1998 is the year of the temple. Perhaps some will already have heard enough through the newsletter, at convention, and in personal contact, about Mormons and their temple building. For many this is nottheir’area of expertise’ – some would say not what they feel ‘called to’, although we should be aware that we are ‘called’ to go into the entire world. As we explained at our annual convention, there is a danger of appearing to say, “my cult is bigger than your cult”. However, it is not just the organisation but the occasion that should be grabbing our attention. Let us remind ourselves of what we are talking about.
For four years the Mormon Church has been building, at a cost estimated at some £50 million, the second largest Mormon temple in the world right here in the UK. It is the UK’s second temple and is sited alongside buildings that will accommodate a stake (regional) centre, two wards (local congregations), a missionary training centre, a reception and family history centre, and facilities for non-Mormon visitors. This facility will be much more than just another temple for church members to attend. It will serve as a launch pad for increased Mormon activity across the UK. We are already receiving unconfirmed reports of hundreds of extra missionaries being drafted in to capitalise on this significant development. Why? Because this country has the longest history of Mormonism, the strongest support for Mormonism, and the largest population of Mormons in Europe. Half Europe’s 380,000 Mormons are found in the UK. A closer look at the church in Europe will reveal the significance of the UK church to European growth. A recent interview with the Mormon Church’s Europe West Area Presidency revealed the following:
“While the church in Germany goes back to the middle of the 19th century it did not ‘catch on’ in France until the 1960’s, and was not allowed into Italy until 1965 where it was not granted legal status until 1993. Missionary work began in Spain in 1968 and in Portugal as recently as 1974. The church in many parts of Europe is a relatively recent development. One major reason for this is the strength of religious tradition which people are reluctant to relinquish, especially in the south where there is a strong tradition of the Christian church as a national institution.”
Significantly, the perceived solutions to the problem include community service, social integration, good publicity driven by such events as visits by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and temple open houses. There is also a high target for member retention and full involvement of all new converts. The interview ends with the declaration
“It is clear that the greatest times of the Church in Europe still lie ahead.” (1)
In a year when Britain is governed, for the first time in twenty five years by a pro-European party, and when that government will take up the European presidency, the Mormon Church will be seeking to be strongly identified with the history, culture and spiritual/social stability of the nation. The advantages are obvious and the message is clear – Britain and Mormonism have a bright future in Europe.
At the beginning of such a significant year, let us remind ourselves of how this all came about. Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830. He claimed that God had commissioned him, in a vision, to ‘restore’ the true church, which had been lost soon after the first century in what Mormons call the great apostasy. In a later vision, an angel revealed the location of a hidden record kept by the ancient inhabitants of America. Written on gold plates, it told of Christ’s visit to America after his resurrection to speak to his ‘other sheep’ (Jn.10:16). These gold plates were ‘translated’ and became the Book of Mormon, which is regarded as scripture and, it is claimed, contains the restored gospel. Although Mormons use the Bible, they regard it as unreliable and corrupted by apostate Christendom. Joseph Smith declared that the Book of Mormon is,
“… the most correct of any book on earth…and a man would get nearer God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (2)
Today’s Mormons, however, get their doctrines from ‘living prophets’, the successors of Joseph Smith, and much of what they believe and practice is just as foreign to the Book of Mormon as it is to the Bible because Mormonism has evolved.
In a series of visions and revelations Joseph Smith developed his religion, teaching the plurality of gods and a pre-mortal existence for man. Claiming that God is an exalted man and men can become gods; introducing polygamy; instituting baptism of the living for the dead, based on 1 Cor.15:29; and preaching that there are degrees of glory in heaven. None of these are found in the Book of Mormon. Indeed some are explicitly condemned e.g. plural marriage. Out of this flurry of activity was developed the Mormon temple rituals, also foreign to the Book of Mormon.
The Mormon Church of today, with its vast wealth, clean-cut image, international reputation and complex and confusing theological structure would hardly be recognisable to the earliest Mormons. Those who rejected, and were rejected by, the society around them would not know what has come to be called ‘The American religion’. The image of the Osmonds has so fully replaced the image of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in the public perception of Mormonism. Perhaps they would feel betrayed because the Mormon Church of today fully embraces the system they once vowed to overcome. To achieve this metamorphosis the church has had to evolve. Where polygamy was once a requirement for exaltation, its practice is now grounds for excommunication. Where Brigham Young taught for fifty years that Adam was God, teaching this doctrine today also brings excommunication.
The church generally is enjoying incredible growth. It took 117 years for the membership to reach one million. In the fifty years since 1947 membership world – wide has grown to 10 million – this milestone was reached in November 1997. In 1991 membership was 8 million, in 1994 it was 9 million and in 1997 10 million. That is a million new members every three years. During 1996, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were 321,385 convert baptisms worldwide. There are now more members outside the US than inside. As a corporation, the church is reported to be worth $30 billion, with an income from tithes alone estimated to be approaching $15 million a day. (3)
Despite the many peculiar features that still mark out Mormonism as a cult, the church enjoys a growing respectability. This year the Southern Baptist Convention will meet in Salt Lake City, the capital of Mormonism. While many plan to witness to the locals, former US President Jimmy Carter has condemned what he sees as the scandal of “Christians proselytising Christians”, condemning such behaviour as “Pharisaical”. (4) Such an attitude is increasingly common and the result of a concerted effort by the Mormon Church to appear more main stream. Their more bizarre doctrines and practices are either discontinued, such as polygamy, or played down in an effort to gain acceptance. Theirs, however, is still the ‘other gospel’ spoken of by Paul (Gal.1:8), even down to the ‘angel’ who brought it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in what most Christians would see as the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Where the Bible clearly teaches that God is not a man (1 Sam.15:29) but Spirit (John 4:24) and unchangeable (Mal.3:6) Mormons teach that,
God himself was once as we are now and is an exalted man. (5)
And that He has a body of flesh and bones. (6)
Where Jesus claimed equal status with God (John 5:18) and is spoken of as God’s “one and only Son” (1 John 4:9) Mormons teach that Jesus is only “a god”, the firstborn son of God and brother of Lucifer, God’s second born.(7) Where the Bible teaches that there is only one God (Isa.44:8) Mormons believe that there are many gods and that men can become gods. (8)
Whilst the Bible shows man in a fallen state, subject to sin and death (Rom.5:12;7:14-24) Mormons, refuse to believe…that the biblical account of the fall of man records the corruption of human nature. (9)
Whilst the biblical atonement is complete, dealing with inherited corruption and personal sin (1 John 1:7) Mormon atonement is only partial for,
“… there [are] certain sins…that place the transgressor beyond the power of the atonement…Their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone…” (10)
Of course all cults teach a gospel of salvation by works and, whilst the Bible shows eternal life to be a free gift from God (Rom.6:23;4:4-5) Mormons teach that, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the [Mormon] gospel. (11)
Finally, then, Mormons do not know the assurance promised by Jesus (John 5:24), or the justification and peace taught by Paul (Rom.5:1-2;8:1). They await the judgement of their works, resigned to the prospect of being compromised and condemned by the failure that we all know and that comes through trying to please God in our own strength. There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. – Prov.14:12.
The Trek West
Sesquicentennial is a word that Mormons have been practising pronouncing for some years now. It denotes a 150th anniversary and there have been a few of these milestones in recent years. For example, 1980 saw the sesquicentennial of the founding (restoration?) of the church. More recently, 1997 saw the sesquicentennial of the trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City under the leadership of Brigham Young. Every month church publications, notably the Ensign, have highlighted the historical events marked by that month – a sort of ‘this month in history’. It is a remarkable story, even without the gloss put on it by church headquarters. More remarkable is the fact that the BBC’s Everyman programme once again gave almost totally uncritical coverage to the church as it followed a special re-enactment of the journey, following the fortunes of two British converts who made the trek west with thousands of other latter-day pioneers. Produced in collaboration with KBYU (the BYU gives it away as a broadcasting arm of Brigham Young University) it was clearly a human-interest story, ignoring in the main the peculiar religious teachings of the Mormon Church. Sadly, what was presented as historical data did more to promote the cherished and abiding myths of Mormonism than tell the true story.
Tellingly, the commentary acknowledged that whilst Mormonism, until recently, has endured a history of bad press, the PR department of the Mormon Church has worked hard to change that. Nowhere is this more clearly evidenced than in this programme in which Mormon ‘history’ was represented almost unchallenged. It was the Mormon story as only Mormons could, or would, tell it. Replete with references to persecution, oppression, suffering and relentless pursuit from state to state by wicked ‘gentiles’, it told of a people who sought only to practice their sincerely held beliefs peacefully and free from persecution. Whilst those beliefs were acknowledged as perhaps a little unorthodox (a brief list recited towards the very end of the programme did not begin to represent how far from orthodoxy they really stand), nevertheless they were firmly portrayed in the tradition of persecuted minorities throughout history. Misunderstood, misrepresented, ill treated, courageous and determined but harmless. There was even a comparison between Brigham Young and Moses, Mormons and Israelites. This was Mormon propaganda at its best.
So long as people believe the Everyman version “All is well, all is well.” However it is an account that is less than candid and for ‘re-enactment’ perhaps you should read ‘rewriting’. We need to invite people to consider the facts the Mormon Church will not readily tell. As they prepare to dedicate their second UK temple near Preston, it is imperative that the full story should be told.
Christmas – When Joseph was born
Yes, you read it correctly. The lead article in the December 1997 Ensign magazine, written by Mormon Church President Gordon B Hinckley, began:
“This is the season for giving and a time for gratitude. We remember with appreciation the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which is celebrated this same month of December, two days before Christmas.”
The piece goes on,
“How great indeed is our debt to him (We are still speaking of Joseph)…We stand in reverence before him. He is the great prophet of this dispensation. He stands at the head of this great and mighty work which is spreading across the earth. He is our prophet, our revelator, our seer, our friend. Let us not forget him. Let not his memory be forgotten in the celebration of Christmas. God be thanked for Joseph Smith.” (12)
The article, entitled A Season for Gratitude, does go on to speak at length of the birth of Jesus and reads like a typical Christmas message, quoting extensively from the bible, especially John and Isaiah. He wrote all the things you might expect your pastor to say on a Christmas morning, although anyone who knows Mormonism will immediately recognise that behind the familiar phrases and references to “God the Father” and “Jesus the Son” is quite a different gospel. The Father spoken of is an exalted man who, by definition is finite. The Son is not God but merely “the firstborn son of God in the spirit,” his brother, and God’s “second born” being Lucifer.
To the discerning, what really gives it away is the assertion that Jesus taught us the way, the truth, and the life. He gave the keys through which we may go on to immortality and eternal life.
Of course one of the fundamental characteristics that marks out Jesus from any other religious leader in history is his claim that I AM the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
All others, from Buddha to Mohammed to Joseph Smith, claimed to know the way and show the way. Only Jesus claimed to be the way. Only Jesus was the embodiment of truth. Only Jesus was “the life,” or had life in himself. Lets look at who Jesus is according to scripture. Who is this Jesus?
“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” – John 5:21-23
Only one who has life can give life. John’s gospel declares that “in him was life” (John 1:4) and it is significant that Jesus, speaking of his death, said, “The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” – John 10:17-18
Who but God could have such complete authority over life and death? Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son. The bible clearly speaks of God as “the judge of all the earth” who will “judge the world in righteousness” (Ps.94:2;96:13). Only one with equal authority and status with God the Father could judge one who was God himself. That all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father…
God, we are told, is a jealous God. He will not share his glory with anyone. Only one who is God could be worthy of equal honour with God. And what honour are we to give God? “Hallowed be thy name!” Jesus is Immanuel, God with us!
(1) Ensign Magazine, Dec.1997, pp.66-67 … return to text
(2) Joseph Smith, History of the Church 4:461 … return to text
(3) Time Magazine, Aug.4, 1997 … return to text
(4) Reported in Mormonism Researched, First Quarter, 1998 … return to text
(5) Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.345 … return to text
(6) Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 … return to text
(7) Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol.1, p.18 Milton R Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 1945, p.15 … return to text
(8) Doctrine and Covenants 132:20,37 … return to text
(9) Mormon apostle Hugh B Brown, General Conference, 1964 … return to text
(10) Joseph Fielding Smith ibid., p. 135 … return to text
(11) Mormon 3rd article of faith … return to text
(12) Ensign Magazine,Dec.1997, pp.2-5 … return to text