What Jesus Would Say to a Mormon

November 14, 2010 | Brian Bill

I did something this week that I’ve not done for more than five years.  I put it off as long as I could but decided that I could no longer procrastinate.  Having hit the half century mark, I made an appointment to have my eyes examined.  I’m not sure if this sign is up in his office but if not, it sure works for an optometrist: “If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.”  I received some good news and some not-so-good news.  My vision for seeing far away has actually improved but things up close are blurry, fuzzy and out of focus.  

When I made this appointment, Beth and my daughters told me that I couldn’t pick out my frames on my own because for some reason they didn’t think that I’d choose the most attractive ones.  

As we come to the final sermon in this series, some of you might wonder why we’re looking at a group that seems to be up close to us.  Most of us understand why we would preach about Muslims, Wiccans and Atheists, but isn’t Mormonism a Christian religion?  Others of you might be a bit fuzzy about what it is that Mormons believe.  It’s my hope that by putting on the lens of Scripture our own faith will come into greater focus.  We’ve been learning that the “frames” we put on has a lot to do with how we look at these various worldviews. 

The Positives of Mormonism

Let me say up front that this sermon is not meant to be an attack on any individual and will not be presented in a spirit of arrogance or anger.  I want to echo what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:5: “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  Here we want to love people just like Jesus does.  There are many positive things about Mormons.  Here are some that come to mind.  Granted, these are generalizations, but I think they’re true for the most part.

  • They are very kind.
  • They love to serve.
  • They seem to be moral.  No alcohol, illegal drugs, coffee or tea.
  • They are not afraid to stand up for moral matters. 
  • They care about our country.  Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney, Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch are practicing Mormons.
  • They are very family-oriented.
  • They have outstanding music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
  • They believe in education.  Brigham Young University is world-renowned.

Mormon History

I don’t want to bore you with too much history, but it is important to understand a few things, especially as it relates to Joseph Smith, who was the first prophet and founder of Mormonism. You see, the entire Mormon Church rests upon the foundation of its history in America and it originates solely from the visions of Joseph Smith.  The 10th Mormon President and Prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, put it this way: “Mormonism must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith.”

It’s important to understand that Mormonism is only 190 years old.  In 1820, at the age of 14, Smith claimed to have a vision when he was seeking God’s direction about which church he should join.  He was told to join none of them because all of them were “wrong…that all their creeds were an abomination… [And] that those professors [of those churches] were all corrupt.” 

Three years later, he allegedly had another vision and this time a person (or angel) named Moroni told him about some hidden golden tablets.  He had four other appearances and eventually translated these tablets from “Reformed Egyptian” into the Book of Mormon in 1830.  Smith also claimed that John the Baptist appeared to him and Oliver Cowdery and anointed them with the Aaronic Priesthood.  They then baptized each other for the remission of sins.  Several months later, Peter, James and John reportedly appeared physically to them and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon them.

After moving around because of persecution over their practice of polygamy, Smith was arrested and later killed by the militia in Carthage, Illinois in 1844.  A struggle for leadership ensued, with Brigham Young becoming the next president and prophet.  He led them westward where they founded Salt Lake City.

According to their own statistics as published in their official magazine called, “Ensign,” as of 2009, there were 14 million Mormons meeting in about twenty-five thousand congregations.  In addition, they have around 52,000 full-time missionaries and 130 Temples.  With a presence in over 140 nations, some have said that if Mormonism continues to grow at its present rapid rate, there will be five hundred million Mormons by the year 2040.

I should say that the official name for Mormonism is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”  Instead of using this longer title, I’m going to be using the names “Mormon” and “Mormonism.” 

Mormon Beliefs

There is so much material as it relates to Mormon beliefs that I’m going to have to just pick a few areas and summarize.  I think it will become readily apparent that Mormon doctrine differs greatly from biblical Christianity.  I’m drawing this material from their primary sources, from a book called, “Searching for the Truth” from Group Publishing, from a book called, “Mormonism Explained” by Andrew Jackson and from “Reasoning From the Scriptures with Mormons” by Ron Rhodes. 

1. Authority. 

Mormons consider the Bible to be very important, though they use only the King James Version, and then only if it’s their “corrected version.”  They also follow the “Book of Mormon,” “The Doctrine and Covenants” and “The Pearl of Great Price” which are revelations for the Americas.  Let me quote from the beginning of the Book of Mormon to show the place they give to their sacred writings: “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.”  This is what Joseph Smith said a few paragraphs later, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

We could say that Mormons put on the lens of the Book of Mormon when reading and interpreting the Bible.  This book even refers to Christians as fools for only believing in the Bible.  Listen to this quote from 2 Nephi 29:6 – “Thou fool, that shall say: ‘A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible…’”

A pastor who lives in Salt Lake City told me how difficult it is to appeal to the Bible because Mormons follow other writings and the “Living Prophet,” which is the President of the Church. He speaks infallibly and authoritatively when addressing doctrinal and church matters because they believe God is giving continual revelation to him and through him to the church.  An example of this is what happened in 1978 when the head prophet declared a new “revelation” that allowed African American men to be ordained to the priesthood, reversing a doctrine that had been in place for 140 years.

Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th President of the Mormon Church, said this in 1980: “The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.”  That would be not only the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, but also the Bible.

2. God the Father. 

Joseph Smith said this in his “King Follet” sermon, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man.” He is married to a physical wife and has “progressed” to godhood as one of many gods.  Joseph Smith said it like this in his own words: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s…” (“Doctrine and Covenants,” 130:22).

3. Jesus. 

Mormons believe that Jesus is the elder brother of Satan and He lived a sinless life as a model for how others can earn their own exaltation.  They believe that Jesus was also married.

4. Sin. 

Mormons believe that Adam’s sin was actually a good thing because it fulfilled God’s purpose of populating the earth.  They don’t talk much about sin, preferring words like bad habits, mistakes, and poor judgments.

5. Salvation. 

Exaltation is attained by good works, not by grace alone: “We know it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).  And this is from Joseph Smith’s “King Follet” sermon: “This then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves.”

6. Afterlife. 

People either go to spirit prison or to paradise after they die.  Faithful Mormon men will be exalted and some will become gods, ruling and populating their own earths.  Women can be exalted only if sealed in marriage to a Mormon man.

7. The true Church. 

From the very beginning, Joseph Smith believed that all churches were apostate, an abomination and corrupt and that his church was the only one true church.  Here’s how it’s worded in Doctrine and Covenants 1:30 – “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased…”  While Mormons previously separated themselves from other churches there now seems to be an effort to publicly soften this stance.  But the fact of the matter is that, according to them, only those who are baptized in the Mormon Church are true believers.  They also practice “baptism for the dead” and have secret temple rituals available only to members in good standing.

If I had to distill their doctrine down to one sentence, it would be something like this: They lower God and lift up man.  I would put them squarely outside the biblical frame of Christianity and classify them as a cult.  I know that sounds strong but I say that for three reasons.

  • They have an exalted and unquestionable leader.
  • They have special writings which are equal to or above the Bible.
  • They claim to be the only group that has the truth.

Three Questions

Some of you may be unsettled by this sermon series.  Perhaps it seems like the preaching has been too strong.  After all, there are nice people practicing other religions.  How can we say that they’re wrong?  In light of the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ, you and I may be asked at least three questions by pluralistic people.  Parents, these are good things to go over with your children.

1. The Question of Sincerity.

Who can question the sincerity of a Muslim bowing to pray five times a day or the good things that Wiccans are trying to do for the environment, or the strong family values of Mormons?  The assumption here is that because people are sincere they can’t be wrong.  But sincerity, or the lack of it, has nothing to do with determining truth.  In other words, we can be sincere and right or be sincere and wrong.

2. The Question of Tolerance.

This question goes something like this: “Even if you believe Christianity is true for you, does that mean it has to be true for the rest of the world?  Isn’t that condescending and unloving?”  Because Christianity does have a narrow nature to it, it has been attacked as being intolerant of what others believe.  

The underlying assumption is that anything this narrow has to be wrong but a position can be narrow and wrong, or it can be narrow and right.  For instance, truth is always intolerant of error.  The fact that one plus one always equals two is very narrow, but it’s also right.  When I fly with my buddy in an airplane (which I’ve only done once and don’t plan to again), I want him to land on the runway, not the highway.  I want my pilot to be narrow-minded when he’s flying the plane I’m on.

we must allow for a certain amount of intolerance because truth is always intolerant of error

Since Jesus says in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” then that’s true for me and it’s true for you, whether we believe it or not.  We can argue all day about whether this claim has an intolerant spirit about it.  Is it backed up by evidence?  Are there reasons to believe what Jesus said?  If so, then we must allow for a certain amount of intolerance because truth is always intolerant of error.  

3. The Question of Truth.

If Christianity is true, then the issues of sincerity and tolerance take a back seat to truth.  It doesn’t matter how sincere someone is if they don’t acknowledge the truth of what Christ teaches.  Obviously, not everyone accepts the exclusivity of Christianity—or any other religion for that matter.  A Mormon and a Muslim believe entirely different things that are contradictory.  They both can’t be right.  

Here’s another way to say it.  How can all religions be true if they contradict each other?  The Law of Non-contradiction states that if two statements about one particular issue contradict each other, then there are only two possible answers: (1) only one of them is true, or (2) they’re both false.  They cannot both be true in the same sense and at the same time.  Since Muslims, Wiccans, Atheists and Mormons all view Jesus differently, they simply cannot, logically speaking, all be correct.  If Christianity is true, then those religions that contradict it cannot also be true. 

Living as Salt in Salt Lake City

I contacted a number of pastors in Salt Lake City in preparation for this sermon.  I received some emails and was even able to speak to one pastor on the phone for about an hour.  He told me that 90% of the people in his neighborhood are Mormons.  One of the things he told me is that they use a lot of the same terminology but that they have different definitions.  When he speaks with a Mormon, he says that it’s often a “dialog of the deaf,” with neither side really hearing the other

I was struck with his incredible love for Mormons coupled with his conviction that they are lost.  He reminded me how important it is to develop a relationship with them, pointing out that according to one study it takes seven years on average for a Mormon to move from doubting his faith to becoming a full-fledged follower of Jesus Christ through the new birth.  He’s also discovered that while the beliefs of Mormonism are very clear, we really don’t know what an individual Mormon believes unless we ask him or her.

We can’t start with Him and then add our own good works or rituals or practices

When I asked him what he thinks Jesus would say to a Mormon, he quickly said, “Jesus would ask them this question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’”  This comes directly from Matthew 16:15: “But what about you?  Who do you say that I am?”  It all comes down to Christ, doesn’t it?  It must be Jesus plus nothing.  We can’t start with Him and then add our own good works or rituals or practices.  

A woman who attends here sent me an email in which she said: “They are lost.  But their religion has so many parallel things to Christianity…enough of the real thing to make a person think it is the real thing.”

This is from another pastor who ministers among Mormons: “Most rank-and-file Mormons today are utterly convinced they are Christians, and that is in large part due to the surface similarity of language that clouds the different facts and referents behind the language. As far as what Jesus would say to a Mormon…there is a long-term Free Church pastor out here who has taught the church he pastors to see Mormons as Samaritans.  We have common religious history—up to a point. We have common language…which has deviated, but which still leaves them closer to the Truth than other religious traditions. And what Jesus does with the woman at the well is the tactical approach:  avoid debating history and talk about life for your dry, thirsty soul found in Jesus.  Jesus would say to a Mormon: ‘You’re thirsty and hungry and—though you don’t think it—guilty—and you seek Messiah—misconceived in your own mind perhaps—but you seek Messiah as the answer—that’s me.  Come to me and find grace.’  Which incidentally is the same thing he’d say to all the people in your pews this Sunday.  So if I were you, I’d…feed their souls, and remove the judgmentalism that is in us in regards to Mormons.”

What Would Jesus Say

At the risk of sounding presumptuous because I certainly don’t want to put words in Jesus’ mouth, I can with confidence communicate what Jesus has said in the Scriptures.  I’m going to go back over the seven points of doctrine and quote what it is that Jesus is saying to Mormons today.  Let’s put on the lenses of the Lord right now…

1. Authority.

“First of all, when it comes to what you can ultimately trust, do what I did when I quoted Scripture when tempted by Satan in the wilderness and I said these words: ‘It is written…’ (Luke 4:1-12).  ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished’ (Matthew 5:17-18).  Later on I made this statement: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’ (Matthew 24:35).”

2. God the Father.

“‘God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:24).”  

3. Jesus. 

“‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30).”  I can’t help but quote from Hebrews 1:1-2 at this point: ‘In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.’”

4. Sin. 

“This is what I said in John 8:34: ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’” 

5.  Salvation. 

“‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’  ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life’ (John 3:3; 5:24).” 

6.  Afterlife. 

“I don’t think I can make it much clearer than what I said in John 3:36:

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.’” 

7. Church. 

“While some churches have lost their way, there has never been a total apostasy.  In fact, I have been and will continue to build my church ‘and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’ (Matthew 16:18).”

What the Bible Says

The Apostle Paul really got worked up when he heard that some were bailing on their belief in the gospel of grace and turning to something that was filled with rules and regulations in Galatians 1:6-8: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”

He continues in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

John, who allegedly appeared to Joseph Smith, along with Peter and James, gave these cautionary words in 1 John 4:1: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

And in 2 John 8-11 we’re warned about not welcoming someone who is trying to deceive us: “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.  Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.  Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” 

Seeing Again

If you been looking around and haven’t been able to see what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place. 

The Bible says that those who don’t know Christ are actually blind.  Listen to 2 Corinthians 4:4: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”   Friends, Jesus came to restore our sight so that we can see again.  Check out John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 

And for those of us who are believers already, 2 Peter 1:9 warns us about keeping our sight strong and to make sure that we’re growing in grace.  The person who doesn’t “is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” 

Witnessing to Mormons

We’ve probably all had the experience of having a couple Mormon missionaries ring our doorbells.  How should we handle this?  On the one hand, we need to be careful about inviting them in and getting swept away by what they’re saying.  On the other hand, we need to see ourselves as missionaries of the true gospel.  

I’m greatly challenged by the words found in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 when it comes to reaching out to those who need to be saved: “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”  

And so, don’t quarrel.  Be kind.  Gently instruct.  And then trust God to lead people to repentance.  I also like these four suggestions made by ChristianAnswers.net.

  1.   Be prayerful.
  2.   Be prepared.
  3.   Be patient.
  4.   Be persistent.

Here are some other pointers that I’ve picked up.

  • Love them.
  • Use the King James Version of the Bible.
  • Ask questions.  Don’t tell them what they believe; instead ask for their thoughts.
  • Keep the initiative.  Don’t let them drive the conversation or get sidetracked.
  • Remember the goal is not to win an argument but to win the person.
  • Focus on how to have a relationship with Jesus.  Stay away from religious church-talk.
  • Share your testimony.  You might not feel adequate to debate every point of doctrine but you can respond like the man who was born blind and was healed in John 9:25: “One thing I do know.  I was blind but now I see!”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?