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 my comments following.
In his travels as a General Authority, George Albert Smith occasionally met those who thought that the Latter-day Saints do not believe in Jesus Christ. This misconception amazed and worried President Smith, and he tried to correct it by sharing his personal witness of the Savior.
On one occasion he spoke at a Church meeting in Cardston, Canada, about the life and mission of Christ. The next morning he went to the railway station to buy a train ticket. While he waited in line, he overheard a conversation between a woman and the ticket agent. The woman mentioned that the evening before she had decided to attend a Latter-day Saint worship service.
The ticket agent looked surprised. “My goodness,” she said. “You do not mean to say you went to church there.”
“Yes, I did,” the woman answered. “Why not?”
The ticket agent said, “They do not even believe in Jesus Christ.” (p. 21)
Obviously, this is a third or fourth hand account and so we don’t know the exact context and what exactly was meant by the ticket agent, who very well could have been a Christian. But it appears to be nothing more than a “straw man” argument. I’m sure the agent didn’t mean that the Mormons don’t believe in a “Jesus.” After all, their title has the name of Christ in it. The question is, does the Mormon Church teach in the true Jesus. Head knowledge about a historical figure named “Jesus” is just not enough, or else we must consider Muslims, Hare Krishnas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and most of the adherents of all religions as Christian since practically everyone believes in the historical man named Jesus. As James 2:19 puts it, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” According to the Bible, just “believing” in God or Jesus is apparently not good enough.
Over the years, Mormon leaders have certainly not thought that the Christian version of Jesus is truthful. For instance, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained:
“And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ whom they vainly suppose to be a spirit essence who is incorporeal uncreated, immaterial and three-in-one with the Father and Holy Spirit” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 269).
Seventy Bernard P. Brockbank told a General Conference crowd,
“It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Bernard P. Brockbank, “The Living Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1977, 26).
Even 15th President Gordon B. Hinckley admitted there are differences between Christianity and Mormonism’s version of Jesus when he said:
“In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages’” (“Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads, Church News, June 20, 1998, 7).
Addressing a General Conference, he said, “As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say” (Gordon Hinckley, “We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, 90).
I know as I know that I live that he was the son of God, that through him and through him only will we gain exaltation in the celestial kingdom and all those who follow in his footsteps and live according to the teachings that he gave, will be happy in this life and will prepare for themselves a mansion in his celestial kingdom, where they will dwell with him forever.
When George Albert Smith says that he knows Jesus was the son of God, what exactly does he mean? If he means what other LDS leaders have said, then Jesus was the “son of God” in a literal sense, having come from “premortality” as the brother of Lucifer and being born into this world. Some quotes from LDS leaders will help us better understand:
12th President Spencer W. Kimball: “Long before you were born a program was developed by your creators. …The principal personalities in this great drama were a Father Elohim, perfect in wisdom, judgment, and person, and two sons, Lucifer and Jehovah” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 32,33. Ellipses mine).
Apostle Milton R. Hunter: “We read in modern revelation that Jesus Christ was and is our elder brother, the ‘Firstborn’ unto the Father. We accept, as Latter-day Saints, the teachings of the prophets to the effect that Jesus of Nazareth was the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father in the flesh; therefore, the revelation I referred to points back to a previous birth, a birth in the spirit world. You and I were sons and daughters of our Eternal Parents in the spirit world. In fact, all the people in this world were of that family, and Jesus Christ was the Firstborn” (Conference Reports, October 1949, 69).
BYU Professor Robert L. Millet: “Jesus was the firstborn spirit child of God the Father and thus the recipient of the birthright of the royal family. As such, and in that premortal realm, he was the Elder Brother of all of the spirit sons and daughters of the Father” (A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, 20).
Concerning a “virgin birth,” Mormonism teaches that Jesus was the son of God in a literal sense who was produced in a literal relationship between Mary and God the Father. Consider the numerous quotes found here.
While Mormons speak about the atonement of Christ, this only covers the general resurrection of all humankind into one of three heavenly kingdoms. The idea of existing in the Celestial Kingdom (which is called exaltation) can only be done by individual works. For more information on this, go here.
The Book of Mormon and the testimony of Joseph Smith give us additional evidence of Christ’s divinity.
The question has been raised in the old world that Jesus was not of divine origin, because He was born as a little child, cradled in a manger, His mother being Mary and his reputed father Joseph the carpenter. Many have admitted that He was a great and good man, but they have desired to rob Him of the divinity of His birth. . . .
What more direct evidence of resurrection from the dead could have been had than that he, in his resurrected body, came among [the Nephites] and taught them the same Gospel that he taught in Jerusalem? And he now fulfilled the promise he had made in Jerusalem when he said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” [John 10:16] He came in his resurrected body to bring to them the information he had predicted should be given to those to whom he now ministered.
It was a wonderful experience for those people. After teaching them all day … he healed their sick and blessed their children and continued to instruct them in the beauty of his Gospel. There was no doubt in their minds that he was the Savior of the world. They saw him come from heaven and witnessed his marvelous power. … He came in glory. Angels came down from heaven as it were in the midst of fire and surrounded the little children so that they were encircled with fire. And the angels did minister unto them. [See 3 Nephi 17:6-24.] (pp. 25-26)
According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus came to the Americas after His resurrection in Palestine. A common verse used to show how Jesus predicted this is John 10:16, as quoted above. By using “other sheep,” some have insisted that Jesus meant there would be people who would actually hear His literal voice. Since Jesus did not specifically address the Gentiles, they argue that He must have been speaking about the characters chronicled in the Book of Mormon. While this might seem like a plausible argument, the problem lies in the fact that the Bible often uses this type of language to portray the idea that a thought or message could be transmitted by some other means than by the actual speaking of a person. For instance, time and time again, the children of Israel were commanded to listen to “the voice” of the Lord.” Despite this warning, rarely do the children of Israel ever actually hear the voice of the Lord Himself. Instead, God used Moses and other prophets as His mouthpiece.
When it comes to John 10:16, the Christian church has traditionally understood this to mean the Gentiles. For example, Protestant Reformer John Calvin wrote, “Though some refer this indiscriminately to all, both Jews and Gentiles, who were not yet disciples of Christ, yet I have no doubt that he had in his eye the calling of the Gentiles. For he gives the appellation fold to the assemblage of the ancient people, by which they were separated from the other nations of the world, and united into one body as the heritage of God.” That John 10:16 is a reference to the Gentiles is by far the majority understanding of the text. It would have made the most sense to those who were listening to the voice of Jesus, and it certainly fits with the rest of scripture. For instance, in the New Testament:
- Matthew 12:9ff: Jesus healed a Jewish man’s hand on the Sabbath. When challenged by the Pharisees for performing such a deed on the Sabbath, He again spoke of ministering to His sheep. When the Pharisees made it clear that He was not welcome, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 42:1-4, a prophecy that speaks of God’s servant who “shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles” in whose name they will trust.
- Matthew 15:22-28: Jesus heeded the request of a Canaanite woman whose daughter was “vexed with a devil.” When Jesus tested her faith by explaining that He was “sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” she humbly replied that even lowly dogs “eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” In response, Jesus told the woman that her request was granted. Jesus’ use of the word “sheep” cannot be ignored since it is the same language he used in John 10. His actions in these accounts fulfill perfectly what was spoken of Him long before.
There were no witnesses to this First Vision that Joseph Smith supposedly had with God the Father and Jesus. Only he was there. It is his word millions of Mormons are trusting. If what Smith reported was true, then apparently Christianity had lost its original authority soon after the deaths of the original apostles. While the passage from Joseph Smith—History 1:16-17 is cited above, perhaps verses 18-20a ought to also be quoted (as it will in chapter 4 of this manual):
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) — and which I should join.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” He again forbade me to join with any of them….
If nothing else, this shows that the God, Jesus, and plan of salvation according to Mormonism have different meanings than what is taught by the Christian world who had fallen into “apostasy.”
To my mind one of the strongest testimonies of the divinity of the life of our Savior is the testimony of Joseph Smith who laid down his life as a witness of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (p. 27)
Did Smith really “lay” down his life? See here
As one of the humblest among you, I thank him with all my heart for the assurance that has come into my life. … Above all, I thank him for the knowledge that has been burned into my soul; I know that my Heavenly Father lives, I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind, and that there is no other name under heaven whereby men and women may be exalted, but the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. I do know that he came into the world in this latter day, that he bestowed divine authority upon a humble boy who was seeking the truth, and the result of that has been the organization of the Church with which we are identified; and there is with it the power of God unto salvation to all those who believe. (p. 30)
First of all, George Albert Smith says “as one of the humblest among you.” Doesn’t this statement certify that he must not have been one of the humblest at that meeting? Regardless, Mormons will often give their testimony about how they “know” their faith is true. The words may even sound similar to the above. The problem is that someone may “know” something to be true, feeling good about it, but be entirely wrong. Mormons can testify all day long, but is the gospel they are believing really true?
George Albert Smith says Joseph Smith was a “humble boy” who was seeking the truth. Was he? Just as George Albert bragged about his humblness, consider what Joseph Smith said about himself:
“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I” (Joseph Smith, May 26, 1844, History of the Church 6:408-409).
“God made Aaron to be the mouthpiece for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don’t like it, you must lump it” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 363).
“When did I ever teach anything wrong from this stand? When was I ever confounded? I want to triumph in Israel before I depart hence and am no more seen. I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 368. Also cited by Apostle Neil A. Maxwell, “How Choice a Seer!” Ensign (Conference Edition), November, 2003, 100).
“I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers; and I solve mathematical problems of Universities: WITH TRUTH, diamond truth, and God is my ‘right hand man’” (Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons 4:375).
Since chapter 4 of the LDS manual featuring George Albert Smith feature Joseph Smith, I won’t take the time here to spend more time on Joseph Smith and will wait until the next article. But we must understand that, without Smith, Mormonism does not stand. Second President Brigham Young said:
“Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days. I can tell our beloved brother Christians who have slain the Prophets and butchered and otherwise caused the death of thousands of Latter-day Saints, the priests who have thanked God in their prayers and thanksgiving from the pulpit that we have been plundered, driven, and slain, and the deacons under the pulpit, and their brethren and sisters in their closets, who have thanked God, thinking that the Latter-day Saints were wasted away, something that no doubt will mortify them-something that, to say the least, is a matter of deep regret to them-namely, that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are–I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation–the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven. Many will exclaim– ‘Oh, that is very disagreeable! It is preposterous! We cannot bear the thought!’ But it is true” (Brigham Young, October 9, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:289. See also Search These Commandments, 1984, 133).
I’ll close with the words of tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith: “NO SALVATION WITHOUT ACCEPTING JOSEPH SMITH. If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth when he said that he stood in the presence of angels sent from the Lord, and obtained keys of authority, and the commandment to organize the Church of Jesus Christ once again on the earth, then this knowledge is of the most vital importance to the entire world. No man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of god. It is, therefore the duty of every man to investigate that he may weigh this matter carefully and know the truth” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:189-190. Italics in original).
Honestly, it’s a wonder they did not call this The Church of Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith of Latter-day Saints. More on this religion’s founder in the next installment.