December 18, 2017

The New Face of Mormonism

Philosophy and Issues That Are Reshaping Her Image

Ron Ehmann

Fifty years ago, when church planters came to the “Mormon West” with the gospel and a desire to plant churches in areas where there were few non-LDS (Latter-Day Saint) churches, they found open resistance. Many pastors and their families experienced rejection and hostility due to the gospel. In those days Mormons were adamant that they were not Christian.

This historic view of the LDS Church came from the testimony of its founding prophet, Joseph Smith. He testified of a supposed meeting with God in which he enquired as to which sect he should join, and God told him to join none of them for they were all corrupt and their creeds were an abomination. This meeting resulted in Joseph Smith’s establishing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints, which was commissioned with authority of restoring the “true gospel” to the earth. He and his followers considered themselves to be distinct from churches that were Biblically orthodox.

One of the tenets of this new church, which set it apart from orthodox Christianity, was the practice of polygamy as part of the “everlasting gospel” that Joseph Smith taught. Polygamy was abandoned by the main segment of the LDS church under President Wilford Woodruff in September of 1890—as required by the US government before Utah could become a state. The FLDS, or Fundamentalist Latter- Day Saints, still practice polygamy. There are an estimated 30,000 people in the United States who follow this full teaching of Joseph Smith. In light of the moral climate of our country today, I believe we may soon see polygamy become a legal and accepted practice again.

New Logo, New Face, Same Doctrine

The face of Mormonism began to change in the early 1990s. That change was announced by a new logo. According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the reason for this new face was because Mormonism was not considered “Christian” by some Protestant and Catholic groups. The leadership of the LDS Church decided they wanted to emphasize the words “Jesus Christ” in their title. This move seemed to mark a new effort by the LDS to seek acceptance by Christian denominations.[1]

Another area of change was seen in their missionary outreach. There are currently 141 functioning Mormon temples with fifteen under construction and an additional fourteen announced to be constructed in the future. These temples create a strong visible presence of the Mormon Church’s influence in many locations worldwide. In public media advertisements they began offering a Bible instead of the Book of Mormon for those who were interested. Missionaries would affirm belief in the same doctrinal statements that a Christian would offer as a witness to them. The deceptive part of this affirmation is the fact that both Christians and Mormons use very similar terminology but with very different definitions. Missionaries would often emphasize the fact that they have the name “Jesus Christ” in the title of their church. In recent visits with LDS missionaries at our home they have tried to convince me that we basically believe the same things. The external image and rhetoric are changing, but the doctrinal teaching of the LDS Church is still a false gospel.

There are many other areas that have brought Mormonism to the forefront in US culture. The 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City became a showcase of conservative culture and strong family values. Media voices such as Glenn Beck have rallied Christians and Mormons alike to a common conservative cause. Mormon politicians in powerful places—such as Mitt Romney, Orrin Hatch, Jon Huntsman Jr., and Harry Reid—have brought great influence to the highest offices of our country.

Mormonism and Evangelicals

A more recent evidence of this changed posture by the LDS Church is seen more directly in Utah. Brigham Young University, the educational arm of the LDS Church, has invited several nationally known Evangelicals to address various groups on campus. Dr. Al Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary; and Dr. George O. Wood, the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, have spoken in the last year on various subjects. Dr. Mohler’s addresses were strongly delivered with clear doctrinal distinctions between what he believes and what Mormonism teaches. At the close of his first address he said, “I do not believe that we are going to Heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together.”[2]

Another area where Evangelical influence is seen is through the efforts of an organization called Standing Together. It was founded by Rev. Greg Johnson. Standing Together has organized two large events in the last ten years, seeking to open dialogue with the LDS community. Dr. Ravi Zacharias has been the invited speaker, doing apologetic lectures at University of Utah, Weber State, and Brigham Young University, and on both occasions has spoken at the LDS Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. On both occasions high leadership of the LDS Church has welcomed the group and spoken favorably of this new era of friendship. On the first occasion one of the speakers, Dr. Richard Mouw, then president of Fuller Theological Seminary, ignited a firestorm of criticism when he apologized to the LDS for the misrepresentation of beliefs and unkind treatment of the LDS by Evangelicals. Several local pastors responded negatively to Mouw’s caricature of them.

Greg Johnson of Standing Together and Robert Millet, professor and dean emeritus of religious education at BYU, have traveled together with a lecture series called “A Conversation between a Mormon and an Evangelical.” A few years ago they co-authored a book entitled Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation between a Mormon and an Evangelical.

These exchanges between Evangelicals and Mormons seem to be accomplishing what the LDS leadership desires: a greater acceptance by Christians. They have also produced a false perception among some that Mormon doctrine falls into the realm of Christian orthodoxy, or that Mormonism has changed its doctrinal positions. Nothing could be further from truth. Though the façade of Mormonism is apparently more tolerant and “Christian” in appearance, the heart of its doctrine is derived from a false prophet, a constantly changing revelation, a works-based salvation, and an understanding of a god who bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible.

Paul’s repeated statement in Galatians 1:8, 9 stands as a strong warning to all that the gospel is a clear and simple sacred trust. Our presentation of it must be with compassion and not with compromise. We must work hard to build an open communication with these dear LDS people while giving them a well-defined gospel of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

I would invite your prayers for the dear believers who live, love, and labor among these devoutly religious but lost people. I would invite you to come and see for yourself the spiritual needs of this great mission field of the West. I would also invite you to become a prayer and support partner in some ministry reaching Mormons with the gospel.

Ron Ehmann is director of Northwest Baptist Missions and pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church in Grantsville, Utah.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2014. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Stack, P. F., “Sunstone: Designer recalls history of LDS Church’s ‘visual identity,’” Salt Lake Tribune (July 27, 2012). Retrieved March 4, 2014, from church-logo-lds-smith.html.csp. []
  2. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.albertmohler. com/2013/10/21/a-clear-and-present-danger-religious-liberty- marriage-and-the-family-in-the-late-modern-age-an-address-atbrigham- young-university/. []

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