Mormonism: An analysis of doctrine in comparison to Catholic and other Protestant faiths

Anne Latham

Religion and Science (21A.223)

A. Steinberg



     The Mormon religion is very unique in many of its doctrine.  While technically a Protestant faith, the Mormons generally share more doctrine with the Catholics.  Because of its unique nature, I will be analyzing the Mormon faith, its history, organization, and doctrine, in comparison with the beliefs held by both Catholics and Protestants.


On April 6, 1980, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church) was founded.  [It is interesting to note that according to Mormon doctrine (Doctrine and Covenants 20:1), April 6 is the birthday of Jesus Christ.]  10 years prior to this event, in 1820, fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith knelt in a quiet grove in upper New York state and prayed for guidance in choosing a church to join. According to LDS historical records, his prayer was answered by the visitation of two heavenly personages. One, the Heavenly Father, spoke to him and said, pointing to the other, "This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

     This second personage, Christ, told Smith that he should join no existing church, that the true church he had established upon the Earth had become corrupted and fallen away from the truth over the passing years.  Smith was instructed that he was to aid in the restoration of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days.  Mormons consider this divine visitation and the restoration of Christ's church to be the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Apostle Peter when he said, "He shall send Jesus Christ. . .whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:20-21).

     This belief, that the original church established by Christ had fallen into corruption, is shared by members of other Protestant faiths.  Both Martin Luther and John Wesley shared the belief that Catholic faith had strayed from the truth as is seen in their respective quotes: "I have sought nothing beyond reforming the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. . . . . . . I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it." (Luther and His Times, E.G. Schweibert) and "It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the

Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian; . . . From this time they almost totally ceased; . . . The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens . . . . This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left." (The Works of John Wesley, vol. 7)

     While the Mormons agree with other Protestants that the Catholic Church had become corrupt with its "indulgences", purchase of church offices, etc., the Mormons differed somewhat in their solution to this problem.  The Protestants sought to reform the problems they saw evident in the Catholic faith.  The Mormons, however, believing that all faiths upon the Earth had fallen away from the true church established by Christ, sought to restore this true church.  The original church established by Christ morphed into the Catholic Church during the passage of the centuries.  Thus, the Mormons believe that their church is a restoration of the Catholic church to its infancy, before corruption tainted its doctrine.

Doctrine: The Articles of Faith

1) We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

Unique to Mormon theology is a view of the Godhead  as consisting of three separate beings, two possessing bodies of flesh and bone and one possessing a spirit body. An official declaration concerning the Godhead states: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). Latter-day Saints accept both a "oneness" and "threeness" of the Godhead.  However, they reject the traditional doctrine of the Trinity as espoused by Catholicism and most other Protestant faiths, and believe instead that the Godhead is one in mind, purpose, and testimony, but three in number. This can be seen in the First Article of Faith of the LDS religion.  "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."  Mormons also identify Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, specifically as Jesus Christ. They believe that the Great I Am of the Bible who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, was the pre-mortal Jesus Christ, acting as the agent of his Father.


2) We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.

Catholicism teaches that every person born subsequent to Adam and Eve are tainted with a hereditary stain on account of our origin from Adam.  Most other Protestant religions also believe that humans are born into sin as a result of the long ago sin of Adam and Eve.  In their second article of faith, Mormons extol that every human is born sinless.  While we may share in the punishments received for the original sin, banishment from Eden, suffering of childbirth, etc., LDS theology holds that the sin belongs to Adam and Eve and that only they will be held accountable for it in the afterlife. 


3) We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

The first principles of Mormon doctrine are revealed in the fourth article of faith.  The third article of faith, however, brings to light a very unusual belief of Mormonism.  Catholicism and almost all Protestant faiths teach that unless one is baptized into the correct church during his life, he will suffer in hell during the afterlife.  Mormonism holds a much different view.  They believe that if a person was unable to be exposed to the Mormon doctrines during his life, he will be given the opportunity to accept them after his death and still be admitted into a degree of glory in the afterlife.  In this way, all mankind has the opportunity to partake of the redeeming act of Christ, not just those fortunate enough to be born Mormon or to be converted by Mormon missionaries during their lifetime.


4) We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

1) Faith.  Mormon theology is no different from Catholicism or general Protestantism the belief that faith in Christ is mandatory for salvation.

2) Repentance.  The Mormon philosophy on repentance takes the middle ground between the standard Catholic view of confession and the general Protestant view of repentance.  Catholicism holds that one must confess to a priest to be forgiven of sins while the general Protestant view is that repentance is wholly between the person and God.  Mormon’s believe that for minor sins, the repentance/confession takes place only between the person and God (and the wronged party if one exists).  For major sins, which may jeopardize one’s standing in the church, a person must confesses to the proper priesthood authority.  Sins of this nature include adultery, fornication, and robbery.

3) Baptism.  Because of this view of a pure and sinless birth, Mormon children are not baptized until the age of accountability, 8 years old.  Up until this age, children are believed not to understand all consequences stemming from their actions and therefore incapable of truly committing a sinful act.  All children who die prior to this age of accountability are free of sin and are received into the highest level of glory in the afterlife (Mormon theology concerning afterlife is discussed later in this document).  The opposing Catholic view declares that unbaptized infants/children will go to hell because they were born with original sin.  Protestant faiths take various standpoints on this issue.  Another differing Mormon view on baptism stems from the actual act.  While sprinkling, dipping the back of the head, etc. may be acceptable forms of baptism in Catholicism and some other Protestant faiths, Mormons believe only in complete immersion for baptism.  In cases where the person is not fully submerged, s/he is “re-dunked” to ensure the act was performed accurately.

4) Gift of the Holy Ghost.  After being baptized, a Mormon receives the “gift of the Holy Ghost” from members of the priesthood.  This is a truly unique Mormon philosophy.  Latter-day Saint doctrine holds that once one has received the gift of the Holy Ghost that the Holy Spirit can guide him/her in his/her daily life.  Mormons believe that non-Mormons can feel the “promptings” of the Holy Ghost, but that this spirit is not with nonmembers on a perpetual basis.


5) We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.

Mormons believe that every male in a priesthood office was assigned there through divine revelation/inspiration.  When assigned a priesthood office, the male has the opportunity to decline the position.  Mormon priesthood holders do not attend Bible College, Seminary, etc. in order to attain their position as do ministers/priests of Catholic and general Protestant faiths.  And while Catholics believe in the infallibility of the Pope, Mormons hold that everyone, even the Prophet, makes mistakes and that only Christ was truly perfect.

6) We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

Church hierarchy demonstrates another difference between Mormonism and other Protestant faiths.  Because it was a "restoration" of the very early Catholic faith, the hierarchy of office seen in the Mormon religion is extremely similar to that observed in Catholicism.  The Mormon church is headed by the Prophet who has a counsel of Apostles.  In comparison, the Catholic Church is lead by the Pope who has his counsel of Cardinals.  As with the Catholic Church, upon the death of the prophet (Pope) a new leader is selected from among the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (College of Cardinals).  The majority of Protestant faiths have no central church or hierarchy of command in church offices.  Each church is autonomous.  This has the benefit of discouraging corruption, greed, and scandal in the church as power increases in the higher church offices.  The trade-off is that scripture may be interpreted differently from minister to minister or church to church.  Thus while two persons may be Baptist in name, they may not hold or have not even been taught the same set of beliefs.  This autonomous setup also disallows modern revelation, a phenomenon that both Mormons and Catholics both believe occur through the Prophet and Pope, respectively.

The priesthood of the Mormon church is divided into two categories, the Aaronic priesthood and the Melchizedek priesthood.  Mormon doctrine holds that both the keys to these forms of priesthood were conferred to Joseph Smith around the time of the foundation of the LDS church.  Worthy young men of the age of 12 are allowed to receive the Aaronic priesthood, while the Melchizedek priesthood is conferred upon males upon their appointment to the office of high priest.  Members of the Catholic clergy are expected to remain celibate during the course of their life.  The same is not true of Mormon priesthood holders.  All Mormons are encouraged to marry and have children, including priesthood holders.

Both for members of the Catholic clergy and ministers/preachers of Protestant faiths, religion is a full time job.  These persons are paid for fulfilling the duties of their religious offices.  In contrast, Mormon bishops, stake presidents, etc. are not paid.  A man will be appointed to an office for a certain number of years and then released.  Before, during, and after he has served in this office, the Mormon man is expected to take care of his own expenses and those of his family.  The only Mormon priesthood offices that receive payment are those of the Prophet and Apostles.  They receive minimal payments as their offices do not allow them time enough to have another job for means of support, and they are usually appointed to their office for life.


7) We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

Catholicism and general Protestantism accept the same view of gifts/modern day miracles as espoused by the Mormon faith.


8) We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

While Catholics and general Protestants believe the Bible to be perfectly correct, Mormons believe that our current form of the Bible is slightly inaccurate.  Mormon theology holds that in the many translations of the Bible throughout history, many passages were slightly skewed in meaning and that the Bible 100% accurate is its current form.  To remedy this problem, Bibles issued through Latter-day Saint distribution centers come with a Joseph Smith translation section as one of the appendices.  LDS Bibles have extensive footnotes, cross-references to other scriptures, etc. on each page.  Included in these are acknowledgements that there is a Joseph Smith translation for a particular passage.  The following figure illustrates this point.

In the regular King James version of the Bible, it appears the Lord is responsible for pharaoh not allowing the Israelites to leave Egypt.  In the Joseph Smith translation, however, this error is corrected and it is seen that pharaoh himself chose to leave the Israelites in bondage.

     Unlike the Bible, Latter-day Saints believe the Book of Mormon to be pure in its translation.  This is due to the fact that the Book of Mormon has only undergone one translation, when Joseph Smith translated the golden plates under divine guidance.


9) We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

As with Catholics and general Protestants, Mormons believe in all revelations and doctrine brought forth during the time of Christ and the ministry of his Apostles.  Mormons also believe, however, that revelation did not stop with the death of Christ and the Apostles, that a latter-day prophet continues to commune with God and reveals new edicts to His children.  This is very similar to the beliefs of the Catholic church who hold that the Pope is divinely inspired and continues to guide the world as to God’s wishes.  The vast majority of Protestant faiths have no equivalent to a Mormon Prophet or Catholic Pope and thus no official venue for continuing revelations from God.


10) We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the ten tribes; that Zion, the new Jerusalem will be built upon the American continent and that Christ will reign personally upon the Earth and that the Earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

Mormons, as with Catholics and Protestants, believe in the second coming of Christ.  The Mormon take on this occurrence, however, is very unique.  Firstly, revelation from various Prophets hold that when Christ returns, he will establish his city, Zion, on the American continent.  Divine inspiration is very particular about this revelation, so much so that the exact location is know – Missouri.  In preparation for this second coming, vast tracts of land in Missouri have been purchased by the Latter-day Saint church with members’ tithing.  After Christ’s return, the Earth will be cleansed of all pollution, waste, etc. and be transformed into an Eden-like state.  In this perfect setting, Christ will personally reign for a millennium.


11) We claim the priviledge of worshiping almighty God and allow all men the same priviledge, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

The eleventh Article of Faith shows a tolerance rather unique among the Christian faiths.  Most Christian faiths, both Catholic and Protestant, are considerably intolerant of differing faiths, believing that their faith holds the only true path back to God’s presence and that all members of other faiths are doomed to live in Hell.  To illustrate this point, I relate a personal experience. 

During high school, religion was often a topic of conversation between myself and one of my fellow students.  As a devout Southern Baptist, he felt that anyone not baptized into the Baptist faith and “saved” would go to hell.  Baptized Baptists that had been saved, however, could rape, steal, kill, etc. and still go to heaven.  As a Mormon, however, I was a damned soul, a fact about which he relished in reminding me. 

In contrast to this, the Mormon faith is very tolerant of all faiths.  Mormon children are taught that while their faith is the one true faith, all other religions contain varying amounts of true doctrine and are therefore to be respected.  The Mormon version of the afterlife reflects this great tolerance as well.  The LDS faith proclaims that after death, the entire doctrine of Christ will be taught to a person.  At this point, he/she will be given the opportunity to accept or reject these teachings.  His/her final judgment will take this into account as well as the quality of life the person led.


12) We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, and obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

Mormons doctrine in relation to state/federal matters does not differ from that of Catholics or general Protestants.  In being law abiding citizens, however, it is interesting to note the change undergone by one historical Mormon principle. 

Joseph Smith, the author of the Thirteen Articles of Faith, under divine inspiration revealed that polygamy was condoned by the Lord.  As a result of this, Mormon men were allowed to take several wives for a few decades in Church history.  When Utah applied for statehood, however, polygamy was illegal in the United States.  As a stipulation to the Utah territory being granted statehood, Brigham Young (the second Mormon Prophet) amended the Church’s stance on the polygamy issue.  From January 4, 1896 on, any Mormon man or woman found to be a participant in a polygamous relationship was excommunicated from the Church.  As is seen from this example, Mormon doctrine was altered to be in accordance with federal mandate.


13) We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men.  Indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul – we believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure all things.  If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

This final article of faith is a declaration of the type of life a latter-day saint is expected to live.  There is very little difference in the teachings of the Catholic and general Protestant faiths as to how one should live his/her life.

Doctrine: The Afterlife

One of the greatest differences between the Mormon faith, the Catholic faith, and general Protestant faiths, is the view of the afterlife.  Catholic belief holds that a soul goes either to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.  From Purgatory a soul can move closer to Heaven through masses for the dead performed on Earth and various other acts of the living.  The general Protestant view of the afterlife holds that only two options exist: Heaven and Hell. 

The Mormon view of the afterlife is more multi-layered.  1 Corinthians 15:40-41 states that “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.  There is one glory of the sun and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the starts: for one start differeth from another star in glory.” Mormon history teaches that Joseph Smith was divinely instructed that this passage referred to the “levels” of “heaven.”  (A telestial glory is also mentioned in the Joseph Smith translation of this passage.)  There are three kingdoms of heaven: the celestial kingdom, the telestial kingdom, and the terrestrial kingdom. 

Celestial glory comes to those who received the testimony of Jesus, believed on his name, and were baptized, who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true (Doctrine and Covenants 76: 51-53).  

The Terrestrial glory is for those who lived honorable lives on the earth but "were blinded by the craftiness of men" and were "not valiant in the testimony of Jesus." Those who did not receive a testimony of Jesus while on earth, but who could have done so except for their neglect, are also heirs to the Terrestrial Kingdom. 

The Telestial glory embraces those who on earth willfully reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, and commit serious sins such as murder, adultery, lying, and who do not repent in mortality. 

There is a fourth place where souls can go after death – Outer Darkness.  This place is only those who deny the Holy Ghost, have a perfect testimony of the Gospel and willfully deny it.  The Mormon view of afterlife is discussed at great length in Doctrine and Covenants chapter 76.

     These are just a few of the beliefs of the Mormon faith.  Evidenced by the discussion of these is the fact that while Mormonism is technically a Protestant faith, it shares many doctrinal points with both Protestants and Catholics.  Beyond its shared theology, Mormonism has several very unique teachings, ones generally not expounded by any other Christian faith.  Perhaps it is these novel pieces of doctrine that appeal to people and have made Mormonism the fastest growing faith in the world today.