An Overview of Mormonism
Written by JBZ
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Reformed Worldviews - Sects

The Beginning, the Bounder

The founder of Mormonism is a man called Joseph Smith Jr. His parents were farmers and they lived in Palmyra in New York state. It was the time of the Second Awakening and there was much confusion regarding religion. His family was very religious. Both his parents and his maternal grandfather believed to have received messages from God. However, there was a lot of disagreement about religion. Apart from the farm they tried to increase their income with ‘treasure digging’

Ever since the age of 12 the young Joseph was concerned about his religion. He prayed for forgiveness but also asked God which church he would join. In the spring of 1820, he went into a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra and prayed to learn which church he should join.  In answer to his prayer, he claims that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him, just as heavenly beings had appeared to prophets like Moses and Paul in biblical times.

In this ‘first vision’ God told him 2 major things:

  1. that his sins were forgiven
  2.  that all contemporary churches had turned aside  from the Gospel.

Soon thereafter Smith and his followers formed the Church of Christ.  Joseph had learned that the Church originally organized by Jesus Christ was no longer on the earth. During the next 10 years, Joseph was visited by other heavenly messengers. He heard voices of Peter, James and John who said gave Smith and his friend Oliver Cowdery an apostolic authority.

Joseph Smith is regarded by Mormons as a prophet at the same level of Moses and Elijah. The first members of the church had a lot of opposition.  Before Smith could confirm the new members, he was arrested and brought to trial as a disorderly person. Though he was acquitted he had to flee Colesville to escape a gathering mob.

Sent to Missouri, Oliver Cowdery found the site of the New Jerusalem  in Jackson County, Missouri. Smith agreed a pronounced the area the ‘centre place of Zion’. After making debts Smith was held responsible for the failure. After a warrant was issued for Smith’s arrest on a charge of banking fraud, Smith and Rigdon fled Kirtland for Missouri on January 12,1838. Smith ended up in prison awaiting trial. In 1839 after a grand jury hearing he escaped custody.

Brigham Young became his successor and under his leadership 14,000 Saints moved to Illinois. He was sent to Europe for missions to make converts. Smith established a new city in Illinois, Nauvoo (Hebrew= to be beautiful).  June 1844 Smith and his brother were taken into custody in Carthage to stand trial for inciting a riot. The formal charge was treason against Illinois.

On June 27 an armed mob with blackened faces stormed Carthage Jail where Smith and his brother were being held.  Both were shot. Smith was buried in Nauvoo.

Book of Mormon

In September 1823 Joseph Smith was visited by an angel called Moroni. This angel revealed unto him the location of a buried book of golden plates, as well as other things like a breastplate and a set of silver spectacles with lenses composed of ‘seer stones’, called the Urim and Thummim.  These things were buried in a nearby hill.

On this golden plate the history of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent (indigenous Americans) was believed to be recorded. It contains the writings of ancient prophets. One of these, Lehi, lived in Jerusalem around 600 B.C. God commanded Lehi to lead a small group of people to the American continent. There they became a great civilization.

Later on in 1827 after he had moved to Pennsylvania he started to translate and transcribe some of the characters of which he said were ‘reformed Egyptian’ into English.  In 1829 he got some help from a friend, Oliver Cowdery, who became Smiths scribe. They completed the translation July 1, 1829. Unlearned Joseph translated 500 pages in about 60 days.

Joseph used the Urim and Thummim , and later on a single stone (which he used for treasure hunting).  Joseph Knight said that Smith saw the word of the translation while he gazed at the stone or stones in the bottom of his hat, excluding all light. The plates themselves were not directly consulted.

The translation spoke of the institutionalizing of a church and requirement for baptism. Also he stated that John the Baptist had appeared unto him and ordained them to a priesthood.  Smith asked a group of 11 witnesses to sign a statement testifying they had seen the plates. According to Smith the angel Moroni took back the plates after Smith had finished using them.

The translation known as the Book of Mormon, was published in Palmyra in 1830. The book is named after Mormon, an ancient prophet who made an abridgment of the sacred records of his people.

On the site of the Mormons I read:

‘The book verifies, as another testament of Christ, the reality and divinity of Jesus Christ. These prophets knew about Heavenly Father’s plan for His children and the mission of Jesus Christ. They recorded that Christ appeared, after His Resurrection, to the people in America, taught them His gospel, and formed His Church among them. The book contains the teachings of Jesus Christ, testifying of His Atonement and His love. It supports and verifies the Bible. The Bible contains prophecies about these people in America (see Ezekiel 37,15-17 and Isaiah 29,18)’

The Book of Mormon tells the story of the rise and fall of a civilization beginning around 600 BCE and ending in 421 AD. It begins with a family leaving Jerusalem just before the Babylonian Captivity.  They sail to the promised land in the Western Hemisphere.

The people are divided into 2 factions: Nephites and Lamanites. The Lamanites battle the Nephites year after year and after 1000 years succeed in destroying the Nephites. The book explains itself to be largely the work of Mormon, a Nephite prophet and military figure who leads his people and whose son Moroni, buries the records written on golden plates. Nephite prophets teach the coming of Christ. Tell of the start that will appear at his birth. After the crucifixion and resurrection, Christ appears in the New World, repeats the Sermon on the Mount, blessed children and appoints 12 disciples. The book ends with Moron’s exhortation to come unto Christ.

Other Revelations

Joseph Smith also revised the Bible itself. In 1830 he received a ‘revelation of Moses’ in which he saw the end of the world.  Joseph believed the original text of the Bible was corrupted and he starting adding  long passages according to his inspiration. For instance he tripled the length of the first 5 chapters of Genesis .

This extension of Genesis is called the Book of Moses.  It contains an enlarged account of the narrative of Genesis and greatly expands the story of Enoch. The Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the Church of Jesus Christ in the last days (1830 AD – 1978 AD).

The Pearl of Great Price,  is another selection of revelations, translations, and writings of Joseph Smith.

Doctrine

Smith taught that all existence was material.  Including the word of spirits.

The Mormons are: Against Creation = creation ex nihilo.  In Smiths view matter could not be created nor destroyed.  They believe that there are worlds across the universe where creatures live.

Smith eventually began to teach that God was an advanced and glorified man, embodied within space and time. Both God the Father and Jesus were distinct begins with physical bodies. Only the Holy Spirit is a Spirit. By gradual acquisition of knowledge those who receive exaltation can eventually become equal with God. Human being can attain Godhood.

Even after death man can receive salvation by ordinances as baptism for the dead. Even the wicked and unbelieving will achieve a degree of glory in the after live.

Mormons reject the ecumenical creeds and definition of Trinity as it is worded by Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Baptism

Baptism is essential for Mormons. They believe that through baptism they become members of the church and they enter into Gods kingdom. By baptism they make a promise and enter into a covenant with God and promise to accept Jesus Christ and keep his commandments.

Baptism must be performed by someone who has priesthood authority and must be done by immersion. Immersion is symbolic of the death of a person’s sinful life and the rebirth into a spiritual life, dedicated to the service of God and His children. It is also symbolic of death and resurrection.

Little children are redeemed through the mercy of Jesus Christ. They are “alive in Christ” and cannot sin. They do not need baptism until they understand the difference between right and wrong. The Lord has revealed that children should be baptized at eight years of age. (See Book of Mormon, Moroni 8:8-24)

Also dead persons can be baptized. They base their belief on 1 Corinthians 15, 29. Because all who have lived on the earth have not had the opportunity to be baptized by proper authority during life on earth, baptisms may be performed by proxy, meaning a living person may be baptized in behalf of a deceased person. Baptisms for the dead are performed by Church members in temples throughout the world. People have occasionally wondered if the mortal remains of the deceased are somehow disturbed in this process; they are not. The person acting as a proxy uses only the name of the deceased.

To prevent duplication the Church keeps a record of the deceased persons who have been baptized. Some have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed the names of deceased persons are being added to the membership records of the Church. This is not the case.

Marriage

President Gordon B. Hinckley, prior president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made the following statement in 1998 about the Church’s position on plural marriage:

“This Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church.... If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church.”

In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it.  Church leaders regulated the practice. Those entering into it had to be authorized to do so, and the marriages had to be performed through the sealing power of the priesthood.

The largest group of Mormons accepted Brigham Young as the new prophet/leader and emigrated to what became the Utah Territory, where they incorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church began to openly practice plural marriage, a form of polygamy that Smith had instituted in Nauvoo. Plural marriage became the faith's most sensational characteristic during the 19th century, but vigorous opposition by the United States Congress threatened the church's existence as a legal institution.

In his 1890 Manifesto, church president Wilford Woodruff announced the official end of plural marriage. He had received a revelation that the leaders of the Church should cease teaching the practice of plural marriage. The practice though continued unofficially until the early 20th century.

Value

Let us try to be as positive as we can:

They have good values:

- strong families

- service to others

- missionary work: do a lot of mission work

- education

- humanitarian aid

- good citizenship

They stress proper eating and physical and spiritual health.

They are against:

- tobacco

- alcohol

- coffee and tea

- illegal drugs

But there is a very dark side:

How was the beginning?

The history of Mormonism is a history of crime, bank fraud, battles between rival groups, treason, deceit, lies, and adultery. Smith’s teachings aroused antagonism.  Several times he was accused of mishandling money and property. Smith practiced polygamy. He was twice imprisoned for alleged treason. Many argue that he as either a liar or a lunatic.

He is regarded as a prophet and apostle of at least the stature of Moses,  Elijah, Peter and Paul. As charismatic  leader he is compared to Muhammed. Mormons deny the Trinity. Athanasian Creed says: they cannot be saved, whomsoever deny the trinity! Christ has warned against the false prophets in Matt.24 and even the Anti-Christ will also have an enormous power.

This article was written by a pastor of a Reformed church in the USA who wishes to remain anonymous.