The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church) professes to be a Christian church. However, a comparison of basic LDS doctrinal positions with historic biblical Christianity reveals many radical differences. This article is a compilation and adaptation of two resources produced by the North American Mission Board, The Interfaith Witness Belief Bulletin on Mormonism, published by NAMB's interfaith witness evangelism team, 1998, and a comparative chart by Tal Davis, posted at www.4truth.net, 2007.
The Doctrine of God
The one God is a Spirit who is the personal, eternal, infinite Creator of all that exists. He is the only God and necessary for all other things to exist. He exists eternally as a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is God and not man.
Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-8; Hosea 11:9; Matthew 28:19; John 4:24; 17:3; 1 Timothy 1:17; Jude 1:25
Elohim (Heavenly Father) is an exalted man with a physical body of flesh and bone who sires spirit children destined for human life on earth. Having kept the requirements of Mormonism, he was exalted to godhood and inherited his own universe. LDS founder Joseph Smith said, "If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible . . . you would see him like a man in form" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345). The Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, and "Heavenly Father" comprise three separate and distinct gods: the Father and the Son have bodies of flesh and bones "as tangible as man's," but the Holy Ghost "is a personage of Spirit" (Doctrine and Covenants [D&C], 130:22).
The Doctrine of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is the eternal Word, coexistent and coeternal with the Father and Holy Spirit. In His incarnation, He was conceived supernaturally by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He possesses two natures, human and divine, in His One Person. He lived a sinless life, died on the cross as a willing sacrifice for the sins of humanity, and was raised from the dead. He will come again to the earth and reign as King of kings.
Luke 1-2; John 1:1-18; 8:56-59; Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:13-22; Hebrews 1:3; 13:8
Jesus was Heavenly Father's first born spirit child: "Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ, so he is literally our elder brother" (Gospel Principles [GP], p. 11)." As the physical offspring of God, he is "the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father" (GP, p. 64). His atonement (death and resurrection) provides immortality for all people regardless of their faith. "Christ thus overcame physical death. Because of his atonement, everyone born on this earth will be resurrected. . . . This condition is called immortality. All people who ever lived will be resurrected, 'both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous'" (The Book of Mormon, Alma 11:44; see also GP, pp. 11, 17-19, 61-77). Some Mormon documents claim that Jesus was married at Cana and had children himself. Mormons teach that Jesus visited the Israelites (Native Americans) in North America after his resurrection and established the true church among them.
The Doctrine of Scriptures and Authority
The Bible (Old and New Testaments) is the unique, revealed, inspired, inerrant Word of God. It is the sole authority for faith and practice for Christians, thoroughly equipping the believer for every good work. The Bible explicitly warns against adding to or detracting from its teaching.
Deuteronomy 4:2; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21; Revelation 22:18
Four books are regarded as authoritative scripture. These include the King James Version of the Bible "as far as it is translated correctly." Smith made more than "six hundred corrections" to its text. Other "standard works" include the Book of Mormon, which Smith declared is "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"; the Doctrine and Covenants, "a collection of modern revelations . . . regarding The Church of Jesus Christ as it has been restored in these last days"; and the Pearl of Great Price, a book that "clarifies doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible and gives added information concerning the creation of the earth." The Book of Mormon alleges to have the "fullness of the gospel," telling the story of a supposed migration of Israelites in 600 BC to the American continent. These Israelites lapsed into apostasy, but their story was preserved on golden plates written in Reformed Egyptian, an otherwise unknown language. After Smith translated the plates by the "gift and power of God," they were returned to the angel Moroni who returned them to heaven. The church's president is regarded as "a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet" (D&C 107:91-92).
The Doctrine of Humanity
Human beings are the crowning act of God's good creation, created in God's image by God Himself. Each person is a unique being of dignity and worth, formed by God in his or her mother's womb. Human beings are not gods.
Genesis 1:26-27; Isaiah 31:3; 44:2; Psalm 139
People are the preexisted spiritual offspring of the Heavenly Father and Mother. "All men and women are . . . literally the sons and daughters of Deity. . . . Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal (physical) body" (Smith, "The Origin of Man," Improvement Era, November. 1909, pp. 78, 80, as quoted in GP, p. 11). A commonly quoted Mormon aphorism (attributed to fifth LDS president Lorenzo Snow) says, "As man is, god once was; as god is, man may become." Every person has the potential of becoming a god by keeping the requirements of Mormonism.
The Doctrine of Sin
Human beings are sinners by nature and by choice. All have sinned against God, rejecting His nature, and pursing life opposed to His essential character and revealed law.
Romans 3:1-23; 7:14-25; Ephesians 2:1-5; 1 John 1:8-10
People sin by disobedience to God's laws. Adam's fall, a part of Heavenly Father's plan, caused a loss of immortality, which was necessary for mankind to advance. According to LDS scripture, Eve declared "Were it not for our transgression we never should have . . . known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient" (Pearl of Great Price [PGP], Moses 5:11). Each person is responsible for his or her own sin.
The Doctrine of Salvation
Salvation is release from the guilt and power of sin through God's gift of grace. Prompted by God's love, salvation is provided through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and is received by personal faith in Christ as Savior and Lord.
John 3:1-18; Acts 4:12; 13:38-39; 20:20-21; Romans 3:20-28; 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8-10
The Mormon plan of salvation is built on the premise that all people have eternal life, but only the most faithful Mormons enter the celestial kingdom. Jesus' atonement provided immortality for all people. Exaltation (godhood) is available only to Mormons through obedience to LDS teachings: faith in the god of Mormonism, baptism in the LDS church, endowments, celestial marriage, and tithing.
Additionally, Mormons must keep the "Word of Wisdom" by abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine; attend weekly sacrament meetings; support the Mormon prophet; do temple works; and be active in their support of the church. Some of the blessings given to exalted people include:
1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
2. They will become gods.
3. They will have their righteous family members with them and will be able to have spirit children also. These spirit children will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father.
4. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (See GP, p. 302).
5. They will receive a fullness of joy.
Baptism or "immersion performed by the living for the dead," provides post-mortem salvation for non-Mormons. This ordinance is "performed in temples" (GP, p. 375).
The Doctrine of Life After Death
Those who have trusted in Jesus Christ receive eternal life in heaven with God. The unsaved receive the just punishment for their sins, resulting in eternal separation from God's presence in hell.
Matthew 5:12-30; 25:41; Revelation 20-22
All human beings will enter one of three levels of glory:
1. Exaltation in the celestial kingdom for faithful Mormons, as described above. These faithful may become gods or angels (D&C, 132:30).
2. Terrestrial kingdom for righteous non-Mormons: "These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fullness" (D&C, 76:75-76).
3. Telestial kingdom for the wicked and ungodly: "These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers . . . who suffer the wrath of God on earth" (D&C, 76:103-104). Though it is for the wicked, it is not akin to the biblical doctrine of hell.
The Doctrine of the Church
The church of Jesus Christ is comprised of baptized believers, gathered in local congregations for the proclamation of the Gospel, worship, fellowship, service, missions, and evangelism. The gathered church in heaven consists of all the redeemed in Jesus Christ in all of the ages.
Matthew 16:15-19; 1 Corinthians 1:12-14; Ephesians 2:19; 3:11-12
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only true church on the face of the earth. Smith claimed Jesus Christ told him to join no existing denominations because "they were all wrong . . . that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors [members] were all corrupt" (PGP, Joseph Smith History 1:19-20). After the New Testament era all churches became heretical and no true saints existed until the "Church of Latter Day Saints" was formed (hence their name). Non-Mormons are called "Gentiles." The new revelations given to Smith, the institution of the prophet and apostles in the church, the restoration of the divine priesthoods (the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood as restored by God to Smith), and the temple ceremonies make the church authentic (D&C 13; 27:8- 13). Mormons teach that true salvation is found only in the LDS Church.
Witnessing to Your Mormon Friends
1. Practice the basics of the Christian life—maintain a daily quiet time of Scripture and prayer, trust the Holy Spirit to use you, ask the Lord to give you a heart and passion for the lost.
2. Develop a basic understanding of Christian doctrine and the Gospel. Reading and reviewing The Baptist Faith and Message on a regular basis is a good place to start.
3. Present a clear testimony of your faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Use precise language about how you came to trust in Jesus Christ.
4. Familiarize yourself with how Mormon doctrine differs from historic Christian faith (see the accompanying article).
5. Share the plan of salvation with your Mormon friend. Emphasize that salvation is a gift to be received, not a merit to be earned.
6. Disarm your Mormon friend with multiple acts of kindness. Develop a first-name relationship. Speak the truth in love. When you show kindness, you deal from strength through the power of the Holy Spirit.
7. Use the Bible itself to show what Scripture teaches about salvation as God's act of grace through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
8. When a Mormon uses the Bible or cites a Bible verse, ask him or her to read the verses aloud in their complete contexts.
9. Explain biblical terms and concepts in clear, simple language. Avoid "religious" words that have little meaning to those who do not understand the Gospel.
10. Warn your Mormon friend about the danger of trusting in feelings. Without historical, objective verification, feelings will mislead us.
11. Don't hesitate to repeat the basics of the Gospel again and again in your conversation. The Gospel of Christ is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).
12. Do not feel like a failure if your friend does not come to faith in Christ after a single witness. Very few followers of Jesus were saved the first time they heard the Gospel.