From time to time I am visited by a pair of dedicated young men who wish to share with me their faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a church founded on the teachings of Joseph Smith, whom they hold to be a latter-day prophet and who is responsible for the Book of Mormon. These young men invariably are very polite and genuine in their beliefs and are people for whom I have a great deal of respect. So dedicated are they to their religious tradition that they voluntarily give up two years of their lives to go into areas unfamiliar to them, at their own families’ expense, to share their faith with others. Yet despite my admiration for their dedication, I do not accept the tenets of their faith, and my refusal to believe as they do is often a source of confusion for them. In an attempt to explain my reasons for rejecting their beliefs, I have prepared this little treatise in the hope that it will both explain my rejection and perhaps encourage further inquiry by those who read it.
My first encounter with Mormon missionaries occurred shortly after I moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1978. Unmarried and in a strange environment, I was glad to receive a visit from people willing to sit down and discuss religion with me in a friendly manner. Although I was already a Christian and rather certain that I could never accept Mormon doctrine, I nonetheless welcomed the opportunity for such a discussion. In order for any such dialogue to be profitable, both parties must enter into the discussion with open minds, each being willing to accept new evidence and to accept truths that may contradict prior beliefs. I was certainly agreeable to begin our study with this attitude, and those with whom I began my studies appeared to be likewise open to weighing all the evidence honestly and prayerfully.
One of the first points these missionaries made was that they felt it unfair that I often would call into question various aspects of the Book of Mormon without having read the entire book. They would ask how I could criticize it if I hadn’t read it in its entirety. They assured me that if I would read it through and pray about it, the Holy Spirit would confirm to me, by a “warm feeling in my heart,” that it was true. So, I did exactly that: I read the book from cover to cover and prayed earnestly that, if it were true, God would reveal that truth to me. As it should be the desire of every follower of Christ to know how best to serve Him, I believed this a fair and honest approach. But the end result of my reading and prayer was, as may be correctly assumed from the title of this treatise, that I found the book and its teachings to be contrary to the teachings of Holy Scripture and the foundational beliefs of Mormon theology to be false.
Yet with this realization I did not immediately cease studying with these missionaries. We had begun a friendly and meaningful dialogue, and often the questions I would put to them would be questions they had never before considered. One young man in particular seemed taken with some of my questions and, while he did not have ready answers for them, assured me he would investigate them further and get back with me about them. However, this was never to be the case. Each time we reached a point in our studies at which one of the young men would bring my questions to those in authority over him, I would never see that missionary again — he would be moved to another area and replaced with a different missionary with whom I would have to begin our discourse all over again from the very beginning. I studied with these various missionaries for several months (sometimes feeling that I had become the training ground for new recruits), and during that time there was such continual turnover that the discussions could never achieve a genuine degree of completion.
After a number of these studies they finally asked if I would allow them to bring along one of their scholars from the local ward who would be able to answer my questions. To this I readily agreed as I thought that perhaps at last we could achieve some finality to our discussions. The young man who came with them to our next meeting was not much older than the missionaries themselves but was a very bright young medical student. His patience with me was less exemplary than that which had been exhibited by all the various missionaries, and at the conclusion of perhaps two hours of dialogue he ended by saying I was an instrument of the devil and implied that there was no further need to try to study with me. Despite this statement, we ended our meeting on a cordial basis, and I let them know I was willing to talk with them further should they so desire. I was visited by no other missionaries during my remaining two years in Indianapolis.
Since that time I have been visited by other missionaries in other cities, but excepting one brief study with some missionaries in Gadsden, Alabama, I have not engaged in any long-term discussions with any. This has been by my own choice because I frankly do not believe such meetings are productive. How can they be when the personnel are moved so frequently? Each time we would reach a point at which one of the missionaries would begin asking hard questions of their overseers, rather than being allowed to continue the dialogue they would simply be relocated. Thus, as an alternative to lengthy and, ultimately, unprofitable home studies, I have prepared this small treatise to help explain my position. Should anyone of the Mormon faith wish to discuss these points to conclusion with me, I remain open to further study. But if our dialogue must end just as we are getting to the crux of a question, I feel it best to decline gracefully any future visitations.
The Book of Mormon and the Holy Scriptures
Because I believe firmly in the truth and reliability of the Holy Scriptures as found in the Bible, many missionaries are perplexed at my reluctance also to receive the Book of Mormon as part of Scripture. After all, this book (so they maintain) was inspired by God and written on gold plates which were revealed to Joseph Smith and translated by him through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Unlike the Book of Mormon, however, the Holy Bible does not ask its readers to accept it on the basis of a “warm feeling” after honest prayer. God set the Bible in the context of history, and it is within that context that its truths may be verified. Certainly not everything in Scripture is subject to historical verification — its theological tenets and descriptions of the supernatural must be accepted on faith — but when it speaks of history it speaks of things that really happened and that can be proved or disproved by objective data.
To help illustrate what I mean, let us use an analogy made by Francis Schaeffer in his book The God Who Is There. Imagine that you are among a group of hikers in the Alps when suddenly a dense fog overcomes your group and you become hopelessly lost. Knowing that one false step could lead you over a dangerous precipice to your doom, you stop where you are for fear of going over the edge. However, you also realize that if you remain where you are when night falls, you likely will freeze to death. Your situation appears hopeless. But suddenly from out of the fog comes a voice that says, “I know these mountains like the back of my hand, and I can tell where you are from hearing your voices. I know that immediately below you there is a ledge where you can safely spend the night. If you will hang from the edge and drop, you will land safely on this ledge and I will collect you in the morning.”
Now few of us would immediately trust this voice and drop into a blind abyss without first trying to verify whether the speaker can be trusted. But how would we verify this? We might do so by asking the speaker questions about parts of the mountain we ourselves know. If the speaker accurately answers all our questions, indicating that he does indeed know these mountains quite well, we may then assume that what he has told us about the ledge beneath us might also be true. Although we cannot see the ledge because of the fog, we have a realistic expectation that what he has told us about it is true. It might then be reasonable for us to take that risk of hanging by the edge and dropping into the fog.
Likewise the Bible tells us many things that we cannot know objectively — things that we cannot see for the fog of our earthly existence. So how can we trust what it says? One way is to look at the things it says that we can verify, such as the histories it records and the place names it gives. If we compare its recording of historical facts with what we actually know of history and the place names with what we know from the actual data, and if all that information proves accurate, then we may reasonably assume that the things it tells us that we cannot objectively verify may also be true. Conversely, if the information it gives about history and place names is obviously unreliable, then when it speaks of things we cannot verify we have no substantive basis for accepting them.
When we apply this test to the Bible, our faith in its reliability is proved certain time and time again. Yet when we apply the same test to the Book of Mormon, we not only find it inaccurate in a few details, we also find that not one of its historical or archaeological references can be objectively verified. That God would place one part of Scripture (the Bible) in the context of verifiable history and not another (the Book of Mormon) is inconsistent with the God revealed in Scripture. God never once asks us to accept His Word on faith alone, but asks that we accept it on the basis of what is true. This cannot be done with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Abraham, or the Pearl of Great Price. While the Bible may be accepted on substantiated faith, these other books demand acceptance on unsubstantiated faith.
To some this has seemed to imply that I am demanding a sign from God to verify the truth of the Book of Mormon. But there is a significant difference between seeking verification of a text’s reliability and asking for some kind of divine sign. For example, were I to ask that God strike a particular tree with lightning to confirm to me some truth, that would be asking for a sign. It was against such a demand for the miraculous that Jesus spoke in Matthew 16 when the Sadducees had asked for a sign from heaven. But He never condemned, and indeed encouraged, His followers to use reason to substantiate His teachings. This is borne out in His own statements in Matthew 16:2-3. St. John also encouraged the disciples to test the spirits to see whether they were of God (I John 4:2), and the writings of St. Paul are replete with appeals to reason and rationality so that the believer’s faith may be based in what is real and not merely in some kind of subjective experience.
It seems to me, in fact, that asking God to reveal the truth by granting a warm feeling in the heart is much closer to asking for a sign than is the seeking of objective reliability. But a sign such as a “warm feeling” cannot always be trusted. I have friends in a number of different religious traditions from Jehovah’s Witnesses to various stripes of Pentecostalism who honestly believe the truth of their disparate doctrines because they can “feel” the Holy Spirit’s attestation of them. They too have a “warm feeling” that subjectively assures them of the correctness of their beliefs. Furthermore, I can achieve a “warm feeling” often by reading a great work of literature or hearing a wonderful piece of music — or even when partaking of a particularly fine wine! — but I am not at liberty to assume from such experiences that these are signs of the Holy Spirit’s endorsement of what I have felt or read.
Can the ruins of even one city mentioned in the Book of Mormon be found in the Americas today? No, not one. Can any of the names of tribes or individuals recorded there be found in any surviving documents or stelae? Not a single one. It might be argued that for centuries there was no evidence of there ever having been a people called the Hittites that are mentioned in the Bible (although it was later discovered that they not only existed but constituted a very large empire in the ancient world), but even while the evidence of their existence remained hidden there were yet scores of other cities, nations, and peoples who were known to have existed and their reality easily verified. Yet not even one such case exists for any of the cities, nations, tribes, or people mentioned in the Book of Mormon. On this basis alone I must be forced to hold the book’s integrity highly suspect.
The Mormon view of history
In the Mormon view of history, the Church of Christ existed on earth for only about 100 years before falling into total apostasy and thereafter did not exist anywhere on earth until being restored by Joseph Smith in 1830. This is quite an incredible claim. From the time of the Fall in the Garden of Eden through the age of the Patriarchs and Prophets, God planned for the establishment of His Holy Church on earth. We do not know how long a period this was, but it is safe to say it constituted several thousand years. Is it even reasonable to believe that after such careful preparation and planning by an omniscient being over thousands of years, God would have allowed His Church to be taken over by heretics after only one short century?
Throughout the Scriptures the Church is spoken of as an eternal kingdom that, once established, would not be threatened by even the gates of hell itself. Numerous biblical passages attest to its steadfastness and eternal nature. To cite but one in Daniel 7:14, “And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom is one that shall not be destroyed.” Such a prophecy (and there are many more) attests to the fact that, despite countless attempts to destroy it, this kingdom — the Church — will not be destroyed, neither by governments without nor by heretics within. (See also Daniel 7:27, Luke 1:31-33, Matthew 16:18 and 28:19-20, II Peter 1:10-11, Hebrews 12:28, and I Peter 1:24-25.)
Mormons (and, indeed, many Protestant Christians) allude to St. Paul’s prophecy that a great “falling away” would take place (II Thessalonians 3:2) and conclude from this that it was prophecied that the Church would be led away into total apostacy. There have been, in fact, many instances of various groups throughout history “falling away” from Orthodox dogma. Some cite the development of various doctrines within the Roman Catholic Church as such examples, as well as many strange heresies that developed through the Reformation and beyond. These may well all constitute examples of “falling away” from the true teachings of Christ’s Church. But nowhere are we led to conclude that the entire Church would fall away, and if one but looks to the Eastern Orthodox Church one can find a body which traces its history and doctrine back to the very days of the Holy Apostles in unbroken continuity. While other groups indeed fell away, Orthodoxy held to the original Apostles’ doctrine since the very beginning of the Christian Church.
A number of other historical inaccuracies and manipulations can be found in Mormon teaching. For example, there is utterly no linguistic or archaeological evidence that such a language as “Reformed Egyptian” (in which Joseph Smith claimed the original golden plates were written) ever existed. Several ancient American cultures developed writing, but none bears any similarity whatever to ancient Egyptian, either linguistically or orthographically. The parchment which supposedly records the Book of Abraham has since been correctly translated (as we now can read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs) and has been found to be nothing more than a garden variety funerary text.
The several native religions that were discovered in the Americas also bear no resemblance whatever to having been devolved from or syncretized with either Judaism or Christianity. The pantheons of most of these religions are significantly developed and very crowded, which one would not expect of a religion, however heretical, that developed out of a monotheistic religion like Judaism. Even the alleged “crosses” that have been found in several ancient American stelae are in fact representations of what the ancients called “world trees” and are not crosses (as in crucifixes) at all.
As an aside, it might also be pointed out that the gold plates which Joseph Smith is alleged to have discovered would, from their detailed descriptions, have weighed between 400 and 700 pounds. Yet Smith is reported to have “carried them around” with him, showing them to various friends. Unless we allow for a miraculous ability to transport great weights (something, to my knowledge, never ascribed to Joseph Smith), this would have been impossible.
Mormon theology is not truly monotheistic
While the LDS church claims to be Christian and therefore monotheistic, it is in fact very much a polytheistic religion. While it maintains that the Lord God is the only God “for us,” He is in fact merely one of countless gods who, like us, once was a fallen human being. But through what is called the process of “eternal progression,” he was saved by his god and eventually became a god himself. Both Judaism and Christianity teach that while we may become godlike, we will never become gods. Yet in Mormon teaching, Adam is now his own god, and many believe Joseph Smith is as well, each having now their own worlds to oversee.
One Mormon friend who discussed this with me allowed that there are, in fact, an infinite number of gods (though insisting that we need concern ourselves with none but our own, carefully avoiding my request that he seek the “uncaused first cause”). He drew for me an analogy of a pie. He said that as we cut this pie into an infinite number of slices, just so each of us can become part of the great “eternal progression” and become gods ourselves. But what this friend failed to realize is that as we cut that pie into an infinite number of slices, each slice becomes infinitely small, not great.
The God I worship is the God of all, not just one of the countless gods of individual universes. He was never once as I am, a fallen and sinful creature who must be forgiven. He is and was and ever shall be the one true God of all creation without beginning and without end. To say that He is the only god “for us” is yet to diminish His nature — is to make him infinitely small, just as the slices of pie in the above analogy. To say that I may someday become “as He is,” omniscient in every respect, is as heretical as any doctrine I have ever encountered. Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures is such a concept ever intimated, and it is only through gross misinterpretations of various passages that speak of our becoming godlike that such an idea can even be hinted at. The Bible is unequivocally clear in stating that our God is the One and Only. Appeals to the fact that the ancient Hebrew word for God (Elohim) is a plural form are without substance. In both the ancient world and today, royalty are often referred to in the plural, and such a form is consistent with this practice when referring to the King of Kings. There is not now, and never has been, any other God but the One True and Eternal God of all who is without beginning and without end, who does not change (Malachi 3:6) and “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). The process of “eternal progression” is alien to anything Scripture teaches of the nature of God.
While the Christian Church teaches, and ever has taught, that we are saved by the Atoning work Christ on the Cross, Brigham Young (Joseph Smith’s successor as the president of the LDS Church) did not so teach. He taught that Christ’s blood is insufficient to wipe away all sins. To quote Young on but one occasion, “There is not a man or woman who violates covenants made with their God that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out. Your own blood must atone for it” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 247). Such a statement is antithetical to every teaching of salvation in the New Testament. Scripture clearly and plainly teaches that we are incapable of atoning for our own sins and that only the blood of Christ can do so. Hebrews 10:10 is but one of the many passages that speak to this most eloquently: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (emphasis added).
These are but a few of the many reasons I cannot accept the teachings of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church. Indeed I could write, and often have considered writing, an entire book about my objections. But many such books have already been penned, and it is not my purpose here to present an exhaustive refutation of every doctrinal error to be found in Mormon teaching. These points are but the beginning, yet even these few have never been adequately refuted by the many missionaries and other LDS people with whom I have communicated. Should any wish to correct my assumptions on these matters and be willing to devote the time and effort necessary for a full discovery of whether LDS doctrine is true, I remain open to engage in such. But until such time I offer this treatise as a short explanation for why I do not accept the basic tenets of Mormon doctrine.
It is my hope that all of us may come to a fuller understanding of God’s will and that we be led into all truth. I wish my Mormon friends the best on their spiritual journey because I know from the examples they live that they are very dedicated to their beliefs. I truly believe they are in error, as they also believe I am, but by God’s grace I pray that we may all come to know Him as He desires to be known and may one day be united in the one, true, and Holy Faith.