The Truth About Mormonism (Part 1): Introduction to the Standard Works of the Church
In the United States’ upcoming presidential election, we are faced with two candidates from the two major opposing parties: democrat and republican. The democrat candidate we know and are familiar with: Barrack Obama, our president for the past four years. But what of the republican candidate, Mitt Romney? Who is he? What does he believe? If you are like the majority of Americans, you probably don’t have a clue. Whether by intent or otherwise, Mitt Romney has successfully kept secret what he truly believes, when it comes to the realm of politics, from most Americans. But one thing about him stands out: he belongs to the group that refers to itself as “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” better known to the general public as the Mormon Church.
With the elections fast approaching, and with the possibility of a Mormon president in office, it is important for us to look into this religion and discover what it teaches. It claims to be a Christian church, but is that really the case? Let us dig deeper and discover the truth about Mormonism. In this essay, we will examine what the Mormon Church teaches on four fundamental truths and then compare its teachings with those of orthodox Christianity.*
To begin with, we must establish what each of these churches believes about Scripture. Orthodox Christianity accepts the Bible as their sole Scripture, considering it to be the inspired Word of God. The Baptist Faith and Message sums up nicely the protestant Christian view of Scripture. It claims,
“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”
Now, Latter-Day Saints on the other hand, while they do accept the Bible as the word of God, also regard three other books to be divinely inspired. As Gospel Principles, the official Mormon Sunday school book states, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts four books as scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These books are called the standard works of the Church. The inspired words of our living prophets are also accepted as scripture.”
Since these books are claimed by the Mormon Church as the basis for all of their beliefs, I would like to commence my examination of the Mormon beliefs by examining the credibility of their scriptures, beginning with their written scriptures, and focusing especially on The Book of Mormon.
Now, we have seen which books are considered by the LDS (Latter-day Saints) to be the inspired word of God. But do any of them take predominance over another, or are they all of equal value in their eyes? James E. Talmage, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles (essentially a ruling council, similar to the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church), makes Latter-Day Saints beliefs about their scriptures clear in his book, A Study of the Articles of Faith. He says,
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts the Holy Bible as the foremost of her standard works, first among the books which have been proclaimed as her written guides in faith and doctrine. In the respect and sanctity with which the Latter-day Saints regard the Bible they are of like profession with Christian denominations in general, but differ from them in the additional acknowledgment of certain other scriptures as authentic and holy, which others are in harmony with the Bible, and serve to support and emphasize its facts and doctrines.”
Here, Talmage claims the Bible as “foremost” of the works of the LDS church but he does not give the full story. In The Articles of Faith, a book which Latter-Day Saints consider to be inspired, we are told, “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” (Articles of Faith 1:8, emphasis added). Because they believe the Bible to be accurate only so far as it is accurately translated, they will whole-heartedly agree with orthodox Christians that the Bible is accurate and inerrant – that is until it disagrees with LDS teachings. At this point, they claim that the discrepancy is the result of faulty translation of the Bible. Thus, whether or not a portion of the Bible is accurately translated is determined by whether it agrees with the other scriptures of the LDS church.
But the question must be asked: are the scriptures of the LDS church truly inspired? Are they accurate in their portrayal of reality? It is of utmost importance to understand how we may ascertain the reliability and authenticity of their scriptures. How can we be sure that the scriptures of the LDS church are of divine inspiration, are in fact the inerrant, authentic, inspired Words of God? James E. Talmage responds,
“Let not the reader of the Book of Mormon content himself with evidences concerning the authenticity of this reputed scripture. There is promised a surer and a more effectual means of ascertaining the truth or falsity of this volume. Like other scriptures, the Book of Mormon is to be comprehended through the spirit of scripture, and this is obtainable only as a gift from God. But this gift is promised unto all who shall seed for it. Then to all let us commend the counsel of the last writer in the volume, Moroni, the solitary scribe who sealed the book, afterward the angel of the record who brought it forth: ‘And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.’”
Here the LDS church claims as the final test for ascertaining a book’s authenticity as prayer “with a sincere heart” which will be followed by confirmation of God in the form of a warm, fuzzy feeling within. Thus, if one does not receive this feeling of confirmation, then that individual must not have been sincere in their search. This has resulted in many claiming to have received this confirmation in order not to be seen as insincere.
The Christian view, on the other hand, is, first, that the canon of Scripture is closed, and has been closed since the book of Revelation was written. No further books may be added. In addition, in testing a book to discern whether it was scriptural, we are not to rely primarily on prayer; we do not seek a “burning” in our bosoms. Instead, we have before us the example of the Bereans, who “were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” We determine the authenticity of any book by whether or not it agrees with previously given scripture.
Let us examine the Mormon scriptures and see, first if they are inspired by God. We must determine whether these books are accurate, for if they fail that test, then how can we trust that they are in fact inspired? According to the Scriptures, God is truth. Therefore, His words are trustworthy and true. Thus, in order for anything to be the Word of God, it must correspond with reality. In order to determine the authenticity of the Mormon scriptures, we must first determine the accuracy of these. In order to do this, we will make use of two tests. The first of these, the external test, examines a work and compares it to trusted outside sources, such as archaeological findings and trustworthy historians, testing the work to these sources to see whether the two are compatible. The second test is the internal test. This test examines the work for contradictions, since a book that contradicts itself cannot be trusted.
Over the next couple parts of this essay, we will be examining the accuracy of the Mormon Scriptures using these tests.