The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in the media spotlight lately, leaving many wondering what Mormons really believe versus what they publicly state. A lot of rumors surround the religion, with suggestions that Mormons believe Lucifer is the brother of Jesus, or that everyone is a god.
But in order for Christians to reach Mormons, it is important that Christians not only know what they believe, but also what Mormons believe as well.
"Too many times I see people spend time trying to tear down the Mormon faith, talking about controversial topics like polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, blood atonement, etc. All of these things are important for sure – and may very well lead someone out of the Mormon Church, but will it lead them into a relationship with Christ?" said former Mormon Beth Johnston of Idaho.
Johnston, who is now a born-again Christian, was willing to speak with The Christian Post in order to clarify the 13 publicly stated articles of faith and what Mormons really believe about those articles.
"The main difference between Christianity and the LDS is that they don't believe in grace. And they don't even use the same terminology – to them, they are Christians, so to accuse them of not being a Christian turns them off. We're not even speaking the same language," she said.
Johnston went on to clarify the 13 articles, or fundamentals of Mormon belief, which she said all Mormons must memorize, as some Christians would memorize the Nicene creed, by the time they are 10 or 11 years old.
LDS Article 1: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."
"Mormons do not believe in the Trinity as we understand it. They believe that God and Jesus were separate physical people" who dwelled on the earth, Johnston said. God was Jesus' father, and both men died.
"They do have a 'Holy Ghost' that is very similar to our understanding of the Holy Spirit," Johnston said.
Article 2: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression."
"Mormons do not believe in original sin. In the LDS religion, you can't sin until you reach the age of accountability, which is age 8. We are all born perfect," Johnston explained.
Further, she said, if a child up to 7 years old commits any sin, even crimes such as murder, that child is not held responsible for their actions.
"After age 8 you are accountable. If you don't confess your sins to a bishop and repent, you're punished. These sins range from drinking alcohol, coffee or tea, or smoking cigarettes, to 'major' sins such as adultery, murder, etc." Johnston said.
The punishment, Johnston said, is that you don't get to reach the third heaven, where God dwells.
"There is no hell (in the Mormon religion)," she said. "There are three heavens, and you get into them depending on if you are a Mormon or not, if you are a good person but never a Mormon, or if you are a good Mormon who lives a righteous life."
Mormons do believe Lucifer was Jesus' brother, back on the original earth, where God and Jesus dwelled.
"This goes back to the theology that we were all spirit children together with God in the 'pre-existence,'" Johnston said.
The third heaven itself has three levels, based on piety. In order to reach the highest level, "where you can get your own planet, you must be a good Mormon, followed all the rules, married, in the temple …" Johnston explained.
"They don't believe in a hell, per se … everyone, unless you're really bad, goes to the first heaven, whether they are Mormon or not. They do believe in an 'outer darkness,' but that's muddy … they aren't really clear on the kind of people who would go there."
Article 3: "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel."
"This is basically the same as what I said before (on article 2). There is a general salvation, but to dwell with God, you have to be good. It delivers a lot of pressure," Johnston said.
"You have to repent of every sin, pay your 10 percent tithe, raise your kids in the faith … it's just this huge weight and this huge burden," she said.
Article 4: "We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."
"It's absolutely required that you be baptized by immersion and receive the laying on of hands," Johnston said. "If you're not baptized, you're not saved."
Temples serve the purpose of atoning for those who have passed. Mormons go there, after getting a list of people (based on extensive genealogy research) to be baptized on behalf of. So basically, Johnston said, you're working to save yourself and to save people who are already dead.
"Baptism happens for children at age 8. At age 12 they are allowed to go to the temple and do baptisms for the dead, and there is a lot more that happens at the temple. We would go like, twice every year as a youth group … they dunk you 'on behalf of so-and-so', and then repeat it about 10 times for different names. Then you go into this room and [church leaders] confirm them," she said. "There are thousands – probably more than that – being done every day across the world."
Article 5: "We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof."
"When Christ was on earth, He set up a priesthood and an organization of the church," Johnston said. "After he died, the people fell away and the priesthood left the earth. It didn't return until the priesthood was given to Joseph Smith."
That means that born-again believers, Catholics, Jews and any other religion does not have "the fullness of the gospel" and therefore does not preach the true gospel.
Article 6: "We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth."
"This one is pretty self-explanatory. They (Mormons) believe that they have reorganized the church to be the same as when Jesus Christ was on the earth," Johnston said.
Article 7: "We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth."
"This stuff was very common in the early Mormon Church, but it's not something you see very much in the modern church," Johnston said.
"Now it's basically more that missionaries have the gift of tongues because they speak foreign languages. Healing – priests can heal with prayer and atonement."
Article 8: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."
"That one opens the door," Johnston said. "That's where the can of worms comes out."
"When this was taught to me as a child – they started by asking us to play the telephone game, where you whisper a phrase in your neighbor's ear and it is passed down the line," she said. "Obviously, at the end, the original phrase had changed and no longer resembles what was said at the beginning. The comparison was then made to the Bible – that it has been changed and revised over the years and so we can't completely trust that it is accurate."
"The problem with this is that this is a case of transmission error – not translation error. Very different things," Johnston said.
"Unfortunately – this understanding that the Bible is not trustworthy – has huge implications. In enables what I call the 'salad bar effect' wherein people can pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to use/believe/learn from. If something makes you uncomfortable or doesn't fit with your particular theology – you can throw it out. Add to that the fact that they believe the Book of Mormon to be 'another testament of Christ.' Now any uncomfortable doctrines from the Bible can be explained by this new book of scripture," she said.
"I can't count how many times as a teenager, I was challenged by my Christian friends about a scripture in the Bible such as Ephesians 2:8. I would be confused – but when I would bring it up to my parents or church leaders they would show me something like 2 Nephi 25:23 where it says we are saved by grace 'after all we can do.'" Johnston said.
Article 9: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."
"[In the LDS religion] there is a living prophet with continuous revelation," Johnston explained. "But they haven't added any new scripture in a long time. The last revelation took place in 1978, allowing blacks to receive the priesthood."
To be fair, she noted, a lot of churches held similar beliefs about blacks until the Civil Rights movement. "The Mormons were just behind the times."
Article 10: "We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory."
"Basically, the 10 tribes that were lost (in the original priesthood) will come back and gather in Missouri," Johnston said. "That's where the Garden of Eden was and that's where Christ will be raised."
Article 11: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
"This was a reaction to the times," Johnston said. "Mormons were being persecuted, chased out … basically, it's saying 'don't persecute us and we won't persecute you.'"
Article 12: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
Johnston said this article is pretty straightforward. Mormons do not rebel against authority and they are not revolutionary.
"They may not agree with a leader but they will respect his authority," she said.
Article 13: "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul – We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."
"I believe this is honestly what they believe. I think Mormons, just like people of any other faith, want to do the right thing," Johnston said. "They want to be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, etc. They are generous and kind and hard working. They love, honor and worship God. Unfortunately, they have a false understanding of who God is and as a result, they live with a huge burden to be good enough and do enough, [so] that Jesus will save them 'after all they can do.' It's very sad, really," she said.
Johnston said that it's important for people to understand that different Mormons hold different understandings of the religion.
"Because the teaching is so fluid, you can talk to three different Mormons and get three different answers," she said. "I can't emphasize enough that each individual Mormon might have a slightly different view of the doctrine. Based on what era you grew up in, what region of the country you grew up in, whether your parents were active or inactive in the church, whether your family was generational Mormon or recent converts – all of these things affect what you were taught."
Johnston had one last admonishment for Christians who are trying to understand and witness to Mormons.
"If I had any advice for a Christian who wanted to witness to a Mormon it would be to know your Bible! Don't worry so much about what Mormons believe – know what you believe! And take a very serious and in-depth look at the historicity of the Bible – how did we get it, and can it be trusted? You should be able to confidently answer these questions before you attempt to share your faith."