I have been seeking to provide to those interested in knowing the truth the facts concerning the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) related to the doctrine of God. Who is the God of Mormonism? Is Mormonism just a variant of Christianity? The candidacy of Mitt Romney for President has once again thrown tremendous light on the fact that we live in a culture that is simply starved when it comes to truth and right thinking. For those who think brotherhood can exist outside of the worship of the same God, this series has not been very useful, but then again, I doubt anyone who thinks that way would be visiting here more than once or twice anyway. So we press on toward the conclusion of our series, now addressing what I call fourth level statements. Remember, all of this information comes from my book, Is the Mormon My Brother? available once again from Solid Ground Books. We hope to have the book in our bookstore this week. Likewise, my first book on Mormonism, which is still the best to give to your Mormon friend, Letters to a Mormon Elder, is likewise back in print, and should be in our bookstore this week as well.
We have already had reason to note a number of times the couplet of Lorenzo Snow regarding the relationship of God and man:
Second, Lorenzo Snow is remembered for his couplet “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” These words came by revelation to Lorenzo when he was a young man in Nauvoo. Their truthfulness was reaffirmed when he heard the Prophet Joseph Smith teach the very same concept. Over the years this simple yet profound statement has stirred the minds of many individuals and caused them to further investigate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One of the most flamboyant of the early Mormon leaders was Apostle Orson Pratt. His book, The Seer, is one of the most interesting of early LDS publications. He also provided many interesting sermons in the Journal of Discourses. While he had many viewpoints that an orthodox Christian would find unusual and very troubling (especially in regards to his view of the Bible), we are here concerned only with his statements concerning the doctrine of God.
One of the passages that Christians turn to in response to LDS theology is Isaiah 43:10. Orson Pratt addressed this passage in a sermon delivered February 18, 1855:
“But” inquires one, “how are you going to get along with the passage, in Isaiah, where the Lord declared that, ‘There is no God before me, nor shall there be any after me?'” How can we believe this, when we believe in the revelation given through Joseph Smith, which says there are many Gods, and that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are Gods, and that all good men in this Church shall become Gods? Paul also speaks of the only wise God. Perhaps some may suppose that it is translated improperly. But you will find the same thing in the Book of Mormon, translated by the Urim and Thummim; the same things are also contained in the new translation of the book of Genesis, given to Moses, where the Lord declares that, “There is no God besides me.” In these expressions, God has reference to the great principles of light and truth, or knowledge, and not to the tabernacles in which this knowledge may dwell; the tabernacles are many and without number, but the truth or knowledge which is often personified and called God, is one,being the same in all; God is one, being a unity, when represented by light, truth, wisdom, or knowledge; but when reference is made to the temples in which this knowledge dwells, the number of Gods is infinite.
This explains the mystery. If we should take a million worlds like this and number their particles, we should find that there are more Gods than there are particles of matter in those worlds.
By depersonalizing the term “God” and making it refer to “truth or knowledge,” Pratt thinks to find a way around the repeated assertion that there is but one true God. Yet, when it comes to individuals who can be called “Gods,” his assertion that there are literally billions of such Gods is as blatant a teaching of polytheism as any religious system I have ever encountered. Orson Pratt’s writings are no less clear on the same point:
The Gods who dwell in the Heaven from which our spirits came, are beings who have been redeemed from the grave in a world which existed before the foundations of this earth were laid. They and the Heavenly body which they now inhabit were once in a fallen state. Their terrestrial world was redeemed, and glorified, and made a Heaven: their terrestrial bodies, after suffering death, were redeemed, and glorified, and made Gods. And thus, as their world was exalted from a temporal to an eternal state, they wereexalted also, from fallen man to Celestial Gods to inhabit their Heaven forever and ever.
One of the points that is here often disputed by modern LDS (and possibly even by LDS at the time of the writing of Pratt’s work) was the idea that God was “once in a fallen state.” Some LDS prefer to believe that God the Father was like Jesus for another world: a sinless Savior. Of course, if the entire scheme of eternal progression is true, the worthy Mormon male today, who confesses to being a sinner and being redeemed, if he should someday become a God, would have at some time in the past been in a fallen state himself. Among the billions and billions of Gods in the cosmos, the vast majority would have once had to have been fallen beings, for the number of “Savior Gods” would have to be very small in comparison with the redeemed Gods.
Orson’s older brother was named Parley, and he, too, was one of the original Apostles of the LDS Church. He wrote a work, Key to the Science of Theology, in which he made the following comments:
Gods, angels and men are all of one species, one race, one great family, widely diffused among the planetary systems, as colonies, kingdoms, nations, &c. . . . Each of these Gods, including Jesus Christ and His Father, being in possession of not merely an organized spirit, but a glorious immortal body of flesh and bones, is subject to the laws which govern, of necessity, even the most refined order of physical existence.
We will see the assertion that God and man are all of one species again in a modern LDS source.
George Q. Cannon
Mormon Apostle George Q. Cannon served in the First Presidency of the LDS Church for many years. His work, Gospel Truth, is an invaluable testimony to early LDS beliefs. He was certainly unashamed of his belief in a plurality of gods, and the idea that men could become gods. For example, note his words regarding the theory of evolution:
We hear considerable about evolution. Who is there that believes more in true evolution than the Latter-day Saints?—the evolution of man until he shall become a god, until he shall sit at the right hand of the Father, until he shall be a joint heir with Jesus! That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, believed in by the Latter-day Saints. That is the kind of evolution we believe in, but not the evolution of man from some low type of animal life.
This is not the only place where Cannon spoke of evolution and applied it to eternal progression and exaltation to godhood:
Men talk about evolution. This is the true evolution—being such as we are and developing and advancing and progressing in that upward and onward career until we shall become like Him, in truth, until we shall possess the powers that He possesses and exercise the dominion that He now exercises. This is the promise that is held out to us.
The following is significant for its straightforward attitude in telling us all what “the Mormons believe.”
The Mormons believe that all men were born in the spirit world of the union of the sexes, having a literal father and a literal mother before coming to this world, that the spirits are just the same in appearance as the body, that God is a married Being, has a wife at least, as Jeremiah said the angels were offering incense to the queen of heaven. The Latter-day Saints believe that God is an exalted Man, and that we are the offspring of Him and His wife. (April 15, 1884, Salt Lake Herald).
How literally do Mormons understand the term “Father”? One cannot get too much more literal than Cannon:
The “Mormons” believe that God is the Father of our spirits—that we are His offspring; and we think it just as consistent and reasonable to believe that He has a partner or partners as to think that He sits, isolated and solitary in lonely grandeur, in a state of bachelorship, and yet a Parent of so innumerable a progeny. (March 29, 1856, WS 47)
The biblical use of the term “Father” to mean “creator” is not enough for Cannon:
There are many people who imagine that we are the children of God because He is our Creator. But we differ from all other people in this respect. We believe that we are the literal descendants of our Eternal Father, that we are the offspring of Deity, thatthose aspirations which man has and which cause Him to perform the mighty works that we see on every hand as we travel throughout the earth are inherited from our Eternal Father. They come to us by descent; or, to use another phrase, they are hereditary. The doctrine of heredity is manifested in the works of man. We descend from this great Father who formed the earth and who governs this universe.
Cannon certainly stands firmly in the tradition of Joseph Smith in proclaiming the concept of eternal progression:
Among the Latter-day Saints there is a knowledge concerning the Personage of God. We have some conception of Him. We know that He is a Being of tabernacle. A Among (sic) the Latter-day Saints there is a knowledge concerning the Personage of God. remark (sic) suggests itself to my mind which I heard a few days ago from one of our ApostlesBrother Lorenzo Snow. It was something to this effect: That as God now is, we will be; as man is, God was. It is very comprehensive. And we descend from this Father. We areHis offspring. We possess His attributes. It is true they are not developed, but we possess them; and He desires to lead us forward until we shall be like Him. This is the object of the Gospel.
I cannot over-emphasize the consistency that exists throughout these sources not only on the doctrine of God (i.e., that God was once a man, that man can become Gods just as God is a God, etc.) but as well on this idea: that the Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the LDS Church and the plan of eternal progression are one and the same. The Gospel is that men can become Gods, according to Mormonism.
1. Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, compiled by Clyde J. Williams, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), p. viii.
2. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, ed. George D. Watt, et al. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, et al., 1854-1886), 2:345, LDSCL.
3. Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 23. No publisher, place of publication, or date of publication is given.
4. Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 10th ed., (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1948), pp. 33, 37, LDSCL.
5. George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, First Counselor to Presidents John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow (1880-1901), Compiled by Jerreld L. Newquist, (Salt Lake City: Zions Book Store, 1957), 1:9, LDSCL.
6. Ibid., 1:131, LDSCL.
7. Ibid., 1:129, LDSCL.
9. Ibid., 1:131, LDSCL. Errors are in the electronic edition.