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Mormon Belief and Practice

Angel MoroniJoseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, according to their teaching, received the priesthood of Aaron in 1829. Mormonism also presents a creed, consisting of the Thirteen Articles of Joseph Smith, dating from 1840; in which however much that is distinctly Mormon does not appear. Mormons claim additional revealed Christian scriptures after the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. The Book of Mormon maintains there was an appearance of Jesus in the New World following the Christian account of his resurrection, and that the Americas are uniquely blessed continents. Members believe Smith was divinely directed to restore the gospel to the earth, and hold that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon a record of the Lords dealings with His people on the American continent from 600 BC to 421 AD are scripture. Mormonism believes earlier Christian traditions, such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant reform faiths, are apostasies and that Joseph Smith's revelation of the Book of Mormon is a restoration of true Christianity.

The Mormon articles of faith say nothing about the Book of Doctrine and Covenants or about the Pearl of Great Price, for the reason that the articles were written by Joseph Smith and these books were officially adopted as standard authorities by the Mormon Church since the death of Smith. But they are regarded as much sacred books as the Bible and the Book of Mormon. They are not, however, as important as the Book of Mormon. The Pearl of Great Price is a curiosity. It is a conglomerate medley of scraps.

The Book of Doctrine and Covenants consists of two parts. First, a series of lectures on Faith, in which faith is described as "the principal (sic) of action and of power in all intelligent beings, both in heaven and on earth"; as "the principal upon which all eternity has acted and will act"; and as "the principal upon which his creatures here below must act in order to obtain the felicities en' joyed by the saints in the eternal world." Second, a number of revelations given "to" and "through" Joseph the Seer, at various times and places, and closing with the "revelation on the eternity of the marriage covenant, including plurality of wives."

Other Christian creeds teach that God is incorporeal, that is to say, an immaterial being. The Catholic church says: "There is but one God, the creator of heaven and earth, the supreme incorporeal, uncreated being who exists of Himself and is infinite in all His attributes." While the Church of England teaches in her articles of faith "that there is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, or parts, or passions, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness." This view of God as an incorporeal, immaterial, bodiless, partless, passionless, being is now and has been from the days of what Mormons regard as the great apostasy from God and Christ, in the second and third centuries, the doctrine of Deity generally accepted by "apostate" Christendom.

The Mormon doctrine of God is probably the doctrine that has garnered the greatest amount of criticism from traditional Christians. Brigham Henry Roberts gave what has been considered by many LDS scholars to be the finest exposition of this doctrine. "I take it that we may classify under three heads the complaints here made against us with reference to the doctrine of Deity. First, we believe that God is a being with a body in form like man's; that he possesses body, parts and passions; that in a word, God is an exalted, perfected man. Second, we believe in a plurality of Gods. Third, we believe that somewhere and some time in the ages to come, through development, through enlargement, through purification until perfection is attained, man at last, may become like God a God."

Mormons teach that God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings, the necessary way to divinization (Joseph F. Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [TPJSI, Salt Lake City: Desert Book, 1976, pp. 345-346). God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal (cf. TPJS, p. 373). God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation. They procreate sons in the spiritual world. Their firstborn is Jesus Christ, equal to all men, who has acquired his divinity in a pre-mortal existence. Even the Holy Spirit is the son of heavenly parents. The Son and the Holy Spirit were procreated after the beginning of the creation of the world known to us (Encyclopaedia of Mormonism [EM], New York: Macmillan, 1992, cf. Vol. 2, Vol. 2, p. 961). Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity.

Mormonism announces as one of its principal aims the preparation of a people for the coming of the Lord; a people who will build t he New Jerusalem, and there await His coming. The United Order, the means of preparation, is at present in abeyance, but the preliminary work of gathering Israel goes on. A stake is a division of the Mormon Church, organized in such a way as to constitute almost a "church" in itself; in each stake are subdivisions called wards, also fully organized. The area of a stake is usually that of a county, though the extent of territory differs according to population or other conditions. Each stake is presided over by three high-priests, who, with twelve nigh councilors, constitute a tribunal for the adjudication of differences among church members within their jurisdiction. Each ward has a bishopric of three, a lower tribunal, from whose decisions appeals may be taken to the high council. The extreme penalty inflicted by the church courts is excommunication. In each stake are quorums of high-priests, seventies, and elders, officers and callings in the Melchisedech priesthood: and in each ward, quorums of priests, teachers, and deacons, who officiate in the Aaronic priesthood. This lesser authority ministers in temporal things, while the higher priesthood ministers in things spiritual, which include the temporal.

Presiding over the entire Church is a supreme council of three high-priests, called the First Presidency, otherwise known as the president and his counsellors. Next to these are the twelve apostles, equal in authority to the First Presidency, though subject to and acting under their direction. Whenever the First Presidency is dissolved, which occurs at the death of the president, the apostles take the government and reorganize the supreme councilalways, however, with the consent of the Church, whose members are called to vote for or against this or any other proposition submitted to them.

The special function of the apostles is to preach the Gospel, or have it preached, in all nations, and to set in order, whenever necessary, the affairs of the entire Mormon Church. Among the general authorities there is also a presiding patriarch, who, with his subordinates in the various stakes, gives blessings to the people and comforts them with sacred ministrations. The first council of the Seventies, seven in number, assist the twelve apostles, and preside over all the quorums of seventies. Upon a presiding bishopric of three devolves the duty of receiving and disbursing the revenues of the Church, and otherwise managing its business, under the general direction of the first presidency. The Mormon Church is supported by the tithes and offerings of its members, most of whom reside in the Stakes of Zion, though a good number remain in the several missions, scattered in various countries of the globe.

One reason given for the persistent hostility to the Mormons was the dislike caused by the acrimonious controversy over polygamy or plural marriage. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed to have received a revelation and a command ordering him to re-introduce plural marriage and restore the polygamous condition tolerated among the pre-Judaiic tribes. Polygamy now became a principle of the creed of the Latter-Day Saints, and, though not enforced by the laws of the Mormon hierarchy, was preached by the elders and practised by the chiefs of the cult and by many of the people. The violation by the Mormons of the monogamous law of Christianity and of the United States was brought to the attention of Congress, which prohibited under penalty of fine and imprisonment the perpetuation of the antiChristian practice, refusing, however, to make the prohibition retroactive. The Mormons appealed to the Supreme Court, which sustained the action of Congress, and established the constitutionality of the antipolygamy statutes. The Latter-Day Saints, strangely enough, submitted to the decrees of Congress, unwittingly admit ting by their submission that the revelation of their founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, could not have come from God. If the command to restore polygamy to the modern world was from on High, then, by submitting to the decision of the Supreme Court, the Mormon hierarchy reversed the apostolic proclamation and acknowledged it was better "to obey man than to obey God".




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