In preparing this series it is sobering to be reminded how much Mormonism is the religion of Joseph Smith. “Of course we are Christians!” Mormons reply to their critics. “His is the name of the church, our prayers are said in His name, our hymns extol Him”, etc. However, in the instructions for the first discussion the Mormon missionary is told that “the focus of this discussion should be the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Consider that for a moment. In a discussion about what purports to be the gospel of Jesus Christ the focus and emphasis is Joseph Smith. The first principles of the discussion are (1) The Plan of our Heavenly Father, and (2) The Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ. Missionaries are told, however,
“Do not spend too much time on the first two principles, especially if the investigators basically agree with what you present. Leave enough time to discuss the truths that are unique to the restored gospel. After the discussion, the investigator’s strongest impressions should be of the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith. Through them we gained our understanding of God and his plan” (emphasis added).
The commitment for this discussion is to “Read the Book of Mormon and pray to know that it is true”, and “Pray to know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God.” Following all subsequent discussions the investigator is encouraged to pray about, and report their impressions of The Book of Mormon; Joseph Smith; The Mormon Church, its members and its practices. Even in the last discussion which majors on the role of Jesus in the Mormon gospel plan, the prayers are about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and “the truths that are unique to the restored gospel.”
Discussion 1: The Plan of our Heavenly Father – in which the investigator is introduced to the idea of prophets who reveal God’s plan; Joseph Smith; Restoration; the Book of Mormon; The Holy Ghost and Moroni’s promise. (Commitment, read and pray about the Book of Mormon)
We Believe in God
Quickly establishing that “Most people believe in a Supreme Being, though they may call him by different names,” and getting the investigators to agree that there probably is a “perfect, all-wise, and all-powerful” God, the missionaries will wish to introduce people to their god. The Mormon god, we are told, has a body.
The Mormon will reason that in Genesis 32:30: Jacob declares “I saw God face to face.” Also in Exodus 33:11 we read “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”
The Christian might reason from Scripture that in Exodus 33:20 God declares that “you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live.” So what is the Bible talking about when it refers to men seeing God “face to face?” In Numbers 12:6-8 we read:
“When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles.”
When prophets hear from God it is in visions and dreams. There may be some mystery and the prophet may not always fully understand at the time the nature and purpose of the message. Not so with Moses with whom God speaks “face to face,” or directly, “clearly and not in riddles.” The term “face to face” is an indication of the special relationship Moses had with God.
The Mormon will further reason from Genesis 1:26-27 that God has a body by saying that if we are made “in the image of God,” and we have bodies, then he must have a body. They will further reason that the Bible speaks of God’s physical attributes such as his eyes (Psalm 139:16); his hand and arm (Psalm 44:3); his mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3).
The Christian might reason from Scripture that in John 4:24 Jesus declared “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The resurrected Jesus said that “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” Luke 24:39. If God is spirit and a spirit does not have a body then what does Genesis 1:26-27 mean? In Ephesians 4:24 we read of the purpose of our redemption “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
To be made in the image of God, then, is to enjoy his “communicable attributes,” i.e. his character and personality, righteousness, holiness, wisdom, justice, love. To strengthen their argument, the missionaries will reason from Matthew 5:48 that we are to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In the correct context this is not, as they claim, a call to achieve godlike perfection, but to achieve right-thinking in our attitude to others, i.e. “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Impartial love, a Godlike attribute imputed to man, making man to be in the image of God.
The Christian might reason that references to God’s eyes, mouth, hand and arm, etc. describe not God’s body but the activity of God, his eyes ever watchful; his arm, ever reaching out to save; his mouth, communicating with us. We can point out Psalm 91:4 “he will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Of course the Mormon will readily understand that God does not have wings and that the Bible is speaking metaphorically. This is true of every such reference.
The Mormon will reason, in his attempt to establish the manlike nature of God, that “we are the children of God” Romans 8:16, meaning that we are literally his offspring Acts 17:24-29, and that he is our “Father in heaven” Matthew 5:48. Of course this forms the basis of the Mormon Plan of Salvation, i.e. “We are the children of our Father in Heaven. We are created in his image. Because he is the Father of all people, we are brothers and sisters” and “God has a plan” for his children.
The Christian might reason from Scripture that Malachi 2:10 clearly links creation and the fatherhood of God “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?” God is the father of humanity in the sense that he created humanity. Acts 17:24-26 speaks of God “giving all men life and breath” teaching that “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” The statement that “we are his offspring” is clearly set in the context of creation. Romans 8:16 is again dealt with properly in context for in verse 15 we read “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption. And by him we cry Abba, Father.”
In Acts, then, we have a reference to God as our Creator/Father, while in Romans we have a reference to God as our Father by adoption, through faith in the saving work of his Son and the leading of the Spirit. The Matthew 5:48 reference takes on a wholly different meaning as we consider our creation and subsequent adoption into God’s family, i.e. “even as your Father (who made you and adopted you into his family) is perfect.”
You have seen that while we started with man being made in the image of God the Mormons have quickly taken us to a god who is in the image of man. They start with reference to a Supreme Being but end up worshipping a Superior Being, i.e. an exalted man.
God has a plan
Having established the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man the Mormons will wish to tell you about God’s plan of happiness for us, which is that we should “progress” and become more like him (Matthew 5:24). This is the plan of salvation. The details of this plan are dealt with in the second discussion. Here they will want to speak of Jesus’ role in God’s plan.
Sin and death
Mormons believe that “God provided a way for us to overcome sin and death so that we can return to his presence. The central figure in the plan of salvation is Jesus Christ.” The plan is in two parts; there is what Christ does and there is what we do. The Mormon will teach that “Jesus fulfilled his part of the plan.”
The Mormon will reason that Jesus was “slain for the sins of the world” 1 Nephi 11:32-33 (Book of Mormon). They believe that the benefit to us is that he will “loose the bands of death” Alma 7:12 (Book of Mormon). “Through his sacrifice and resurrection we can overcome the effects of sin and all men will live again after mortal death.” In other words, Jesus’ role in the plan is to make it possible for all men to be resurrected.
Our role in the plan is to follow Jesus’ example, “By his perfect example and his teachings, Jesus showed us how to fulfil this plan.” Again from the Book of Mormon they teach that Christ will “save all men if they will hearken unto his voice” 2 Nephi 9:21-24. From the Bible they will quote John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command” and they will reason, “if we have faith to do what Jesus Christ taught, we will find peace in this life. Also, we can become more like him and like our Heavenly Father. We can return to live with them after this life.” When we look at Discussion 2 we will look in detail at how Mormons teach salvation. Now we want to look at this concept of ‘The Plan of Salvation’.
Whilst Mormons teach that “the central figure in the plan of salvation is Jesus Christ,” the fact is that the plan is what is central to the Mormon gospel. It is by faithfully following the plan that Mormons are saved. And whilst Mormons quote John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me,” they believe that “By his perfect example and his teachings, Jesus showed us how to fulfil this plan,” and that the plan will work for us only “if we have faith to do what Jesus Christ taught.” In other words, to a Christian Jesus is the way, while to a Mormon Jesus shows the way; to a Christian Jesus is God’s plan, to a Mormon he is central to the plan. In Mormonism John 14:6 might be more accurately stated “The plan is the way, and no-one comes to the Father except through following it.” This no better illustrated than in the next principle.
How the plan has been revealed
“Our Heavenly Father wants all of us to understand the plan of salvation and the mission of Jesus Christ in that plan. He has established a simple pattern in revealing this plan to his children.” (Emphasis added)
Note the plan is bigger than the Saviour and remember that, although “the central figure in the plan of salvation is Jesus Christ,” nevertheless in the instructions for the first discussion the Mormon missionary is told that “the focus of this discussion should be the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Here the ground work is laid for introducing Joseph Smith.
The Mormon will reason that God’s pattern for revealing the plan is to “choose righteous men as his witnesses [who] learn from firsthand experience the truth about the plan and the mission of Jesus in that plan. These men are called prophets and apostles.” To confirm this they will quote Amos 3:7 “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” These apostles and prophets have authority to act for God (we will look at authority in discussion 3) and teach people directly and by writing sacred books called scripture. These truths are heard and read by people and truth is confirmed by the Holy Ghost (Spirit). They then obey, thus following the plan.
The Mormon will reason that this pattern is followed throughout the Bible.
Exodus 20:3-22 – God gave Moses the Ten Commandments which Moses gave to the people.
John 15:16;Mark 16:15-20 – Jesus chose apostles and commanded them to be witnesses.
The Christian might reason that Amos 3:7, taken in context, does not support the Mormon argument since Amos was prophesying disaster for the northern kingdom of Israel, and the revelation of God’s plan through a prophet was to act as a warning. To support their claim to act as did Amos, the Mormon prophets would have to give similar warnings and prophesy accurately imminent events, disastrous or otherwise. Mormon prophets clearly do no such thing.
The Christian might further reason that the qualifications for an apostle are clearly described in Acts 1:21-22 and all subsequent claims to being ‘one of the twelve’, as Mormons teach, are invalid.
Finally the Christian might reason that Hebrews 1:1-3 speaks of prophets as those through whom God spoke “in the past,” and goes on to say that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things”. Mormon prophets are a step backwards in ‘God’s plan’ and Mormon apostles do not qualify since they have not “been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken from us.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith
The Mormon will now want to show that “God has followed his pattern for revealing truth in our day” and introduce the investigator to Joseph Smith. Joseph, we are told, “confused by the great differences among the teachings [of the churches]” sought an answer in the Bible where he read James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom , he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Joseph went into nearby woods to pray and put this promise to the test and claims to have seen God and Jesus Christ who commissioned him to follow the pattern and become a prophet. “God called Joseph Smith and commanded him to proclaim the gospel” Doctrine and Covenants 1:17-18, and “This generation shall receive the word of the Lord through Joseph Smith” Doctrine and Covenants 5:10.
We have already looked at the issue of prophets and apostles, and we will look more closely at ‘Restoration’ claims in discussion 3. Lets look at James 1:5 in its context.
The Mormon will reason that James 1:5 is a formula for answering our questions regarding ‘the truth’. For Joseph it was a key to knowing which church to join. Mormons today encourage investigators to ask the same question, promising that as God answered Joseph so he will answer you.
The Christian might reason that James 1:5 is not a formula for finding truth but for gaining wisdom.
James 1:1 shows that this letter was written to Christians who already knew the truth.
James 1:2-17 The context of verse 5 is encouragement in suffering. The wisdom of James 1:5 is for the benefit of Christians, enabling them to face suffering “with pure joy”.
James 3:13-18 Here, James defines the wisdom he is writing about and contrasts it with the wisdom of the world. The issue is one of character. A worldly character, full of bitterness and selfish ambition, ill equips us to deal with the trials of life. Peacemakers, on the other hand, are equipped with the wisdom of heaven and are able to face their trials patiently. James is writing of the practical application of heavenly wisdom to the trials of every day life. Wisdom that is gained through prayer and application. When Mormons tell us that James 1:5 is how to find the truth the Christian needs to show that it is about wisdom, which is the application of the truth we already have (James 1:1).
A close study of passages such as this can open up for the Mormon a depth of truth and understanding that is not found in the superficial message of the missionary discussions.
How does God reveal truth?
Hebrews 1:2 – “In these last days God has spoken to us through his Son”
Romans 15:4 – The Scriptures were written to give us hope
John 20:31 – and that we may believe in Christ
Isaiah 8:20 – Every message should be checked out against Scripture (Acts 17:11)
Hebrews 2:3-4 – “This salvation, (1) which was first announced by the Lord, (2) was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (3) God also testifies to it by signs, wonders and various miracles (4) and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
There is a great responsibility to “pay more careful attention…to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding…how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3)