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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, Chapter 1: Jesus Christ—Our Only Way to Hope and Joy

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter 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 1: Jesus Christ—Our Only Way to Hope and Joy

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015

“If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong.”

I like the last part of the sentence: “nothing can ever go permanently wrong,” he writes, “if our lives are centered upon Jesus Christ.” However, notice the “and” that he placed after “Jesus Christ.” These three words follow: “His restored gospel.” What is the “restored gospel” in Mormonism?

Before anything else, a person must figuratively “pledge allegiance” to a man named Joseph Smith, as a popular church manual explains:

For your testimony of the restored gospel to be complete, it must include a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine mission. The truth­fulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the truthfulness of the First Vision and the other revelations the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph (True to the Faith: A Gospel Refer­ence, 2004, p. 90).

(If you’d like to do more research on why Evangelical Christians are unable to have “a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine mission,” click here.)

According to two LDS authors, the “restored” gospel includes the idea that God was once a man and that it is possible for men to become gods. They wrote,

Joseph Smith taught that man, far from being an enemy or mere tool of God, was actually a god in embryo. The Father had achieved godhood only by going through the same experiences man is now enduring. Having successfully met all tests, he progressed in knowledge and power to become God. In turn, he instructed his spirit children in the plan of salvation before they came to earth and promised them that if they lived faithfully in their mortal life, one day they, too, might become gods. This was the doctrine of eternal progression, which became another hallmark of the re­stored gospel (James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 1992, p. 183).

While biblical Christianity has historically taught that believers are saved by grace through faith, Mormonism’s “restored” gospel involves reaching for an impossible goal, as detailed a few years ago by Apostle Dallin H. Oaks in a General Conference message:

From modern revelation, unique to the restored gospel, we know that the commandment to seek perfection is part of God the Father’s plan for the salvation of His children (“Followers of Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2013, p. 98).

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have no problem saying that my life and faith should be centered on Jesus Christ. But, no, we should not focus on the “restored” gospel because this is not the gospel declared in the Bible.

From the Life of Howard W. Hunter

A prominent theme in President Howard W. Hunter’s teachings is that true peace, healing, and happiness come only as a person strives to know and follow Jesus Christ. President Hunter taught that “Christ’s way is not only the right way, but ultimately the only way to hope and joy.”

As stated above, I would agree that following the Christ as revealed in the Bible is “the only way to hope and joy.” Jesus came, John 10:10b says, to give His followers life to the fullest. There is no need for a “restored” gospel.

Teachings of Howard W. Hunter

We must know Christ better than we know Him and remember Him more often than we remember Him.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sing reverently:

Jesus, the very thought of thee

With sweetness fills my breast;

But sweeter far thy face to see

And in thy presence rest. …

 How often do we think of the Savior? How deeply and how gratefully and how adoringly do we reflect on his life? How central to our lives do we know him to be?

While Hunter writes that Jesus is the centerpiece of Mormonism, the question that ought to be asked is, “Is he?” Let’s consider some of the teachings about Jesus by LDS leaders:

Was there a time when Jesus was not perfect? (even though He has always been perfect)

According to President Joseph F. Smith:

Even Christ himself was not perfect at first; he received not a fulness at first, but he received grace for grace, and he continued to receive more and more until he received a fullness (Gospel Doctrine, 1986, p. 68. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 153).

Seventy Milton R. Hunter wrote,

Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understand­ing through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws (The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 51).

Apostle Russell M. Nelson taught,

That Jesus attained eternal perfection following his resurrection is confirmed in the Book of Mormon. It records the visit of the resurrected Lord to the people of ancient America. There he re­peated the important injunction previously cited but with one very significant addition. He said, “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” This time he listed himself along with his Father as a perfected personage. Previously he had not (“Perfection Pending,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1995, p. 87).

Although Christians believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, LDS leaders claim Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer:

We worship Elohim, the Father of Jesus Christ. We do not wor­ship Adam and we do not pray to him. We are all his children through the flesh, but Elohim, the God we worship, is the Father of our spirits; and Jesus Christ, his first Begotten Son in the spir­it creation and his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, is our Eldest Brother (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:106).

A church manual states,

The oldest child in our heavenly family was Jesus Christ. He is our oldest brother (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 5).

Did Jesus finish His work? (even though he declared on the cross that “it is finished”)

Again, Joseph F. Smith wrote,

Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission (Gospel Doctrine, 1986, p. 442. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 87).

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained,

Christ worked out his own salvation by worshipping the Father. After the Firstborn of the Father, while yet a spirit being, had gained power and intelligence that made him like unto God; after he had become, under the Father, the Creator of worlds without number; after he had reigned on the throne of eternal power as the Lord Omnipotent-after all this he yet had to gain a mortal and then an immortal body (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 1966, p. 61. Italics in original).

Meanwhile, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

CHRIST GAINED FULNESS AFTER RESURRECTION. The Sav­ior did not have a fulness at first, but after he received his body and the resurrection all power was given unto him both in heav­en and in earth. Although he was a God, even the Son of God, with power and authority to create this earth and other earths, yet there were some things lacking which he did not receive un­til after his resurrection. In other words he had not received the fulness until he got a resurrected body, and the same is true with those who through faithfulness become sons of God. Our bodies are essential to the fulness and the continuation of the seeds for­ever (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:33).

Is the Jesus of Mormonism the same as the Jesus of biblical Christianity?

Not according to McConkie:

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, p. 269).

President Gordon B. Hinckley agreed, saying there are differences in Mormonism’s view of Jesus with what has been traditionally taught in Christianity:

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, p. 7).

He also told a General Conference audience,

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 (“We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90).

With this evidence documented, I would like to quote 2 Peter 3:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Starting with Joseph Smith and going through 16 different “prophets,” the Mormon Church claims that it alone possesses the “restored” gospel. Yet what have the leaders propounded? I maintain the view of Jesus is just one of many “destructive heresies.” By following their teachings, the followers “blaspheme.” Verse 3 says that these leaders “will exploit you with false words.” There is no doubt that the Jesus of Mormonism is completely different from the Jesus of the Bible. Every person must choose which Jesus he or she will worship. Choosing the wrong Jesus has eternal implications.

For example, how much of a normal day, a working week, or a fleeting month is devoted to “Jesus, the very thought of thee”? Perhaps for some of us, not enough. Surely life would be more peaceful, surely marriages and families would be stronger, certainly neighborhoods and nations would be safer and kinder and more constructive if more of the gospel of Jesus Christ “with sweetness” could fill our breasts.

This is true. Having a correct version of Jesus ought to be studied. Every person is responsible to see if the LDS description matches with scripture.

We declare that he is the Son of God, and the reality of that fact should stir our souls more frequently.

What does Mormonism mean when it says that Jesus is the “Son of God”? Listen to some of what has been taught regarding the Incarnation of Jesus:

2nd President Brigham Young

What a learned idea! Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation (Journal of Discourses 1:51).

6th President Joseph F. Smith

Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death: but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. …So you see Jesus is the only person who had our Heavenly Father as the father of his body (Joseph F. Smith, Family Home Evening manual, 1972, pp. 125,126. Ellipsis mine).

10th President Joseph Fielding Smith

CHRIST NOT BEGOTTEN OF HOLY GHOST… Christ was begotten of God. He was not born without the aid of Man, and that Man was God! (Doctrines of Salvation 1:18. Ellipsis mine).

13th President Ezra Taft Benson

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 7. See also the Church News, December 18, 2004, p. 16).

Many additional quotes could be given. For the Christian, the Virgin Birth has a meaning other than a literal meaning. According to Matthew 1:18, the Holy Ghost came upon Mary in a non-sexual, miraculous way.  The description given in Mormonism is nothing less than blasphemous.

We must know Christ better than we know him; we must remember him more often than we remember him; we must serve him more valiantly than we serve him. Then we will drink water springing up unto eternal life and will eat the bread of life. “May we be more devoted and disciplined followers of Christ. May we cherish him in our thoughts and speak his name with love.”

John 4:24 says that God must be worshipped (properly) in spirit and in truth. Suppose I told you about George Washington, a man who was this nation’s 16th president and who swam across the Delaware River in January 1773. In addition, I describe this man as someone who could pull a cherry tree out of the ground with his bare hands and run a 3-minute mile. While there is some resemblance to my description of the George Washington of history, I think even the rudimentary school boy would recognize that this George Washington is different from the one we know in history. So it is with the Jesus depicted in Mormonism.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:4,

 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

If the version of Jesus as described by Mormonism is inaccurate, it behooves the seeker after truth to everything possible to avoid making such a critical error as misunderstanding the Person of Jesus.

… May we be more devoted and disciplined followers of Christ. May we cherish him in our thoughts and speak his name with love. May we kneel before him with meekness and mercy. May we bless and serve others that they may do the same.

To become a “devoted and disciplined follower of Christ,” it is vital that a person have a relationship with Jesus. Knowing Him is vital to having a relationship. Based on the inaccuracies that Mormon leaders have taught about Jesus, I would say anyone who is following their teachings is unable to have such a relationship.

The greatest need in all the world is an active and sincere faith in the Savior and His teachings.


There are those who declare it is old-fashioned to believe in the Bible. Is it old-fashioned to believe in God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God? Is it old-fashioned to believe in his atoning sacrifice and the resurrection? If it is, I declare myself to be old-fashioned and the Church is old-fashioned. In great simplicity the Master taught the principles of life eternal and lessons that bring happiness to those with the faith to believe. It doesn’t seem reasonable to assume the necessity of modernizing these teachings of the Master. His message concerned principles that are eternal.

As I have been declaring throughout this response, it’s not “old-fashioned” to believe in the God and Jesus as taught by the Bible. The problem is accepting a counterfeit version that contradicts what the Bible teaches.

Strive to build a personal testimony of Jesus Christ and the atonement. A study of the life of Christ and a testimony of his reality is something each of us should seek. As we come to understand his mission, and the atonement which he wrought, we will desire to live more like him.

In Mormonism, what does the “atonement” mean? Let’s let James Faust, who served as a member of the First Presidency, explain:

Our salvation depends on believing in and accepting the Atone­ment (Mosiah 4:6-7). Such acceptance requires a continual effort to understand it more fully. The Atonement advances our mortal course of learning by making it possible for our natures to become perfect. All of us have sinned and need to repent to fully pay our part of the debt. When we sincerely repent, the Savior’s magnificent Atonement pays the rest of that debt (“The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2001, p. 18. Italics in original).

Although his article is titled “The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope,” it is hard to imagine that what Faust proposes should be considered “hope.” He also said,

The Atonement cleanses us of sin on condition of our repentance. Repentance is the condition on which mercy is extended. After all we can do to pay to the uttermost farthing and make right our wrongs, the Savior’s grace is activated in our lives through the Atonement, which purifies us and can perfect us (James E. Faust, “The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2001, p. 19).

Thus, in Mormonism, getting right with God is not based merely on what Jesus did for me, but it is contingent on what I do for Jesus. My good works either qualifies or denies me a right standing with God. It can only be “activated” “after all we can do to pay to the uttermost farthing and make right our wrongs.” Apostle Richard G. Scott explained in even more details the requirements to qualify for “atonement”:

The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God. Such repentance and obedience are absolutely es­sential for the Atonement to work its complete miracle in your life (“The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2006, p. 42).

Henry B. Eyring, a member of the current First Presidency, doesn’t make things any easier when he explained:

It is hard to know when we have done enough for the Atonement to change our natures and so qualify us for eternal life (“This Day,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2007, p. 90).

Such a teaching flies in the face of 1 John 5:13, which says we can know that we have eternal life, which reads, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” When we become true believers in Jesus Christ, there is no doubt that we “will desire to live more like him.” But it’s not what we do that earns us justification of our sins. Rather, it’s what He has done. Lest anyone make the mistake of thinking Mormonism’s view of justification is moving closer to what is taught in Christianity, Seventy Bruce C. Hafen squashed that idea:

For example, some of our friends can’t see how our Atonement beliefs relate to our beliefs about becoming more like our Heavenly Father. Others mistakenly think our Church is moving toward an understanding of the relationship between grace and works that draws on Protestant teachings. Such misconceptions prompt me to consider today the Restoration’s unique Atonement doctrine (“The Atonement: All for All,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2004, p. 97. Italics in original).

According to ninth President David O. McKay:

The fallacy that Jesus has done all for us, and live as we may, if on our deathbed, we only believe, we shall be saved in his glorious presence, is most pernicious. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, has given us the means whereby man may obtain eternal happiness and peace in the kingdom of our Father, but man must work out his own salvation through obedience to the eternal principles and ordinances of the gospel (Gospel Ideals, p. 8).

Check out this overview of the book of James to see how grace and good works work together.

Please remember this one thing. If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right. …

That success comes only by fully repenting of all sins and keeping the commandments. Latter-day Saint, is your life “centered on the Savior and his teachings”?

Brothers and sisters, you have and will have worries and challenges of many kinds, but embrace life joyfully and full of faith. Study the scriptures regularly. Pray fervently. Obey the voice of the Spirit and the prophets. Do all that you can to help others. You will find great happiness in such a course. Some glorious day all your worries will be turned to joys.

I say, “obey the voice of the Spirit,” but if the “prophets” he mentions are those in these “latter-days” (i.e. Mormon), then I suggest ignoring that advice. Stick with the Bible and the prophets recorded there. Anyone teaching something that is not biblical ought not to be followed.

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