A Letter to My Christian Friends
James F. Stoddard III
In response to what Mormons believe please permit me to add my thoughts. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes referred to as “Mormons” or “Latter-day Saints”) and my ancestry is through Joseph Smith’s grandfather, Asael Smith and cousins. I have had the priviledge of studying the writings of Joseph Smith and his successors for several hours per day on average since my youth. Some opportunities to study Church doctrine have also included serving as an LDS missionary and instructing at the LDS Missionary Training Center as well as working at an LDS high school and as an LDS seminary teacher. 1 I rehearse this history only to suggest that I feel comfortable claiming a basic understanding of the life and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In my studies I have not found one doctrine taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith that is not firmly grounded in the Bible. The Bible has ever been the test of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. President Brigham Young, successor and personal friend to the Prophet Joseph Smith, taught “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.” 2 The true test of the Book of Mormon is also in its comparison with the teachings of the Bible. (Moroni 10:3) 3 In addition to the statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the general teachings of his successors, the presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also align with the Biblical Word of God. In fact, the disagreement between “Mormons” and some claiming to be “mainstream” Christians, in my opinion, typically centers on LDS theology being too literalistic in its interpretation of the Bible.
Gifts of the Spirit
Latter-day Saints believe that the gifts of the spirit which were known by the prophets in the Old Testament and then known again to the faithful in the New Testament can also be found among worthy Christians today. This view pertaining to the importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the individual was shared by many of the early reformers as well as modern Christians throughout the world. Martin Luther himself believed in justification and sanctification through Christ and the Holy Spirit. He is reported as teaching, “. . . to be born of God is to acquire the nature of God . . .” and “God’s grace makes man deiform and deifies him . . . ” 4
Later, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism taught:
We seldom hear of them [gifts of the Holy Ghost] after the fatal period, when the emperor Constantine called himself a Christian: From this time they almost totally ceased: The cause of this was not, (as has been vulgarly supposed,) “because there was no more occasion for them . . . .” The real cause was, “the love of many” almost of all Christians, so called, was “waxed cold”. The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ, than the other heathens. This was the real cause why extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian church; because the Christians were turned heathens again, and had only a dead form left. 5
Not alone were gifts of the Spirit prized throughout the Reformation, but many humble Christians throughout the world in our own day have remarkable experiences. Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs, was given, through the grace of Christ, many sacred experiences while suffering for several years in prison. Before the United States Senate he testified:
For years I have never seen sun, moon, flowers, snow, stars, no man except the interrogator who beat, but I can say I have seen heaven open, I have seen Jesus Christ, I have seen the angels and we were very happy there. 6
Another faithful Christian, known throughout the world as Brother Yun, was one of the pioneers of Christianity in modern China. In his autobiography, The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, are recorded visions, healings, revelation and miracles including his remarkable escape from Zhengzhou Maximum Security prison.
As I have carefully studied the remarkable lives of modern Christians throughout the world including Brother Andrew, Brother Yun, Richard Wurmbrand and many others I have been impressed in finding their experiences so similar to the lives of faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the 13 Articles of Faith of the LDS Church reads: “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.” 7
One way the Latter Day Saints differ from some other denominations of Christians centers upon the faith placed in the early creeds and post apostolic councils of Christendom. These creeds include the Apostles Creed, Athanasian Creed and the Nicene Creed. Joseph Smith taught that these creeds were uninspired and caused confusion in interpreting the Bible.
One example can be found in the Athanasian Creed. The creed announces that, “The Father [is] incomprehensible, the Son [is] incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit [is] incomprehensible.” 8 The Athanasian Creed announces that God is incomprehensible. The Bible, however, teaches the reverse. The word of the apostle John teaches, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3 King James Version) The Bible teaches that truly knowing God is salvation while the text of the Athanasian Creed declares knowing God impossible. And yet, the Athanasian Creed declares that, “This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.” According to the Athanasian Creed, except a man believes that God is incomprehensible (which is contrary to the teachings of the Bible) that man cannot be saved.
Another example of confusion caused by these creeds originated in a council at Nicaea in 325 A.D. The council was called as a result of disunity regarding the nature of God and the relation of the Father and the Son to one another. Note that the foundation of the Christian faith, the true nature of God, at this time was largely disputed and unknown. The issues were settled, not by revelation, but by majority in a council claiming no authority from God and overseen by the Emperor Constantine, a ruthless dictator who murdered countless individuals including those of his own family. To students of history possible shortcomings in the outcome of the Nicene Creed should not come as a surprise.
Faithful Latter Day Saints believe that the apostles, seventy and leaders that Christ chose while on earth held authority from God and were true witnesses of Christ and His Gospel on earth. Those that came after often interpreted scripture inaccurately. Therefore, Latter Day Saints hold closely to the word of God in scripture and generally reject post apostolic philosophers, councils and creeds.
Proposed errors in the early creeds which form the foundation of many denominations of Christians could be debated indeterminately. Rather than attempting this, I will put forward some of the foundational teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and leave the reader to compare these teachings to the Bible.
These are some of the fundamental beliefs of Latter Day Saints:
- God literally created or better organized this earth through miraculous means using his omnipotent power and wisdom (Genesis 1). The earth was not created by or through evolution over millions of years. 9 10 11
- Jesus Christ is literally the Son of God and is Divine (Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:11; 2 Peter 1:17) as taught continually in the Bible. He literally resurrected in a physical body and lives today. (Acts 1:3)
- The Godhead consists of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who are all One in perfection and all godly attributes as Christ desired His apostles to be one with Him (John 17).
- We must literally be born of water and the spirit to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). All mankind must be literally baptized and born again through the Spirit. (Mark 16:16)
- God is an unchangeable God and therefore priesthood, prophets and miracles will generally exist whenever there is faith in God. (James 1:16-17) 12 The entire history of the Bible includes these fundamentals. (Amos 3:7)
- The Book of Mormon and other scriptures were given to support and prove to the world that the Bible is true and authentic. (Doctrine and Covenants 20:11) These other scriptures add additional witnesses that the miracles of the Old and New Testaments literally occurred. The Creation, Fall, dividing of the continents, patriarchs ages, dividing of the Red Sea by Moses, and miracles of Jesus all literally occurred. (3 Nephi 23:1-5)
- The covenants made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and other prophets were literal, as is the scattering and gathering of the House of Israel. 13 (Jeremiah 3:17-18; Deuteronomy 30:3-6)
- The Second Coming will be a literal event, and Christ will come again to reign upon the earth. (Revelation 16:15)
- God can literally speak to those of faith today. He answers prayers and performs miracles in our lives. (Mark 16:17-18) 14 15 16
- All mankind will be judged of their works according to the intents of their heart. (Revelation 20:12; James 2:14-24; Matthew 5:48)
There are no teachings that I am aware of in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that are not grounded in the words of the Bible. Even the history of polygamy, although not practiced today by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is rooted in the Bible. The Bible teaches that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, David, Solomon, Moses, and other great men of the Bible had plural wives or came from polygamist marriages. Even the great reformer Martin Luther understood this. 17 18 In my opinion, if there are differences between the LDS Faith and other Christians, they are differences in Biblical interpretation. Faithful “Mormons” take the Bible more literally.
The teachings of Joseph Smith, though differing from some creeds, find their foundation in the undeviating Word of God. If the Bible is Christian, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be considered Christian.
- James F. Stoddard III is the President of the Joseph Smith Foundation and the producer of the documentary Creation and Evolution: A Witness of Prophets ↩
- Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 16: 46 – 47. ↩
- Stoddard, James F and Stoddard, L. Hannah. “Book of Mormon Passages for Biblical Christians“. Retrieved April 20, 2012, from http://www.josephsmithforum.org/research/papers/book-of-mormon-passages-for-biblical-christians/ ↩
- Franz Posset, “‘Deification’ in the German Spirituality of the Late Middle Ages and in Luther: An Ecumenical Historical Perspective,” Archiv fur Reformationsgeschichte 84 (1993): 103-25, at page 125; abridged in Luther Digest 3 (1995): 135-141. ↩
- Wesley‟s Sermons, vol. 2, p. 266 ↩
- Testimony of Rev. Richard Wurmbrand before the U.S. Senate (1966): Communist Exploitation of Religion ↩
- https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/a-of-f/1?lang=eng#6 ↩
- The Athanasian Creed. (1997). New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 18, 2012, from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02033b.htm ↩
- Creation and Evolution a Witness of Prophets, (2007). Directed by James F. Stoddard [DVD]. Zion Vision, LLC. ↩
- The Origin of Man: 1909 First Presidency Message ↩
- Joseph Smith Foundation Science FAQs http://www.josephsmithforum.org/research/faqs/science/ ↩
- “Opposing World Views”, Joseph Smith Forum FAQs. Retrieved May 28, 2011, from http://www.josephsmithforum.org/research/faqs/36-opposing-world-views-how-does-a-providential-world-view-differ-from-an-evolutionary-world-view-which-view-should-be-taken-by-latter-day-saints/) ↩
- Smith, Joseph, Jr. (1 March 1842), “Church History [Wentworth Letter"], Times and Seasons 3 (9): 706–10. ↩
- Wurmbrand, Richard. (1967). Tortured for Christ. Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book Company. ↩
- Lam, Nora. (1980). China Cry: The Nora Lam Story. Harrison, ARK: New Leaf Press. ↩
- Andrew, Brother. (1967). God’s Smuggler. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Chosen Books. ↩
- Paul G. Hansen, Oscar E. Feucht, Fred Kramer, and Erwin L. Lueker, Engagement and Marriage (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 71. Luther delivered the sermon at Wittenberg. ↩
- De Wette II, 459, pp. 329-330. ↩