What I Believe
This is part of who I am.
This is part of who I am.
The Way Back
I would like to write in the defense of my faith. There has been much in the media lately about Mormonism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially with regards to Mitt Romney. Yet I continually hear one misconception after another. I heard a talk show host, proclaiming to have a doctrinal understanding of my church while constantly criticizeing its doctrines with commonly held misconceptions. I would like to address some of those misconceptions. However, I would like for it to be clearly understood that I speak as a matter of personal conviction and not as an official representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
First the term “Mormon”
I would like people to understand that this term is a very general or broad term. It is applied to any person who believes in The Book of Mormon. There are in fact many different sects that proclaim this belief. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an entity unto itself. It is very distinct and stands apart from all other churches proclaiming a belief in the Book of Mormon. Because of the Church's large growth and long-standing presence it is common for anyone hearing the term Mormon to associate it with this church. This association often causes confusion when other religious sects are put in the spotlight.
Second the term “Christian”
This is also a very broad term that has had many different definitions applied to it. The term comes from early Rome when members of a Jewish sect called “The Way” were negatively referred to as Christians because they chose to follow Christ. Followers of this early faith took the name upon them gladly, feeling it a blessing to be persecuted in the name of their God. Similarly, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly take his name upon themselves as is evidenced in nearly every thing that they do. So it is offensive to them when other self-proclaimed Christian sects tell them that they are not Christians. Their reasons for this are doctrinal. The accusations are based on a difference of interpretation of the scriptures and are meant more as a personal attack against the beliefs of Latter-day Saints than any actual definitive description of what a Christian is. It seems very arrogant to me that a religious sect claims the authority to tell another religious sect what they do and do not believe. But, this is the nature of many religions.
It is also inevitable that there should be differences in scriptural interpretation. All religions must claim the truth or else all religions would be false. Therefore, in order to have the truth you must proclaim that all other religions are false. Maybe they have parts of the truth, but in order for your faith to be correct you must assume that other faiths are incorrect. Without an established doctrine, a Church is of little value and its members will do just as well to seek out their own beliefs in their own way, and many today do.
Many of the evangelicals claim to be nondenominational but they teach some very distinct doctrines. If they were truly nondenominational it would matter very little what other churches taught or believed. Basically I took the long way of saying that I find it very unfair that they set the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apart as being unchristian when there are so many sects in Christianity with differing doctrines. I would now like to address some of the differences in doctrines.
Faith versus Works
I had the opportunity to talk about this issue with a man from an evangelic faith. We spent about three hours discussing this topic back and forth until we finally resolved that we were talking about the exact same thing only from different perspectives. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that we are saved after we have done all that we can do.” This is a very narrow and misleading statement of the church's doctrines regarding salvation. My understanding of many of the Baptist and Evangelical teachings is that you are saved by accepting Jesus Christ, and then the Holy Spirit, working in your life, will be reflected in your works. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that baptism is the outward expression of accepting Christ into your life - and that accepting Christ is a continual process that requires the Holy Spirit and is expressed in the performance of good works. Latter-day Saints accept the grace of Christ as the ultimate means of salvation. We do not believe it is possible to perform good works without it.
The Holy Trinity
Probably the greatest doctrinal difference between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian religions is the theology of the Holy Trinity. Latter-day Saints knowledge of the God Head is based primarily on the vision of their founding prophet Joseph Smith. In his vision he saw God the Supreme Creator standing next to Jesus Christ. Through following revelations Jesus Christ introduced himself as Jehovah the God of the Old Testament and the creator of all things under the direction of our Eternal Father, the creator of our spirits. There are many scriptures in the Bible that support this doctrine depending on your interpretation. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity comes from the Nicene Creed which states:
“We believe in one God, the Father,
the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
From this start and several other subsequent councils a doctrine was gradually accepted that Jesus Christ and his Holy Father, whom he spoke to in the grove, were the same person. Since the Latter-day Saints reject this image of our creator, choosing to interpret the Holy Bible differently, many of the other Christian faiths consider them to again be unchristian. If we ask any religious sect what is the correct interpretation of the scriptures they will almost always say theirs is.
As Man is God once was, As God is Man may become
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bases this doctrine off of their interpretation of biblical scripture.
Genesis 5:1 God created men, in the image of God created he him. 1 John 3:2 when he shall appear we shall be like him. Acts 17:29 we are the offspring of God. St John: 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
Again this is our interpretation of these scriptures that through the grace of Christ we can be brought into the presence of God. We believe that in order to return to him we must be perfected as he is perfect. This is a goal that is not obtainable in this life through our own works, but that Christ brings to pass through his sacrifice and resurrection. We believe that we came from the presence of God. I know of many other Christians who share this belief though there church has no official doctrine concerning it. A children’s hymn from the church says “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear. Lead me. Guide me. Walk beside me. Help me to find the way. Teach me all that I must do to live with him some day.”
Baptisms for the Dead
The key word here is “for” the dead not “of” the dead. The scriptures teach that in order to obtain salvation certain ordinances must be received. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints performs a vicarious work for the dead. By allowing individuals to represent their dead ancestors they allow those who have died to accept or reject the work that has been done for them. 1 Corinthians 15: 29 says, speaking of the resurrection “else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead if the dead rise not at all.” Latter-day Saints interpret this scripture as a proclamation that early Christians performed the same practice. Other sects see this statement as a condemnation of this practice. Again it is left open to interpretation, because Paul provides no clarification.
Other Scriptures and Revelations
Many Christian sects see the end statement in the Book of Revelations (“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life”) as a reference to the entire collection of Biblical works. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that men, doing the best that they could, tried to recover and retranslate the Bible into English. In the process there were many translations and there were many different Bibles. Some Bibles came with the Book of Revelations and its promise and some without it. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts the King James Version of the Bible. It is believed to be the best compilation of early Christian writings available through the efforts of man.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is founded on the belief that salvation comes through a direct and personal relationship with the creator. This relationship is built through the spirit as revelation to man. In order to provide guidance to men Christ reestablished his Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith has been criticized and hated from his first proclamation of a vision from the divine. He claimed visitations from God and angels. He was directed to a record hidden in the earth. The record was testified of by close individuals, three of whom later disassociated themselves from him but never denied their testimonies. He translated this record as the Book of Mormon. This book proclaims the divinity of Jesus Christ, praises the records of the Jews, reemphasizes the importance of keeping the commandments, encourages service to others, and quotes several books from the Bible as well as records not found in the Bible.
Joseph Smith also wrote down other revelations that he received from God. None of these added to or took away from the Book of Revelations or the Bible. The Bible is still the Bible, but others see additional revelations as adding to the Bible and changing the meaning of the scriptures. Again this is their interpretation.
Church or Cult
“Cult” is one of those words that some like to throw around in order to offend or estrange people, like the word bigot or idiot. Webster defines a cult as:
1: formal religious veneration : worship
2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
5 a: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b: the object of such devotion c: a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion.
Under such broad definitions you could classify all religions as cults. It is not the word here that is negative but rather the inference of a negative meaning to the word. Cults are generally regarded as being strange and secret. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems strange only to those who refuse to associate with them. To most people who criticize the church from personal associations, they are “dull” and “old-fashioned.” They are not secretive. Rather they maintain the invitation of the savior “come and see”. People view Cults as individuals blindly following the direction of a leader without question. By this definition The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not in any way shape or form a cult. The Church teaches its’ members to be active in the communities, read books and search out new ideas, to follow the spirit when making decisions, and to be accountable for personal actions. The harshest punishment ever enforced by the church was excommunication, simply removing a person’s membership from the church. Such persons are encouraged but not coerced to make amends and be rebaptized into church membership. They receive no threats of hell or retribution. Persons wishing to remove themselves from the church can simply make a formal request to have their names taken from the records. This is discouraged but ultimately complied with upon the insistence of the individual. Latter-day Saints believe that an individual's freedom of choice is the greatest of Gods gifts to his children.
Are Mormons Racist?
I can honestly say that as an organization the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not. All races enjoy the same privileges of worship and leadership. I have attended many congregations that were mixed with different races. In the past there have been church policies that were directed at race. These policies did nothing to encourage feelings of racial hatred. Church leaders have spoken openly against such actions. It is sad to me, but I am sure that there have been members of my church and many other Christian churches that have embraced feelings of racial prejudice. In respect to prejudice I think that the world is blind. The world uses race as an explanation for cultural differences that are hard to accept. I think that if people could see past the skin and try to better understand the cultural differences these differences could be addressed in a more constructive way.
Much of the criticism directed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in relation to the past practice of plurality of wives. This practice started in the 1800’s was not limited to Mormons, but the laws with regard to its practice were directed at Mormons. At the time of its debate there was a great deal of disunity in the east and politicians sought to build unity by exploiting the mistrust and resentment of easterners towards Mormons. This led to the persecutions that eventually brought a close to its practice. The doctrine is derived from Old Testament scriptures. There is little in regards to marriage in the New Testament other than encouragement towards fidelity. Prophets condemned the practice of concubines but not that of multiple wives. Some prophets engaged in the practice themselves. Is it a correct practice? Does its practice in any way harm society? These are good questions and should be left to the individual and God. As for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints they discontinued the practice more than a hundred years ago. They no longer support or tolerate its practice. The doctrine again is left up to interpretation but the practice of that doctrine is no longer an issue.
Much of what people regard as secret in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is derived from the practice of temple worship. The church builds temples as sacred places in which to draw closer to God. They literally consider it the house of God or a place where God’s spirit can always be felt. To go there is a very personal religious experience. In the temple members make covenants with God that reinforce their baptismal covenants. The baptismal covenants are to take upon them the name of Christ, always remember him, and keep his commandments. There is nothing in the temple that cannot be found in the Bible. Latter-day Saints regard their worship in these places as sacred and holy. In order to maintain its holiness they choose not to share intimate descriptions of temple worship, but give more general and vague descriptions of temple practices. To a world where so little is regarded as holy it becomes hard for people to understand why Latter-day Saints refuse to give a description or details of their temple worship. After all, the most intimate details of marital relationships are discussed openly in break rooms. Hard personal family struggles are documented and broadcast to living rooms across the globe in order to provide good publicity to companies seeking public recognition. The name of deity has become an expression of disappointment, fear, and disbelief. Will the world take away all that is sacred to Latter-day Saints by denying them their right to worship in holy temples. Let us remember what happened when the Jewish Zealots took the temple in Jerusalem hostage. Shortly after, the siege was ended by the death of the Zealots and the destruction of Gods temple. All Jews pray for the return of their most Holy Temple and suffer the humiliation of another religion that denies them that right of worship. In this they have the complete sympathies of Latter-day Saints.
Latter-day Saints wear undergarments as a constant reminder of their covenants. It is much like the rosary or the Jewish Prayer shawl. Again, this is something personal and sacred to them. They wear them on the inside where it is closest to them. I personally feel that it is bad taste to talk openly about your underwear. I think most Christians would agree with that.
The Arrogance of the Church
Many people think of Mormons as being very proud and have a holier than thou attitude. I would agree that there are some members among our congregations that have this attitude. I don’t feel that is a condition belonging to Mormons alone. I hear atheists and agnostics all saying the same thing about Christians in general. This brings us back to the paradox of religion (if I’m right then you must be wrong). In this regard the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes a rather tolerant stance. Joseph Smith said “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” We believe that there are many Churches that teach correct principles, even the principles of salvation. We claim that the doctrines of our church are the most correct, but that it is fundamental for men to gain that knowledge on their own.
Indeed I can not address every difference of opinion here, but it is my hope to open the doors of understanding. I am grateful to those religions that offer us the arm of fellowship through religious toleration. I would hope that more people would open their hearts and come to agree that we are all here together. We must work together to build a unity that will ease the burdens of all those around us. Each must do their part that we might be a united people. When we come to this point it is my personal belief that the Spirit of the Lord will be unrestrained and we may all learn truth.
Edward N. Ellsworth IV