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Is Mormonism Henotheistic or Polytheistic?


 Ben Rast

 Contender Ministries

 November 26, 2005


Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church) henotheistic or polytheistic?  Do you even know what henotheism is?  Do you care?  The “official” doctrine of the LDS Church is henotheistic, but there is serious internal conflict on this point and evidence toward polytheism.  In this article, we’ll take a look at the theology of Mormonism, get our “isms” defined, and attempt to provide an answer to the first question asked.  The answer will be important as you share the gospel with Mormons and point out where Biblical truth conflicts with their official doctrines.

 

Before we proceed, it’s important to get our “isms” defined.  The Bible is clearly monotheistic.  Monotheism is the belief in, and worship of one God.  We don’t need an in-depth etymology lesson, but mono means “one”, and theism comes from the Greek theos, which means “god.”   Polytheism is the belief in more than one god.  Poly means “many”.  Most of us are familiar with these two terms, but the last one is a bit more obscure.  Henotheism is the belief that there are (or may be) more than one god, but the worship of only one.  “Heno” comes from the Greek heis, which means “one.”

 

The theology of the Bible is clearly monotheistic.  That there is only one God is the consistent testimony of Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:35, Isaiah 44:6, plus dozens of other verses).  Christians, Jews, and Muslims agree on this point, which is why they are referred to as the “three monotheistic religions.”  Christians, however, recognize the Scriptural canonicity of the New Testament.  In it, we find that the one God is triune – that is, there are three persons that are the one God.  God exists eternally as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The three are separate persons, but they comprise one God.  Old Testament passages hint at this plurality within the one God, but the Trinity doctrine is most clear in the New Testament.  This is the teaching of the Bible, but this is not a doctrine of Mormonism.

 

The Mormon Church teaches a plurality of Gods.  They believe that God the Father (Elohim) was once a man on a separate world who attained godhood.  He then had many spirit children with his wives, the oldest one being Jesus.  According to LDS beliefs, we were all Elohim’s spirit children before our carnal existence.  Therefore, Jesus is our eldest brother.  Jesus was one of a very few who attained godhood before living an earthly life.  For most of us, according to the LDS Church, the earthly life provides a means to demonstrate our obedience and earn our godhood.  Therefore, there are practically unlimited worlds that are headed by gods who were once men like us.  Through obedience and righteous living, Mormonism teaches that we too can aspire to be gods of our own worlds.  As former LDS Prophet Brigham Young taught: “How many Gods there are, I do not know.  But 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 passing through.  That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity.”1 Joseph Smith was clear that we are to follow the same task, when he said, “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…”2 Therefore, the number of gods is practically limitless.

 

In spite of this belief in many gods, Mormons do not want to be classified as polytheistic.  In this, they would be in the same class as the polytheists condemned in the Bible.  Instead, they prefer to say that they are henotheistic – they believe there are many gods, but they only worship Heavenly Father (Elohim).  While they believe Jesus is a god and our savior, they claim not to “worship” Jesus.  Instead, they state that they worship Father God in the name of Jesus.  Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) 20:20 says, “And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.”  In part 2 and part 3 of LDS Apologist Daryl Barksdale’s emails to me, he was adamant that Mormonism is henotheistic, and only worships the Father.

 

The Bible is clear that Jesus accepted worship (Matthew 21:1-11, John 9:35-39, 20:28-29).  Were He NOT God, it would have been blasphemous for Him to accept worship.  The Pharisees even challenged Him to rebuke those who worshipped Him, but Jesus refused to do so.  We’re therefore left with a choice.  Either Jesus was a blasphemer, a lunatic, or he was truly God and deserving of worship.  Since Jesus blatantly condemned blasphemy, it is doubtful that he would engage in it.  No evidence of hypocrisy is evident in Jesus’ actions throughout the gospels.  Psychologists have studied the gospel accounts and have found Jesus to be quite lucid and displaying no signs of lunacy or mental illness.  Therefore, the only option left is that Jesus was God and deserving of worship. 

 

While I do not consider the Book of Mormon to be Scripture, it’s interesting that even the Book of Mormon records and condones the worship of Jesus.  1 Nephi 11:24 says, “And after he had said these words, he said unto me: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.” 3 Nephi 11:16-17 says, “And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.” Finally, 4 Nephi 1:37 says, “Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the three disciples of Jesus who should tarry) were called Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites.”

 

It’s no wonder that the Book of Mormon would record appropriate worship of Jesus, because it also mentions that Jesus IS God. The Book of Mormon title page has these words written by Joseph Smith Jr., “…And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations…”  Wow!  This contradicts the belief that Jesus had a beginning!  Mormonism teaches that Jesus was the first born of Elohim’s spirit children.  Here, Smith states that Jesus is not just a God, but the ETERNAL GOD.  This is inconsistent with LDS doctrine!  The same words are used in 2 Nephi 26:12, “And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.” We go on, 3 Nephi 19:18, “And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.”  Other verses in the Book of Mormon kind of confuse Trinitarian thinking – but vastly depart from Mormon thinking – by referring to Jesus as the “everlasting Father” (Alma 11:38-39). Even some verses in the D&C refer to Jesus as God.  D&C 18:33 says, “And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it” (see also 17:9, 18:47).

 

As I said, I do not consider the Book of Mormon to be Scripture.  The Bible alone constitutes God’s Word to man.  Nevertheless, the preceding discussion of the view of Jesus in Mormon Scripture is important.  Mormons must make a choice.  Is the current LDS doctrine that Jesus is only a god, and therefore not the proper object of our worship correct, or are the LDS Scriptures correct?  They can’t both be correct.  So is it the LDS Scriptures that are inspired, or the current prophets?  Or neither?  If you are a Mormon reading this, don’t answer so fast. 

 

It turns out, the current Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has also departed from official LDS doctrine at least once on this issue.  In his "First Presidency Message: The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" printed in Liahona Magazine (an LDS publication) in March 1998, Hinckley wrote of Jesus, “None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without equivocation or compromise. I love Him. I speak His name in reverence and wonder. I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. I thank Him and kneel before His wounded feet and hands and side, amazed at the love He offers me” [emphasis mine].  When I told Mr. Barksdale of a Mormon I knew who confessed that she worshipped Jesus, he refused to believe me and demanded I tell him her name so he could verify this (as if I would subject her to the rantings of that bitter man).  Well Mr. Barksdale, I won’t divulge her name, but if you’d like to have this out with your prophet, you’re welcome to do so. 

 

In spite of LDS attempts to distance their church from the theology of polytheism, they have failed.  The references to appropriate worship of Jesus and the Father in both LDS Scripture and by their current prophet are not refutable.  Since the LDS Church believes that the Father and Jesus are two different gods, then we must conclude that orthodox Mormon doctrine espouses polytheistic worship.  They can no longer hide behind the obscurity of the term henotheism

 

What is the Christian response?  I fully submit to you that it is fitting and proper to worship both the Father and Jesus.  These are two persons but they are one God.  I am monotheistic in my worship, but can still worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We must not forget that the Jesus of Mormonism is not the Jesus of the Bible.  The Jesus of Mormonism had a beginning.  He was born of Elohim, progressed to godhood in a pre-existence, gained a physical body thanks to a carnal encounter between Elohim and Mary, is our spirit brother and the spirit brother of Satan, and is not fully able to atone for our sins.  LDS doctrine teaches that there are sins for which the blood of Christ cannot atone.  That is not the Jesus of the Bible.  That is not the Jesus I know.  I am not cruel, callous, or uninformed when I say this, as I have LDS agreement on this:

 

"In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints 'do not believe in the traditional Christ.' 'No, I don't. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak'" (LDS Church News, week ending June 20, 1998, p.7)

 

LDS President and Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley and I agree on two points.  First, we both agree that Jesus is worthy of worship.  Second, we agree that the Jesus he worships is not the Jesus I worship.  The Jesus of the Bible is co-eternal with the Father – He has no beginning and will not end. He is not my spirit brother.  He did not “progress” to godhood.  And the Jesus I know – the Jesus of the Bible – gave his life in a sacrifice that is fully sufficient to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  Praise God!  The Jesus I know and love – the Jesus of the Bible – will come again someday to gather His flock.  I heartily echo the words of the Apostle John as he concluded his Revelation in chapter 22, verse 20: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.  AMEN!

 

 

NOTES:

1.  Brigham Young in Watt, ed., Journal of Discourses, 14:71-72.

2. Joseph Smith Jr., The King Follett Discourse (Utah: Joseph Lyon & Assoc.) 1963, p. 6.