The History of Mormonism

Sep 24th, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Two candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are practicing Mormons—John Huntsman and Mitt Romney.  That two of the more prominent candidates are Mormons is a bit unusual.  That fact also means it is important that we understand the worldview of Mormons.  Finally, that Huntsman and Romney are Mormons does not disqualify them as candidates, nor does it mean that either one would be incompetent because of their Mormon faith.  I believe, nonetheless, that the Mormon worldview needs to be scrutinized and evaluated for its viability and its commitment to truth.  Hence, this edition of Issues in Perspective will be devoted to such an analysis.

The History of Mormonism

Mormonism is by far the largest and fastest growing worldview, with as many as 10 million adherents worldwide.  Its beginnings revolve totally around Joseph Smith, who was born on 23 December 1805 in Sharon, Vermont.  His early years were greatly influenced by his father, who curiously spent a great deal of time searching for buried treasure using unorthodox and often occult methods.  His life changed in 1820 when he supposedly received a vision from God the Father and the Son, who told him that all other religions were an abomination but that he was the prophet to bring restoration.

In 1823 another vision from the angel Moroni further solidified Smith’s charge from God.  The angel informed him that he would uncover a number of golden plates that needed translating.  He discovered these plates, inscribed with what he called “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics,” outside Palmyra, New York.  He was able to translate them with a huge pair of spectacles that he called the “Urim and Thummim.”  According to his story, between 1827 and 1829, he “translated” the plates and in 1830 published The Book of Mormon.  The plates were purportedly taken to heaven by Moroni.

In another vision from John the Baptist in 1829, Smith received the Aaronic priesthood and founded the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”  He subsequently relocated his religious headquarters to Ohio and Missouri, but, according to Boa, “Mormons were accused of a number of crimes in those places and were required to leave Missouri” in 1839 by order of the governor. [p. 65]

The Mormons, led by Smith, relocated to Illinois, where they built the city of Nauvoo, where he instituted the practice of polygamy.  When Smith and his brother Hyrum tried to destroy a local newspaper office because of its stand against the Mormons, they were arrested and jailed in Carthage, Illinois.  Tragically, an angry mob stormed the prison and on 27 June 1844 shot and killed the two brothers, making them martyrs.  The leadership mantle passed to Brigham Young, the “First President” and prophet of the church.

Under Young’s leadership, the Mormons relocated to Salt Lake City in July 1847.  There they settled down and built their unique brand of religion.  Young influence was virtually dictatorial, but it provided the stability needed for the group to grow.  During this period, the US government sought to make Utah a state but first the Mormons resisted this effort and later refused to give up polygamy as a condition for statehood.  Only when the government threatened the Mormons with property loss, did they change their doctrine and abolish polygamy as a doctrine.

Today, the Mormons are a highly structured and organized religion.  Led by a First President, a Council of Twelve Apostles and a Council of Seventy, there are also bishops, counselors and teachers at all levels.  Further, virtually all Mormon males serve as deacons and elders.  Males over 12 years old are also members of the Mormon priesthood of Aaron or Melchizedek.  Because they regard themselves as the true church, Mormons refer to all non-Mormons as “Gentiles.”  [For this review of Mormon history, see Boa, pp. 64-68 and Gruss, pp. 29-37.]

For the Mormons, their scriptures define their faith.  They regard scripture as the Bible, The Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. Ken Boa summarizes the content of The Book of Mormon, the most important of the Mormon texts:

The Book of Mormon, which supposedly was written by several people from about 600 B.C. to A.D. 428, tells of the migration of an ancient people from the Tower of Babel to Central America.  These people, known as the Jaredites, perished because of apostasy.  A later migration occurred in 600 B.C., when a group of Jews were supposedly told by God to flee Jerusalem before the Babylonian captivity.  These Jews, led by Lehi and his son Nephi, crossed the Pacific Ocean and landed in South America.  There they divided into two opposing nations, the Nephites ad the Lamanites.  The Lamanites, cursed with dark skin because of their iniquity, were the ancestors of the American Indians.  (Similarly, the black people are said to have been cursed with dark skin because they are descendants of Cain, the first murderer) . . . .

The Nephites recorded prophecies about the coming of Christ, and after His resurrection Christ visited them there in South America.  He instituted communion, baptism, and the priesthood for the Nephites.  Later they were annihilated in a battle with the Lamanites in A.D. 428.  Before they were killed in battle, Mormon, the compiler of the divinely revealed Book of Mormon, and his son Moroni took the golden plates on which “the revelation” was recorded and buried them.  These plates were uncovered 1,400 years later by Joseph Smith. [pp. 67-68]

How reliable is this “history?”  There are several key points that demonstrate that The Book of Mormon is unreliable as a historic text:

1.  There are no reliable witnesses to the plates Smith supposedly translated.

2.  As Boa remarks, “Though The Book of Mormon was buried in A.D. 428, it contains about 25,000 words verbatim from the A.D. 1611 King James version of the Bible!”

3.  I recently visited the new Mormon temple in Omaha, Nebraska, where I live.  During the tour, one guest asked why there is no archeological evidence for the historical claims of The Book of Mormon. Our guide could offer no answer, but the extensive claims of the book would necessitate some kind of evidence for these peoples.  There is none.

4.  There is absolutely no evidence of anything called “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics.”

Mormonism is a worldview that has generated passion and growth.  It has been an aggressive religion, expecting all teens to commit two years in missionary service, for which they raise their own funds.  Also, the LDS leaders expect every Mormon to tithe 10% of all income, with the result that the LDS church is extremely wealthy, with assets over $30 billion [Time, 4 August 1997, p. 54].  Mormons are also visibly active in politics and social causes that promote conservative values and ethics.  They remain a powerful force in American culture. PRINT PDF

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2 Comments to “The History of Mormonism”

  1. Don Boldt says:

    Thank you for your point # 2 above. Few observers have caught on that the presence of verbatim use of the KJV makes the entire story of the source of the Book of Mormon a fraud. Recently I addressed this to WORLD magazine in a letter to the editor. In my study of the Book of Mormon, every scripture quotation I could find (obviously I didn’t hit them all) was from the KJV of 1611. How in the world could it have been buried in AD 428?

    Thanks for your clarity on this subject.

    My question to WORLD was this: If candidate Romney cannot determine truth from error in selecting his religion — how can he correctly interpret all the intelligence material that will cross his desk daily as President of the USA?

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