Is Mormonism’s Promise of Eternal Life for Sale?

by Sharon Lindbloom
4 April 2018

Last week Salt Lake Tribune journalist Peggy Fletcher Stack asked, “Does tithing requirement for entry into LDS temples amount to Mormons buying their way into heaven?” She explained,

“Money may be the root of all evil, but, for Mormons, it also provides a pathway to the highest heaven.

“That’s because to gain access to the sacred spaces and saving rituals of a Mormon temple, LDS believers must donate 10 percent of their income to the church.

“No payment? No entrance.

“‘You can earn [a place in the presence of our Father in Heaven],’ LDS apostle Marion G. Romney once said, ‘by observing faithfully day by day, and year by year, the law of tithing and the other requirements of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’”

It is no surprise that faithful Mormons push back against the suggestion that the LDS Church promotes a pay-to-play salvation. The Salt Lake Tribune article notes that, rather than buying one’s way into heaven, LDS Church leaders teach that tithing is the repayment of a debt owed to God and is an act of obedience. Summing up the position of Church leaders, Ms. Stack concluded, “It’s about faith, not finances.”

At the Mormon Church’s website, mormon.org, tithing is explained as “paying one-tenth of your income to God…to support God’s work…[to] bless the lives of those around you.”

“…tithing gives God’s children the opportunity to exercise obedience, love, and faith. Through the simple act of returning one-tenth of your income to God, you are promised blessings now and when you see God again.”

From these comments, most readers would conclude that tithing in the LDS Church is all about sacrifice, love, and faith: sacrificing 10 percent of one’s hard-earned income as an expression of love for both God and people in need, given with faith that as God commands the gift to be given He will still meet the giver’s financial needs. This sounds quite similar to the New Testament model for giving (apart from Mormonism’s mandatory 10 percent):

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)

But in reality, tithing in the LDS Church is quite a bit more stringent than a give-to-bless-those-in-need model. LDS tithing must be given only to the Mormon Church. If donated to a local homeless shelter or to a children’s hospital or to the Red Cross, it doesn’t count.

It doesn’t count as “paying tithing,” and therefore doesn’t allow Mormons to meet their Church’s tithing requirement necessary for their eternal exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Clearly, LDS tithing is not primarily about faith; if it were, sacrificial gifts to organizations that feed the hungry and heal the sick would at least result in the giver receiving “credit for trying.” But it does not, for tithing in Mormonism is very much about finance.

Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that tithing “is a source of revenue for the Church; it is God’s re­quirement, and He has said that those who will not observe it are not worthy of an inheritance in Zion” (Joseph F. Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 277). LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley affirmed that idea when he characterized tithing as “the Lord’s plan for financing the church” (Michael Otterson (then director of LDS Public Affairs), “Mormons and the Practice of Tithing”).

In the October 2001 General Conference LDS Apostle Jeffrey Holland explained that paying tithing is the discharging of a debt to God, a payment of rental fees owed to Him:

“Elder James E. Talmage once described this as a contract between us and the Lord. He imagined the Lord saying: ‘You have need of many things in this world—food, clothing, and shelter for your family …, the common comforts of life. …You shall have the means of ac­quiring these things; but remember they are mine, and I require of you the payment of a rental upon that which I give into your hands.’” (“Like a Watered Garden,” Ensign, November 2001, 34)

At lds.org, the Church’s website geared toward LDS members (as opposed to mormon.org, which is geared toward those who are not yet Mormons), under the topic of “Tithing” it says that tithing is an ancient law, and “To fulfill this commandment, Church members give one-tenth of their income to the Lord through His Church. These funds are used to build up the Church and further the work of the Lord throughout the world” (emphasis added).  Elsewhere on lds.org it is clearly stated that “Tithing is the donation of one-tenth of one’s income to God’s Church” (i.e., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “What Is Tithing?Tithing and Fast Offerings Manual, 2007).

Mormonism requires a potential convert to make a commitment to “pay tithing” in order to be baptized and become a member of the LDS Church (the LDS Church is understood within Mormonism to be the very kingdom of God. Preach My Gospel, 64, 78); furthermore, membership in the LDS Church is necessary for salvation.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is absolutely in­dispensable to our salvation,” BYU Professor Emeritus Robert Millet wrote. “No supposed personal relationship with Jesus, no commitment to the gospel, no high level of Chris­tian conduct in society can compensate for what is to be found in the Church” (Alive in Christ: The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth, 140).

As LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie so plainly stated, “There is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 670).

At the April 2005 General Conference of the LDS Church, Apostle L. Tom Perry taught,

“When we seek our Savior, it is impor­tant that we seek Him through His Church. It is through His re­stored Church that we receive all the saving ordinances necessary to return to Him.” (Ensign, May 2005, 85)

LDS baptism, available only for those who commit to paying 10 percent of their income to the Mormon Church, is the first saving ordinance required. Others are found in Mormon temples. These saving ordinances are available only to those members who actually do pay their 10 percent to the Mormon Church.

Peggy Fletcher Stack quoted LDS Apostle Marion Romney’s 1980 statement, “You can earn [a place in the presence of our Father in Heaven] by observing faithfully day by day, and year by year, the law of tithing and the other requirements of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Mr. Romney was only repeating what other LDS leaders have taught. Consider this from an earlier LDS Apostle:

“‘Do we not hope and expect to have an inheritance in the celestial kingdom, even upon this earth in its redeemed and sanctified state? [D&C 88:25-26; 130:9.] What are the terms under which we may obtain that inheritance? The law of tithing is the law of inheritance. It leads to it. No man may hope or expect to have an inheritance on this celestial globe who has failed to pay his tithing. By the payment of his honest tithing he is establishing a right and a title to this inheritance, and he cannot secure it upon any other terms but by complying with this and other just requirements; and this is one of the very essential things.’ (In Conference Report, Oct. 1929, p. 51).” (Marvin J. Ballard, quoted in Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324-325, 1981, 294)

Considering the teachings about tithing from these (and other) Mormon authorities, it’s easy to understand why people might conclude that Latter-day Saints are required to buy their way into heaven. But most Mormons don’t see it this way. To them, tithing isn’t about money, it’s about obedient faith. Tithing must be paid directly to the Church because that’s what the commandment necessitates, and Mormonism requires members to “obey with exactness” (Preach My Gospel, 10).

Regardless of whether tithing is about money or is about obedience, one truth must not be overlooked: salvation in Mormonism is earned. Whether bought with money or earned with obedience, it amounts to the same thing. In Mormonism, salvation (i.e., spending eternity in the presence of God) is not a free gift as the Bible says. It is earned, plain and simple.

Mormon.org explains,

“Through our choices on earth, we choose our eternal destiny. Those of us who want to claim the highest degree of exaltation and dwell with our Father are actively earning our place there now while we have earthly bodies and the agency to do so.”

While yet an apostle, current LDS President Russell M. Nelson taught,

“Remember, your loftiest goal is to gain the greatest of all the blessings of God, that of eternal life (see D&C 14:7). Temple ordinances are essential for that blessing (see D&C 131:1–3). …May you choose to be a light to the world to help save God’s children, to have joy, and ultimately to earn the blessing of eternal life.” (“What Will You Choose?” Ensign, January 2015, 35)

Late LDS Apostle James Faust taught at the April 2003 General Conference that exaltation “must be fully earned” (“Dear Are the Sheep That Have Wandered,” Ensign, May 2003, 62. His remark has been more recently reprinted and quoted in the Ensign, in both the June 2013 (18) and the March 2014 (32) editions).

Another recent (now deceased) LDS apostle taught at the October 2006 General Conference,

“The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God… Through the Atonement you can live in a world where justice assures that you will retain what you earn by obedience.” (Richard G. Scott, “The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 40–42)

There is no lack of LDS leaders teaching that eternity in the presence of God must be earned, merited, or qualified for via personal worthiness. If Mormon leaders are to be believed, there is no room to question the fact that Mormonism’s salvation/exaltation must be earned by individuals keeping all the commandments, including the LDS commandment to pay tithing to the Church.

Christianity is a great contrast to Mormonism. The Bible teaches that salvation is a free gift, secured for those who belong to Christ by His obedience and worthiness; and this because human beings are unable to and can never earn heaven. The Bible teaches this. God says it’s so. Christians believe it and rejoice in the God-given gift of their salvation.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
-Titus 3:3-7


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