What Do Mormons Believe About God?
|By: Sandra Tanner, Dr. Lynn Wilder, Michael Wilder; ©2012|
|In this program, we will look at some of the basic beliefs regarding God according to Mormon teachings, including stories from three former Mormons who explain what life was like and how they turned to biblical Christianity. As we do, we’ll find the answers to some of the questions generally held about Mormons along with a deeper understanding of our own Christian faith.|
According to a recent survey, half of all Americans believe Mormonism is a Christian religion, while one third think it is not. This has caused many to ask, are Mormons Christians? How do their beliefs compare with what Jesus and the apostles taught in the Bible? My guests today are three prominent Mormons who have left the LDS Church and become Christians. First, Sandra Tanner, the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Mormon Church.
- Sandra Tanner: In June of 1998, Gordon B. Hinckley, who was the president of the church at that time, he said “the traditional Christ of whom they,” meaning the Christians, “speak, is not the Christ of whom I speak.” Now, why isn’t it the same Christ? Because the Christ of the Bible has eternally been God. He’s never been less than he is today. And yet Jesus of Mormonism is one of a whole string of Gods. His father, Heavenly Father, had to earn the right to become a God; Jesus had to earn the right to become a God; Jesus in Mormonism has not always been God. This is something he achieved. It is the goal of every Mormon man to someday achieve godhood the same as Jesus did, the same as Jesus’ father did.
Second, Dr. Lynn Wilder, a tenured professor at Brigham Young University, who authored more than 50 scholarly publications. She left her teaching position in 2008 after becoming a Christian.
- John Ankerberg: As a tenured professor at Brigham Young, okay, and being a Mormon for 30 years, do you still believe that the Book of Mormon is the true word of God?
- Lynn Wilder: I do not. There are contradictions all over their own scriptures. There are blatant contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, even. One says God is spirit, and one says God has a body of flesh and bones. You can’t have it both ways.
And third, Michael Wilder, Lynn’s husband, who worked in the Temple, was a member of the High Council and served in two bishoprics.
- Ankerberg: Glenn Beck, Harry Reid, Steve Young, Mitt Romney, Stephen Covey and Orrin Hatch, they’re all Mormons.
- Michael Wilder: Yes, they are.
- Ankerberg: Okay, so if I ask them the question, can you be a biblical Christian at the same time that you are a Temple attending Mormon, as one of those that gave the Temple Recommend, what would you answer?
- M. Wilder: I would say, with my understanding of Christianity now, is that, no, there’s a huge conflict between being a biblical Christian and being a Mormon.
- Tanner: It’s a totally different concept of who Jesus is, who man is, who God is, how we fit in the universe, how we get right with God. In Mormonism it all hinges on participation in the Mormon Temple ritual; in Christianity it all hinges on throwing ourselves on the mercy of God and claiming Christ as savior.
We invite you to join us for this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show.
- John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. I’m sure that you have noticed there are some beautiful Mormon Temples around the United States. I think there’s what—100 around the world? And the fact is that, when you see them, do you ever wonder what goes on in the Temple? Why are they necessary? Why are they so important? Why are the ceremonies so secret?
- And today we’ve got three folks that are going to help us understand that. My guests are: the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Mormon Church, Sandra Tanner. We’ve got Dr. Lynn Wilder, who was a distinguished professor, a tenured professor, at Brigham Young University. We have got Michael Wilder, who was also high up in the hierarchy of the Mormon Church, and actually taught and participated in these ordinances that are taught to the people, that we’re going to talk about right now.
- Sandra, I want to start at the beginning. And the founder of Mormonism is Joseph Smith. And he got revelation from God, supposedly, in a very interesting way. And I don’t think the folks know what that way is. How did the Book of Mormon, how did the different scriptures of Mormonism, come into being? Start us off at the beginning.
- Sandra Tanner: Well, when Joseph Smith was a teenager, he was involved in folk magic. And he found a stone in a well that he claimed was like a crystal ball. And if he put the stone in a hat, he could look at that and determine where lost property was. So you could pay him to walk across your property and see if there was any gold or silver buried there. Well, then when he supposedly has his vision of the angel coming and telling him about the Book of Mormon record, supposedly there was special instruments saved with the plates that would help him translate the record. But he only used that for the first part of the Book of Mormon. And then he switched over to using his stone that he found in the well to translate the Book of Mormon.
- So all that we have of the Book of Mormon today, supposedly, was done with this magic stone he had used in his money-digging practices. And he would put the stone in his hat, pull his hat up over his face, and supposedly as he looked at this stone it would have been like a text message on a phone, all the words came across there, and he would just read this to his scribe. Now, most Mormons haven’t heard this description of the translation, but this is what the witnesses said that were in the room. His wife, the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, describe reading each word off of this stone, like a text message off your phone, to his scribe for the Book of Mormon. And if they spelled a word wrong, then he wouldn’t get the next word. And so he would have to stop and figure out what they wrote wrong.
- Ankerberg: So he would actually read… it’s like a little page coming up, …
- Tanner: Yes.
- Ankerberg: …like you say, a text, a page would come up, like parchment. And he thought he was reading this scroll, whatever that he would call it, the gold plates. And the fact is, a line would come up and underneath it would be the translation of the line, and he would give the translation to the guy that was doing …
- Tanner: Right.
- Ankerberg: … the inscribing. And then the guy would have to repeat it to him, and that message stayed on the stone until Joseph Smith said, “That’s correct—you got it absolutely right.” Then the next part of the message would come up; he would read that; he would translate that; and that would go in. So this is how you got the script,…
- Tanner: Yeah.
- Ankerberg: …page after page after page. Now, it also is supposed to be direct revelation from God. Isn’t that correct?
- Tanner: Right.
- Ankerberg: And if it’s direct revelation from God, and it’s written down, then that should be the word of God that stands firm and fast, and it shouldn’t be changed.
- Tanner: One would think, yes. The Book of Mormon is claimed to be the most correct book on earth. And yet we find that between the first printing and the next printing in 1837, there were thousands of word changes made in this. Well, if God dictated this to Joseph Smith in a very strict sense, then how could you go back later and make corrections to the text? But this is true of all of Mormonism. Joseph Smith’s revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants have been edited and re-done as well. The Temple ceremony has been re-done as well. Everything in Mormonism has gone through revision. Which brings you back to, why isn’t the God of Mormonism able to do it right the first time? In fact, this was one of the problems I had when I first started studying about Mormonism, was seeing that Joseph Smith had to correct his revelations; correct the things that God revealed to him. If he was a prophet of God, if God were speaking to this man, he wouldn’t have to go back and revise it all the time.
- Ankerberg: Part of the thing that was revealed to him was also this thing we call the Temple ceremonies. And it tells us about the necessity and the importance of the Mormon Temple. Tell me about that revelation, and why is the Temple so important in Mormonism?
- Tanner: Temple ritual came into Mormonism, I believe, originally to lock his followers into a life of secrecy. Because he was secretly living polygamy, and by getting the men to go through these rituals where they swore an oath of secrecy, he could let them into his inner circle on the teaching of polygamy. But the ritual is really borrowed a lot from Masonry. Joseph Smith went through the Freemason to the 33rd degree in just a couple of days, which isn’t exactly the way you’re supposed to do it. But he saw the Masonic ritual and borrowed elements of that, and came up with his new ritual. So you would find a similar singsong dialogue in the Temple ritual, like in Masonry, where the initiator speaks to the initiate and they engage in this conversation back and forth. And they have to learn special handshakes and passwords that are necessary to be passed from one level to the other. And so this progresses through all these different things you have to learn, and passwords, so that at the end of the ceremony you go up into the front of the room and there’s a curtain across there. And the man stands behind the curtain that plays the part of God, and you have to reach through a hole in the curtain and give this man playing the part of God the handshakes and passwords you learned that day.
- Ankerberg: The right ones, so that you can go on.
- Tanner: Yes. And this is so that you can become a God. You cannot progress to godhood unless you’ve been through this ritual and have learned the secret handshakes and passwords to show God at the veil that you are worthy to come into his presence.
- Ankerberg: Okay, Joseph Smith did that. Are those the same ceremonies we’re doing today?
- Tanner: For the most part. They’ve made additions….they’ve taken parts out. Some of the things that were the closest to the Masonic ritual have been removed.
- Ankerberg: Such as the …
- Tanner: They used to have a death oath on slitting their throat and their bowels if they revealed the ceremony, which was taken from Masonry, and they’ve now removed that. They used to embrace on what they called the five points of fellowship, which is also a Masonic thing. And they took the five points out, but they still have to give the handshakes and passwords to prove their worthiness to go on to the celestial kingdom.
- Ankerberg: Alright, for folks that have missed all the things that we have said previous to this, you just said that Mormons are doing the Temple ordinance and promising to do certain things so they can progress to becoming a God themselves. Summarize that once more.
- Tanner: In Mormonism, every God—and there’s millions of them—every God has had to go through an earth process of being a human at one time before he became a God. So our Heavenly Father has not always been God, according to Mormonism. And the Mormon man is supposedly the same species as Heavenly Father, with the same potential. Every man has the potential, if he’s a faithful Mormon, to progress to the position of a God. So when they speak of gaining eternal life, they redefine the word “eternal life.” “Eternal life” now means godhood.
- Ankerberg: Okay. And what were some of the things that, in the Temple ordinance, you promised to continue doing as a Mormon for the rest of your life, to actually become a God?
- Michael Wilder: First of all, to get to the Temple you had to be worthy, okay. So, as a man, you’ve to have at least received the Melchizedek priesthood; and you have to have your Temple Recommend that’s approved by the bishop or bishopric member. And also sometimes, the first time, you also have to be interviewed by the Stake president or Stake presidency. And then, once you go to the Temple, you have to be… you have to have what you call your washings and anointings done to you, where you are actually symbolically washed and anointed with oil, okay. Then that prepares you, okay. Then you have to go through what we called the Temple endowment. And that’s where you receive a set of instructions to prepare yourself to go through the veil, where you receive those secret handshakes and those secret signs and tokens, too, that you present to the person at the veil.
- Now, I used to work on the other side of the veil, so I used to get to play God. And somebody would come up to the veil; they would knock there; and I would speak as God. And then I would give them instructions of what they had to do to get through the veil. And they would have to repeat those back to me word by word. So you go through this procedure, okay. And then, once they had passed—I had deemed it was done correctly—then they can enter through the veil. And you go through this. But they never mention the cross, the blood, or anything like that. That’s all been… it’s just not there.
- Ankerberg: Folks, I think that you can see that there’s a big difference between what Mormonism is saying about God, Jesus and salvation, and what the Bible is saying: who God is, what Christ did, and how you get eternal life.
- Now, Dr. Wilder, you and Michael were also married or sealed for eternity in the Temple. What is that all about? And why is it that the public is not invited to the ceremonies that go on in the Mormon Temple?
- Lynn Wilder: We actually had what Mormons call a civil marriage in a Presbyterian Church before we ever joined the Mormon Church. Three years later we joined the Mormon Church, and a year after that we were worthy enough to go all the way from Indiana to Washington, DC, to the Temple to be sealed. Now, a Temple sealing ceremony is something that seals you together, supposedly, in marriage, not just for this life, but for the life to come. So Mormons believe in marriage beyond… what they call “beyond the veil,” beyond death.
- Ankerberg: So, in actuality, even though you were officially married, the fact is, that would not have allowed you to progress to godhood in Mormonism.
- L. Wilder: Correct.
- Ankerberg: You therefore had to be married again in the Mormon Temple. And if you had your parents or friends that were non-Mormons, they could not come to the marriage in the Temple. Why not?
- L. Wilder: Right. Neither of our parents are Mormons. You have to do those 14 good deeds that you have to do in order to get a Temple Recommend and be worthy to enter the Temple. So we went with two other couples from our Mormon Ward that were worthy. And the night before we left, someone told us that after we went to the Temple we’d be wearing Temple garments.
- Ankerberg: Okay. Every Mormon that is married in the Temple, or goes through the endowment ceremony, is that correct Michael?
- M. Wilder: That’s correct.
- Ankerberg: They get these Temple garments that you wear after that. And what are they supposed to do for you?
- M. Wilder: Okay. Well, you receive your Temple garments through what we called a procedure called the “washings and anointing,” okay. And you receive them there. And those are supposed to be two things: One, they will protect you from physical danger; the second thing, they will protect you from spiritual danger; and actually the third thing, it’s a constant reminder of your covenants you have made in the Temple.
- Ankerberg: Yeah. Let’s put it the other way. You had to wear them.
- M. Wilder: It was a requirement.
- Ankerberg: Yeah. So everybody that’s a Temple attending Mormon, every day of their life,…
- M. Wilder: You wear this.
- Ankerberg: … is wearing these Temple garments.
- M. Wilder: Right.
- Tanner: Well, you need to understand, these are underwear. For the non-Mormon out there that doesn’t know what we’re talking about, Mormons have special underwear. In Joseph Smith’s day, the garment was like a full-length long-johns: to the wrist and to the ankle and up to the neck. And through the years, as fashions have changed, the garment has gotten shorter, so that now a woman just has like a little cap-sleeved underwear, so it’s kind of like a camisole top and bloomer bottoms that go to the knee. And the man has on like a special underwear T-shirt that he wears that has the compass and square on the breast, little embroidery marks, and then like cotton briefs that go down to his knee. So, it’s Mormon underwear. And for the woman, this is worn the closest to her body; it’s worn under her bra. I mean, you take an oath in the Temple to always wear this special Mormon underwear.
- Ankerberg: Okay. When you finally started coming out of Mormonism, one of the hardest things you had to do was to take it off and leave it off.
- L. Wilder: Yeah. And I worried that people at BYU would notice that I wasn’t wearing it anymore. It was a personal thing. Once I knew the Christ of the Bible and surrendered to the Christ of the Bible, I took my garments off and I put this cross around my neck.
- Ankerberg: Coming back to the Temple ceremonies themselves, you had to go through those or you couldn’t become a God or a Goddess later, is that correct, Michael?
- M. Wilder: That’s not an option, okay. If you want to progress, to be able to live with Heavenly Father, you have to receive the Temple endowment. It’s a requirement. And you’re supposed to maintain that Temple Recommend your whole life. And you’re supposed to go back to the Temple on a regular basis, depending upon where you live and so forth. And, again, it’s that Temple endowment that empowers you, that gives you the authority to stand in the presence of God.
- Ankerberg: Sandra, why is this not biblical Christianity?
- Tanner: Well, in the Bible, we see that the Old Testament ritual in the Temple was animal sacrifice as a type, of pointing to Jesus’ being the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. And that was all fulfilled in Christ’s atonement. So there was no longer any need for the Temple ritual, as there was in the Old Testament, because Jesus fulfilled all that. And yet the Mormons see the word “Temple,” and they say, “Oh, well, if we’re going to restore everything, we’ve got to have a Temple today.” So they latch on to certain words out of the Bible and then put their own ceremony to those things: the Bible mentions Temple—we’ve got to have a Temple; the Bible mentions high priests—we’ve got to have high priests. But they fail to understand the whole message of the New Testament: that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law; he fulfilled the Old Testament Temple; and that he now is the one who makes us right with God. We don’t have to go through a priest or through the Temple ritual.
- Ankerberg: I want to ask you a question that we’re all going to have asked anyway: Why did we do this program, and why are you telling people this information? Lynn, let me start with you.
- L. Wilder: If I can come out of Mormonism and come to Christ, anybody can do it. We were as dug in as anyone you could ever imagine, and I can’t imagine that I would have changed my life. But the God of the Bible changed my life. When I began to read the Bible and see the conflicts with Mormonism and made the choice for Christ, he turned my life upside-down. And I became free in Christ; free in the truth. And the chains of all of the lies fell off. And I can’t tell the story enough. I am really a changed person. I don’t think that people would even recognize me who knew me five years ago, and that is nothing but God. And it happened because I believed his word in the Bible. That word changed me. And this change is so profound for me that I will tell what God can do ‘til the day I die.
- Ankerberg: Michael, you were a Mormon for 30 years, and you decide to leave, and you realize that you have been deceived. How hard was it to come out?
- M. Wilder: It is hard, because you have to stand in front of the mirror and look in the mirror and say, I’ve been wrong for 30 years; I taught my children incorrect principles for 30 years. But as I study the Bible, I realize that I can’t earn anything, that grace is a gift. And when you start taking Jesus-plus, you start running into a problem. The fact that I thought that I could earn my salvation and then Jesus would kick in the rest of it is still blasphemy. God showed me my sins. And he humbled me and said, “You can’t do it on your own. You need… Don’t even think about doing it on your own. You have to come through me.”
- Ankerberg: Sandra, I can’t even imagine the pressure that was on you, and what you were surrounded with. And yet, you came out. How in the world did you come out?
- Tanner: Well, it all comes down to the grace of God. There’s nothing I can boast of in myself or my own search. I mean, in a sense, I just see God reaching down and pulling me out of Mormonism. But Jerald and I had been on a search to try to figure out what was true about Mormonism. And then along the way we started realizing, well, not only is there a problem with Mormonism, there’s a problem in our own hearts. We don’t know God in the way the New Testament is talking about. That I had named the name of Christ, but I hadn’t really surrendered to him.
- And as I was listening to a Christian radio station one day, the minister came on preaching from 1 John chapter 4. And as he went through that chapter, in one of the verses it says, “Herein is love. Not that we love God, but that he loved us, and gave his son as a propitiation for our sins.” It was like God took the blinders off my eyes, and I realized, I have no righteousness of my own. He doesn’t love me because I’m such a great person; he loved me in spite of my sin. He saw me as someone that was a total failure when it comes to pleasing God. And yet God, in his grace, reached out and pulled me to himself. I was not aware of verses like in Ephesians 2:8-9, that we’re saved by grace, not according to works.
- In Mormonism it’s all about self. It’s about me perfecting myself, doing the best I can, and if I do enough, I will be accepted by God. And then when you come to really see what the Bible is talking about, I’m a sinner saved by grace. I have nothing to bring to the table, to say, “Oh, God, look how great I am, I did x-y-z. I did all these things, therefore, I should be okay.” No, you come and you realize, oh, my goodness, I have blasphemed God in so many ways by thinking my effort would some way add to what Jesus did. And I threw myself on the mercy of Christ; that I have nothing to offer here. Only Christ’s righteousness is what I cling to, not something within myself.
- Ankerberg: Yeah. And it’s awfully relieving.
- Tanner: Yes.
- Ankerberg: It is awfully freeing. And it also puts joy in your heart.
- Tanner: Right.
- Ankerberg: Now, next week I’m going to ask Lynn to tell us her own story about how, as a tenured professor, teaching at Brigham Young University, she came to believe that Mormonism was wrong. She gave up her job, and she left the LDS Church, and she became a Christian. And how Michael, who was a high priest, and a member of the High Council in the Mormon Church, who gave the Temple Recommends to other Mormons, how after 30 years he realized he was wrong and left the LDS Church and also became a biblical Christian. Folks, you’re not going to want to miss this, so I hope you’ll join me next week.