Mormonism 101

This is for a book that I am working on as a quick reference guide to religions. The goal is to make a reference guide on religions that will help others in their conversations with people of different faiths. I’ve taken the time to study these religions and dialogue with the people of these faiths in order to even receive feedback that I am expressing their faiths accurately.

Because of that you can know that this is an accurate account of the official beliefs of the faith but it may not represent the views of the person you’re talking with so it is important to make sure you ask questions and not assume you know what they think simply based on what I’ve written here.

History & Data

In 1820, 14-year old Joseph Smith living in Palmyra, New York was discontent with the churches around him. He was disillusioned with the disagreements about doctrines and while praying to discern which church was true he had a vision of God and Jesus telling him that all of the churches were false, he should follow none of them, and that God would use him to restore the church.

He was later told, by the angel Moroni, that he would receive golden plates on which was written the scriptures of Jewish believers who had moved to the America’s during the time of the prophet Jerimiah. God would give him the ability to interpret these scriptures and God would guide him to restore the church.

By 1830 Smith had unearthed the golden plates and while interpreting them, began the restoration of the church. Once interpreted, Smith published it into what is known as the Book of Mormon. The church quickly grew shortly after the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the golden plates were taken back by the angel Moroni. Before the plates were taken up 3 other members of the saw the plates and were assured by the angel Moroni of their authenticity. They were also given priestly authority, which will be explained in greater detail later.  Eight other witness’ to plates saw or touched them before they were taken up.

Under various levels of persecution Smith moved the church to Ohio, then Missouri and eventually Nauvoo Illinois. The church was unable to build a temple in Missouri but began construction of one in Nauvoo. While the church settled there, Smith charged with treason. Smith first ran from the charges but eventually turned himself in at Carthage Illinois. Before he was brought to trial a mob attacked Smith and his friends, Smith tried to fight off the mob but was shot in the back as he attempted escape out of a second story window.

With no clear leader designated to take Smiths place as the Prophet of the church, the church split over disagreement of who should take leadership. The large majority followed the leadership of Brigham Young who moved the church away from Nauvoo Illinois to Salt Lake City Utah shortly after finishing the temple in Nauvoo. The church lead by Brigham became the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Latter-day Saints (LDS) . Other sects designated others as leaders such as Joseph Smith’s son. That church, led by Joseph Smith III and others became the Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints or Community of Christ.

Religious Texts

Mormons believe that all of their scriptures are fallible. They were written by men and therefore can have errors. The scriptures are still reliable as a source of the truths of God, but they may not be completely without error. (Someone help me here, I feel like I can put this simpler)

Book of Mormon– This is the one book all sects of Mormonism have agreement on as scripture. The Book of Mormon contains scriptures written by Jewish people that left the Middle East during the time of the prophet Jerimiah and ended up in America. It contains writing from prophets of these people from the time of Jerimiah till after the time of Christ including when Jesus visited these people in the America’s.

Doctrine and Covenants– From as early as 1823 Smith started to receive new revelations from God regarding specific doctrines and commands for the people to follow. These new revelations along with others from other prophets or presidencies of the church up to 1978 make up this book. These revelations contain more of the doctrinal backbone than any other scriptures for the Mormon sects that accept it. (This seems fair to me because I’ve found more LDS doctrines in the DOC then the BOM, correct me if I am wrong or should rephrase this)

The Pearl of Great Price– This is a collection of scriptures written or translated by Joseph Smith. It includes lost scripture from Moses, Abraham, and Matthew as well as a history and testimony of Joseph Smith and finally The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with some of the church history.

The Bible– Mormons do believe that the Bible is still the word of God just like their other books but only as so far as it is translated correctly. They believe that by the transmission process of the Bible many truths have been lost or changed and so the Book of Mormon and other exclusively Mormon scriptures are seen more reliable texts.  

Theology

  1. Nature of God: God is all knowing and all powerful, and the creator of our world. God is not eternal and was himself a created by his own God and heavenly mother. God was once a man himself but became God after following his God and going through the trials and testing of being on another ‘earth’. God the father though spirit still has a body of flesh and bones but in the spiritual sense means his material being is too fine to be seen.

There is a Godhead but these are three separate beings and persons of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost that have the same purpose.

Jesus though part of that godhead is not eternal and is one of God the Father’s first spirit children. He is the savior because his plan was chosen over Satan’s (another spirit child of God) as a plan for humanity. (I debate if I should include more explanation of Satan’s fall and his role on earth now, thoughts?)

The Holy Ghost as the third person of the Godhead guides humankind. When someone is baptized, they will also receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by those who hold the Melchizedech priesthood. Having the gift of the Holy Ghost will allow a believer to have constant fellowship with the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost does not have a body of flesh and bones.

2. Nature of Man: Mankind are the spirit babies of God and heavenly mother and existed as spirit babies before being given earthly bodies and spending time on earth. Man is basically good, but needs to remember who they are, as they forget when they become humans and go through the test of earthly existence. By following God and his commands man can one day become a god themselves

3. Fall– Adam and Eve’s sin did create a fallen world, but it was a necessary step for mankind to become what they were created to be. It was only by man sinning and partaking of the tree of good and evil being tested on earth could they achieve the highest level of heaven

4. Heaven- There is 3 Kingdoms of heaven, within each level everyone is given a perfect eternal body. After death mankind is given a chance to receive and accept the restored gospel if they never heard it, as well as accept a baptism of the dead that was performed by Mormons still on earth on their behalf. If they accept that baptism, they are able to go the Celestial kingdom of Heaven.

Celestial Kingdom- the highest kingdom is for those who heard the restored gospel, received it, were baptized by someone with priestly authority and performed temple ordinances. One can go to the celestial kingdom without being celestially sealed but only as a ministering angel. Many believe in this kingdom a man will become a god of his own planet and may call his wife(s) to create spirit babies to populate that planet. Official church teaching does not mention owning a planet. God the father only exists only in the celestial kingdom. Living with God and Jesus in this kingdom is what Mormons mean by ‘eternal life’.

Terrestrial Kingdom- is reserved for those who have led good lives but did not accept the restored gospel and/or did not perform the required ordinances like baptism, celestial sealing, or other temple ordinances. Jesus comes to visit this kingdom but dwells in the Celestial Kingdom.

Telestial Kingdom- This kingdom is reserved for those who lived lives of sin, ill-intent, and hatred of God and his workings

5. Sin- Sin is the willful disobedience of God or of acting righteously when you know what to do. All of mankind has committed sin. God cannot live with sin and therefore sin breaks the fellowship of man with the Holy Ghost. Mankind will be punished for their individual sins, not of the original sin of Adam and Eve. Humans do live in a fallen state because of Adam and Eve’s sin but they are not held responsible for it.

6. Salvation- . Mankind must accept the work of Christ on the cross and are reach the various levels of heaven by believing in Christ and doing good works, including temple ordinances.

7. Creation– God is the creator of mankind by making children with heavenly mother. God created the world in the sense that he ordered the world not that he created it out of nothing. Spirits and matter are eternal, God simply ordered them. but other gods before him created other worlds or universes and other gods after him, like those who will become gods who are earth now, will create new ones. God himself was created by another father and mother.

8. Hell (Outer-darkness)   Hell is the temporary living place of the mortal souls prior to the resurrection of the dead that did not accept Christ. They will be given a chance to accept the gospel and baptism that was performed on their behalf by Mormons on earth. If they accept this they will be accepted into the appropriate kingdoms of heaven.

Outer darkness is a place that no one will be able to leave in a post resurrection eternity for those that fully understood the restored gospel and had testimony of the fullness of God yet rejected it.

9. Other Key Theology:
Priestly AuthorityA crucial part of the restoration brought by Smith was the return of priestly authority which was lost shortly after the death of the original apostles. Smith was given priestly authority by John the Baptist, whom gave him the Aaronic priesthood, as well as Peter, James, and John who gave him the Melchizedekian priesthood. Both of those priesthoods are now passed on in succession from Smith and the other men who received those priesthoods with Smith to the current Mormon men who hold those priesthoods.

Temple Ordinances and Covenants(this is nearly exclusively Latter-day Saint sect only) In temples Mormons perform sacred ordinances and covenants between them and God. Many of these practices are kept secret because they are sacred. Readers may be interested to hear more about these but for the purposes of this book only the ones mentioned are of relevance and I would encourage the reader that conversations/research going more in depth in this isn’t fruitful.

Baptism for the deadMormons are often baptized on the behalf of the dead. This allows for the dead to reject or accept that baptism that was performed for them on earth and acceptance allows them to reach the higher levels of heaven. Because the baptism must be done on earth this is why Mormons do research on family histories in order to baptize everyone who has died before having an opportunity to be baptized in the restored church before they died.

Celestial Sealing- Marriage is eternal and does not end at death but continues on into heaven. Couples are ‘celestially sealed’ in a temple for time and eternity. The sealing is a separate event then the wedding, but both can be done at the temple. Like baptism, it is possible to have your marriage celestially sealed by someone on earth after your death.

Groups & Denominations

It should be noted that there exists other sects of Mormonism not included here that for the purpose of this book I decided not to get into because of their insignificance in size or influence.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints– The largest branch of Mormonism with over 16 million followers. This is the branch that followed the leadership of Brigham Young after the death of Joseph Smith. Along with the largest membership LDS have over 150 temples across the world. LDS view all of the scriptures as the word of God but the Bible has been mistranslated over the centuries or needs clarifications and the other scripture help to fix these problems. (There probably a better way to phrase this, let me know)

Community of Christ– is the second largest sect with over 250,000 members. After Josephs Smiths death Community of Christ followed the leadership of a number of church leaders including Smith’s son Joseph Smith III. They largely reject the title Mormon, and hold doctrines closer to Protestant Christianity like the Trinity, and salvation by grace alone. Their use of the Book of Mormon is not to replace or improve upon the Bible but to confirm the message of the Bible.

Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints– with only 6,000 members the FLDS may seem insignificant for the purpose of this book. But the church has significant press around its founder and president, Warren Jeffs for his arrest and life imprisonment for rape and child sexual assault. The church was founded after members of the church refused to stop practicing polygamy which the LDS had renounced and were excommunicated.

Church of Christ Temple Lot- With only about 7,000 members Temple Lot is also is rather insignificant in numbers. Their importance lies in ownership of the land which Joseph Smith prophesied a temple would be built. Temple Lot reject the ordinances of baptism for the dead, celestial sealing, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. They do hold the Bible and Book of Mormon as scriptures.

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