The idea of claiming Utah as a mission field strikes some people as odd. According to some metrics, Utah is the most religious state in the US, and one study ranked it as the “happiest state in America” based on a number of factors. In spite of this, our family is in diligent pursuit of our calling as full-time missionaries to what we call the “unreached” people of rural Utah. What gives?
It’s not simply a question for the sake of argument; a few honest friends have challenged us with genuine concern. We appreciate the questions, and these friends in particular, because we believe the religious environment of Utah is a very poorly understood subculture, and we’re excited to share more about why we’re passionate about serving there.
We call rural Utah unreached because, in the county we are moving to, about 1% of the population claims any religion other than Mormonism (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or LDS). Having worked in the community before, we’ve experienced the truth that some people have never met a non-Mormon. In fact, some high school students report not realizing that non-Mormon populations exist in the United States until well into their teens. In a county of 28,000 people, there is one non-Mormon church.
So this begs the question: why do we consider the Mormons a mission field at all? Why make a division between Mormons and other Christians?
Well, there are a couple of ways of answering that question. For starters, we aren’t the first to make the distinction between the two faiths: the LDS church is. In fact, the founding prophet and first president of the LDS church, Joseph Smith, said he received the following revelation from God:
“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join…I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt…”
-The History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet
This exclusivity is born out not only in the teaching of their prophet, but in practice. Most of us are familiar with the sight of paired missionary companions biking or walking door-to-door to share the restored gospel. They do this because there is a crucial difference between the claims of Mormonism and the claims of Biblical Christianity.
Strangely enough, these differences are sometimes hard to get to the bottom of. Perhaps the LDS teaching about the devilishness of the spirit of contention promotes avoidance, or perhaps our general cultural aversion to awkwardness lends itself to tiptoeing around a really meaningful conversation. Evangelicals are the most likely group of people to experience tension that would prevent a conversation with a Mormon. Is it any wonder we are left scratching our heads as to what they believe?
In order to “take away the veil,” as Joseph Smith once said, we’ve put together a chart to compare some of the most essential truth claims of Christianity with various teachings of the LDS church. To do this, we’ve chosen to refer to the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is a foundational confession of Christians formed in the 300’s AD to affirm the object of our faith by describing the nature and identity of God. Today, it is still used to define our community of faith with believers, and proclaim our identity to others. This creed isn’t affirmed by the LDS church – in fact, it is solidly categorized as one of the “abominable” creeds Joseph Smith references is his first vision. We think it is a good way of describing some of the most basic differences between the LDS Church and Biblical Christianity, and hope it can be a useful tool for good discussion.
Christianity is, in the end, a confessional faith. We identify ourselves not by how we feel, but by what we believe. The Bible instructs the believer to “…hold fast to the faithful word which is in accord with the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Grappling with these contradictions shouldn’t be a conversation that Mormons or non-Mormons shy away from out of fear of awkwardness or contention – Joseph Smith once said that “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest” (HC 6:248). We hope you will see from the chart below how very different these truth claims are, and why we are so compelled to lovingly make the truth manifest to Mormons in rural Utah.
Nicene Creed LDS Teaching
We believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God, Light form Light, True God from true God, begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
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
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
And to life in the world to come. Amen.
There is a vast multitude of gods in the universe.
“There are more gods than there are particles of matter”
Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 345
The Father's power is limited by the reality of his finite jurisdiction of this world, the agency of other gods and spiritual beings, the fabric of time, and the law of nature.
“Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for their growth and happiness.”
Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93
The earth was organized from existing elements.
“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;”
Matter and spirit have both existed from eternity.
“The spirit of man is not a created being; it existed from eternity, and will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be eternal; and earth, water, etc., had their existence in an elementary state, from eternity.”
Joseph Smith, in HC 3:387
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints worships a different Jesus than the rest of the Christian world.
“The traditional Christ of whom they [Christians] speak is not the Christ of whom I speak.”
Gordon B. Hinckley, Deseret News, Church News Section, Salt Lake City, Utah, week ending June 20, 1998, p. 7.
We are all the literal descendants of our Heavenly Father and Mother. Jesus is our older brother.
“God is not only our ruler and our creator, he is also our Heavenly Father. ‘All men and women are…literally the sons and daughters of Deity…Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body.’ Every person…born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ…He is thus our elder brother.”
Gospel Principles, (2011), 8–12
Jesus was born in space and time in the preexistence.
“God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity, by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His First Born”
Orson Pratt, The Seer, November 1853, p. 172
Jesus became a god through effort.
“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.”
Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel through the Ages (Salt Lake City: Steven and Wallis, 1945), 51.
Jesus is not one in substance with the Father.
“Our first and foremost article of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ‘We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost’ [Articles of Faith 1:1]. We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.
“The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign, Nov. 2007, 40, 41
The elements existed before Christ.
“The elements are eternal”
Doctrines and Covenants 93:33
Affirmed in a particular interpretation
Jesus’ physical incarnation was the natural product of the physical relationship between Heavenly Father and Mary.
“You all know that your fathers are indeed your fathers and that your mothers are indeed your mothers you all know that don’t you? You cannot deny it. Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The Christian denominations believe that Christ was begotten not of God but of the spirit that overshadowed his mother. This is nonsense. Why will not the world receive the truth? Why will they not believe the Father when he says that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son? Why will they try to explain this truth away and make mystery of it? …
Joseph F. Smith, Sunday School Conference address, Box Elder News, January 28, 1915
Affirmed in a particular, though non-traditional, interpretation.
The living and dead will be judged in the last days by God the Father, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith.
“Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days…no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are—I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation—the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven. Many will exclaim—‘Oh, that is very disagreeable! It is preposterous! We cannot bear the thought!’ But it is true.”
Journal of Discourses 7:288-9
Affirmed in a particular interpretation
The Holy Spirit is an impersonal force; the Holy Ghost is, by distinction, a personal being.
“the Holy Ghost should not be confused with the Spirit [the Light of Christ] which fills the immensity of space and which is everywhere present. This other Spirit is impersonal and has no size, nor dimensions; it proceeds forth from the presence of the Father and the Son and is in all things. We should speak of the Holy Ghost as a personage as ‘he’ and this other Spirit as ‘it,’ although when we speak of the power or gift of the Holy Ghost we may properly say ‘it.’”
Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lay: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 1:49–50.
The impersonal energy of the Spirit (rather than the Holy Ghost) gives life.
“The Light of Christ is the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things.”
The Holy Ghost is our spirit brother, descended from Heavenly Father.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the Holy Ghost is a spirit man, a spirit son of God the Father.”
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Joseph Fielding McConkie
Further reading: Robert M. Bowman, Jr. - Mormonism and the Holy Ghost (Mormons in Transition)
Only the Heavenly Father (and sometimes Jesus) are the obvious objects of worship.
“Latter-day Saints pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. They acknowledge the Father as the ultimate object of their worship, the Son as Lord and Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the messenger and revealer of the Father and the Son.”
Sharon Lindbloom – “As Mormons, we worship…” (Mormon Coffee)
The Holy Ghost is a spirit being that has not yet been exalted.
“The Holy Ghost is now in a state of probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has.”
Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 245; Sabbath address, Nauvoo, 27 August 1843. Reported by Franklin D. Richards.
The impersonal energy of the Spirit reveals truth to the prophets.
“And I, Nephi, said unto them: Behold they were manifest unto the prophet by the voice of the Spirit; for by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh.”
1 Nephi 22:2
Affirmed in a particular interpretation
Bruce Milne’s “Know the Truth (2nd edition). (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998), 271. Especially, “"A church is apostolic as it recognizes in practice the supreme authority of the apostolic scriptures.”
Compare this with LDS scripture:
"thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church...after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles" (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:26,28)
Baptism enables us to fulfill the commandments, which then results in the remission of sins.
“And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;”
Affirmed in a particular, though non-traditional, interpretation.