To list all the differences between Mormon theology proper (doctrine of God) and historic Christian theology would be a book in itself. To repeat a few things already stated, Mormonism teaches that there are many gods. Though they say they don’t worship them all and thus say “we are not polytheists,” it is in the framework of their doctrine that there are many gods. In the historic, biblical Christian position, this is repulsive beyond words. So very boldly and clearly does Yahweh in Scripture declare truths: “The lord is God; there is no other besides him” (Deut 4:35), and, “There is none holy like the lord; there is none besides you” (1 Sam 2:2). The entire premise of Job 38–42 and Isaiah 44–55 proclaims unambiguously that there is only one eternal, invisible, immortal, divine being who has revealed himself as Yahweh, the Lord God. Paul is also clear: God is the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God (1 Tim. 1:17). Granted, we don’t learn this all from early OT texts, because as Bible history moves forward, God reveals himself in a deeper, richer way, ending with Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.
In Christian theological terms, there is a clear distinction between Creator and creature. The Creator has attributes of divinity that he shares with no one or nothing in creation (incommunicable characteristics): he changes not, he is invisible, he is eternal, self-sufficient, simple (without parts), and so forth. The Mormon doctrine of God does not make these essential distinctions. Remember the Mormon quote, “Man and God are of the same race?” Remember the Mormon doctrine that God has an exalted body? Remember the Mormon teaching that the Father had a Father had a Father had a Father (ad infinitum)? These teachings are clearly unbiblical and outside the bounds of historic Christianity. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible teaches exactly opposite of Mormon doctrine of God (Num. 23:19, 1 Sam. 15:29, Mal. 3:6). When the Bible speaks about “gods” they are “gods” that belong to the created order of things that came into existence (either by idol imaginations or Satan’s minions) at creation. This is one of many basic, deep, and irreconcilable differences between Mormonism and Christianity.
Along the same lines is the Mormon teaching that God progresses. Mormon apostle Orson Pratt said that God progresses in knowledge and power. As we have already seen several times, this is clearly a display that Mormonism denies the Creator/creature distinction. In broader circles today that call themselves Christian, this is also called Open Theism (or Openness Theology) that Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and others have recently advocated. The Mormon view of progression and Open Theism are like Apollo and Artemis—twins. God doesn’t fully know the future, but he learns and develops to some extent as he goes. God knows future possibilities, but not future actualities.
This is a detailed discussion, to be sure, but suffice it to say that Christian theologians have been writing against different sorts of Open Theism (and philosophies that teach God progresses) for hundreds of years. If God progresses in knowledge, he is no longer omniscient (all-knowing). One Mormon reviewer of Clark Pinnock’s book Most Moved Mover wrote, “It is not hard to see how Pinnock’s open model of deity resonates with common Latter-day Saint understandings of God. It is not, of course, a perfect mesh, yet clearly we do have much in common.” This is dangerous company: Mormon theology has found common ground with a heresy in the broader Christian arena (Open Theism) that teaches that God does not fully know the future. This is anathema to the historic Christian church.
One other significant and irreconcilable difference between Mormonism and historic Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity. Some Mormons will attack the Council of Nicaea (and our Nicene Creed) as being an addition to apostolic doctrine, as if the doctrine of the Trinity was foisted on the Christian church by later teachers and preachers. Mormons clearly deny the doctrine of the Trinity—the biblical teaching that there is one God in three persons. They will say that there are three gods, but they are different and not of the same substance. The historic Christian church follows the OT and NT by confessing the truth that there is one divine being who exists in three distinct persons. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Spirit is Lord yet there are not three Lords, but one Lord. The historic Christian church teaches that if a person does not believe in the Trinity, he is not a Christian.
Mormon Terms and Worldview
Keeping in mind what we have just learned about Mormon theology, it is important for us to briefly note how they use terms. Mormons will look you in the eye and say “I love Jesus.” “I believe in God.” “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” “I go to church,” and other such phrases. However, we must remember what stands behind these words. When a Christian says “I love Jesus” he means “I love the eternal Son of God, who is God-in-the-flesh, who is equal to and one with the Father and the Spirit.” When a Mormon says, “I love Jesus” he means “I love Jesus who is one of the gods, Satan’s spirit-brother, who was saved by faithfulness and only perfectly revealed to me by Joseph Smith.” Again, these two are as irreconcilable as heaven and hell. Notice at the outset of worldview discussion, even the terms “creation” and “fall” mean totally different things: in Mormonism create means “with existing things” while Christians say “without existing things.” The fall for Mormons isn’t really so bad; the fall for Christians means sin and hell.
Even deeper and down to the heart of the matter, we compare worldviews. The Mormon worldview and the Christian worldview are as different as night and day, as opposite as ice and fire, as opposite as Pharaoh and Yahweh. If one evaluates the Mormon worldview with a larger view of history, it becomes clear that Mormonism is nothing less than an American repackaging of ancient Greek pagan polytheism. That is a heavy and weighty accusation: I make it weightier still by saying that Mormonism is Greek paganism wrapped in an American flag. Let me explain.
The ancient Greeks (before and after the time of Christ) believed that there were many gods. We read of some of them in the New Testament: Zeus, Hermes, Artemis, and so forth. In fact, in ancient Greece there was a pantheon of gods—gods of sexual reproduction, gods of war, and gods of harvest (much like Egypt in the OT). The Greek worldview consisted of myths, such as gods giving birth, gods having sex, and gods having fathers. Furthermore, in ancient Greece, people could become gods. “We have no king but Caesar” (Jn. 19:15) is another way to say, “Caesar is Lord”: both are expressions that a human ruler is equivalent or nearly equivalent to the gods. Greek warriors could attain divinity (progress) by prowess and dominance on the battlefield. These are but a few examples of Greek polytheism.
Though in a different way, Mormonism has the same basic view of the Greeks: there are many gods; gods give birth, gods have sex, and people can become gods. However, Mormons have taken the Greco-Roman flavor out of this and garbed it with American family values—be moral, patriotic, and have a nice family. Mormons will display their morality of a husband-wife-children family with the red, white, and blue in the Fourth of July Parade. They have also dressed it with American spirituality: there is a God, and he loves you and forgives you, if you just try really hard and be sincere; trust and obey is the way to heaven. If you really, really, really believe it in your heart, it has to be true, and God rewards that. God has told you by his Spirit, so no one can question this unmediated internal voice. What right do you have to violate my right of having a whisper and feeling in my heart?
Even more American is the Joseph F. Smith’s declaration,
In accord with the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, we teach that the Garden of Eden was on the American continent located where the city of Zion, or the New Jerusalem will be built. When Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, they eventually dwelt at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman, situated in what is now Daviess County, Missouri.
Clearly, the beginning and end (creation and eschatology) are Americanized in Mormonism, along with theology, anthropology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. Christianity, however, “is not a Western religion. It has taken more culturally diverse forms than other faiths,” as Timothy Keller has noted. Or, in blunt terms, Christianity doesn’t need Western culture—or America—to thrive, nor is Western culture the birth-mother of Christianity. Christianity doesn’t need a nation’s flag at all.
Furthermore, one of the tenets of ancient Greece was the concept of a ladder of being. That is, there is one ladder of being, and all moral agents are on that ladder. The gods are at the top, and really wicked people are at the bottom. A person can get up that ladder in a few ways: intellect/philosophy, obedience to the gods, and/or overcoming a test. Mormonism has the same tenets: there is no Creator/creature distinction. Instead, there is one chain of being (“man and God are of the same race”) where the best are at the top and the worst are at the bottom. To get to the top of the being-ladder you have to “trust and obey.” God the Father did it, Jesus did it, and we can do it to. This is quite American as well—God is a mascot to give us what we want. He is pretty much like us, only a lot bigger and stronger. If we are like him, we’ll fare quite well.
One more similarity sticks out. An ancient Greek philosopher named Heraclites (d. c.475 BC) taught that there is no “being.” Instead, there is only becoming. His basic premise for being was that you can’t step in the same river twice—all things are always fluxing and progressing in being. Mormonism says an American “yes!” to that principle of progression. We can conquer and “progress” to overcome the Wild West. God progressed, Jesus progresses, we progress, Scripture progresses in continuing prophecy, and doctrines can flux and change in progression. This progression is also bathed in American moralism or modern day Pelagianism: try harder; you can do it, and God will certainly bless you right on into the big becoming future.
Opening the Door to Apologetics (Defending the Faith)
Though we do not have the space to fully deal with all apologetic issues—many good books have already done so—it is important to open the door of talking to Mormons. Utilizing the presuppositional approach to apologetics, we can show the impossibility of the contrary from Christianity. In other words, only the historic, biblical Christian worldview and doctrine can account for the way things are. All other positions end up in futility and absurdity, which has been shown above. Though Christianity has tremendous mysteries (secret things) that we will never figure out, the clear things of Scripture (revealed things) are not illogical (cf. Deut. 29:29). Let me use just two examples to encourage the reader to think along these lines and go further.
First, Mormon theology cannot account for time. This is another weighty claim, yet ponder it for a moment. If matter is eternal, there never can be a “before time began.” If intelligence or some sort of material principle is co-eternal with God, our concept of time cannot stand. For time to be time it needs a beginning. You cannot measure periods of time unless there was a first. Every tick of the clock begs for a beginning. Only Christianity can account for the tick and tock of your clock. In creation ex nihilo, Christianity teaches that time began when God created the world. God is outside of time—timeless—but he created it and steps into it in the person of his eternal Son. This is one thing to press upon your Mormon friends.
Second, Mormon theology cannot account for the weeds in your garden. If the fall was a fall upward, what is a weed in the garden? A good thing? What is the toil and sweat of man’s brow, working simply to exist? Christianity teaches that this is part of the curse; Mormonism teaches this is part of some sort of fall upwards. How can toil and sweat and weeds be a blessed thing? Adam’s fall plunged the earth itself into bondage: weeds remind us of that cosmic curse that will one day be removed by Christ when he ushers in the new heavens and earth, where we need not toil against it anymore. This is another clear inconsistency in Mormonism that we cannot let slide as we talk to Mormons.
I encourage the reader to think not primarily about superficial parts of the Mormon faith, since the superficial aspects can be fudged and equivocated to mean nearly anything, even Christian lingo. Dig deeper; see the “nuts and bolts” of Mormonism, how they are opposed to Christianity, and use Mormonism’s own teachings to show that it cannot account for reality. Indeed, as we see, Mormonism is so completely illogical that it cannot stand on its own two feet. To be duped into Mormonism is to be duped into a self-destructing, irrational religion. One reason people are duped is because of the clean clothes Mormonism dresses itself in. If something looks good on the outside and is enjoyable or beneficial for a person, he’ll go for it, even if it is quite irrational. This is why Americans purchase on credit.
The evidence is more than abundantly clear: Mormonism is opposite of Christianity. By no stretch of any dictionary entry on any term can we lump the Latter Day Saints church in with historic Christian churches. Christians do, however, need to be quite aware of the current cultural trends. Even the media at times are quick to lump Mormons in with Christian churches. I recently saw an article floating around the Internet praising Mormons for how they store up goods for times of crisis. Certainly, Mormons attempt to call themselves Christians, though they didn’t in the past. I have been repetitive above so the main point would be quite obvious—the gulf between the two is impassible and unbridgeable.
Their missionaries will look you in the eye and say “We’re Christians too; I believe in Jesus and accepted him into my heart; the Holy Spirit told me.” This is evangelical language, to be sure, but underneath the language is a world of darkness, a world that many have been sucked into by crafty language. The serpent still twists God’s words—we’re dealing not with two competing or complementary religions, but the war between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s. We know who won and will win. He will protect his church from false teaching and heresies, even those as dark as Mormonism. He is also powerful to pull people out of such darkness and show them the light of Jesus Christ, who is one with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
Let me end with just a few exhortations. First, the issue at hand needs to awaken the Christian church to know what she believes and why she believes it. Doctrine is important: each Christian is called to stand fast in and hold fast to biblical teaching (2 Thess. 2:15). This means we need to know Christian doctrine more than just superficially, because “superficially” Mormonism sounds the same. Second, Christians have to be ready more than ever to be called intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded, and so forth as we continue to refuse to call Mormons Christians. We need to be ready to respond to such accusations with informed truth and love instead of running away angry, with our fingers in our ears. Third, we need to pray for the deceived Mormons. We need to support mission endeavors to the Mormons; we need to befriend them and lovingly show them the truth and light of the gospel that refutes and exposes their darkness. Finally, we need to hit our knees and praise the eternal Son of God that he has rescued us from our own darkness. He still rescues all kinds of people from all kinds of places from such darkness. All this study should lead us to look away from ourselves to the light of the world, Jesus.
Rev. Shane Lems is the pastor of Sunnyside URC, Sunnyside, WA.