Several times in recent months I have encountered a well-meaning person, identifying him or herself as a Mormon, asserting that Mormons and orthodox Christians believe essentially the same things. I sensed they felt it was important to emphasize that Mormons are Christians.
I felt confused by these encounters. Why would a Mormon consider themselves a Christian when an orthodox Christian would not consider themselves a Mormon? I wondered, would a Mormon consider me a Christian? I reasoned that the Mormon church must believe it represents a more true form of Christianity.
But I wanted to know more. I did some research to better understand the Mormon, or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, view of Christian doctrines.
Confusion nagged me because Mormon theologians use many of the same words as traditional Christians do to talk about their faith. They speak of God the Father and Jesus Christ his son, and refer to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
But what I discovered left me in tears.
I learned that the meanings behind these words, when used by Mormon theologians, differ to the greatest extreme from their meanings as I understand them as a traditional Christian.
I am going to explore one phrase in this post: “God the Father.”
For the sake of clarity, I will refer to orthodox Christianity, or traditional Christianity, as the theology conforming to the Christian faith as expressed in the early creeds of the church. I will speak of Mormon theologians, Mormonism, or Mormon theology when I speak of the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
I hope as I explore what orthodox Christianity means by “God the Father” and what Mormon theology means, I will resolve forever in your mind, whether you are a Mormon or a traditional Christian or an onlooker to both faiths, that Mormonism and orthodox Christianity assert absolutely different things about the person of God.
“God the Father” – The Orthodox Christian view
The Westminster Confession, a centuries-old orthodox Christian expression of faith, gives this definition of God:
“There is but one only, living, and true God,
who is infinite in being and perfection,
a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions;
immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty,
most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute;
working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable
and most righteous will,
for His own glory.”
So when an orthodox Christian says “God the Father” he or she means the one and only God, who has always existed, who is unchangeable, who is spirit, and who spoke matter into existence.* He is the object of our ardent love and desire, and thinking of Him and His glory stretches and delights our hearts and minds to their utmost.
Orthodox Christians trust there is one God. His infinity and His possessing all power preclude the possibility of the existence of another being remotely like Him.
God, speaking through Isaiah, asserts, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God,” (Isaiah 45:5). And this is consistent with the witness of the Scriptures from beginning to end.
Orthodox Christians trust God’s eternity. Psalm 90 gives voice to this bedrock piece of traditional Christian theology: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God,” (v. 3). God the Father, to a traditional Christian, had no beginning and will have no end. He is the pre-existent one.
Orthodox Christians trust that God is unchangeable (immutable): He has never been different than He is and He never will be. A. W. Tozer puts it like this: “He cannot change for the better, for he is already perfect; and being perfect, he cannot change for the worse.”
James declares, “Every good and perfect and gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,”(James 1:17).
Orthodox Christians worship a God who is Spirit. By “God the Father” an orthodox Christian means the being who is everywhere, always. He does not have a body.
Jesus said, “God is spirit,” (John 4:24).
God says, through Jeremiah, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jer 23:24).
Orthodox Christians trust that God spoke the universe into existence. Genesis 1 begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and continues, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light,” (vv. 1, 3). The rest of the chapter repeats this construction, “And God said . . . and there was” until creation is complete.
Lastly, orthodox Christianity has always trusted a profound mystery about the nature of God: that God is a Trinity.
The Westminster confession asserts,”There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”
The Nicene creed puts it this way: “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . . And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God . . . And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.”
This vision of God, for a traditional Christian, is glorious and full of awe–His beauty and the wonders of His being are meant to fulfill and enthrall our souls for eternity. Because He is infinite, perfect, and glorious, to be in His presence for eternity is to continuously and forever be astounded by new facets of His being, His heart, His wisdom, His power, His creativity, and His holiness.
All we see so far–spinning stars, falling autumn leaves, or an infant human face–are only glimpses of the glory of God we will delight in and rejoice over one day. We will take “great gulps of God”(Timothy Keller) and never reach the end of Him, just as we could never swallow the ocean.
The glory of God, the wonder and majesty and beauty of Him–to see, experience, and rejoice in it–is what our hearts were made for. This, for a traditional Christian, is the compelling purpose of life.
“God the Father” – The Mormon view
Mormon theologians use the phrase “God the Father” to refer to God. But the similarities with orthodox Christianity stop there. The streams of Mormonism and orthodox Christianity split at these definite points:
- Mormon theology accepts the authority of the Christian Bible only “as far as it is correctly translated” (Articles of Faith 1:8).
- Mormon theology gives the writings of Joseph Smith, their founder, equal or greater weight than the Bible: “The Book of Mormon is the word of God, like the Bible. It is Holy Scripture, with form and content similar to that of the Bible.” (LDS website: mormon.org).
- Mormon theology forthrightly rejects the orthodox Christian creeds (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/03/comparing-lds-beliefs-with-first-century-christianity).
The Mormon “God the Father” is not the One and Only God.
Mormon theologians assert that the God they call “father” is one among a potentially infinite number of gods, ruling over worlds upon worlds.
Mormon theologian Bruce McConkie writes, “A plurality of gods exist . . . there is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods,” (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 576-577).
Joseph Smith taught this plurality. Describing the creation of the world, he preached, “The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world.” In the same sermon he referred to God as “the Father of the Gods,” (Joseph Smith, lds.org/topics/becoming like god).
The Mormon “God the Father” is not Eternal or Unchangeable.
He was born an imperfect man and progressed to become a god.
Lorenzo Snow, former LDS president, put it this way: “As man is God once was; as God is man may be.”
This doctrine originated with Joseph Smith. Speaking about God’s progression to exaltation, he said,
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret . . . We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. . . He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did,” (Joseph Smith, King Follet Sermon, lds.org/becoming like god).
Mormon theology teaches that men and women can potentially become gods.
Mormon theology teaches that just as God the Father progressed to the point of exaltation, men and women can do the same.
Joseph Smith taught, “And you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves . . . the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one . . . To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a god, and ascend the throne of eternal power . . .” (ibid).
Smith taught his followers to follow the example of Jesus, and he describes Jesus’ thought process like this: “My Father worked out His kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to My Father, so that He may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt Him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take His place, and thereby become exalted myself” (ibid).
Another book of Mormon theology, The Doctrine and Covenants, teaches, “And then shall the angels be crowned with the glory of his might, and the saints shall be filled with his glory, and receive their inheritance and be made equal with him,” (D&C 107).
Brigham Young, the second LDS president and prophet taught, “The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself” (Journal of Discourses 3:93).
The LDS website teaches, “God ‘was once as one of us’ and ‘all the spirits that God ever sent into the world’ were likewise ‘susceptible of enlargement.’ Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found ‘himself in the midst’ of these beings and ‘saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself’ and be ‘exalted,’ ” (lds.org/topics/becoming like god).
Mormon president Gordon B. Hinckley, when questioned on this issue, said, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly,” (ibid).
The LDS website also states, “The doctrine of humans’ eternal potential to become like their Heavenly Father is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Finally, speaking of exalted Mormons, Mormon President Brigham Young taught, “Then will they become Gods…they will never cease to increase and to multiply, worlds without end. When they receive their crowns, their dominions, they then will be prepared to frame earths like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our parents, by our Father and God” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 17:143).
The Mormon “God the Father” is not an invisible, omnipresent spirit.
Mormon theologians teach that God has a body, and that he has a wife–the heavenly Mother. They teach that he has relations with his wife to create the spirits of men and women (including Jesus). They also assert that he had physical sex with Mary to embody Jesus and that Satan is one of his offspring.
The Doctrine and Covenants asserts God’s physical nature: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s,”(130:22), and Brigham Young wrote, “We cannot believe for a moment that God is destitute of body, parts, passions, or attributes,” (Journal 130:192).
The LDS website touches on the theology of the Heavenly Mother: “Latter-day Saints have also been moved by the knowledge that their divine parentage includes a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. . . That knowledge plays an important role in Latter-day Saint belief. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”
Mormon’s teach that if they reach exaltation, as divine husbands and wives in physical bodies, they will people other worlds.
Church president James Talmage wrote, “[W]e are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents of spirit offspring … and the spirits born to them in the eternal worlds will pass in due sequence through the several stages or estates by which the glorified parents have attained exaltation,” (James Talmage, the Articles of the Faith, p. 426).
The Mormon “God the Father” is not Trinitarian.
Mormon theologians teach that God is one of three gods in a grouping around earth.
Joseph Smith rejected the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote, “Many men say that there is one God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are only one God. I say that is a strange God (anyhow) –three in one and one in three . . .It is a curious organization, all are crammed into one God . . .It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God–he would be a giant or a monster,” (Teachings, p. 372).
The LDS Bible Dictionary states, “When one speaks of God, it is generally the Father who is referred to; that is, Elohim. All mankind are his children. The personage known as Jehovah in Old Testament times…is the Son, known as Jesus Christ, and who is also a God….The Holy Ghost is also a God and is variously called the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, etc.”
And the LDS website puts it clearly: “The members of the Godhead are three separate beings,” (lds.org/topics/godhead).
Mormon Theology Teaches Matter is Eternal
Joseph Smith preached, “Now, I ask all who hear me, why the learned men who are preaching salvation, say that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing? The reason is, that they are unlearned in the things of God . . . But I am learned, and know more than all the world put together” (Joseph Smith, King Follet Sermon, lds.org/topics/Becoming Like God).
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states, “God created the earth as an organized sphere; but He certainly did not create, in the sense of bringing into primal existence, the ultimate elements of the materials of which the earth consists, for ‘the elements are eternal'”(4:1670).
At the heart of the orthodox Christian faith is a God–infinite and eternal and omnipresent. The heartbeat of the Christian is the desire to be in His presence, enjoying Him forever–rejoicing just to see Him.
A Mormon theologian uses the same language, “God the Father,” but brings God down to men, saying he was once an imperfect human being. And lifts men up, saying they can one day be equal to God.
The Mormon theologian contains God in a body and renders him fathering the spirits of men and women through relations with a goddess. The goal of existence, while it includes loving and glorifying God, is also to become a being like him, enjoying being a God, and giving birth to infinite numbers of spirit-beings who will populate other worlds and in turn worship us.
I grieve these differences in theology because I feel the words of orthodox Christian theology, supported by truths too beautiful to grasp, have been co-opted by Mormon theologians and applied to a theology that diminishes and demeans God while exalting mankind. And I grieve that anyone would unknowingly be captive to this theology, perhaps not aware of the vast differences between it and orthodox Christianity.
* The scriptures listed below touch on these attributes of God:
Deut 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one Lord.”
1 Kings 8:27 “Heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you.”
1 Tim 1:17 “The King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God.”
Ps 90:2 “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Acts 17:28 “In him we live and move and have our being.”