So far we have discussed the general “mechanics” of Mormonism, the apologia for Mormonism’s existence. The idea that God reveals truth through prophets; that our response to truth should be acts of obedience, e.g. exercising faith, repenting, submitting to baptism etc.; that “the truth” was lost in a great apostasy; and that “the truth” was restored through modern prophets – Mormon prophets. We have, of course, looked at key doctrines during these discussions, and will cover some of the same ground here, but now we move from the general to the particular, discuss the personal application of Mormonism epitomised in the questions “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” Here is the heart of Mormon doctrine, the essential mental furniture every Mormon carries in their head to describe the world in which they live.
Discussion 4: Eternal Progression
The Mormon Plan of Salvation covering Pre-mortal Existence and Eternal Progression; Work for the Dead; the idea of the Eternal Family; Chastity and the Word of Wisdom. (Commitment, Live the law of chastity and live the Word of Wisdom)
Where Did I come from?
Quoting Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” the Mormon will reason “we lived before we were born”. From Acts 17:29, “We are the offspring of God”, they reason “we are literally children of our Heavenly Father. We lived with him as spirits before we were born on this earth”. Mormons believe in pre-existentialism. Their scripture paints a clearer picture of this “pre-mortal existence” in The Pearl of Great Price.
“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;” – Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3:22-25
This, in a nutshell, is what the Mormons call “the Plan of Salvation”, or “the eternal plan of happiness”. Although,
“We lived with him as spirits before we were born…we were unlike our Heavenly Father in some ways. For example, he had progressed beyond us spiritually. We did not have physical bodies, as he does…[he] wanted us to become like him. To make this possible, he prepared a plan that would allow us to come to earth. We accepted the plan of our Father and rejoiced in the blessings it would offer to us.” (Fourth missionary discussion)
Why am I Here?
“Our life on this earth has a purpose. It is to provide opportunities for us to work toward becoming like our Heavenly Father and to prepare to return to him.”
In Mormon thinking this life becomes a time of testing. The Book of Mormon declares, “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.” (Alma 42:4). A time when men are to “Work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12).
In the previous life, they teach, we were spirit beings, here we receive a physical body like God’s. We are also free to choose between good and evil. This “free agency” is a key idea in Mormon thinking.
“As we come to know good from evil and choose the good, we become like our Father in Heaven.”
But we have no memory of our pre-mortal life and so “our choices must be based on faith”. Our condition in the next life depends very much on the choices we make in this one. “As we learn to obey and act in god-like ways we become more like God.”
Where am I Going?
The purpose of life is to fulfil the “great plan of happiness”, become like God and, as gods ourselves, to begin the whole cycle again. At death,
“… our spirits leave our physical bodies…In the resurrection, our spirits are reunited with our bodies in an immortal condition. We will be judged, by the Lord, according to our faithfulness in following the course he has laid out for us. If we have followed that course, we will return to our Father to dwell with him in celestial glory…Some people will not have been faithful in following the commandments of God. They will not have exercised faith in Christ, repented of their sins, obeyed his commandments, and received the necessary ordinances. They will not have qualified for a fullness of glory under the plan of our Father. They will receive a degree of glory, but theirs will be a lesser degree.” (Fourth missionary discussion)
Where do you go from here?
A good question. There is so much here that needs challenging and correcting it is hard to know where to start. As the Mormon Church attempts to present an evermore-Christian face to the world it is well to look at this “Plan of Salvation” and remember how far from historical, Biblical Christianity Mormonism really is. Let’s address the key elements in the above account of Mormon teaching starting with Jeremiah.
Where did I come from?
Did Jeremiah walk with the “noble and great ones” in a pre-mortal life? The Mormon might ask, “how on earth could God have known him if he did not exist?” The Christian might reason that there is no need for such an elaborate “explanation” of Jeremiah’s foreordination in light of a God who “[makes] known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10). This Jeremiah text does not point to a pre-mortal existence but indicates an all-knowing God who knows what will come to pass even before it happens. Jeremiah need not have existed in a pre-mortal life for God to choose him before he was born. Often it is not necessary to disprove Mormon teaching so much as to show a simple and plausible alternative. What is “obvious” to a Mormon can become doubtful in light of well thought-out alternatives.
The opening of Genesis declares, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. It is made clear here that, while God has always been (Psalm 90:2), everything else was created (Jeremiah 10:16) and had a beginning, which the Bible places “In the beginning”. Before the beginning there was only God. The Christian might reason that man is the climax of God’s creative activity, created in God’s own image. (Genesis 1:26-27). How can this be true if man already existed, already in God’s image, but with some developing to do? Surely that would mean that God didn’t create man but simply brought a pre-existing godlike person into the world from somewhere else? If God created “everything” in the beginning what could have pre-existed except God?
Why am I here?
The purpose of life to a Mormon is “to work toward becoming like our Heavenly Father”. This life is part of an eternal cycle in which men strive to become gods, as did their God before them. Mormons believe that in the pre-mortal life “we were unlike our Heavenly Father in some ways. For example, he had progressed beyond us spiritually”. The clear implication is that God was not always what he is today. Indeed, if he progressed beyond men, he must have progressed from being a man himself. And this is exactly what Mormon leaders have always taught. Joseph Smith declared, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.345).
Is God a man?
We have already observed that in Mormon reasoning, if we are made “in the image of God”, (Genesis 1:26-27), and we have bodies, then he must have a body. 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, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).
The Mormon God is a changeable God, a God who “progresses”, and one who was not always completely godlike. If he progressed and we in turn are to progress to be like him he is clearly our exemplar in these things. It is the same process for both God and man. If we seem to labour this point it is because this teaching is difficult for a Mormon to deal with honestly. In their effort to be “orthodox” they will gladly talk about God being eternal, unchangeable, etc. But this is clearly not the case. A famous Mormon couplet declares, “As man is God once was, as God is man may become”. The Christian might reason that the God of the Bible is eternally God. “From everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). He is called “the Eternal God” (Genesis 21:33; Deut.33:27). The psalmist declares, “Your throne was established long ago; you are from eternity” (Psalm 93:2). This is not a God who has progressed but one who is constant in his nature and character.
Can man become God?
God says of himself, ” ‘You are my witnesses’, declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me’ “. The Christian might reason that anyone who claims to witness to the Christian truth is called to witness to this truth, i.e. there is no God besides God. If there is to be no God other than God then man cannot become a god. What, then, does it mean to be “in the image of God” if we cannot “progress” to be gods? The purpose of our redemption is, “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” (Ephesians 4:24). 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 (see James 3:13-18).
Quoting Philippians 2:12 “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Mormons reason that we are “to work toward becoming like our Heavenly Father and to prepare to return to him.” The current Mormon prophet often states, “We aim to make bad men good, and good men better”. This echoes the belief that we strive to progress to a higher state. As we learn to choose good over evil, “as we learn to obey and act in godlike ways we become more like God.”
The Christian might reason that we are not gods in embryo with a few problems to iron out, some growing to do, and an inclination to sin. We are sinful by nature, “by nature objects of wrath…without God and without hope in the world” (Ephesians 2: 1-13). The Bible tells us that we are “dead in our transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We do not need to make bad men good and good men better. Rather we need to make dead men live! God’s solution is not a plan of happiness which, if followed, will lead us to be gods, but a plan of rescue which will raise the dead and save the lost (Ephesians 2:4-5).
“But God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9)
Again we have previously noted that it is God who made us alive; God who raised us up and seated us with Christ; God who saved us, not because we have followed the plan and proved worthy, but because he is rich in mercy and generous in his kindness. To work out our salvation is not to earn it but to express it in spiritual growth and development. It’s like learning a new language. When we have mastered it the language is ours. To work it out in our lives is to use it in order to become better accustomed, more eloquent and expressive. Paul is urging us to express what we have gained and grow in it “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”.
Where am I going?
After this life Mormons expect to be “judged, by the Lord, according to our faithfulness in following the course he has laid out for us”. They believe that by keeping to the plan they merit rewards. The greater their faithfulness the greater their reward, the greatest reward being godhood. The Christian might reason that “God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). Our “rewards” can by no means be commensurate with our efforts just as our punishments are not commensurate with our sins since “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5); “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor.5:21).
“Is this a charter for sinning?” the Mormon might ask, or as Paul wrote, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15). “By no means!” is Paul’s reply. The Christian might reason that as a result of God’s grace, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). “We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is not a mighty effort of man but a sovereign work of God, not what we make of ourselves but what God makes of us.
In Romans 5 Paul describes a miraculous transaction in which, just as we inherited sin from Adam so, through faith, we inherit righteousness from Christ the new Adam. We are born “in Adam” but are born again “in Christ”. “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19). In the old Adam we are “slaves to sin” but in the new Adam “slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6). “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew (Jeremiah?) he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn of many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! … Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-2)
Since “We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18) the life of the Christian is not one of sinless perfection. It is characterised by repentance, righteousness and a following after God, as well as an assurance of eternal life with God (1 John 5:13).
In light of their understanding of “God’s great plan of happiness” Mormons busy themselves with a raft of duties and observances to the extent that they have been said to “out-Hebrew the Hebrews” in their law making/keeping. This discussion seems a pivotal point in the series. The remainder of this discussion, as well as the final two discussions, deal with the duties and commitments the prospective Mormon must take up in order to be a faithful church member. In the next issue we will look at these duties.