In this second episode in a three-part series, pastors Derek and Cliff evaluate a few foundational Mormon doctrines in light of Scripture.
Derek: Welcome to With All Wisdom, where we are applying biblical truth to everyday life. My name is Derek Brown and I am here today with Cliff McManis. We are both pastors and elders at Creekside Bible Church in Cupertino, California, and professors at the Cornerstone Bible College and Seminary in Vallejo, California. And today we are on Part Two of what Christians should think about Mormonism. But before I get to our topic for today, I want to draw your attention to WithAllWisdom.org, where you’ll find a large and growing collection of resources on various theological, cultural, and practical topics that are all rooted in God’s Word and aim to help you make genuine progress in your walk with the Lord.
On to our topic. Today, we want to talk about basic Mormon theology. The last episode (if you want to check that out, that’s episode number 39) was just a basic overview of how evangelicals at large are currently engaging with Mormon theology. Now we want to examine the theology itself, contrast that with Scripture, and see where there are very clear differences between Mormon theology and Christian theology. So I’m going to hand it over to you, Cliff. How would you like to start us off as we talk about, compare, and contrast Mormon theology and Christian theology?
Cliff: Yeah. In the last episode, we just tried to scratch the surface – what’s the state of the union today in 2022 – on how the evangelical world or community is interacting with Mormonism or how they perceive Mormons. And that has drastically changed, like we said, since the 1970s and 80s. [There are] a lot of reasons for that, one of which was this landmark book from 1997 – How Wide the Divide? – and other books that followed suit. So things have drastically changed.
I wanted to now transition into the origin of Mormonism, [going over] a little bit of its history and also some of its main theology. And then we can contrast that with what the Bible says. There are people out there who are trying – on both sides – to downplay the differences between true, historic, biblical Christianity and Mormonism, which is very dangerous. So we’re trying to draw a line of clear demarcation between the two – the one, true faith of the Bible, [which is] Christianity, and another false religion and “pseudo” Christianity, if you will.
So, just starting with the history of Mormonism. I actually used to live in Utah. I lived there for a couple of years. And I was a pastor at a little church there and I was renting a house. My landlady was Mormon, and all of her family and descendants were Mormon. She was probably seventy, almost eighty years old. And she agreed to rent the house to me and my wife and our two kids. And she knew I was not a Mormon. She knew I was a Baptist pastor. And so anytime she saw me – about once a month – she’d call me a “Gentile.” That means, “You’re not a Mormon.” So that’s how they [talked] – you’re either a Mormon or you’re Gentile. So if you’re not a Mormon, you’re a Gentile. So it was a slur, basically. And she had no problem calling me that to remind me that I wasn’t part of the “one true church” and that I could not reach a state of exaltation because I was not a Mormon.
So that was her view. But anyways, when I was living in Utah, I got to know a lot of Mormons. And so that was back in the nineties. So I became familiar with it. I just want to share a little bit of its history, and then we could talk about its theology and then, Derek, you can chime in, too, on how their theology is so different from biblical theology. But just with respect to Mormon history, I want to share a couple of things.
Oh! What I was going to say is, I lived in Utah and now, coming up real soon, I’m going to actually lead an eight day short-term missions trip to Utah with some folks in our church. And we’ll spend about a week interacting on the BYU campus, talking to Mormons and other folks, and maybe doing some street evangelism. And what I have quickly learned in training my well-educated team from my church in preparation for that is, for the most part, the majority of them don’t know anything about Mormonism. So that surprised me. It alarmed me. So now we’re preparing them and letting them become familiar with Mormonism. Most of it is new information to them. They had no idea. So that’s kind of scary, because when you’re ignorant about something, you can’t really be ready and prepared to defend against something, right? So that ignorance needs to be exposed with the truth.
So a little bit about Joseph Smith. Mormonism was a religion that started in the early 1800s with a guy named Joseph Smith, Jr. And according to their own so-called “holy scripture” I’m holding here, this one book has three standard works in it, called The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. This is endorsed by the Mormon church. And in this book, in the introduction, here’s a little summary from their point of view of how their church started.
They say that Joseph Smith, Jr. was born December 23rd, in 1805, in Vermont. Then as a young child, moved to New York, and as a fourteen-year-old in the spring of 1820, he claims that God the Father – the eternal Father – visited him in person, along with the resurrected Jesus Christ. This is called the First Vision of Mormonism. So Joseph Smith grew up in Protestant denominations, but he’s out there in the woods or wherever he is in New York, and at age fourteen, supposedly God the Father appears to him in a body along with Jesus and, “he was told in this vision that the true church of Jesus Christ that had been established in New Testament times and which had administered the fullness of the gospel was no longer on the earth.” So God the Father told Joseph Smith in 1820 that the true church of Jesus Christ no longer exists. Comment on that, Derek.
Derek: Well, you have a few problems with that. First is a biblical problem. Jesus said that he would build his church and the gates of Hades would never prevail over it. So that the church somehow got extinguished contradicts what Jesus said about the church – that it would prevail and it would continue. So you have a problem there. And then any knowledge of church history tells us that the church – though it has foils here and there – has continued, the gospel has been preserved throughout the ages, and the church has continued throughout the ages and up to that point. And in fact, during that time and up to that point, there had been – just a few decades prior to that – you had the Great Awakening and some of our favorite preachers and teachers during that time who were teaching and preaching and writing. And so there was plenty of Christianity happening. So just two things there: Jesus’ point in the New Testament, and then church history, which tells us that Joseph Smith’s so-called “revelation” was entirely false.
Cliff: Yes. So the Bible itself, Jesus, and the historical record clearly show the church never died out, fizzled out, out petered out.
Cliff: At least, in the way that Joseph Smith claims. I mean, that’s very revealing with Jesus telling his disciples that the gates of hell and death will never overcome it.
Cliff: The church will continue on in perpetuity until I [Jesus] return again. Joseph Smith says, “Oh no, that’s not true.”
Derek: I mean, that should have ended the conversation seriously.
Cliff: Joseph Smith, the fourteen-year-old, or Jesus Christ, Lord Almighty. Who are you going to believe? And that’s not overstating the case. So that’s a great observation there that you just made. So, he goes on here in their own book: that the church no longer exists, and since the true church of Jesus Christ died out, what needed to happen? A new church needs to be restarted again and reignited with the proper authority. So in the next paragraph here, it says that in the course of time, Joseph Smith – the teenager – was enabled by divine assistance to translate and publish The Book of Mormon from supposed Egyptian hieroglyphics. In the meantime, he and some other guy – Oliver Cowdery – were ordained to the Aaronic priesthood at age twenty-four and twenty-three. And guess who ordained them? John the Baptist.
John the Baptist came back from the dead and ordained Joseph Smith, the twenty-three-year-old, to the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood. And then shortly after that, he was ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. And guess who ordained him? The ancient apostles, Peter, James, and John. Peter, James, and John came back from heaven, laid their hands on Joseph, the twenty-something-year-old, to ordain him to the Melchizedek priesthood. So now he has the Aaronic priesthood, he has the Melchizedek priesthood, and he got ordained at least one more time, which was followed by another ordination by Moses and Elijah. They ordained him as well, giving him the priestly keys that he needed for even more authority. And then it says that many other ancient prophets also ordained him. And what this did is, this gave him all the authority of heaven so that he could restart the church or start a new church – the Mormon church. And so that’s why it says in the next sentence that these ordinations were, in fact, a restoration of divine authority by two men on the earth. On April 6th, 1830, under heavenly direction, the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. organized the church capital, and thus the true church of Jesus Christ is once again operative as an institution among men.
Derek: That is absolutely incredible. The fact that, or what it indicates – and [the fact that it] was embraced early on – is that people had a woeful ignorance of Scripture, which teaches that, at basic, the Aaronic priesthood is over and done with, because that was part of the Old Covenant that has been fulfilled in Christ. And there’s only one person who is part of the Melchizedek priesthood, and that’s Jesus himself.
Derek: And that is in fulfillment of the Old Covenant, which has been now set aside. And so just that basic knowledge of the Old Testament in the book of Hebrews would’ve given people great pause as to these so-called revelations.
Cliff: Yeah. So you’ve got complete, absolute, abject biblical ignorance going on here on the part of – not just Joseph Smith – but the people who bought into this.
Derek: Right, exactly right.
Cliff: Yep. Complete, total ignorance of the Bible. But also I think in the spirit of the age, during that time in New York and in the United States and in that area where there was a great religious zeal and fervor like Timothy talks about – it wasn’t according to knowledge. It’s, like, in a vacuum, and they don’t know the Bible. So they’ve fallen for everything, like a child tossed to and fro. And we know from United States history that there were all kinds of counterfeits going around selling this false religion. And Joseph Smith was just one.
Derek: Yeah. That’s a really good point, in terms of it fitting within the social and historical cultural context, that he could gain that hearing. That’s an interesting point.
Cliff: Yeah. And he does this as a teenager and actually in his early twenties. So he is very persuasive. And we know, historically, that he was very charismatic. He had a persuasive personality. So he did have a natural aptitude and giftedness to pull this off, and a lot of creativity…and probably some satanic help on his side, from behind the scenes, in the angelic realm or the demonic realm – counterfeiting as truth.
And people were falling sway to this. So, over time, he ends up writing his own so-called scripture. Like you said in the last program – you were right – the assessment early on of Mormonism and especially of Joseph Smith was that he was critical of the Bible at the time. In his day, in the 1830s and 1840s, the only Bible they really had in English was the King James Bible. That was it. He was familiar with the King James Bible, although he wasn’t very educated in a formal sense. So he knew here and there, but he didn’t know the Bible in context. He didn’t know the whole Bible. That’s why he made a lot of major blunders. But he was familiar with the King James Bible, and he used that to plagiarize and make up the Book of Mormon.
Then he came up, as time went on, and his religion began to grow in [terms of] following. And he began to amass disciples and assistance to himself. Then he started making other scriptures to add to the King James Bible, and then the Book of Mormon. And then he came up with what was called the Doctrine and Covenants, and that’s one of their standard works. And so these are supposedly over 130 different prophecies that he got from Jesus. And he wrote these down. Many of these are very controversial. And, actually, when you think of Mormon theology, a lot of this is where they come from – the Doctrine and Covenants. The weird stuff. So I wanted to read some of these to you from their own standard work. You comment on them, Derek, because this is – to this day – standard, approved Mormon doctrine.
So this one is from, supposedly, a vision where Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith in Illinois on April 2nd, 1843. He writes the Doctrine and Covenants in King James English, because that’s all he knew. So he mimics it. And in section 130 of Doctrine and Covenants, verse 12, he says this, “I prophesy in the name of the Lord God that the commencement of the difficulties, which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man, will be in South Carolina.” Now, I’m reading this one because it’s a weird one that nobody talks about. And what he’s doing is predicting that the Great Tribulation is going to be in South Carolina. A lot of people haven’t ever heard that one before.
Derek: I haven’t heard that one.
Cliff: Anyway, but – for the record – the Tribulation didn’t happen in South Carolina. Right? So he was wrong. So already this is false.
Derek: Even though it’s really hot and humid there, that’s not what’s happening.
Cliff: Good point. In that same chapter, here’s his doctrine of God. He says in verse 22 of section 130, “The Father [he was talking about God] has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” Hmm…God the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s? Comment on that, Derek.
Derek: Yeah. It’s just basic Christian theology that God the Father has always been eternally a spirit and he will forever be a spirit. It was the Son who became incarnate and took on a human nature. But the Father never did and never will and never has. And so it has always been, historically, Christians’ understanding and the church’s understanding that the Father has never had a physical body, but has always been a spirit. And so that is a direct contradiction to Scripture. You could point to John chapter four, verse 24 and other texts that clearly affirm that the Father is a spirit. And then you look at the history of Christian teaching, and that has been affirmed as just a foundational piece of Christian theology. And it is in direct opposition to Joseph Smith’s statement there.
Cliff: That’s a good point. And in How Wide the Divide?, Stephen Robinson – again, one of the most well-known apologists of the Mormon faith and one of the most respected theologians of the Mormon faith – he talks about this. He says that the regular Bible is ambiguous on the idea of whether God the Father has a body or not, which is not true. You just [mentioned] a verse in the gospel of John – John chapter four – in which Jesus said, point blank, that the Father is spirit. God the Father is a spirit. And then in Luke 24, Jesus said that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. So he even defined what a spirit is. God the Father is a spirit, and a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones. Joseph Smith, you are wrong.
Cliff: That is clear. Okay, this is from Doctrine and Covenants 132. This was, supposedly, a prophecy Joseph Smith got in 1843 on July 12th in Illinois from Jesus. And Joseph Smith, supposedly, was told that someday he can be exalted. He can become a god, and you, too, can become a god if you do it the Mormon way. Verse 20 of Doctrine and Covenants 132 says this: “Then shall they [those who obey and follow the rules and do what Joseph Smith says and do the ordinances] be gods [plural], because they have no end. Therefore, shall they be from everlasting to everlasting because they continue, then shall they be above all. Because all things are subject unto them, then shall they be gods, because they have all power and all the angels are subject unto them.” That’s one verse. They shall be gods. So the promise here is that you can become a God, Derek.
Derek: It’s interesting because one of the first promises that Satan made – or implied, rather – was when he was tempting Adam and Eve – that they could become like God. And here you have that played out in Joseph Smith’s doctrine, promising deity to human beings and promising them the authority and the power that only God can have. And so it’s interesting to see how, when Satan is tempting our first human beings, Adam and Eve, he tempts them this way. And now you have Joseph Smith using that same kind of temptation, you could say, to create a theology of deity for humans. And, again, it’s just contradictory to Scripture. Christian theology teaches that there is a clear distinction between God and what he has created. We are humans, and humans can never attain deity. There will always be an infinite divide between God’s being and our being. And we are always fully dependent upon him. We will someday be glorified, but that does not mean that we are gods or have anywhere near the ontology that God has. There is a clear line of demarcation between God’s being and our being. And that has always been another foundational piece to Christian theology.
Cliff: Yeah. Steven Robinson, the Mormon theologian, he refers to – or, I think, maims or distorts – Peter, where he says that we are partakers of the divine nature.
Derek: Oh, sure. Right.
Cliff: We are partakers of the divine nature. And then, as a result, he says, “Oh, and you can be like Christ, and we’re being conformed in the image of Christ. Therefore, Jesus is God, and we can become like Christ. Therefore, we can become a god.” That’s his argument. What do you say to that?
Derek: Well, you have to remember that Christ is both fully God and fully man. And we’re becoming like Christ in his perfect manhood, but not in his deity. And that is kept very clear throughout the New Testament – that he is the great “I AM” and we are mere creatures. He is the Creator. We are creatures. And so in terms of becoming like Christ, we’re becoming like him in his human nature, which is totally right and good. And partaking in the divine nature does not mean that we are becoming gods, but that we are becoming more and more like Christ in his human nature and that we are going to be glorified and be made perfect. So there will be no more sin. We won’t be sinning anymore, but it certainly does not mean that we take on a divine ontology or become like God in our being.
Cliff: Yes. We will remain finite creatures.
Derek: Yes. Finite creatures.
Cliff: Ontology. That’s a key word there. In terms of our very essence and nature, we’ll never cross over into godhood.
One more. This is Doctrine and Covenants 132. Boy, 132 of Doctrine and Covenants is a doozy, because it’s got all this stuff in it. Going later on in the chapter of Doctrine and Covenants 132, this is the doctrine of polygamy. So let me just read, Derek, this little excerpt here for you that establishes the Mormon doctrine of polygamy. Supposedly, Jesus said to Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 132, starting at verse 32, “Go ye therefore, and do the works of Abraham. Enter ye into my law, says God, and ye shall be saved.” So, do the following and you will be saved, right? Well, what is that? What’s he supposed to do to get saved? Verse 34: “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.” Verse 37: “Abraham received concubines [that means many women], and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law.” So according to Doctrine and Covenants, basically, Abraham was counted as righteous for being a polygamist. That would border on blasphemy, and that is so outrageous.
Derek: It is outrageous, when it clearly says in Genesis 15 – and then Paul reiterates in Romans 4 – that Abraham is justified because he believed God, full stop.
Cliff: Yeah. The doctrine of justification. And here, Joseph Smith says you’re saved by becoming a polygamist. And he’s also saying that God commanded Sarah to give Hagar to Abraham, which is not what the Bible says at all. Not at all. Then, Joseph Smith goes on in verse 38 to further promote his doctrine of polygamy. Probably, at this time, he had over forty wives when he was writing this, so he’s got to justify it. Later on in his so-called ministry, he’s been having multitudinous wives. He’s cheating on the left and the right and all over the place. He can’t hide it anymore. People are trying to cover for him. It’s been exposed. And so he comes up with the idea. “Oh, okay, I’ll just say that I got a revelation from God that polygamy is okay. As a matter of fact, you’ve got to practice polygamy to become a god.” And so that’s what he does. And that’s what this is. And so he finds polygamy in the Bible, which is true. Polygamy is in the Bible. As a matter of fact, believers practice polygamy, and he mentions them. Abraham had more than one wife, or cheated on his wife.
Derek: That’s true.
Cliff: As did David, who had at least nine different wives, right? Solomon had a thousand women in his life. And that’s who Joseph Smith is referring to here. He goes on in verse 38: “David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servant, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin.” So, supposedly, this polygamy wasn’t a sin. It wasn’t a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it was a good and holy thing. And it’s what you need to do to become a god.
Derek: Wow. That’s just such an outrageous reading of the whole Bible, really. I mean, polygamy was something that God allowed in certain cases, but never did he approve it. In fact, you’ve made a point to me before that God always actually punished and brought discipline to his people when they practiced polygamy. So he never affirmed it. In fact, if you go back to Genesis and Jesus’ point, that marriage is between one man and one woman, you see that in Genesis 2, Jesus affirms it in the gospels. And then you come to the New Testament, and elders are to be men of one wife, because this is the picture of what God has designed. Jesus has one bride. So marriage in the scriptures always had to be monogamous between one man and one woman. God, in some cases, allows polygamy, but he never approves it. And like you’ve said, and I’ve heard you say before, not only that, but he actually disciplines his people for practicing polygamy.
Cliff: Yeah. And Joseph Smith here is commending Solomon for having all those wives, right? When actually in Deuteronomy 17 verse 17, God said to Moses that in the future, when you have a king over Israel, this king shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away. So, God clearly prohibited polygamy and the accumulation of wives. Once again, showing that Joseph Smith was wrong. He was a false prophet, and the holy scriptures of Mormonism are not holy. They’re erroneous.
Derek: Exactly. And this goes back to something we said earlier. This ignorance of Scripture is what enables people to embrace this kind of teaching, because knowledge of the narrative of Abraham, knowledge of what Scripture teaches about marriage and the beauty of it and the way it’s supposed to be structured, and what Scripture teaches about polygamy itself and the practice of it and what God taught Israel with regard to its kings – if you have knowledge of Scripture in this way, then you hear Joseph Smith’s teaching and you recognize immediately that it’s wrong. That it’s sinful; that it’s evil. And like you mentioned, this is merely a justification for him to continue in his sinful practice of [having] multiple wives and adultery.
Cliff: Yeah. And Joseph Smith had over forty wives, and some of those were fourteen years of age at the time. If you study the history of Joseph Smith, he would be in jail. He’d be on Megan’s List today as just a criminal and a really gross pervert.
Derek: Mm-hmm. In the next episode, we want to now take these topics that we’ve discussed – the theology of Mormonism, the state of Mormonism in relation to how it’s engaging with evangelicalism and how evangelicals are engaging with Mormons, plus the theology we just talked about – and now help you to evangelize to Mormons. Because it’s likely that either you’ve had a Mormon knock at your door, or maybe you know a Mormon at your work, or you will in the future. It’s probably going to happen if it hasn’t already. And as a Christian, you need to know how to share the gospel with them effectively and what to talk about. So that’s what we want to talk about in our next episode: how to evangelize to Mormons in a way that is gracious, but truthful and effective. And until that time, I encourage you to check out WithAllWisdom.org. And I also encourage you to keep seeking the Lord in his Word.