Mitt Romney has refocused thought on the Mormon Church. Some evangelicals have problems with the Mormons – and I think they should. We have to consider the Mormons in a historical context to understand some of their faith positions. I will attempt to address this topic from memory – we’ll see if I have to pause for research. I will certainly pause for my personal commentary.
The Mormon Church found it’s legs in the early 1800’s in America. This was a time of theological disturbance across this continent. A number of new churches were birthed in this era. Small communities were forming in the western frontiers (Ohio) and the people came from diverse religious backgrounds. Compromises were made out of necessity. The lack of a centralized authority, of dogmatic structure, left faith to wander around. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and a variety of other denominations were given life in the 1800’s. Joseph Smith Jr. was a young man in upstate New York, struggling with finding true faith and the true church.
I believe that young Smith was about 14 when he went into the forest and, following the advice in James 1:5-6, asked God for the truth. An ‘angel’ appeared and told Joe that the truth would be revealed to him, thank you for asking. The story goes on that when Joe was 27, or perhaps it was 1827, he went back to the forest and the angel reappeared and showed Joe the hidden burial site of some gold tablets. The gold tables contained the writings of Moroni, the man assigned by God to chronicle the life of Jesus in the Western Hemisphere. The text was written in an ancient language. Buried with the plates were some special ‘glasses’ to be used to interpret the written word to English. They had laws back then that required everything to be written in English.
Joseph Smith interpreted the plates and the result was the Book of Mormon. This is not viewed as adding text to the original Christian Bible – It is a complimentary work of the same story – the story of Jesus bringing the message of God to his people. The idea is simple – After Jesus was crucified on the Cross he came to this hemisphere to tell the people here the same thing as he told the people in the East. After all, why would he tell those folks and not tell these? ‘These’ folks who populated this hemisphere were believed to have been the ‘lost tribe’ of Israel, probably the Levites. The Book of Mormon was adopted by the followers of Joseph Smith as scripture equal to the Bible.
Another simple but important theological idea was this: The true church of Jesus Christ had been lost. The evidence – the Dark Ages. Clearly the Church of Jesus Christ was not in evidence. Joseph Smith postulated that the church was lost when Christ was crucified and he, Joseph Smith, was called as the prophet to restore the true church. He mixed no words – clearly stating that the Catholic Church was the church of the devil – leading true believers away from the truth. The Catholic Church had indeed given a great deal of historical ammunition for Joseph Smith to make his case.
After establishing his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith surmised that God was, is, and always will be the same. If he once gave revelations to man through his prophets he would continue to do so. The young prophet established the Doctrine and Covenants – the third book in the trilogy of scripture. This book would chronicle the ‘continuing revelations of God’ – as given to man through the prophet. I think it is perhaps Covenant number 75 that says people should not partake of hot drinks – that excludes hot tea and coffee. Mitt Romney has never had a cup of coffee.
Joseph Smith was also informed by divine revelation that the King James Bible was flawed by human interpretation. The truth was revealed to him and he produced the Revised Bible, with the errors of interpretation corrected. This was a very smart guy.
So there are three books of equal theological value, The Bible, The Book of Mormon, and The Doctrine and Covenants.
The basic theological tenants:
- The true Church of Jesus was lost after his death, Joseph Smith was called to restore the true church.
- The Catholic Church is the Church of the Devil.
- Jesus came to this hemisphere to tell the same message he had given in the Eastern hemisphere.
- There are continuing revelations of God.
There are many ideas that have evolved out of this movement. Perhaps we will look at those one day.
The denominations mentioned here are uniquely American. My personal thought is that the religious movements that came out of the 1800’s in America are examples of faith gone awry. In order to follow any of these ideologies one is expected to suspend disbelief – to accept nonsense on faith alone. The preachers want you to use faith alone because there is absolutely no other reason in the world to accept the craziness. The methodology, this demand of faith alone, is expounded by modern day televangelists and the new pastors of the mega-churches.
Faith, by definition, does not require proof. That is the beauty of it in the eyes of the con men of America and of the Middle East.
See Also: On Christianity