Mormonism is a heretical religion founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. Most of its adherents comprise the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or "LDS" Church, with headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah; its second-largest sect is the Community of Christ, in Independence, Missouri. Total membership for the LDS church as of 2008 is 13,000,000, with 250,000 in the Community of Christ and perhaps 50,000 in several smaller sects.
- 1 Brief History
- 2 Compared To Holy Orthodoxy
- 3 Distinctive Mormon "Scriptures"
- 4 Mormonism and Polygamy
- 5 Citations
- 6 Sources and External Links
Mormonism began on April 6, 1830 in Fayette, New York, as an alleged "restoration" of the original Apostolic Church. Its originator, Joseph Smith, Jr., asserted that he had seen two celestial "personages" in 1820 who claimed to be God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. These "personages" told Smith that all existing churches--including the Orthodox Church--were false, and that he had been chosen to "restore" the one true Church.
Attracting a host of converts, Smith's new religion also garnered intense persecution, necessitating moves in turn to Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois, where Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844. Smith's movement fragmented following his demise, with the majority eventually following Brigham Young to Utah.
Plural marriage proved a source of dissension, especially between the Utah Mormons and the smaller Community of Christ, which rejected the doctrine. Polygamy also caused trouble between the LDS church and the U.S. government, until its practice was banned in 1890. Throughout the last century, Mormons fought to project an image of wholesome, family-oriented Christianity, reaping millions of converts and emerging as a formidible presence on the world religous scene.
With the fall of communism, the LDS extended their prosletyzing efforts into traditionally Orthodox countries, including Russia, which passed a law in 1997 designed to hamper their efforts and those of other Western sects.
Compared To Holy Orthodoxy
(This section is concerned with the organization and theology of the Utah LDS church, which contains the majority of the world's Mormons. While the Community of Christ church is similarly organized, its beliefs differ rather sharply from LDS Mormonism in many respects, as do the beliefs and organization of the smaller sects. However, all Latter Day Saint sects remain diametrically opposed to Orthodox Church teaching in most essential respects.)
Mormonism as a whole encompasses a mélange of many different religious beliefs, the vast majority of which are contrary to the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Joseph Smith gleaned inspiration from various religious movements of his time, including Campbellite, Restorationist, and Universalist. However, the foundation of Mormon belief is the acceptance of modern prophecy and revelation, and an "open canon" of Holy Scripture.
While Joseph Smith taught that any person with a testimony of Christ is a prophet, the LDS church remains a hierarchial organization with a president-prophet, usually assisted by two "Counselors", who alone possesses the "keys" to all prophetic power. Most members of the LDS church believe that their current president, Thomas S. Monson (as of 2008), is the sole person authorized to speak definitively for God on the earth today. Below this "First Presidency" are twelve "Apostles," who are also considered "prophets, seers, and revelators," but who do not exercize the prerogatives held by the president. Beneath these apostles are the "Seventies," concerned with heading up Mormon missionary efforts, together with a "Presiding Bishopric" largely relegated to temporal concerns. These men are referred to as the "General Authorities" of the LDS church.
A local Mormon congregation, called a "ward" (equivalent to an Orthodox parish), is headed by a "bishop" (equivalent to an Orthodox parish priest). A group of wards occupying a specific geographical area is organized into a "stake" (equivalent to an Orthodox diocese), headed by a "stake president" (equivalent to an Orthodox bishop). The disparity between Mormon and Orthodox usage of "bishop" can cause confusion for the uninitiated!
Another source of confusion is the Mormon use of the word "Elder." While Orthodox Christians use "Elder" to refer to a holy person who has been given a special gift of spiritual insight and direction (but who is not necessarily a priest, or even a male), Mormons use this term to refer to a specific office in the "Melchizedek Priesthood," the higher of their two "priesthoods" (the lesser "priesthood" is referred to as the "Aaronic Priesthood"). "Elder" is the lowest office in this higher priesthood, and is generally held by all male members over the age of eighteen deemed "worthy" of it (the vast majority).
"Patriarch" also has a different usage for Mormons than for Orthodox; instead of referring to the chiefest of Orthodox bishops, this term is used to describe an office in the higher Mormon priesthood mostly concerned with the giving of special "patriarchial blessings" to church members.
The "Doctrine of Eternal Progression"
A major pillar of Mormon belief is their concept of deification, which they refer to as the "Doctrine of Eternal Progression." In opposition to the Trinitarian dogmas of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, Mormons believe that God the Father, whom they refer to as "Elohim" or "Heavenly Father," was originally a flesh-and-blood human being, who was spiritually "begotten" by another "god" (and his "godess" wife) and then physically born on another planet (not Earth). "Elohim" lived a normal human life, and by embracing his world's version of Mormonism, he "progressed" to "become" the "god" he is today.
Having attained to "godhood," this "Elohim" and his wife were able to create and populate their own universe--namely, ours--with pre-existent spiritual offspring who, by coming to earth and taking human flesh, embracing and living the Mormon religion, and "enduring to the end," could themselves acquire "godhood," where they in turn could begin this process anew. It should be noted that the LDS doctrine of "pre-existence" of spirits, by which we all are alleged to have existed "spiritually" in heaven prior to our birth on this earth, was specifically condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council.
For a casual observer, this may seem similar to the Church's teaching of theosis, but this is most emphatically not so:
- First, there is a definite distinction in the Church between God and mankind, between the Creator and His Creation. God is eternal, and existed for eternity prior to (and entirely separate from) His creation (which, unlike its Creator, is not eternal), until the incarnation of the pre-eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, as Our Lord Jesus Christ. This was a unique union between God and His creation, which never existed before. Mormonism, on the other hand, teaches that only matter and intelligence are truly eternal (not God), and that all of their "gods" essentially "evolved" in the same fashion, from physical matter.
- Second, the Orthodox Church clearly teaches that the Most Holy Trinity has always existed precisely as one God: "the Trinity, One in essence, and undivided." Mormonism, on the other hand, teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in "purpose" only, and most emphatically not one in essence or hypostasis (as the Orthodox Church teaches). They are three "gods," say the Mormons, and not "one" in anything except a common purpose and mindset. Furthermore, say they, there are potentially billions of "gods" beyond the three they acknowledge as belonging to this world. All of this is diametrically opposed to Orthodox Christian teaching.
- Third, Theosis is a unification between God and mankind, not the creation of an entirely separate deity (or dieties).
Mormonism's designation by Orthodoxy as being "heretical"--instead of "heterodox," as is the case with the Roman Catholic and most major Protestant faiths--stems primarily from their spurious doctrines on the Holy Trinity and the nature of God, together with various other specious beliefs.
Attaining to "Godhood"
While Mormonism claims to focus on salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ, their concept of exaltation goes far beyond this. All of mankind, say the Mormons, will be saved from death through the resurrection of Christ; but it is only those whom God judges as obedient and faithful, and who receive specific saving ordinances (which will be offered to every person that has ever lived), who will be exalted to the highest of the three "degrees of glory" which comprise the Mormon heaven. Only those exalted to this "Celestial glory" will become "gods." Those in the lower two degrees, while enjoying a blessed and happy state, will still be limited in their "progression" and will never have the chance to move to a higher state.
To attain to "Celestial glory," one must be baptized as a Mormon by "true authority" (meaning a regularly-ordained member of their church), "confirmed" by the same, and receive certain "sacred" or "higher" ordinances that can only be had within a Mormon temple. While Orthodox Christians often tend to use the term "temple" to refer to any Orthodox Church building, Mormons use it only for specific structures specially dedicated as such.
Within these structures, Mormons practice (for themselves, or on behalf of others) certain esoteric rituals:
- Baptism for the Dead, where living proxies act on behalf of deceased persons who are then "baptized" into the LDS church; names are obtained from geneological research, for which the Mormons are world-famous. This practice was rejected by the Council of Hippo and the Third Council of Carthage, and St. John Chrysostom associated it with the heretical Marcionites. St. Clement of Alexandria indicated that Baptism for the Dead was a doctrine also particular to the Gnostics.
- The so-called "Endowment," where initiates are taught the "fullness" of Mormon doctrine on such subjects as the "plurality of Gods," the Mormon version of creation, and the process by which one may "progress to godhood." Additionally, participants take a solemn oath never to reveal anything that goes on in the temple, as well as oaths to faithfully abide by all Mormon teachings. This ritual is essentially a "contract" between the Mormon "god" and his adherents, by which they promise to obey his laws and earthly leadership, and he in turn promises to advance them to "godhood" upon their resurrection. Many elements of this rite were stolen from the heretical Freemasons, and Joseph Smith (who had been a Master Mason himself) was expelled from that fraternity as a result.
- Marriage for Eternity, where participants, upon receiving their "Endowment," are married "for time and all eternity." This is seen as an indespensible requirement for "godhood." The Orthodox Church has traditionally rejected this concept.
The Mormon hell, by the way, is limited to those few who have apostasized from the Mormon religion, broken their oath of secrecy about the Temple rituals (see below), committed murder after becoming a Mormon, or are guilty of other very serious offenses; together with the devil and his angels.
The Mormon Concept of Angels
In contrast to Orthodoxy, which views angels (whether righteous or fallen) as a separate class of beings created by God prior to--and separate from--humanity, Mormonism sees angels as being either pre-existent spirits of human beings not yet physically born, or the spirits of departed "righteous" men, such as characters from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. "Moroni," the alleged "angel" who showed the golden plates of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith (see below), was supposed to have been an ancient American prophet who figures prominently in the final portions of that book.
While the Orthodox Church traditionally admonishes her children to mistrust any spiritual manifestations they might see (even the saints have sometimes been deceived by demons, such as St. Nikita the Venerable of Novgorod, for instance!), Joseph Smith offered his followers a novel test by which he claimed to be able to discern true angels of God from demons. This test, which involved asking to shake the "angel's" hand, is found in LDS Doctrine and Covenants Section 129, and enjoined upon all of Smith's disciples. However, In the life of St. Martin of Tours one learns that fallen angels are quite capable of affecting the human sense of touch, contrary to Joseph Smith's assertion, the same as all other human senses.
"The Great Apostasy" and Apostolic Succession
Like many Restorationist heresies that arose in the 18th and 19th centuries, Mormons believe that the Church entered an age of opprobrium several years after its founding. In doing so, say they, it lost all right to perform sacraments, consecrate priests, or otherwise act in God's name. And from that moment until 1830, say the Mormons, there was no true Church anywhere on the earth.
While Mormons offer no specific date for this alleged catastrophe, they largely tend to believe that it had been accomplished by the time of St. Constantine the Great and the First Ecumenical Council in A.D. 325. Mormons reject the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, by saying that while it may have once been the Church founded by Jesus Christ and promulgated through His Apostles, it long ago ceased to be so. The Orthodox Church, which at this moment traces its unbroken succession to the Apostles themselves and alone teaches the fullness of their doctrine and practice, is in apostasy according to the Mormons.
Mormons point to New Testament scriptures that they assert as speaking of a complete apostasy of the entire Church, as proof of their claims. While Orthodox Christians would agree that these passages did indeed speak of apostates to come--such as Arius, Nestorius and Paul of Samosata, for instance--they emphatically reject the Mormon interpretation (advanced to varying degrees by nearly all Protestants) that the entire Apostolic Church would fall into heresy. In St. Matthew 16:18, our Lord clearly states that the "gates of hell shall not prevail" against the Church He had founded--a Church which the Mormons agree existed, but which they claim to have been subsequently lost, in violation of our Lord's words.
Mormons believe strongly in the concept of Apostolic Succession, which they refer to as "Priesthood succession" or "Priesthood lineage." However, since they recognize no church between the alleged "Great Apostasy" and the establishment of their own in 1830, they trace their succession to one of four "exalted beings," who purportedly visited Joseph Smith on two separate occasions in the 1820's, just prior to their church's founding.
Gethsamene and Golgotha
Utah Mormons generally reject all usage of the Holy Cross as a Christian symbol. The Mormon church teaches that the atonement of Christ took place, not primarily on the Cross, but rather in the Garden of Gethsamene the night before His crucifixion. The LDS Bible Dictionary entry for "Atonement" speaks of the shedding of Our Lord's blood as having taken place there; His subsequent death on the Cross the following day is relegated to a seemingly secondary place. There is no entry for "Cross" in the LDS Bible Dictionary, and its cursory article on "crucifixion" makes no mention whatsoever of this salvific event having any role in His Atonement. The Mormonwiki article on "Atonement of Jesus Christ" contains a section entitled "Gethsamene and Golgotha," which emphasizes the time our Lord spent in the Garden of Gethsamene, alleging that it was here that the genuine "shedding of blood" took place to effect our salvation.
Many Mormon leaders have denounced the wearing or display of the Cross by Mormons. Some of their statements are contained in an essay entitled "Why Are There No Crosses on Mormon Churches and Temples?"
On the other hand, the late Fr. Michael Pomazansky, author of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, shows the Orthodox teaching on the Cross as both the path, power and banner of the Church. In his essay "The Cross of Christ" (printed in this same book), he gives the Orthodox teaching on the vital importance of our Lord's Cross as the indispensible weapon, not merely in the general victory against Satan and his angels won at Calvary, but equally in our own individual struggles for salvation.
Original Sin and Infant Baptism
Similar to the ancient heresy of Pelagius, Mormons teach that all human beings are born completely innocent, and they further assert that children are incapable of sin until they reach the age of eight years. The second Mormon "Article of Faith" (contained in the Pearl of Great Price) teaches: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression." Accordingly, infant baptism is vehemently rejected by the Mormon church.
In contrast, Orthodoxy teaches that while only Adam and Eve bear the guilt for their sin in the Garden of Eden, they have transmitted the consequences of that sin to their posterity. St. Anastasius the Sinaite wrote this on the subject: "We became the inheritors of the curse in Adam. We were not punished as if we had disobeyed that divine commandment along with Adam; but because Adam became mortal, he transmitted sin to his posterity. We became mortal since we were born from a mortal."
In keeping with the Holy Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition, the Orthodox Church baptizes infants by triple immersion (as she does with adult converts, as well), not to cleanse them of any "original sin," but rather to give them the grace that this holy sacrament imparts, together with membership in the Church and access to the Holy Eucharist and all of the other means of grace she offers.
Miracles and Martyrs
Mormons assert that one proof of their claims is the miracles claimed by members of their sect--and the comparative absence of these in other Christian denominations. This was emphasized during the early years of Mormonism, where their assertions of the "restoration" of the "gifts of the Spirit" contrasted sharply with Campbellite and other Protestants' assertions that such miracles had entirely ceased among Christians. Mormons insist that this cessation of such "gifts" comprises proof of their alleged "Great Apostasy" of the entire Church (see above).
Orthodoxy, however, offers an unbroken twenty-century history of wonderworkers, miracles and gifts far surpassing anything the Mormons can adduce. The twentieth century alone saw SS Nectarios of Aegina, John Maximovitch of San Francisco and John of Kronstadt, among others; each preceding century offers additional proof that the true "gifts of the Holy Spirit" never ceased in the one, true (Orthodox) Church of Christ.
Mormonism believes in the concept of martyrdom, offering various persons who have been murdered for professing the LDS religion since its inception. While it does not pray to these people, as Orthodox do to their martyrs and saints, it does venerate their memory and uphold them as examples to other Mormons. The LDS church offers its founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., as its chief "martyr," as he was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844. However, whereas a martyr has always been understood by Orthodox Christians as one who dies voluntarily for the Faith without resisting his persecutors in any way (and indeed, while praying for and forgiving them), Joseph Smith did not die in this fashion. Rather, Smith used a six-shot pistol against his attackers, wounding three of them before being killed himself.
While the murder of Smith was indeed a deplorable and henious act, it cannot be described as true "martyrdom" by Orthodox standards--not only because of Smith's resistance to his killers, but equally because he died for a false religion. "The martyrdom of heretics is suicide," say the Holy Fathers.
In contrast, Orthodoxy offers numerous examples of genuine martyrs throughout her 2,000 year history, including nearly twenty-million who died in the twentieth century alone under Communist persecution. This list of martyrs extends back to the Holy Apostles themselves, and their immediate disciples, and includes people from every ethnicity and background--including Orthodox Americans.
Distinctive Mormon "Scriptures"
The Book of Mormon
In 1823 Smith claimed to have been visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him of a chronicle of ancient history supposedly engraved in an ancient Egyptian dialect (which he referred to as "Reformed Egyptian") on tablets of gold and buried in a hill near Manchester, New York. Smith was also told that he would bring this knowledge to the world. He allegedly obtained these plates in 1827 and supposedly translated them into English via the use of two seer-stones which he called the "Urim and Thummim." These stones are not to be confused with the Old Testament Urim and Thummim, the stones on the High Priest’s breastplate used to relay messages from God to His people, though Mormons sometimes try to connect the two.
This translation became The Book of Mormon, which is revered as "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" by Mormons. The monikers referring to Smith's church as "the Mormon Church" and its members as "Mormons" are derivations fromThe Book of Mormon. This book purports to be a religious and secular history of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas--called Nephites, Lamanites, Mulekites, and Jaredites--from about 2200 B.C. to A.D. 421. It claims that at least some Native Americans are descended from groups of Near Eastern peoples (mostly Jews) who immigrated during pivotal periods in Israel’s history.
Smith claimed that many of these people were openly-practicing Christians, before the birth of Christ, with a functioning church organization that mirrored that later taught by the Holy Apostles. According to the Book of Mormon, the godly "Nephites" openly administered baptisms, "confirmations" and the Holy Eucharist eons before the coming of the Savior. The book even claims that our Lord came to visit these peoples Himself after His Ascension--after raining down several days of death and destruction on the evildoers among them. About four-hundred years after this alleged event, the "Nephites" were destroyed by the wicked "Lamanites," who became the principal ancestors of the Native American peoples.
Interestingly, over 3,000 changes have been noted between the Book of Mormon currently published by the LDS Church, and the original edition published by Joseph Smith. Most of these changes were made by Smith himself, in later editions of the book printed during his own lifetime. Of potential interest to Orthodox Christians are passages in I Nephi 11:32, where our Lord was originally referred to as "the eternal God," but is now referred to as "the son of the eternal God;" and I Nephi 11:18, where the Theotokos was originally referred to as "the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh," while today she is referred to as "the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh."
Connections between the history and civilization portrayed in The Book of Mormon and evidence found by archaeologists in the Americas is debatable. Evidence of horses, elephants, cattle, barley, wheat, steel swords, chariots, shipbuilding, and other Old World paraphernalia has not been found to exist in the Americas until the advent of the Europeans. Evidence of these people, the gold plates, or the "seer-stones" has yet to be found.
Other Mormon "Scriptures"
Mormons also accept as Scripture the Doctrine and Covenants, containing 138 "revelations" and two "Official Declarations" allegedly given to Joseph Smith and his successors; together with the Pearl of Great Price, containing the "Book of Moses" (a rewrite by Joseph Smith of the first part of the Book of Genesis), the "Book of Abraham" (a purported account of the Patriarch Abraham, with references to multiple "gods" in the act of creation, rather than one God), and various other texts by Smith.
Additionally, Joseph Smith rewrote the entire Bible "by inspiration" during his lifetime, making substantial additions to the text, deleting the Song of Solomon entirely, and otherwise shaping its text to conform to his own teachings (including an alleged prophecy of his own coming). While this text was never officially adopted by the main LDS church (it was adopted, on the other hand, by the Community of Christ), portions of it appear in the Pearl of Great Price and as footnotes in the official LDS editions of the King James Version of the Bible (still the official LDS version).
Mormonism and Polygamy
Plural marriage was practiced by early Mormon church leaders. Many sources say that Smith had as many as twenty to thirty wives, while Brigham Young counted fifty-two. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints practiced polygamy until 1890, when they ended it to ensure Utah’s statehood.
Today about 70% of Utah is Mormon, and around 60,000 or so are polygamous, though the mainline LDS Church excommunicates anyone advocating or practicing it. Other breakaway Mormon sects practice polygamy secretly. Despite the huge publicity campaign the LDS Church has constructed to disassociate itself from polygamy, Mormons and plural marriage are still commonly associated in contemporary culture. While it may have been renounced by the main LDS body, there is no doubt that Mormonism and its unholy practice of plural marriage remain closely entwined, especially since mainline LDS members are still required to affirm the propriety of polygamy when it was authorized by their church (prior to 1890).
The Orthodox Church condemns all forms of plural marriage as an unnatural practice.
- "LDS Church says membership now 13 million worldwide", Salt Lake Tribune, June 25, 2007.
- http://www.cofchrist.org/news/GeneralInfo.asp. This organization was known as the "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" until 2001.
- All Utah LDS priesthood offices are limited to men; the Community of Christ, on the other hand, ordains both men and women (since 1984).
- LDS Bible Dictionary, Entry "God," at http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/g/43. This doctrine, incidentally, is vehemently rejected by the Community of Christ and most smaller Mormon sects.
- Numerous quotes from Mormon leaders on this topic, past and present, may be read at http://blog.mrm.org/category/eternal-progression/. See also the Mormonwiki article on "Eternal progression" at http://www.mormonwiki.org/Eternal_progression.
- These are referred to as "Terrestrial" and "Telestial," respectively, in LDS Doctrine & Covenants Section 76.
- The regular Mormon meetinghouses are generally called "chapels" or "stake centers," and unlike their temples, are generally open to the public.
- LDS Doctrine & Covenants, Section 131. See http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/131.
- See St. Martin's story at http://celticchristianity.org/COCQ/COCM200111.html, or in Chapter Five of Rose, Fr. Seraphim, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, St. Herman of Alaska Press, 1980.
- Mormons tend to follow the Western error that posits Roman Catholicism, rather than Eastern Orthodoxy, as the most ancient of contemporary Christian faiths. Many are suprised to learn that Orthodoxy even exists! However, learning of Orthodoxy's existence and claims does not alter their beliefs in the slightest.
- I Timothy 4:1, II Timothy 3:1-5, Acts 20:28-31, among others.
- The Mormons claim these beings to have been St. John the Baptist, and the Holy Apostles SS Peter, James and John.
- Pomazansky, Protopresbyter Michael, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition; St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997, pp. 326-30.
- See http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=21bc9fbee98db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=c2fb94859a4bb010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1.
- St. Anastasius the Sinaite, 19. Vide I.N. Karmirh, SUNOYIS THS DOGMATKHS THS ORQODOXOU EKKLHSIAS, s. 38. Quoted from Kalomiros, Dr. Alexandre, The River of Fire, ch. IV, found at http://www.orthodoxpress.org/parish/river_of_fire.htm.
- Pomazansky, pp. 268-69.
- History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 7, p. 100, 102 & 103
- See, for instance, the Smithsonian Institutes' offical statement on the Book of Mormon, at http://www.irr.org/mit/smithson.html.
- D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1994, 685 pages, ISBN 1-56085-056-6; Appendix 6, "Biographical Sketches of Officers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, 1830-47" pp. 607-608).
Sources and External Links
- The Official LDS Website
- Mormonwiki.com (A Mormon version of the Wikipedia)
- Wikipedia: Mormonism
- Community of Christ (Website for the Community of Christ, the second-largest Mormon sect)
- To Those Who Are Investigating Mormonism by Richard Packham (Packham is a former member of the LDS)
- HBO’s Big Love (Big Love is a television drama portraying Mormon polygamists living secretly in modern-day Utah)