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(Last Updated: 05 Jan 2002 )
Another Knock at the Door
Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith
The Great Apostasy
God the Father Has a Physical Body
There Are Many Gods
We Can Become Like God
"But I Testify to You..."
IntroductionThe Mormon church was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. It's also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons believe lots of strange stuff, some of which we'll look at in this dialogue.
Another Knock at the DoorMORMON: Hi there! I've been visiting houses in the neighbourhood sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are you a religious person, by any chance? Do you have a minute or two to talk about Jesus?
CATHOLIC: Uh, wasn't I just talking to you?
M: Me? No, sorry, I don't think we've ever met.
C: Oh, OK, it's just that I had a visitor here a few minutes ago who looked a lot like you.
M: Really? Well, it wasn't me. Hey, he wasn't a Jehovah's Witness was he?
C: Yeah, actually he was.
M: Oh, well in that case, it might have been my brother. He became a JW a couple of years ago. It's very sad really, that he'd join a cult like that. We don't talk much these days.
C: I'm sorry to hear that.
M: Yeah, it's terrible. All the lies they get fed. My partner and I actually ran into a JW just before. They're still talking now. Cults. [Shakes head]
C: Yeah. So, what brings you here? You're obviously not a JW.
M: I certainly am not. I'm from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Some people call us Mormons. My name is Elder Young, by the way.
C: Pleased to meet you. Do you have a first name?
C: Well, hi Joseph. I think I've heard a little bit about what you guys believe.
M: Well, that's good. Are you a religious person yourself?
C: Yeah, I'm Catholic.
M: Oh, OK. I've got a lot of respect for the Catholics.
C: Glad to hear it. But what brings you here though? [Smiling] You gonna tell me how wrong I am?
M: Pretty much [laughs]. No, really I'm here to help people like you fill in some gaps in your knowledge. Since you're a Christian, like me, we've got a lot in common. But there's also a lot more you need to know. For a start, you need to know about the prophet Joseph Smith.
C: He's the guy who invented Mormonism, right?
M: No, Jesus Christ is the guy who invented Mormonism. But the prophet Joseph Smith is the man who Jesus chose to restore his church.
C: OK, so when did this happen?
Testimony of the Prophet Joseph SmithM: In the 1820s. Let me share with you the testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith. [Cue Joseph Smith picture] Joseph Smith was raised in a spiritual but not religious family. In 1820 there was a religious revival where he lived in the state of New York, USA, and he wanted to know which of the various Protestant organisations taught the truth. So he was reading the Bible for guidance and he came across James chapter 1 verse 5. Do you have a Bible, by any chance?
M: That's great. Well, how about you read that verse for us. James 1:5. That's in the New Testament, you know.
C: Thanks. OK: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him."
M: So Joseph Smith went to a grove in the forest and knelt down and prayed to the Lord asking him for guidance. [Cue grove image]. He saw a bright light, and then two persons standing above him in the air. One of them pointed to the other and said "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" [Cue Vision image]
Joseph Smith asked which of all the religious organisations was right, so that he would know which to join. The answer was that he should join none of them, because they were all wrong. In fact, all their creeds were an abomination in the sight of the Lord, and their teachers were all corrupt.
A few years later, a vision of an angel led him to discover golden plates buried nearby [cue angel image]. On these plates was written a strange language, which Joseph Smith was given the supernatural power to translate. From these plates he produced the Book of Mormon, which is another Testament of Jesus Christ. In 1830 he organised the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which restored the true worship and teaching of Jesus that had until then been lost in the great apostasy that happened shortly after the time of the apostles.
C: So what you're saying is that true Christianity was basically wiped out very early on?
The Great ApostasyM: Yep, I'm afraid so. Jesus said in Matthew chapter 7: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." This is exactly what happened. Even within the lifetime of the first apostles, there were wolves in sheep's clothing in the Church. These "wolves" spread their false teachings, and by the time the apostles had died, the apostasy was well under way. The pure message of Jesus was corrupted and lost until God appointed his faithful servant, the prophet Joseph Smith, to restore the ancient truths.
C: Passages like that don't talk about a total apostasy though; they are just warnings about people teaching heresies. But in spite of heresies, the Catholic Church has always stuck to the truth. The Bible's very clear that the Church will always faithfully teach the Gospel and will last until the end of time.
M: Well, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will last until the end of time, now that the fullness of the everlasting Gospel has been revealed through Joseph Smith. But I'm afraid the early Church did fall away. It was gradual, but certainly by about 200AD, Christianity had totally disappeared.
C: Well, the trouble is, what I see in the New Testament is that Jesus promised to never leave his Church. I mean, in Matthew 16:18 he said "upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it". But what you're saying is that the gates of hell did prevail against the Church, for 1800 years or so.
M: They're not prevailing now that the Gospel has been restored.
C: Do you remember Jesus' parable about the foolish builder who build his house on sand? The way you put it, it sounds like Jesus was the fool of his own parable, whose house collapsed as soon as it rained. But I believe that he knew what he was doing when he built his church. In Matthew 28, Jesus says, "behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age". He didn't say "Behold, I am with you for a while, but then I'll stop and everyone will fall away."
M: Well, we have writings from the early Church showing the multiplication of heresies and divisions that happened after the time of Jesus.
C: Maybe you oughtta read those writings. They are by Catholics, against heresies. Guys like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp - these people were taught by apostles, and what they wrote about is consistent with what Catholics believe today. I mean, if you want to get into the early church fathers, doesn't matter how early you want to go, you're gonna find they're Catholic, not Mormon. Sorry. And there's no historical record of a total apostasy either.
M: Yes, but that's just what we'd expect. All the records of the true church were destroyed by the corrupt church that took its place.
C: Well that sure sounds convenient. Look, St Paul said that the church is the body of Christ, and there's no way Jesus is gonna let his body disintegrate like you describe. Here's what Jesus said in Luke 14: "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’" I'm sure that Jesus knew what he was doing when he laid the foundations for his Church.
And think about Matthew 18, where Jesus tells us that if we have a difficulty with a brother, we try and settle the difficulty with him personally. If we can't settle it, we take two or three with us and try to work it out. If we still can't settle things, we're supposed to 'tell it to the Church', and if our brother won't listen to the Church, he gets excommunicated. The question is, what Church is Jesus talking about here?
M: Jesus is talking about the true Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
C: But what if you're living in 1785, and you have this same difficulty? Where do you go then? Your church doesn't exist yet! See, it seems to me that this apostasy thing is your biggest problem. There's no historical proof for it, the Bible talks about Jesus being with his Church forever and not abandoning it for hundreds of years, and the Catholic Church can demonstrate continuity from the apostles through the early Church until today. But that's only one problem I have. What about these two guys Joseph Smith saw. Who were they?
M: Well, obviously, one was God the Father, and the other one was Jesus Christ.
God the Father Has a Physical BodyC: So you guys believe that God the Father has a physical body, like us?
M: Yes, although it's better to say that we have a physical body like him. It's like in Genesis, where God said that he created man in his own image.
C: But don't you think that image could be something spiritual? You know, we have a spirit, and we are rational creatures, so in that sense we have God's image?
M: No, the Bible is full of verses that talk about God's physical body. Jesus sits at God's right hand, the arm of the Lord helped the Israelites win their battles, God has a mouth, eyes and so on. God's physical body is all through Scripture.
C: Well, there's lots of metaphors about God. There's also metaphors about how God will protect us under the shadow of his wings. Does that mean God looks like a chicken?
M: Well, no, that would be ridiculous...
C: The Bible says God is a consuming fire; it says that he is a rock; there's all sorts of images used for God. But Jesus says "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." And he also says that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. So that's what I'm gonna believe. But if God does have a body, where did that body come from?
M: Well, uh, we don't normally get into this in our first discussions with people...
C: Yeah, well, I'm curious. Help me out here.
There Are Many GodsM: Well, God was once a mortal man on another planet. He lived a faithful Mormon life there and when he died he was resurrected by his own god and eventually became divine himself. Then his god gave him the right to create our world along with many others.
C: So there are actually many Gods?
M: Well, there's only one God of this world.
C: But there's lots of other Gods out there somewhere?
M: Yes, like it says in Psalm 82: "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods."
C: C'mon Joseph, that passage is using the word elohim to refer to human judges. It's a play on words, comparing God the perfect judge to the unjust judges that are condemned in that Psalm. I think you'd be better off quoting Isaiah 43:10: "Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me".
M: That's just talking about the God of this world.
C: So when the Bible says in Isaiah 45:5: "I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God", that's not strictly correct, there are actually lots of other gods?
M: Well, yeah, but there's only one God of this world.
C: Uh huh. And the other thing was, God wasn't always God - you're saying he gradually became God?
M: That's right. And that's the glorious hope that we can look forward to as well, provided we follow the teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, of course.
C: But look, I actually happen to have a copy of the Book of Mormon, and in Mormon chapter 8 it says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. So is that not quite right? Joseph Smith's later teachings about God overrule his earlier ones that he wrote in the Book of Mormon?
We Can Become Like GodC: And we can become like God as well?
M: Yes, that's right! Great, isn't it? Joseph Smith put it like this: "Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation".
C: Yeah, well, sorry but that sounds like something I've heard before. That's how the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, telling them that if they ate the forbidden fruit they'd be like God. And that's what Lucifer said in Isaiah 14: "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High". So it doesn't seem like there's a very good pedigree for that sort of doctrine, does it?
"But I Testify to You..."M: Look, I testify to you that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and that the Mormon church is true. I know this in my heart.
C: Well I testify to you that Joseph Smith is a false prophet and the Mormon church is not the one established by Christ. And I know this in my heart.
M: Look, I have to go. But can you do something for me? You have a copy of the Book of Mormon: how about you read Moroni chapter 10, verses 3 to 5.
C: "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost."
M: So you have a read of the book of Mormon, and ask the Lord if he will show to you whether it is true or not. And he'll confirm it with a burning in your heart.
C: Yeah, well in Jeremiah 17 verse 9 the Lord says "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" I don't think I should be putting my faith in subjective feelings like that. I mean, I get a burning in my heart when I eat too much salami. And I get another kind of burning in my heart when I receive the Eucharist or go to confession. Do you think I should trust those feelings?
M: Well, no, but the Book of Mormon is different, the Mormon Church teaches the truth of God.
C: I know that's what you believe, but I'm afraid it's not right. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and he's always looked after his Church, so that's who I'm gonna stick with - and for the sake of your eternal soul, maybe you should too.
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