The “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” was founded by Joseph Smith (1805-1844) who was born in Sharon, Vermont. He was reared in ignorance, poverty and superstition. As early as 1820 and 1823 he claimed to have visions and divine revelations. It was in 1823 that the angel Moroni revealed to him the very spot where golden plates lay buried containing the history of ancient America in “reformed-Egyptian characters”. Smith did his “translation” of these plates with the aid of special spectacles known as “Urim and Thummim” provided by the angel and they were published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. The book contains some extensive quotations from the King James Version (1611), purports to give the story of ancient inhabitants of America, the ten “lost tribes” of Israel. Just as British Israelism looks to the fulfilment of promises to the northern kingdom of Israel in Britain, Mormonism sets up its own “scriptures” to support the same kind of fulfilment in America!
The Book of Mormon is officially recognised as being of equal authority with the Bible, though in practice it comes to have a higher place. There is strong evidence that it originates in Solomon Spaulding’s unpublished and stolen novel, The Manuscript Found, a piece of highly imaginative fiction which Spaulding’s neighbours later testified under oath to having heard read to them. Other sacred writings include The Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants. The Mormon Church believe that the president of their church has a prophetic gift and may receive further revelations, all of which are accorded the same authority as Scripture.
Mormons deny most of the principal Christian doctrines. They reject the spirituality of God, claiming that God the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s. Further, they teach that there are a great many more gods in addition to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These are in an order of progression, some more advanced than others. They also teach that the gods were once men, and that men may become gods. Mormonisn teaches man’s pre-existence. All men existed as spirits become coming to earth. This preexistent life was a period of probation. Those less faithful or less valiant are born on this earth with black sins. Further, in Mormon teaching, the fall of man is regarded as a fall upward for the benefit of the human race! “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2.25).
Though Christ is called divine, his divinity is not unique, since it is the same it is the same as that to which any man may attain. Nor is his incarnation unique, since all the gods, after having first existed as spirits, came to earth to receive bodies before they advanced to godhood. Salvation is said to be on the basis of works done in this life, not on the basis of Christ’s atonement which only earns for all men the right to be raised from the dead.
The Mormon practice of polygamy which put them under strong persecution is still deeply held, though officially not practised since 1889. A young Mormon missionary indicated recently that it will be practised again “when God commands it.” The Mormon teaching is that marriage should be celebrated, not just for this life, but for eternity. The main task of the future life will be begetting spiritual children who may take human bodies. A man’s glory in the future life depends on the number of wives he has, and a woman’s place in eternity depends on her marriage. So, while polygamy may not be practised on earth at the moment, a Mormon man may go to a temple to be “sealed for eternity” with yet another woman with whom he feels an affinity.
© Peter J Blackburn, 1991,1999. This material was originally prepared for Antioch School. Permission is given for the printing and use of this material by congregations and individuals.