What Is Mormonism?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, largest of the groups who accept Joseph Smith, Jr. as a prophet of God in these latter days, are commonly called “The Mormons.” The name “Mormon” is not objectionable to most of the Latter Day Saints. Dean B. Cleverly, executive assistant in the Missionary Department of the LDS Stake in Bountiful, Utah, responded to a question as to the appropriateness of using the name “Mormon” to designate Latter Day Saints. He wrote, “The early members of the Latter-day Church were nicknamed ‘Mormons,’ because they accepted the Book of Mormon as a companion volume of scripture to the Bible. Originally a term of contempt, the nickname was soon accepted and used rather freely by the Latter-day Saints.” Ensign, December 1983, page 29). We certainly mean no disrespect in our use of the term and use it as Cleverly says is an accepted practice among the Mormons.

This study is about what Mormonism is, what it roots and goals are, and how it operates as a religious confession around the world today. It is a subject that should be investigated by Mormon and non-Mormon alike. We are perfectly agreeable to what our Mormon friends believe. Joseph Smith, Jr., the first prophet, seer, and president of Mormonism claimed to have received a revelation directly from Jesus Christ to be given to one Sidney Rigdon at Hiram, Ohio, December 1, 1831. Here is the “revelation.”

“Wherefore, labor ye in my vineyard. Call upon the inhabitants of the earth and bear record, and prepare the way for the commandments and revelations which are to come. Now, behold this is wisdom; whoso readeth, let him understand and receive also; For unto him that receiveth it shall be given more abundantly, even power. Wherefore, confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful their shame shall be made manifest. Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord. Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you – there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and if any man lift his voice against you he shall be confounded in mine own due time. Wherefore, keep my commandments; they are true and faithful. Even so. Amen.” Doctrine and Covenants, Section 71, verses 4-11, page 115). This revelation from Jesus through Joseph Smith was not intended for Rigdon alone. Notice that the Lord said, “Now behold this is wisdom; whoso readeth...” This includes all who believe this was really a revelation from Christ. The one who reads is to understand the message, receives even more power. The Mormon today who believes this was a revelation from Christ is not afforded the option of deciding whether the circumstances are right for a public or private attack against those who deny their doctrinal positions. They have no choice, for to them, the Lord has plainly commanded it.

This study is not presented with enmity toward Mormons. It is at odds with the origin, structure, doctrines, and practices of Mormonism. There is much in Mormonism that is admirable and worthy of imitation. Their commitment to clean living, evangelistic zeal, and concern for the family life in this world is commendable. Also, should they really apply the above revelation Smith claimed to have received, their willingness to defend publicly or privately their views is certainly praiseworthy.

Orson Pratt was one of the original Twelve Apostles of Mormonism and a prolific writer and speaker. He wrote in regard to the Book of Mormon, “The nature of the message in the Book of Mormon is such, that if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it; if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it. Therefore, every soul in all the world is equally interested in ascertaining its truth or falsity.” (A Series of Pamphlets) R. James, Liverpool, 1851, “Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon,” page 1).

 The late Bruce McKonkie, also an Apostle of Mormonism wrote, “The plain fact is that salvation itself is at stake in this matter. If the Book of Mormon is true – if it is a volume of holy scripture, if it contains the mind and will and voice of the Lord to all men, if it is a divine witness of the prophetic call of Joseph Smith – then to accept it and believe its doctrines is to be saved, and to reject it and walk contrary to its teachings is to be damned.

 “Let this message be sounded in every ear with an angelic trump; let it roll round the earth in resounding claps of never ending thunder; let it be whispered in every heart by the still, small voice. Those who believe the Book of Mormon and accept Joseph Smith as a prophet thereby open the door to salvation; those who reject the book outright or who simply fail to learn its message and believe its teachings never so much as begin to travel that course along the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life.” (Ensign), November 1983, page 72). Separated by over 130 years, two of Mormonism’s most vocal Apostles have unequivocally drawn the line in sharp focus. Either we accept Mormonism, which is based on approval of the claims of Joseph Smith, Jr., and believe the Book of Mormon to be divinely inspired and revealed or we will be lost forever. 

The statements of Pratt and McKonkie remove the issue from the optional. It is no longer a matter that you can be right and turn down the claims of Mormonism. You cannot be saved if you reject their message, according to two of the highest officials Mormonism has ever produced. Generally, the Mormons with whom most of us are familiar are clean shaven, healthy young people who know very little of true Mormonism. This is not said to their discredit. They are energetic and zealous. Most of them simply do not know this basic fact about their own religion. The last thing most of them would ever dream of saying is that you cannot be saved and reject their message. But that is exactly what the highest officials of their religion have repeated over many years.

The prophet himself is on record on this point in very clear language. His explanation of his own condition just prior to receiving the angelic visitations reads like this. “My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others. In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith, 1:8-10). The prophet went on to conclude, “they were all wrong...” (verse 20). Smith was forbidden by a divine personage to join any of the existing churches, thus was to establish the one true church, The Latter Day Saints.

There is nothing wrong with claiming to be uniquely the one true church. The Roman Catholic Church has held this view of themselves for centuries. But to claim it and not be willing to admit or defend it is repulsive. For to claim to have all the true teaching of the Lord which are essential to the salvation of the world, and then be unwilling to defend it, even in accord with the instructions of the Lord Himself, is weak and unworthy of anything remotely related to Deity. Also, if the claims of Joseph Smith, Jr., the writings of two of Mormonism’s most prestigious Apostles, and the written revelations of Mormonism are all true, then all religious confessions and communities are false, belong to Satan and salvation is only among those who follow the Mormon line.

What evidence is there to verify the Mormon claim? The first evidence upon which Mormonism must base its claim is the Book of Mormon itself, the other revelations they claim from God, and that Joseph Smith, Jr. did, in fact, receive the visit from the angel Moroni. This can also be reduced to one simple fact: do you believe Joseph Smith, Jr. or not? If one accepts his testimonies, then there will be nothing to hinder one’s acceptance of the Book of Mormon (as well as all the other revelations) as a divine given from God Almighty. Another evidence upon which Mormonism stands is their claim to having restored the church which Jesus established. And, this study is intended to examine the basis upon which Mormonism today stands.

When an examination of Mormonism begins a fundamental fact must be observed. Anything that was spoken or written by Joseph Smith, Jr. has the same weight as anything spoken by the true biblical prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. Anything spoken or written by any of their Twelve Apostles carries the same authority today as what was spoken or written by the Apostles of Christ in the first century. A true prophet is a speaker for God and an genuine Apostle is a spokesman for Christ. When Moses expressed his lack of confidence in his ability to speak for God, God promised to be with his mouth (Exodus 4:10-11). Aaron, his brother, became his prophet (Exodus 7:1-2). What any of those among the Latter Day Saints who are believed to be prophets, apostles, seers, presidents, etc. have said or written must be believed without question. Mormons claim their “quorum of the twelve” occupy the place they think the apostles vacated and that the present president occupies the same place as Joseph Smith, Jr.

Mormonism is a religious system built upon the foundation of Joseph Smith, Jr., an alleged latter day prophet and upon the existence of the Book of Mormon, which is assumed to be divinely revealed through Joseph Smith. It is based on continued revelation from Heaven to mankind and claims to be the only way there is for mankind to every enjoy salvation. Those who reject it, according to the direct statements of Mormon leaders, are lost and will never enjoy salvation.

We welcome response from any Mormon apologist. If you care to respond, email us.