Just who are the Mormons?

The Mormons.  When Americans hear that name, I would wager that more times than not, they think about polygamy.  HBO’s hit series, Big Love, doesn’t help that image, where it depicts the life of a Fundamentalist Mormon family (with the first wife described as being a former member of the mainstream Mormon church).  Neither does the recent case involving Warren Jeffs, the leader and “Prophet” of the Fundementalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.  So, while many people have heard the name “Mormon”, they may not know who they really are.

The proper name of the Mormon church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (henceforth: LDS Church).  This worldwide church claims 13 million members, over half of which reside outside of the United States of America.  How did this church come into being?  It all began with a teenage boy named Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith was born in 1805 in Vermont.  About 10 years later, Smith moved with his family to Palmyra, New York (western upstate New York).  A number of years later, in 1820, Joseph Smith became concerned with his soul and religious matters.  He went to the forest near his home, and prayed to God.  Suddenly, he had what the LDS Church believes to be a pivotal vision in the history of the world.  At that moment, Smith saw a pillar of light come down from the sky.  He saw two “personages”: God the Father, and Jesus Christ.  God the Father pointed at Jesus Christ, and said “This is my Beloved Son: Here Him!”.  Joseph Smith asked which church he should belong to.  Jesus Christ then gave a very important answer: none of them.  He said that all creeds were an abomination, and that the “professors” of the creeds are corrupt.

Three years later, Smith had another important vision in Mormonism.  One night before bed, Smith beheld a pillar of light.  In it, another Heavenly being visited.  This was the angel Moroni.  Moroni informed Smith that God had something for him to do: there was a book of gold plates in existence that documented the activities of peoples that lived on the North American continent.  This account contained “the fulness of the everlasting Gospel…as it was delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants”.  Four years later, in 1827, Smith was finally allowed access to the gold plates.  These plates were purportedly written in a language called “reformed Egyptian”. These plates, once translated into English, would become what is now known as the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of groups of peoples in North America (the locations are disputed within the LDS Church itself) that originated from the Middle East.  According to the Book, there was a prophet named Lehi that lived in Jerusalem somewhere near 600 BC.  He was informed by God that the city was about to be destroyed.  Because of this, he sailed with a group of people to North America.  When Lehi died, these Hebrews in America split into two groups, named after two of Lehi’s sons: the Nephites, generally the good guys, and the Lamanites, generally the bad guys.  There were many similarities between this new civilization and that of the Middle East, with prophets, temples, wars, etc.  Each of these prophets wrote their accounts of events, many of which are found in the Book of Mormon.  They all prophesied of Jesus Christ.  Somewhere about 34 AD, after Christ ascended to Heaven according to the Bible, the prophet Nephi wrote that Jesus came to America, and ministered to the people there.  Jesus then ascended again, after which war began again in America.  The Nephites were then killed off by the Lamanites in a great battle, and the Lamanites are seen as among the ancestors of the Native Americans.  The prophet Mormon put together the works of the other prophets, inscribing them on the gold plates found by Joseph Smith.  His son Moroni, the same angel that visited Smith, then buried these gold plates.

Throughout the subsequent years, Smith set about to forming the “restored” Church of Jesus Christ, with the “restored Gospel”.  According to Mormon theology, when Jesus established his Church in ancient times, various heresies crept in.  In the end, it resulted in something called the “Great Apostasy”, a falling away from the true Faith of Jesus Christ.  The “keys” were no longer on the earth with the death of the last Apostle. Therefore, it had to be restored, and this occurred 1800 years later.

Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery were visited in the following years by John the Baptist, who restored and ordained them to the “Aaronic Priesthood”.  Afterward, Peter, James, and John also appeared to them, and who restored and ordained them to the “Melchizedek Priesthood”.  Smith continued to receive various revelations from God (indeed, the LDS Church claims that its President, or Prophet, can receive direct revelations from God to guide the church and doctrine) to formulate new doctrine.  These revelations are found in another book of Mormon scripture, Doctrine and Covenants (along with other revelations by subsequent Prophets).  The Pearl of Great Price is another book of scripture, and these four books (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) are regarded as the “standard works” of Mormon scripture.  Smith was killed in 1844 by a group of people that came to the jail where he was being held.  He was 38 years old.

Throughout the years, the LDS Church has encountered persecution.  It has also believed in and practice various doctrines that I will discuss in this blog, such as polygamy and a ban of black males from the priesthood.  As the LDS Church sees itself as the true Church of Jesus Christ restored on earth, and that there was an apostasy, there are various differences between “traditional Christianity” (though as a Catholic, I will only refer to Catholicism) and Mormonism.  Some of these different doctrines of the LDS Church, that will also be discussed at length in this blog, are:

  • the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate Persons (as Trinitarians believe) but that they are not one in substance (as well as purpose and intent), but one in purpose, will, intent, etc.
  • Jesus Christ not only has a glorified body (as Trinitarians believe), but God the Father also has a glorified body of flesh and bones
  • God the Father is married to the Heavenly Mother
  • continued public revelation
  • salvation for the dead, where those that have died can be saved through “ordinances” (ceremonies) that are performed by people on earth, in buildings called “temples”
  • Temples, open only to those that have a “recommend”, where they perform baptism for the dead, the endowment, and sealing (eternal marriage)
  • Three degrees of Heaven: Celestial (highest), Terrestrial, Telestial
  • the pre-mortal existence.  We existed before we were born as literal spirit children of the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
  • Adam was the premortal angel Michael
  • exaltation, or the belief that we can become gods like Jesus and the Father, having spirit children as the Father did
  • a Word of Wisdom, prohibiting the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea (at least as so interpreted)

With many high profile members, such as Mitt Romney, Harry Reid, and Glen Beck (a convert), as well as the 50,000 person missionary force that you may have seen at some point, Mormonism has become more known in today’s society.  It is an American born religion that claims to be the original and true Church of Jesus Christ, restored by God the Father and Jesus Christ themselves, the only church on earth that holds the priesthood keys, and thus the authority of God on earth.  I will discuss all of these claims and much more in this blog, and hope to shed some light on one Catholic’s view of this religion.

Links

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Joseph Smith-History

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~ by onecatholic on September 5, 2009.

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