My wife and I recently moved into a neighborhood where several Mormon families live. I really like Mormon people, and you should too. They are some of the most friendly and sincere folks you’ll come across.
However, engaging in dialogues with them about Jesus can be a little tricky. You see, Mormons talk just like Christians. They use the same Christianese words and phrases as we do, and quote some of the same standard Bible verses that we have memorized. But although they may be using similar words, they have different definitions for those words.
For instance, according to Mormons, “Heavenly Father” (also known as Elohim) used to be a physical man like J. J. Watt. He died a physical death and was exalted to godhood where he had endless celestial sex with his many spiritual wives and produced countless spiritual offspring.
You will hear Mormons say that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. They also believe it is by grace through faith we are saved. However, their own prophets say that we are saved by grace… after all we can do.
To Mormons, Elohim (one of the Hebrew words for God) is just one of a plethora of actual gods, and though he is the only god they worship, he is neither the first nor the last actual god. Elohim’s first created spiritual offspring was Jesus, and one of his next was Lucifer, thus making Jesus and Lucifer brothers.
I could go on an on about their doctrine, but you’re probably wondering who came up with this belief system.
Joseph Smith founded the Mormon faith in the 1820s. He believed that Elohim manifested himself in a vision, telling Joseph to not join any of the standard churches. According to Smith, Elohim said that all of the Christian denominations had fallen from the path, their creeds were an abomination, and their professors (the Christians) were all corrupt. Also, the Bible was missing many plain and precious things.
If one is to trust Joseph Smith, God restored both His true revelation of the gospel and the correct translation and interpretation of the Scriptures in the 1800s. Thus, if we are to believe Joseph Smith, God cannot preserve His own Scriptures, Jesus’ words did pass away, and the faith once and for all time delivered to the Church by the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was corrupted in its infant stages.
But are those beliefs accurate? Did the Church mutilate the gospel immediately after receiving it from the Apostles?
First, we have thousands of Greek New Testament manuscripts from the first few centuries. Our modern word-for-word translations are not translated from earlier English translations or even Latin translations. Our modern word-for-word Bibles (Like the NASB and ESV) are translated directly from those earliest Greek manuscripts. You can absolutely trust that these types of Bibles are giving you the words that the Holy Spirit originally breathed out.
However, some may argue that the proper interpretations of the Scriptures became corrupted. This is where the earliest Christian writings particularly display their value. For instance, Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna in the early 2nd century, and a personal disciple of John the Apostle. His testimony, therefore, provides us with a unique window into the teaching and legacy of the Apostles.
So, what does Polycarp have to say about the faith handed down to him from the Apostles?
If we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also to forgive others; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and “we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ.” … Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. … Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning. … Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, “who bore our sins in His own body on the tree,” “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case. – Polycarp 125CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 60-61 [CD-ROM]
According to Polycarp, the faith that was handed down to the Church once for all by the Apostles was first and foremost to make the Lord God Jesus Christ our beginning and end point. We start with Him and we end with Him. He is our righteous example. No one else.
Mormons may say they are Christians, but they clearly don’t worship the same heavenly Father as we do. They may say believe the gospel, but they obviously have a different understanding of salvation. They say they believe in Jesus, but they don’t believe He is the one true God. They are often very good people, but Joseph Smith, not Jesus, is their example.