Mormonism is a ‘restorationist’ religion with its own peculiar dispensationalist model. It is, therefore, in the nature of Mormon thinking to consider the ‘modern revelation’ of their latter-day prophets as most relevant to our day and age, giving insights for the latest dispensation.
From the Bible Code to the Davinci Code, from James Frazer to Von Daniken and Colin Wilson, there is a perennial market for ‘lost truths’ and hidden histories. It is what attracts people to secret societies, to become initiates, submitting themselves to strange ceremonies, adopting odd customs and practices, spending fortunes on obscure books in the hope of gaining a glimpse into the mysteries of the universe.
The January 2017 Ensign magazine carried an article by Norman W Gardner, curriculum writer for the LDS seminaries and institutes department, offering such Insights from the Doctrine and Covenants about the Father and the Son. He claims, “This book of revelations reveals lost truths about the Godhead and how we can live with the Savior and Heavenly Father again.”
‘Modern revelation,’ offering such insights, is a touchstone of Mormonism, and Gardner brings six points to demonstrate how he thinks the Doctrine and Covenants deepens our understanding and proves superior.
1. “In the Doctrine and Covenants we can hear the voice of Jesus Christ,” he insists, stating, “The Doctrine and Covenants is not ancient scripture but contains revelations given to Joseph Smith and his successors in our modern world.”
This plays to the Mormon idea that the Christian Church has been running on an outdated, corrupt operating system. The ‘Restoration’ of lost truths and living prophets is the essential system upgrade we need. ‘Oh, that old thing,’ you can almost hear them say, as you bring out your Bible. This betrays an equivocal attitude towards the Bible, which is the only book of Scripture Mormons consider as not especially inspired or trustworthy according to the Mormon eighth article of faith:
“We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”
But there is nothing dated about the Word of God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13:8). If it was so then the Book of Mormon would be redundant, being at least 1600 years old according to Mormon claims. Indeed the Doctrine and Covenants itself is proving increasingly dated since, of Joseph Smith’s successors, it contains one entry by Brigham Young (1847) and one by Joseph F Smith (1918). Finally it has proved to be as closed a canon as the Bible.
More importantly, none of Mormonism’s additional scriptures contains a single gospel. Gardner claims:
“The first-person voice of the Lord Jesus Christ is recorded more frequently in the Doctrine and Covenants than in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price combined.”
Surely it is content and not a word count that determines value and authenticity? Depending on Mormon scriptures alone, what do we learn about Jesus? Only what one man, Joseph Smith, tells us, and that is as much debated inside Mormonism as outside (just try having an intelligent conversation with a Mormon about the King Follett Discourse).
The Bible gives us four gospels and a substantial account of the early church, what they believed and practised, and how they lived. It gives us prophecies describing his coming, and accounts of the fulfilment of those prophecies. The mystery and will of God is revealed there (Ephesians 1:9-10). The question is not what does Mormon revelation tell us that we didn’t know before. Rather, it is what, in the claims of Mormonism, squares with the ample knowledge we already have.
2.The Doctrine and Covenants contains accounts of those who saw God
Gardner claims, “As a result of the First Vision in 1820, the boy Joseph Smith gained firsthand (sic) knowledge of the existence of the Father and the Son. The Doctrine and Covenants records additional instances when the Prophet and others saw the Father and the Son in visions or personal appearances. These accounts serve as modern witnesses for us that They live and that They directed the Restoration of the gospel.”
The Doctrine and Covenants is the work of one man, Joseph Smith. He is the single thread running through this article. What Mormons ‘know’ they know through him. His visions, his revelations, his ‘scriptures’, which can prove surprisingly convenient when he is in a tight spot; witness Doctrine and Covenants 132, with its command to Smith’s wife to accept plural marriage, or else (vv51-56).
The New Testament, on the other hand, offers countless witness accounts of the risen Christ, from the women who first discovered the empty tomb, through his appearances to the twelve and others, to his appearance to Saul of Tarsus (John 20; Luke 24; 1 Cor.15:1-7) Joseph Smith has simply tried to introduce himself into this vast crowd of witnesses we already have.
3. The Doctrine and Covenants helps us learn about God the Father
Here is where Mormonism departs dramatically from what the Bible tells us. Indeed, the Doctrine and Covenants contradicts Mormon teaching, the article insisting ‘God the Father is infinite and unchangeable,’ (D&C 20:12, 17-18). Yet Joseph Smith, in the above mentioned King Follett Discourse, taught that ‘God became God.’
Rather than ‘restoring lost truths,’ Mormonism brings truth claims that were never there in the first place, that contradict what has always been known. ‘The Father and the Son,’ claims Gardner, ‘have tangible bodies of flesh and bones.’ (D&C 138:3-4) This fits with Smith’s now fully developed teaching that ‘As man is God once was, and as God is man may become.’ (Lorenzo Snow, 5th Mormon prophet) The Mormon missionary lessons today teach:
‘God has a perfect, glorified, immortal body of flesh and bones. To become like God and return to his presence, we too must have a perfect, immortal body of flesh and bones.’ (Preach my Gospel, 2004, p.50) Note God’s body is ‘glorified,’ i.e. is not simply glorious but, in Mormon thinking, has gone through a process of becoming glorious, the process described in the missionary lessons. (In fact, ‘glorified’ means to ascribe glory ‘to a markedly exaggerated extent; to add undeserved prestige to, esp under a euphemistic or overblown title.’ (Chambers Dictionary)
Jesus defined eternal life as to ‘know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (John 17:3). God himself declared, ‘I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God…You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.’ (Isaiah 44:6-8) The writer to the Hebrews tells us, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13:8)
James reminds us, ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’ (James 1:17) God is not the unmoved mover of Greek philosophy, but he is unchangeable in his person, character, purpose and power, the uncreated creator.
4. The Doctrine and Covenants helps us learn about Jesus Christ
Here Gardner writes, ‘Jesus Christ was the Firstborn of all the spirit children of Heavenly Father. In the premortal life, Jesus obtained all knowledge and power and represented the Father as the Creator of the worlds. Through His divine power, the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of light and life for all of His creations. The Doctrine and Covenants clarifies many of His roles in the Father’s plan.’
This is a reference to the doctrine that we lived with God in eternity before coming to earth, in a ‘pre-mortal existence.’ They assert that God did not create out of nothing, we already pre-existed and God placed us in a world he made out of pre-existing matter.
This is a form of dualism in which God and the material of the universe eternally coexist. This would mean that there were two ultimate forces in the universe, God and matter, that something existed apart from God of whom Scripture declares, “In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” (Col.1:16) “For you created all things, and by your will they existed” (Rev.4:11).
How could God be omnipotent if something existed apart from his will? This challenges his Lordship over creation, his ultimate will for creation, and his glory in creation. How could we know that God, and not another eternal force, is ultimately in control? But this is exactly what Mormonism presents us with, i.e. a ‘Plan of Salvation’ to which even God is subject, by which he became God. The Bible clearly shows in many places that God created everything out of nothing and that nothing in creation pre-existed, or was fashioned from pre-existing materials.
‘For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him’ (Col.1:16, c.f. Ge.1:1; Ps.33:6,9; John 1:3; Acts 17:24; Heb.11:3; Rev.4:11) Further, the one in whom, through whom, and for whom all things were created is Jesus Christ. The idea that ‘Jesus obtained all knowledge and power and represented the Father as the Creator of the worlds,’ cannot be right, since he is the unchangeable God who is ‘the same yesterday and today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13:8) not the first of God’s children to ‘progress.’
5. The Doctrine and Covenants helps us learn what the Father and the Son expect of us
Here Gardner asserts, ‘More than any other book of scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants makes it plain what eternal life is: to return to live with the Father and the Son, receive all that the Father has, and become like Them. It also tells us how Jesus Christ, through His Atonement, makes this possible and what we need to do to fulfill the requirements He has set. In addition, we learn in the Doctrine and Covenants what it means to follow Jesus Christ’s example, since, like us, Jesus Christ did not have a fulness at first but received grace for grace until He had all power and glory.’
It is worth repeating that Jesus, according to the Bible, is ‘the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8) He always had a fullness. Paul reminds us that ‘Christ Jesus who, being very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.’ (Philippians 2:6-7)
In his great high priestly prayer in John 17 Jesus prayed, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’ (John 17:4-5)
Jesus was God in nature, did not cling to his Godhood but made himself nothing, finished the work the Father gave him, and returned to receive the glory he originally had. This is not progressing, ‘receiving grace for grace,’ but glory fully known, glory laid aside, and glory taken up again.
The Doctrine and Covenants, writes Gardner, ‘also tells us how Jesus Christ, through His Atonement, makes this possible [returning to God] and what we need to do to fulfill the requirements He has set.’ This reflects the peculiar Mormon idea that we earn the gift of salvation, expressed most clearly in their 3rd Article of Faith: ‘We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.’ (emphasis added)
Gospel means good news. It derives from the Anglo-Saxon godspell, and translates the Greek euangelion, ‘good tidings.’ The ‘good news’ of Mormonism is the opportunity of being ‘saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.’ It is to ‘fulfil the requirements [Jesus] has set.’ This is a troubling definition of ‘good tidings.’
Every honest man and woman would confess with Paul, ‘I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing.’ They would surely go on to cry, with Paul, ‘Who will deliver me from this body of sin?’ The Bible makes clear the good news is the message of the cross and resurrection, and is described as, ‘the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…’ (Romans 1:16) Christ will deliver us from this body of sin, through his atoning work on the cross and by the power that raised him from the dead
6. The Doctrine and Covenants provides a pattern for acquiring spiritual knowledge
Here Gardner writes, “Light and truth are promised to those who live according to all of the Lord’s words. It is important to learn details about the nature of the Godhead and Their purposes. This knowledge can lead to diligent searching for spiritual understanding and conviction of the truth.”
The emphasis throughout is on knowledge. What form does this knowledge take? He cites D&C 76:
“For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
And to them I will reveal all mysteries, yea, all hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will-yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.” (D&C 76:5-10)
Later, Mormons are encouraged, “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)
Here is the stark difference between biblical knowledge, which is knowledge of God and his purposes and available to anyone who picks up a Bible, and Mormon knowledge:
“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment-to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.“ (Ephesians 1:9-10)
Here it is Christ, under whose head all things are brought together, who is glorified.
In Mormonism, knowledge is esoteric, gained by initiation into the secrets of God through stages of growth and faithfulness that include initiation in secret temple ceremonies based on masonic ritual. This knowledge is not knowledge of God but the passing on of knowledge from God to the next generation of glorified, exalted beings – men become gods. This knowledge is a revelation of all mysteries, the wonders of eternity, wisdom that reaches to heaven. This is reminiscent of the great ziggurats of the plains in Abraham’s time, man reaching for godhood. This issues in the glorification of man. Wasn’t the lie in the beginning, ‘You shall be like God?’ (Genesis 3:4-5)
In the Bible we can hear the voice of Jesus. The Bible contains accounts of those who saw God. It helps us learn about God the Father and about Jesus. The Bible helps us understand what God has done for us in Christ, and contains all his wonderful promises for those who love and trust him. ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Tim.3:15-17)
All we need for life and godliness is available through our knowledge of God who has called us ‘by his own glory and goodness’ (2 Peter 1:3) and not through esoteric knowledge that exalts man. Peter goes on to say, ‘We have something more sure (than cleverly devised myths [v16], the prophetic word, to which you would do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…’ (vv 19-20). The very lamp Peter writes of is dismissed by Mormons as ancient and increasingly irrelevant. Peter goes on to warn:
‘But false prophets also arose among the people (of OT times), just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow in their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.’ (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)
Gardner concludes, claiming that ‘the Doctrine and Covenants helps us draw nearer to Heavenly Father and His Only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, by revealing Their character and Their purposes.’ Yet nothing carries us further from God’s purposes in Christ than a faith that makes Christ simply the eldest brother of all mankind, that makes God nothing more than an exalted and ‘glorified’ man, and that makes man a potential god. All that Gardner claims for the Doctrine and Covenants is already there in the prophetic word of the Bible, correctly taught, and worlds away from the Plan of Salvation of Mormonism.