Mormonism: A God Contained

(This is a slightly edited repost from July, 2008.)

What are some basic teachings of Mormonism when it comes to theology proper?  What does Mormon theology teach about God?

1) That he is not eternal. “We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute this idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see…” (Joseph Smith, Jr. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 2nd rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Desert Book Company, 1978], 6.305-6).

2) That in his former existence, he was not God, but came to be a flesh-and-bone god through obedience to another god. “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens…” (Ibid.).

3) That he is not omnipotent or omniscient. “God himself is increasing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so worlds without end” (Wilford Woodruff, late Mormon president).

4) That he is not eternally and absolutely perfect. “He is perfectly just, loving, kind, compassionate, veracious, no respecter of persons, etc. But his perfections are not eternal, but were acquired by means of developmental process” (Mormon philosopher David Paulsen).

5) That he is contingent or dependent. “The prophet taught that our Father had a Father and so on” (Joseph Fielding Smith). God is contingent upon an infinite lineage of gods – he is neither prior to nor outside of the boundaries of contingency.

6) That he is not the only God. “In the beginning the head of the gods called a council of the gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people in it” (Joseph Smith).

7) That he is not Triune. “We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons, three divine beings” (from the LDS website).

8) That he has a real body.  “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s…” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22).

The very simple logic of this all is that Mormonism is not Christianity.  Mormonism is not a branch of Christianity.  The teachings of Mormonism and Christianity are not compatible.  Mormonism theology is contrary to historic Christian theology.  Mormon theology is a denial of Christian theology.  And so forth.  In the context of religious pluralism today, Christians need to stand firm on the truths of the Bible even if it means we’re called intolerant, close-minded, or whatever else.  If Christianity is true, other religions are false – including Mormonism.

For more information, read Francis J. Beckwith’s article, “Mormon Theism, The Traditional Christian Concept of God, and Greek Philosophy: A Critical Analysis” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 44/4, (Dec. 2001), 671-695. Most of the above quotes can be found in it.

shane lems

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You Are Gods: Does the Bible Teach Polytheism?

If you ask some religions, the OT/NT teaches a plurality of gods.  In fact, said Joseph Smith, the gods created the heavens and the earth.  Other religions also teach a plurality of gods, more popularly known as polytheism.  What is the Christian to do when he or she runs across passages in the Bible like Psalm 82.6 and John 10.34-36 (I said, you are gods, sons of the Most High)?  Well, first of, we should not set our mad heads above Scripture, as Luther said.  Second, we allow clear passages help interpret the less clear passages.  Third, we have to understand – as Scripture presents itself – that the Bible is accommodated to humans.  God has “bent over” to speak “baby talk” to dim and sinful humans.  With these three things in mind, consider again the “gods” language in the Bible.

Scripture teaches a vast distinction between Creator and creature.  For example, in Isaiah 44.6, Yahweh says, I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god (cf. Jn 17.3, 1 Cor 8.6, Eph 4.6, etc).  In no uncertain terms, the Bible tells us that Yahweh is the creator and sustainer of all things; he is not subject to time or space or physical laws as are creatures.  One only has to read Job 38-42 and Isaiah 40-50 to see that God is neither contained nor constrained by the created and contingent world.  In other words, the gulf between Creator and creature is sharply defined: he is God and not a man (Hos 11.9; cf. Num 23.19, Is 55.8); his ways are beyond tracing and his mind is past finding out (Rom 11.33).

Taking these things in mind, when we see “gods” language in Scripture, the first thing we do is affirm that these “gods” are part of the created order.  Gods are not the Creator, but part of the creation.  These gods did not help Yahweh create, for he alone created all things by himself (Is 44.24).  These gods were not in existence before God spoke all things into being.  “Gods” in Scripture refers to angels, magistrates, and even to false gods (Ex 20.3, Ps 82.1, Is 37.19, 1 Cor 8.5, etc.).  Scripture never refers to these gods as having any of the essential (incommunicable) attributes of Yahweh – none of them are without beginning or end, none of them are simple (not made up of parts), none of them are immutable, none of them are omniscient or omnipresent or all-hearing.  Yahweh Elohim alone has the essential attributes of the true God; the other elohim do not. This is the theological side of this question/answer.

The grammatical/linguistic side is also helpful.  In human terms, it shouldn’t puzzle us too much to say that there is one true God but other gods who are less, not divine, and even sometimes non-existent, a figment of our idol-imagination.  For example, we say there is one President of the U.S.; there are other presidents (of the P.T.A., Country Club, etc.) and there are imposters (people who make themselves president of something), but only one real president, the president.  Again, this has to do with analogy and accommodation.  Or, in the language of the Reformed scholastics, “Jehovah alone designates God himself and no other, while Elohim is applied analogically to other beings” (Muller, PRRD, III.266).  Scripture uses language this way often: God alone is King, but there are other kings.  God alone is Lord, but there are other lords.  God alone is our Father, while there are other fathers.

Next time the Mormon missionary knocks on your door, and reacts violently to you saying “I am no polytheist like Joseph Smith,” lovingly press him on the Creator/creature distinction.  This is really the heart of the matter: the Mormon doctrine of God is really Mormon doctrine of Gods because they do not affirm a Creator/creature distinction as the OT/NT teach. “I said you are gods,” (Ps. 82.6) does not mean humans are or will be gods that transcend the created order and attain godhood; it does not mean that humans will ever have any essential (incommunicable) attributes of Yahweh.  It does mean that in the “creaturely” and “contingently” way, humans are/can be gods (i.e. rulers, authorities, etc.), as Ps. 82.7 clearly notes.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

What (Else) Does Your Neighborhood Mormon Church Teach?

In 3 Nephi, chapters 12-19 (and around there), you find an amalgamated account of Jesus’ life and teaching. I say amalgamated on purpose. Here’s how it goes in 3 Nephi, part of the Book of Mormon:

1) Jesus is crucified/dead
2) Three days of worldwide storm/darkness/tempest
3) Sermon-on-the-Mount-like teaching
4) Blessing of the little children
5) Heaven opens and fiery angels minister to these children
6) Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper
7) Jesus ascends into heaven (the second time)
8 ) Jesus teaches “the lost tribes of Israel” in the land Bountiful (again)
9) The disciples of “the lost tribes” are called (Jonas, Jeremiah, Shemnon, Isaiah, Zedekiah, Jonas, etc.)
10) Jesus appears again then departs again after some disciples are transfigured
11) Jesus appears again then departs again after more teaching
12) Jesus appears again then departs again after more teaching

After reading this part of 3 Nephi, I admit it left me in a chaotic chronological conundrum. If anyone can correct the above time line as spelled out in 3 Nephi, I’d be willing to listen. I found myself saying several times – I thought Jesus already ascended!?

To summarize, it is utterly impossible to harmonize the chronology of 3 Nephi and those of the canonical gospels. You would sure think that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, [or Paul, Peter, and James] would have at least hinted at Jesus hop-scotching all over the globe after his ascension! Furthermore, did not Matthew, Mark, or Luke notice the three days of worldwide darkness/storm/tempest when Jesus was crucified? Why did they not record it in their gospels?

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Reading: Mormon Doctrine

An Insider's Guide to Mormonism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

What does your neighborhood LDS church teach? They call themselves Christians – is that an accurate label? I’m reading a book by Coke Newell, an important LDS who lives in Utah. The book is called Latter Days: A Guided Tour Through Six Billion Years of Mormonism (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Though this is different “fare” from usual Reformed Reader posts, it is something I’m reading, and I think it is important to at least know a little about one of the fastest growing religions (c. 1 million new members each 3 years). Also, it is coincidental that I post this right after Andrew posted one on the same topic: we surprised each other! Here are a few blurbs from the book on a few points of what the LDS believe.

“Far, far away…and long, long ago, you and I were born as spirit children of God, and naturally, a Goddess, actual beings of glorified human form and substance. Our home and theirs was a brilliant orb, a crystalline sphere, where the pure light of the greatest of all stars, Kolob, shone endlessly…. The children of the Gods looked like the Gods: in the image of God they created us” (p. 7).

“The firstborn spirit son we knew as Jehovah was like our Father in every respect but that of having gained a physical, then glorified, body” (p. 8).

Was Adam/Eve’s eating of the fruit a sin? “To the contrary, the ‘transgression’ of Adam and Eve was in fact a brilliant move, a bit of prescient genius (on the part of Eve primarily).” Since the first commandment they received was “be fruitful and multiply,” the only way they could do that was to eat the fruit, so they did, in brilliance. “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy (2 Nephi 2.25).

“Joseph Smith referred to Jackson County, Missouri, as the ancient site of Eden as early as 1832” (p.18).

“Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are children of Israel” (p.29). This means literal blood descendants of Israel.

“With his own perfected [post-resurrection] body, …Jesus then visited the American continent” (p.47, cf p. 54-5).

Joseph Smith’s vision of 1820 (he had others, to be sure) was one where he saw “personages” (God the Eternal Father and Jehovah-Jesus-Messiah) who forbade him to join any church, but to start a new one (p.67). He later wrote, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true” (p.67). Smith’s “revelation” in 1820 is the cornerstone of the Mormon church, even if they do not describe it that way. All of Smith’s visions are part and parcel to Mormon doctrine.

Mormon churches “are not a Bible-only church. …We take the given scripture where it is and move forward, with new Scripture, new prophets, and new personal visitations from God and other heavenly messengers” (p.250). The Book of Mormon says, “Because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man…” (cf. 2 Nephi 29.7-9).

In summary, before the beginning of creation, a god and goddess had many spirit-children, you, I, and Jehovah included. Jehovah had/has a physical body that can be seen. Jehovah/Yahweh/God is a son of [a] God. Adam and Eve did not sin in eating the fruit – it was a step of obedience to a higher goal: multiplying. Eden was/is in Missouri. Jesus came to America at one point after the resurrection. Mormons are blood-descendants of OT Israelites. Joseph Smith’s visions of God the Father and Jehovah are the sinews and bones of the LDSs. On-going revelations, visions, and dreams are the flesh and blood of the LDSs.

I trust you see that this is exactly what the Bible does not teach. Mormon anthropology is contrary to the Bible’s, Mormon theology proper is a satanic perversion of Scripture, Mormon doctrine of scripture is contrary to the Bible’s own teaching, and so forth. I suppose many Christians know this, but as with most cults/sects, the deeper you get into it the further from the truth you go. Mormons cannot call themselves Christians unless the name “Christian” is sucked dry of all its biblical and theological meaning.

shane lems

sunnyside wa