the Mormon Claim
An Overview of Mormon Theology
Note: in presenting this simplified overview, I am cognizant of three main things. First, there are some differences among the various branches of Mormonism. For the most part everything I have to say about the LDS beliefs applies to all Mormons as well. Second, there have been some changes in doctrines over the course of Mormon history. I will describe modern LDS theology. Finally, some of their theology is the same as Christendom's, in some ways, and I will generally omit these parts.
The central and unique feature of Mormon theology is their belief in a "pre-mortal" existence. They believe that all human beings, along with Lucifer and his angels, began as the spiritual sons and daughters of God. Jesus was the firstborn of all our siblings, Lucifer was the second-born. For billions of years, we were all spirit-being siblings, but then we held a special conference and decided that in order to give God the greatest glory, we should each live out a fleshly experience were we had free will.
Lucifer and about one-third of us did not like this plan; for this they were not allowed the privilege (sic) of a fleshly life, and they have been in rebellion against all good things ever since. Today they are "the devil and his angels", still rebelling.
The basic plan is this: when it comes time for each of us to begin our one "fleshly existence", a veil is drawn over our minds so that we have absolutely no remembrance of how we once lived. We inhabit a fleshly body and live out our mortal existence. If we are exposed to the proper Christian (read Mormon) gospel during our lifetimes, our choice about whether to accept or reject it determines our eternal fate. If we accept it, when we die our spirit goes to paradise to await the judgment. If we reject it, our spirit goes to "spirit-prison" (i.e. Tartarus) until the judgment. If we are never exposed to it for whatever reason, when we die we go to the same "spirit-prison", but we still have a chance.
How? God overlooks our ignorance, and those who were ignorant can now learn about the gospel and repent, but there is one catch: baptism is necessary for salvation, and spirits can't be baptized. This is why Mormons research their geneaologies and get baptized on behalf of their dead ancestors. It is a "baptism-by-proxy" on behalf of their once-ignorant ancestors who repented after their deaths but can't get baptized themselves.
At the judgment seat our fleshly bodies will be reunited with our spirits, and we will receive our eternal destinies. Those who rejected the gospel ("the sons of perdition"), along with Lucifer and the others, will receive the second death. The wicked of the world, who were ignorant of the gospel and never had any descendants baptized on their behalf, will go to the telestial kingdom. The good and decent people of the world, but who also were ignorant of the gospel during their mortal lifetimes etc., will inherit the terrestrial kingdom. The highest honor, and one that comes in various degrees is the celestial kingdom. The very highest honor within the celestial kingdom is only available to those Mormons whose marriages were sealed in a temple; these couples (or more, for the polygamists) will go on to have bilions of spiritual children, and the process will repeat practically from the beginning.
And in case you are wondering, the answer is yes. The man who we call God was himself once a mortal man who, like us today, needed salvation. His attainment to the celestial kingdom led to our existence. This portion of the theology was once summarized by a past President: "As man is now, God once was; as God now is, man may become."
Let me close with a note that the Mormon TV commercials are very pro-family, and say nothing about their unique theology. From a public-relations standpoint, I can understand why. This is not to suggest that they are not pro-family, they very much are. In fact, they believe that a strong marriage is the very foundation of every universe! It's just that if they did promote their theology first, most folks would think that the Mormons were very un-Christian and in fact a bit crazy. It goes without saying that this theological system is completely unscriptural. As a practical matter, however, it can be very difficult if not impossible to convince Mormons of this using the Bible alone, because of their belief in later scripture and modern revelation.
Avon, Indiana, USA