Editor’s Note: Most of us in the Lord’s church are aware of the existence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but not as many are very familiar with the various tenets of their faith. Over the years, some of us have had opportunities to study with Mormons, and several have expressed an interest in learning more about how to best reach them with the pure New Testament gospel. To that end, I’ve asked a former Mormon and current New Testament Christian and preacher, Nathan Franson, to share his thoughts with us.
Carolina Messenger: Thanks for talking to us about the Mormon faith and your relationship with it. Can you share with us your background with Mormonism and your association with this religion?
Nathan: Certainly. I was raised in Salt Lake City in a LDS (Latter-Day Saints) home. It was really the only religious lifestyle I knew growing up. Just about all of my friends were Mormon, as well as their parents and everyone around me. So the influence and culture was what I understood as normal. I was in the LDS Church for about twenty years of my life before studying my way out of it.
C.M.: What prompted you to begin your studies?
Nathan: There were things I started hearing, or at least understanding, differently. They were always said, but as a child you sometimes just accept them since you know nothing else. I started asking questions about the Mormon belief of a pre-existing or pre-mortal state. I also started asking about the concept of God and eternity. The answers were often so ambiguous that it left me even more confused. Of course, I never understood the Bible like I did LDS material so it wasn’t a comparison, per se. But the LDS material I was questioning fell short of what made sense to me. So the more I asked, the more disconnected I felt. For me, at the very least if you’re promoting God you should have a firm understanding of Him. If you have no other understanding of the Bible or anything else, you should at least have a handle on who God is. If not, everything and anything else you bring into a religious teaching is irrelevant. That was the “nail in the coffin.”
C.M.: What is the Mormon church generally known for in western society today? When most people think of Mormonism, what do they think about?
Nathan: It’s difficult to say what everyone thinks. That would probably depend on the religious background. But the Mormon Church on the surface appears attractive to many with much emphasis on the family. Most are mindful of the missionaries, or what they generally see or hear from the mainstream religious circles. It is when you start digging that you find what separates them from Bible doctrine.
C.M.: How did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints begin? Who founded it? How long has it been around? Can you give us an overview of the history of the Mormon Church?
Nathan: Joseph Smith was the one who came up with the concept of it. His family was actually Methodist. Around the early 1800’s he saw what he described as “religious excitement.” If you have studied the restoration movement in America, you are mindful of the many revivals taking place. He would have been around many of them where he lived. I have always called Smith an opportunist. His family was already known to be involved in treasure hunting and the occult. He saw a chance to capitalize on establishing a new religious brand and it began to pay off for him. At the beginning it wasn’t like that. I don’t think he realized how popular it would become. Yet the more attention it received, the more he played the role of modern day prophet with his following. Smith discusses what he calls his “first vision,” in which he says God the Father and Jesus the Son physically manifested themselves to him while he was praying in a grove of trees. He asked them which church to join the midst of all the excitement and they said to join none of them, that he would be the one to restore the church. This came about as he came up with what he called “The Great Apostasy,” which was the teaching that Christ’s church and doctrine had been removed from the earth. Man had become so wicked that the truth was no longer present. But God would appoint Joseph as the one to restore order. There is more to it, but that’s the beginning in a nutshell.
C.M.: Tell us more about the Mormon teaching about the Great Apostasy and Joseph Smith’s claims about his special relationship with God.
Nathan: The Great Apostasy is the belief that after the last apostle in the New Testament died, there was a long period of wickedness where God’s church became non-existent. This is a major discrepancy. Joseph Smith claimed he read James 1:5 and prayed when God showed him how he would be the one to restore order. However, if he was able to read James it confirms several things: First, he had access to the New Testament. If he had access to the New Testament, why didn’t he just follow its instruction? The seed is the Word of God. As long as we have it, the kingdom never left. Why didn’t he just return to the old paths like other preachers were doing, and encourage others to do the same? He never did that. Instead, he concocted a story and developed a new religion unknown to anyone before then, much less found in the New Testament.
C.M.: Did Joseph Smith consider himself a prophet? What were his thoughts about Jesus? How have Mormons viewed Joseph Smith?
Nathan: He not only considered himself a prophet, he got others to believe the same. His thoughts of Jesus were that He was the Son of God, but he taught many errors of the nature, history, and deity of Christ. Joseph also thought highly of himself, doing things Christ could not even accomplish while here. Mormons have painted him in a righteous, faithful way over the years. It is why I tell people if they want to have some meaningful discussion with someone of the LDS persuasion, do not bring in Smith in a negative light. They will not listen to it.
C.M.: Do Mormons uphold the Bible as God’s Word? How do they view the Old and New Testaments? What other standards of authority are followed by the Mormon Church? Why do Mormons follow these other standards?
Nathan: There are four books they hold as inspired: the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pear of Great Price, and the Bible. There are other works they do not consider inspired but hold as standards of authority. There is a sect of Mormonism that rejected Brigham Young and therefore reject Doctrines and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, but most mainstream Mormons (which is what I was) embrace them. They hold the Bible up, but maintain it may have errors because of the translators. There are a series of thirteen faith statements called the Articles of Faith. The eighth Article of Faith reads, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”
C.M.: Can you elaborate about Mormons’ beliefs concerning the Bible’s translative errors?
Nathan: They believe since the translators of the Bible were not inspired, they were capable of sinning. If they were capable of sinning, there must be translational and doctrinal errors. Interestingly enough, just about all of those whom I’ve talked to can’t read the original language to test it themselves. We need to realize anytime you translate from one language to another, there will be grammatical and punctual changes depending on the language. Yet the context remains the same. The doctrine is not altered. They pass it off as “translation error” any time the Bible does not correspond with Smith’s ideas. An honest student will dig. Many who follow this scheme are not dishonest, but are simply untaught. Many will just accept what they have heard. It’s frustrating, but it happens. It did for me many years growing up.
C.M.: Do Mormons view God the same way as New Testament Christians? Are Mormons monotheistic?
Nathan: No, but it can be tricky to get them to admit it. They do not believe God the Father or Son have always been. They believe and teach they were created by a god, who was created by a god, etc., going way back. They will claim they believe in the God of this world. This comes from their teaching that if we are righteous enough, we can become gods ourselves. The God we see in the Bible is just the God of this world.
C.M.: Please tell us more about these polytheistic teachings and how to respond to them in such a way so as to more likely help Mormons to see this error.
Nathan: If you’re referring to their belief that we can become gods, ask who in the Bible went on to become a god. There is absolutely no evidence in the Bible to suggest this. They will likely cite Genesis 1:27, but that has nothing to do with becoming deity. There is no indication of how we can become powerful like God. They are thinking physically, literally being gods (His own image). Study the Hebrew meaning of that word. It has nothing to do with becoming a god like God. It means that we have His attributes (we can think, reason, feel, be conscious, etc.).
C.M.: What have Mormons believed about how the world and humanity was created?
Nathan: They teach God (Elohim) had many spirit children in a pre-mortal existence. He needed somewhere to put them, so he created Earth. There is a teaching that we existed before this life, but when we were born God put a veil over our eyes and minds to cause us to forget it.
C.M.: In the conversations with Mormons which I’ve hard over the years, they have mentioned terminology of which I hadn’t heard before: Lamanites, Nephites, and the Hill Cumorah. They’ve also spoken of someone named Moroni. Could you explain to us what these terms and people are?
Nathan: These are the names of characters and people in the Book of Mormon except for Moroni, whom they teach was an angel who visited Joseph. In their alleged history, Moroni visited Joseph and prompted him to visit the Hill Cumorah to dig up some “golden plates” (a tome made of solid gold). The plates contained a language called Reformed Egyptian (which is not a real language). Joseph supposedly received inspiration from God to translate the language into what is now known as the Book of Mormon.
C.M.: What else can you tell us about the Lamanites and the Nephites?
Nathan: They are people in the Book of Mormon. Actually, they were originally found in a fictional book called Paradise Found, written by a man named Solomon Spalding. Spalding was a western writer who was around a few years before Joseph came up with the premise for the Book of Mormon. Spalding was known to be somewhat of a pulp writer whose work never went anywhere, but Smith plagiarized Spalding’s work, including names, phrases, and plot. This was confirmed later. If you ask someone in the LDS Church about it, they will either not know what you are talking about or dismiss it as being propaganda which they say they disproved a long time ago. Do not let it go that easily. They did not prove otherwise. In fact, Spalding’s family launched an investigation and there was a handwriting analysis done which confirms the claim.
C.M.: Do Mormons believe in Judgment Day? If so, what are their teachings about it?
Nathan: They teach that when we die, our spirits will go to Paradise or spirit prison. The ones in spirit prison have either not received the Mormon Gospel, or have not been baptized. Those in Paradise may go down to minister to those in spirit prison. Baptism for the dead is a proxy baptism for those on this side to do for those on the other side who did not do it. After that period, there will be a Judgment in which God will determine each person to go to one of three degrees of heaven or glory: The Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial Kingdom. I was actually baptized for about forty people or so in their temple when I was a teenager. It is considered a great honor. However, the levels of heaven and how to receive eternal life are far removed from what the Bible teaches. One who has rejected Christ and refuses to repent may obtain one of the places of glory. It is almost universalism without calling it such.
C.M.: One thing Mormonism has been known for over the years is polygamy. My conversations with Mormons have shown that their current beliefs about polygamy are different from what they used to be. What can you tell us about this?
Nathan: This is one of those popular topics that may vary depending on who you talk to about it. Overall, they now reject it. There is still a fundamental group within them who still practice it, but they are small in number. It is significant to point out that Brigham Young was emphatic in the Doctrine and Covenants, saying one could not go to heaven without being a polygamist. If you bring that up, they will dismiss it as saying either new revelations have been received or some of the scriptures are one’s opinion. This is why it can be complicated to reach some. Authority and doctrine keep shifting.
C.M.: In your opinion, what is the best way to help a Mormon have a better, more consistent view about authority and doctrine?
Nathan: This can be tricky, but possible. Since they have a tendency to compartmentalize, they may agree with some of what you show them in the Bible, while still hanging on to LDS material. Some are scared to let go, as they can face a harsh response from family and friends. Having gone through it, I feel for them. But they must decide. You can’t force anyone to change their view, but if you can plant a seed of doubt an honest student will pursue it. One of the biggest things I tell people studying with a Mormon is to define your terms and have them define theirs. Be patient and respectful. It’s never bad to ask questions. The longer you are able to have dialogue, the better.
C.M.: What advice would you give to Christians concerning how they should study with Mormons? What should Christians bring out that would be beneficial to truly converting a Mormon to pure, unadulterated New Testament Christianity?
Nathan: The most important thing is to be respectful and patient. Do not assume all Mormons know the same or understand the same. They only know what they’ve been taught and it’s not like the Bible, which stands firm and does not change. The Book of Mormon has had over 4,000 changes. Couple that with compartmentalizing what they learn and it can be an uphill battle. Ask questions. Do not attack or go after Joseph Smith. They esteem him so much and have heard all the insults. Stay with doctrine. There are many contradictions within Mormon material, which was a factor in my decision to leave. Realize one or two discrepancies will not change them. It is hard to tell where a discussion will go, but listen and ask questions. Take note. The nail in the coffin for me was realizing their confusion and error about God. It doesn’t make sense. But the friendlier you can be, the more dialogue will allow you to keep going. Remember, most missionaries want to get you to heaven as much as you do them. Most are sincere, but obviously not taught correctly. Converting one of the LDS persuasion can be done and has been done.
Take advantage of Nathan’s flash drive which includes his book, Breaking the Chains, along with numerous videos, articles, and charts, available on his website, www.mormonstudy.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information..