“I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is…God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!…it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.”
Thus says the Latter Day Saint Prophet Joseph Smith in a sermon known as the King Follett Discourse. And I hope what you have just heard will strike you as a radical departure from Christian orthodoxy.
Is the Mormon my brother? In order to answer that question fairly, we needed to establish at least one doctrine that is necessary for Christian orthodoxy. To do that, we need only consider the fact that Christianity is monotheistic; that is, that there is only one God, eternally existent, Creator of all things.
In this paper I want to continue our inquiry into this subject: Is the Mormon my brother? This time, I want to look primarily at LDS doctrine to see whether there is great agreement or radical departure.
I must acknowledge right from the outset that there are a variety of ways to approach this particular question. We could look at their theology proper, their doctrine of God. We could look at their anthropology, their doctrine of man. We could look at their doctrine of creation. But for this session I want to look at what I think is the most immediately applicable, that being soteriology, the doctrine of salvation.
Now we must ask ourselves, what does Joseph Smith mean when he says God has not been God from all eternity? If you will look briefly at the handout I’ve given you, I believe the answer can be found there. What you have before you, I’m arguing, is a rough outline of the entire LDS theological system. In one sense, this graphic will help us to be able to translate Mormonese into Christianese.
You will notice that it represents a kind of circle with Spirit Children being on both sides. If you will direct your attention to the left side, you will see that Mormon theology begins with what are called “intelligences and matter.” Intelligences and matter are the two eternal things in Mormonism. They cannot be created; they exist eternally. An intelligence is basically the essence of what becomes a Spirit Child. In LDS theology, all sentient beings have existed eternally as intelligences. These are the disembodied “intellect” element of a sentient being before it enters into a Spirit Child.
From the LDS perspective, every one of us has existed in that way; we were not created. You have eternally existed as an intelligence, just as god (in their terms Elohim) has existed eternally as an intelligence (but not as God).
As an excursus here, when Christian theologians speak of creation ex nihilo, out of nothing, it seems that Mormon theology utterly rejects that idea in favor of eternally existing intelligences and matter.
Back to the point. God cannot create intelligences and matter, remember, because they exist eternally. Instead of creating, he organizes intelligences into Spirit Children, which, you’ll notice, is the second box down.
Spirit Children are born of an exalted Father and an exalted Mother. The Father and Mother have physical bodies of flesh and bone. Even though they’re physical, they have spiritual offspring. In Mormon theology, there is no real category for “spiritual.” Even Spirit Children are made of matter, although it is a kind of refined matter that is unseen unless you have purer eyes. And all of us have existed as Spirit Children.
From the Spirit realm, we enter Mortal Probation, which is life on a planet. In LDS theology, we are here to be tested, thus the use of the term probation. You’ll notice that there are two ways out of Mortal Probation: “Paradise” and “Spirit Prison.” You’ll also see that in order to enter “Paradise,” you must follow what are called the Four Fundamentals of the Gospel, represented by point A.
For the sake of time I cannot fully explain what they mean by these terms, but suffice it to say that they are not the same things Protestants mean when we use the terms. Baptism must be done by someone who holds the Aaronic Priesthood, and laying on of hands to receive the Holy Ghost is to be done by someone who holds the Melchizedek priesthood, which is only found in the LDS church. Any other baptism or laying on of hands is invalid.
Moving on. B represents continued obedience to “gospel rules and principles,” and essentially this is a type of works-righteousness concept. In LDS theology, if you are worthy enough, if you follow the Four Fundamentals of the Gospel, and if you continually obey the gospel rules and principles, you will make it to “Paradise” on your first try.
But if you are not a Mormon, or if you are an unworthy Mormon, you go to Spirit Prison. The vast majority of people find themselves here after death. But you’ll notice that there are three ways out of Spirit Prison: “Paradise” via baptism for the dead, “Hell,” or you’ll see on the right, “Terrestrial” or “Telestial” kingdoms.
Now, worthy Mormons travel down from Paradise to the Spirit Prison to preach the Mormon gospel. Remember, the Four Fundamentals of the Gospel are faith, repentance, baptism, and laying on of hands. Basically, for the sake of time, LDS people do baptism for the dead by proxy: they have real, living humans be baptized on behalf of those who are dead. They do this same practice by laying on of hands. And if it should happen that someone is baptized on your behalf and had hands laid upon them on your behalf while you are in Spirit Prison, and should it happen that you accept the Mormon gospel from the missionaries who have traveled down from Paradise, you too will go to Paradise.
With this system, theoretically you don’t have to be a Mormon to make it to Paradise. Now see the line that says “Resurrection”? Notice that the line from Paradise crosses the Resurrection line. If a Mormon man has been completely faithful, which includes undergoing the eternal marriage ceremony in a Mormon temple, he enters into the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom, becoming a God, as seen on the right. From there, he brings forth his wife (or wives, see D&C 132) by the power of his priesthood, and they organize a planet. And you start procreating (the powers of God are priesthood and procreation), which means having carnal relations with your wife/wives to have Spirit Children.
I’m not exactly sure what this looks like, being a physical being and having spiritual offspring, but this is Mormon doctrine. And in a sense, now we have come full circle. Only those Mormons who make it to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom become gods; everyone else is dammed, meaning that their potential for progression is dammed up or stopped. They cannot continue any further. If you have not gone through the eternal marriage ceremony, you become an angel upon the resurrection, and you do not travel to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom.
For the sake of time, I will not be explaining the rest of the graphic, though if you have questions about it I can do my best to answer them. However, please take note that worthy Mormons who make it to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom become gods. In Mormon theology, the god of this world is only one among the plurality of gods. He is an exalted man who adhered to the doctrines of the LDS Church, and now he is organizing his own planet. I’ve actually had this confirmed to me by Mormon missionaries, but there are, in theory, an unlimited number of gods.
So for the sake of simplicity, I hope you see that the goal of Mormon soteriology is to become a god one day. It is not like the Eastern Orthodox notion of theosis, where we are taken up into the being of God or partake in the divine nature; rather, we literally become a god of our own planet and organize it according to our whims.
To close, Mormon theology is not monotheistic; on the contrary, it is the most polytheistic religion I’ve ever studied. When Joseph Smith says that God has not been God from all eternity, this is what he means. He means that God was once a man as we are, and is now exalted because he perfectly obeyed the law and gospel rules and principles. So when we ask: Is the Mormon my brother? if one of the things it means to be my brother is that we believe there is only one God, then no. The Mormon is not my brother.
Having now answered the question, I now wanted to give some warnings and implications.
1. LDS apologists are brilliant: do not think they can be defeated easily simply because they believe in this craziness.
2. Know your own faith: how can you defend the truth of Christianity unless you actually know what Christianity is?
3. The language barrier is quite strong: Mormons can say they are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by his atonement. (P.S., not everyone who says they’re a Christian is actually a Christian.)
4. There are foreign missionaries coming soon to a front door near you.
Thanks for reading. Have a question or comment? Leave it below.