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The Mormon View of the Church

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The Mormon View of the Church

The Bottom-Line Guide to Mormonism, Part 12
Robert M. Bowman Jr.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) does not consider itself just one of many Christian denominations. It claims to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30). Mormonism really has no reason to exist if this claim is not true. 

The LDS Church’s claim to be the only true church rests on its twin doctrines of the Great Apostasy and the Restoration. Mormons believe that when the first-century apostles died off, the church became apostate (fallen away). One result of this apostasy was that “priesthood authority,” a special power from God passed from person to person that Mormons believe is needed to do things like baptize others, disappeared from the earth for many centuries. Without apostles or the priesthood, the church ceased to exist on the earth. “The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy” (Gospel Principles [2009 ed.], 92). This Great Apostasy began around the beginning of the second century and continued until 1830, when God restored the true church through Joseph Smith. Crucial to this “Restoration” was the appointment of Joseph and other men as apostles invested with the authority of the “priesthood,” which Mormons believe are needed to hold church offices, preach the gospel, perform baptism and other religious rites, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This restored church has “the same offices as were in the ancient Church” and “teaches the same principles and performs the same ordinances as were performed in the days of Jesus” (98). 

Biblical View of the Church

LDS View of the Church

The church exists from the time Jesus founded it in the first century until the end of the age.

The church existed for less than a century, disappeared from the earth, and reappeared in the nineteenth century.

The church throughout its history must deal with partial apostasies.

The church became completely apostate and ceased to exist in the second century.

Earthly priesthood and its sacred functions are obsolete due to the coming of Jesus, our great High Priest and final sacrifice.

Earthly priesthood is vital to the existence of the church; without it, the church had no authority and ceased to exist.

Apostles were the first-generation leaders of the church, its historical foundation

Apostles are the leaders of the church in every generation, its organizational foundation

The church is a spiritual organism of believers united by their faith in Christ as their Head and gathering anywhere in his name.

The church is a physical organization of believers united by their acceptance of the current Prophet as Christ’s representative.

Let us be clear as to what these teachings about apostasy and restoration mean. The LDS Church claims that only its members are validly baptized. Baptism in any Christian denomination is invalid because it was administered without priesthood authority. Christians of whatever denomination have no authority to preach the gospel. Non-Mormon believers in Christ do not have the gift of the Holy Ghost. According to the LDS scriptures, Jesus Christ himself told Joseph Smith that “all” Christian churches, other than the LDS Church, were “wrong,” and “that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” (JS-H 1:19). The apostasy created what the LDS Church calls “false Christianity.” Its members supposedly “lost the understanding of God’s love for us,” “did not understand the purpose of life,” and “lived in spiritual darkness” (Gospel Principles, 92, 96). This is what Mormonism teaches about the church

The New Testament clearly contradicts the Mormon doctrine that the church became completely apostate and disappeared from the earth. Jesus said that the “gates of Hades” would not prevail against the church (Matt. 16:18), yet the LDS religion claims that the church died. Jesus also promised that he would be with his disciples “until the end of the age” as they took the gospel to “all the nations” (Matt. 28:19-20), yet Mormonism entails that Jesus stopped supporting the church in its mission less than a century later, long before the task of making disciples of all nations was complete. The biblical warnings about apostasy consistently make it clear that the church would not disappear: “in the latter times some shall depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1)—some, not all. Peter warned that there would arise “false teachers among you” (2 Pet. 2:1) who would “wrest” the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (3:16)—not to the destruction of the entire church. Jude urges his Christian readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”—a statement in conflict with the claim that the faith was lost and needed to be restored. He warns them to be on guard against ungodly teachers who distort the gospel—and expresses confidence that God “is able to keep you from falling” (Jude 3-4, 24). False doctrine, corrupt practice, political interference, and hypocrisy may have partially obscured the light of the gospel at many times, but it could never put it out (cf. John 1:5). 

The LDS Church’s claim to possess a restored priesthood presupposes that the Christian church once had it and then lost it. This is simply not the case. Mormons claim to hold the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. The Aaronic priesthood in the Bible is a hereditary office of Levites authorized to offer sacrifices; this office became outmoded when Jesus offered himself as the final sacrifice for sins. The Melchizedek “priesthood” in the Bible is not an office passed down from one generation to another, but a description of the unique office that Jesus holds as the high priest of the new covenant, an office that the book of Hebrews says is like that of Melchizedek (Heb. 7-10). Not once does the New Testament ever say that either of these priesthoods is a requirement for someone to preach the gospel, baptize a new disciple, impart the gift of the Holy Ghost, or hold a church office. 

One specific office that Mormons claim was “lost” and that Christ needed to restore was that of apostles. They misinterpret Ephesians 4:11 to teach that the church was supposed to have apostles leading it in every generation. The church definitely needs the ministry of the apostles, but Ephesians makes it clear that their ministry was that of the foundation of the church as a new form of the people of God in which both Jews and Gentiles were equally members (Eph. 2:20; 3:4-7). That explains why, after the replacement of Judas Iscariot by Matthias (Acts 1:21-26), the first-century church made no effort to replace apostles who died with new apostles.

Mormons, like many others, assume that if there is one true church, this church must be identical to a formal institution or organization. For them, it is through acceptance of this church and its authority that one comes into a proper relationship with Christ. Evangelicals disagree; they maintain that the church is a spiritual community or fellowship of members of Christ’s “body” (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4, 12-16; Col. 1:18-24). This means that wherever groups of individuals who faithfully follow Christ gather in his name, they are functioning as the church (Matt. 18:17, 20; 1 Cor. 1:2).