Monday, November 18, 2013

Are Mormons Saved if They Believe in Jesus as Savior?

Due, in part, to an aggressive emphasis on missions, Mormonism is the fastest growing religion in America. With an increasing number of people committing their lives to the Mormon Jesus as their savior, it is important for us to know who this influential figure is and what he stands for. 

In 2011, in a special report to CNN, Richard J. Mouw, then president of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, California, described how he had engaged in “behind-doors dialogue” with Mormon theologians from Brigham Young University along with a dozen other evangelicals. He noted that “Brigham Young University is a world-class educational institution, with professors who’ve earned doctorates from some of the best universities in the world. Several of the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have PhDs from Ivy League schools.” After describing the academic credentials represented by Mormon theologians and top leaders, Dr Mouw concluded his article by stating that Mormonism is not a cult, adding, “While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.”[1]

I contacted Dr. Mouw for clarification and he kindly reasserted his position to me, explaining that he had just spent two days in Salt Lake City with top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whom he had found to be placing new emphasis on Jesus as the only Savior, who died on the Cross, shedding his blood as a sacrifice for our sins, rather than on works as a means to earn salvation. Dr. Mouw expressed his belief that people can be wrong or confused about many theological issues and still be saved by the work of the Cross.

In conversations with Christian friends over the years, I have heard similar sentiments to those articulated by Dr. Mouw, especially after American Christians were confronted with the implications of a potential Mormon president in 2012. Many Christians are struck by how committed their Mormons friends are to following Jesus and are impressed by their moral standards and social conservatism. If Mormons fervently claim Jesus as their savior, should this not mean, therefore, that they are saved?

This is evidently a confusing issue for a significant number of Christians. Indeed, much of the language of Mormon theology connotes biblical-sounding ideas. For example, Mormons believe that Jesus is “the way.” This is familiar language for many Christians, which seems at first glance to mirror evangelical soteriology. Indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) upholds Jesus as central to their doctrine, and He is proclaimed to be the only Messiah, and the only way to the Father. Mormon Scriptures declare that Christ is the only name under heaven whereby salvation comes (2 Ne. 25:20). As the official website of the LDS states: “Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of God. He is our Redeemer…Only by His mercy and grace can anyone be saved…Jesus Christ saves us from sin and death. For that, he is very literally our Savior and Redeemer.” Certainly, this language sounds biblical.

LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley encourages members of other faiths to bring all the goodness of their belief in Jesus Christ and “let us add to it.” [2] Mormonism certainly adds many qualities to the biblical Jesus—and it subtracts plenty too. If one delves more deeply into Mormon Christology, fundamental deviations from the biblical view of Jesus become starkly evident. 

Firstly, Mormon theology rejects the TrinityMormons believe in three distinct and separate members of the godhead. The Doctrine and Covenants, one of the four sacred books of Mormonism, states, “Christ, the Firstborn, was the mightiest of all the spirit children of the Father.” In other words, Jesus is not eternally God, nor an innate Person of the Trinity, but was begotten as a spirit baby of the Heavenly Father, a physical God of flesh and bones,[3] through sexual relations with a spirit mother. Being one of many begotten offspring of God the Father, Jesus is, therefore, not one with God, nor is he unique in his deity. 

Why is this significant? Because it is a complete deal-breaker. The Mormon rejection of the Trinity is a denial of Jesus’ own claim that He and the Father are one and the same (John 10:30; John 14:7). While the Mormon Jesus may be divine, his is a derived form of divinity, which is neither unique to him nor inherent in him. Milton R. Hunter[4] wrote, “Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understanding through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws.”[5] In other words, Jesus became divine through works, like the Father before him. In Mormon theology, then, the Father and Jesus are neither innately nor uniquely divine as part of the Trinity. The Mormon denial of the Trinity paves the way for polytheism and ultimately for self-deification in the Mormon faith; If divinity is gained through faith and works, then all men possess the potential for godhood. 

The LDS tenet that men can become gods was famously coined in a couplet by fifth LDS President Lorenzo Snow. In June of 1840, Snow declared, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” Because Jesus represents a necessary path--indeed the only way--to self-deification, an eternal relationship with God is not the end result of our salvation, but merely a means to our own godhood. The Mormon gospel, then, is fundamentally different from what the bible proclaims to be the good news. The end goal for a Mormon is to be a god of his own world, where he will procreate with his celestial wife and populate his own planet with spirit babies. This is the highest reward granted by the grace of God, based on faith and works.

The Mormon Jesus is, therefore, a counterfeit who bears little resemblance to the authentic Christ, when he is removed from the Trinity, relegated to the level of one supreme god among gods, and extracted from the true gospel. The Mormon Jesus may even himself have fathered children[6] and had wives[7]. What is worryingly overlooked by Dr. Mouw and others who seek common ground with Mormonism is that the Mormon Jesus is an insidious counterfeit, a wolf in sheep's clothing, that must be rejected, not befriended. He quite simply is not the same Jesus.

Despite the fundamental differences between biblical and Mormon Christology, however, the “Christ”-centeredness of Mormonism, and their new emphasis on grace, has led some to argue that it is not a cult and to perceive the religion as close to Christianity, if not qualifying to be a denominational part of it. There has been of late a great effort from within the LDS Church to be reclassified as a Christian denomination, which might be why their more blatantly heretical theology is found only by digging more deeply into the content of the official LDS website and teaching manuals, for example. After perusing the LDS website thoroughly a couple of years ago, I was horrified to find later that much of the more descriptive information about Mormon theology I had previously seen was removed altogether prior to the presidential election of 2012 in which self-professed Mormon, Mitt Romney, endeavored to win the evangelical vote. 

So, are Mormons saved? Is following a distorted version of Jesus sufficient? How wrong can one be about Jesus, and still be saved by Him? This is a difficult question to answer. No one except God can know the heart of a person and it is certainly not our place to judge. I am sure there are many Mormons who are truly seeking Jesus by intention and I am not willing to take a position on the status of any individual’s salvation. It is clear, however, that the Mormon Jesus does not represent the way, the truth, and the life because who he is, and where he leads, is fundamentally at odds with the authentic Son of God and the Gospel of Christ. 

Jesus taught that truly knowing Him is vital; He said: “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” (John 14:7). The Bible also states, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13). It is doubtful that one can truly find God if one’s heart is divided, and is ultimately seeking after self-deification rather than God alone. 

In the end, the leaders of the LDS Church will have a lot to answer for, for they will be held to a higher standard of judgment and will be accountable for leading others astray (James 3:1). Jesus warned us of the serious ramifications of misusing His name when He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matt 7:21-23). It is worth noting here that Jesus doesn't beat around the bush and seek common ground with those who misuse His name. In light of this, we should always be prepared to address the truth should God open up the opportunity in a conversation with a Mormon friend or acquaintance. As Christians, we are to be witnesses to His truth, which should always be expressed in His love.

Many Mormons are genuinely seeking after God. Refraining from lambasting Mormons, and bombarding them with our misgivings about their faith is important. While it is useful to be aware of what Mormons believe, we should also be sensitive to the fact that many Mormons are passionate about their faith, and attacking it outright will lead to a defensive reaction, and likely further them even more from the truth. We should always speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15). 

Furthermore, it is of vital importance for us as Christians to have a firm, biblically sound grasp on what we believe. It is by staying well-grounded in the Word that we are able to accurately discern the distinction between Mormon and biblical views on Jesus, and not get confused by the similarities. Then, with confidence, we can share the true Christ with our Mormon friends and avoid getting caught up in interfaith dialogue that can lead to smoothing over our differences and ultimately watering down the gospel. 

As Christians, we should come together in prayer for truth-seekers to rise up within the LDS Church, that their hearts will be ill-at-ease within them, causing them to see the fatal flaws within Mormon theology, and that they will be drawn to seek after and to find the authentic Son of God. 

[1] “My Take: This evangelical says Mormonism isn’t a cult,” Richard Mouw, CNN. Oct 9, 2011. Emphasis added.
[3] Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 3.
[4] Milton Hunter was a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and served as a member of the church’s First Council of the Seventy from 1945 until his death in 1975.
[5] Milton Hunter, G.T.A., p. 51, (emphasis added)
[6] For example, Orson Hyde said, “Before the Savior died, He looked upon His own natural children, as we look upon ours.” (J. of D., Vol. II, p. 82).
[7] Many leading Mormons have taught that Jesus was married and was even a polygamist.


Fred W. Anson said...

In April 2013, the leaders at the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) put together an offiical statement regarding the former president of Fuller Seminary, Richard Mouw. The statement is located here and printed below.

Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, April 12, 2013

Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) was formed in 1982 as “a consortium of Christians in North America, seeking to help people distinguish authentic from inauthentic Christianity and strengthen evangelical Christian ministries to new religionists and cultists.” It serves as an umbrella group for about three dozen such ministries and over a dozen additional individual scholars, researchers, and evangelists also working in this field. It does not claim to speak for all evangelicals engaged in such ministry, but seeks to coordinate efforts among like-minded evangelicals and to promote high standards of accountability, scholarship, and ethics in ministry to people of new religious movements. EMNR includes several organizations devoted largely or entirely to apologetic and evangelistic ministry to active and former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons.

Over the past ten years or so Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a respected evangelical theologian, has made a number of statements both explicitly and implicitly critical of evangelical ministries to Mormons. In remarks made at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on November 14, 2004, Dr. Mouw stated that “we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community.” When challenged later as to the nature of these misrepresentations, Dr. Mouw stated that one such misrepresentation was the claim that “Mormonism teaches that God was once a human being like us, and we can become Gods just like God is now.” He has recently repeated and expanded on this criticism in joint lectures with LDS scholar Robert L. Millet in 2012 and 2013. In these public lectures, Dr. Mouw characterized his “evangelical critics” as misrepresenting Mormon teaching with regard to Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet, “What man now is,God once was; as God now is, man may be.” According to Dr. Mouw, the couplet is only “popular Mormonism” or “folk Mormonism,” has “never been endorsed” by the LDS Church, and “doesn’t have official status” or a “functional place today” in Mormon teaching. He similarly argues that the LDS Church is distancing itself from the theology of Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse, in which Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man like us and that human beings can and should progress to become Gods like him. Dr. Mouw suggests that Mormons today embrace a theology more like that of the Eastern Orthodox deification doctrine, or a theology in which the goal is simply to be become“more Christ-like.” Again, these comments were made in the context of upbraiding evangelicals whoare supposedly guilty of misrepresenting Mormonism.
- continued-

Fred W. Anson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fred W. Anson said...

However, the evidence is voluminous that the LDS Church has been continuously teaching the doctrine of eternal progression, as it is commonly known, represented by the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet from 1844 right up to the present. Joseph Smith himself “endorsed” Snow’s couplet as a “revelation,” a point made in the LDS teaching manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow released in 2012. In 1982 the Ensign magazine published an article explaining that Snow’s couplet “is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today.” The 2004 manual Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings: Religion 370, 471, and 475 stated that “there are approved and inspired writings that are not in the standard works” that “also are true and should be used along with the scriptures themselves,” among the five most important of which it says are “the ‘King Follett Sermon’ and the ‘Sermon in the Grove.’” At least eleven teaching manuals currently available on, the official website of the LDS Church, teach the King Follett Discourse, the Lorenzo Snow couplet, or (in most cases) both, including at least six manuals published since 2003.

The issue here is by no means peripheral. Joseph Smith claimed in the King Follett Discourse that understanding God to have been a man who progressed to Godhood was “the first principle of the gospel.” LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that “the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood,” and specifically cited both the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet in support (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 46). Thus, what Dr. Mouw claims is “folk Mormonism” wrongly treated as LDS doctrine by other evangelicals is actually central to the LDS conception of the gospel.

Evangelical Ministries to New Religions applauds Dr. Mouw for his salutary call for Christian civility and his thoughtful engagement in dialogue with Mormon scholars and leaders. At the same time, EMNR respectfully yet strongly disagrees with Dr. Mouw’s generalizations about evangelicals misrepresenting Mormon beliefs and practices, and specifically with his own misrepresentation of the standard LDS doctrine of eternal progression as “folk Mormonism” having no official or functioning place in Mormon belief today. We invite Dr. Mouw to engage evangelical ministries to Mormons in general, and those of us who are part of EMNR in particular, in the same kind of civil dialogue he has rightly championed between evangelicals and Mormons. Furthermore, we encourage Latter-day Saints to engage a wider circle of evangelicals in open and candid dialogue.
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