yields a picture a this man far from flattering. Indeed, the historical record indicates that Smith was a polygamist, false prophet, and occultist. Personally, he was an exceedingly proud man who boasted much of his own insight into divine things and who eventually died in a blaze of gunfire as he sought to escape his captors by the use of lethal force.
Mormons have sought to distance themselves from their founder’s checkered past and character while attempting to depict a man who was both devout and wise, and who endured persecution for the sake of righteousness and died as a martyr. The unfavorable facts remain, however, and the truth is that Mormonism’s founder fails on multiple levels as a trustworthy man or a prophet sent by God.
Nevertheless, Joseph Smith remains central to Mormonism and Mormon teachers recognize Smith as the cornerstone of the religion. Former president of the LDS church, Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972) accurately conveys the weight that Smith carries in the Mormon Church when he commented: “Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed, and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.” Tragically, Smith has been shown over and over to fail at every category suggested by Joseph Fielding Smith. In the words of his namesake, Smith is one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen.
Mormon Doctrine: Far From Orthodox Christianity
In terms of theology, the Mormon foundations are riddled with teachings that conflict with just about every historic Christian doctrine. For example, Mormonism teaches that God the Father not only had a beginning, but he is one of millions of gods that exist outside of our universe. Such notions collide with Scripture, which teaches that the God of the Bible is the one true God, and there is no other (Is 45:18, 22).
Also, according to Mormonism, Jesus Christ is not the God-Man (John 1:1-14); he is the spirit-brother of Satan who was created by God. Salvation is not by grace alone through faith alone (Eph 2:8-9), but something given to us by God after we have done all that we can do. Actually, Mormonism teaches that all people are eventually “saved,” but only those who keep all of God’s commandments will be exalted into a celestial sphere where they will become gods. All of these notions are in direct contradiction to Scripture and historic Christian teaching.
Mormon Scripture: Another Testimony of Jesus Christ?
Although Mormons claim to believe the Bible, they actually harbor strong doubts about its reliability and look to other so-called revelations like The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants for doctrinal guidance. The Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price were penned by Joseph Smith. Doctrines and Covenants contain Smith’s teachings as well as material from other LDS “prophets.” All three are considered inspired revelation from God.
Problems abound for these texts, however. Doctrinally, much in these “revelations” directly conflict with biblical teaching. Beyond that, scholars have demonstrated that The Book of Mormon’s historical and scientific claims are unfounded and bereft of evidence. The origin of the Book of Mormon is sketchy as well. In 1823, Smith claimed to have been visited by the angel Moroni who directed him to a set of golden plates—buried on a hill near his New York home—that contained a historic record of America’s early inhabitants. Smith then translated these plates into a text that became the Book of Mormon. Although there were few men who claimed to have seen these plates, these claims do not appear reliable, and it is likely that no one was able to corroborate Smith’s story about the existence of the golden plates.
While the Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price consists chiefly of historical claims, Doctrines and Covenants provide Mormons with foundational doctrinal instruction. Actually, much of what Mormons believe in terms of doctrine is not found in the The Book of Mormon but is rather contained in Doctrines and Covenants. In this text we find teachings that affirm that God the Father has a body of flesh and bone, that “celestial marriage” is necessary if one desires to achieve personal godhood, and the formal recognition of Joseph Smith as a prophet and apostle, among other statements of doctrinal import. Even a brief survey of these texts exposes that their claim to latter-day revelation is easily disregarded.
Many Mormons are unaware of what their religion teaches. The Mormon missionaries who come to your door every now and again have been well trained, but only in a few key areas of Mormon doctrine. Their knowledge of the Bible is often superficial—except for some important proof texts that allegedly support teaching found in their other “revelations”—and any acquaintance with Christian theology is only marginal.
Their lack of knowledge of Christian teaching implies that engaging with Mormons should focus on positively presenting biblical truth to their minds and hearts. Knowledge of Mormonism is useful, but even more important is that you possess a solid grasp of Christian doctrine so that you are able to (1) discern their errant beliefs; and (2) accurately convey the truth of Scripture.
None of the above is meant to promote a sense of superiority among Christians who know and love the truth. Of all people we know that our faith in Christ is a gift of pure grace (see 1 Cor 4:6). We are blind and helpless apart from God’s Spirit and Word, and we, just like all people, are dependent upon the sovereign intervention of God in order to see rightly (see 2 Cor 4:1-6).
Nevertheless, when tested by God’s Word, we see that the errors of the Mormon church are as deadly as they are obvious. Those who embrace Mormon teaching reside under the wrath of God and desperately need Christians who are committed to compassionate truth-telling and evangelism to engage them in intentional conversation.
Perhaps this article has piqued your curiosity about the Mormon religion and you have a renewed desire to talk to Mormons with the hope of leading them to Christ. If so, I would encourage you to begin your evangelistic endeavors by first grounding yourself in the Christian faith. Make sure you know what Scripture teaches before you engage with Mormons. Next, educate yourself about Mormonism. Letters to a Mormon Elder by James White, Mormonism 101 by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Mormons by Ron Rhodes, and Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin are all excellent resources that will help you understand Mormonism from a biblical perspective. The Mormon Mirage is a detailed and even-handed examination of Mormonism’s history and doctrine by former Mormon, Latayne C. Scott. Online, you can find many helpful articles here at The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, here at the Mormon Research Ministry, and here at the Utah Lighthouse Ministry. For some excellent on-the-street examples of how to witness to Mormons, check out Apologia Radio’s YouTube channel here.
In all your efforts, pray diligently for God’s help, rely upon his Word for persuasion, and trust His Spirit for power. And the next time you hear a knock at your door, you will be ready to share the gospel with those two young Mormon missionaries who really need it.