Theology matters, and it matters greatly. In the past many believers were willing to even give their own lives in the defence of biblical orthodoxy. Today few believers would be willing to do so. Indeed, few would know the basic doctrines of their own faith. So the church is wide open to false teachings, cults, and unbiblical beliefs.
In the 19th century a number of aberrational groups appeared, all denying key biblical truths. Four of the more well-known ones which originated during this period were:
-Mormons: 1820s, Joseph Smith
-Christadelphians: 1840s, John Thomas
-Christian Science, 1870s, Mary Baker Eddy
-Jehovah’s Witnesses: 1870s, Charles Taze Russell
They all claim to be the one true faith today, and say that what preceded them was false Christianity. Red lights should always go off when you hear claims like that. Really, God had no true witness of himself for all those centuries? The church got it wrong all those centuries (the “Great Apostasy,” as the Mormons put it)?
I happen to have shelves full of books dealing with these and other such groups. One of the newest and best books dealing with the Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is this volume by Travis Kerns. It is a vitally important book, and we all need to be aware of it.
Kerns is fully qualified to deal with LDS theology. He has been studying it for nearly a quarter of a century, and has done a master’s and a doctorate on it. Also, he has lived and ministered in LDS heartland – Utah – since 2013. What makes his book so very vital is the fact that he overwhelmingly just presents quotations from official books, writings, teachers and leaders of the LDS church.
Indeed, I would guess that perhaps two thirds of the book is made up of direct quotations. He repeatedly and thoroughly quotes from the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, as well as key works like Gospel Principles. He also quotes extensively from the key leaders, presidents and theologians of the church, such as Smith, Young, Kimball, Hinckley, Peterson, Millet, McConkie, Talmage, Robinson and a host of others.
Chances are good that Kerns knows more about LDS theology than many Mormons do. And in this book he carefully distinguishes between the opinions of LDS scholars and the officially binding and declarative works of the church. So he cannot be accused of just making things up, or putting his own spin on things. He very carefully, fairly, judiciously and irenicly allows LDS theology to speak for itself.
And what we learn should be of great concern to any biblical Christian. He looks at three key areas: God, sacred texts, and salvation. If we get these matters wrong, then our faith is wrong. And all three areas depart massively from orthodox Christian teaching. Consider the LDS understanding of God.
They believe that God must be understood not just from the Bible, but from latter LDS revelations. Indeed, these additional sacred writings reinterpret what the Bible says about God – and other key matters. Briefly put, LDS theology claims that God began as a man, born and raised on a planet like Earth.
He progressed in his development to an exalted state and eternal glory, but he still contains physical bodily parts. To deny his materiality is to deny God. Not only is God an exalted man, but Mormons can also become like that: by obedience to celestial law men can inherit celestial bodies in the celestial kingdom, the highest of three post-mortem worlds. But more on that below.
Jesus Christ was a historical figure who performed miracles, However, he is not equal in essence to God the father but only equal in purpose. He is a distinct being, and has not existed as long as the Father has. Jesus is seen as Jehovah, and at one time in history he and Lucifer competed to see who would be the Messiah. At a point in time God chose or adopted Jehovah as the Messiah.
The Holy Spirit is also seen as a separate personage, not in very essence God. As one past LDS president had said, there is not one passage in the Bible that teaches “the erroneous doctrine that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are in substance one, a spirit, or essence, and without body or part”. Thus the orthodox Trinitarian understanding of the godhead (one God in three persons) is clearly denied in LDS teaching.
Concerning sacred texts, Mormons consider four books to be scripture: the Bible, and the three volumes I mentioned above. “Living prophets” also offer “inspired words” which are “also accepted as scripture”. As to the Bible, it is not God’s final word to us, it is not infallible, and it is not inerrant. It is only authoritative if “translated correctly,” and seen in light of the newer divine revelations.
Indeed, it is an incomplete book, the canon was not closed in the first century, and ongoing revelations are necessary. Thus the printed four-part canon is supplemented by a fifth, unwritten book: these ongoing revelations, “living oracles,” and inspired words.
Salvation, like the other two core matters, is also complex and multifaceted. The four main components of salvation are regularly taught: faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the holy Ghost. Added to this are a number of other religious duties concerning celestial law necessary to ensure entering the celestial kingdom.
As outlined in Gospel Principles, these include “the sacraments, the Sabbath day, fasting, sacrifice, work and personal responsibility, service, the Lord’s law of health, charity, honesty, tithes and offerings, missionary work, developing our talents, obedience, the family, eternal marriage, the law of chastity, temple work, and family history.”
Thus instead of salvation being the gracious gift of God received by faith, a list of works and areas of obedience are offered as the way to ensure a chance of obtaining the highest eternal outcome. Biblical Christianity in contrast sees works and obedience as a result of saving faith, not as a means to earn it or achieve it.
Kerns also looks at Mormon history and organisation, and concludes: “In the end, Christians are forced to say one thing: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Christian in that it has its own distinctive and divergent beliefs, separate from historic, orthodox Christianity, many of which have been bluntly declared heretical and unbiblical for thousands of years.”
Of interest, I bought this book a few days ago and as I was leaving Koorong, a woman came up to me, introduced herself, and thanked me for my ministry, saying how blessed she was because of it. She also mentioned she had been a committed Mormon for 30 years but now was a born-again Christian. I showed her this book and said I would soon review it, so I hope she is looking out for this.
I also need to say one more thing. I know many Mormons and have worked with them as cobelligerants in the culture wars over the years. I am happy to continue to do so. However, while the battle over things like the family is important, so too is truth and biblical orthodoxy.
It has always been my policy not to allow folks to have a free run here when it comes to false teachings and clearly aberrant beliefs. So those wanting to challenge me or “correct” me will not have their comments posted here. They can seek to attack me and this book elsewhere if they feel the need, but it will not be happening here.
As with all people who need a living relationship with Jesus Christ based on solid biblical truth, I will pray for these folks and ask God to open their eyes to the truth of His Word. I pray they will join the ranks of the many people I know who have left the raft of LDS teachings, and embraced biblical Christianity.
(Australians can find this book here: https://www.koorong.com/search/product/the-saints-of-zion-travis-s-kerns/9781433692185.jhtml )