The premise of the Book of Mormon as a “restoration of the gospel” rests upon the gradual corruption of the Roman Catholic Church unto complete apostasy. But the twofold irony of Mormonism is that in its brazen condemnation of Roman Catholicism, it spawned a new strain of doctrine that repeats many of Rome’s errors — and eclipsed the plain and precious truth of the Christian gospel.
Plenty of helpful resources have been written detailing the problems of Roman Catholicism as well as Mormonism, but very little has been produced showing the doctrinal resemblance of these two systems, as well as their historical relationship. My intent here is not to hector multiple religions in one stroke, but to objectively and factually analyze how Roman Catholic dogma historically was the antecedent for at least one of the major American cult systems that grew out of the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.
My goal has been to be historically equitable and exegetically sound. Having said that, this article is written from the angle of a confessional Protestant — one who thinks the stakes here are very high and is deeply concerned for the salvation of people who hold to these beliefs. It’s not the individual people of these religions we Protestants take issue with, but the fundamental doctrines of these systems in question. We care enough to confront these issues with people because we are convicted that eternity is hanging in the balance.
Protestants hold that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. As a Protestant, I believe the five solae, the leading doctrinal formula of the Reformation, when properly understood and applied continue to prove a potent antidote to counteract the effects of all types of toxic doctrine — for the purpose of healing and purifying God’s people.
We find that there were essentially two causes of the Protestant Reformation from the existing Roman Catholic system: the formal cause, which is the dispute over the supreme authority of Scripture to govern God’s people; and the material cause, that is, the dissonance concerning justification by faith alone as the means of salvation for the Christian. We’ll examine the relevance of both, the authority of Scripture as the fundamental element, and that forefront argument which it undergirds: justification by faith alone, which is the real eye of the storm.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is always at risk of distortion. It became distorted in the centuries leading up to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. It became distorted at innumerable other points of church history, and it is often distorted today,” wrote Dr. R.C. Sproul. “That is why Martin Luther said the gospel must be defended in every generation. It is the center point of attack by the forces of evil. They know that if they can get rid of the gospel, they can get rid of Christianity … The Reformation was simply a commitment to biblical truth, and as long as there are departures from biblical truth, we have to be involved in the task of reformation.” (Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism, Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012, pg. 1, 8)
Reformed theology is known for making theological distinctions. In this study, the juxtaposition of doctrine will be presented as the Biblical teaching, the Roman Catholic teaching, the Mormonism teaching and finally, the Confessional Reformed teaching, which in history stands between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mormon Church. There are at least a few more parallels that are more peripheral than essential and will not be discussed — as well as Roman Catholicism’s and Mormonism’s own distinctive and categorical aberrations from biblical teaching. For the purposes of this survey, we’re dealing with the mutual errors that most directly pertain to salvation.