Note: The following was originally printed in the September/October 2023 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
When Jude, “the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James,” penned his general epistle, he admonished his Christian readers to “earnestly contend for the faith.” He stated in Jude 1:3:
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
In reading his words, we must ask what Jude had in mind when he used expressions like “common salvation” and a “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Would that which is believed by over 17 million Latter-day Saints be what Jude had in mind? Not likely.
Since its very beginning, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has insisted that it is a “restored” church with a “restored” gospel. Speaking in general conference in April 1964, LDS Apostle Mark E. Petersen very succinctly noted:
We Latter-day Saints have that new revelation. We have a new prophet and new scriptures also, which, added to the Bible, now point the way. This new revelation brought with it the true understanding of the nature of God and a restoration of primitive Christianity. That restoration is Mormonism. It came about through the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jun. He saw God and communed with him, even as did Moses.Mark E. Petersen, Conference Reports, April 1964, 19.
One can only wonder how it is possible for Mormonism to be a restoration of
“primitive Christianity” while claiming it has new scriptures and new revelation. How would Petersen, or any other LDS leader for that matter, know what “primitive Christianity” looked like in order to make such a comparison? It seems obvious that the best source for knowing what early Christians believed and practiced is the New Testament.
When we compare the New Testament to the teachings of the LDS Church, we see similar words being used to describe their positions; upon closer examination, however, those words are defined very differently. Even words like scripture, heaven, God, Jesus, and salvation have unique definitions and descriptions.
While Christians have historically believed in the Bible as the sole authoritative scripture, the LDS Church adds the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. These additional texts are considered inspired and essential for understanding God’s will, even though much of what they contain was never taught or believed by early Christians.
Christianity asserts the belief in one God who is eternally God and unchanging in His nature. Humans are created in His image but remain distinct from Him. With the introduction of a doctrine called “eternal progression,” Mormons are told that Heavenly Father progressed from humanity to deity, thus paving the way for his “literal” offspring to do the same. This concept of God and humans attaining godhood is not found in ancient Christian theology.
Christianity argues that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, fully divine, and coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and though these three are God and Lord, Christianity has never taught that the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit are three separate Gods as is taught in Mormonism.
New Testament Christianity has always emphasized that justification and the forgiveness of sin comes as a result of faith in the finished work of Christ. Mormonism, on the other hand, states that forgiveness is achieved by abandoning all past sins and keeping all of their church’s commandments.
We also see practices in modern Mormonism that fail to reflect what we find in the New Testament. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:29, the apostle Paul asked why some people were being baptized for the dead if there was no hope of a bodily resurrection. Joseph Smith takes this phrase and, without a shred of historical evidence, makes an elaborate doctrine and practice out of it.
First of all, this practice assumes that salvation can be granted after an individual’s mortal life has come to an end. In contrast, this same Paul, writing in 2 Corinthians 6:2, cites the prophet Isaiah and concludes that “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Ironically, the Book of Mormon in Alma 34:32ff concurs with this concept, though these passages were ignored by Smith when he introduced vicarious baptisms for the dead.
Though the first baptism on behalf of a deceased person took place in the Mississippi River, Joseph Smith claimed in January of 1841, that God told him that “this ordinance belongeth to my house” (D&C 124:30). Baptisms for the dead would be put on hold until the completion of the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Are we to believe that this specific location (in temples) is also a restoration of things done anciently? How could early Christians perform baptisms in a temple when the only temple recognized by God at the time was controlled by priests who were hostile to this new group of Jesus followers? Are we really to believe the religious leaders of that day, many of whom were Sadducees who didn’t even believe in the resurrection, would have granted permission to a group they considered to be a heretical sect to use the temple to perform a ritual they deemed to be unorthodox and unnecessary?
Even if they were allowed, where inside the temple grounds would this ritual have taken place? Modern Latter-day Saints baptize by proxy in a font resembling the “Sea of cast bronze” mentioned in 1 Kings 7:23-25. This font sat atop twelve oxen, “three looking to the north, three looking toward the west, three looking toward the south, [and] three looking toward the east.” This font had a very special purpose during the first temple period. According to 2 Chronicles 4:6 it was used by the officiating priests for ceremonial washings.
Furthermore, this brazen sea didn’t exist during the early years of Christianity. When Jerusalem was sacked by the Chaldeans in 586 B.C., the sea was broken in pieces and the bronze was carted off to Babylon (see 2 Kings 25:13). Neither Zerubbabel’s temple, nor the temple later built by Herod, contained an edifice similar to the sea in Solomon’s temple. There was, however, a laver or basin provided for ceremonial washings, yet never do we read that this was used for a ceremony similar to modern baptisms.
According to LDS teachings, baptisms for the dead are to be performed by males who hold the Melchizedek priesthood; nowhere do we find any early Christian, including the apostles chosen by Jesus, holding such an office.
A fundamental error made by Mark E. Petersen and all members of the LDS Church is to assume that Joseph Smith was telling the truth when he described what true Christianity should look like. When Petersen speaks of this restoration coming about “through the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” it would be helpful to demonstrate with evidence (not assumption) that early Christians believed and practiced these alleged “primitive” traits.
When all is said and done, the orthodoxy (teachings) and orthopraxy (practices) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fail to harmonize with teachings and practices outlined in the New Testament. Since this is true, we can only conclude that Jude was not including Joseph Smith’s “restored” gospel when he exhorted his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”