The RLDS Church/Almost Mormon Almost Christian
By Ed Decker
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons) is a truly unique American religious experience. Not only was it birthed within the minds and hearts of pioneer Americans, but its holy sites are here on American soil, its savior to return to reign for a thousand years in a temple in Independence, Missouri.
They teach of a great apostasy that wrought the devastation of all religious truth, which in turn brought about such great confusion that if anyone was ever going to make it to Heaven, it was going to be necessary for God to raise up a latter-day prophet to restore His true church.
Mormonism teaches that this prophet was Joseph Smith, who claimed that he spoke to both God and Jesus who personally called him to that office.
Since the 1830 organization of this restoration movement under Joseph Smith, Mormonism has grown to one of the largest American based churches. However, one of the other products of the movement is over 100 separate restorationist groups who also claim that their authority comes from the prophet Joseph Smith. Chief among them is the group calling itself, The Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saint. It is this group that needs a closer look. It hovers somewhere in the theological gray space between orthodoxy and Mormonism. It is almost Christian and almost Mormon.
Having spent the 20 years prior to my own conversion to Christ as a Mormon, I certainly had a jaundiced view of the theological position of the RLDS church. I was taught that they were an apostate group, lost because of their refusal to submit to the leaders of the true church after Joseph Smith was killed. Later, as a Christian, I automatically counted them as a dead branch from a diseased tree.
The death of Joseph Smith, in 1844, brought shock and confusion to his followers. The LDS power structure was centered in and around Nauvoo and groups of Saints gathered around various leaders anticipating that their "man" would become the new prophet of the church.
The Utah Mormons tell of the Church conference held in August of that same year, during which the Council of the Twelve Apostles was sustained by unanimous vote as the First Presidency of the church. (History of the Church, Aug 8, 1844).
RLDS historians tell the story from a different perspective. Centered around the family of Joseph Smith, its basic position in separating from the rest of the body was the belief that the Lord would raise up the eldest son of the Joseph Smith to be the prophet-President of the church. Since Joseph III was only twelve years of age at the time of his father's death, this was obviously impossible to enact.
By 1852, the several groups that held this belief joined together and in 1860, Joseph Smith III was asked to take his rightful place and became his father's true successor. This body became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Obviously, both groups claim with great vigor and strong reason that they alone have the true authority and the other church is apostate. We will leave that to their respective apologists and historians. For the rest of us, we have to recognize that they both exist, both are groups to be reckoned with and they all need to understand the doctrinal differences between their theology and that of orthodox Christianity.
BASIC DOCTRINES OF AGREEMENT:
1. There was a complete apostasy in the early Christian church.
2. God and Christ spoke to Joseph Smith and raised him up as the prophet of His final restoration.
3. The Angel, Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and led him to the discovery of the gold plates.
4. The Book Of Mormon is the true and Holy Word of God,(as edited by their own group).
5. The Doctrine and Covenants are the holy Words of God, containing the continuity of divine revelation through Joseph Smith (and their own individual prophets).
6. The restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood.
7. Baptism For the remission of sins(Baptismal regeneration).
8. The return of Jesus Christ to earth (and Independence) for His thousand year reign of peace.
9. Just recently, the Utah church has formally acknowledged the authenticity of the Inspired Version of The Bible, by Joseph Smith, the copyright for which has always been in the possession of the RLDS group.
BASIC DOCTRINES OF DISAGREEMENTS:
1. The Nature of God and Man
Joseph Smith's early teaching in this area was that God was spirit. The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) included a group of his teachings called the Lectures on Faith. In Lecture Five, page 53, Joseph clearly defined God as spirit and Jesus as having a body of flesh and blood. Before you jump to the conclusion that his theology was still orthodox, he also defined the holy spirit as the shared mind of the two. A Trinity of two.
It was in the last few years of Smith's life that his doctrine of God began to evolve. Joseph announced "God himself was once as we are now and is an exalted man..." (History of the Church, Vol 6, p.305). He continued on page 7, "Here then is eternal life, to know the only wise and true God; and 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..."
The Utah church clearly teaches that a god over rules this planet who was once a man, and now lives in an advanced society among many other men/gods. All of these gods had wives appointed to them for righteousness while still mortals. They rule as gods over planets like Earth. It teaches that we men, too, can become gods and receive many wives, just as our god did before us.
The RLDS church rejects the Utah doctrine of the nature of God and Man's progression to godhood in its entirety.
2. The Revelation on Temple Work.
In spite of tremendous documentation proving that Joseph Smith was deeply involved in polygamy, the RLDS reject the doctrine of polygamy and strongly deny that their founder ever practiced or taught it.
The Utah church was deeply entrenched in sacred temple rituals, both for the living and the dead. Polygamy was legitimized through the rituals. Its worthy members may still go to the temple, participate in rituals that prepare them with secret signs, words and clothing to successfully meet the Lord and pass a series of tests to enter celestial glory, godhood and polygamy. Identical rituals are performed for people already dead.
The RLDS church again rejects these teachings. They do not believe or teach that men can ever become gods, nor do they believe that works done in secret inside a temple built with hands will have any effect upon them in this life or in the next.
While the RLDS church operates from a base of orthodox doctrine regarding the nature of God and man, they have added many of the doctrines of Joseph Smith to the precious gospel of grace.
Their belief that the work and authority of Christ was lost and required restoration, their continuing requirement for a prophet/revelator, their "restoration" of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and their extra-Biblical scripture all take away from the finished work of Calvary. Just as Utah Mormons must be confronted with these doctrinal errors so must the members of the RLDS church.
We recommend that you read the Christian response to these key doctrinal problems, also written by Ed Decker and available through Saints Alive: The Birth of Heresy ,The Massive Mormon Scripture Mess and The Temple of The God Makers.