What's the difference between Mormonism and Christianity in a nutshell?
This is a great question, but somewhat impossible to answer in a "nutshell," it would take a very big nutshell. Surprisingly, Mormonism is probably as different from Christianity as Hinduism is from Buddhism. This can be confusing because our Mormon friends tell us that they are "Christians too." Also, they frequently use many of the same terms we use, but with very different definitions. So when they say that they are "Christians too" they either are not familiar with Biblical Christianity, or they are not being very honest. What they really mean, is that they are "true Christians" and we are of a lower class of apostate Christian. Joseph Smith taught that in his first vision God and Jesus told him "every other creed is an abomination" and "all of their professors are wrong" Joseph Smith History 1:19. In light of this, and coupled with the belief that every "good person" goes to a level of Mormon heaven, they don't necessarily feel like they need to discuss differences between the claims of Mormonism and Biblical Christianity. According to official LDS doctrine, rarely does anyone go to eternal hell, so to most Mormons, it is not worth arguing about.
We tend to see the stakes a bit higher. Christianity teaches that faith in the real Jesus alone brings salvation, and those who are not saved spend eternity separated from God in a literal Hell. Because of this, discussing differences with Mormons is difficult at best. They don't usually want to talk if you bring up problems or error in their belief. If you are a seeker, they are more than glad to talk and invite missionaries to discuss their beliefs with you. The idea is that if you buy the idea that they are "Christians too" you might be open to hearing about their alleged "restored gospel." Ironically the missionary discussions don't really get into what Mormons believe. These discussions are geared to seem like Christianity with a few extras. An extra book (The Book of Mormon,) a living prophet, and some extra intriguing secrets, The Mormon temple and its rituals. These are sold as the "lost" parts of the Christian Gospel. In reality, no part of the Mormon message is biblically Christian or the biblical gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Bible.)
On a fundamental level, Christianity is different from every religion. Religion is based on man's work or enlightenment, and Christianity is based upon what God has done through Jesus Christ. Christians are saved by putting their trust in Jesus Christ alone. Believing in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and His resurrection from the dead, to take away all of their sin and give them eternal life. “Not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of His grace, He declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life" Titus 3:5-7 NLT. We are "saved by grace, through faith, and that not of yourself, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast" Ephesians 2:8&9. Christianity is the work of God, and all true Christians go to the highest, and only heaven when we die because, and only because, of our faith in what Jesus has done for us.
In Mormonism, a man or woman is "saved by grace, after all that you can do" 2 Nephi 25:23. In other words, after you have done all that you can do, Jesus refinances the rest so you can work it off in one of their levels of heaven (see Miracle of Forgiveness S.W. Kimball Pg. 208.) You have to understand that salvation to a Mormon doesn't mean being with their Heavenly Father, it simply means being resurrected. Some of those who are "saved" will only be saved after 1000 years of torment in hell. Only faithful Mormons get to live in the heaven where the Heavenly Father dwells.
Like all man-made religions, Mormonism is a works-based religion. It is a system where righteousness is earned or achieved, and one of three levels of heaven is entered into based on how hard you have worked. Having said this, they also believe that almost everyone goes to one of three levels of heaven, the third level, the telestial level, is entered only after 1000 years of punishment (Hell). Only faithful Mormon's can go to the Celestial Kingdom and gain an eternal family (become a god or goddess over your own world, populating it with spirit offspring.)
At this point, I want to explain a few big-ticket differences between Mormonism and Biblical Christianity.
Who is God?
As Christians, we serve a God who is eternal (has no origin or ending), He is uncreated, therefore above all created things, and everything was created by Him. He is all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present, and unchanging. The Bible clearly shows Him manifested in three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet He is one God eternal in the heavens. He is incomprehensible (beyond our understanding.) And yet, He has made Himself known to us through His written word, the Bible, and through His Son (God in the Flesh) Jesus Christ.
Being the Almighty, with all of His attributes, He created mankind on this earth for fellowship with Him. His delight was in the sons of men. He allowed mankind to fall and evil to enter this world so that those who had a heart to know God would have to choose to come to Him. The only ones who would come to Him would be those who would be willing to rebel against their fallen human nature and only they would be given the right to be called His children.
In Mormonism, god is simply a man who became a god because of his works and faithfulness to Mormon like teachings on his own planet before exaltation. When he reached worthiness and perfection he and his wife(ives) were given physical bodies of flesh and bone and had billions of spirit children (children born in heaven without bodies from their physical parents.) The Mormon’s god is not eternal, not all knowing, not all powerful, not everywhere present. He is a man exalted to a god, and as man turned god he has limitations. In Mormonism Jesus and the Holy Spirit are separate gods who form a council with the Father that make up the Mormon’s version of the godhead. However, Heavenly Father is the only god Mormons are to worship, or pray to, the only god that they belong to; since he is their literal preexistence father. In this way, they see themselves as quasi-monotheists because they only worship one of the many gods. However, they are polytheists (believe in many gods) in their cosmology.
Who is Man?
The Biblical man is a man who was created in the image of God, and God delighted in him. But man disobeyed God and fell. The Bible teaches that due to this fall, all of mankind is born with a sinful nature and as an enemy to God in their hearts and minds. After the fall, every child would be born in this state. But God loved the world so much that He sent his only Son Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to redeem fallen man. Jesus took upon himself the penalty of death for every man born into this world. Those who receive this gift He gave them the right to be called the Children of God. He forgives and forgets their sin, and their names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
The redeemed man (a Christian) does not have a righteousness of his own but is given a new heart and a redeemed mind. God places His nature into the man and writes His laws upon their heart and mind. As the Christian draws closer to Jesus, God gives the Christian His nature and as a result, the Christian does works that please God, as opposed to works trying to earn God's favor.
These Christian men and women have been made joint heirs with Christ, they will be invited to sit on His throne with Him and to rule and reign with Him. They are given everlasting life and live in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit for all eternity.
In Mormonism, man is a person who was in a preexistent state in heaven. In this preexistence, they were born as spirits to their Heavenly Father (a god of flesh and bone) by one of his wives (also of flesh and bone) but somehow were born without a physical body. The oldest of these children was Jesus and the next was Lucifer. When a plan was set forth to create the world Jesus wanted to give people a choice to become gods, but Lucifer wanted to force everyone to become a god. Heavenly Father rejected Lucifer's plan and accepted Jesus' plan. As a result, war broke out in heaven and Lucifer and his followers were denied physical bodies (they became the devil and the demons) Jesus and his followers became "choice spirits" and would be born into white families and those who were neutral would be born into darker colored families. (Some of these ideas are not spoken of openly in mixed company because of how controversial they are toward people of color.)
When Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, Lucifer helped them gain mortality and the ability to bear children by showing them they could become like God if they ate of the fruit. Mormons teach that Adam and Eve had to exercise their agency (the ability to choose) whether to avoid the fruit of the forbidden tree and remain in a spirit state, or the command to be fruitful and multiply, something they couldn't do without becoming mortal. In the Mormon marriage ceremony, they are given fig leaf aprons to signify this (becoming mortal) and their first step toward becoming exalted. Mormons don't see the fall as a SIN but rather a trangression of the law. They praise Adam and Eve for making this choice so that spirit children could gain physical boides.
Contrary to the Bible and human nature, they teach that man is born into this world and is perfect and free from sin and sin nature. He becomes a sinner only when he sins. But Jesus came and died so that everyone ever born can be given a resurrection (Mormon idea of salvation.) The Mormon "gospel" is that it is man's goal to become perfect in his flesh, which includes keeping all of the commandments, doing Mormon works, including temple works, keeping yourself pure (word of wisdom and other ordinances) and being a faithful member of the LDS church. If you become perfect in the flesh you will reach exaltation and become a god of your own world. Most Mormons believe that this process could take much longer than their earthly existence, and most people will never make it.
They believe that most people will end up in their second level of heaven "the terrestrial kingdom" or the third level "the telestial kingdom." They don't really believe anyone will go to Hell in the eternal sense, the only people who go to the place where Satan is (outer darkness) are those who know the fullness of the truth (Mormonism) and reject it.
I could go on and on about differences but I hope that you can see from the descriptions above that Mormonism and Biblical Christianity are diametrically opposed to each other. Mormons find themselves carrying the heavy burden of trying to be worthy and groping for perfection. Sadly, they usually end up in despair and depressed.
Christians, who cling to Jesus, find love, joy, and peace that passes understanding. We know that we don't deserve it, but He calls us to come boldly before His throne of grace to receive mercy, grace, and help in our time of need. We know and feel that our shame has been wiped away and our guilt is gone. He tells us that in His sight we are perfect because of Jesus. Striving is over, and we enter into His rest. He calls us to lay all our burdens on Him. We are free!
Due to time constraints, I didn't make a bibliography, but if you would like references for any statements made, I would be happy to supply them. I may go back and add them as I get requests.
This article is not written to offend the Mormon people though it may seem offensive, it is not my purpose to attack Mormons but rather to shed light on the truth. Its purpose is to answer a question that was texted in. It is also my hope to educate those who are Christians in the event that they find missionaries on their doorstep, or have an LDS friend who assures them that they are a Christian too. If you are LDS and disagree with the way I have represented the LDS teachings, please let me know. I will consider any changes that you recommend and correct any misconceptions I may have. I absolutely do not want to give people the wrong idea about what Mormons believe, or what the LDS Church teaches. If you are LDS, please consider what is stated here, ask questions, leave comments, I would love nothing more than to see you come to know Jesus Christ in truth.