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September 26, 2013

Understanding Mormonism

A former faithful Mormon and BYU professor explains



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Since Mitt Romney ran for president, many are curious about his Mormon faith, with good reason. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Mormons tend to be friendly, hard-working, conservative, moral people—model citizens who want to be accepted as part of the body of Christ. Their church culture is close-knit and family-oriented. But as one who spent more than 30 years as a “good Mormon,” I got to see the inner workings of the Mormon Church.

Like many denominations, Mormons have their own religious vocabulary, dress code, grooming standards, health code, and expected behaviors. But many of the Mormon sacred beliefs, such as temple ordinances and covenants, are required to be secret, known only to those baptized in the Mormon Church.

For many Mormon families there is great pressure to have everything look great on the outside, and to do everything well, and this pressure is particularly acute for Mormon women. In my church work, I met many hurting and discouraged women. One struggled to get seven small children to church on time. Others worried that their homes were not clean enough or their children not faithful enough, smart enough, or talented enough to stand out in the outside world. Some were anxious because they did not hold temple recommends or did not have husbands to get them to the top of the celestial kingdom or were not spreading the Mormon gospel or did not have time for their callings. Some were eager to save their dead family members through genealogy and temple work. If others were going to look to us for answers and want to join Mormonism, we needed to have it all together.

Due to a determined media campaign from the Mormon Church, some Christians have decided Mormons are Christians, too. But in reality, Mormonism does not represent a biblically compatible religion to be welcomed into the body of Christ. I think it is helpful to discuss just a few of the differences.

Substantial or Trifling Differences?

What are some of the basic teachings of Mormonism? First, Mormons believe the most correct book on the face of the earth is the Book of Mormon. They teach that the Bible is often mistranslated and unreliable. According to Mormonism, Jesus couldn’t keep his Word or his church together—there was a great apostasy after his apostles died—and Joseph Smith needed to restore the true church in 1830 with the true doctrine, including three extra-biblical books of scripture from Mormon prophets. In order to be baptized into the Mormon Church—which Mormons believe is the only church that can lead one to live with the Father and the Son after this life—one must accept the founding prophet, Joseph Smith, and the current prophet, Thomas S. Monson, as a prophet, seer, and revelator and the only man who speaks for God on earth.

The nature of the Mormon godhead is different than the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches a triune godhead—one God, three coequal and coeternal members. Mormonism believes the three members of its godhead are three created, separate gods; Heavenly Father and Jesus began as men who worked their way to godhood. They believe any “righteous” Mormon priesthood holder who is “temple worthy” can work his way to godhood as well.

Works Required

The Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 25:23) says one is “saved by grace after all you can do.” The Third Article of Faith states that one “may be saved by obedience to laws and ordinances of the (Mormon) Gospel.” Troubling for Mormons is that they never know when they have done enough and have no assurance of salvation like biblical Christians do. Because Mormonism requires numerous good works, some may feel overwhelmed. Depression and suicide are rampant in Utah. So is addiction to prescription drugs.

Part of the works for salvation/exaltation in Mormonism involves work to be completed in the temple. This work is nothing like what the Jews did in the temple anciently. I know. I worked in a Mormon temple for 10 years, where I was forbidden by a death oath (removed from ceremonies after 1990) from revealing what I learned there.

No Cross

Mormons do not place crosses in their meeting houses or temples, nor do they wear crosses. The Bible says in Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In addition, the Book of Mormon believes salvation is dependent upon obeying secret temple ordinances (D&C 131:2). But Jesus boldly said that “there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26-27, NKJV).

Field Ripe for Harvest

There were so many good things that drew me to the Mormon faith at the age of 25. But after 30 years as a faithful temple-attending, leadership-holding Mormon woman and BYU professor, during a family crisis, I picked up the Bible hungry for the words of Jesus and read it as a child, seeking truth.

What I found in the Bible was a gospel of grace, not of works or legalism, with an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent triune God who did not work his way from a man to a God. Then I had to choose. Was Mormonism true, or did I trust Jesus’ own words in the Bible? After a harrowing time of counting the cost, I chose the biblical Jesus who had revealed himself to me in astonishing ways. Because of the Brigham Young University honor code, although tenured, I could not stay at BYU if I left the faith. So I resigned, took up my cross so to speak, and followed the biblical Jesus.

Like the one of the ten lepers who was healed and returned in gratitude, I praise God for what he has wrought in the life of a wretched sinner like me and pray the body of Christ will equip themselves to reach out to Mormons with the gospel of grace in love. I hope my new book, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church (Zondervan), will help others on the road to truth and freedom. My husband and I started a nonprofit ministry, Ex-Mormon Christians United for Jesus. We see Mormonism as a field ripe for harvest. We, plus our children who are in ministry, reach back to our dear Mormon people because we love them and want them to know the gracious Jesus we now love. We encourage all Christians to inform themselves and to do the same.


Dr. Lynn Wilder is a former tenured professor at Brigham Young University and faithful Mormon for more than 30 years. Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church chronicles her amazing journey of faith. She and her husband, Michael, have formed the nonprofit organization Ex-Mormon Christians United for Jesus, to keep Christians safe from false Christs and to bring Mormons to know the joy of the biblical Jesus.

Related Tags: Conversion; Mormonism

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