The August 2009 edition of the official Mormon Ensign magazine emphasises prayer and it would be ungracious not to recognise the wise counsel to set aside time to pray regularly, to make prayer a discipline and to approach it in a spirit of humility; surely advice with which all Christians can agree. Yet it demonstrates something Christians often notice about the Mormon ethos, which is that it is based on Joseph Smith and not Jesus Christ, whose church Mormons claim to have restored.
In an article entitled Opening the Heavens Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchu of the Seventy asks, “Do you want to feel the love of God powerfully in your life? Do you want to feel more in tune with His Spirit? Do you want to have the heavens opened to you daily?” He goes on to let us in on the secret of achieving these things using examples from the life of Joseph Smith.
Like Joseph, we must take ourselves apart to spend time with God.
Like Joseph, we can expect God to answer.
Like Joseph, we can have our own ‘sacred grove’ experience.
Now a Christian cannot criticise a Mormon for looking to men and women of their faith who have set examples in prayer, faith and devotion. After all Christians do the same often enough with their own heroes of faith.
Restored or Replaced?
But once you start looking you find alarming evidences of Mormonism not restoring Christianity but systematically replacing it. Just as Joseph replaces Jesus as the great exemplar in prayer and the grove replaces the hills of Galilee and the struggles of Gethsemane so it is that a Mormon paradigm comes to take the place of the Christian in Mormon teaching and thinking.
In the Book of Mormon [BOM] we see the earliest example of this as the record of the Jews, so apparently essential to the characters of that book, is described as being made of brass (1 Nephi 3:3,12) while the record that was to become the Book of Mormon was made of gold (Joseph Smith History [JSH], 1:34).
When the Book of Mormon was presented to the world we find the Bible coming off a poor second best by comparison, the Bible being described as the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly” while the BOM is the word of God with no qualification (8th Article of faith)
The so-called first vision easily trumps the experience of Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt.17:1-3). They saw the glorified Jesus, Moses and Elijah while Joseph Smith claimed to have seen none other than the Father and the Son (JSH 1:17).
Joseph Smith, in his peculiar chronicle of the ancient Americas, even tampered with geography, moving the earliest events and places of the Bible from the near and Middle East to America. The Garden of Eden, he said, had been in Davies County, Missouri (D&C 16) where eventually the New Jerusalem would be built, implying that the earliest people of God originated not in ancient Mesopotamia as scholars have mistakenly thought but in the ancient Americas. It is from this area that Noah floated his ark to sail a “considerable distance” before landing on Mount Ararat in modern Turkey. The BOM characters were then not leaving their place of origin but returning to it.
Joseph Smith himself boasted that he had achieved more than Jesus when he declared: “I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day saints never ran away from me yet” (History of the Church [HC] vol.6, p.408/9)
In a revealing video interview Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministry talks at length of the so-called martyrdom of Joseph Smith. At one point he shares how guides taking tours at the Carthage jail where Smith died have been heard to refer to that place as the “Mormon Calvary”.
Finally, we have these words from Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church:
One excellent idea that was advanced this morning, I will venture to carry out a little further. The time was when the test of a Christian was his confession of Christ…This is no test to this generation, for all men of the Christian world confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This generation, however, is not left without a test. I have taught for thirty years, and still teach, that he that believeth in his heart and confesseth with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith is his Prophet to this generation, is of God; and he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fulness of the Gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is anti-christ.
All who confess that Joseph Smith is sent of God in the latter days, to lay the foundation of his everlasting kingdom no more to be thrown down, and will continue to keep his commandments, are born of God. All those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet, at the same time trying with their might to live the holy principles Joseph the Prophet has revealed, are in possession of the Holy Spirit of God and are entitled to a fullness. When such men go into the world to preach the Gospel though they know not a letter in a book, they will do more real good to erring man than the great and wise can possibly do, though aided by all their learning and worldly influence in the absence of the gift of the Holy Ghost. When the spirit of the preacher is imbued with the Spirit and power of God, his words enter the understandings of the honest, who discern the truth and at once embrace it to their eternal advantage. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.9, Pg.312, Brigham Young, July 13, 1862)
Joseph or Jesus?
From Eden to Calvary, Mormonism has systematically replaced Christianity with its peculiar creed. The Book of Mormon surpassing the Bible as “the most correct of any book on the earth” (HC 4:461), gold compared with brass; the first vision surpassing any biblical revelation in its splendour; the prayer model of Jesus on the Mount and in Gethsemane eclipsed by the “sacred grove”; the geography of early Genesis described as peculiarly American; Joseph Smith succeeding where Jesus and the apostles miserably failed and finally the latter-day test for being a Christian the confession of Joseph Smith.
Examples abound and I am sure others could easily add to the list here but it is important that, like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:10-12), we should test everything that is said and urge others to do the same. People earnestly seeking truth don’t want to end up in the New World when they need to be in the Old, in a grove when they need to be on a mount, at the veil of a temple when they need to be at the foot of the Cross and looking to Joseph when they should look to Jesus alone.