Religions of the World: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 31, 2015
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As I have said with each of these sermons about the different world religions, we are here today to learn about another’s faith tradition and demonstrate respect and love for those who hold beliefs different from ours. I think of all the messages this one is most important because we live in a community where we work side by side many of the Mormon faith. Many of our leaders in Boulder City are Mormon and when we can understand their traditions and doctrines it will better enable us to work alongside for the greater good of Boulder City.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
As with all of the sermons on the religions of the world, we begin this morning with the founding of the Mormon faith. It begins with Joseph Smith, Jr. who had a vision when he was just 15 years old. He came from a religious family and in Palmyra, NY where he lived, there was an unusual thing happening with the local churches. Quoting Joseph Smith from the Pearls of Great Price, he said:
“It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district [of country] seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people…Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.”
With this fervor young Joseph was unsure which faith tradition he should ascribe. Several in his family joined with the Presbyterians and Joseph became interested in the Methodist sect. He said that he was unable to come to any conclusion about which church was the right one for him because of the confusion and strife among the denominations. It seemed they were fighting over the inhabitants of the town.
Joseph went out into a grove of trees near his home and prayed, hoping to hear God’s direction on which church to join. The response he received was in answer to his prayer and he was visited by God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. They responded to Joseph’s request to know which church was the true one and told him that none of them were right, and that they were all corrupt.
When he got back home, he shared his story and was met with great resistance. Joseph reported that the Methodist pastor told him that “it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.”
Three years later in 1823, Joseph was visited by a heavenly messenger, an angel named Moroni. This angel visited him three times and told Joseph that there were Gold-Plates on a hill outside of Palmyra, which contained God’s new revelation. Joseph was told to wait four years to retrieve them and was warned not to tell anyone. Joseph reported that on September 22, 1827 the angel Moroni delivered the plates to him. He spent the next two years translating the tablets which were written in “Reformed Egyptian.” Joseph also received “seer” stones which allowed him to translate the tablets. Once the translation was complete, the angel Moroni took the tablets back to heaven. The translation is what is known today as the Book of Mormon.
Joseph had the Book of Mormon published and began his first congregation. He continued to be met with opposition so they moved from New York to Ohio where it is reported that Joseph was “tarred and feathered by a gentile mob.” The group continued to move west and settled next in Independence, Missouri. It was Joseph’s hope to create an ideal society which he would call Zion. In 1839 a group crossed over to Illinois and were welcomed for a time. They created a town called Nauvoo in which Joseph was their mayor. All was well for a time but in 1844 a major schism occurred when some of the leaders challenged Joseph’s leadership and his practice of polygamy. One of these leaders “bought a printing press and issued a dissident Mormon newspaper with editorials attacking Joseph’s policies.”
The LDS website states that Joseph Smith was martyred and “wore out his life in God’s service, suffering contempt and violence for the things he believed. He did not die in public with the sympathy of the world; he was shot by a mob while he was locked in a jail on false charges.” Secular news has a different report. It reports that Joseph Smith was jailed after ordering his followers to destroy the printing press and in doing so he violated the First Amendment. While in jail a gang of militia stormed the jail to kill Joseph. It was reported that Joseph received a smuggled gun and that he fired first on the vigilantes, wounding several. He died in that battle at age 38. Brigham Young succeeded Joseph Smith and led the Mormons for the next thirty years. He brought them from Illinois to Salt Lake and helped to establish what we know today as the LDS Church. In 1877 they numbered 150,000 and today well over 15 million.
Let’s take a look at what these 15 million followers believe. First they believe that life doesn’t begin and end at birth and death. They believe that before birth our spirit lives with the creator God who allows us to come to earth to experience the joy and pain of a physical body, although we have no memory of this pre-earthly life. Mormons believe that God has a plan for all, which means to become more like God. They believe we all have the choice to do good things and this will eventually lead to happiness and “becoming more like Heavenly Father.”
Mormons believe that “Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of God…and that when we accept Jesus Christ’s help we can feel peace in this life and return to Heavenly Father after we die.” Faith in Jesus Christ leads Mormons to do good works as taught in James 2:20 which says that “faith without works is dead.” Family values are vital to the LDS faith tradition. They hold families in high esteem and foster family relationships focusing on Christ’s principles including faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome fun…[with that focus] home can be a place of refuge, peace and immense joy.”
Mormons believe that there are four scriptures that guide their faith practices: The Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, is a record of God’s dealings with the inhabitants of ancient America. The Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the Church of Jesus Christ in modern times. The Pearl of Great Price, is a selection of revelations, translations, and writings of Joseph Smith.”
Mormons differ from Methodist or other protestant denominations, in that they call for their followers to follow the Prophet, Joseph Smith; in a similar way as Muslims follow Mohammad. Their churches are led by Bishops or Presidents who are lay people who serve as volunteers, called by their stake to serve. Several years ago in 1998 “the General Board of Discipleship and the Utah-Wyoming Subdistrict of the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference, sponsored a conference to discuss baptismal theology and the practice in the United Methodist Church and the LDS church.” The question had been asked whether the Methodist Church would recognize the LDS baptism as we do with other Protestant and Catholic denominations. In the course of the conference they outlined the key theological difference between our faith traditions.
The first major difference is in the use of sacred texts. We recognize only the Holy Bible while the LDS church also adds The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants and The Book of Mormon. Within in our United Methodist tradition we believe that “church doctrine stems from scripture as interpreted by tradition, experience, and reason.” “In the LDS tradition the three other sacred texts influence the interpretation of the bible and therefore the formation of doctrine.” The LDS church rejects the creeds that we profess and that are included in our Doctrinal Standards in the Book of Discipline. We believe and follow the Nicaea, Chalcedon and Apostles creeds. Joseph Smith in his first vision was directed to join none of the other churches because they “were all wrong…and their creeds were an abomination in God’s sight.”
Methodists believe, and I am quoting from our Articles of Religion that “there is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unit of his Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power and eternity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
In contrast the Doctrine and Covenants of the LDS church states, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.” Mormons believe that God once lived on this earth and is male gendered and married to a heavenly mother of clear female gender. “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states that “The Father, Elohim, is called the Father because he is the literal father of the spirits of mortals (Heb. 12:9). This paternity is not allegorical. All individual human spirits were begotten (not created or made) by the Father in a premortal state, where they lived and were nurtured by Heavenly Parents. These spirit children of the Father come to earth to receive mortal bodies; there is a literal family relationship among humankind.” Such belief regarding a gendered, married, and procreating god is at the core of LDS doctrine of God and makes claims about the essential nature of God that are in sharp contrast to the doctrinal statements of United Methodism.”
There are also theological differences about the nature, origin and work of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man, and that he was nurtured in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and that his humanity and divinity were joined together into one person, never to be divided. We believe that Jesus suffered, was crucified, died and was buried “to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.” We believe in the resurrection of Jesus who now sits with God in Heaven. Jesus was with God in the beginning, he was the word and was with God, as was the Holy Spirit.
The LDS tradition states that Jesus is “not co-eternal with the Father…on the contrary, he is thought to be begotten of the Father (and Heavenly Mother) as are all pre-mortal spirits. Jesus was the first begotten spirit who came to earth. “Latter-day Saints believe that the eldest and firstborn spirit child of God is Jehovah and that it was he who was later born with a physical body to Mary as Jesus Christ. That is, Jehovah of the Old Testament became Jesus Christ of the New Testament when he was born into mortality.” While the Mormons believe that Jesus was sired by God and Mary, we believe that it was in fact the Holy Spirit who caused Jesus to be conceived. “Elder Jay Jensen has offered further clarity on the LDS position regarding the unity of the three personages; he states that they are “not united in substance” (as in the traditional homoousious) but instead are united only in “love, will, focus, and effort. Such belief cannot be said to constitute a monotheistic theology; it more closely resembles a tritheistic or possibly a polytheistic faith.”
Mormons believe that “human beings are literally the children of the Heavenly Father (and Mother) in their pre-mortal, spiritual form, as was Jesus. Their spirits are begotten of the Father, not created. This makes them of the same order of existence as God. The important points of the doctrine for Latter-day Saints are that Gods and humans are the same species of being, but at different stages of development in a divine continuum, and that the Heavenly Father and Mother are the heavenly pattern, [the] model and example of what mortals can become through obedience to the gospel. These theological claims identify the end or goal of salvation as the achievement of godhood.”
This brings into question the number of gods in the LDS faith, they claim three gods in the Godhead and a god who presided over the mortality of the Father and they imply there will be more gods as humans achieve godhood through gospel obedience. Although Mormons self-identify as Christian, it is the official stance of the UMC that Mormons “do not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of the Christian faith” and as such if a Mormon should come to be received into the Methodist Church we would re-baptize them into the Christian faith.
We certainly could continue to discuss the differences between our faith traditions but we are running out of time. I think what is important is that we hold similar goals. We desire to live peacefully in community, to raise our families and to have the religious freedom to worship and practice our religious beliefs without criticism or judgment. We all work to help those who are in need, to offer ourselves in service, not only to God but to our community as we are called by God. I have nothing but enormous respect for our Mormon brothers and sisters. Their evangelistic system for spreading their beliefs is brilliant as is the focus on family values and insistence on a holy Sabbath. They hold fast to their beliefs and provide graciously for one another. I believe we have a lot to learn from our LDS friends and it is my hope and prayer that we can continue to break down any barriers between us. Amen.
Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith-History, 1:5. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng Accessed May 30, 2015
 Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith-History, 1:21. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng Accessed May 30, 2015
 http://www.truthnet.org/Christianity/Cults/Mormon7/ Accessed May 21, 2015
 http://www.mormon.org/beliefs/church#temples accessed May 21, 2015
 http://lds.about.com/od/organizationsauxiliaries/fl/Mormons-World-Population-Numbers-by-Year.htm Accessed May 30, 2015.
 http://www.mormon.org/beliefs/church#temples accessed May 21, 2015
 SACRAMENTAL FAITHFULNESS: Guidelines for Receiving People From The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Copyright © 2000 the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.