mormonism

Resources For Catholics Considering Mormonism

Every so often, I receive questions as to why a Catholic should become a Latter-day Saint, or what resources would be helpful for a Catholic considering conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As someone who considered his own conversion and testimony for quite some time recently, I hope this post will be helpful.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that the claims of the LDS Church and the Catholic Church are at odds with each other.  Both claim to be the “one true church” with the proper authority from God.  They both can’t be right in that regard.  The LDS Church claims that it is a restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ as we read in the New Testament.  In this belief, Latter-day Saints find that certain doctrinal truths were lost over time, and have since been restored in the LDS Church, along with newly revealed and expanded on beliefs and practices.

Further, Mormons believe that the priesthood authority of God has been restored, and is only found in the LDS Church.  This brings me to an important issue: that of authority and sacraments/ordinances.  Latter-day Saints believe that only the LDS Church has the authority from God to perform sacred ordinances, such as baptism, confirmation, ordination, eternal marriage, etc.  In contrast, while the Catholic Church regards itself as being the one true Church, it still believes that valid baptisms can be performed outside of its formal confines, and certain churches, such as the Orthodox Church, can validly perform all of the sacraments, even though they are not in formal communion with the Catholic Church (regarded as being in schism).  This concept never made sense to me.  In Mormonism, the authority of God is only found and validly exercised within Christ’s Church, and only members of the priesthood of Christ’s Church, in communion with its prophets and apostles, can validly perform sacred ordinances.

There are a number of doctrinal issues that separate Latter-day Saints from traditional Christians, and from Catholics specifically.  While each topic could be a separate post, I’ll list some of the issues that I find relevant to Catholics considering Mormonism, as well as some books and resources that would be helpful as you investigate the Church of Jesus Christ.

Apostles and Prophets

-Mormons believe that the true Church is led by apostles and prophets, just like the New Testament Church.  The authority and calling of Apostles is present today.  As we read in the Bible, the Church had twelve Apostles, and there were also Apostles outside of the Twelve.  Similarly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a Council or Quorum of Twelve Apostles, as well as a “First Presidency” composed of three Apostles.  All are also regarded as prophets who receive revelation from God in directing the Church of Jesus  Christ, just like the ancient Church.

Continuing Revelation

-Mormons believe that revelation continues to this day.  In addition to the personal type of revelation that seems to be found in practically all Christian faiths, we also believe that the words of living prophets become like scripture to us, and we have an open canon of scripture.  Our canonized scriptures can be added to when necessary, and the words of our inspired leaders in settings such as General Conference (a twice a year meeting of the worldwide Church) are studied in addition to the scriptures.

Prayer

-Catholics are used to not only praying directly to each member of the Trinity, but also praying to/through canonized saints and the Virgin Mary.  In contrast, Latter-day Saints only pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ.  We readily accept the reality of Heavenly persons and angels interacting with people on earth, however we do not pray to/through them.

Baptism

-As mentioned, Latter-day Saints believe that only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the authority from God to perform necessary ordinances (what Catholics would term “sacraments”).  Therefore, all converts to the LDS Church are baptized, whether or not they were baptized in another church.  Baptism is performed by full immersion, as was done anciently.  I’ve found it interesting that proselyte baptism has been performed in Judaism, and was always done by immersion.  Further, Jews sometimes immerse themselves in a “mikveh” for purification.

-Latter-day Saints also do not practice infant baptism.  LDS follow the example of Jesus Christ and lay their hands on infants to bless them.  LDS believe that infants and children prior to the age of 8 do not need baptism, and if they die, they go to Heaven.  In contrast, Catholics do not know with certainty what happens to unbaptized infants, though they find sufficient reason to hope in the mercy of God (though some retain a belief in Limbo of Infants).  I find the LDS belief very comforting, and based on revelation from God.

Temples

-Like the early Christians and Jews, Latter-day Saints have two types of worship services.  First, on Sundays, we go to our meetinghouses/chapels, where we pray, sing hymns, participate in the Lord’s Supper (we call this “the Sacrament”, and it is blessed bread and water), and listen to sermons or “talks” by members of the congregation.  We also have Sunday School classes where we study the scriptures and doctrines of the Gospel, and other types of classes (women attend Relief Society, men attend various Priesthood meetings depending on their priesthood office).

In addition, we also have temples, which are separate sacred structures, regarded as the literal House of the Lord.  God’s presence is there in a special way, and we participate in various sacred ordinances there.  Like the Biblical temple, access is limited.  One must be living the commandments of Christ, and receive a “recommend card” from their Church leaders to present upon entry.  Because Latter-day Saints believe that certain ordinances are necessary for eternal life (for example, the Bible repeatedly says that baptism is necessary, and gives no exceptions, such as “baptism of desire” or “baptism of blood”, as Catholics believe).  Therefore, God has provided a way for these ordinances to be performed for our ancestors that did not have the opportunity to receive them in life (it is believed that once performed, such “proxy ordinances” present them with the opportunity to accept or reject them in the spirit world).  LDS therefore perform ordinances such as “baptism for the dead”, which was also performed anciently (1 Corinthians 15:29-“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”).

In the temple, eternal marriages, called sealings, are also performed.  In this sacred ordinance, the couple kneels at an altar, holds hands, and is married for time and all eternity.  Behind them are mirrors that reflect each other into eternity, symbolizing the union.  Another ritual is known as the “Endowment”.  This temple rite involves many ancient temple practices, such as washing, anointing with oil, receiving a new name, clothing in a sacred garment, ceremonial robes, a presentation on the Creation, the making of covenants with God, prayer, and passing through a veil into the presence of God.  It is very beautiful, highly symbolic, and unique to the Latter-day Saint faith (though again, there are many ancient confirmations for the ritual).  Going to the temple for one’s own Endowment is a great, spiritual day.  In the temple, all “patrons” wear white clothing.

Temple worship is very important to Mormons, and is something many converts look forward to participating in.  The temple is literally my favorite part about being LDS, and what drew me back after a short period of inactivity.  The feeling of the Spirit present in the temple is unlike anything else.  Being in the House of the Lord is something that confirms to many of us the reality of God and His Gospel.

Resources

Although I could go on and on, I think it would be helpful to provide some resources for Catholics looking into Mormonism.  For me, these resources have been extremely helpful, not only when I considered leaving Catholicism, but also helpful in further confirming to me the reality of the Restoration, that Joseph Smith and/or his associates didn’t make it all up, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is the Lord’s Church, with truly restored ancient beliefs and practices.  As much as I love Catholicism, even miss aspects of it, I know that this Church has the authority from God to perform sacred ordinances, and has the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that I have never felt as happy and as at peace as I have with the restored Gospel in my life.

Please click the links to get to the resource:

Books

Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest

The Biblical Roots of Mormonism

Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (outstanding resource!)

Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy

The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration

All Things Restored-Evidences and Witnesses of the Restoration

Why Would Anyone Join the Mormon Church?

Mormonism and Early Christianity

The World and the Prophets

Naturally these are a lot of books.  If I had to choose one or two for you to read, I would suggest “Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest”, and “Why Would Anyone Join the Mormon Church?” to begin with, as they are easier to read and are targeted to the typical reader.  If you’re interested more in patristics, Early Church Fathers, ancient evidences for LDS beliefs, etc, I’d highly recommend “Restoring the Ancient Church”, “Mormonism and Early Christianity”, and “The World and the Prophets”.  If anything, you must read Restoring the Ancient Church.

Official LDS Resources

First and foremost, please check out Mormon.org to get a basic understanding of what Latter-day Saints believe and do.  You can also find a link to chat with missionaries online, and frequently asked questions.  This is probably what you should do before reading any books, articles, etc.

You can request a free copy of the Book of Mormon here.  Note that the missionaries will contact you to see if you’re okay with them hand delivering it to you, and sharing a message.  I believe they can also just have it mailed to you if you don’t want that.  I remember way back in 10th grade, when I was curious about the Church, requesting a Book of Mormon, and the missionaries called!  Naturally my mother who answered the phone said we don’t need the missionaries over, and they just mailed it.

If you feel like you’d like to meet with the missionaries, use the request form here.  This is how I ended up meeting with the missionaries.  You can contact them if you’d just like to chat about Mormonism, or if you know that you’re ready to become a member of Christ’s Church.  It may take a few days for them to get back to you, so don’t worry like I did.  Also, if you aren’t comfortable meeting with them in your home, they can meet you anywhere, such as a local cafe, park, or the local LDS church building.  I met with the missionaries at the church building.

If you’d like to read more about the basic beliefs of the LDS faith, you can read the Gospel Principles manual online here.

In a later post, I’ll share what it’s like actually converting!

Also, check out this recent devotional talk by an LDS leader, Elder Tad Callister, called the Blueprint of Christ’s Church.  In it, you’ll see that the LDS Church is Biblical, and matches the blueprint of the Church Christ Himself designed.  It is things like this which caused me to get out of my comfort zone in Catholicism, and come to the fulness of the Gospel found in the LDS Church.

View The Blueprint of Christ’s Church here.

The Church has also published a video that documents the beginnings of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus  Christ entitled Joseph Smith-Prophet of the Restoration.  It is long, but well worth it.  View it here:

Finally, the LDS Church has published a new series of videos to introduce people not members of the Church to the basic beliefs, practices, and ideals of Mormons.  I encourage you to view these if you are pressed for time and can’t view the other two videos.  You’ll get an idea of what Mormons believe and what it’s like to be Mormon.  You can find all of them here: Introduction to the Church.  Here are a few that I enjoy:

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Baptism For the Dead Again!

 

Well folks, it seems as if the practice of baptism for the dead is in the news again.  While I won’t get into the actual recent events that have occurred (since they have been all over the news, and the Church itself has responded to this controversy adequately) I would like to, once again, discuss what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the “Mormon Church”) believe about baptism for the dead, since the vast majority of comments I’ve read on these news articles demonstrate an erroneous understanding of our practice.

Latter-day Saints, like many other Christians, believe that baptism is an essential ordinance, or sacrament, for our salvation.  Mormons believe that the Bible teaches that to be saved, we must follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized.  Baptism is seen as our entry into the kingdom of God, marking our entrance into His Church, and where we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.  Mormons believe that when Christ was on the earth, He established His Church.  Mormons believe that our Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a restoration of that original Church.  With that belief in the restoration of the original Church and the fulness of the Gospel, or Good News, of Jesus Christ, we believe that the priesthood of Christ is on the earth again, and is only to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ.  Authority in priesthood rites is seen throughout the Bible, including where Jesus Christ specifically sought out John the Baptist to be baptized.

When someone desires to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after demonstrating faith in Christ and repenting of their sins, that individual is baptized by immersion in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Many individuals, such as myself, may have already been baptized in another faith tradition.  Since Mormons believe that priesthood authority is needed to perform sacred ordinances such as baptism, and that this authority is only found in the true, restored Church of Jesus Christ, all people are baptized to enter the Church.

A dilemma that all Christian communities have to deal with is, what happens to the billions of people throughout human history that never had the chance to hear about and have faith in our Savior Jesus Christ, nor the opportunity to be baptized?  If baptism is necessary for salvation, as the Bible teaches, then are these people lost?  Some Christians hope in the mercy of God for those souls, though they cannot say definitively what happens to them.  Others say that these souls are lost.  Mormons on the other hand reject these positions, and instead believe that God has established a way whereby the deceased can have an opportunity to accept Christ, and accept baptism and other sacred, saving ordinances.

Mormons practice these “proxy ordinances” in sacred buildings known as temples.  Temples are regarded as literal houses of the Lord, where God’s presence can be felt in a special way, and where we can perform various sacred rites.  Baptism for the dead is one such rite.  Mormons find scriptural support for the practice in 1 Corinthians 15:29-“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”. Mormons believe that through baptism for the dead, the deceased have the opportunity to accept OR reject the effects of baptism, thereby having the same opportunity in the next life that some had in this life to accept Jesus Christ and be baptized by His priesthood authority.  I cannot emphasize “accept OR reject” enough, since it is this portion of the practice that is lost on 90% of the critical comments I have recently read.

  • Mormons do not believe that baptism for the dead forces someone to become a Mormon.  It does not add that person to the “rolls” of the Church.  Instead, Latter-day Saints firmly believe that free-will, whether in this life or the next, is important, and is a necessary requirement for sacred ordinances.  We do not practice infant baptism, since we believe that someone must choose for themselves to accept Christ and accept His baptism.  Likewise, baptism for the dead is believed to present the deceased soul with the opportunity to accept or reject that ordinance.
  • Mormons do not believe that baptism for the dead obscures the historical record, or that people looking at history will mistakenly believe that the individual was a Latter-day Saint in this life.  Records of proxy ordinances clearly indicate that the ordinance was performed after the death of the individual, and was a proxy ordinance.  Also, any interested enough in our rituals would then know the point made above, that the ordinance doesn’t “make someone a Mormon” either.
  • Mormons are sincere in their practice of baptism for the dead.  We believe that we are helping our brothers and sisters by offering them blessings that we believe lead to eternal life with our Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and our families.  While we never force someone to believe what we do, and as already emphasized, we do not believe that proxy ordinances force someone into something that they would not want, we do believe that we are offering them the opportunity to accept something that we believe is true and good.

So what actually happens during a baptism for the dead ritual?  As already mentioned, these ordinances only occur in our temples.  They do not occur in our meetinghouses, where we meet for Sunday worship and other activities (individuals that join the Church of Jesus Christ in this life are usually baptized in the meetinghouse or in some suitable body of water, and not in the temple).  In temples there is a baptismal font like the ones in the pictures of this post.  All patrons of the temple change out of “street clothing” and into all white clothing.  The individual then steps into the baptismal font, and is baptized on behalf of a deceased person, sometimes a direct ancestor.  The ritual is pretty much the same as a “living” baptism, except the formula, or words spoken, includes the name of the deceased individual.  Mormons believe that through the power of the priesthood of Christ, what is done on earth can be sealed in Heaven, and therefore temple rites can have an effect in the afterlife.  It is through this rite that Latter-day Saints believe the deceased have the opportunity to accept or reject the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ if they did not have the opportunity to do so in this life.

As for my own personal thoughts and experiences, I have participated in baptisms for the dead a number of times  since my baptism into the Lord’s Church one year ago.  It has been a very spiritual experience for me, as I believe I have participated in the work of our Savior Jesus Christ in bringing others unto Him, and that this can be done in this life and the next.  The belief in proxy ordinances for me allows for all the have the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, and to be able to choose for themselves whether they will accept Him and His Gospel.  No longer do we have to hope in the unknown, or believe that most will be damned.  Instead, all will have the opportunity to use their free will to come to Christ, if they so desire.  This doctrine is one of the many beliefs that remains an attractive, Biblical (1 Corinthians 15:29) aspect of the restored Gospel that is only to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  If Jesus is indeed the Christ, is indeed our Savior, that it is necessary to have faith in Him to be saved, and that baptism really is necessary for salvation, baptism for the dead becomes the great equalizer in the grand scheme of human existence.  I am truly grateful for the restoration of this practice.

Deification in the Mainstream Christian Tradition

Periodically, I participate on Catholic Answers Forum, a website devoted to discussion of various aspects of the Catholic faith, as well as other religions in its “Non-Catholic Religions” section.  Mormonism happens to be one of the more popular discussions, with multiple LDS-related threads appearing on the first page of recent threads on a daily basis.

One LDS critic posted a list of questions that are from an anti-Mormon Evangelical website (it is also interesting to note that this “ministry” is also anti-Catholic, and many of these questions asked of Mormons could also be asked of Catholics, though I doubt the poster thought of this).  I thought it would be interesting to discuss a few of them to show how these questions betray the historical record of Judeo-Christianity (without even bringing Mormonism into the question).

One of the questions is:

“5. How can any men ever become Gods when the Bible says, “Before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me”? (Isaiah 43:10)”

This question is of course referring to the LDS doctrine of exaltation, or the belief that man can become like God, gods.  It is believed that, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, man can become joint-heirs in Christ, and live the life that God does.  There is of course much more to this belief, however it is sufficient at the moment to understand that LDS believe that man can become gods, and that the author of the above question is denying such a belief.

But why would a Catholic deny that men can become gods?  Let us turn to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on this issue:

460 The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature“:”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

The Catechism is of course quoting Athanasius, a revered saint of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  Far too often on Catholic Answers Forum, I have seen Catholic posters disputing the Mormon teaching that men can become gods, saying that no one can become a god, that it is unbiblical and an innovation, etc.  That certainly is an interesting position to hold when the Catechism itself states that Jesus wants to make us sharers in His divinity and assumed human nature to make men gods.  Now, there are of course clear differences in the Catholic/Orthodox teachings on deification (also known as “theosis”) and Mormonism’s exaltation, and it is right to discuss and debate those differences, however it is odd that few Catholics seem to be aware of the deification teaching of the Early Church Fathers, the Bible, and the Catholic Church itself (it is my opinion that this teaching seems to have been more retained and taught in Eastern Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy than in the West).

The OrthodoxWiki website has a page on theosis that may be helpful.  The Catholic Encyclopedia also has a page on Supernatural Adoption.  Deification is a teaching found in the mainstream Christian tradition(s), especially when one studies Eastern Christianity.  It is odd for a Catholic to denounce the teaching that men can become gods when the same phrase is found in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church as well.  It isn’t odd for a Catholic to denounce the specifics of exaltation in Mormonism (such as the necessity of an eternal marriage, eternal increase, etc), however it is clear that the basic teaching of the deification of man is a patristic teaching found in mainstream Christianity.

The LDS apologetic website FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) has put together a list of excerpts from the Early Church Fathers that refer to the deification of man, which can be viewed here.

Catholic author Daniel Keating has written the book “Deification and Grace“, which discusses the Biblical and historical/patristic basis for the belief in deification.  Michael Christensen has also written the book “Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions“.  LDS apologist Jeff Lindsay has a page on his website titled “Theosis, The Divine Potential of Mankind: LDS and Early Christian Perspectives“.  Finally, a revised version of Jordan Vajda’s UC Berkeley masters thesis has been reproduced online, titled “Partakers of the Divine Nature“.  Vajda compares and contrasts the patristic and LDS views on deification and exaltation.  Vajda was a Catholic priest who then converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

With these resources, I hope that we can see that the teaching that men can become gods is very much part of the mainstream Christian tradition(s), found in Catholicism and Orthodoxy (and perhaps in some Protestant traditions).  While they do differ with Mormonism on some significant issues as it relates to deification/exaltation, it is clear that deification has been consistently taught in Christianity from the beginning.