The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides a tremendous amount of literature to its people. This body of printed material can hardly be surveyed here. However, we can focus upon those publications that are specifically meant to communicate doctrinal truth to the members of the Mormon Church. Since the vast majority of this material appears in Church published documents, we feel quite confident that we are being fair in allowing it to speak and bear testimony to the LDS position.
Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide
The Melchizedek Priesthood, or the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, as some Mormons refer to it, is central to the LDS concept of authority. The Church has published a book titled Search These Commandments, which is subtitled, “Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide.” On pages 151 through 158 we have a study, Lesson 21, based upon D&C 132:20. The first section of the lesson is titled, “God Was Once a Man As We Are Now.” The topic of Lorenzo Snow is brought up in these words:
When he was a young man, Lorenzo Snow was promised by the Lord through the Patriarch to the Church that through obedience to the gospel he could become as great as God, and you cannot wish to be greater (Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, pp.9-10).
President Lorenzo Snow recorded this experience that occurred when he was still a young elder: “The Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon methe eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noon-day, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man.” Elder Snow expressed this new found understanding in these words: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” Later the Prophet Joseph Smith assured him: “Brother Snow, that is true gospel doctrine, and it is a revelation from God to you” (quoted by LeRoi C. Snow, in Devotion to Divine Inspiration, Improvement Era, June 1919, pp. 651-56).
I believe the significance of this is clear: the Church has no qualms about promoting Snow’s couplet in modern times, and even citing a very secondary source regarding Joseph Smith’s confirmation of the verity of Snow’s ideas. Not surprisingly, then, the very next citation is very familiar to us:
The Prophet Joseph Smith said:
It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth” (Teachings, pp. 345-46; italics in original).
The continued relevance, and authority, of Smith’s teaching is here plainly demonstrated. So, too, is the authority of a General Authority speaking in Conference, as the next citation provided shows:
President Brigham Young elaborated on this concept: “It must be that God knows something about temporal things, and has had a body and been on an earth; were it not so He would not know how to judge men righteously, according to the temptations and sins they have had to contend with” (as cited by Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Apr. 1969, p.130; or Improvement Era, June 1969, p.104).
Are modern Mormons taught that God was once a man and progressed to godhood? Most definitely. The second section of this lesson is titled, “Our Father Advanced and Progressed Until He Became God.” What sources are provided to the Melchizedek priest to substantiate this claim?
President Joseph Fielding Smith said: Our Father in heaven, according to the Prophet, had a Father, and since there has been a condition of this kind through all eternity, each Father had a Father (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:47).
President Joseph F. Smith taught: I know that God is a being with body, parts and passions. . . . Man was born of woman; Christ, the Savior, was born of woman; and God, the Father was born of woman (Church News, 19 Sept.1936, p.2).
President Wilford Woodruff explained: [God] has had his endowments a great many years ago. He has ascended to his thrones, principalities and powers in the eternities. We are his children. . . . We are here to fill a probation and receive an education (Deseret News Weekly, 28 Sept. 1881, p.546).
Aside from demonstrating how deeply embedded in LDS thought is the idea of eternal progression, the use of all of these non-canonical sources by the Church to its own members should be noted. The Church is not merely providing private speculation from these leaders to her members. By citing these sources the Church is demonstrating that her truth can be found in a wider body of literature than just the Standard Works.
Next we find that the Church specifically says that the mortal life of God the Father, prior to His exaltation, was basically the same as our life today:
How does it help us to know that the basic elements of God’s life in a mortal world were the same as ours? President Brigham Young explained:
He is our Father–the Father of our spirits–and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are.
. . . There never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. . . .
It appears ridiculous to the world, under their darkened and erroneous traditions, that God has once been a finite being (Deseret News, 16 Nov. 1859, p.290).
The next section is titled “Through Obedience to the Gospel, Man May Become like God.” To illustrate this, they quote from a devotional speech in which Elder S. Dilworth Young attributes words to the Father in heaven as He revealed His plan to us in our premortal home.
My children all: You see in me
Exalted man, of flesh and bone
And spirit pure. One time, long
Long ago, I was as you, a spirit son
Of an exalted Father. [see HC 6:302-17]
You may become as now I have become
But you must do as I have done.
Take special notice that the Father’s Father is here mentioned. That is, the God of God, the God that the heavenly Father worshipped when He was a man, is here affirmed to exist. Some modern LDS refuse to speculate beyond what pertains to this earth, but the Church, in teaching its own people, is willing to discuss such matters. The centrality of Smith’s King Follett Discourse is seen again: the reference, HC 6:302-17, is to the History of the Church by Joseph Smith, and the King Follett sermon is found in volume 6, pages 302 and following. The lesson returns to the idea that God’s mortal existence was very much like ours by quoting an LDS Prophet:
President Joseph F. Smith said: We are precisely in the same condition and under the same circumstances that God our heavenly Father was when he was passing through this, or a similar ordeal (Gospel Doctrine, p.64).
Following these quotes, the student is asked some questions. Some include, “What can a child grow up to be?” which is immediately followed by “What can a son of God grow up to be?” There is only one answer: a God. The student is then told that God does not jealously guard his position and power. The King Follett discourse is cited again, this time the section that says you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you.
After some more discussion the lesson concludes with a most interesting note: “Be careful in presenting this material that you dont bring God down to man’s level. Our objective is to perfect ourselves and raise our level to his exalted place.”
Here is the LDS Church teaching her own members her theology, and in so doing, being quite open about the ramifications of believing that God was once a man. And even here, one hundred and forty years after Joseph Smith stood to deliver his sermon at Conference on the character of God, the emphasis remains upon the exaltation of man to the position of the divine. It doesn’t seem much has changed.
 Search These Commandments, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1984). It carries the copyright of the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 Compare, however, Isaiah 48:11.