In the 21st century, Mormonism has come to be seen more and more as a Christian denomination. The founder, Joseph Smith Jr., claimed he was restoring the church as God always intended, which had become corrupted over time and split into a variety of denominations. There is something admirable about Smith’s quest to conform to the teaching of Scripture. The question is: is Mormonism genuinely Christian, or is it something else?
Mormonism is frequently described as a Christian denomination. Here it might be helpful to understand some differences in terminology:
Is Mormonism Christian? In looking at the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), it would appear that the Mormon church squarely fits into the same category as cults for several reasons. First, Joseph Smith and his successors possess singular authority in the LDS Church. Smith became the leader and prophet for the Latter-day Saints, an office which continues to the present. The presidents of the Mormon church are considered to be prophets, although this occasionally creates some embarrassment. For instance, the racism inherent in the early days of Mormonism is evident by the fact that anyone with African heritage was forbidden to serve as a priest. This changed during the 1970s at the same time as the Civil Rights Movement. African-Americans were permitted entry into the priesthood for the first time. This was problematic for the LDS Church, as it appeared that the revelation was timed to avoid a public relations debacle.
Second is the addition of Mormon scriptures, such as the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants. These books are considered more authoritative than the Bible, in spite of their many glaring inaccuracies. The Book of Mormon includes anachronistic details, and the Pearl of Great Price features blatantly incorrect information about Egyptian culture and religion. Nevertheless, these additional books are given a privileged position, while the Bible is considered accurate only insofar as it (1) has been translated correctly, and (2) has not been corrupted.
Third, Smith and others reinterpreted the Bible. Smith claimed that the Bible had been corrupted, and he (and other Mormon leaders) offered corrections to the biblical text. One such idea may be found in Smith’s King Follett discourse (1844), in which he stated that God was once a human being and became an “exalted man.” This idea was repeated by Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of the LDS Church, who often stated, “As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be.” In other words, faithful Mormons can eventually become gods themselves. This is a radical departure from biblical teaching, which consistently portrays God as uncreated and eternal. Other doctrines include: baptism for the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:29), the spiritual brotherhood of Jesus and Satan as children of God (cf. John 1:1-4; Colossians 1:16-17), the physical nature of God's body (cf. John 4:24), polytheism (cf. Deuteronomy 4: 35, 39; 6:4; Isaiah 43:10-11), and the exclusivity of salvation for faithful Mormons alone who recognize Joseph Smith as a prophet of God (cf. John 14:6).
Although Mormons use the Bible as a guide and quote from it as an authoritative source, the addition of other revelation is a major concern. This is especially true because the Mormon scriptures often include mistakes. We can only ask our faithful Mormon neighbors to reexamine the Book of Mormon and other scriptures in light of ancient history and archaeology. The Bible will pass the test; other scriptures will not.