Because these allegations are repeatedly made by knowledgeable ministers from various Christian denominations, people are often surprised or skeptical when Mormons talk about their faith in, love for and acceptance of Christ as our personal Savior and Redeemer. Many Christians claim that even though we talk about Jesus Christ, we don't believe in the same kind of Savior as they do. Therefore, to see whether such claims are valid or not, all we need do is compare what Mormons believe against those doctrines which the established Christian community approves of, ratifies, sanctions and endorses. But, to do that, we need to have a clear definition of what constitutes the orthodox Christian faith.
Surprising as it may sound, there are many Christian denomination who do not have an explicitly defined statement of what they believe. However, most of them do subscribe to a broad based set of basic beliefs. As such, it can therefore be said that a statement from one traditional church can be considered just as valid an explanation as a statement from another orthodox church. And, indeed, most of them claim that despite their doctrinal differences, they are still very much united in their fundamental beliefs concerning God, salvation, and the Bible.
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at what Christians believe and compare them to what Mormons teach. The following is a "Believers Statement of Faith" as found at http://www.reasons.org/about/sof.html
Concerning scripture, this statement reads, "We believe the Bible (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) is the Word of God, written. As a "God-breathed" revelation, it is thus verbally inspired and completely without error (historically, scientifically, morally, and spiritually) in its original writings. While God the Holy Spirit supernaturally superintended the writing of the Bible, that writing nevertheless reflects the words and literary styles of its individual human authors. Scripture reveals the being, nature, and character of God, the nature of God's creation, and especially His will for the salvation of human beings through Jesus Christ. The Bible is therefore our supreme and final authority in all matters that it addresses."
It is a popular theme nowadays to rewrite 2 Timothy 3:16 to read, "All Scripture is God-breathed." By this it is meant that God "thus verbally inspired" the writers of the Bible to know exactly what they should write. Thus, each word found in the Bible is exactly the word which God Himself intended to use. And, since God never says anything that is false, therefore the Bible is "completely without error." However, notice that this statement then makes a clarification when it adds, "in its original writings."
Mormon doctrine teaches that when the words of the Bible proceedeth forth from the pen of the original writers, it came forth "in purity," but through carelessness or by designs, "many parts which were plain and most precious" have been deleted and removed (1 Nephi 13:24-26). In our statement of beliefs, known as the Thirteen Articles of Faith, the eighth article reads, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly." Many in the Christian community focus primarily on our contention that the Bible as we presently have it is not exactly written as God originally inspired it. But when saying this, they overlook the fact that we still believe that the Bible is the word of God. As such, we consider it as scripture and "is profitable for doctrine, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
Although we completely believe that the writers of the Bible were guided by the Holy Ghost, yet we also agree that the words they used "reflects the words and literary styles of its individual human authors" More than that, we whole-heartedly agree that the Bible "reveals the being, nature, and character of God, the nature of God's creation, and especially His will for the salvation of human beings through Jesus Christ."
However, we do not believe that "the Bible is therefore our supreme and final authority in all matters that it addresses." The reason for this is very clear. It is impossible for man to fully understand the Bible without interpreting its message. And it's because people must interpret the Bible that we have over 1,000 different Christian denominations, all teaching slightly different doctrines while each one claiming that they alone are correctly following the Bible's instructions. Therefore, it is obvious that the Bible cannot be the "supreme and final authority in all matters" if Christians as a whole cannot agree upon what it says. (for a more in-depth discussion of this matter read The Authority of God )
Concerning God, the Believer's Statement of Faith reads, "We believe in one infinitely perfect, eternal and personal God, the transcendent Creator and sovereign Sustainer of the universe. This one God is Triune, existing eternally and simultaneously as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three persons in the Godhead share equally and completely the one divine nature, and are therefore the same God, coequal in power, nature, and glory."
Mormons have no problem with agreeing with that statement. We most certainly do "believe in one infinitely perfect, eternal and personal God, the transcendent Creator and sovereign Sustainer of the universe." However, we do not subscribe to the concept of the Trinity as defined by orthodox theology. That concept states, God is an incomprehensible three-in-one and one-in-three sort of being. We absolutely affirm that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exists "eternally and simultaneously as three distinct persons." We teach as fundamental doctrine that "All three persons in the Godhead share equally and completely the one divine nature, and are therefore the same God, coequal in power, nature, and glory."
When Christians are asked about the apparent contradiction of how there can only be one God while stating there are "three distinct persons" making up this one Godhead, they are at a complete loss of how to explain it. They answer that it is a mystery. They claim that to understand the kind of being an infinite God is, goes far beyond our ability to comprehend it. Therefore, they declare that it is impossible for man's finite mind even to fathom such an infinite concept. Thus, they readily admit that, for them, God is an unknowable, incomprehensible, puzzling enigma. As such, they can only talk about His characteristics of love, justice, truth, mercy, and righteousness rather than explain their idea of the Trinity.
On the other hand, Mormons are fully able to explain how three people can be "the same God, coequal in power, nature, and glory." In explaining about the resurrection of the dead, the apostle Paul illustrated this principle by saying, "there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for as one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead... it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory" (1 Corinthians 15:41- 43). The question we can ask is, What kind of "glory" will Christians be raised in? The scriptures tell us we will receive "the glory of God" (Romans 15:7), that when Christ comes again we too will "appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:4), that God has called us into "his kingdom and glory" (1 Thessalonians 2:12 ) "unto his eternal glory" (1 Peter 5:10), that we will obtain "the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 2:14), and we "shall receive a crown of glory" (1Peter 5:4) Thus the scriptures declare that saved Christians will someday likewise share the one, same, eternal glory which Christ shares with His Father. Therefore, it is no mystery how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost can all share the same eternal glory and still be "three distinct persons."
We also declare that the power by which God governs the universe and causes His will to be done is through His priesthood. It is by this power that Christ was able to effect the atonement and become an ordained High Priest (Hebrews 5:5,6,9,10) to offer up sacrifices to the Father in our behalf. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost share this same power coequally. And the nature of these "three distinct persons" are just as equally the same. (for a more in-depth discussion on this issue, see Our God is One )
Yet when we can offer an explanation for what others readily admit they do not understand, many in the Christian community claim we do not believe in the same God they do simply because the concept of "a Triune God" is not a mystery to us.
Concerning the Person of Christ, the Believer's statement of faith reads, "We believe that Jesus Christ is both true God (the second Person of the Trinity) and true man (the Incarnate Son of God). We also believe in the great events surrounding Jesus Christ's life and ministry, including: His eternal preexistence, His virgin birth, His attesting miracles, His sinless life, His sacrificial death on the cross, His glorious bodily resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and His present work in heaven as High Priest and Advocate. He will return in glory to resurrect and judge all mankind."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whole-heartedly and enthusiastically agrees with every aspect of that statement without any reservation, equivocation, amendment or alteration. We believe absolutely "that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man." We affirm the reality of the great events that comprised the life and ministry of Jesus Christ - His virgin birth, His sinless life, His many miracles, and His sacrificial death on the cross to atone for our sins. We boldly declare His glorious resurrection from the dead and that He continues to oversee the work of redemption from his place on the right hand side of God, the Father in heaven, where He is our High Priest and advocate with the Father. We expectantly look forward to the time when "Christ will reign personally upon the earth" (tenth Article of Faith) and we declare that He will judge all mankind and reward every man according to his works.
Concerning the Person of the Holy Spirit, the Believer's Statement of Faith reads, "We believe that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, is indeed a Divine Person, coequal with the Father and the Son. We also believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in salvation, a ministry which includes anointing and glorifying Christ, convicting men of their sin, bringing about the regeneration of lost sinners, and indwelling believers and empowering them for godly living and spiritual service."
Although Mormons may not use the same terminology in describing the mission and function of the Holy Ghost, we completely concur with the preceding statement. We fully believe that the Holy Spirit "is indeed a Divine Person, coequal with the Father and the Son." We also believe that the Holy Ghost is needed in bringing people to Christ and to His salvation, that He is responsible for helping people realize the need to repent of their sins, and that He is a constant companion to those who have accepted Christ, guiding, teaching, and helping them to change their nature from a carnal state to a Christ-like attitude. And as people undergo this character-changing transformation in their life, their desire to show love for God through "godly living and spiritual service" to Him and to their fellowman continually grows.
The only area of this statement of faith that strikes me as being a little odd is when it says that the ministry of the Holy Spirit "includes anointing and glorifying Christ." We firmly believe that the main role of the Holy Ghost is to glorify the name of Christ by bringing people to a knowledge of Him as our Redeemer and Savior. However, the Bible clearly states that Christ was anointed and glorified by His Father, not the Holy Ghost (Act 10:38, Hebrews 1:9, John 17:5, 22, Hebrew 2:9, 2 Peter 1:17).
Concerning mankind, the Believer's Statement of Faith reads, "We believe God created mankind in His image and likeness (having rational, moral, relational, and spiritual capacities) to fellowship with Him and give Him glory. Human beings are therefore the crown of God's creation (possessing inherent dignity and moral worth), and thus distinct in kind from all other life on earth. Adam and Eve, the first human beings, chose to rebel against God and go their own autonomous way. As a result, all of mankind became separated from God, the image of God in man distorted, and the sinful nature passed on to all their progeny. Because of original sin (which includes both corruption and guilt), unregenerate human beings are incapable of pleasing or commending themselves to God. The only remedy for mankind's pitiful predicament is redemption through faith in Jesus Christ."
Mormons hold some similarity of beliefs with this statement and have some differences of doctrine with other parts. We do believe that "Human beings are therefore the crown of God's creation (possessing inherent dignity and moral worth), and thus distinct in kind from all other life on earth." We also teach that "Adam and Eve, [were] the first human beings." We further believe that God created man "to [have] fellowship with Him and give Him glory." We likewise believe that "As a result, [of sin] all of mankind became separated from God" and that we all have a "sinful nature" (i.e., human nature is disposed to sin). Because of that, mankind finds itself in a sorrowful predicament and can only be redeemed from this condition through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
When the Bible states that man was made in the image of God, Mormons take that declaration literally. However, most Christians don't. Although orthodox Christians state that God is a "Person" they do not mean He has a human form. Therefore, in an effort to explain how man is made "in the image and likeness of God" yet doesn't have the same kind of physical appearance that humans have, most churches claim that it is only in our "characteristic traits" that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Since God has "rational, moral, relational, and spiritual capacities" and we do too, most Christian teachers confidently affirm that this is what it really means to be made in the image and likeness of God.
The problem with such a doctrine is that it is found nowhere in the Bible. In fact nowhere in the Bible does it say that God has a form different from that of man. In every instance where God has appeared to man, He has always been described at having a human form, i.e. head, hair, eyes, ears, mouth, arms, legs, feet, back parts, torso, loins, etc. Nevertheless, most Christian theologians maintain that these are merely man's feeble attempt at describing the indescribable. As such, they claim that these descriptions should not be taken literally but figuratively, as allegorical and poetic utterances. Yet, once again, there is no solid scriptural support for such an assertion.
On the other hand, the scriptures clearly forbids the use of "graven images." These are works of stone, wood or other material which are carved and formed into an image or likeness of the god people seek to worship. There is nothing in these "images" which represents, or is like the character traits of the god whom they believe in. In fact, just the opposite is true. The only thing that wood or stone can convey is the physical appearance of what the sculptor believes the god looks like. Thus, if we are to be consistent with our use of biblical words, we must conclude that man was made in the physical, more than the emotional image and likeness of God.
Furthermore, we do not believe that Adam and Eve "chose to rebel against God and go their own autonomous way." It is true that they transgressed the commandment which God gave them in the Garden of Eden, but this was done while still in their innocent state. And rather than thwarting God's hope for man, the fall of Adam and Eve was expected and necessary. (for an in-depth discussion of this subject read The Fall of Man and Adam - The First )
We also disagree with the statement that humans "are incapable of pleasing or commending themselves to God." It is inconsistent to say that man is "the crown of God's creation - possessing inherent dignity and moral worth," and then say that nothing man does can please God. Those two statements contradict one another. Furthermore, the Bible definitely tells us that the Lord was pleased by the things Solomon asked for (1 Kings 3:10), that He is pleased "with the sacrifices of righteousness" (Psalms 51:19), and with the good things we do, especially if we share (communicate) our substance with others (Hebrews 13:16). The Lord is also pleased (delighted) when we judge justly with others (Proverbs 11:1) as He is with the prayers of the righteous (Proverbs 15:8).
In addition to that, Enoch was a mortal man, born in sin and subject to temptation, yet the scriptures tell us "that he pleased God." (Hebrews 11:5). The scriptures also records that God told the children of Israel that "the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them." (Deuteronomy 10:15). If He took delight in them, then obviously He was well pleased with them. God was so pleased with the faith Abraham had in Him, that "he was called the Friend of God" (James 2:23). God was also very pleased with Job and bragged about how righteous he was when Satan came before the Lord (Job 1:6-8). To say that man can do nothing that will please or be found praiseworthy or acceptable by the Lord, is to reject what the scriptures themselves say.
Concerning redemption, the Believer's Statement of Faith reads, "We believe God has acted sovereignly to bridge the gap that separates people from Himself. He sent His Son, born of a virgin, attested by miracles and by a sinless life, to bear the full penalty for humanity's sin. Jesus Christ suffered and died in the place of sinners, thus satisfying the Father's just wrath against human sin, and effecting true reconciliation between God and mankind for those who believe. In the atoning death of Christ, both God's love and God's justice are fully manifested. The righteousness of Jesus Christ in perfectly fulfilling the law of God has been graciously credited to all believers. Redemption is solely a work of God's grace, received exclusively through faith in Jesus Christ, and never by works of human merit."
The doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are in complete and full harmony with this statement except when it comes to the idea that we are save by grace only without any need to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling" (Phillipians 2:12). (I have given several in-depth explanations of the relationship between works and grace, approaching the subject from various different perspectives, which can be read under the heading of The Nature of Salvation )
As Latter-day Saints, we most certainly do believe that before the foundations of the earth was laid, God, our Father, prepared a way "to bridge the gap that separates people from Himself." As stated earlier, we fully believe that Jesus was born of a virgin birth, that he lived a sinless life, and that He suffered and died on the cross "to bear the full penalty for humanity's sin... in the place of sinners" to satisfy the demands of eternal justice. Thus, because of His atonement, He has been able to reconcile man to God, by fulfilling the law of justice while still preserving the quality of mercy. We sincerely and solemnly declare that it is through "the righteousness of Jesus Christ" that His sacrifice is "graciously credited to all believers."
Concerning justification, the Believer's Statement of Faith reads, "We believe justification is a judicial act of God's grace wherein He acquits a person of all sin and accepts that person as righteous in His sight because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Justification is strictly a work of God's grace, apprehended through faith alone, and solely on the account of Christ."
Mormons can readily agree to this statement. Despite the claim from other denomination that we believe it is necessary for us to "earn" our way into heaven through the use of "works," the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphatically teaches that "justification is strictly a work of God's grace" and is made possible because of the atoning sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered us for our sins by the shedding of his blood on the cross.
Concerning the resurrection, the Believer's Statement of Faith reads, "We believe Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead, conquering sin, death, and all the powers of Satan. The resurrection is God's historical affirmation and vindication of Jesus Christ's unique identity, mission, and message. Historical evidence of the resurrection is manifest in Christ's empty tomb, His many resurrection appearances, and in the emergence of the Christian church. Jesus Christ now resides at the right hand of the Father, and lives to indwell all who recognize their sinfulness, who repent, and who turn their lives over to His authority."
Once again, Mormons can fully accept this statement. We firmly and emphatically believe in the living, risen Christ, who rose with a glorified body from the tomb owned by Joseph of Aremethia, thereby conquering sin and death and thwarting the powers of Satan. We believe angels attended the empty grave, that the risen Lord was seen many times after His resurrection by His disciples. We solemnly declare that He sits at the right hand of the Father. However, we believe that is it the Holy Ghost who indwells with those "who recognize their sinfulness, who repent, and who turn their lives over to His (Christ's) authority." (compare this to the Believer's Statement of Faith concerning the Person of the Holy Spirit.)
Concerning the Church, the Believer's Statement of Faith, reads, "We believe the church is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ (its Founder, Head, and Shepherd) and that it encompasses all true believers at all times and places. The function of the church is to carry out the Lord's expressed will through the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the central purposes of the church is to preach the Gospel (in both word and life), the good news that humankind can find salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. All people who have placed their faith (confident, trust) in Jesus Christ for salvation belong to the church and are, thus, the people of God. This community of believers is made up of people who are neither perfect nor sinless, but by grace their lives are coming more and more under the control of the Holy Spirit, expressing His love, joy, peace, and other Christ- like qualities."
Mormons also believe that the "the function of the church is to carry out the Lord's expressed will through the power of the Holy Spirit" and "is to preach the Gospel (in both word and life), the good news that humankind can find salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ." Furthermore, we emphatically declare that Christ is the head of our church. Mormons do claim to be "neither perfect nor sinless." However, "We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, viz., apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc." (the sixth Article of Faith). We do not believe that the early Christians were an unorganized, unstructured, independent group of people who practiced their religion in an autonomous, separate, self-regulated manner. We firmly believe that Christ instituted a church order of governing those who accepted Jesus as their Savior. We believe the church was presided over by the twelve apostles, with the assistance of bishops, elders and deacons. (for an in-depth look at this church organization read The Church which Christ Built )
Concerning future things, the Believer's Statement of Faith reads, "We believe the Lord Jesus Christ will return to this earth, personally, bodily, and visibly to establish his glorious reign in a kingdom that will never end. As the sovereign Lord, He will resurrect and judge all humanity. Those who have received His offer of life through the Gospel will go to eternal blessings in heaven; those who have rejected it, to eternal conscious torment in hell. We look forward to the blessed hope, Christ's Second Coming in glory."
As stated before, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fully believes that "the Lord Jesus Christ will return to this earth, personally, bodily, and visibly to establish his glorious reign in a kingdom that will never end." We literally believe the Bible when it says, that as "in Adam all men die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (resurrected) (1 Corinthians 15:22). As such we further believe, "As the sovereign Lord, He will resurrect and judge all humanity," and that all men will be rewarded for the things they have done. However we do not believe that there are only two kinds of rewards - heaven or hell. Since not everyone's deeds are the same, so likewise their rewards will not be the same. It is illogical and unjust for all men to suffer equally for unequal sins. Thus, in the resurrection, some will be rewarded with a glory that is like the sun, while others will be rewarded with a glory that is analogous to the moon, while still others will be reward with a glory like that of the stars, where each star differs in glory from the other. And there is also a place of no glory where the devil and his angels will dwell. Nevertheless, we do believe in a place called hell (which we refer to as the spirit prison ), which exists between death and the resurrection.
Concerning the Great Commission, the Believer's Statement of Faith reads, "We believe Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. And since Christ has commissioned His people, the church, to go into all the world to disciple, to baptize, and to teach everyone everywhere to obey His Word, we desire, by His grace, to play our part in reaching the world with the Gospel of Christ."
That is exactly what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes is its mandate from God. Latter-day Saints unequivocally teach that "Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation." One of the most fundamental teachings of the Mormon church is that we have a duty and an obligation "to go into all the world to disciple, to baptize, and to teach everyone everywhere to obey His Word," and each Saint is encourage to do their part is spreading the gospel of Christ.
Although there are differences between our beliefs and those of traditional Christianity, yet, when compared point for point with the basic, fundamental doctrines which mainstream Christian denominations claim to accept as defining a Christian, we find there are much more similarities than disagreements between us. This is especially true concerning the Deity of Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and the need for having faith in Him as a condition of salvation.
We believe that Joseph Smith, who organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 1830 under the direction and command of the Lord Himself, was as much a prophet of God as was Peter, Paul, John, and James in the New Testament were. He stated, "the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 121).
Gordon B. Hinckley, the current President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taught, "Nothing done before or since has so affected mankind as the atonement wrought by Jesus of Nazareth, who died on Calvary's cross and rose from the grave the third day as the living Son of the living God, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind" (St. Louis Regional Conference, Apr 1995)
"When all is said and done, when all of history is examined, when the deepest depths of the human mind have been explored, there is nothing so wonderful, so majestic, so tremendous as this act of grace when the Son of the Almighty, the prince of His Father's royal household, . . . gave His life in ignominy and pain so that all of the sons and daughters of God, of all generations of time, every one of whom must die, might walk again and live eternally" (Dec 1994, Christmas Devotional).
"No member of the Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer who gave his life that all men might live--the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of his trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at his flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of his heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced his hands and feet, the fevered torture of his body as he hung that tragic day, the Son of God crying out, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
"This was the cross, the instrument of his torture, the terrible device designed to destroy the Man of Peace, the evil recompense for his miraculous work of healing the sick, of causing the blind to see, of raising the dead. This was the cross on which he hung and died on Golgotha's lonely summit. We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave himself a vicarious sacrifice for each of us.... "On Calvary he was the dying Jesus. From the tomb he emerged the living Christ. The cross had been the bitter fruit of Judas' betrayal, the summary of Peter's denial. The empty tomb now became the testimony of His divinity, the assurance of eternal life, the answer to Job's unanswered question: "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14)...
"As his followers, we cannot do a mean or shoddy or ungracious thing without tarnishing his image. Nor can we do a good and gracious and generous act without burnishing more brightly the symbol of him whose name we have taken upon ourselves. And so our lives must become a meaningful expression, the symbol of our declaration of our testimony of the living Christ, the Eternal Son of the living God" (Be Thou An Example, p. 85-90).
This is what we believe.