Recently I taught a Bible study on the story of “Doubting Thomas” to my Bible class at church, and again at a local prison. We read in John 20:24-29 how Thomas said he would not believe Jesus was alive unless he saw the nail prints in His hands and put his hand into His side where He was pierced. Then Jesus appeared to Thomas and encouraged him to do just that! Thomas responded with his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”
I asked both classes, What lessons do we learn about responding to doubters from how Jesus responded to “Doubting” Thomas?
The Bible class at church gave six answers:
1. Don’t “blast” them; don’t attack them for their doubt
2. Show them what they need; give them evidence, books to read, etc.
3. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead
4. Be loving, compassionate, not judgmental
5. Pray for them
6. Plant the seeds and be patient
The Bible study group in prison added two more answers:
7. Share my own testimony
8. Live my life in a way that shows Jesus is real.
How about you? What have you found that is helpful to respond to those who doubt the faith? What has helped you in times of doubt?
Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.
We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:
I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)
People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)
Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!
III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)
Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”
I. First reason: The First Cause. (Psalm 90:2)
Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.” So God has always existed, but the universe has not always existed. The universe had a beginning, when God created it out of nothing.
But why should we believe this? We have clear evidence that the universe has not always existed. Instead, it began to exist. If it began to exist, what started it? What was the first cause? The answer is God!
Someone might ask, “How do we know the universe has not always existed? How do we know that it started sometime in the past?” We know this from logic, and science also confirms it.
Think about it. It is logically impossible for the past to go into infinity. It is impossible to count down from infinity to one. There is always an infinite distance to travel, so we never arrive. In the same way, if the past went on into infinity, we could never arrive at the present. But here we are! So there must have been a beginning. (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 219-223)
Science has also given us reason to believe in a first cause. In 1929, astronomer Edward Hubble discovered that a dozen galaxies near earth were moving away from us at high speeds. Scientists today agree that the universe is expanding, because it had a beginning, which they often call the “Big Bang.” Scientists don’t know what caused the big bang, they just know it happened. But as Christians, we know that caused the Big Bang. God spoke, and bang! It happened.
The Big Bang Theory is not the only scientific reason to believe in a first cause. There is also the second law of thermodynamics. This scientific law states that the energy in the universe is slowly but surely being used up. Like a fire that eventually burns out, all the energy in the universe is eventually going to disappear. Now here’s where it gets interesting. If the universe existed for eternity in the past, then it would have already used up all the energy by now. But here we are, with energy still available to use. So the universe is not eternal; it had a beginning in the past. What other way is there to explain this beginning, except that an all-powerful, supernatural person was the first cause? (Groothuis, p. 224-226)
The only answer atheists can have to this, is to argue that the universe was caused by nothing but a pure accidental explosion. Not only does it take more faith to believe the beautiful complexity of the universe had no cause, but such belief would also mean that everything in life is meaningless, and has no cause or reason. So would you prefer to believe that an all-powerful Creator spoke the word and brought the universe into being with a purpose, or would you prefer to believe that everything began from no cause, and life has no meaning? The choice is yours, but thank God we have a better choice than to live a meaningless life that began by nothing and has no purpose. Instead, it makes far more sense to believe that there was a First Cause, a supernatural Being, who brought the universe into existence, and that our lives do have purpose and meaning.
II. Second reason: Self-Consciousness. (Genesis 2:9; Romans 7:22)
Those who believe in Darwinian evolution, think that the human being is a mere biological collection of atoms that assembled by chance over a long period of time.
The Bible, on the other hand, says that God formed mankind from the earth, and we became a “living being.” (Genesis 2:9). Romans 7:22 talks about understanding something “in my inner self.” Whether or not you believe the Bible, we all know that we have an inner self, a self-consciousness. As the philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I have an awareness of my own self; I have something within myself that makes me to be me.
But where in the human body is my consciousness located? Where is my self-awareness? No scientist has located it. Nobody can tell you that in this part of the brain, or any other place on the human body, is the location of self-consciousness. Nobody can tell you where it is, yet we know we have it.
And if I am only a biological collection of chemicals, then how do we explain the human appreciation for beauty, music, poetry and art, and how do you explain love?
If you are an atheist, there is no explanation for it. But if you believe in God, the answer is simple: God put it there.
III. Third reason: Religious Experience (John 9:25)
The man born blind who was healed by Jesus could testify to a changed life, and nobody could dispute his experience. In John 9:25 we read, “He [the blind man] replied, ‘Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'”
In Isaiah 6:1-5, Isaiah had a face-to-face encounter with the Lord in the temple; in Acts 9:1-9, Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus and had a life-changing conversion experience.
This series of blog posts was originally presented as a series of sermons at the church I was serving in near Savannah, Georgia. When I presented the message, a student at Armstrong Atlantic State University, came forward at the end of the early worship service to publicly profess her faith, and at the second morning service, she gave her testimony to the congregation. She told how she did not believe in the existence of God, but she began to seek God. She heard all of the same arguments for the existence of God that we have talked about last week and this week, but she was still undecided about whether she believed. Then she decided to go with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Armstrong Atlantic State University on a mission trip to Haiti. That week, she prayed, and said, “God, if you are there, will you reveal Yourself to me.” Later in the week, she was walking through a voodoo area of Haiti, where all of the statues had been destroyed by the earthquake, and she looked up and saw a statue of Jesus on the cross. Her friend had been encouraging her to have faith in God, and right then she looked up and saw the statue. She decided that if she turned away then, she would never believe. That experience finally brought her to belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ.
The religious experience of millions of people is a powerful evidence for God. People can deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the fact that millions of people of every time, language and culture have believed in God and claimed to have an experience with God. When the white men first came to the New World, they found Native Americans who had never had contact with Western society, yet they believed in a Great Spirit.
Atheists sometimes claim that people who believe in God are ignorant, or even neurotic. But they have a more difficult time making this claim when confronted with the fact that so many great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln believed in God, great musicians like Ludwig von Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach believed in God, great artists like Leonardo da Vinci believed in God and great scientists like Werner Van Braun believed in God. My late uncle, Dr. R.A. Clinton, Jr., was a rocket scientist who worked alongside Van Braun in building a satellite at the space center in Huntsville, Alabama. My uncle later became the leading American expert on Russian missile technology. Yet brilliant as he was, Uncle R.A. was also a believer, who taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church of Huntsville for over 25 years.
Atheists often claim that much harm and cruelty has been done in the name of God. However, atheists must also face the fact that millions of people were massacred by atheist dictators like Joseph Stalin and Mao-tse Tung. Atheists are correct that people with distorted views of God have done great harm, whether they were misguided people who claimed to follow Christ, as in the Crusades, or the brutal terrorists of ISIS. This points to the fact that it is not enough to believe in the existence of God; one needs to know the personal God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, and truly obey Him. True followers of Christ have fed millions of hungry and in the name of God millions of sick have been nursed to health. After Hurricane Katrina, there were no atheist relief organizations to help, but thousands of churches and Christian organizations came to help. The life-changing experience of the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, is the greatest reason I know to believe in God. How about you? Do you believe?
Perhaps more than any other kind of prayer, people pray for the sick. Yet many are at a loss as to what to say in their prayers.
Honest, simple prayers are best. The Bible teaches us to be honest and straightforward with God in our prayers. King Hezekiah just reminded God of his service to the Lord, and wept. God heard his prayer and his tears and answered his prayer. (2 Kings 20). Mary and Martha prayed a simple prayer to Jesus when their brother Lazarus was sick. They just presented him to the Lord, saying, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” (John 11:3) Lazarus died, and they may have felt their prayer was not heard. Yet a few days later, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead! Let that be a reminder to us that what matters in our prayer for the sick is the One to whom we pray, not the words that we say.
Pray in faith. It is also important to remember that when we pray, we must pray in faith, believing God really has power to do amazing things in answer to our prayer. James 5:15 says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick person.” If we only think prayer is positive thinking to make us feel good, we might as well just dispense with the pretense that we are talking to Almighty God, and say, “Hey, cheer up! Think good thoughts!” Most of us know that such pop psychology as a denial of reality. We know there truly is a Person greater than us, a Supreme Creator, who revealed His love to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.
With that said, people still struggle with how to put their heart-felt faith into words. So with the above in mind, here are some prayers that I have prayed for the sick, or have heard others pray. May they be an encouragement to others to pray in faith to the Great Physician.
“Heavenly Father, we thank You for the medicine and knowledge used by the doctors and nurses, but we realize that these are gifts from You, for You are our Great Physician and Healer. Please give wisdom to the doctors as they seek the best treatment, give compassion to the nurses as they care for their patients, give stamina to the family who are caring for their loved ones, and give to the patient Your peace that passes all understanding, that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
“Father, we thank You for Your power to heal, for You created our bodies. We thank You for Your presence in our time of sickness, to bring us strength and encouragement. We thank You for the prayers of our family and friends, who lift up this one who is sick to Your throne of grace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.” – Nathan Barber (adapted)
“God, my loved one is ill. I ask for your healing power to come upon them. You give us life and you have the power to renew life. I believe in your power to heal. Open my loved one to whatever for your healing power takes. And help me remember that, no matter what happens, you are the same yesterday, today and forever. You are always with us. Amen.” – Norman Vincent Peale
“Jesus, when You walked this earth, you often touched the sick and healed their bodies. We also know that you did more than heal bodies—you brought healing to the spirit and soul, forgiveness to sinners, and reconciliation to enemies. Today we ask that you heal this one who is sick in any and every way that he needs—touch his body, soul and spirit with your healing power. And we will give You the glory for all that you will do. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.”
“O thou who hearest prayer, we pray thee to be very kind and merciful to thy child, whose body suffers in pain and weakness. Grant unto him patience and tranquility of mind; peace, purity, and courage of soul; the strong will to live; and a heart ready to trust thee waking or sleeping. Bless all the means used for his recovery, and all who minister to him in his suffering. Restore him speedily to health, if it please thee, and above all things grant him that which thou knowest to be best for him, and keep him thine for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.” – Henry Van Dyke
“I pray, God, that You will refuse Satan’s requests when he accuses people (as with Job), I ask You, God, to let nothing hinder Your good plans in their lives, and that You use their situation for Your glory, to bring them and those around them closer to You, and that You heal them if that be what’s best for them.” – Emily Jordan Leggett
“Lord, we ask for Your will to be done in every situation, for wisdom for doctors, strength for families and the one who is sick. We ask for healing, for guidance in every situation, for peace and comfort, for Your Spirit to fill each and every person involved, that Your wrap Your arms around them, that they will know without a doubt that You’re with them. We thank You, Lord, for being our provider, our comforter, our strong tower, our peace, our refuge and our strength in time of need. And we thank You, Lord, for being all of everything for the ones who need healing. We ask for Your army of angels to protect them and may Your will be done. In Jesus name.” – Crystal Hallauer Basdeo (adapted)
“Heavenly Father, we lift the name of this patient before Your throne of grace, and we thank You that it is a throne because you are King of kings, and it is a throne of grace because you are a God of grace and mercy. We ask that you would work in such a wonderful way, that Your Name would be glorified, our faith would be edified, and the old devil would be horrified. As our prayers go up, may your blessings come down.”
Prayers for the caregivers
“Thank you, God, for my doctor and nurses. Thank you for their skills and training. Thank you for their patience with me when I am irritable because I don’t feel well. Give them the insight they need to diagnose my illness and determine the right treatment. Steady their hands and give them the power to heal in your name. Amen.” – Norman Vincent Peale (adapted)
“Heavenly Father, we thank You for the knowledge You have given to the doctors, the compassion of the nurses, and the faithful love of this patient’s family. We realize they are able to do what they do because You have given them the ability. We ask that you bless each caregiver, so they can be a blessing to this one who is sick.”
“Heavenly Father, this Your servant is preparing for surgery. She’s nervous about it, Father. Would you calm her spirit with your peace that passes all understanding? We thank You for the skill and knowledge of the surgeon, and we ask You to guide the surgeon’s hands to complete a successful surgery. We ask that you give this servant of Yours a full recovery, and the patience that she will need during the time of recovery. Please use that time to draw her closer to You, as she must depend on You more than ever before. We thank you for her family who are here by her side. She is so blessed to have so many people caring for her right now. We thank you for how you work all things together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. We pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
“Our Father, as we face this new experience we come to You for peace and strength. We have confidence in Your healing power and in the doctor. You gave the very life which we have, and since we belong to You, we have trust and faith. We thank You for the understanding that we are constantly surrounded by Your loving, healing care. May Your power be felt through invisible forces. May this operation be successful that this Your child may return to health and useful living; for the sake of Christ and in His Spirit. Amen.” – Edmond Holt Babbitt (adapted)
For someone not expected to recover
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26
“Oh, Lord, Your Word says in the Shepherd’s Psalm that You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies. Lord, in the midst of this enemy of sickness, would you prepare a table of peace, comfort, grace and mercy? We ask that you will pour out your blessings, and we will let You define the blessing.”
“Dear Lord, we do not understand the reason for suffering. We wish we knew the answer to the question, ‘Why?’ But even though we do not have the answer to the question, ‘Why?’, we will not let go of Your hand, for we know that You hold the answer. We will trust You now in the dark, because we know that the Lord is our light and our salvation. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who shed His precious blood on the cross to forgive us, and rose from the dead to give us eternal life. Amen.”
“Heavenly Father, our hearts are broken over the sickness of the one we love. We know that You love him even more than we do. We know that even at this late hour, you are fully able to heal him. But we also know that for every follower of Jesus, there is a spiritual healing that is greater than any physical healing. We know that you have created a place where there is no more suffering, crying or pain. So we ask for peace to accept whatever healing You choose to give him. If You choose to heal him physically now, we will rejoice and glorify You. If You choose to heal him spiritually now, we will rejoice and glorify You, because of our firm hope in the resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
“Our Father, you have given our loved one to us, and You love her even as we do. In confidence and trust we give her back to You. We know that she is Yours. As we climb the steep ascent of faith, please speak peace to our hearts. Take from us all bitterness and mistrust. Although we do not know the answer to many of life’s questions, we do know that we may live in Your love. As we yield ourselves to You, we are confident that You will give Yourself to us; through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen.” – Edmond Holt Babbitt (adapted)
(If you see an ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
A lot of Christian films have poor acting and predictable scripts, so I was quite surprised at how good this movie was. Of course, it was predictable in defending the belief in God, but it presented that message in a way that was creative and hip. The film introduced a variety of characters but did not show how they all connect until later in the film, giving the subplots an unpredictability, even as the main plot was fairly much what the viewer expected. It targeted a young audience, as the protagonist and most of the primary actors were young adults who constantly used smart phones, computers, and visual media to communicate, and it all came to a conclusion during a Christian rock concert.
The acting was outstanding, both by the lead characters and the supporting roles. It was some of the best acting that I’ve seen in a Christian film. The dramatic tension made a very intellectual argument interesting, bringing it to a climax that was so strong that the theater audience where I was broke out into loud applause. Atheists will hate this film, but they cannot dismiss it as simple-minded or shallow. But what might infuriate atheists the most was that the movie showed that it is not only reasonable to be a believer, but it can even be cool to be a believer.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
(This is the fourth and final installment in a series of posts about Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scroll down to earlier posts to read about Mormon history, sources of authority, and beliefs.)
Do you believe that God was once a man?
Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the Mormon Church, said, “As man is, God once was.”
Do you believe that you can become a god?
Lorenzo Snow went on to say, “As God is, man may become.” And it says in Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20 that if a good Mormon gets married in the temple and dies, he will be exalted and then shall they be gods.”
Do you believe that our Heavenly Father has a body of flesh and bones like you and me?
Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 says, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man’s.”
Do you believe that the Heavenly Father had a sexual relationship with a heavenly mother to give birth to Jesus and to our pre-existent spirits?
Gospel Principles (1995 edition, p. 11), says, “All men and women are literally the sons and daughters of Deity . . . The first spirit born of our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ, so he is literally our elder brother.”
Do you believe that dark skin is a curse of God?
The Book of Mormon says in 2 Nephi 5:21 and Alma 3:6 that the Lamanites, the ancestors of the American Indians, were cursed with dark skin because of their wickedness. Although the Mormon church now allows Indians and Negroes into their priesthood, this curse on dark skinned people in the Book of Mormon has never been denied or rejected.
If you do not believe these things, why do you remain in an organization that teaches so many things that you do not believe?
If you do believe these things,why does the Book of Mormon not teach these things? The Book of Mormon teaches the existence of one God (Alma 11:22, 27-29; Mosiah 15:1-5). The Book of Mormon teaches God is unchanging, not an exalted man (Mormon 9:9-11; Moroni 8:18). The Book of Mormon teaches that God is a Spirit, not a body of flesh and bones (Alma 18:24-28; 22:9-11).
Something is wrong! Mormonism and the Book of Mormon do not agree.
The way to truth is by Jesus Christ (John 14:6), who died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5:8). and rose from the grave to to give us eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). This is the “gospel,” the truths about Jesus, not any particular church. If we trust in Jesus’ sacrificial death, we can be declared “not guilty” before God the Judge by His gift of grace (Romans 3:24). Salvation by grace is not a resurrection, it is a life-changing experience of spiritual renewal (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we truly receive salvation by grace, that grace gives us the motivation to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-14). Then our bodies will be raised at the end of time, and we will live forever with God in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). The Bible says that if even an angel (like Moroni) brings a latter-day gospel different from this gospel, he is to be accursed (Galatians 1:8).
If you wish to know more about a relationship with Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, email me at email@example.com.
If you still believe these things taught by the LDS church, then please explain this: Mormonism says all gods were once men. So where did the first man come from?
(This is the third installment in a series of studies on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons.)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) or Mormons, often use the same terms as orthodox Christians, but they have a different meaning. “Saved by grace” to a Mormon refers to being raised in the afterlife. “Exaltation” is the term Mormons use that is nearer to what Christians mean by “salvation.” The “gospel” is used by Mormons to mean the Mormon system of belief and practice, and “Israel” or “Zion” is often used to refer to Utah. Although Mormons are famous for polygamy, the main branch of Mormonism discontinued this practice in 1890. With this in mind, let us look at three key doctrines of the LDS church:
1) The doctrine of God. Mormons believe in the existence of many gods (Book of Abraham chapters 4 & 5). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate gods, and the Father and Son each have bodies of flesh and bone today. The illustration above of the Father and Son as separate bodies comes from Mormon literature. (Doctrine & Covenants 130:22). They believe that God was once a man and progressed to become God, and that men can also progress to become gods. Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the LDS church, said, “As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.”
2) The doctrine of humanity. Mormons believe that all humans pre-existed in the spirit world, the result of a sexual relationship between our Heaven Father and a Heavenly Mother. (Doctrine & Covenants 93:23, 29-33; Gospel Principles, p. 351). They believe that men can progress to “exaltation” and become gods (Doctrine & Covenants 132:19-20). However, keep in mind that the Book of Mormon teaches that dark skin is a curse (2 Nephi 5:21).
3) Doctrine of exaltation. Joseph Smith taught that there are three levels of heaven. The highest heaven is the “celestial kingdom,” the second level is the “terrestrial kingdom,” and the lowest level is the “telestial kingdom.” (Doctrine & Covenants 76:43, 70-112). Faithful Mormons who repent, are baptized, ordained into the priesthood, go through the Mormon temple ceremonies, get married in the temple, and observe the “Word of Wisdom” (Doctrine & Covenants 89) to abstain from tobacco and strong drinks, tithe, attend weekly worship services, and are obedient, can get into the celestial kingdom and can progress in their exaltation to become gods. Only about 20% of Mormons get a “temple recommend” through faithful service, so the majority of Mormons do not attain this level, and will go to the “terrestrial kingdom,” where they also expect to see most Christians and other good moral people. Wicked people may have to endure a temporary hell (Doctrine & Covenants 19:16-18), and then will go to the “telestial kingdom.” Those who become Mormons and then leave (“denied the Holy Spirit after having received it”) will go to an eternal hell (Gospel Principles, p. 298; Doctrine & Covenants 76:28-45). See the chart below that illustrates this system of heavens.
There are many other beliefs and practices of Mormonism, including baptism by proxy for the dead, two levels of priesthood, etc., but the three major doctrines above are enough to reveal that Mormonism is a completely different religion from orthodox Christianity. The fourth and final installment of this series of studies will include a Christian reply to Mormon belief and questions for Mormons to consider.