Summary: Throughout history, Christians have been persecuted for their beliefs, and this is just as true today, and from its very beginnings, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have likewise experienced many different forms of persecution. One reason for this has to do with having an honest difference of opinion about what the Bible teaches, but the more common form of criticism centers around finding fault with its founder, Joseph Smith. But are these criticisms valid or even true? This article seeks to answer this question.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with
rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
Throughout history, Christians have been persecuted for their beliefs, and this is just as true today. This could include physical harm, emotional abuse in the form of harassment, or condemnation, and this happens to them primarily because of what they believe. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they have experienced all of these forms of persecution throughout their history.
Although in modern times they haven’t had to endure physical harm, there is still a considerable amount of criticism for what they believe, and most of the time it comes from other Christian churches. One reason for this has to do with having an honest difference of opinion about what the Bible teaches.
For example, most Protestant churches teach that we are saved exclusively by God’s grace, and not because of any works we do, And, because of this belief, it is their position that anyone who teaches that we must do good works in order to become saved, are teaching a false doctrine. They point to Galatians 1:8 which reads, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
Based on this scripture, there are quite a few Christians who feel justified in condemning anyone who teaches a doctrine of salvation that differs from their own because they feel that those who are teaching “false doctrine,” (as they define it), are agents of the devil who are taking people away from God’s salvation and leading them down the path to hell. Therefore, in their zeal to save souls, they feel it’s their duty to expose and strongly denounce those who are preaching false doctrine.
This is how many Christians feel about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have accused them of denying the divinity of Jesus Christ, and instead teach that we can earn our way into heaven by doing good works. Worse than this, it is said that “Mormons” believe the blasphemous doctrine that they can someday become equal with God.
The way they prove their allegations is to use the scriptures to point out how the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contradicts the teachings of the Bible. However, this often amounts to no more than differences of interpretation. For example, Jesus told Nicodemus that “Unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5) Some interpret the word “water” to mean baptism” while others interpret it as referring to our natural birth.
However, the more common form of criticism to convince people that the LDS church is not Christian, is by finding fault with its founder, Joseph Smith. In this regard, the critics have made a consistent and concerted effort to detail as many of his faults as they can find as “evidence” that such an unscrupulous and unprincipled person couldn’t possibly be a man of God.
In his history, Joseph Smith states that in 1820, while living on his father’s farm in upstate New York as a fourteen years old boy, early one spring morning he retired to a grove of trees and knelt in prayer to ask God which, of all the churches was teaching the correct way to be saved. In answer to that prayer, God the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him and said that none of the churches were teaching the correct principles of salvation, but that the time would come when Christ would restore his true church on the earth.
During the next ten years, angels appeared unto Joseph to help prepare him to become a divinely called prophet of God, and on April 6, 1830, under divine command, Joseph Smith organized and started the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with only six members. However, although nearly all Christians churches claim that these visions and revelations from God either never happened or were from the devil, since that humble beginning, the church that Joseph started has grown to become a world-wide organization, consisting of tens of millions of members. Yet, even though these members revere Joseph as a true prophet of God and believe in the things he taught, his critics have accused him of being a liar, a fraud, a money-digger, a dreamer, a power-hungry egomaniac, and worse.
However, even though these allegations about Joseph’s character have been around for hundreds of years, no one has ever been able to effectively prove that any of them are true, even though they’ve spent a considerable amount of energy trying to do so. For their part, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has openly answered each and every claim made against them, and has even published them for everyone to read, yet this hasn’t prevented the critics from continuing to make the same allegations over and over again.
What the critics hope to achieve by doing this is to create enough doubt in people’s mind to question Joseph’s claim to being a true prophet of God, or to make people think that the LDS church can’t possibly be one that God approves of. Worse yet, in their effort to sow doubt, these critics quite frequently will resort to misrepresenting the facts, or make claims that are completely, and provably false.
As such, these criticisms are like a swarm of bees. When you swat one of them away, another attacks, and then another, and another, and another. Therefore, instead of looking at each and every individual accusation in order to determine if they are true or not, it would be more effective for us to look at the bigger picture. To do otherwise would be like trying to describe a tree by examining each leaf on it.
And that’s because, the method of disproving Joseph Smith’s claim to being a prophet of God by pointing out his character flaws is a dangerous one, because judging the prophets in the Bible by the same standard would also disqualify most of them.
For example, The Jews proudly proclaim that they are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet all of them were polygamists. In addition to this, Jacob stole the birthright away from his older brother, Esau, by deception. Ten of Jacob’s twelve sons tried to kill their younger brother, Joseph, and they did kill Shechem, his father Hamor, and all the men in their family (Genesis 34:25), yet God blessed the children of Jacob.
Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster, buried his body to keep from being discovered, and then fled to another country. But, even so, Moses is considered to be one of the greatest prophets of all times. King David is considered to be one of the great men of God, yet he not only committed adultery with Uriah’s wife but he them committed a worse sine by conspiring to have Uriah killed in battle. But despite this, it was through the loins of King David that the promised Messiah would come. King David’s son, Solomon, was also highly favored of the Lord yet he had many wives and concubines, and in the end was worshipping false gods.
We’re all familiar with the prophet Jonah, whom God sent to the people of Nineveh, warning that if they didn’t repent, God would destroy them. However, instead of doing what God had commanded, Jonah initially disobeyed God. When Jonah finally did deliver the message God had given him, and the people of Nineveh repented of their sins, Jonah became upset because he wanted them destroyed. Yet, despite this lack of faithfulness on his part, we still speak of Jonah as being a true prophet of God.
Today, we revere Jeremiah as one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, and yet, in his day, he was reviled for what he taught. He was called a liar, a traitor to his country, and the king had him thrown in prison. Later, the king had Jeremiah put in a deep empty well and left there to die. But the fact that people rejected what Jeremiah taught didn’t change the fact that he was a true prophet of God.
When Jesus lived on earth, he chose twelve men whom he called apostles. Today we revere Peter as being one of the greatest of them, and yet, despite saying that he would never deny Christ, he eventually denied him, not once, but three times. The apostle Paul complained about Peter behaving like a hypocrite when he sat to eat with the Gentiles until the Jews came in and then Peter pretended that he hadn’t been associating with the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14) As Christians we know that Peter had his weaknesses, but that doesn’t lessen our opinion of him as a great apostle, and that same principle applies to Joseph Smith,
Among all the apostles of Christ, Paul is looked to more than any other and yet, he was reviled and persecuted, both by people outside as well as inside the church. Paul was as Jewish as they come, and his zeal for following the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was greater than most Jews of his day, yet the Jews hated him because he preached about Jesus Christ. In fact, when he went to the temple in Jerusalem to perform his Nazarene vows, as prescribed in the law of Moses, the Jews started a riot for him being there and would have killed him had he not been arrested by the Roman soldiers.
Paul is known as the apostle to the Gentiles, and yet he was imprisoned by Gentiles and thrown out of their cities. After giving a sermon to the Greeks on Mars hill, they said he was a babbler and mocked him, thinking he was mad (Acts 17:18.32).
But Paul also had his critics inside the church as well, especially those in Corinth. They complained that he was ignorant and rude in speech, (meaning he didn’t speak very eloquently). Some complained that he was living off of people instead of providing for himself. When he came to ask for more money for the poorer saints in Jerusalem, they accused him of robbery. There were some who accused him of being weak and too timid, and there were some who not only didn’t consider him to be an apostle, but who sought to undermine his authority when he was not there with them.
As the gospel of Christ began to spread throughout the known world, Christians were looked down upon and reviled because of what they believed. They were thought to be a superstitious people and were considered to be a strange and anti-religious cult for only believing in one God. Since they believed that when they partook of the bread and wine as symbols of Christ’s body and blood, they were accused of practicing cannibalism. And because they called each other brother and sister, they were accused of practicing incest. Most Romans thought of Christians as being traitors to their country because they only acknowledge one king, Jesus Christ.
Today, we can easily see how misunderstood and falsely accused the early believers in Christ were for what they believed, but it’s this same kind of thinking that causes people to criticize Joseph Smith and Christ’s restored church.
It’s only natural that when someone has a dislike towards someone else, then everything that person does is thought of in a negative way. However, every church, denomination, or faith has leaders who have character flaws, but when someone ignores any and all extenuating circumstances and applies nefarious motives to them, then they’re being dishonest with their criticism. And when someone deliberately doesn’t put their criticism in context, or seeks to intentionally portray someone they dislike in the worst possible light, then they’re the ones who are engaging in deception.
For that reason, the way we should judge a church is not by examining the life of its founder or the people who belong to it, or going by what someone else thinks about them. Rather, we should judge a church by what it teaches, because, if we are honest, most people don’t live up to the moral standards they claim to believe in. Even Jesus himself was denounced and hated by the religious leaders of his day, not because of anything he did, but because of what he taught. Therefore, the real question that needs to be asked is, Which church teaches the true gospel of Jesus Christ?
But before we can answer that question, there is a more important question we need to consider, and that is, “Do I really want to be a Christian?” A Christian is not someone who says they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and he is their personal Savior, but is someone who genuinely wants to be a follower of Christ, who wants Christ to be a part of their everyday life, who wants to be like Christ, and who desires to spend eternity living with Christ.
If all someone wants out of religion is merely go listen to a thirty-minute sermon at church on Sunday, but then spends the rest of the week living their life as though Christ has no part in it, then it doesn’t matter what church they belong to. So, the first thing we have to do is decide how important is it to us, personally, to find the church that teaches the correct doctrine that Jesus taught. Then, the next important question we need to answer is, when we find that church, how willing are we to live by its teachings?
Most people would think that finding the right church would be easy, but today, there are over 60,000 different Christian churches in the world, and what makes each of them different from all the others is what they teach. For example, the Baptist church is one of the largest Protestant faiths in American and yet there are the Southern Baptists, Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, United Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Separate Baptists, Independent Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, and many other Baptist denominations.
Although they each have many similar beliefs, they all have teachings that separate them from one another. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have different names. And we find this same situation existing in many of the major Protestant churches. Then there are the millions of one-of-a-kind churches who are not associated with any particular Christian denomination, but exist totally independent of all the others. And each of these churches, denominations, and faiths, all believe that they, and they alone, are accurately teaching the pure truth about God as contained in the Bible, yet none of them totally agree with each other.
Today it’s common to hear people say that it doesn’t matter what church a person belongs to as long as that church teaches the basic doctrine that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and through his grace alone, and not because of any works we do, but the Bible itself specifically denounces this kind of thinking.
Paul taught that we should “all speak the same thing, and there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10, italics added). He went on to explain how the saints living in Corinth had splintered into different factions, where one said they were followers of Paul, another said they were followers of Apollos, another said they were followers of Cephas, and others said they were followers of Christ (verse 12). Paul condemned this kind of behavior.
Paul also explained that just like there is but one Lord, that there also is but “one faith” (Ephesians 1:4), not tens of thousands of different faiths. Yet this is exactly what we see today where people are following the preacher of their choice, and none of them are “perfectly joined together in the same mind.”
Then how can we come to know which preacher is teaching the correct doctrines of God, or who do we go to in order to find that truth? Since every preacher firmly believes that they’re teaching the absolute truth about God, it’s obvious that asking any one of them isn’t going to give us the answer we’re looking for. If we seek for truth by scouring the internet, looking for what others say about Joseph Smith – both the good and the bad – we’ll become more confused rather than becoming wiser. The only person we can truly trust to give us the correct answer is God.
Jesus taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and unto everyone that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
The word “seek” infers that we are genuinely trying to find something that’s important to us. If we ask God which church is teaching the truth, but we have no desire to become part of that church and follow its teachings then there’s no reason why God should answer such a prayer. But, if we are sincere in wanting to become a true follower of Christ, then he promises that he “shall open” – that is, reveal or make manifest – the truth “unto you,” personally.
If someone sincerely wants to know if Joseph Smith really was a true prophet of God, and if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really does teach the correct doctrines about salvation, then asking God is the only way anyone can come to know the truth.