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Mormon Beliefs: Mormon Doctrine
MORMON DOCTRINE - Basic Doctrines of the Mormon ChurchChurch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, casually referred to as the Mormon Church.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Savior says: "And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand."2
Does Mormon Doctrine Change?
Sometimes in the media, one will encounter articles regarding "changing Mormon Doctrine." Articles such as this one make that claim.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Church of Christ, God's kingdom on earth, and thus its leaders receive continuous revelation to guide the Church. Continuous revelation results in policy changes, not doctrinal changes, and there is an important difference. The living Church of God serves its members according to their daily needs, which change with cultural changes, historical movements, economic trends, and political circumstances.
A look at the apostolic church after the resurrection of Christ is a good way to see the difference between "policy" and doctrine. The apostles led the Church according to revelation and did their best to understand the directives of God through the Holy Ghost. Their doctrine centered upon the salvation offered through the atonement of Christ. In spite of heresies progressing even during the life of the apostles, this doctrine never changed. However, the apostles enacted the following changes after receiving revelation.
- The disciples of Christ should have all things in common. (See Acts 4:32.) This way of life was not part of the Christian movement during the life of Christ, but became the practice of the early Saints under the direction of the apostles. A corresponding event in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the establishment of the Church Welfare Program during the Great Depression in the United States. This was the result of revelation to leaders of the Church, and represents a policy change, not a doctrinal change.
- The gospel should be taken to the Gentiles. (See Acts 10.) Peter experienced a revelation that the gospel should be taken to the Gentiles. Jesus had told the apostles that they would take the gospel to the world, but to this point, Jesus and the apostles had only taught Israelites. This was a change that was difficult for the apostles to accept and adjust to, and it incited much debate among them. However, this was not a change in doctrine, but a change in policy. A mirror to this change in the early Christian Church is the establishment of new missions in the Mormon Church, as political and cultural changes occur in the world.
- The gospel was preached to a Eunuch. (See Acts 8.) As a result of direct revelation, Phillip preached the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch. This was in direct contradiction to Jewish tradition, and the early church was a sect of Judaism, not a new church. This event's counterpart in the modern church is the offering of the Priesthood to worth male members of any race, where previously, Blacks did not hold the priesthood. Again, this does not represent a doctrinal change, but a policy change.
- The dietary law of Moses would not be binding upon members of Christ's church. Again, this was a policy decision and not central to the doctrines of the Church. The change removed all dietary restrictions, except for the eating of things strangled, the partaking of animal blood, and the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. (See Acts 15.) This action has a counterpart in the Mormon law of health, received by revelation in 1833. The Lord began by giving the health law as counsel and later inspired His prophets to make it a commandment. This gave the members time to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea consumption. This was not a doctrinal change in the Mormon Church, but an adjustment mandated by cultural conditions. The Lord prefaced the modern revelation with these words: "Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—" (Doctrine and Covenants 89:4). A living church receiving revelation will make these adjustments according to the constantly received word of God.
- Circumcision would not be required of converts to the Church of Christ. Again, by revelation, Christ's apostles determined that circumcision should no longer be required to be a member of Christ's church. This was not a change of doctrine.
These changes are proof that the church led by Christ's apostles was the living Church of Christ, and that they received revelation from God in leading that church, enabling it to make policy changes that would make the church inclusive of all races and ethnicities, and taking into account the cultural and economic influences of the day.
In the modern church, the temporary practice of polygamy to increase the numbers of the Saints, and to provide help for families whose husbands and fathers were away preaching the gospel, was the result of revelation — a change of policy and not a change in doctrine. The cessation of the practice of polygamy, again as a response to revelation, was effected when persecution threatened to destroy the Church, another change in policy. The increase in temple-building, changes in the missionary program, and even the increased use of technology to spread the gospel are examples of policy changes instigated by constant revelation, and should be seen as evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the living Church of Christ on earth.
Note that there has never been a change in the Church regarding what is sinful and what is not, for the commandments of God are doctrine. There has never been a change in the belief in the centrality of the family, or that the family is the eternal structure for personal growth. The doctrine of theosis, wherein we are destined to become like God, has never changed. The essence of priesthood power, its definition and purpose, is doctrine, and will not change. The Mormon view of salvation and exaltation has been given by revelation and the scriptures, and can only be elaborated upon, not changed.
Basic Mormon Doctrines
The Nature of Deity
Mormon doctrine does not state a belief in the trinity (three gods in one). Nor do Mormons believe that God is a bodiless spirit filling the immensity of space. Mormons believe that God is a corporeal being with a perfect, glorious, resurrected body of flesh and bones. Mormons believe in a God of love, who is both omnipotent and omniscient. Mormons believe that God, though all-powerful, is also all-personal. They believe that God hears and answers the prayers of His children. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, His Only Begotten in the flesh, the Messiah and Savior of the World. They believe that Christ is a perfect, resurrected being of flesh and bone. They believe that the Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead and is a being of spirit, so that he can dwell in the hearts of the righteous and serve as a comforter, conscience, and testator of the truth. These three beings are always of one accord. In that sense, they are One God.
According to Mormon doctrine, Latter-day Saints do not believe that God began as a spirit, came to earth as the embodied Christ, was resurrected, then gave up His resurrected body to go back to His original disembodied state. Latter-day Saints believe that Christ was the first-born of the spirits in the pre-mortal life, and that He volunteered to be the pivotal person to effect the Plan of Happiness. He agreed to offer Himself up in sacrifice for the sins of Mankind. Mormons believe that He was born to Mary, just as all Christians do, and that He did only the will of the Father all His life. They believe Christ was sinless. They believe he taught and lived as described in the New Testament, and that He was crucified, that He died and rose the third day. Mormons believe that He visited His apostles and established His church, and then, as a resurrected being, visited and taught Israelites who had migrated to the Americas and were waiting for Him. The record of that visit is recorded in the Book of Mormon. Mormons believe that Christ then visited the Ten Lost Tribes to teach them, also. Mormons believe that Christ will come again in glory and that the pure in heart will be caught up to meet Him at His coming. However, the Latter-day Saints do not believe in a "pre-tribulation rapture." Mormons believe in the Millennial reign of Christ on Earth.
The Plan of Happiness
Central to the doctrines of the Mormon Church is the knowledge that God has a plan for every one of His children. This plan is called by several names: "The Plan of Happiness," and "The Plan of Salvation" are the two most common. The Plan of Salvation teaches that human beings lived before they came to this earth in a pre-mortal existence as spirit children of God. Thus, they are literally His children. At birth, God's spirit children receive mortal bodies. Earth life is a time of testing and discovery, a time to prepare for resurrection and glory. The atonement of Christ enables people to repent and return to God the Father. The companionship of the Holy Ghost gives worthy people access to personal revelation and answers to prayer, providing (along with the scriptures) an anchor and guide in a wicked world. At death, people move on to the Spirit World, where they have the same freedom of choice as they did in their mortal life. They are then resurrected - receiving a perfected body - and then judged by God. Those who are truly faithful then dwell eternally in His presence.
Mormon doctrine affirms eternal progression is a basis for the Plan of Salvation. Each step (or "estate") of existence leads the believer on to becoming more and more as God is. His understanding and experience increase through the "First Estate," or pre-mortal existence, through his "Second Estate," or life on this earth, and even in the afterlife, as knowledge is added eternally. This principle is very exciting to Latter-day Saints. Where most Christian sects have no vision of the afterlife, except rest and singing the praises of God eternally, Mormons visualize an afterlife of constant learning and empowerment. One criticism of the Church is that Mormons think they can become gods. This idea seems, in the minds of some, to belittle God's own power and majesty. On the contrary, the goodness of God is manifest in His desire to exalt His children. In Moses 1:39, it says, "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." Understood in the idea of eternal progression is the concept that the righteous will eventually inherit "all that God has," including the ability to comprehend the universe and the ability to create. In Doctrine and Covenants 88:107 it says: "And then shall the angels be crowned with the glory of his might, and the saints shall be filled with his glory, and receive their inheritance and be made equal with him." ("Saints" are understood to be all the righteous.) Members of the Church understand that it is impossible to become perfect during their time on earth, and becoming like Christ will take eons of effort in the afterlife.
Mormon doctrine maintains that all men and women will be resurrected, and that resurrection is a free gift provided by Christ through his atonement. Children who die before the "age of accountability" (age eight), or those who are never accountable because of mental handicaps, will be saved in the highest kingdom of heaven, called the Celestial Kingdom. Mormons believe that man cannot redeem himself through his works, but that it is necessary to keep the commandments and endure in righteousness to gain exaltation. Therefore, both works and grace are necessary for exaltation. They believe that there are a multitude of mansions in the Father's kingdom, and that nearly all men will inherit a kingdom of glory. Only "sons of perdition," those who have seen Christ and have a perfect knowledge of Him and then choose to deny Him, will fail to inherit a kingdom of glory. (See Doctrine and Covenants, section 76.)
Mormons do not believe in "original sin." Babies are born innocent and are not tainted by the transgression of Adam. Latter-day Saints do not view Adam as a sinner, but as a hero, an elect servant of God. They believe that the state of Adam and Eve in the garden was static—no pain, death, or birth. Had Adam and Eve not transgressed and eaten the forbidden fruit, they never would have had children. However, the garden was a paradise, and Adam and Eve walked and talked with the Lord there. Having transgressed, they became subject to two kinds of death: physical death, and spiritual death, or separation from God. Christ's atonement overcame both kinds of death.
Mormon doctrine upholds the belief that the Plan of Salvation was established by God before the earth was ever created. Opposition was part of the Plan. Satan would tempt and try men on earth. God knew that man would fall, and He provided a Savior, Jesus Christ, to make an eternal atonement to save Mankind. Mormons believe that Adam was the first prophet, seer, and revelator, and that God revealed to him the Plan of Salvation in its entirety. Mormons believe that Adam and all the prophets testified of and knew of Christ, and that the Gospel has always been the same, while prophets revealed policies and patterns of behavior deemed proper for their dispensation. The myriad of churches that exist on the earth are the result of a straying from the original truths given since the beginning of time. Most of the plethora of religious philosophies that exist are the result of good men seeking for truth and proposing the best ideas they could through bursts of inspiration. Though Latter-day Saints seek truth and beauty wherever it is found, Mormons believe that a wholeness of gospel truth can only come from its source, directly from God, through chosen prophets. Mormonism, therefore, is not a new church, a modern church, or an American church, but a restoration of the original gospel through modern prophets.
Mormons believe that God chooses who will have the authority to act in His name, and that authority is transmitted by one who has the authority to do so. Mormon doctrine states when the Lord called Joseph Smith to be a prophet, there was no one on earth who had that authority. Therefore, it was given to Joseph Smith by heavenly messengers. (See Doctrine and Covenants 13:1, and Joseph Smith History 1:72.) Priesthood authority is necessary for covenants, such as baptism, to be binding on earth and in heaven.
Gift of the Holy Ghost
Mormons believe that after baptism, through the ordinance of the laying on of hands by an Elder of the Church, the repentant can receive the "gift of the Holy Ghost." The Holy Ghost is then the member's constant companion, unless he commits a sin or defiles his body in such a way that the Holy Ghost abandons him. Mormon doctrine asserts that the Holy Ghost will "guide, inspire, and warn, and will neutralize the promptings of the evil one."3 Mormons believe that every man and woman born on the earth is blessed with the light of Christ, which serves as a conscience. From time to time, seeking, sensitive men and women will receive promptings and inspiration from the Holy Ghost, but only a worthy person baptized under true authority receives the Holy Ghost as a constant companion.
Mormons believe that God speaks to hearing men everywhere and has done since the beginning. Therefore, many men in many places have written what God has seen fit to give them. That means holy writings, prophetic writings, must be numerous, much more numerous than the small collection known as the Bible. Mormons are ready to receive inspired scripture wherever it might be found. Mormons have a current body of scripture they call the Standard Works, which include the King James Version of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants. Members of the Church believe the Ten Lost Tribes will someday return with scriptures of their own to add to the current collection. Other discoveries are sure to be made. Mormons refuse to limit the Lord's ability to communicate with Mankind:
- Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
- Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
- And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
- Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
- For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.4
Familiesfamily is the basic unit of all societies, but more than that, the family can be an eternal unit, sealed together by sacred covenants forever. Said Joseph Smith: "And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory."5 Thus, Mormons take marriage and family life very seriously. Marriages performed in the temple are for "time and all eternity."
Coupled with their beliefs regarding the family is the Mormon view of morality. Rather than drift with the fashions of the day regarding sin, Mormon doctrine realizes that God is the same, always and forever, and so the Church sticks by the Ten Commandments with unwavering loyalty. The Church condemns sexual behavior outside the bounds of matrimony, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The Proclamation to the World makes clear the Church's view on the family and morality. The Church produces guidelines for youth in a booklet called "For the Strength of Youth" to teach and clarify these moral principles. The Church also condemns abortion except in special cases.
Though the Church has a clear and unwavering stance on morality, it realizes that all men sin and the Lord has provided a plan of repentance through the atonement of Christ. "Penance" is not a part of the repentance process for Latter-day Saints. The repentance process according to Mormon doctrine entails the following: 1) sorrow for sin, 2)abandonment of sin, 3)confession of sin, 4)restitution for sin, and 5)doing the will of the Lord after the sin has been abandoned. Confession for minor sins is made to the Lord in the process of personal prayer. Confession of major sins is made to one's bishop. The worst sin is called "the sin against the Holy Ghost" and consists of denying Christ once one has a sure knowledge of His divinity. Cain committed this sin. He had a personal relationship with God and then made covenants with Satan. Next is murder, because it is impossible to make restitution. Next is adultery. (See Doctrine and Covenants, section 42.) Mormons follow the scriptural admonition to refrain from judging others unrighteously and to forgive all men.
Some people look upon Mormons and wonder how they can survive with such a restrictive lifestyle, especially the health restrictions found in the Word of Wisdom. But Mormons believe in the principle given by the Lord found in 2 Nephi 2:25: "Adam fell that men might be, and men are, that they might have joy." Mormons believe in wholesome fun. Their health code frees them from being encumbered by addictions, and their moral code frees them from entanglements with sin. However, they know a fullness of joy cannot be attained on this earth: "And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one." (3 Nephi 28:10) A fullness of joy can't be attained until the spirit and body are united in perfection in the resurrection. The true gospel is the map one follows in order to obtain that fullness.
For a summary of beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, see the Articles of Faith.
- The Church's official website about the Savior
- Basic Mormon beliefs, official website
- Steve Young and Sharlene Hawkes address misconceptions about the Church
- LDS Newsroom:Approaching Mormon Doctrine
1 "Webster's New World Dictionary"; 1988 2 "Book of Mormon", Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-78 3 Elder Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 14-15. 4 The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 29:7-11 5 Doctrine and Covenants 130:2