You may have seen those two young men, dressed in white shirts with a black name-tag and wearing ties, riding bicycles in your neighborhood—Mormon missionaries. If you haven’t talked to them, you may be wondering what they are doing. According to Preach My Gospel, a Mormon missionary manual, they “have one message: Through a modern prophet, God has restored knowledge about the plan of salvation, which is centered on Christ’s Atonement and fulfilled by living the first principles and ordinances of the gospel.” (6)
Through a Modern Prophet, God has Restored Knowledge
Mormons believe that in the early 1800s, a boy of fourteen years old was trying to discover which of all the religions in his area was the one true religion. He lived in Palmyra, New York at the time, where his very religious family had moved to begin farming after three years of crop failure in Vermont. The boy, Joseph Smith, while trying to discern which of all the religious sects were right, discovered a verse in the Bible that spoke to him: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5, KJV).
The boy Joseph, took this verse to mean that he must pray and ask God which of all the religions were correct. So he did in the spring of 1820 “he went to a nearby grove of trees and knelt in prayer. He described his experience: ‘I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . . When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!’” (Preach My Gospel 37).
Joseph Smith later recounts that these two “personages” were God the Father and Jesus Christ, who revealed to Joseph that all the religions were wrong. Several more encounters with celestial beings occurred over the next several years before Joseph was called as a Prophet and given the Book of Mormon and allowed to re-establish the original church of Christ. Since then, there has consistently been a Prophet on the earth to receive revelation from God for modern times.
About the Plan of Salvation
According to Mormonism, a part of what the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed was the “Plan of Salvation.” This plan explains what happened before this life, why we are here on earth, and where we are going after we die—in essence, the purpose of life.
Mormons believe that before this life, each of us lived with God the Father, who is literally the father of us all. We lived as spirits—we looked the same and had our same personalities. There were two major differences between God the Father and the rest of us: first, God the Father had a spirit and a physical body that were intertwined, and second, He was an immortal and perfect individual. We, His children, wanted to be like Him, perfect in both character and body, so God created a plan to help us become just like Him.
The world was created as a place where we would come to receive a physical body and to prove our character—to see if we would choose good and righteousness if we weren’t in God’s presence. With the Garden and the Fall of Adam and Eve, humankind was given the ability to create physical bodies. God called Adam as the first prophet, and taught him the basic knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, and other righteous principles for living to improve our characters to be good, kind, decent, loving, etc.
After we die, our bodies separate temporarily and our spirits go to one of two places: (1) Spirit Prison, if we lived a life incongruent with the good character God has expected us to live by, or (2) Spirit Paradise, if we lived a life of good character. This state is temporary as we wait the final Judgment Day, where we will be separated into three “Kingdoms of Glory.”
According to Mormonism, God loves each of His children so much that all of His children will live in a state of peacefulness and glory, but at varying degrees dependent on our characters. Hell, or “Outer Darkness” is reserved for only a select few who out-rightly fight against God. The three Kingdoms are (1) the Telestial Kingdom, which is reserved for the worst behaved of God’s children on earth; (2) the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is reserved for those who lived good lives, but refused to accept the tenets of Mormonism; and (3) the Celestial Kingdom, which is reserved to the faithful members of God’s religion—the faithful Mormons.
Centered on Christ's Atonement
The entire Plan of Salvation is centered on the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ—the Atonement. According to Mormonism, the Atonement of Christ (1) allowed all humankind to repent of sins, to change from evil individuals to good individuals, and after this life, to become perfect individuals like God himself; (2) gave humankind grace—divine power and strength to overcome mortal weaknesses; and (3) gave humankind the chance to be resurrected like Christ himself after death, in order for us to return to God’s presence to be judged.
Fulfilled by Living the First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel
The Gospel of Christ, according to the tenets of Mormonism, is the process by which we begin to obtain the same character of God and Jesus Christ—the process to become perfect. The principles are actions that one lives by to improve his or her character, and ordinances are symbolic acts that occur at specific steps in character development to first prove to God one’s willingness to abide by ever higher laws and commandments, and second to empower with divine strength—grace—to live by those laws and commandments in a mortal state.
The Gospel is basically a series of steps that one repeats to continuously improve oneself until death.
Step 1â€”Faith in Jesus Christ
The first step is to have Faith in Jesus Christ, meaning that one has “a firm belief that He is . . . the Savior and Redeemer.” Faith leads to actions such as obedience to various commandments.
The second step is repentance, meaning that one changes their beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors to align with God’s will—or in other words, Truth. This is done by (1) reading and studying what has been revealed by ancient prophets, the scriptures, and modern prophets, from publications by the Mormon church; and (2) by praying to God, like Joseph Smith to have individual revelation as to Truth.
Step 3â€”Making, Keeping, and Renewing Covenants
The third step is making, keeping, and renewing covenants. Covenants are simply two-way promises with God, in which God makes the terms and His children agree to them, and for agreeing, God promises to bless them. Mormons believe in baptism, which is an ordinance, as explain previously, that has a covenant connected to it. When someone is baptized into Mormonism, they promise to live according to God’s commandments as explained in Mormon tenets. Then they are responsible for living by those commandments. Mormon’s renew these covenants every week in church service through the sacrament—the bread and wine; however, Mormon’s use water not wine.
Step 4â€”Receiving the Holy Ghost
The fourth step is receiving the Holy Ghost. The reception of the Holy Ghost is an ordinance that occurs right after baptism, when the new convert is given the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the priesthood of the local congregation. However, the reception of the Holy Ghost is progressive in that as one increases in faith, repents more fully to be more aligned with God’s will, and keeps one’s commandments more faithfully, the influence of the Holy Ghost increases in the life of the individual and thereby helps to perfect the individual.
Step 5â€”Endure to the End
The final step is endure to the end. This step merely means to repeat steps one through four. The idea is that as one begins living this pattern—increase one’s faith in Jesus Christ; repents; makes, keeps, and renews covenants; and receives of the Holy Ghost more abundantly—it will progressively enlighten, perfect, and change permanently the nature of an individual until, with divine intervention through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the individual will return to God’s presence in the Celestial Kingdom as a perfected and glorified human being, like God.
Ultimately, the beliefs of Mormonism decree that the purpose of life is to ultimately become as God is—a glorified, perfect human who has a fullness of joy.