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"Who are the Mormons, where did they come from, and what do they believe?"

Greetings All,

Today's "thought" is meant to be informative and instructive. It comes from a book I have quoted from before, "The One Year Book of Christian History," authored by E. Michael Rusten and Sharon Rusten.  I include this post because it is a short basic answer to a question I get asked often: "Who are the Mormons, where did they come from, and what do they believe?" If you have ever wondered about their origins and some of what they believe, this is a helpful little answer to those questions. Enjoy.

     "In 1820 a fourteen-year-old boy named Joseph Smith Jr. claimed to have received a vision in which God the Father and God the Son appeared to him and told him that they had chosen him to help restore true Christianity. Apparently not overly moved by this revelation, he went back to digging for Captain Kidd's treasure with his father and brother [on their farm in NY].
     When he was seventeen, he claimed to have been visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him that he would receive the "golden plates" of the Book of Mormon to translate.  In 1827 Smith alleged that he unearthed the plates in Cumorah, a hill near Palmyra, New York. Smith said he translated the "reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics" with the help of the miraculous glasses he supposedly received from Moroni.  Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher and a convert of Smith's, assisted in the translation, although no one but Smith ever saw the golden tablets.
     In 1829 during the translation, the "Prophet" as he liked to be called, alleged that John the Baptist was sent by Peter, James and John to bestow the "Aaronic priesthood" on himself and Oliver.  Early in 1830 they completed their translation, and "The Book of Mormon" was published and copyrighted. On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith Jr., his two brothers Hyrum and Samuel, Oliver Cowdery, and David and Peter Whitmer Jr., met in Fayette, New York, to found a new religious society they called, "The Church of Christ." Eventually known as "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," the Mormon Church was begun.

     Soon after, the Mormons moved to Kirkland, Ohio, where they attracted many new followers. In six years they grew to more than 16,000 members. Because of Smith's reputation as a charlatan, and accusations that his religion was a hoax, the new church had to move several times. Next they moved to Jackson County, Missouri, and then to Nauvoo, Illinois, but their problems followed them to each new location. The trouble intensified in Nauvoo when their practice of polygamy became public. The exact number of Smith's wives is not known, but it has been estimated to be as high as fifty.
     When Smith called for the destruction of a newspaper that was outspokenly anti-Mormon, the state of Illinois stepped in to control the dispute and jailed Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.  On June 27, 1844, an angry mob stormed the jail and murdered both men.
     After the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young became the leader of the Mormons. Young led the group across the Great Plains and over the Rocky Mountains to the Salt Lake Valley (in present day Utah) in 1846.  Finally, the Mormons were granted recognition as a legitimate religion. Brigham Young had twenty-seven wives and fifty-six children. Today the Mormons claim more than 11 million members, more than half who live outside the United States.

     What do Mormons believe? Simply stated, Mormons teach that all gods were originally men [who were good enough to become gods] and that all men have the potential to become gods. Being a king and priest to God is a step toward becoming a god. They believe that all persons were pre-existent and, depending on their good works, go to one of three levels of heaven: telestial (for unbelievers), terrestial (for ignorant but good people), and celestial (for good Mormons).  Jesus, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, will reign over a millennial kingdom from Independence, Missouri."

Just a few more points of interest:
1.) Mormons believe in many gods.  
2.) Jesus is a God (one of many), but was not always a God -- he progressed to become a God. 
3.) He was pre-existent, but in Mormon theology so are the spirits of all people, waiting for people to provide them bodies to live in through procreation. 
4.) The Gods have begotten spirit children. 
    a.) These spirit children are restless until they have a body to reside in. 
    b.) Bodies for these spirit children are provided through human procreation.
    c.) Therefore man's chief end is to glorify the Gods by having babies. 
    d.) Procreation is man's primary duty, the more children one has the more virtuous they become. (This seems to be what gave birth to their view of polygamy, a practice disavowed in 1890 in "The Anti-polygamy Manifesto" in order for Utah to gain statehood -- though it is still practiced by small splinter groups.). 
5.) Mormons also believe that a person is saved by a mixture of grace, faith, repentance, baptism, good works, and obedience to Mormon doctrine. 
6.) They believe Christ's shed blood only cleanses us from original sin, or Adam's transgression, and opened the door to full salvation which one must work for once the door is opened. 
7.) Mormons also baptize on behalf of the dead (thus their extensive interest in genealogy). Since they believe one cannot be saved apart from baptism, they receive baptism proxy on behalf of dead ancestors in order to save them.  
8.) They also believe in the doctrine of eternal progression: "As man is, God once was: as God is, man may become."  (See "Mormonism," by John Gerstner, Baker Books, "The Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints," by Steven Tsoulkalas.)

     I hope such information may be helpful to others who have sought to understand how Mormonism differs from historic Christianity, since many terms used in conversation are similar, but their meanings and definitions differ.
"The truth will set you free," Pastor Jeff