The final topic in my 3 part series on Mormonism is the issue of Christology.
Christology is very important. Christology is the study of Jesus. What we believe about Jesus matters.
If a woman is married to a man named Mark, would it matter which Mark she goes home to every night? Of course it would. Sharing a name is not enough in marriage, and it is not enough in theology. Muslims believe in a Jesus. But the Jesus they believe in never existed and cannot save them. The true is same for Mormons.
Paul dealt with this concept even in the 1st century. He dealt with people who spoke like Christians, they used Christian terminology , but they were not in fact espousing or believing in the true Christ.
2 Corinthians 11: 3-4,
“But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it readily.”
Paul here is telling us something crucial. Not every message masquerading under the title “gospel” is the Gospel he proclaimed. Not every emotional, moving, spiritual feeling is a testimony from the Spirit of God. And important to this blog, lots of people talk about knowing and loving “Jesus,” but Paul says to many of them that it is the wrong one.
Do not be deceived by Mormon terminology. They use words like us: Gospel, Jesus, Spirit, Atonement, etc. But when we peel back the curtain, we are not talking about the same things.
What Do Mormons Claim About Jesus?
There are so many differences between the Mormon conception of Jesus and the apostolic testimony that it is hard to know where to begin. What is perhaps most important to distinguish between would be our ontological understanding of Jesus.
Most of this is covered in the first blog I wrote
. Mormons are polytheists who deny the biblical witness of there being only one God. Thus, they already have a drastically wrong view of Jesus because they believe he is merely one God in a whole host of gods. That really is enough to settle the issue.
But more can be said about the LDS concept of Jesus Christ.
Mormons do not seem to have a very clear, consistent understanding of the pre-mortal existence doctrine they cling to.
In short, Mormons do not believe anything was created. They believe matter was eternal, and when the Bible says “create”, the Mormon interprets that as “organize.” Mormons believe God organized material, but the material is eternal.
With that, Mormons believe that people themselves existed before matter was organized. We all existed in a spiritual realm before sojourning to earth, where our memory of this pre-mortal life has been erased.
Much could be said about that, but I digress. The point in bringing it up, is that it is important to Jesus’ ontology.
Throughout Mormon literature, you will read a constant emphasis of Jesus being the literal son of God. The word literal is very important to them. What does this mean to the Mormon?
It could be, and is often, argued that this refers to God the Father having physical sexual relations with Mary. To be clear, the modern day LDS repudiates this doctrine mostly. However, a very strong case could be made that this is the orthodox, historic position.
It certainly seemed to be the understanding of the early Mormon Prophet, and companion to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young:
“The birth of the Savior was as natural as the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood-was begotten of his Father, as we are of our fathers” (Journal of Discourses, Volume 8, pg. 115).
This view also makes much sense of Smith’s and modern LDS member’s emphasis and firm, passionate belief that God the Father is not Spirit, but has and always has had a physical, fleshly body (John 4: 24).
This is a passionate debate, and not entirely important to try and settle here. Even though some of the strongest Mormon apologetic resources which seek to deny this understanding still demonstrate a great deal of agnosticism toward its ultimate answer (Link to source
). Even if it is not true, the LDS Jesus is still mythological.
What does it mean then that Jesus is the Son of God, literally?
“[When the Holy Spirit came upon Mary] God the Father became the literal Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father. That is why He is called the Only Begotton Son. He inherited divine powers from His Father. From His mother He inherited mortality…” (Gospel Principles, 53).
We will examine more the idea of who Jesus was prior to Bethlehem, but notice how we have some major issues. The Son of God term in LDS theology is not referring to Jesus’ submission to the Father, but His ontological status. Jesus is naturally not equal to the Father in this view.
Also notice the terminology “inherited.” Jesus inherited divinity; it was not ontologically his. The LDS church continues to believe this. For example, a Mormon informative website endorsed by the Church says this:
“We believe Jesus is the Son of God the Father and as such inherited powers of godhood and divinity from His Father, including immortality, the capacity to live forever. While He walked the dusty road of Palestine as a man, He possessed the powers of a God and ministered as one having authority, including power over the elements and even power over life and death” (Link to source).
What is probably a more helpful resource comes from Bruce McConkey. In a question and answer style essay available and promoted by the LDS website, in responding to the question “Who are Elohim and Jehovah?”, he says,
“They are the Father and the Son. The Everlasting Elohim is the Great God by whom all things are; the Eternal Jehovah is his Firstborn in the spirit and his Only Begotten in the flesh. Jehovah is thus our Elder Brother, and as such was subject to the same plan of salvation, the plan given of Elohim for the salvation of all his children. While yet in the premortal existence, Jehovah advanced and progressed until he became like unto God. Under the direction of the Father he became the Creator of worlds without number, and thus was himself the Lord Omnipotent” (Link to source).
McConkie makes this ontological issue more clear. First, Jesus became a god. He is not the eternal God. Jesus also ontologically comes from the Father, again, denying His everlasting, self-existence and unity within the One true God.
However, former President McConkie also tells us something of further importance: Jesus is our “Elder Brother.” What does this mean?
Well, as he said, Jesus was born in the Spirit from his heavenly father. The problem, is that all of us humans and angels were born in the spirit from heavenly spirit parents as well.
“We are all literally children of God, spiritually begotten in the pre-mortal life. As His children, we can be assured that we have divine, eternal potential and that He will help us in our sincere efforts to reach that potential” (Link to source).
The only thing unique about Jesus ontologically is that the Father begot Him on earth. All of us are begotten of a Spirit Father in the pre-mortal existence. Thus, Jesus is spiritual no different than we are. We are all spirit children, brothers and sisters.
“God is not only our Ruler and Creator, He is also our Heavenly Father. All men and women are literally the sons and daughters of God. ‘Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon earth in a temporal [physical] body’” (Gospel Principles, 9).
LDS theology would even claim the very blasphemous idea that Lucifer and Jesus are spirit brothers, begotten both by God the Father.
This is where LDS theology seems contradictory. In one sense, I have been taught that spiritually every person is eternal and has existed forever. However, Mormon literature makes it clear that we have spiritual parents who bring us into existence.
In fact, related to this is a doctrine sometimes referred to as the Eternal Regression, wherein it is believed that there are literally an infinite number of gods, each god having his own father, and that spiral spins into eternity with no first, everlasting being. Joseph Smith certainly adhered to this notion, saying:
“If Abraham reasoned thus- If Jesus was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you would suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a Father without a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly in the likeness of that which is heavenly. Hence, if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? I despise the idea of being scared to death at such a doctrine, for the Bible is full of it” (History of the Church, Volume 6, 476).
Although I still do not quite understand the LDS doctrine of the pre-mortal existence, one thing is clear: the Jesus presented by LDS is ontologically nothing close to the Biblical Jesus.
God Before Bethlehem:
A quick examination of the biblical Jesus will present a Jesus very different. Jesus was not a spirit being, who became an exalted god, who inherited divinity, who organized preexisting matter. He is a member of the One Being of God, eternally He has existed, He has always had His divine qualities, He always will, He will be worshiped by all people for all eternity, and He did in fact create, not organize, all things.
John 1: 1-3,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
John’s famous prologue is crystal clear. Jesus pre-existed all things. Jesus never came into existence. To consult an expert on the Greek, he would tell you that the phrase ‘in the beginning’ denotes eternity. It is like saying as far back as you go, Jesus is there.
John also makes a beautiful Trinitarian confession about the Word. The Word is somehow distinct from God (the Word was with God), but somehow not distinct as well (the Word was God). To be with God and be God simultaneously does not come close to rendering the understanding that Jesus was “a god”, who is the spiritual offspring with Satan from another god before him, all living within a host of gods who have their own children. That’s mythology that John was not close to being familiar with.
Lastly, Jesus created all things. First of all, He did in fact create. He did not organize. Second of all, this necessarily means Jesus could not have had any beginning. The text is clear that all things that came into being did so through Jesus. He could not have created Himself; therefore, He has to be eternal in order to be the one who brought all things into existence which came into existence.
This echoes Paul’s famous Christological passage found in Colossians 1: 15-17,
“[The Beloved Son of the Father] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or rulers, or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him.”
Jesus organized nothing; He created it all. And this Jesus who created all things is the “image” of the Father. That word means something along the lines of “exact representation.” How can a spiritual offspring, equal to Satan, be the exact copy of the heavenly Father who begot him? He cannot.
Similarly, this text exalts Christ far more than the Mormons can. Mormon theology insists that heavenly Father stood before all of us, and told us of our plan to come to earth so that we could have choice and become gods. Apparently we were all present there and celebrated.
Then, Heavenly Father’s two children, Jesus and Lucifer both volunteered to be redeemer. Heavenly Father knew Lucifer’s intentions to be impure, so he picked Jesus.
This sibling rivalry is nothing close to the beautiful, powerful, relationship in the Bible between the Father and the Son. And, it certainly demeans Jesus’ due glory. Paul believed that, although Jesus was certainly submitting to the Father’s greater authority in His redemption ministry, ultimate, all things were created for Him. Jesus is the exulted one whom all of creation will bow before and worship forever (Revelation 5: 11-14). This plan was for Him.
This exaltation of which I speak of is not what Mormons mean. They mean a man becoming a god when they use that term. But Paul shows us what exultation looks like quite differently.
Philippians 2: 5-10,
“…Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And, being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
How does Paul define exaltation? It clearly is not synonymous with eternal life, and also is certainly not the process of man becoming god or inheriting divine qualities,n because Jesus was exalted even though He was already God!
Jesus “was in the form of God” and had “equality” with God prior to emptying Himself and taking on servant, human form. Jesus was God before Bethlehem, He was God in Bethlehem, and He was God on that cross. But after the cross He was exalted. Exaltation was Jesus’ crowning ceremony for accomplishing redemption; it was not Him becoming a god.
Also, this notion certainly takes away the historic LDS response to the Bible’s monotheism. So often, Mormon apologists respond by saying things like “The Bible means there is only one God of this earth whom we worship.” The problem is, Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are all 3 separate gods of this earth, and this text clearly says Jesus is worthy of our worship. A key question to ask your LDS neighbor is this:
Who is the one god of this earth we are to worship: Jesus or Heavenly Father?
Hebrews 1: 1-13,
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’? ‘And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’ Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.’ But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’ And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.’ And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?”
Did We Exist with Jesus in the Pre-mortal Life?
Obviously, anyone familiar at all with the Biblical Scriptures will know the notion that all us humans existed as spirit people before coming to earth and taking on bodies is completely absence from the mind of each and every one of the books of the Bible. It is nowhere to be found.
And the fact that our memories of this existence are wiped clean is conveniently suspicious.
However, a major issue with this is that it strips Jesus of being unique. It is hard to make much of Jesus “humbling himself” by taking on human form when we all did that. How does this doctrine not make all of us humble incarnate ones? I understand LDS theology that Jesus was uniquely begotten, but that seems hardly relevant to the idea that we are all incarnate. We all took on human flesh.
It seems we all could pray the incredible prayer of Jesus in John 17: 5 saying, “And now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the foundation of the world.”
How Important is This Issue?
Getting Jesus right is of vital importance. To lower or separate Him from the Godhead ontologically is a mistake of eternal consequences; after all, He said so Himself.
John 8: 23-24,
“He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.’”
There are many, many chasms between the LDS faith and Christianity. They use our words, but they do not carry Apostolic definitions. There are many important divisions. And they are divisions far more important than caffeine, or modesty, or Temple names.
When loving our Mormon neighbor, we need to have conversations that matter. My 3-point series has been an attempt to provide you with those.
In the limited time I have with the LDS missionaries, these are the places I run to.
In brief, here is a summary of the important distinctives, and good places to begin conversation with your Mormon neighbor.
1) There is only one God.
Go to Isaiah 45-46 and hold the Mormon’s feet to that fire. Have fruitful conversations about Isaiah’s monotheism and Joseph’s clear, unapologetic, polytheism.
2) Saved by Faith
Bring the Mormon to Roman or Galatians. Share with them the glorious Gospel that is not dependent upon our pathetic attempts to follow the Law, but is a completed work of Christ to be received by faith. Remind them of their chains, of their enslavement to Law and invite them, who are weary and heavy-laden, to come to Jesus to find rest.
3) Jesus is the eternal God.
Bring them to Philippians 2, or John 1, or Hebrews 1, or Colossians 1. Make them confront the Biblical texts about Jesus.
Call them to repent of their spiritually begotten brother of Lucifer, the organizer of most things, and show them the Apostolic Jesus, Lucifer’s creator, the eternal God who has always existed, and will always exist. Confront them with the Jesus he one who is unchanging, forever.
Call your Mormon neighbor to repentance and faith.