I just read your post on my blog and appreciate your question. I’d love to have a dialogue with you about the differences and similarities of the different religions. This is a topic that runs deep, and in many different directions, so just know that I’m happy to keep the conversation going as long as you like – it’s one of my favorite topics ever!
Probably one main distinction is that we believe that the Bible is not the end of God’s words and that he continues to reveal many important things pertaining to his kingdom. Other churches believe that he stopped speaking nearly 2000 years ago, and that there have been no other prophets besides the ones mentioned in the Bible. There’s a really good reason why we think there’s more, so I’ll do my best to explain it:
We believe that the Bible was a collection of prophets’ teachings – those prophets who lived in the Old World (around Jerusalem), but at the same time, there were other prophets in other parts of the world who were receiving revelations and ministering to those people, too.
(There was no way back then for the prophets in Jerusalem to teach people on the other side of the world, so God had other prophets positioned around the world who received revelations, taught the people, and who recorded their teachings, too.)
One difference with those prophets is that they taught that the Son of God would come in the flesh and live among men in Jerusalem, and that the people who listened to them would have to believe on his name to be saved – even though they would not get to hear him in person while he lived (because they lived on the other side of the world at the time.)
However, they had signs they could follow to strengthen their faith. For example, when the star marking his birth appeared, the people around the world who were listening to their local prophet knew what it meant, and they rejoiced. Then, when there was 3 days of darkness at his death, the whole world was darkened, but those who were listening to their local prophet on the other side of the world knew what it meant, too.
Of course, there were many who did not believe the words of the prophets and persecuted those who believed. The records tell the stories of the believers and non believers, the wars and contentions, the teachings of the prophets, the record of the new star and the destruction at Christ’s death… and the best part is that it also tells the story of Christ’s appearance and ministry to those people after his resurrection. They did finally get to meet him, but only after his crucifixion and resurrection.
Do you remember in the Bible (John 10:16) where he said, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd”? When he finally visited these people, he established his church among them, they recorded his teachings, and one thing they recorded was that he said this: “And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
To another group he said, “I am he who said—other sheep have I which are not of this fold—unto my disciples, and many there were that understood me not. And I will show unto this people that I had other sheep, and that they were a branch of the house of Jacob.”
It was also recorded around 34 A.D. (by people living on the American continent) that Christ said, “And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.” (Which tells me that he is mindful of ALL his people, and that he visits them, and that the Bible is not the only witness ever written that Jesus is the Christ.
Here’s some background to help you understand where the Mormons come from, and who they are:
After Christ came and ministered to the Jews, and after he organized his church and gave his apostles the authority to direct the affairs of his church… his official “organization” survived for only a little while.
Christians were persecuted and hunted, and the few who had been given that authority from Christ were gone. Followers of the Christian movement desperately wanted the religion perpetuated, but after the organization had been broken up, there began to be conflicting views on how Christ’s church should be governed and how the work of saving souls should be carried out.
Eventually, the arguments became so ugly, that the people and leaders of countries ended up in serious conflict about it. So the leaders called a council (headed up by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 AD), called the Council of Nicaea to come to some kind of agreement and end the conflict. That’s when the Nicene Creed was written – a vague and ambiguous statement of what “truth” should be, vague enough to appease all the conflicting religious and political parties involved. Not so much inspired by God, but a desperate movement by man to make peace.
Around the sixteenth century, there were individuals who recognized that the pure truth had been contaminated and did their best to organize their various religions to match Christ’s church as closely as they knew how, but since there had crept in errors during the translations of the Bible, there were now differing opinions on how to interpret it. I believe this accounts for most, if not all, of the different religions that came out of the period of Reformation.
Catholicism had become the national church for most countries in Europe, and yet it was so different from what many believed had been Christ’s original organizational structure, that people protested against the ritualistic creeds, and sought purer truth, and the result of those efforts were the various Protestant religions.
By the 18th century, there was so much religious persecution going on in Europe, that America became the place where many people hoped to go live their religion in peace – whatever religion they practiced. That’s one of the reasons for the American Revolution – they wanted to be separate from England and to establish a place that guaranteed religious freedom for all.
If it’s true that Christ’s original church and teachings had become corrupted, and if God wanted to restore Christ’s church to what it had been when he ministered personally on the earth, then he had to prepare a place and a people who would be ready to accept it, and where it could survive until his return. (We believe Christ will come a second time, like most Christian religions, and that it’s something we need to prepare for.)
We believe America was divinely prepared for this purpose – to establish a government that would protect religious freedom, and a people who would be receptive to new revelation from God that would allow Christ’s church to be restored, complete with the proper authority and instructions to direct the affairs of his church and perform correctly the saving ordinances.
(Authority is a big deal to the Mormons – receiving the saving ordinance of baptism by someone without proper authority is kind of like paying life insurance premiums to an agent who claims to represent an insurance company, and then submitting a claim and finding out that the company doesn’t recognize the ‘agent’ as one of its own and never gave him authority to collect premiums on their behalf. Not only is the money is gone, but the company is not obligated to pay the claim. Basically it’s each person’s responsibility to make sure their ‘saving’ agent or minister is properly authorized by God. We can all minister – help – each other, but when it comes to baptism, it requires authority.)
Anyway, in the 1830s, a fourteen year old boy (Joseph Smith) was caught up in the second great awakening in upstate New York and was concerned about which church to join, and was confused because they all claimed to be right, but they contradicted each other. So as he was reading the Bible, he came to James 1:5 that said, “If any of ye lack wisdom, let him ask of God… and it shall be given him… but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” The spirit of God struck him so forcefully through that verse that he decided he needed to venture.
So he went into the woods near his home and knelt down to pray to God, fully expecting an answer (think of how we’re taught that we don’t get so much what we want, but what we expect…) The time was right, the conditions were prepared, and God the Father and his resurrected Son, Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and told him that the various churches come close, but that the fullness of Christ’s church was going to be restored to the earth, and that Joseph was to be an instrument in helping it come about. He was told that there was an ancient record of God’s dealings with the inhabitants of the American continent buried in a hill nearby, and that he would translate the record by the power of God, and that it would be another testament of Jesus Christ to help his people understand the doctrines that had become cloudy over the years.
The Bible is called the “stick of Judah” – because it was a record of God’s dealings with the tribe of Judah (Jews) – out of the 12 tribes of Israel mentioned in the old testament. The book Joseph Smith was given (The Book of Mormon) is called the “stick of Joseph” – because it was the record of God’s dealings with the tribe of Joseph who migrated to the American continent about 600 BC.
Ezekiel prophesied of this joining of the two books (as it’s said: out of the mouth of two witnesses shall all truth be established). Essentially, the Book of Mormon is simply a second witness to the world that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. (So maybe you can understand our frustration when other Christians say that Mormons aren’t Christian.)
In Ezekiel’s words, he said, “Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.”
With Christ’s teachings in the Bible and his teachings reiterated in the Book of Mormon, it’s a whole lot easier to figure out what his message really is. For example, he taught the sermon on the mount to the people in ancient America, too. So we have it in two places. He also clarified doctrines that he said were too difficult for the people in Jerusalem to understand because of their hard hearts.
Besides receiving and translating the Book of Mormon (called the Book of Mormon because an ancient prophet named Mormon gathered, compiled and abridged a collection of writings from various prophets that had been passed down from 600 BC to 400 AD), besides translating the book, Joseph was also give the authority to baptize by John the Baptist himself who appeared to him as a resurrected being, and he was also given the holy priesthood by Peter, James and John.
Joseph Smith was ultimately persecuted to death for saying he had seen God, but really, a person can decide for themselves whether he was really a prophet, or if he was a lunatic, by reading the Book of Mormon and asking God for themselves if it is a true record or not.
It’s either true is or it isn’t. Joseph either saw God and Jesus Christ, or he didn’t. But if he did, then the church he established is true and is led by a prophet today who literally communicates with God just as the ancient prophets did.
We are more similar to the people of the Bible than we probably know, because if this is true, it’s possible that there is a prophet alive today, and we have to decide for ourselves whether he’s for real and whether we should follow him or not. The people in the Bible had to face the same decision – there were prophets then, and many people believed and many others didn’t. It makes me think of Noah and the ark.
As you can imagine, this claim is pretty bold, which easily ruffles a lot of people from other religions. I understand that, and I don’t let it bother me. The good news is that nobody has to take anyone else’s word for it – the heavens have reopened and God answers anyone who wants to know for themselves.
Wow, did you ever expect to get such an earful (eyeful)?
I hope this answers your question… keep in mind that there are a lot of ugly things out there against Mormons, mostly stemming from misunderstandings or misinformation. One of our official church policies is to allow all men to worship how, where or what they may (mostly because that’s the kind of freedom that God wants for his people, and what we want for ourselves). We strive to stay away from contention about religion, because where there is contention, the spirit of the Lord cannot be – and we all need the spirit with us as much as possible, don’t we?
Anyway, I love the work that I do because it allows me to teach principles that are universal to all people, no matter what their religious beliefs are. I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with too much information. If you have any questions about any of it, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Have a wonderful week,
Your friend, Leslie