Mormons claim that the effectiveness of Christ's atonement is contingent upon the believer's continued obedience. Men are saved "in degrees proportionate to their righteous works,(1) and are dependent upon God only for the outline or general plan of salvation. God is therefore a co-partner with man in the redemptive process1 a master architect who provides the blueprint from which each man works out his own salvation.
How far this view differs from the Biblical doctrine of salvation is best expressed in Eph. 2:8-l0,
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
This passage is especially notable for the rigorous and conscientious manner in which Paul excludes any possibility of salvation by merit. Even faith, which might be thought to imply some degree of effort on the part of the believer, is ascribed directly to God. The believer has been created afresh in Christ Jesus in order that he might perform those deeds which God has prepared for his doing, not on account of good works already performed. It need hardly be added that such a doctrine removes all ground for boasting and self-congratulation; for it salvation is of grace, "then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace" (Rom. 11:6). Grace and works, in other words, are mutually exclusive.
Mormonism's devaluation of grace is a logical result of its doctrine of the fall. Mormons view Adam's transgression not as a shameful or sinful act, but as a necessary and beneficial step in man's upward ascent. Were it not for Adam's expulsion from Eden, God's entire plan of redemption would have been frustrated and man should never have had the opportunity for endless advancement. "Adam fell that men might be," the Book of Mormon records, "and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25).
This interpretation of man's fall has had a pronounced effect upon Mormon soteriology, especially in their doctrines of sin and grace. Salvation solely by grace necessarily involves a profound appreciation of sin's heinousness and a denial of the efficacy of legalistic works; but Mormons minimize the efficacy of grace, deny the existence of original sin, and stress salvation by the performance of moral and ritualistic duties. Against this view stands the Biblical doctrine that the Old Testament law was given for the express purpose of revealing the depth and power of sin, and to teach us that even our most magnanimous works are as filthy rags to God (Isa. 64:6). Man's inability to fulfill the law made all the world guilty before God, "for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). Paul wrote in Gal. 3:21-22,
If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
The New Testament clearly teaches that if salvation were obtainable through good deeds, "then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2:21).
Few ancient or modern heresies can boast of having an entire New Testament epistle directed against their peculiar error, but the Mormon view of works receives just that in Paul's letter to the Galations. The Christians at Galatia supposed that Christ's sacrifice required supplementary "works" in order to be completely effectual. Paul answered in chapters 2, 3, and 4 that the works of the law justify no man, and contribute nothing to the salvation already accomplished in Christ. Whosoever considers himself justified by works, he concluded, has denied Christ, and has effectively removed himself from the company of the redeemed (5:4).
Mormons often represent the doctrine of gracious salvation as if it were nothing more than an excuse for moral lethargy, a pernicious device which has "exorcised an influence for evil."(2) A moment's consideration of the relevant facts of history will effectively dispel any such illusion, and we need not pause to detail the moral rectitude of those who have most vigorously advocated salvation by grace. Mormon characterizations of the doctrine, furthermore, neglect to mention the place of good works in the believer's sanctification. Salvation is truly, in Paul's words, "not by works of righteousness which we have done" (Titus 3:5), yet Paul also insists that good works, while never a precondition of salvation, are a natural outgrowth of the sanctified life. "Faith itself would not be faith," Karl Barth has rightly observed,
if it did not work by love, if it were not as Luther put it "a living, active, busy thing"....The man who, justified by faith, has peace with God has also peace with his neighbour and himself. That he lives as one who is righteous by faith to the exclusion of all works is something that he will establish and attest in his works...(3)
Mormons endeavor to subvert the doctrine of God's gracious salvation by appealing to James 2:14-17,
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled: notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
By way of reply, it should be pointed out that the faith James criticizes is not the same faith that secures our salvation. The Bible teaches, as was shown above, that faith and works both derive from the same source, and that true faith produces good works as naturally as a tree produces foliage. This inseparable union between faith and works is emphasized because not all faith is genuine. There is a variety of faith which is ineffectual and counterfeit; an empty, unfruitful belief which even the demons possess. It is this form of faith which James pronounces as insufficient or dead. True faith, James argues, is like Abraham's in that it evidences itself in works of righteousness and piety, and "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness" (vs. 23). James does not therefore deny salvation by faith; he rather rebukes those who make only an empty profession of faith.
One of the chief "dead works" of Mormonism is its insistence that salvation is unobtainable without temple ordinances. Mormons construct temples all over the world, and in them conduct the most sacred and holy ordinances of their faith. The stories of creation and redemption are dramatically enacted, holy ties are sealed by the power of the Melchisedec priesthood, and the believer is initiated into the secret rites and ceremonies which will ultimately allow him to enter into celestial glory. Each Mormon who has participated in these temple ceremonies thus becomes a custodian of sacred mysteries, bound by oaths from ever violating or revealing his vows.
The New Testament is emphatic in its denial of the efficacy of temple ordinances, which the book of Hebrews teaches have been wholly done away in Christ. In 8:8-13 the author of Hebrews argues that the Mosaic covenant is antiquated and near collapse. This covenant, he continues, "had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary," including a holy of holies in which the high priest brought sacrifices once a year. As long as this tabernacle stood in the way the inner sanctuary remained inaccessible to believers, both people and priests being forbidden to directly approach the symbolic object of their faith. In Christ, however, we have a High Priest who has entered the true, archetypal tabernacle, thereby securing entrance for all who believe on his name. The material sanctuary is therefore wholly done away because the reality of which it was a figure has now been completely realized in Christ (9:1-10). We read in vss. 11-12,
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;...by.his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
This passage places Mormons in a very awkward position. If by his entrance into the heavenly temple Christ has already "perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14), what purpose can be served by the existence of earthly temples, seeing as how Christ's work has now wholly antiquated the very purpose for which they were built? Without their temple rites, Mormons admit, they cannot secure salvation in the fullest sense of the word, yet the Bible teaches that Christ has already obtained an "eternal redemption" by his entrance into the true temple found nowhere on earth. Mormons must either argue that the Bible is lying and Christ's work ineffectual, or confess that their temple ceremonies are illegitimate, possessing no more saving power than do the similar rites performed by the Masons.
Of additional significance is the rending of the temple veil at the moment of Christ's death. This signifies the cessation of the Old Testament ordinances, because Christ "taketh away the first, that he may establish the second" (Heb. 10:9). It indicates that the purpose for which the temple stood was ended, its most holy secrets opened to public view, and the intercessory duties performed by the priestly class abolished. Against this Biblical view Mormons have re-erected the old heirarchy of obstacles between the believer and his Lord; a priesthood that renders all non-Mormon ordinances invalid, a prophet without whose approbation no man can enter heaven, a temple that makes salvation unobtainable without its special ministrations. No greater indictment against the Mormon Church can be made than this: they have mended the veil Christ's death was meant to destroy.
One of the primary functions of temple work is marriage for time and all eternity. The Doctrine and Covenants records,
If a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word,...their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead,...Therefore, when they are out of the world they...are appointed angels in heaven; which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory...
And again,...if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by...him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood;... their marriage shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things ,...which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end;... (132:15-16, 19-20).
If marriage were as necessary for exaltation as the above quotation suggests, it is surpassingly strange that Paul should council against it. "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord", he wrote in 1 Cor. 7:32-33, "but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world..." While some of Paul's comments were doubtless made because of particular circumstances at Corinth, his obvious preference for celibacy cannot be ignored by any honest exegesis. He not only wished that all men and women were as abstentious as he (vs. 7), but urged that continentency be cultivated even in marriage because of the nearness of Christ's Parousia (vs. 29). Even if it should be granted that Paul's words have only a limited application, they still cannot be harmonized with the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage. Paul would then, in effect, be counselling the Corinthian Christians to forgo their future exaltation in favor of temporal expediency, an inadmissable interpretation even by Mormon standards.
An even more devastating blow to the Mormon concept of marriage was dealt by Jesus himself. Mt. 19:3-9 contains a short discourse concerning the indissolubility of the marriage relationship, adultery being the only recognized ground for divorce. Jesus' disciples were understandably upset by such a teaching, for on their view it was better not to marry than to risk being bound for life to a woman who was possibly ill-tempered or spiteful. "If the case of the man be so with his wife," they said, "it is not good to marry" (vs. 10). The disciples rather off-hand remark was recognized by Jesus as expressing a real truth, and he proceeded to explain that for some celibacy is a preferable condition to marriage.
All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it (vss. 11-12).
A eunuch, being sexually emasculated, is naturally incapable of marriage, and Jesus' first two instances refer to those who have become eunuchs involuntarily. Jesus' third and most important instance concerns those who have committed themselves to a life of spiritual self-renunciation "as effectually as though they were actual eunuchs."(4) Jesus' concluding remark, "he that is able to receive it, let him receive it," does not mean that celibacy is superior to matrimony, but simply that some can lead a more spiritually productive life by remaining single.
Mormons believe that the primary purpose of eternal marriage is the endless propagation of spirit children. Those who have been united in a Mormon temple and have obtained exaltation "will have eternal claim upon their posterity, and will have the gift of eternal increase,...a posterity that will be as innumerable as the stars of heaven."(5) How well this idea accords with the Biblical view of marriage and its purpose can best be seen by consulting Lk. 20:27-36, where Jesus denies both marriage after death and the possibility of "eternal increase". The Saducees, who denied the resurrection of the body, asked Jesus a question concerning the continuation of marital relationships after death. Moses recorded, they said, that if a man dies without issue, his brother must marry the widow and raise children in the deceased man's name. They gave a hypothetical instance of seven brothers, the first dying and leaving a wife but no children. The same thing occured with the six remaining brothers, each marrying their dead brother's wife but leaving no children at their own demise. The Saducees concluded by asking which of the brothers would be married to the woman in the resurrection "for seven had her to wife". This question, while originally intended as a conundrum to entrap Jesus, presupposes a view of the resurrection identical with Mormon representations, and makes Jesus' answer all the more destructive to the Mormon position.
The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
Earthly alliances and their complexities, in other words, have absolutely no bearing upon the reality of the resurrection. Marriage is a strictly mortal relationship, one purpose of which is the preservation of the human race; but in the resurrection marriage and propagation are alike superfluous, for men and women are immortal and have no more need to reproduce themselves than do the angels.
There is no exegetically responsible way Mormons can avoid the above interpretation. No disagreement among commentators exists as to Jesus' meaning, and all manuscript evidence favors the textual genuineness of the account.(6) While Mormons might claim that Jesus was speaking only of those who inherit a lower degree of glory, the passage itself affords no evidence for such a conclusion. On the contrary, Jesus' words plainly refer to those "accounted worthy to obtain that world (i. e., heaven)," and who are classified as "children of God." Here, as elsewhere, the Mormons find themselves in a theological cul-de-sac from which they can extricate themselves only by denying either the Bible or their own revelations. True to the spirit of their founder, they reject the former.
A second of the great "dead works" of Mormonism is the dietary restriction known as the Word of Wisdom. This revelation, initially received during the height of the great temperance crusades in America, forbids the use of alcoholic beverages, tobacco in any form, and "hot drinks" (later interpreted as coffee and tea). Although originally given "not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation" (Doctrine and Covenants 89:2), the Mormon Church today considers adherence to the Word of Wisdom a primary requisite for full Church membership. Advancement in the Church hierarchy is often dependent in part upon the individual's faithfulness in keeping the Word of Wisdom, and access to the Mormon temple is denied those who fail to live its precepts.
The Bible teaches that all such dietary restrictions are inconsistent with the principles of the gospel. Jesus emphatically denied that the eating of taboo foods has anything to do with a person's religious condition, instead emphasizing that persons can be defiled only by themselves (Mk. 7:14-23; cf. 1 Cor. 8:8). While Jesus' words did not explicitly abrogate the Old Testament dietary laws, the early church soon realized that such restrictions were inimical to the gracious character of the gospel. The Judaizing Christians at Rome tenaciously upheld the Mosaic food laws, and even adopted the Essene practice of abstaining from wine. Paul classified such individuals as "weak in the faith," but urged more mature Christians to tolerate their weaker brothers in a spirit of forbearance and compassion (Rom. 14). Some five years later, in the epistle to the Colossians, the Judaizing faction had increased to such an alarming level that Paul pronounced asceticism in either drinking or eating as unworthy of Christians (2:16-17). Still later, in 1 Timothy, the exponents of dietary abstinence had become schismatic, and were classified among those who had given "heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (4:1-5). These three passages, and many others which might be cited, clearly teach that idiosyncratic notions about the religious sanctity or unsanctity of certain foods and drinks is a return to the dead works of the law, and have absolutely no religious significance whatever. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote, "Spiritual stability depends on the grace of God, and not on rules of diet--which after all have not spiritually benefitted those who have made a specialty of that kind of thing"(13:9, Phillips translation).
A Biblical precedent often used to justify Mormon teetotalerism is Lk. 1:15, where John the Baptist's spiritual greatness is made dependent upon his avoidance of spiritous drinks.(7) It requires little insight, however, to discern that John's example was exceptional, and that his aversion to wine is no more determinative for the Christian life than was his camel-hair dress or penchant for locusts and wild honey. To view John's abstinence as a paradigm for Christian practice, moreover, would exclude Christ Himself from the kingdom of God. Jesus drank wine on numerous occasions, miraculously transformed 120 gallons of water into the finest wine, and even contrasted John's austere eating and drinking habits with his own, adding that his more sociable way of life led the Jews to accuse him of glutteny and drunkenness (Lk. 7:33-34). Jesus attitude toward wine is that of the Old Testament generally: that is, wine is a good gift of God if its use is not abused.
The idea of Jesus breaking the Word of Wisdom is intolerable to most Mormons, and they have accordingly suggested that those passages which mention him drinking wine refer to grape juice, not wine of the intoxicating variety. Such a suggestion proves nothing except a reluctance to forego theological prejudice for Biblical fact. There are two words for wine in New Testament Greek: gleukos, meaning new wine, and oinos, meaning "the fermented juice of the grape."(8) Gleukos is used only in Acts 2:13, and obviously does not mean grape juice, since the insinuation is that these men are drunken. Oinos is the word for wine most commonly used in the New Testament. That it could cause intoxication is clear from Eph. 5:18, "And be not drunk with wine (oinos), wherein is excess." Had the New Testament writers wished to express the thought of unintoxicating wine, they would have used trux; a word that does not even occur in the Bible.
Mormon emphasis upon the Word of Wisdom is all the more remarkable when we consider that Joseph Smith himself was frequently known to violate its precepts. In his History of the Church the following entries are recorded:
We then partook of some refreshments, and our hearts were made glad with the fruit of the vine. This is according to the pattern set by our Savior Himself, and we feel disposed to patronize all the institutions of heaven.
Called at the office and drank a glass of wine with Sister Jennetta Richards, made by her mother in England,...
It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whisky that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom. I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.(9)
All of these incidents followed the revelation of the Word of Wisdom, and all occurred after the High Council's decision that "No official member in this Church is worthy to hold an office, after having the Word of Wisdom properly taught him, and he, the official member, neglecting to comply with or obey it; which decision the Council confirmed by vote."(10)
Observance of the Word of Wisdom, temple marriage, and a legion of other legalistic works enables the faithful to achieve salvation. This does not mean, however, that the Mormon concept of salvation involves any traditional idea of heaven. Joseph Smith instead taught that the final judgment will separate mankind into three separate kingdoms: the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial. Membership in one of these three kingdoms is what Mormons mean by salvation. The Celestial Kingdom is the highest degree of exaltation. Only the most faithful Mormons can enter this kingdom, and only those who attain its highest level can go on to become gods. The Terrestrial Kingdom is composed of luke-warm Mormons, believing members of other Christian faiths, and those who have led a morally upright life. The Telestial Kingdom is inhabited by adulterers, thieves, and liars. This third kingdom, however, must not be confused with hell. It is a degree of glory, and so surpasses our present existence that many people would commit suicide to get there.
Do Mormons, then, believe that everyone will be saved? Mormons answer this question somewhat ambiguously, as there is some uncertainty regarding the salvation of Satan and his angels. Generally speaking, the Mormon "hell" is part of the Mormon "heaven". Those who occupy all but the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom will experience hell in the sense of regret for not having done better. There are those, however, who will not inherit any of the three kingdoms, but will be cast into "outer darkness". These sons of perdition" (the devil, his angels, and those who have knowingly turned aside from the truth) are not necessarily condemned forever. Mormon apostle John A~ Widtsoe has theorized that these rebellious spirits will ultimately be dissolved, turned back into their original elements, and finally be recreated to begin all over again.(11)
Mormons claim to derive their doctrine of multiple heavens from 1 Cor. 15:40-42,
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.
These verses are a partial answer to the question posited in vs. 35, "How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" Paul answers that not all flesh is the same, and proceeds to illustrate his meaning with various analogies drawn from the realm of nature. There is a great diversity among human and animal life, he argues, each genus being characterized by a different type of organic structure. This diversification of physiological types also applies to stellar bodies which are visibly different in size and splendor. All of these multiple variations between heavenly and earthly bodies suggest that our resurrection bodies will be similarly different from our present mortal forms, for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption" (vs. 50). Only an exegesis hopelessly mired in dogmatic presuppositions could find in Paul's words a description of the three Mormon heavens.(12)
A second passage supposedly confirming the Mormon concept of three heavens is 2 Cor. 12:2-4,
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Paul's mention of the "third heaven" admits of three possible interpretations: first, it is a rhetorical hyperbole to signify that which is highest and most perfect; second, it denotes the most sublime heaven wherein God has his habitation (the two lower "heavens" being those of the clouds and stars); or, third, it designates the third of the Rabbinical seven heavens, This latter explanation is probably the more correct. The writers of the Old Testament, in common with other ancient peoples, conceived of heaven as an ascending series of layers or stories. Later Jewish speculation numbered these heavens as seven, the third being a wonderful garden filled with flowering trees, fragrant fruits, and other pleasures designed for those who merit "an eternal inheritance" (2 Enoch 8:1-9:1). Located within this third heaven was paradise, "where rest has been prepared for the just, and it is open to the third heaven, and shut from this world" (2 Enoch 42:3). The verbal repitition of 2 Cor. 12:2-4 likewise identifies the third heaven with paradise; while elsewhere in the New Testament paradise is identified with the celestial Jerusalem, the final abode of the blessed (Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14). (13)
For our present purposes it matters little whether Paul accepted Jewish notions of a storied heaven or merely used the image cut of consideration for the views of his audience. What is important is that he clearly viewed paradise and heaven as closely related if not synonymous. The Mormon paradise, however, is a place where the dead await final judgment, and in no way is related to their Celestial Kingdom or third heaven. Far from condoning Mormon ideas of heaven, Paul's statement in 2 Cor. 12:2-4 is actually fatal to their doctrine of the final state.
Click here for VII: Man
1. John A. Widtsoe, "Mormonism," in C. S. Braden (ed.), Varieties of American Religion (Chicago: Willett, Clark & Company, 1936), 133.
2. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1899), 120.
3. Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4 (pt. l):627.
4. H. A. W. Meyer Critical and Exegetical Hand-book to the Gospel of Matthew (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884), 340.
5. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1954-1956), 2:44.
6. Even Smith's own "Inspired Version" of the Bible left the relevant passages virtually untouched.
7. It is possible (if not probable) that John was in some way associated with either the Nazarete or Essene orders, both of which demanded abstinence from wine and strong drink.
8. W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 564.
9. Smith, History of the Church 2:369; 5:380; Millennial Star 21 (30 April 1859):283. The last 23 words were deleted when reprinted in the official History of the Church 5:450.
10. Ibid., 2:35. For other accounts of Smith's drinking, see LaMar Petersen, Hearts Made Glad: The Charges of Intemperance Against Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet (Salt Lake City: By the Author, 1975).
11. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 214.
12. It is true that some expositors (most notably Augustine) thought that Paul here alluded to the different degrees of heavenly glory enjoyed by the blessed. Such an interpretation, however, disrupts the apostle's analogy, and for this reason has been universally abandoned by modern commentators.
13. Some have thought it demeaning to Paul's experience if he were translated to only the third heaven, leaving four heavens still above him. Any cogency this objection might be thought to possess is removed when we consider that the four higher heavens were reserved for God and his attendant hosts, while the third was commonly believed to be the final abode of the blessed.