A Primer on Mormonism

This past week on NBC, Rock Center had an extensive story on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as Mormonism. In that broadcast, the assertion was made that Mormons are Christians. I wrote this brief paper on Mormonism for an apologetics class this summer. It is not meant to be exhaustive by any means as I barely crack the surface on Mormon doctrine goes. This is a “bare bones” overview of Mormon belief, an evangelical critique of its main flaws, and a proposed method for sharing the gospel with Mormons.

Summary of Mormonism
Mormon doctrine begins before the earth existed, and teaches that “before we were born, we lived with God in heaven as spirits.”[1] God is a Heavenly Father, who once was a man, and is married to Heavenly Mother, and they have produced spirit children through procreation.[2] Jesus Christ, the first of these spirit children, was “brought into existence by a physical union between ‘heavenly father’ and his heavenly consort.”[3] Jesus Christ, in Mormon thought, is not eternally God, but “inherited powers of godhood and divinity from His Father.”[4]

When it comes to salvation, Mormonism teaches that redemption is found in Jesus Christ, but only “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).[5] Christ’s atonement is “fully effective” only after repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, obeying God’s commands, receiving the sacred ordinances, and striving to be like Jesus.[6] The strongest emphasis is on obedience to God’s commandments (cf. Mosiah 2:41). Another significant aspect of Mormon soteriology is second chance salvation. Baptism can be performed for the dead so that those who rejected the Restored Gospel or never heard can be saved.[7] Everyone will eventually be saved and progress to one of the three levels of heaven. Only faithful Mormons, however, will achieve the state of godhead and become the heavenly fathers and mothers of new earths (cf. Doctrine & Covenants 132:20).[8]

Regarding holy books, the Mormons call their scriptures the “Standard Works.” They include the Bible (KJV), the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), and the Pearl of Great Price.[9] Final authority does not rest in these works; instead “the direct revelation to a prophet or apostle is immediate and primary…the word of God in the purest sense.”[10]

Critique of Mormonism
There are numerous flaws with Mormon beliefs. Four are mentioned here.

Adapting Theology and Final Authority. Mormon doctrine is much more fluid than evangelical theology. One estimate states that important historical and doctrinal changes have been changed in the over four thousand alterations of the Book of Mormon.[11] One Mormon author admits that their doctrine must be “reincarnated, reformed, and retailored” in order to maintain its universality.[12] Though not the most powerful blow to Mormonism, it is significant. Evangelicals have strong evidence that though original manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures are not available, handwritten copies are reliable. Furthermore, not one major doctrine is at stake despite possible variants of these copies.[13] Also, as mentioned above, Mormonism holds that the prophet or apostle has final authority over Scripture. This violates what God’s word says about itself as the final authority (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:20-21, et al.)

The Nature of God. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, taught that God is not eternal and not immutable.[14] Smith taught that God once was man, and is finite, contingent, and that man may even become gods.[15] This contradicts God’s own decree that he is the only God (Isa. 43:10; cf. 1 Tim. 1:17) and has never been man (Num. 23:19). God is spirit, not flesh (John 4:24); he is immutable (Ps. 102:25-27; James 1:17), infinite (Job 36:36; Ps. 90:2), and omnipotent (Ps. 24:8; Isa. 37:16; Jer. 32:17; Matt. 19:26). Furthermore, Mormonism teaches that “the members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit” (D&C 130:22). The classic orthodox position, as expressed in the ecumenical creeds of the early church, is that God is trinitarian, that is, he is one essence, nature, and being, yet three in person and function (cf. Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19-20; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2).

The Nature of Jesus. In saying that Jesus is a spirit-child of the Heavenly Father, Mormonism denies the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity as these doctrines have  historically been formulated in Christian orthodoxy.[16] As one critic writes, “The Mormon God equals a mortal man who assumed godhood…‘Jesus’ is merely a procreated being.”[17] Jesus’ divinity is thus merely derived from the Father. This contradicts countless passages that speak of Jesus as God himself (John 1:1-14; 5:18; Col. 1:15; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:1-3; 2 Pet. 1:1), and as eternally God with the Father who shares the same attributes (John 1:1-3; 8:58; cf. Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8).

Salvation. Finally, Mormonism denies salvation by grace through faith (John 3:15-16; Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 1:6). Mormon’s must make Christ’s atonement “fully effective” by adding works-righteousness to his work, thus neglecting the need for Christ in the first place (Gal. 2:21; 5:2). Essentially, the Mormon belief holds that Christ’s atonement is insufficient for man’s need.

Sharing the Gospel with Mormons
There are two ways to witness to Mormons: the apologetic way and the theological way.[18] The apologetic way may convince Mormons that Mormonism is false. This may not necessarily lead them to faith in Jesus, however. With this in mind, I propose a theological method of sharing the gospel with a Mormon, with three particular points to be stressed. This should be done with a great degree of humility, dependence on the Holy Spirit, and a sincere love for the Mormon who is made in God’s image. The greatest thing for a Mormon to hear, in their highly legalistic worldview, is that God’s grace liberates them from the burden of the law.

We are unable to perfectly keep God’s commandments. Though the Mormon gospel states that the atonement was given because of sin, it holds that in order to actually receive the atonement, we must not sin. This is an endless cycle of futility. If we are honest with ourselves, we will freely admit that we have sinned, even after confessing our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. Even the Apostle Paul admitted that he had not attained perfection after his conversion (Phil. 3:12). The law, then, was not given in order to achieve self-atonement. Rather, it was given to show us precisely that we cannot achieve salvation through works (Rom. 3:20). God’s commandments were given so that we might run to Christ (Gal. 3:24). To be certain, the law shows us what God approves of and what God disapproves of, but it was never meant to have saving power.

Christ’s righteousness becomes ours by faith. Now that we have established that we cannot keep God’s commandments perfectly, how do we get the righteousness required to be in God’s presence? Nowhere in the Bible are we told that salvation will come by works—in fact, we are told the opposite. When people approached Jesus to ask what they must be doing to do “the works of God,” he replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29, emphasis added). Christ lived a life of obedience that sinful humans can never live (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 8:3). That is why Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus Christ is our righteousness when we have faith in him (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 1:17). We will progress in holiness as we mature in the Christian faith, but we will never obtain perfection. That is why Christ must be our perfection. When we trust and believe that his perfect record not only blots out our stained record but also replaces our record, we get his righteousness as our own (cf. Rom. 4:16; 22; Gal. 3:6). So much so that when God the Father looks at us, he sees Jesus, not us (Col. 3:1-4). This happens by faith alone.

Christ’s atonement is sufficient to forgive our sins. Christ’s life provides us with perfect righteousness before God, and his death on the cross provides us with the forgiveness we need to have our sins removed. Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24). When we try to obtain perfection through our works, we essentially say to Jesus, “Your death was insufficient. It really didn’t matter. I have to complete what you lack.” Note Peter’s words: “By his wounds you have been healed.” When Christ cried, “It is finished” he gave us everything we needed to be reconciled to God. The burden of striving toward sinlessness is exhausting. Through the gospel, this burden has been lifted by Jesus who will give us the rest we have always wanted (Matt. 11:28-30).


[1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Our Father’s Heavenly Plan,” http://www.lds.org/plan/ we-lived-with-god?lang=eng (accessed June 19, 2012).
[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Exaltation,” in Gospel Principles, http://www.lds.org/library/display/ 0,4945,11-1-13-59,00.html (accessed June 19, 2012); James Walker, “Mormonism,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, eds. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 360.
[3] Phil Roberts, “How Wide the Divide—Indeed,” Faith and Mission 17, no. 1 (Fall 1999): 41.
[4] Robert L. Millet, “What Mormons Believe About Jesus Christ,” Mormon Newsroom, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/what-mormons-believe-about-jesus-christ (accessed August 24, 2012).
[5] Walker, “Mormonism,” 362.
[6] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Atonement,” in Gospel Principles, http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-12-the-atonement?lang=eng (accessed June 19, 2012).
[7] Walker, “Mormonism,” 361.
[8] Ibid., 361.
[9] Ibid., 357.
[10] Robert B Stewart. “Is Mormonism Christian? An Evangelical Critique of LDS Scholar Stephen E. Robinson’s Arguments For Recognizing Mormonism As Christian,” Journal of Christian Apologetics 1, no. 2 (Winter 1997): 19.
[11] Ibid., 358.
[12] Ibid., 358; Gail Turley Houston, “My Belief,” Dialogue 38, no. 4 (Winter 2005): 116.
[13] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 122.
[14] Stewart, “Is Mormonism Christian?” 28.
[15] Roberts, “How Wide,” 40.
[16] Ibid., 41.
[17] Ibid., 39.
[18] Eli Brayley, “How to Witness to Mormons,” Credenda Blog, published on November 3, 2009, http://www.credenda.org/index.php/Theology/how-to-witness-to-mormons.html (accessed June 19, 2012).

3 thoughts on “A Primer on Mormonism

  1. I love this article! It is well researched and accurate. The section on sharing the Gospel with Mormons is rather “bare bones” like James mentioned above. The assertion that the apologetic method may not lead a Mormon to faith in Jesus is solid. They have been under religious attack for so long that have explanations for almost every truth thrown at them. They also have walls such as the fact that most Mormons aren’t supposed to think through the faith. They are supposed to accept it as truth.

    Therefore, the theological method truly is the way to go. However, it has its issues too. I have been told many times that the person could care less if Mormonism is the truth. Their family oriented lifestyle is so fulfilling that they would rather keep it than leave the faith. There are two significant reasons for the unwillingness to leave:

    1) Only people who leave the Mormon faith are relegated to the third “heaven.” The third heaven is not as bad as the Protestant hell to them, but it is close.
    2) The Mormon focus on family creates a tight community and truly is a good, earthly way of life.

    It is a slow, relation building, theology discussing process that converts Mormons. Some are ready, but most are not ready to be converted.

    Thank you for bringing some light on the subject of Mormonism. It is a unique subject with a unique people. My findings are that most Protestants are unaware of what motivates Mormons and are therefore scared of them. I’m glad that the Presidential race is bringing Mormonism to light.

    P.S. Mormons truly do believe that they are Christians. They are working very hard to fit into the mainstream view of Christianity, and you can see by NBC’s assertion that they are Christians that their campaign is working.


  2. Ex-mo here. The Telestial Kingdom, “third heaven” in the comment above is for anyone who fails to live the ten commandments, not just those who leave “the church.” Some of those who leave the church will be sent to “outer darkness.”

    I agree with the theological approach – but good luck! Even my close relatives will flat out lie and skew things so it sounds like we believe the same things. You have to know Mormonism inside and out to be able to draw the distinctions or make them admit them.


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