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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, Chapter 20: Love and Concern for All Our Father’s Children

Chapter 20: Love and Concern for All Our Father’s Children

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 252–61

During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding 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 our comments following.

Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith

With the knowledge that God is the Father of all people, we desire to love and bless others.

I think if all men knew and understood who they are, and were aware of the divine source from whence they came, and of the infinite potential that is part of their inheritance, they would have feelings of kindness and kinship for each other that would change their whole way of living and bring peace on earth. We believe in the dignity and divine origin of man. Our faith is founded on the fact that God is our Father, and that we are his children, and that all men are brothers and sisters in the same eternal family. As members of his family, we dwelt with him before the foundations of this earth were laid, and he ordained and established the plan of salvation whereby we gained the privilege of advancing and progressing as we are endeavoring to do.

It must be understood that Smith gives this statement in light of the LDS teaching of preexistence. Mormons are taught that all people were once spirits in a previous lifetime, so to speak, in what is called preexistence, or premortality. All people were once spirits in this state; no human chose Lucifer at the Council of Heaven when we had to decide between the Evil One and Jesus. Hence, we are God’s children; all humans are brothers and sisters. Nowhere is such a concept taught in the Bible.

I don’t believe in the “divine origin” of man. Yet this has been consistently taught by LDS leadership. As Smith himself said,

“Joseph Smith taught a plurality of gods, and that man by obeying the commandments of God and keeping the whole law will even­tually reach the power and exaltation by which he also will become a god” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:98).

The notion that God progressed from human to God is a great source of comfort to many Latter-day Saints. It gives them the hope that if they too are faithful, they also can achieve godhood. In his King Follett funeral sermon, Joseph Smith declared,

“Here then is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God the same as all Gods have done before you.” (Journal of Discourses 6:5; Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346)

President Brigham Young delivered a message in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on August 8, 1852, affirming this teaching. He said, “The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself.” (Journal of Discourses 8:93)

In Mormonism, eternal life, exaltation, and godhood are interchangeable terms. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, declared at a general conference,

“While against the backdrop of infinite creation, we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.”(“You Matter to Him,” Ensign, November 2011, 20)

Mormon leaders have offered many details as to what these “gods” will be doing. Young taught,

“All those who are counted worthy to be exalted and to become Gods, even the sons of God, will go forth and have earths and worlds like those who framed this and millions on millions of others.”(Journal of Discourses 17:143)

Young added that these worthy members will create earths “like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our parents, by our Father and God.” (Ibid. 18:259)

Not only will exalted humans be forming and ruling over worlds, but they will also have the ability to procreate throughout eternity. This doctrine is known as eternal increase. A church manual quotes Bruce R. McConkie in declaring,

Mortal persons who overcome all things and gain an ultimate exaltation will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers. (D&C 132:19–32.) Indeed, the formal pronouncement of the Church, issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, states: “So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents of spirit offspring.”(Eternal Marriage Student Manual Religion 234 and 235, 167, quoting Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, 517)

Apostle Orson Pratt said that “the inhabitants of each world are required to reverence, adore, and worship their own personal father who dwells in the Heaven which they formerly inhabited.”(The Seer, 37) Meanwhile, Spencer W. Kimball wrote,

“Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people.”(Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religon 430-431, 29)

A 2004 LDS student manual recounts a story about President Lorenzo Snow, who, while visiting a kindergarten class in Provo, Utah, saw several children making clay “spheres.” Snow told the school official accompanying him,

These children are now at play, making mud worlds, the time will come when some of these boys, through their faithfulness to the gospel, will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods. (Presidents of the Church Student Manual: Religion 345, 90.

Citing Spencer W. Kimball, Apostle L. Tom Perry said,

Peter and John had little secular learning, being termed ignorant. But they knew the vital things of life, that God lives and that the crucified, resurrected Lord is the Son of God. They knew the path to eternal life. This they learned in a few decades of their mortal life. Their righteous lives opened the door to godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase. For this they would probably need, eventually, a total knowledge of the sciences . . . Secular knowledge, important as it may be, can never save a soul nor open the celestial kingdom nor create a world nor make a man a god. (“The Tradition of a Balanced, Righteous Life,” Ensign, August 2011, 51. References to exalted beings forming and ruling over their own worlds, as well as engaging in eternal increase, are numerous. See also Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 300-301; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:48; and Achieving a Celestial Marriage, 129, 132, 135).

Despite the above references made by LDS leaders and church manuals pointing to the possibility of Mormons being able to make and rule over their own worlds, the Mormon Church posted a statement on its official Newsroom Web site relegating such comments to nothing more than mere speculation. Answering the question “Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will ‘get their own planet’?” the statement answered,

No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine.”(Mormonism 101: FAQ)  The statement appears to use semantics to cover up teachings made by past LDS leaders who speak of Mormons making and ruling worlds and earths. It is not uncommon for a Latter-day Saint to tone down the impact of this teaching by emphasizing that Mormons can merely become “like God,” as if this somehow means there is a distinction between what the LDS God is now and what Latter-day Saints hope to become. Though Mormons assume that exalted humans will always be subordinate to God, to insist that exalted beings will be merely “like God” suggests there will always be, to a certain degree, a substantial difference in quality and attributes between Elohim and his offspring. If this is so, is the Mormon Elohim also dissimilar from the God(s) who preceded him? In other words, if every generation of gods lacks in any degree the power, might, and dominion of the gods who preceded them, then it must be assumed that the God worshipped by present day Mormons is also lesser in power, ight, and dominion than the myriad of gods who were exalted before him. This means that the Mormon God is subordinate as well as inferior to the gods who preceded him.

Such a concept is not a Christian teaching, despite the comparison made by some Mormon apologists who have compared exaltation with the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of deification, or theosis, meaning “union with God.” While speaking about a desire or perceived ability to seek God’s holiness, this idea never attempts to undermine the biblical truth that God is one or to give hope to believers that they can expect to become, in an ontological sense, a god. In essence, human beings are not a chip off the old God block!

Indeed, theosis does not support the notion that Christians will ever achieve the essence or being of God. Still, this has not stopped Mormons from misusing the writings of some early church fathers, as well as Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis, in an attempt to give Smith’s teaching a bit of historical authenticity. Orthodox Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, Bishop of Diokleia, refutes such a comparison:

It is clear to me that C. S. Lewis understands the doctrine of theosis in essentially the same way as the Orthodox Church does; indeed, he probably derived his viewpoint from reading such Greek Fathers as Athanasius. On the other hand, the Mormon view is altogether different from what Lewis and the Orthodox Church believe. Orthodox theology emphasizes that there is a clear distinction—in the current phraseology “an ontological gap”—between God the Creator and the creation which He has made. This “gap” is bridged by divine love, supremely through the Incarnation, but it is not abolished. The distinction betweenthe Uncreated and the created still remains. The Incarnation is a unique event. “Deification,” on the Orthodox understanding, is to be interpreted in terms of the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. Human beings share by God’s mercy in His energies but not in His essence, either in the present age or in the age to come. That is to say, in theosis the saints participate in the grace, power, and glory of God, but they never become God by essence. (Quoted in Ostling and Ostling, Mormon America, 311)

Though some of the language used when speaking of exaltation and theosis may sound similar, the concepts are not. It is misleading, if not outright deceptive, for Mormons to continue making this comparison.

The God we worship is a glorified Being in whom all power and perfection dwell, and he has created man in his own image and likeness, with those characteristics and attributes which he himself possesses.

According to Mormonism, it is possible for human beings to be lifted up to God’s level (or maybe this should read, God is brought down to a human level). Either way, it is doctrinally imprudent and even blasphemous to say that God is a glorified being who is merely looking to have us exalted to His godhood status.

In fact, Israel praised God as the “Most High,” recognizing that there is none like Him (cf. Pss. 7:17; 9:2; 83:18). He is God alone. Isaiah 43:10 declares, “I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” If Mormonism is true, this verse quickly becomes meaningless since countless numbers of gods must have preceded Elohim before he achieved his personal exaltation. Furthermore, Isaiah makes it clear that no gods are forthcoming. The argument that this speaks only to man-made idols must be rejected since every idol was made “after” God.

In Isaiah 44:6, 8 the omniscient God of the Bible says there are no other gods. He also adamantly declares in Isaiah 45:5, “There is no God beside me. From eternity past to eternity future, there will never be a “most high” God other than the one presented in the Bible. Still, the Bible does refer to “gods” throughout its pages. Whether this term refers to heavenly beings or representatives (such as angels) or false gods, it is never implied that these “gods” share equality with God the “Most High.”

For more reviews on this manual featuring Joseph Fielding Smith quotes, go here.

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