“How can you possibly deny that we are Christians,” Mormons ask, “when even our church is named for Christ?”
“We acknowledge him to be the Creator of this world.”
“We rejoice in the great atonement he wrought.”
“His name is on nearly every page of the Book of Mormon, which we call ‘another testament’ to him.”
“We conclude all our prayers in his name.”
“You cannot doubt that we love and serve him.”
We don’t, in fact, deny that many Mormons try to love and serve the Lord Jesus. Active members do genuinely try to make him and his will a center in their daily lives. But as with many other Mormon beliefs, the teachings on Christ are a maze of misunderstanding, misdefinition, and misapplication. Mormon scriptures are contradictory, and Mormon prophets deny, redefine, or ignore one another’s teachings.
Brief Catholic View
The Catholic apologist Frank Sheed uses the term “double stream” to help us understand the union of human and divine in Jesus, as expressed by his words and actions. At times Jesus Christ speaks or acts simply as a man. He is tired, hungry, or sad. He prays to God the Father. He expresses feelings of grief in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:38) and abandonment on Calvary (Matt. 27:46). Christ, in his human nature, was a man like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15).
At other times he says and does things that go far beyond the words and actions of a mere man. He demands his followers love him above all others, even family. No one who comes to him will be confounded. All must learn of him, for he is the way, the truth, and the life. “No man has ever spoken like this!” He sealed his words with divine signs: giving light to the blind and life to the dead. Because he possessed a divine nature as well as a human one, Jesus accepted without hesitation the adoration of his followers (e.g., John 20:28-29).
The gospels are replete with accounts of the apostles’ stumbling attempts to understand their master. While at times he evinced “merely” human compassion for a hungry crowd or a widowed mother, he responded in a manner truly divine: He fed the crowd and raised the dead son. He gently reproved the mother of James and John, saying it was not his but his Father’s decision to grant a place of privilege in the kingdom (Matt. 20:20-23). Soon after, however, the Lord claimed authority to judge all men, to separate them, and to usher them to seats of glory or places of torment (Matt. 25).
This “double stream” is braided not only through the words and actions of the Lord Jesus but also through the meditation and reflection of his apostles and evangelists. Thus, Paul can affirm that Christ emptied himself of glory, took on the form of a servant, and humbled himself (Phil. 2:6-8), while also proclaiming that in Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Mormon Teachings on Jesus Christ
The Son Was Made by a Divine Man and Woman
According to Mormons, Jesus Christ is their elder brother, since he was the firstborn in the spirit world. That is, God the Father and one of his heavenly wives begot Christ’s spirit at some point in the eternity before earthly creation. This was made possible because the Father, who had previously lived, died, and was resurrected in some other world, had finally attained divinity for himself. As part of the blessings of godhood, he was given an eternal wife or wives with whom to procreate spirit children.
The Son—and All Created Things—Pre-Existed from All Eternity
The Mormon church correctly teaches that the Son exists from all eternity. It makes two mistakes, however. First, it holds that the Son’s pre-existence was only as vague, unformed matter until his heavenly parents begot his spirit. Second, Mormons believe that his pre-existence-as they define it-is the pattern for all created beings. Thus, for Mormons, every person has existed from eternity; each spirit came into being in heaven by the union of God the Father and one of his heavenly wives. That spirit is eventually placed into the human body created by earthly parents.
Jesus Christ can be called the “firstborn” only because his was the first “spirit body” formed by his heavenly parents. There then followed the “spirit bodies” of all other rational beings.
Yet Scripture clearly states the Son created all things and is himself uncreated: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:16-17).
We do well to remember the distinction presented earlier between Christ’s divine and human natures. As the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of the Father, Christ exists eternally. There never was a time when he was not. Because God is perfect and therefore changeless (change implying a movement either toward or away from some ideal or perfection), the Son did not undergo a “reformation” of component elements, bringing him into self-awareness or personhood. Jesus possessed both a divine and a human nature from the moment of his earthly conception. He did not grow into divinity either before or while living a mortal life among men.
Mormons admit Christ became God before he took on a mortal estate. Sometimes, though, their terminology is reminiscent of Greek or Roman mythology. One Mormon writer phrased his view this way:
“Mary, heavy with child, traveled all that distance on mule-back, guarded and protected as one about to give birth to a half-Deity. No other man in the history of this world of ours has ever had such an ancestry-God the Father on the one hand and Mary the Virgin on the other. . . . Jesus lived in a lowly home, the only man born to this earth half-Divine and half-mortal” (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 10).
Contrast this with the Catholic belief that Jesus Christ is fully divine (Col. 2:9) and fully human (Heb. 4:15).
The Virgin Birth
Active Mormons claim God the Father (and his heavenly wife) not only brought forth the spirit of Christ in the pre-existence, they believe the Father also directly participated in the Lord’s earthly conception. This inventive doctrine, understandably, raises the ire of many devout Christians, particularly as it has found expression in the theological discourses of some Mormon prophets and apostles:
Brigham Young: “The man Joseph, the husband of Mary, did not, that we know of, have more than one wife, but Mary the wife of Joseph had another husband. [The babe in] the manger was begotten, not by Joseph, the husband of Mary, but by another Being. Do you inquire by whom? He was begotten by God our heavenly Father” (Journal of Discourses 2:268).
Joseph F. Smith, sixth Mormon prophet (speaking to young children): “You all know that your fathers are indeed your fathers and that your mothers are indeed your mothers. . . . You cannot deny it. Now, we are told in Scripture that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father” (Family Home Evening, 1972, 125).
Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon apostle and theologian: “Christ is . . . the Only Begotten Son . . . of the Father. . . . Each of the words is to be understood literally. ‘Only’ means only. ‘Begotten’ means begotten; and ‘Son’ means son. Christ was begotten by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers” (Mormon Doctrine, 546-547).
Orson Pratt, early Mormon apostle and theologian: “The fleshly body of Jesus required a Mother as well as a Father. Therefore, the Father and Mother of Jesus, according to the flesh, must have been associated together in the capacity of husband and wife: hence the Virgin Mary must have been, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father” (The Seer, 158-159).
Mary thus had two husbands, the Father and Joseph. In the Mormon view, she was perhaps the only woman in history lawfully permitted to engage in polyandry.
In trying to describe how Mary, in the process of natural intercourse with her glorified Father and God, could remain a virgin, McConkie resorts to redefining the term. A virgin, he implies, is a woman who has not had sexual intercourse with a mortal man. The Heavenly Father is a resurrected, immortal man. Therefore, there was no loss of Mary’s virginity (The Mortal Messiah, vol. 1, 314). This is another example of how Mormons hijack and redefine orthodox Christian terms.
Jesus Christ: A Subordinate God
Catholics adore God alone. We give full worship and obedience to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three are co-eternal, all-holy Persons. We pray to each member of the Trinity. We seek to cultivate a relationship of love and reverence with each Person.
This cannot be said for the Mormon. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a second God. There was a time in which he, as God, did not exist, but had to await the organization of his spirit by his heavenly Father and Mother. Thereafter, he was obedient to the heavenly Father in all things and progressed to eventual godhood (Mormon Doctrine, 129), working out his own divinity. Now he has now achieved a fullness of exaltation and is spoken of as God. But he was not always so.
Within the past year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints changed its logo, now writing the name “Jesus Christ” larger than the rest of its title. The purpose for the change, the church said, is to emphasize its allegedly Christ-centered character. Yet this same church forbids prayer to Jesus Christ.
Not only does Mormon theology teach Christ’s inferiority to the Father, it insists he be excluded from the honor accorded the Father, the supreme God. Therefore, all prayers, whether personal or public, are to be addressed to the Father only. No one is to pray to the Son or the Holy Ghost. Though his picture adorns most Mormon homes and chapels; though he is referred often in the Book of Mormon; though every prayer and testimony is concluded “in the name of Jesus Christ,” Mormons are forbidden to pray to him.
Mormon theologian Bruce McConkie informed an audience at Brigham Young University: “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 worshiping 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”(“Our Relationship with the Lord,” BYU Devotional, a March 2, 1982 monograph).
He may know “perfectly well” what the Scriptures say, but his interpretation of them is deficient. The Greek proskunéo refers to adoration or worship. As such, it is used in reference to God the Father throughout the Bible. But it is used in reference to the Son as well. See, for example, Matthew 2:11; 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 28:9; 28:17; John 9:38; and Revelation 5:14.
Yet McConkie proclaimed a subordinate Christ to the BYU student body: “Though Christ is God, yet there is a deity above him, a deity whom he worships. . . . All of us, Christ included, seek to become like the Father. In this sense the Firstborn, our Elder Brother, goes forward as we do” (6-7). In other words, the Son worked out his own salvation, in part, by worshiping the Father.
Jesus Christ: Husband and Father
At this time, the Mormon church has no official position on whether or not Jesus Christ was married or had children. However, the Mormon leadership was not always so circumspect.
Orson Hyde, apostle under Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, declared Christ was not only married but was a polygamist who fathered children: “It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the best of it”
President Jedediah M. Grant, member of the First Presidency with Brigham Young, on the ultimate cause of the Lord’s crucifixion: “The grand reason of the burst of public sentiment in anathemas upon Christ and his disciples, causing his crucifixion, was evidently based upon polygamy, according to the testimony of the philosophers who rose in that age. A belief in the doctrine of a plurality of wives caused the persecution of Jesus and his followers. We might almost think they were ‘Mormons'” (Journal of Discourses 1:346).
Many are familiar with LDS preaching on the great benefits of family. Jesus, many members think, must have shared fully in those blessings. Although large numbers of Mormons believe this notion of Jesus as husband and father, it has not been elevated to the level of universal doctrine. It’s not discussed much, if at all, with outsiders.
The Mormon church has recently added the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to its Book of Mormon. In light of Latter-Day Saints teachings on the Son of God, it would be more accurate to say they present to the world a “Testament of Another Jesus Christ.”