of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Commentary By Richard Packham

The "Articles of Faith" are a part of Mormon scripture.   Because they are distributed freely to non-Mormons by Mormon missionaries in order to create enough interest in a prospective convert to induce the prospect to listen further, they deserve a more careful examination than just a cursory reading.   A superficial reading of these thirteen articles might lead an unsuspecting Christian to get the impression that Mormons generally ascribe to the basic tenets of Christianity.   That impression would be mistaken, as even a small examination of Mormon doctrine or history will show.   That is what this article attempts to do.

For background on the origin of the Articles, here is an excerpt from the semi-offical Encyclopedia of Mormonism, article "Articles of Faith" by David J. Whittaker:

In 1842, in response to a specific request from John Wentworth (editor of the Chicago Democrat), Joseph Smith sent a succinct overview of his own religious experiences and the History of the Church over which he presided.... At the end of the historical sketch, he appended a list summarizing the "faith of the Latter-day Saints." Later titled "Articles of Faith," these thirteen items were first published in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons in March 1842 and were later included in the 1851 British Mission pamphlet The Pearl of Great Price, compiled by Elder Franklin D. Richards.   That pamphlet was revised in 1878 and again in 1880. In 1880, a general conference of the Church voted to add the Pearl of Great Price to the standard works of the Church, thus including the thirteen articles.   The Articles of Faith do not constitute a summation of all LDS beliefs, and they are not a creed in the traditional Christian sense, but they do provide a useful authoritative summary of fundamental LDS scriptures and beliefs....

The canonization of the Wentworth Letter as part of the Pearl of Great Price in 1880 reflected and assured its undisputed priority.   And when James E. Talmage was asked by the First Presidency in 1891 to prepare a work on theology for use as a textbook in Church schools, it was to these Articles of Faith that he turned for the outline of his volume.   First published in 1899 and still in use today, Talmage's Articles of Faith greatly elaborate on the themes of Joseph Smith's Wentworth list. ...

As early as the 1850s, LDS missionaries printed broadsides that contained the Articles of Faith.   In time, these missionary placards were reduced to wallet size and are still used by missionaries throughout the world.   In the primary classes of the Church, children memorize the Articles of Faith as a requirement for graduation at age twelve, and adults have also been encouraged to learn and use them for personal study and in missionary work.

Although not a formal creed, the Articles of Faith are a marvelously abridged summary (less than 400 words) of the basic beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
(See also the History of the Church, Vol. 4, pp. 535-541)

The Articles of Faith

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

          Any non-Mormon Christian reading this statement of Mormon belief would likely conclude, "Why that's also what I believe!   The Mormons have the same beliefs about the Trinity as other Christians!"   Unfortunately, those words in Mormonism mean something quite different than in mainstream Christianity.

          God the Father, in Mormon doctrine, was not always God, but became God by going through the same process that all human beings go through - being born into a world with a body, obeying the laws which were given to him (by HIS "Father God"), being resurrected to eternal life, and progressing to godhood.   Faithful Mormons believe that they are also on this same path to becoming gods in their own right, and ultimately they will rule, like God, over universes which they will create and populate with their spiritual offspring, just as God the Father has done.   Thus, although God will be God for all eternity, and is "eternal" in that sense, God has not always been God, "from all eternity [in the past]," as Christians believe.

          The phrase "the Eternal Father" also means something different to Mormons, since Mormons believe that God is literally our spiritual father, that he actually sired the spirit of every human being, by some kind of spiritual quasi-sexual intercourse with his consort, our "Mother in Heaven."

          "His Son, Jesus Christ" to Mormons means that Jesus is literally God the Father's son in the same way and for the same reason that I am my father's son:   Mormons believe that God the Father impregnated the Virgin Mary by having sexual relations with her, having temporarily married her.

          Mormons do not believe the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.   They believe that the three members of the godhead are separate and distinct personages, acting as a sort of committee.   The Mormon temple ceremony, for example, shows the drama of creation, in which Elohim (God the Father) gives instructions to Jehovah (God the Son) and the angel Michael, who carry them out and then "return and report."

          There seems to be some confusion in Mormonism about the Holy Ghost.   Some Mormon leaders have tried to distinguish between the "Holy Ghost" and the "Holy Spirit", since they believe that the third member of the godhead is a person, but a person with a spiritual body, not a body of flesh.   However, since many scriptural passages imply that the Holy Ghost can dwell within a person, and be in many places at once, the idea that he is even spatially confined is troublesome.   Another problem for Mormons is why any member of the godhead should not have a body of flesh, since the steps for attaining the status of a god include being physically resurrected.

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

          This sounds like a just priniciple.   However, Mormons believe that some people with dark skins (American Indians) are not white (a more desirable color in Mormon theology) because their ancestors were not righteous.   Mormons claim that being "cursed with a dark skin" (the phrase used in Mormon scriptures) is not, strictly speaking, a "punishment," but simply the "natural consequences" of sin, either in the pre-mortal existence (Negroes) or of one's ancestors (American Indians) .   Native Americans with dark skins will slowly turn whiter if they become righteous Mormons.

          Notice also that what Adam did is not referred to as "sin," but as a "transgression," reflecting the Mormon idea that although Adam was disobedient, his disobedience was not a sin, since it was necessary as part of God's Plan.

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

          Although this seems to be trying to say that Christ's atonement works salvation, it says just the opposite:   mankind is saved by "obedience" and by the "ordinances of the Gospel" (the rough equivalent of what in Catholicism are called the "sacraments").   This is one of the first differences that Protestant Christians notice about Mormon doctrine:   in Mormonism, salvation comes not by grace, but by "works" - what you do or don't do.

          But Mormons even put a limit on the power of Christ's atonement.   There are certain sins which cannot be atoned by Christ's sacrifice:   the denial of the Holy Ghost (the "unpardonable sin"), the shedding of innocent blood, and - depending on which Mormon authority you believe - sins such as adultery.   For those sins, only the shedding of the sinner's own blood will save him.   This is the doctrine of "blood atonement," which is not discussed much among Mormons nowadays, since it is not a doctrine that potential converts find attractive.   But in early Utah it was widely taught, and even practiced.

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.

          This sounds very much like traditional Christianity, but these are only the FIRST principles.   This is the "milk" that potential converts get, before they are given the "meat," which consists of all the other commandments and ordinances through which one must go to advance beyond the mere threshold of heaven.   Mormons are all striving not for "salvation," but for "exaltation" (i.e., godhood), which requires much more than this article implies.

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.

          This means that only the men holding the Mormon priesthood are authorized by God to preach, baptize, bless the sick, or perform valid religious rituals.   The priests, ministers, pastors, and other clergy of all other churches are acting without authority, and thus their acts are not accepted by God.   They are completely invalid and worthless in God's eyes.

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

          When the Mormon church was first organized (1830) there was a widespread belief among many devout religious reformers that the true church of Christ should follow the same organizational pattern and have the same doctrine and practices as the original church of the disciples who knew Jesus.   This statement reflects that idea, and is a major argument of the Mormons to persuade prospective converts that the Mormon church is the "true church."

          On closer examination, however, both the logic and the facts destroy this argument.   See "The Mormon Church vs. The New Testament Church" for a detailed comparison.

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

          In the earliest days of the church these gifts were claimed to be common among Mormons, and cited as evidence that the Holy Ghost was among them.   In the modern church, however, their use is more limited.

  • Tongues:   The gift of tongues in its traditional form ("glossolalia") is actually discouraged.   Rather, the Mormons see this gift primarily in the fact that many of their missionaries learn foreign languages.

  • Prophecy:   Prophecy is not encouraged among the members, but is seen by most Mormons as limited to the president of the church, one of whose titles is "prophet."   But even the presidents of the church in the last hundred years or so have rarely prophesied (i.e., made specific predictions of future events).   Perhaps the reason is that prophecies made by Mormon prophets have so rarely been validated by subsequent events (for examples, see Smith's or Young's unfulfilled prophecies).

  • Revelation:   Mormons believe that they frequently receive personal revelations, providing them with advice and information from God on matters of everyday life.   Unfortunately this can become so dominant for some Mormons that they do not make even trivial decisions without expecting the Holy Ghost to advise them.

              Revelation on doctrinal matters, however, is limited to the president of the church, one of whose titles is "revelator."   The present holder of that office has said, however, that "We don't need much revelation. We need to pay more attention to the revelation we've already received."   (Gordon B. Hinckley, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle April 13, 1997).   In making that statement he was fulfilling a prophecy in the Book of Mormon:

    Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! ... Wo be unto him that shall say:   We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!   For behold, thus saith the Lord God: ... for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:27-30, emphasis added)

  • Visions:   Joseph Smith had many visions and many encounters with angels, according to his own testimony, and he did not hesitate to tell others about them.   Modern Mormons, even the leaders, seem to be much more reticent.   Or perhaps the visions have slowed or even ceased (as prophesied in Micah 3:5-11)?

  • Healing:   Mormons believe strongly in the power of the Mormon priesthood to heal the sick, especially if anointed with consecrated olive oil.   Their miracles of healing, however, are no more astonishing or miraculous than similar healings of non-Mormon God-believers as a result of simple prayer.   And the Mormons also hedge their faith by consulting trained medical personnel when they are seriously ill.

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.

          The implication here is that the Bible cannot be depended on entirely, since there have been errors in the translation.   Mormons also believe that many "plain and precious parts" of the Bible have been removed (1 Nephi 13:24-29).   Notice that the same limitation is not placed on the Book of Mormon, which - since Mormons believe it was translated with divine guidance - must contain no translation errors.   However, modern Mormon scholars, in trying to fit the events portrayed in that book into an actual location in the Americas, are forced to suggest that there are words in the Book of Mormon which are not translated correctly.   This is the principal explanation they offer for its many anachronisms (steel, horse, wheat, chariot, etc.).   Also, over 3000 changes and corrections have been made since the publication of the first edition in 1830, some of them affecting doctrine.

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.

          This is not strictly true.   There are many things that Mormon prophets have claimed were "revealed" to them, and yet the church no longer believes them.   The explanation is usually that the prophet was mistaken, or was only expressing a personal opinion, and thus it was not really God that was revealing it to the prophet.   Examples are Brigham Young's revelation that Adam is God (details here) or president John Taylor's revelation that polygamy should never be abandoned.

          Another example of disregard of what God has revealed is the major modification of many of the early revelations of Joseph Smith as published in the Book of Commandments (1833), as they were later published in the Doctrine and Covenants (1835).   Thus Mormons today do not believe what God revealed in 1833 - at least in the form in which he revealed it (and which he himself certified as "true" - D&C 1:6, 24, 37, 67:4).   For a comparison of the changes with the original, click here (offsite).

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; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

          The "gathering" was decreed by God to be in America (D&C 29:7-9), and until the late 19th century Mormon converts in other countries were urged to come to Utah.   But the modern church apparently no longer believes in this gathering, since it now encourages new converts to remain in their homelands.

          Not mentioned in this scenario is the Mormon belief that when Christ does reign personally upon the earth, his government will consist of Mormons, and that Mormonism will be the basis of all law and government.

11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

          This article does not apply, apparently, to Mormons who have slightly different doctrinal views than those in authority.   Such people - unless they remain silent about their views - are often disciplined by church authorities.   Also, many individual Mormons do not put this belief into practice when it comes to members of their own family.   It is quite common that when a Mormon ceases to believe and leaves the church to adopt another way of life, his Mormon family members punish him for doing so by shunning him or otherwise avoiding contact with him.

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

          This appears to be an implementation of Jesus' admonition "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's..." and portrays Mormons as law-abiding citizens.   To the extent that Mormons have practiced this principle, it enabled German Mormons, for example, to survive in Germany during the Nazi dictatorship, since they obediently obeyed the laws promulgated by the Nazi government (while some other religious groups, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, were severely persecuted for refusing obedience).

          On the other hand, when it was not convenient for Mormons to obey the law, they often flouted it, sometimes quite openly. Examples:

  • Joseph Smith performed many marriages without proper authorization from the civil government to do so.

  • Joseph Smith entered into numerous polygamous marriages in violation of the criminal laws at the time forbidding bigamy.

  • Joseph Smith set up a bank in Ohio without a banking license from the state, for which he was fined.

  • At the time of his death, Smith was in prison on a charge stemming from his illegal destruction of a printing press owned by his critics.

  • When laws were passed by the U.S. government forbidding the practice of polygamy in the late 19th century, the Mormons continued to practice it, asserting that the "law of God" superceded any human law.   After the church formally renounced the practice in 1890, in accordance with the law (in order to gain Utah's admission to the Union), many church officials continued secretly to disobey the law by performing polygamous marriages and by entering into such marriages themselves.

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 apparently does not always apply strictly:

          Honesty is practiced only when being honest will not harm the church.   If telling the truth would damage the image of the church or any of its leaders, then there is no hesitation to lie. For examples, click here.

          "Doing good to all men" obviously does not apply to those whom the church perceives as enemies.   For example, Sidney Rigdon in a famous sermon in Missouri (July 4, 1838) threatened to "exterminate" the Missourians who opposed their growing political power, leading eventually to the "Mormon War" in Missouri.   The Mountain Meadows Massacre (September 11, 1857) was the slaughter of a party of non-Mormon immigrants who were traveling through southern Utah.   The massacre was organized and carried out by local Mormon priesthood leaders.   (See Will Bagley's book Blood of the Prophets for details and the evidence for Brigham Young's involvement.)

          The alleged quest for "anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy" is limited to those things which bolster the religious faith of the Mormons, or at least do not threaten or criticize it.   In other words, everything is tested against the Mormon view of things.   Mormons are frequently warned against exposing themselves to ideas that are not sanctioned by their leaders.

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©  2005 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


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