Reviewed by Eric Johnson
The Plan of Salvation booklet was produced in 2008 and is apparently used by Mormon missionaries to explain the three questions that potential converts commonly ask: Where did I come from? What is my purpose in life? And where am I going? This 24-page booklet (measuring 5×7 inches) 8 pages of pictures, taking up one-third of the space, and appears to be meant to be read in less than 15 minutes. Since this is printed by the LDS Church (with the church’s official emblem on the back cover), we will quote the booklet word-for-word (bold type), providing commentary from an Evangelical Christian perspective.
WHAT IS THE PLAN OF SALVATION?
The plan of salvation is God’s plan for the happiness of His children. It is centered on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, you will find lasting inner peace in this life and eternal joy after death. As you learn about the plan of salvation, you will find answers to these questions: “Where did I come from?” “What is my purpose in life?” “Where will I go after this life?”
These are the three questions Mormons are told that their church has the best answers of all the religions.
WHERE DID I COME FROM?
Your life did not begin at birth, nor will it end at death. You are made up of a spirit body (sometimes called the soul) and a physical body. Your Heavenly Father created your spirit, and you lived with Him as a spirit before you were born on earth. You knew and loved Him, and He knew and loved you. This period is called pre-earth life. Throughout your pre-earth life, you were taught the principles and commandments that would lead to happiness. You grew in intelligence and learned to love the truth. You were taught about the plan of salvation. During this pre-earth life, Jesus Christ was chosen as the Savior; you learned that through Him you would be able to overcome the effects of your wrong choices.
An important part of God’s plan was for you to come to earth to receive a physical body and to learn to make correct choices. You would not remember living in Heavenly Father’s presence, but He would give you the ability to know right from wrong. You would be able to recognize His love and truth. Through your experiences and trials, you could learn to make right choices consistently. With the help of Jesus Christ, you would be able to return to live with your Heavenly Father when your life on earth was over.
In your pre-earth life, you learned that only by choosing to follow God’s plan could you receive lasting peace and satisfaction in this life and for eternity. Because He loves you, your Heavenly Father gave you agency, or the power to make choices. He let you choose whether you would follow His plan and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Satan, one of God’s spirit children, rebelled against our Heavenly Father and did not accept His plan. He wanted to force us all to do his will. Sadly, many of our Heavenly Father’s children chose to follow Satan. Satan and his followers were sent away from God’s presence and were not allowed to be born on earth. They continue to exist as spirits. They are miserable, and they want you to be miserable. They tempt you and all God’s children to do things that bring unhappiness and that are not pleasing to God.
In the pre-earth life, you chose to have faith in Jesus Christ and to follow God’s plan. Because of your choices, you were born on earth. Only by making these same choices can you find peace in this life and be able to return to live with your Heavenly Father after this life is over.
Doctrine and Covenants 93:29 teaches that “man was also in the beginning with God,” and thus “the human race lived in a premortal existence with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. . . . But at some distant point in our premortal past, spirit bodies were created for us, and we became, literally, spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents” (“The Fulness of the Gospel: Life Before Birth, Ensign, February 2006, pp. 30-31). A church manual reports, “The firstborn spirit son of our Father was Jesus Christ. He was our Elder Brother. He became a member of the Godhead while he was in heaven, before he came to this earth” (Presidents of the Church Teacher’s Manual, p. 1). Another manual states, “Before you were born on earth, you lived in the presence of your Heavenly Father as one of His spirit children. In this premortal existence, you attended a council with Heavenly Father’s other spirit children. At that council, Heavenly Father presented His great plan of happiness (see Abraham 3:22–26)” (True to the Faith, pp. 115-116). Church leaders teach that there was a disagreement in the preexistence over who should be the Savior of the world to save mankind from sins. Two brothers, Jesus and Lucifer, submitted their plans. According to the church manual Gospel Principles:
“Jesus was willing to come to the earth, give His life for us, and take upon Himself our sins. He, like our Heavenly Father, wanted us to choose whether we would obey Heavenly Father’s commandments. He knew we must be free to choose in order to prove ourselves worthy of exaltation. . . . Satan, who was called Lucifer, also came, saying, ‘Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor’ (Moses 4:1). Satan wanted to force us all to do his will. Under his plan, we would not be allowed to choose. He would take away the freedom of choice that our Father had given us. Satan wanted to have all the honor for our salvation. Under his proposal, our purpose in coming to earth would have been frustrated” (pp. 13, 15).
Satan’s plan was rejected and, in response, he
“became angry and rebelled. There was war in heaven. Satan and his followers fought against Jesus Christ and His followers. . . . In this great rebellion, Satan and all the spirits who followed him were sent away from the presence of God and cast down from heaven. A third part of the hosts of heaven were punished for following Satan (see D&C 29:36). They were denied the right to receive mortal bodies. Because we are here on earth and have mortal bodies, we know that we chose to follow Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Satan and his followers are also on the earth, but as spirits. They have not forgotten who we are, and they are around us daily, tempting us and enticing us to do things that are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father. In our premortal life, we chose to follow Jesus Christ and accept God’s plan” (Gospel Principles, pp. 15-16).
Those spirits that chose wisely in this premortal state had a chance to progress by being allowed to have bodies and come to earth. President George Albert Smith said good works in the premortal state earned for us “the privilege of coming to this earth. . . . our very existence is a reward for our faithfulness before we came here” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, pp. 70-71). President Spencer W. Kimball wrote,
“While we lack recollection of our pre-mortal life, before coming to this earth all of us understood definitely the purpose of our being here. We would be expected to gain knowledge, educate ourselves, train ourselves. We were to control our urges and desires, master and control our passions, and overcome our weaknesses, small and large. We were to eliminate sins of omission and of commission, and to follow the laws and commandments given us by our Father. . . . we said in effect, ‘Yes, Father, in spite of all those things [sorrows, disappointments, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears] I can see great blessings that could come to me as one of thy sons or daughters; in taking a body I can see that I will eventually become immortal like thee, that I might overcome the effects of sins and be perfected, and so I am anxious to go to the earth at the first opportunity.’ And so we came” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 3).
Mormonism’s teaching of premortality, or the preexistence, is unique to all religions that want to be known as “Christian.” Jeremiah 1:5 is listed as a source in the “Additional Study” questions as a proof text for this teaching. It reads: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Here Jeremiah is told by the sovereign God of the universe that He has a plan for the prophet, and that plan was formed before Jeremiah’s birth.
Does this mean that humans had a relationship with God in premortality? The answer is, quite simply, no. Notice that this verse says God knew Jeremiah before his birth; nowhere does it intimate that Jeremiah knew God. If God is omniscient (all-knowing) and sovereign, we would expect Him to know Jeremiah. The Bible is full of passages stating that God is in sovereign control, and, as such, His plans cannot be thwarted by anyone. In fact, it’s clear that God has a plan for everyone. It was God who determined who our parents would be (thus determining where we would be born), the color of our skin, the number of hairs on our head, and even our natural temperament. Nothing about our existence surprised God. He knew us, but nowhere is it inferred that we knew Him before birth.
Hebrews 12:9 is listed as another proof text. It reads: “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” Mormons tend to read too much into this passage. All who have entered into mortality have spirits, so it would be wrong to assume this refers to some preexistent state. The writer of Hebrews is merely making a connection between the discipline of human fathers and that of our heavenly Father.
Mormonism’s teaching on the preexistence comes with many interesting features. Mormon leaders have stated that the “third part of the hosts of heaven” is made up of fellow spiritual brothers and sisters of all of humankind. Apostle Joseph F. Merrill said, “According to our teachings, Satan and an army of supporters were cast down to earth from the premortal spirit world. They are spirit brothers of ours, and are real persons having spirit bodies” (Conference Reports, April 1941, p. 49). Mormon leaders also have insisted that the performance of humans as spirits in their premortality determined their social status here on earth. For instance, President Joseph Fielding Smith explained,
“Is it not a reasonable belief, that the Lord would select the choice spirits to come through the better grades of nations? Moreover, is it not reasonable to believe that less worthy spirits would come through less favored lineage? Does this not account in very large part, for the various grades of color and degrees of intelligence we find in the earth?” (The Way to Perfection, p. 48).
Apostle Mark E. Petersen stated,
“With all this in mind, can we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Indians, some as Negroes, some as Americans, some as Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds” (“Race Relations as They Affect the Church,” August 27, 1954, p. 11).
In a 2008 devotional, Terry Ball, dean of religious education at Brigham Young University, told the students,
“Have you ever wondered why you were born where and when you were born? Why you were not born 500 years ago in some primitive, aboriginal culture in some isolated corner of the world? Is the timing and placing of your birth capricious? For Latter-day Saints the answer is no. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that before we came to this earth we lived in a premortal existence with a loving Heavenly Father. We further understand that in that premortal state we had agency. And that we grew and developed as we used that agency.” (“To Confirm and Inform: A Blessing of Higher Education,” March 11, 2008, BYU devotional).
When it comes to those of African heritage, Mormon leaders have been very specific that their preexistent behavior is what prevented them from holding the LDS priesthood. For example, Apostle George F. Richards said that “the Negro race” was “forbidden the priesthood, and the higher temple blessings, presumably because of their not having been valiant while in the spirit. It does not pay to be anything but valiant” (Conference Reports, October 1947, p. 57). Apostle Melvin J. Ballard asked,
“Why is it in this Church we do not grant the priesthood to the Negroes? It is alleged that the Prophet Joseph said—and I have no reason to dispute it—that it is because of some act committed by them before they came into this life. It is alleged that they were neutral, standing neither for Christ nor the devil. But, I am convinced it is because of some things they did before they came into this life that they have been denied the privilege. The races of today are very largely reaping the consequences of a previous life” (Sermons and Missionary Service of Melvin Joseph Ballard, p. 248).
Prior to the thirtieth anniversary of the priesthood revelation that reversed the ban on those having any African heritage, the Deseret News quoted former mission president Sheldon F. Child, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy:
“Elder Child said he doesn’t recall that his missionaries encountered ‘any problem with someone asking” about why the priesthood ban existed or the folklore that was used to explain why it endured for almost 150 years within the church. ‘When you think about it, that’s just what it is—folklore. It’s never really been official doctrine. I know that there have been some misconceptions and some statements made by people in the past, but as Elder (Bruce R.) McConkie said, we’ve received new and additional light and knowledge through revelation, and even the folklore is obsolete now because of the fact that we have the revelation.’ . . . ‘We have to keep in mind that it’s folklore and not doctrine,’ Elder Child said. ‘It’s never been recorded as such. Many opinions, personal opinions, were spoken. I’m just so grateful for this revelation,’ he said, adding he can recall exactly where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news 30 years ago” (“LDS marking 30-Year Milestone,” Deseret News, June 7, 2008).
Church spokesman Mark Tuttle explained, “This folklore is not part of and never was taught as doctrine by the church” (“Mormon and Black: Grappling with a Racist Past,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 7, 2008). In response to comments by a BYU professor confirming the aforementioned statements made by LDS General Authorities, the Mormon Church released a statement on its official web site in 2012 insisting that any explanations for the priesthood ban prior to 1978 were “speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding. We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both insides and outside the Church” (“Church Statement Regarding ‘Washington Post’ Article on Race and the Church,” February 29, 2012).
However, a statement from the First Presidency in 1951 seems to refute such notions rather than confirm them:
“The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: ‘Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers’ (sic) rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings we are entitled to’ “(Official statement of the First Presidency to BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, dated August 17, 1951, quoted in Lund, The Church and the Negro: A Discussion of Mormons, Negroes and the Priesthood, pp. 89-90).
Notice in this statement that all those who were cursed would not receive the blessing of the priesthood until after death. Young said,
“How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion” (Journal of Discourses 7:290-291).
If Young is right, the lifting of the ban—which took place by revelation in 1978, as described in Doctrine and Covenants—Declaration 2—was premature since all the other descendants of Adam have yet to receive the blessings of the priesthood. And if the priesthood ban was implemented based on folklore, what does this say about the reliability and discernment of those LDS leaders who perpetuated and enforced such folklore?
WHAT IS MY PURPOSE IN LIFE?
The Creation and the Fall
The earth was created as a place for our Heavenly Father’s children to live and gain experience. Adam and Eve were the first of God’s children to come to earth. They lived in a place called the Garden of Eden, where they were still in God’s presence. Our Heavenly Father gave Adam and Eve agency, or freedom to choose. He commanded them not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Obeying this commandment meant they could remain in the garden, but they could not progress by learning from experiences and challenges. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and they chose to do so. This was part of God’s plan. Because of their decision, they were separated from God’s presence physically and spiritually. They became mortal, that is, subject to sin and death. They were unable to return to Him without His help. Their physical and spiritual separation from God is called the Fall. Our Heavenly Father sent angels and the Holy Ghost to teach Adam and Eve the plan of salvation. Central to this plan is the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which enables God’s children to overcome the effects of the Fall and have joy in this life and in eternity.
If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden…. “And [Adam and Eve] would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
“But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” 2 Nephi 2:22–25
According to Mormonism, the Fall was required if the spirit children in premortality hoped to gain bodies and have a chance to gain exaltation. Thus, “Adam fell that men might be.” Because of the Fall, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith said that he wanted to thank “Mother Eve for tempting Adam to partake of the fruit” and how he wanted “to thank (Adam)” (“Adam’s Role in Bringing us Mortality,” Ensign, January 2006, pp. 52-53). The first sin almost takes on a celebratory spirit, as described by Apostle Russell M. Nelson:
“We and all mankind are forever blessed because of Eve’s great courage and wisdom. By partaking of the fruit first, she did what needed to be done. Adam was wise enough to do likewise” (“Constancy amid Change,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 34).
LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks told a general conference crowd:
“Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints! Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall” (“The Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1993, p. 73).
The Bible explains that the introduction of sin was not a positive occurrence. Romans 5:12-21 says that death came from Adam—the figurehead for humanity—but life comes through Jesus Christ. Starting in verse 15, Paul wrote:
“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
The disobedience of Adam and Eve certainly did not surprise the God of this universe; however, we should not assume that this event should somehow be celebrated and assume that it allowed for spirits to take on fleshly bodies.
Your Life on Earth
Because of the Fall, you are separated from God physically and spiritually. This separation is part of God’s plan for His children. Your purpose in leaving His presence to come to earth includes obtaining a body, gaining experience, and learning to make right choices.
Whereas Mormonism says that God and spirits had a relationship in the premortal state before the spirits took on human bodies, Christianity rejects this idea.
Many aspects of life bring happiness, and some bring sorrow. These experiences help you learn to distinguish between good and evil and to make correct choices. God influences you to do good and to follow Him, while Satan tempts you to ignore God and commit sin. (Sin is knowingly choosing to do wrong or not to do right.) When you choose to follow God and keep His commandments, you grow in wisdom and strength of character. You can experience joy even in times of trial, and you can face life’s challenges with a spirit of peace.
This ying-yang set-up presumes that God and Satan are somehow opposites, that God influences for good while Satan influences for evil. Certainly Satan is alive and well, and the Bible clearly says that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spirits and principalities (Ephesians 6:12). However, while many people like to blame Satan for their temptations, James 1:14-15 says that “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Satan can provide for the temptation, but we are responsible for falling short of what God has intended. Added to this, we can know that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond that which we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13).
You have made many good choices in your life, but you have also made some wrong choices. When you make wrong choices and commit sin, you separate yourself to some degree from God. The scriptures call this separation spiritual death. In addition to separating you from God, sin also causes guilt and shame. You cannot overcome sin and its effects by yourself.
We would agree that a person cannot overcome sin alone. So how can we be forgiven of our sin? This is truly the $64,000 question. Mormonism and Christianity have two completely different answers.
“I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an
With parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me,
walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.”
Hymns, no. 301
A person who does not understand Mormonism might read this hymn and not think much about it. As we talked about earlier, Mormonism teaches that a “child of God” is a former spirit who was literally born to God the Father and Heavenly Mother in the premortal life, which would make every person on earth a literal offspring of God. And “to live with him someday” refers to the Celestial Kingdom and the hope Mormons have of becoming exalted so they can be with their families forever. Left to the Christian’s presuppositions, there is a good chance these issues would not even be recognized.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ
Because your Heavenly Father loves you, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for your sins. This payment is part of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ voluntarily suffered for your sins, pains, sicknesses, and sorrows. Through His grace and mercy, He can help you in your trials and relieve you of the guilt and
shame that result from your sins.
More definitions are necessary if we hope to grasp what Mormonism teaches. Consider these definitions as to what these terms mean to a Mormon:
God the Father, also known as Elohim or Heavenly Father, was once a righteous human in another realm who died and then became God of this world. He has a tangible body of flesh and bones (D&C 130:22). However, Christianity says that God was never human, has always been God, and is spirit (John 4:24). See here.
Jesus Christ is God the Father’s firstborn son and humanity’s eldest brother. Prior to his incarnation, he was known as Jehovah. However, Christianity says that Jesus is the second member of the Trinity and is more than just merely a “god.” He was never a brother to anyone, whether any human or Lucifer. Rather, He was god from the very beginning. (John 1:1, 14) See here.
The Atonement was provided by Jesus’ suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, allowing humankind to have a resurrection, as well as paving the way for potential exaltation. However, Christianity says that Gethsemane had nothing to do with the Atonement, but it was the cross where sins were shed. See here and here. And the Atonement certainly had nothing to do in allowing men to become gods.
In paying for your sins, Jesus did not eliminate your agency or personal responsibility—He will not make you clean against your will. To receive His help and strength, you need to exercise faith in Him, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and choose to follow His teachings for the rest of your life. As you rely on the Atonement, you will feel the love of God, and He will help you endure your trials. You will experience joy, peace, and consolation. All that seems unfair in life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the mercy and love of our Heavenly Father. The Atonement is the central point in the plan of salvation.
In order to benefit from the Atonement, Mormonism teaches that a person must: 1) have faith; 2) repent; 3) be baptized into the LDS Church; 4) receive the Holy Ghost; 5) be obedient from then on. In the previous paragraph, the church used the words “grace” and “mercy.” However, while God’s grace—receiving a gift we didn’t deserve—and His mercy—not receiving the punishment we do deserve—are not earned within Christianity, Mormonism places a list of requirements (including total obedience) that must be obeyed in order to receive these items. There is nothing “free” about the Atonement of Mormonism. For more on this topic, see here.
WHERE WILL I GO AFTER THIS LIFE?
From an earthly perspective, physical death may seem like an end, but really it is a beginning, a step forward in our Heavenly Father’s plan. At death, your spirit will leave your body and go to the spirit world, which is a place of learning and preparation. In the spirit world, your memories of this life will remain with you.
Death will not change your personality or your desire for good or evil. If you choose to follow Christ during your life on earth, you will be at peace in the spirit world and will rest from your cares. Those who choose not to follow Jesus Christ and do not repent will be unhappy.
Our Heavenly Father knew that many of His children would never have an opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ during their lives and that others would choose not to follow Him. Because He loves His children, God provided a way for those in the spirit world to learn about His plan, have faith in Jesus Christ, and repent. Those who accept and follow Jesus Christ will have peace and rest.
Mormonism says that there is the possibility for accepting the LDS gospel message after death. The Bible denies this teaching. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Hebrews 9:27 adds, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” In the Book of Mormon, Alma 34:32–35 disagrees with the possibility that salvation can be found in the next life:
“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.”
Some may argue that Alma refers only to those who know better. This would include apostate Mormons or even so-called “anti-Mormons” who have done a great deal of study on Mormonism. But this passage does not support such a premise. In fact, verse 32 says now “is the time for men (in general) to prepare to meet God.” It does not specify that the time is now only for those who have understood the gospel fully and rejected it. If the warning here really is intended for those who know better, then it seems to be directed to every member of the LDS Church. Second Nephi 9:38 puts it clearly: “And, in fine, woe unto all those who die in their sins: for they shall return to God, and behold His face, and remain in their sins.”
While Mormons can indeed do works for behalf of the dead—including baptisms—this was never meant to be a second chance of salvation for those who originally heard the gospel in this life. Consider what Apostle Bruce R. McConkie said:
“There are those who believe that the doctrine of salvation for the dead offers men a second chance for salvation. This is false, false, false. I know a man, now deceased, a non-member of the Church, who was a degenerate old reprobate who found pleasure, as he supposed, in living after the manner of the world. A cigarette dangled from his lips, alcohol stenched his breath, and profane and bawdy stories defiled his lips. His moral status left much to be desired. His wife was a member of the Church, as faithful as she could be under the circumstances. One day she said to him, ‘You know the Church is true; why don’t you be baptized?’ He replied, ‘Of course I know the Church is true, but I have no intention of changing my habits in order to join it. I prefer to live the way I do. But that doesn’t worry me in the slightest. I know that as soon as I die, you will have someone go to the temple and do the work for me and everything will come out all right in the end anyway.’ He died and she did and it was a total and complete waste of time” (The Seven Deadly Heresies, BYU Fireside, June 1, 1980).
Resurrection and Judgment
One of the great gifts of God to all who come to earth is the resurrection, which is made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, His spirit went to the spirit world. Three days later, His spirit was reunited with His glorified, perfected body that could no longer die. This reuniting of body and spirit is called resurrection. Everyone who is born on earth will be resurrected.
After you are resurrected, you will go before God to be judged according to your works and the desires of your heart.
Mormonism says that all people will receive a general salvation, or a resurrection from the dead. This is the “grace” that is given to all people.
Degrees of Glory
After you are judged, you will live in a state of glory. Because everyone’s works and desires vary, heaven includes different kingdoms, or degrees of glory.
Celestial kingdom. Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ reside in the celestial kingdom. If you live according to the gospel of Jesus Christ and are cleansed from sin by the Atonement, you will receive a place in this, the highest kingdom. You will live in God’s presence and know complete joy.
Terrestrial kingdom. People who refuse to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ but who live honorable lives will receive a place in the terrestrial kingdom.
Telestial kingdom. Those who continue in their sins and do not repent will receive a place in the telestial kingdom.
For Mormons, heaven is made up of three kingdoms. The top is the celestial glory, where those who were righteous will have a chance to spend eternity with their families. The terrestrial kingdom will be home for honorable people who, somehow, didn’t qualify for the celestial kingdom. And finally, even the filthiest of sinners will receive the telestial kingdom. The Bible does not support such concepts.
WHAT DOES THE PLAN MEAN FOR ME?
When you understand that God is your Father, that He loves you, and that He has made it possible for you to gain experience and knowledge here and become like Him after this life, you know the importance of your decisions during your life. You understand that you must follow Jesus Christ to receive the full blessings of our Heavenly Father’s plan.
In other words, “full blessings” = “celestial kingdom.” The way to achieve this is through full obedience to the commandments, as interpreted by the Mormon Church.
HOW CAN I KNOW?
A greater knowledge of the plan of salvation has come because of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
And the name Joseph Smith is key here. In fact, acceptance of Mormonism’s founder is crucial for someone who hopes to attain this celestial kingdom glory. Consider the words of these leaders and how they admired Smith, saying he is necessary for people’s salvation:
2nd President Brigham Young: “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 (October 9, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:289. See also Search These Commandments, 1984, p. 133).
10th 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)
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie: “If it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be no salvation” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 670).
13th President Ezra Taft Benson: “Joseph Smith has done more for the salvation of men in this world than any man who ever lived in it, except the Master” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 132).
The idea that Joseph Smith—a mere man—is needed for salvation is nothing less than blasphemous to Bible-believing Christians. In fact, when we study the life of Joseph Smith, we find that this man was certainly no saint and absolutely no savior. Among other things:
- Joseph Smith was an outright occultist.
- He was a false prophet. For example, see his “prophecy” of the Civil War and his “Rocky Mountain prophecy.”
- He thought higher of himself than he ought, in contradiction to Alma 5:27-28. He did not understand humility.
- There were plenty of problems with Smith’s “First Vision” account, evidence that he lied about seeing God and Jesus.
- He lived plural marriage (before God supposedly told him it was OK with a revelation), hiding most of his marriages from his wife Emma. A third of his 33 wives were teenagers, another third were married to other men’s wives, and there were sisters whom he married. For more information and plenty of links to support these words, see here. Regarding how Smith appeared to be nothing more than a sexual predator, see Sandra Tanner’s talk here.
While I’m not trying to purposely inflame the Mormon, who may be highly sensitive to this topic, I’m not quite sure how Smith can be elevated to the same status as Jesus.
You can know for yourself that these things are true by asking your Heavenly Father in prayer. He will answer you through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is also called the Spirit of God, and one of His roles is to witness, or testify, of the truth. The Holy Ghost reveals and confirms truth through feelings, thoughts, and impressions. The feelings that come from the Holy Ghost are powerful, but they are also usually gentle and quiet. As taught in the Bible, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance”(Galatians 5:22–23). These feelings are a confirmation from the Holy Ghost that this message is true. You will then need to choose whether you will live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ as restored through Joseph Smith.
James 1:5 is used in conjunction with Moroni 10:4 in the Book of Mormon to show how a person ought to be able to receive a good feeling to know if something is true. While it is important to be respectful to our Latter-day Saint friends and not minimize their experiences, we need to point out that the rules have been rigged since the prayer’s request really has but one acceptable answer. After all, the investigator who declines the invitation to pray may be accused of not believing in prayer. On the other hand, those who agree to pray but don’t receive the “right” answer will probably be thought of as not having a sincere heart, real intent, or adequate faith. In response to the question “Shouldn’t Moroni’s promise always work” with someone who “has not received a testimony of its truthfulness?” Daniel Ludlow, the director of LDS Church Correlation Review, confirms this suspicion:
“God cannot and does not lie, and his promises made through his prophets are sure. Therefore, any person who claims to have followed the various requirements but says he has not gained a testimony should check to see which step he has not followed faithfully or completely:
1. He should read and ponder the Book of Mormon—all of it.
2. He should remember the methods God has used in working with the peoples of both the Book of Mormon and the Bible—and ponder these things in his heart.
3. He should put himself in a frame of mind where he would be willing to accept (receive) all of ‘these things’—the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the way God works with men.
4. ‘With a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,’ he should ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Jesus Christ ‘if these things are not true.’
5. He should be able to recognize the promptings and feelings which will be evidences to him of the truth of ‘these things’ (including the Book of Mormon) as they are made manifest unto him ‘by the power of the Holy Ghost.'” (“I have a Question,” Ensign, March 1986).
There is a psychological edge that the Mormon missionaries have when someone agrees to their challenge. After all, the investigator may eventually get the “right” answer in an attempt to please the missionaries, close family members, or friends who have come to the same conclusion. In the end, one’s good feelings may win the day, even if the object of the prayer is false.
It should be noted that Joseph Smith disregarded the immediate context of James 1:5, which speaks of gaining wisdom, not knowledge. Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. In this verse James tells his Christian audience to ask God for wisdom when they are undergoing trials and temptations, not for testing various truth claims. First John 4:1 tells believers to “try [test] the spirits.” Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Bereans as described in Acts 17:11 were considered noble because they “searched the scriptures daily” and tested Paul’s words against what God had already revealed. In other words, Christians are commanded to test all truth claims with the Bible, not with subjective experiences, even if that experience involves a supernatural “vision.”
Is it possible that feelings can deceive? At one time or another, all of us have been fooled by our feelings, no matter how sincere we might have been. For example, Mormons believe that marriage is not only for life but also for eternity. Should it be assumed that the many Mormon couples who are divorced did not pray about their relationships beforehand? Surely knowing information about another person that could have exposed potential behavior problems—such as drug addiction, sex addiction, pornography issues, inward apathy to God, or repressed anger—would have helped with making a more informed decision. Yet how many Mormons must have “felt” God’s approval in relationships that were tragically doomed from the beginning?
The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings are open for deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth.
LIST OF TERMS
This is the glossary of terms used throughout this booklet. While we certainly have talked about most of these terms in the analysis, let’s respond again to each of these terms.
Agency: The gift from God to choose between good and evil, between right and wrong.
Mormonism says that agency is the freedom all humans have to choose right from wrong and truth from error. Indeed, the Bible says that humans do have the ability to be as bad as they want to be.
Atonement: The event that enables us to be reconciled to God. To atone is to suffer the penalty for sin, thereby removing the effects of sin from repentant sinners. Jesus Christ was the only one capable
of making a perfect Atonement for all mankind. His Atonement included His suffering for our sins, the shedding of His blood, and His death and Resurrection. Because of the Atonement, everyone
who has lived will be resurrected. The Atonement also provides us with a way to be forgiven of our sins and to live forever with God.
According to the Bible, everyone born on this earth will be resurrected. As Jesus said in John 5:29, those who “have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” This is not a guarantee of resurrection to one of three levels of heaven. Belief is required for heaven. For example, Jesus said in John 3:16 that “whosoever” believes in Him would have everlasting life. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Romans 10:9-10 declares, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
For those who do not believe, eternity in hell and separation from God is the only alternative. There is no peaceful terrestrial or telestial kingdoms, according to the Bible. Many might not know that Jesus spoke more about hell than He did heaven. No matter how much we might not like the idea of eternal separation from God, Jesus never pretended that it didn’t exist. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus taught,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
The Fall: The event by which mankind became mortal. It resulted in a spiritual and physical separation from God. Because Adam and Eve, the first humans, disobeyed God’s commandments, they were separated from His presence (this separation is also called spiritual death) and became mortal (subject to physical death). As descendants of Adam and Eve, we are also separated from God and subject to physical death. The Atonement of Jesus Christ overcomes both physical and spiritual death.
As discussed earlier, the Fall is a positive step forward in LDS theology. Fortunately, it was Jesus Christ who conquered the consequences of the Fall by overcoming death.
Grace: Divine help and strength given through the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. Through His grace, made possible by His Atonement, all mankind will be resurrected. Through His grace, those who continually repent and live according to His gospel will feel an enduring closeness to their Heavenly Father in this life and live in His presence after this life.
According to Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” In Mormonism, grace is provided only “after all we can do.” Second Nephi 25:23 says, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”
When described by LDS leaders, 2 Nephi 25:23 is a clear reference to the many works that are necessary to attain a celestial glory. Consider the following leaders:
• President Harold B. Lee: “The Lord will bless us to the degree to which we keep His commandments. Nephi put this principle in a tremendous orbit when he said: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments” (Stand Ye in Holy Places, p. 246. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 24).
• Apostle Dallin Oaks: “Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23)” ( “Two Line of Communication,” Ensign, November 2010, 84).
• “This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts. Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23)” (Found under the word grace on page 697 of the 1986 version of the “Bible Dictionary” appendix located in the back of the LDS Church-produced King James Version Bible).
• “Our sins make us unclean and unfit to dwell in God’s presence, and we need His grace to purify and perfect us ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him” (True to the Faith, 77).
• “We are saved by the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We must, however, come unto Christ on His terms in order to obtain all the blessings that He freely offers us. We come unto Christ by doing ‘all we can do’ to remember Him, keep our covenants with Him, and obey His commandments (see D&C 20:77, 79; see also Abraham 3:25)” (Book of Mormon Seminary Student Study Guide, 53).
While good works are certainly important to Christians in the sanctification process, they are not what we do to somehow earn our justification before God. Right after Paul told believers in Ephesians 2:8-9 that they were saved by grace through faith, he explained in verse 10 that we are God’s “workmanship” and were even created by God from the very beginning to do good works. So while some Mormons may think that Christians buy into“easy believism” and the possibility of purposely sinning like hell after a conversion experience–after all, why not?–this is certainly not the case. As Galatians 5—quoted earlier in the booklet—says, the fruit of the Spirit includes love, joy, peace, patience, and hope. When a believer becomes filled with the Holy Spirit, he or she becomes a new creation in Christ; old things pass away and all things become new (2 Cor. 5:17). If you are a Latter-day Saint reading this, please don’t automatically assume that someone who believes that salvation comes by grace equals a person who minimizes good works. Instead, good works are the response of the believer who understands the high price paid for salvation.
Ordinance: A sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Examples include baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and the sacrament. Ordinances are often a means of entering into covenants with God.
Covenants are made by Mormons to obey. These ordinances are efficacious only when a Mormon does what he is supposed to do. Protestant Christianity holds to two ordinances: believer’s baptism and communion.
Physical death: The separation of the spirit from the mortal body. When the physical body dies, the spirit continues to live in the spirit world. We overcome physical death through resurrection, which was made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Everyone dies and must face judgment. In Mormonism, everyone receives resurrection through a general salvation and the grace provided through the Atonement. See here. In Christianity, justification by faith alone holds that while there is either a resurrection to life (heaven) for the believers, there is also a resurrection to death (hell) for those who don’t believe (Acts 24:15).
Plan of salvation: Our Heavenly Father’s plan to enable us to become like Him and receive a fulness of joy. This plan is centered on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and includes all the commandments, ordinances, and teachings of the gospel.
A question for Latter-day Saints: How are you doing with “all the commandments, ordinances, and teachings”? While Mormons like Seventy Theodore M. Burton might minimize the Christian idea that a Christian is able to have an assurance of salvation, the Bible promises the believer that he or she can have a “peace that passes all understanding.” First John 5:13 says that those “who believe in the name of the Son of God” are able to “know that you have eternal life.” While the Mormon can never be assured of celestial glory, the Christian already knows what it’s like to be assured of forgiveness of sins. This doesn’t minimize the need for good works; instead, receiving this imputed gift and knowing how much it cost the giver helps us understand how valuable this gift really is!
Pre-earth life: Our life before we were born on this earth. In our pre-earth life, we lived in the presence of our Heavenly Father as His spirit children. We did not have physical bodies.
As talked about before, this concept is assumed by taking Bible verses out of context. There was no such thing as a “pre-earth life” for human beings.
Resurrection: After physical death, the reuniting of the spirit with the perfected physical body of flesh and bones. Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected. After resurrection, the spirit and body will never again be separated, and the person lives forever. Everyone who has lived will be resurrected because of the Atonement.
There is a resurrection for everyone, some to death and others to life.
Salvation: Deliverance from sin and death. Salvation is made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, everyone will overcome the effects of death. We can also be saved from the effects of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is manifested in a life of repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and service to Christ.
The definition is deceptive, as there are two types of “salvation” in Mormonism. One is called general salvation, which is salvation by grace. All people receive this because they will receive a general resurrection to one of three levels of glory. But this does not qualify a person for exaltation. Hence, there is individual, or conditional, salvation, whereby a person’s obedience determines whether or not the celestial glory is earned.
Spirit: The part of a person that lived with Heavenly Father before birth. During life on earth, the spirit is joined with a physical body. The spirit continues to live after death.
An assumption must be made by the Mormon to be able to say that the spirit existed with God before birth. This concept certainly is not supported by the Bible. Christians agree that the spirit lives after death, whether in heaven or in hell.
Spirit world: Where our spirits go between death and resurrection. For those who were righteous during their lives, the spirit world will be a place of peace and joy.
After death, this is a place where spirits can receive the gospel, something completely denied by biblical teaching.
Spiritual death: Separation from God as a result of disobeying His commandments. We are saved from spiritual death through the Atonement of Jesus Christ as we repent and keep His commandments.
The two parts of salvation (general vs. individual) are included here, again clouding the issue for someone reading this booklet who knows very little about Mormonism.
The following questions and scriptures will help you learn more about the principles in this pamphlet and ponder on them. The list is not comprehensive; footnotes and cross-references in the scriptures will refer you to additional passages and resources.
What was your relationship with God before you were born?
Jeremiah 1:5 (Bible, Old Testament)
Hebrews 12:9 (Bible, New Testament)
These verses were discussed earlier in this review.
What is the Fall? Why was it necessary?
2 Nephi 2:14–26 (Book of Mormon, pages 58–59)
Alma 42:2–9 (Book of Mormon, pages 311–12)
The Book of Mormon is not considered scripture by the Christian. If these books are not in the canon for Christians, why should we consider their words as being true?
What is the purpose of your life here? How could this knowledge affect the decisions you make each day?
2 Nephi 2:25–27 (Book of Mormon, page 59)
Alma 34:32 (Book of Mormon, page 295)
The Book of Mormon is not considered scripture by the Christian. Alma 34 was quoted earlier to show that no work can be done after this life. So why do so many Mormons today believe that there will be a second chance for salvation?
What is the Atonement? How can it help you in your daily life?
John 3:16–17 (Bible, New Testament)
Romans 3:23–25 (Bible, New Testament)
2 Nephi 2:6–8 (Book of Mormon, page 57)
Alma 7:11–12 (Book of Mormon, page 225)
Alma 42:22–23 (Book of Mormon, pages 312–13)
Romans 3:23-25 refers to how everyone is born a sinner; the only way to escape from this dilemma is belief, according to John 3:16-17. It’s interesting that the editors chose to use two verses; many Christians are familiar with both, especially John 3:16, which is quoted in whole as a “pull quote” on page 10. My first impression is that these well-known verses are used to help potential converts connect with the missionaries and be more open to their message.
What is the spirit world? What happens there?
1 Peter 4:6 (Bible, New Testament)
Alma 40:11–14 (Book of Mormon, page 308)
First John 4:6 says, in part, “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead.” The New International Version translates the last portion of this, “the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.” While the word now is not found in the original Greek, it was used by the translators because the context suggests that the preaching of the gospel had been delivered in the past to those who were now deceased. In order to support the Mormon view of a second chance to hear the gospel message and receive salvation after death, the first verb would need to be present tense (i.e., “for this cause is the gospel preached also to them that are dead”). It is not, which is a clear blow to the Mormon interpretation. To suggest that living people can become “saviors” of those already dead is not a Christian teaching and must therefore be rejected.
What does it mean to be resurrected? Who will be resurrected? Why is resurrection important?
2 Nephi 9:13–15 (Book of Mormon, pages 73–74)
Alma 11:42–45 (Book of Mormon, pages 236–37)
The Book of Mormon is not considered scripture for the Christian.
What is heaven? Why are there different levels of glory?
1 Corinthians 15:40–43 (Bible, New Testament)
Paul did not write 1 Corinthians 15:40-43 to show how there were three levels of heaven. Rather, his main intention was to support the view of the resurrection body. Using this verse in such a way is wrenching it out of its context and making it say something that was never intended.
Conclusion: The final two pages start off this way: “Come and see how the restored gospel can bless your life.” On the other page are places to list “sacrament meeting time” and “chapel address.” Because this booklet was obviously made for a non-LDS audience, it is disturbing to see how many terms and descriptions could have been easily misunderstood, especially by those who have a working Christian vocabulary but very little comprehension of Mormonism. The “Plan of Salvation” in Mormonism is completely different from the gospel as presented in the Bible. How many people have joined the LDS Church because they didn’t have full disclosure? Unfortunately, the church makes many converts by confusing the issue—as this booklet has done—and making Mormonism seem benign when, in truth, it is contrary to the teachings of biblical Christianity. If you have questions, please contact us and we would be happy to answer them.