A Brief Summary of the Doctrine Taught by the Mormon Church
This section focuses on the unique doctrine taught by the Mormon Church through its teaching manuals, scriptures, and talks by top Mormon leaders. Many of these items are not likely to be mentioned by Mormon missionaries or in Mormon Church advertising. Note that many of the theological terms are exactly the same as those used by Christians, but they have a different meaning for most Mormons.
Our intent here is not to provide a biblical answer to the Mormon teachings. That has already been done in our book Mormons Answered Verse by Verse. We outline the unique Mormon Church teachings to prepare the reader for the comparisons in the following chapters.
Aaronic Priesthood This is called the lesser priesthood and is usually held by young men starting at the age of 12 to the age of about 18. It is also held for a short time by men who have just become members.
Adam-God From April 1852 to at least February 1877 LDS Church President Brigham Young clearly taught that Adam of the Garden of Eden is the father of our spirits, that Adam is the father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and the literal father of his body, and that Adam is our God. This is not now taught by the Mormon Church, and many Mormons are not aware it once was; others claim Brigham Young is incorrectly quoted.
Afterlife The Mormon afterlife is divided into four levels. The lowest is hell, and then there are three levels of heaven: the telestial, the terrestrial, and the place where God dwells, the celestial (also called the kingdom of God). The celestial is also divided, the highest level being exaltation, or becoming a God.
Apostles The Mormon Church claims to have the same organization as the primitive church that Jesus set up. They also have twelve Apostles and sometimes use this as a proof of their divine appointment as the one true Church. But they actually have fifteen or more most of the time. The general practice has been for a new President, who is also an Apostle, to appoint counselors from the Quorum of the Twelve; then the openings left by the President and his counselors are filled, resulting in a total of fifteen.
Bible The King James Version of the Bible is one of the canonized scriptures of the Mormon Church, but it is considered incomplete, incorrectly translated with parts missing. Joseph Smith rewrote it, but only the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints regularly uses his version. They call it Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible. The Mormon Church in Salt Lake City calls it the Joseph Smith Translation. They feature some of it in the footnotes and appendix of their edition of the King James Bible.
Celestial Kingdom See Afterlife.
Chapel A local building where Mormons hold their worship services and other activities.
Eternal Progression The teaching that each of us has the potential to become a God just like God the Father did. He was once a man capable of physical death, was resurrected, and progressed to become a God. We can take a similar path and get all the power, glory, dominion, and knowledge that the Father and Jesus Christ have. We then will be able to procreate spirit children who will worship us as we do God the Father.
Exaltation Becoming a God in the highest level of the celestial kingdom. See Eternal Progression.
Excommunication The highest disciplinary action that the Church can take against a member. Excommunicated persons lose their membership in the Church.
First Presidency A collective name for the President of the Mormon Church and his counselors, usually two.
General Conference An official meeting held twice per year, early in April and October, for general membership instruction, teaching, and announcements by the top leaders of the Mormon Church.
God Within Mormonism, Gods, angels, people, and devils all have the same nature or substance but are at different stages along the line of progression to Godhood. God the Father was once a man like us, capable of physical death, and he progressed until he became a God. He has a body of flesh and bones, but no blood.
Heaven See Afterlife.
Hell A place of torment from which most nonbelievers are resurrected into the telestial kingdom; only a limited number remain in hell forever—the devil and the demons and apostates who consciously reject and work against Mormonism.
Jehovah The name for the preincarnate Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ The spirit of Jesus Christ was the first spirit born to God the Father and his wife (Heavenly Mother), and he progressed to become a God under the Father. (The Father is also the literal father of Jesus’ body in exactly the same way we were begotten by our earthly parents.) Jesus now has a body of flesh and bones, but no blood. He is the spirit brother of Satan, whose spirit was procreated in the same way as Jesus’.
Marriage The Mormon Church teaches two types of marriage. One ends at death. The other is for “time and eternity.” If a couple is married in a Mormon temple by someone with authority, it is believed they will stay married in the next life. This kind of marriage is needed if they are to progress, not only as husband and wife, but as God and Goddess.
Melchizedek Priesthood The higher of two categories of ministry in the LDS Church, assigned primarily to seasoned members over the age of 18 and to males only.
Mother in Heaven The wife of God the Father, the mother of his spirit children.
Polygamy The practice of men having more than one wife was started by Joseph Smith in the early/mid 1830s and ostensibly ended in 1890. It is not now practiced within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. Members found practicing it are excommunicated. While the practice was ended, the revelation teaching it is still in Mormon scripture (D&C 132). Some Mormon splinter groups believe the teaching was for eternity and still practice it. These modern-day polygamists (called fundamentalists) number in the 30,000–50,000 range.
Pre-existence The Mormon teaching that our spirits (Mormons and non-Mormons) were procreated in a premortal life by God the Father and our Mother in Heaven, that our spirits were born and raised to maturity before coming to earth to obtain physical bodies, and that the spirit of Jesus Christ was the first one born to our heavenly parents.
Priesthood A category of ministry in the LDS Church open to all worthy males 12 years of age or older, empowering them to act in God’s name. See Aaronic Priesthood and Melchizedek Priesthood.
Prophet The top leader of the Mormon Church is considered not only a Prophet but also a Seer and Revelator. He has the title “President.” He is the only one who can speak for the whole church and receive new revelation for the whole church. When the existing Prophet dies, the most senior (in time as an Apostle, not in age) of the twelve Apostles, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, becomes the new President. He can appoint counselors, who receive their authority from him.
Salvation A word that Mormons qualify in one of three ways: unconditional or general salvation is simply resurrection from the dead, granted to all through Christ’s atonement; conditional or individual salvation involves entering the celestial kingdom through works of Mormonism; full salvation means exaltation to become a God as a result of temple ceremonies and other works.
Satan One of the spirit children of God. As a consequence of their rebellion, Satan and his angels cannot have mortal bodies; hence they cannot progress.
Scriptures The Mormon Church has four documents it calls canonized scriptures: the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the King James Version of the Holy Bible. See Appendix 1 for details.
Son of God Besides Jesus Christ, all of us are viewed as the children of God, his literal spirit children. This makes us all—Mormons, non-Mormons, Jesus Christ, and Satan—spirit brothers and sisters. See Pre-existence and Spirits.
Spirits Non-material beings allegedly procreated in the pre-existence by God the Father and his wife. Jesus Christ (and even we ourselves) was supposedly born and raised to maturity as a spirit before coming into a body on this earth. The spirit of Satan was also procreated in this way. This makes Satan and Jesus Christ spirit brothers. Jesus selected a righteous path; Satan selected the opposite.
Stake A group of wards, similar to a Roman Catholic diocese.
Standard Works The four canonized scriptures (see Scriptures above) used by the Mormon Church are called the standard works.
Temple One of about four dozen large religious buildings around the world in which special ceremonies are performed for the living and the dead; off limits to nonmembers and even to Mormons who lack a “temple recommend” from their leaders.
Trinity This word is used by Christians to summarize the biblical teaching that within the one true God are three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. They share the same nature or substance, so that there are not three Gods, but three persons in the one God.
Mormons say they also believe in the trinitarian concept of God. But what they really mean is that God the Father is a God, God the Son is another God, and God the Holy Ghost is a third God, and that they are “one God” because they are “one in purpose.” Mormons often have an incorrect understanding of what Christians mean by the Trinity. They say Christians believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one person (i.e., Monophysitism) or that God shows himself as the Father or the Son or the Holy Ghost (i.e., Modalism).
Virgin Birth A concept negated by the view that God, a resurrected man with flesh and bones according to Mormon teachings, literally fathered Jesus in the flesh in the same way in which earthly men father their children. 3
Ward A local Mormon congregation. The building it meets in is called a chapel.
Word of Wisdom The Mormon teaching requiring abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and hot drinks (tea and coffee).
3 3. Many Mormons are unaware of their Church’s teaching on this subject.
Farkas, J. R., & Reed, D., A. (1997, c1995). Mormonism : Changes, contradictions, and errors (electronic ed.) (21). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.