By Eric Johnson
Note: The following was originally printed in the July/August 2023 edition of Mormonism Researched, sent bimonthly to financial supporters of MRM. To request a free subscription to Mormonism Researched, please visit here.
Over the years, many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have pled with Evangelical Christians to accept them as fellow Christ-followers. After all, the argument goes, Jesus can be found in the LDS Church’s name. They claim that He is the centerpiece of everything they do. What more could anyone need to accept Mormons as fellow Christian believers?
Recently I received an email from a Christian pastor’s wife that said, “I am speaking with a Mormon woman right now and she says that she worships Christ and that Mormonism teaches that we should worship Christ. Do you know of any passages or Mormon prophets that I can quote to help in this dialogue with her?”
Let’s look closer and see if Mormonism allows for the “worship” of Jesus.
An appeal made by LDS authors and leaders
Over the past three decades, a number of Latter-day Saints have made a public appeal to be known as Christians. As an example, consider Anthony Sweat who wrote, “If being a ‘Christian’ is defined by a love of Jesus Christ, believing in His saving divinity, and a desire to follow His teachings’ then Latter-day Saints are most decidedly Christian” (Mormons: An Open Book, 19).
Gary C. Lawrence claimed, “Mormons believe that anybody who worships Jesus Christ is a Christian, and that each individual deserves to be his own arbiter on the matter” (Mormons Believe…What? 3).
In a general conference talk, 15th President Gordon B. Hinckley argued, “Are we Christians? Of course we are Christians. We believe in Christ. We worship Christ” (“What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, November 1998, 70).
Although Hinckley doesn’t give details about what it means to worship Jesus, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie clearly thought doing so was improper. Using D&C 20:17-19 for support, he said,
“We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshipping Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense—the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to Him who has redeemed us. Worship in the true and saving sense is reserved for God the first, the Creator.”Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 60. Italics in original.
Was this important church general authority who wrote a book titled Mormon Doctrine teaching false doctrine? Mette Harrison, 52, is an award-winning LDS novelist who thinks this is the case. In a guest post in 2017 on the Religion News blog, she explained her view:
“Calling Christ ‘God’ and ‘supreme’ indicates worshipfulness to me. And the word ‘worship’ seems to indicate, well, worshiping. Christ is the foundation of our testimonies” (“Do Mormons worship Jesus Christ?religionnews.com/2017/04/15/do-mormons-worship-jesus-christ
Harrison listed four reasons why she believes that Mormons worship Christ. Let’s take a quick look at her points.
“What is the Mormon Sacrament if not a way of worshipping Christ?”
According to the LDS website, the weekly sacrament is taken by church members to “remember Him [Jesus] always and a witness of individual willingness to take upon oneself the name of Jesus Christ and to keep His commandments. In partaking of the sacrament and making these commitments, Church members renew the covenant they made at baptism.” This is also a time to repent.
Based on this, the sacrament seems to be more of a time for Latter-day Saints to “remember” Jesus by dealing with their sins from the previous week while making promises to keep the commandments the following week—something that just can never be accomplished. I’m not sure the sacrament is a good example of “worship(ing) Christ.”
“What does it mean when we say we are Christians if not that we worship Christ?”
This question seems to go in a circle. It’s as if she is saying, “If we are Christians, we must worship Christ. If we worship Christ, then we must be Christian.” I understand that Mormons do want to consider themselves “Christian.” Yet this desire is not evidence to support her assertion that Mormons worship Jesus.
“Why do we name our church ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ if we don’t worship Christ?”
Naming a church after Jesus does not make a church “Christian” any more than the Protestant Church of Christ denomination or the polygamous LDS splinter group Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Warren Jeffs) have rightful claims to being classified as “Christian” merely because Christ is in their titles as well.
“And why do we spend time trying to convince other Christians we are Christian, too, if we don’t worship Christ?
Of course, Latter-day Saints are happy “to convince other Christians we are Christian, too.” This is not a reason to show how Mormons worship Jesus.
3 Reasons to show how Jesus is not worshiped in Mormonism
Let’s consider three reasons why Mormons should not be considered true worshipers of Jesus as advocated in the New Testament.
First of all, Jesus is not the top deity according to LDS leaders. That designation is given only to God the Father (aka Elohim or Heavenly Father). Apostle James E. Talmage made a distinction between Heavenly Father and Jesus when he told a general conference audience:
“God has glorified His Son; but though the Son is glorified with the glory of the Father, you can’t change the fact that He is the Son of that Father, and that Father, the Eternal Father, the Father of Jesus Christ, . . . as the Supreme Being whom we all profess to worship.”Conference Reports, April 1915, 123. Ellipsis and italics mine.
Apostle Boyd K. Packer said,
“The Father is the one true God. This thing is certain: no one will ever ascend above Him; no one will ever replace Him. Nor will anything ever change the relationship that we, His literal offspring, have with Him.”Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, 293. Italics in original.
If “the Father is the one true God” and Jesus is perpetually subordinate to Him, then how can worship be offered to anyone else but the Father?
Second, the leaders themselves have made it clear that only God the Father, not Jesus, should be worshiped. As tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
“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.”Doctrines of Salvation 1:106
One LDS professor from BYU taught that “we worship Him in that we look to Him for deliverance and redemption and seek to emulate His matchless life (D&C 93:12–20).” But should attempting to live a “matchless life” as Jesus led be considered “worship”? I don’t think so.
I must also ask, If Jesus is truly worshiped in Mormonism, then would Mormons consider the Holy Ghost—who is also considered “a god”—to be worthy of worship? In contrast, biblical Christianity teaches that the Father, Son, and Spirit can be worshiped because they are each 100% God. But Mormonism claims that Jesus is “a” god in a different (lesser) way than Heavenly Father.
Finally, leaders have taught that Jesus is not the god to whom their prayers should be directed. As McConkie explained,
“Another peril is that those so involved often begin to pray directly to Christ because of some special friendship they feel has been developed. In this connection a current and unwise book, which advocates gaining a special relationship with Jesus, contains this sentence: ‘Because the Savior is our mediator, our prayers go through Christ to the Father, and the Father answers our prayers through his Son.’ This is plain sectarian nonsense. Our prayers are addressed to the Father and to him only. They do not go through Christ, or the Blessed Virgin, or St. Genevieve or along the beads of a rosary.”Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 66
Seventy L. Lionel Kendrick wrote in a church manual,
“We always pray to our Father in Heaven, and to him alone. We do not pray to the Savior or to anyone else. To do so would be disrespectful of Heavenly Father and an indication that we do not properly understand the relationship of the members of the Godhead.”Missionary Preparation Student Manual, 2005, Religion 130, 40
Despite this assertion of LDS leaders, 3 Nephi 19:17-18 said that the Nephite disciples “did pray unto Jesus.” In addition, was Stephen wrong when he prayed to Jesus in Acts 7:49 and called “upon God . . . saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”?
If Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity –literally “God in the flesh—then Christians have every right to pray to Him. (For more, see “Why don’t Latter-day Saints pray to Jesus? located at mrm.org/pray-to-jesus.)
It is true that Mormons do believe in Jesus. Yet 2 Corinthians 11:4 says it is possible to believe in a false version of Jesus. While there is a lot of emotion in this debate, Mormons who claim to worship Jesus need to be clearer in their assertion. How exactly do they worship Jesus? By taking the LDS sacrament? By belonging to a church that has Jesus’s name in it? By believing that he is merely a god?
Unless church members can show how their leaders were wrong in a) saying the Father was superior in nature to Jesus; b) God the Father alone is to be worshiped; and c) prayers should only be offered to the Father, then Christians have every right to conclude that Jesus—like Heavenly Mother—should not be worshiped according to Mormonism.