I have recently been conversing with two Latter-day Saint elders, commonly known as Mormons. We have met a few times to discuss various religious doctrines and beliefs. This post, and hopefully two more to follow, is the result of our discussions together. I have the utmost respect and tolerance for Mormon missionaries. I believe that they are sincere as they endeavour to spread to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I must, however, humbly affirm that I believe that they are sincerely wrong and that they are preaching a false Gospel contrary to the one that the Apostle Paul and other New Testament Apostles presented more than 2 000 years ago. This post is not a direct attack on members of the LDS church of Jesus Christ but rather a defence against their teachings which stand in contradiction to evangelical Christianity. If you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I pray that you will read this post with an open mind, pray about it, and then consider the implications for your own life. If you’re searching, questioning, or already believe in Jesus I hope that this post will serve to provoke and challenge your thinking.
I would like to briefly demonstrate three reasons why LDS theology stands in contradiction to orthodox Christianity. This post will deal with reason number one: original sin.
REASON #1: ORIGINAL SIN
For the sake of simplicity and pre-conceived theological assumptions please allow me to present this doctrine of original sin as a question that I believe goes to the heart of the issue: “Are people sinners because they sin or do they sin because they are sinners?”
Let us first see how Joseph Smith would have answered this question. In the Book of Mormon the prophet Mormon taught his son Moroni that “Little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world” (Moroni 8:12). In case this verse is unclear regarding LDS church’s stance on original sin, one prominent and well respected LDS author and apostle M. Russell Ballard in his book titled Our Search for Happiness explains this verse by adding “We believe that we are not born sinners…In other words, we’re born good; we learn to sin as we grow older” (Ballard, pp. 87). The prophet Mormon made it very clear that to teach otherwise meant sure condemnation and a spot in hell for such a person! Listen to what he says two verses later in Moroni 8:14 “Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell” (see also Moroni 8:21). Now the question of whether infants go to heaven or not when they die is a difficult and controversial question to answer. In answering this question we need to be careful not to speak on behalf of the Lord when the Bible itself does not provide us with a definitive answer. The Prophet Mormon speaks rightly of God when he says “For I know that God is not a partial God” (Moroni 8:18). God is just and will do right. We must be content then with leaving the matter with God.
If the Prophet Mormon had meant that “little children” are infants or toddlers who could not repent of their sins (Moroni 8:19) then it could be understandable that he was upset that others would insist otherwise. On this point evangelical Christianity would agree because an infant is not yet able to discern between right and wrong and is therefore not able to be held accountable for their sins. The matter is therefore to be left with God to decide. Yet Joseph Smith sheds some apparent light on exactly what “little children” means in chapter eight of the book of Moroni when in the LDS Articles of Faith, which describes the essence of LDS theology, he reveals that the age of accountability is eight years old. In other words he teaches that “little children” in the book of Moroni is anyone from birth up until the age of eight years old. This is when the age of accountability begins. This means that the Prophet Mormon was pronouncing a warning that anyone who taught that people up until the age of eight who were told to repent of their own sins was perverting the ways of the Lord (Moroni 8:16). This implies that children under the age of eight, not infants, cannot repent. Why? I’ll leave you to ponder the logic of this one. So how would Joseph Smith have answered the question of original sin? He denies it for the simple reason that people are not born sinners, right? Members of the LDS church of Jesus Christ would have to concede that they believe that people are sinners because they “learn to sin” and this is only acknowledged to be at the age of eight years old.
So you are probably wondering how this squares up with what the Apostle Paul taught. Did Joseph Smith indeed receive revelation that reinforced or contradicted the teaching on original sin as taught in the Bible? There are two passages of Scripture, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, that provide a clear and precise stance of where the Bible stands regarding the doctrine of original sin. I will simply quote the Old Testament verse and focus on the New Testament for the purposes of explaining what the Apostle Paul taught in contrast to Joseph Smith. King David wrote these words about original sin “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). To further explain why David would confess to being sinful at birth and not at the age of eight years only, the Apostle Paul wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Read this verse again and ask yourself a few questions:
- Who is the “man” through whom sin entered the world?
- Why did death enter the world?
- What is the reason for all people dying today?
Now you don’t need to be a person with a high IQ to answer these three questions. The Apostle Paul is teaching that sin entered into the world through Adam, death followed as a consequence of sin, and finally death spread to all men or people. Now the crucial question is why did death spread to all people? Was it, as Joseph Smith taught, because all people are born alive in Christ or good? Was it because people only really start becoming “bad” at the age of eight? No! Paul answers plainly: Because all sinned! The time of “sinned” was confirmed earlier by King David to be “at birth”. The Apostle Paul teaches that Adam was the representative of all mankind. All people are sinners not because they commit individual sins at as they grow up but because they are descendants of the first man who sinned. Warren Wiersbe summarizes this truth well “Men do not die because of their own acts of sin; otherwise, babies would not die (Rom. 9:11). Men die because they are united racially to Adam, and “in Adam all men die” (1 Cor. 15:22). Did you catch that? The reason that babies die is not because of their own sin (they are too young to know that they are sinners), but they still die! Why? Because they are united as human beings to the first man who did sin and therefore are born with a sinful nature.
On this point please allow me to make an observation: If it is true that people are born good and are only considered to be sinners after the age of eight years, then why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin? Let me tell you plainly: Jesus had to become human like us in order to die but it was crucial that He did not receive a sinful nature like us. That is why the Apostle Paul reminded us that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh and not exactly in sinful flesh. Otherwise He too would have been born a sinner and that my friends would have been a huge problem. Romans 8:3 says “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man.”
In concluding, the first reason why the Apostle Paul could not have been a member of the LDS church of Jesus Christ is because he disagrees with the teaching of Joseph Smith on the doctrine of Original Sin. Whereas Joseph Smith insists that people are sinners because they learn to sin, Paul would disagree by saying that people sin because they are sinners from birth (Other scriptures that teach this truth are Ephesians 2:1-3; Titus 3:3; Romans 3:23). People don’t need to learn to sin because it comes naturally to them! Watch “little children” from as young as 2 or 3 years of age and you tell me who taught them to be so selfish and devil like? Their parents? Their siblings? The culture? Come on guys. If you’re read up to this point then let me leave you with five questions to ponder so that you can draw your own conclusions:
- Is Jesus Christ a schizophrenic? How can he teach one Apostle that all people are born good when He has already taught another that all people are born bad?
- Based on the teaching of Joseph Smith why do infants or children below the age of eight die?
- How do LDS parents explain the un-angelic behaviour of their infants and children growing up if they are born good?
- If people are born good who is to say that they cannot remain good? What determines that people turn from a state of being good to a state of being bad?
- If Jesus came to die for our sins was it necessary that he die for infants or children under the age of eight? Conversely if he did not die for their sins because they were already good it seems very sinister that he would allow them to come into the world only to suffer and die for no reason wouldn’t it?