During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
Chapter 7: The Immortality of the Soul
We lived as spirits before we came to earth, and our spirits will continue living after we die.
Our comprehension of this life is that it is eternal life—that we are living in eternity today as much as we ever will live in eternity. Our belief is that we lived before we came here; that which is intelligence, that which is spirit, did not have its beginning in this life. We believe that we received a spiritual tabernacle before we came into this world. That spiritual body was sent to this world, and here it received a physical tabernacle, the body which we see. The physical portion that we see is of earth, earthy [see 1 Corinthians 15:47], but that portion which leaves the body when our lives go out is that which is spiritual, and it never dies.
Mormonism “teaches that the human race lived in a premortal existence with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. . . . But at some distant point in our premortal past, spirit bodies were created for us, and we became, literally, spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents” (“Life Before Birth,” Ensign, February 2006, 30-31). A church manual reports, “The firstborn spirit son of our Father was Jesus Christ. He was our Elder Brother. He became a member of the Godhead while he was in heaven, before he came to this earth” (Presidents of the Church Teacher’s Manual, 1). Another manual states: “Before you were born on earth, you lived in the presence of your Heavenly Father as one of His spirit children. In this premortal existence, you attended a council with Heavenly Father’s other spirit children. At that council, Heavenly Father presented His great plan of happiness (see Abraham 3:22-26)” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 115,116).
Church leaders have explained how there was a disagreement in the premortal existence over who should be the Savior of the world and how mankind would be saved. Two brothers, Jesus and Lucifer, submitted their plans:
Jesus was willing to come to the earth, give His life for us, and take upon Himself our sins. He, like our Heavenly Father, wanted us to choose whether we would obey Heavenly Father’s commandments. He knew we must be free to choose in order to prove ourselves worthy of exaltation . . . . Satan, who was called Lucifer, also came, saying, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). Satan wanted to force us all to do his will. Under his plan, we would not be allowed to choose. He would take away the freedom of choice that our Father had given us. Satan wanted to have all the honor for our salvation. Under his proposal, our purpose in coming to earth would have been frustrated. (Gospel Principles, 13, 15).
Satan’s plan was rejected and, in response, he
became angry and rebelled. There was war in heaven. Satan and his followers fought against Jesus Christ and His followers. . . . In this great rebellion, Satan and all the spirits who followed him were sent away from the presence of God and cast down from heaven. A third part of the hosts of heaven were punished for following Satan (see D&C 29:36). They were denied the right to receive mortal bodies. Because we are here on earth and have mortal bodies, we know that we chose to follow Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Satan and his followers are also on the earth, but as spirits. They have not forgotten who we are, and they are around us daily, tempting us and enticing us to do things that are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father. In our premortal life, we chose to follow Jesus Christ and accept God’s plan. (Gospel Principles, 15-16).
I am thankful that there has been revealed to us and made plain in this latter-day that this life is not the end, that this is but a part of eternity, and that if we take advantage of our privileges here, that this is but the stepping stone to greater and more desirable conditions.
According to Mormonism, every human will get to go to one of three heavens: the celestial, terrestrial, or telestial. For those who are completely faithful, there is a hope that they can go to the Celestial Kingdom and become gods/goddesses in a new world made especially for them and their family.
Some believe that when we pass from this sphere of existence, that is the end. It seems incredible to me, when we look into the works of nature, when we investigate the organism of man, the perfection of his body, the pulsation of his heart, the building and strengthening from childhood to manhood, then the gradual decline until this life is ended—that it is possible any of our Father’s children can believe that human beings have been born into the world only to live to manhood and womanhood, pass to old age, and die, without some purpose in their having lived here.
Smith utilizes a logical fallacy called the straw man argument to make his point. Christians agree that humans are wonderfully and fearfully made. However, this does not make them “gods.” By saying “some believe…,” he makes it appear that humans live, grow old, and then die, apparently with no purpose. This is not even close to what Christianity teaches. As the Westminster Catechism puts it, the chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever. Indeed, Jesus came to give His people a full and abundant life (John 10:10b), which doesn’t end at death. There is great purpose in Christian living, with the result that they can spend eternity with God in heaven. What joy! As the Bible says, this is what it means to have a “peace that passes all understanding.”
There is no doubt in the mind of a Latter-day Saint as to the purpose of our earth life. We are here to prepare ourselves and develop ourselves and qualify ourselves to be worthy to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
The language used by Smith makes it appear that what Mormonism teaches is not much different from Evangelical Christianity. However, consider what Joseph Smith said in a sermon called the King Follett Discourse:
“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, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346-347).
Second President Brigham Young said,
“The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself; when we have been proved in our present capacity, and been faithful with all things He puts into our possession. We are created, we are born for the express purpose of growing up from the low estate of manhood, to become Gods like unto our Father in heaven. That is the truth about it, just as it is. The Lord has organized mankind for the express purpose of increasing in that intelligence and truth, which is with God, until he is capable of creating worlds on worlds, and becoming Gods, even the sons of God.” (Journal of Discourses 3:93).
Sterling W. Sill wrote,
“Becoming a god is our greatest possibility in life. Jesus taught that all men, including himself, were the actual spirit children of God, and that according to the eternal laws of heredity, the offspring of God might hope to eventually become like their eternal parents. It is interesting to remember that God’s angels, spirits, and men are all members of the same species in different degrees of righteousness and different stages of development” (That Ye Might Have Life, p. 26).
Dwelling the presence of “Heavenly Father” means learning to become a god in the same way Elohim is the god of this world. While Christians believe they will have glorified bodies (see 1 Cor. 15), the Bible does not say that people will become gods in their own right, with the ability to procreate (spirit children) and then manage new earths.
We believe that we are here because we kept our first estate and earned the privilege of coming to this earth. We believe that our very existence is a reward for our faithfulness before we came here, and that we are enjoying on earth the fruits of our efforts in the spirit world.
Mormon leaders have insisted that the performance of humans as spirits in premortality determined their social status here on earth. For instance, President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
“Is it not a reasonable belief, that the Lord would select the choice spirits to come through the better grades of nations? Moreover, is it not reasonable to believe that less worthy spirits would come through less favored lineage? Does this not account in very large part, for the various grades of color and degrees of intelligence we find in the earth?” (The Way to Perfection, 48).
In a speech, Apostle Mark E. Petersen stated:
“With all this in mind, can we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Indians, some as Negroes, some as Americans, some as Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds.” (“Race Problems as they Affect the Church,” August 27, 1954, 11).
In a 2008 devotional, Terry Ball, dean of religious education at BYU, told the students,
“Have you ever wondered why you were born where and when you were born? Why you were not born 500 years ago in some primitive, aboriginal culture in some isolated corner of the world? Is the timing and placing of your birth capricious? For Latter-day Saints the answer is no. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that before we came to this earth we lived in a premortal existence with a loving Heavenly Father. We further understand that in that premortal state we had agency. And that we grew and developed as we used that agency.” (“To Confirm and Inform: A Blessing of Higher Education,” March 11, 2008, BYU Devotional)
When it comes to those of African heritage, Mormons leaders before 1978 were very specific that their preexistent behavior is what prevented them from holding the LDS priesthood. For example, Apostle George F. Richards (1821-1899) said that “the Negro race” has “been forbidden the priesthood, and the higher temple blessings, presumably because of their not having been valiant while in the spirit. It does not pay to be anything but valiant.” (Conference Reports, October 1947, 57). Apostle Melvin J. Ballard asked,
“Why is it in this Church we do not grant the priesthood to the Negroes? It is alleged that the Prophet Joseph said—and I have no reason to dispute it—that it is because of some act committed by them before they came into this life. It is alleged that they were neutral, standing neither for Christ nor the devil. But, I am convinced it is because of some things they did before they came into this life that they have been denied the privilege. The races of today are very largely reaping the consequences of a previous life.” (Bryant Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Service of Melvin Joseph Ballard, 248).
While some would say that the doctrine of blacks not having permission to hold the LDS priesthood is nothing more than “folklore,” a statement from the First Presidency in 1951 seems to refute such notions rather than confirm them:
The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said:
“Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers’ rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings we are entitled to.” (Official statement of the First Presidency to BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, dated August 17, 1951, quoted in John Lewis Lund, The Church and the Negro: A Discussion of Mormons, Negroes and the Priesthood, 89-90).
Notice in this statement that all those who were cursed would not receive the blessing of the priesthood until after death. Young said,
How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion. (Journal of Discourses 7:290-291).
If Young is right, the lifting of the ban—which took place by revelation in 1978, as described in Doctrine and Covenants—Declaration 2—was premature since all the other descendants of Adam have yet to receive the blessings of the priesthood. If the priesthood ban was implemented based on folklore, what does this say about the reliability and discernment of those LDS leaders who perpetuated and enforced such folklore?
We also believe that we are sowing the seed today of a harvest that we will reap when we go from here. Eternal life is to us the sum of pre-existence, present existence, and the continuation of life in immortality, holding out to us the power of endless progression and increase. With that feeling and that assurance, we believe that “As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.” [See Lorenzo Snow, “The Grand Destiny of Man,” Deseret Evening News, July 20, 1901, 22.] Being created in the image of God, we believe that it is not improper, that it is not unrighteous, for us to hope that we may be permitted to partake of the attributes of deity and, if we are faithful, to become like unto God; for as we receive of and obey the natural laws of our Father that govern this life, we become more like Him; and as we take advantage of the opportunities placed within our reach, we prepare to receive greater opportunities in this life and in the life that is to come. …
Notice how Smith explains a little more forthrightly what the next life will be like, that Mormons can “become like unto God.” As mentioned earlier, as God the Father was once a man in his world, man is today. And as God the Father is today, it is possible for humankind to become. While Mormonism teaches that humans can become like God, Christianity has said that we will never be able to progress (as Joseph Smith said) “to be Gods yourselves,” even though Christians will certainly have glorified bodies.
One of the sorrowful things in life is to see a man or a woman laid away in Mother earth with a realization of the fact that they have refused the greater blessings that our Father offered to them, and have continued grasping at the bubble that has itself disappeared. When I think of the millions of God’s children in the world, and realize how little they are striving for the things that are really worth while, I feel sad.
There is no doubt that it is easy to get sidetracked in this busy world. Jesus said we are supposed to seek first after God’s kingdom as well as His righteousness, and then He will add all these other things to us. But so often, we get ourselves distracted and lose focus of our priorities. While Mormons strive to become gods and goddesses and be with their families forever, Christians strive to glorify God, knowing that they will spend eternity with Him.
Remember that it is the intelligence that you acquire that is eternal, the truth which you learn here and apply in your lives, the knowledge and experience you gain and profit by—these you will take with you when you go home.
While Mormonism says that intelligence is eternal and that all humans are chips off the old intelligence block, Christians believe that only God is enteral. In Mormonism, God was not eternally God because He was once a man who progressed to godhood, just as it is taught that all humans have the potential to do. Christians do not believe in a premortal state where they obeyed or disobeyed God, creating a sort of karmic debt that determined everyone’s origins, including one’s birthplace and family.
One verse Mormons like to use for support of this teaching is Jeremiah 1:5. Here Jeremiah is told by the sovereign God of the universe that He has a plan. Does this mean that humans had a relationship with God in premortality? The answer is, quite simply, no. Consider this first chapter of Jeremiah and notice how it says God knew Jeremiah; nowhere does it intimate that Jeremiah knew God. If God is omniscient (all-knowing) and sovereign, it would be expected that He knew Jeremiah. The Bible is full of passages stating that God is in sovereign control, as His plans cannot be thwarted by anyone. In fact, it’s clear that God has a plan for everyone. It was God who determined who our parents would be (thus determining where we would be born), the color of our skin, the number of hairs our head, and even our natural temperament. Nothing surprised God with our existence. He knew us, but nowhere is it inferred that we knew Him before birth.
Hebrews 12:9 is also used to support the doctrine of premortality. It reads, “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live.” Mormons tend to read too much into this passage. All who have entered into mortality have spirits, so it would be wrong to assume this refers to some preexistent state. The writer of Hebrews is merely making a connection between the discipline of human fathers and that of a Heavenly Father.
Another verse sometimes used is Ecclesiastes 12:7, which says, in part, that “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” This poetic book describes how the body decomposes to “dust” and the spirit returns to God for judgment; this does not imply a preexistent state. Zechariah 12:1 states that God forms “the spirit of man within him.” The assumption is not that man was composed solely of spirit in some premortal state, but that man has a physical body in which the spirit dwells.
Many Mormons like to point to the Church Fathers for support of this doctrine. While it is true that Origen (185- 254) advocated a type of preexistence, historians consider this view to be mere speculation. One church historian wrote,
“Origen tried to express the Christian faith in terms of the prevailing Platonic philosophical ideas of his time. Some of his speculations, for example about the preexistence of souls and universal salvation, were repudiated by the church, and helped bring about his later condemnation.” (Dowley and Alexander, The History of Christianity, 107).
“The problem is that Origen was very much enamored with speculation and it sometimes led to conclusions that seem patently unbiblical . . . . According to Origen, this premortal, spiritual probation explains why humans enter the world in such unequal conditions. It is his own form of what some Eastern religions call ‘karma.’ Such speculation seemed innocent and even helpful to Origen, but it goes far to explain why some other Christians regarded him as a heretic.” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform, 104).
Origen even admitted that his ideas were his own and not necessarily canonical. Besides, Origen’s teaching is not even close to Mormonism’s doctrine of premortality. For example, he did not teach that Jesus was the first-born offspring or that humans are the siblings of Jesus. Indeed, the topic of premotality is nothing more than mere speculation on behalf of the Mormon leadership. With no evidence from the Bible, this doctrine is soundly rejected by Bible-believing Christians.
It is not so important how many valuables you may have, how much property you may possess, and how many of the honors of men you may acquire, and all those things that are so desirable in the world. The thing that God has given to you that is worth more than all the rest is the opportunity to obtain eternal life in the celestial kingdom and have as your companions, throughout the ages of eternity, sons and daughters, husbands and wives with whom you have associated here on earth.
Smith points out a major difference between Mormonism and Christianity. Christianity has never taught that living in the Celestial Kingdom with one’s family is a possibility. While our family members who had personal relationships with Jesus will certainly be in heaven, there will not be marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:23-33).
Because of Jesus Christ, we will be resurrected. The Saviour’s righteous life is a perfect example to all, and His resurrection was the first assurance to humanity that we, too, shall come forth from the tomb.
According to Mormonism, every human will receive a “general resurrection” thanks to the atonement by Jesus as well as to our wise choice in the preexistence where we sided with Jesus over Lucifer. However, the Bible says that there are two resurrections: one is to life, the other is to death. Heaven and hell are the two choices. While heaven is reserved for those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, hell is also a real possibility for those who do not have a personal relationship with Him.
Oh, how sad we would be if we thought that death terminated our career. If, when our life’s labor on earth was finished, we had no opportunity to go on developing, there would be little to inspire us to live as we should here. The knowledge that all the good we accomplish here, and all the development we make, will enhance our happiness eternally, encourages us to do our best.
Besides teaching in a “general resurrection,” Mormonism teaches that “individual salvation,” also known as exaltation, is based on what a person does in this life. The goal is the Celestial Kingdom. According to D&C 131:1-3: “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage] And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.”
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith stated,
“To enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept” (The Way to Perfection, p. 206). To show how difficult this really is, he also wrote, “NOT HALF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS TO BE SAVED. Those who receive the fulness will be privileged to view the face of our Father. There will not be such an overwhelming number of the Latter-day Saints who will get there. President Francis M. Lyman many times has declared, and he had reason to declare, I believe, that if we save one-half of the Latter-day Saints, that is, with an exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God, we will be doing well. Not that the Lord is partial, not that he will draw the line as some will say, to keep people out. He would have every one of us go in if we would; but there are laws and ordinances that we must keep; if we do not observe the law we cannot enter” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:15).
Seventy Milton R. Hunter told a general conference crowd,
“Many Latter-day Saints will not attain the celestial glory because they did not abide by the commandments of God; therefore, they will be very unhappy because they did not gain celestial life which could have been theirs” (Conference Reports, October 1949, p. 74).
If you’re a Latter-day Saint, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness by President Spencer W. Kimball and read his qualifications for those who hope for the celestial. When you really look at what he said, you will realize that there is no hope in the LDS way of thinking. I encourage you to go listen to our podcast radio shows that we produced on this book, as we took 44 15-minute sessions to review it. (Links to the shows are at the bottom of this article. Finally, consider taking the quiz at www.gotforgiveness.com and see how you do.
The Lord has blessed us with a knowledge that he lives, and has a body, and that we are created in his image. We do not believe that he is some kind of essence or that he is incomprehensible. If you have received the witness that has come to me and know as I know that our Heavenly Father has revealed himself to the children of men, that he is a personal God, that we are created in his image, that our spirits were begotten by him, that he has given us an opportunity to dwell upon the earth to receive a physical tabernacle, in order that we may be prepared to return into his presence and live eternally with him, I say, if you have received that assurance, then you have a foundation upon which you may build your faith. Take that from you, the knowledge that God really lives, the assurance that Jesus Christ was the manifestation of God in the flesh, take from you the assurance that there will be a literal resurrection from the dead, and you will find yourselves in the condition that our Father’s children are in throughout the world, and I ask you, what comfort remains to you then? These are the truths that are fundamental.
The view that Mormons have today does not correlate with the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith once said was the most complete book on earth and that a man could draw closer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book. For example, while Mormonism teaches in the possible godhood of man (as demonstrated earlier by George Albert Smith’s quoting of Lorenzo Snow’s couplet), the Book of Mormon says that God never changes. For example, Mosiah 3:5 says He is“…from all eternity to all eternity.” Third Nephi 24:6 declares, “I am the Lord, I change not.” Mormon 9:9 explains, “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing.” Moroni 7:22 teaches He is “…from everlasting to everlasting…”, while Moroni 8:18 insists, “For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.”
How can the Mormon reconciliate the Book of Mormon’s view on God’s nature with modern Mormonism? After all, if the Book of Mormon—touted by missionaries as the “rest of the story”—is valid, why does it teach such contrary things throughout its pages? In fact, where is the doctrine of preexistence/premortality taught in the Book of Mormon? How about the idea that there is a Celestial Kingdom where families can procreate and begin their own worlds? What about work on behalf of the dead? These questions ought to bother every thinking Latter-day Saint.
To read more reviews from the George Albert Smith manual, click here.
Viewpoint on Mormonism Podcasts on The Miracle of Forgivenss (Spencer W. Kimball): Intro Chapter 1 Chapter 2a Chapter 2b Chapter 3 Chapter 4a Chapter 4b Chapter 4c Chapter 4d Chapter 5a Chapter 5b Chapter 5c Chapter 6 Chapter 7a Chapter 7b Chapter 8 Chapter 9a Chapter 9b Chapter 10a Chapter 10b Chapter 11 Chapter 12a Chapter 12b Chapter 12c Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15a Chapter 15b Chapter 15c Chapter 15d Chapter 16 Chapter 17a Chapter 17b Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20a Chapter 20b Chapter 20c Chapter 21a Chapter 21b Chapter 22a Chapter 22b Chapter 23a Chapter 23b Series went from January 9 to April 6, 2012 (Book review)