Note: When conversing with anybody who is a Mormon, there is one general principle to follow: in the modern world, "Mormon" has become an almost taboo word. Therefore, throughout this series of post I shall refer to Mormons as LDS (Latter Day Saints), which is the standard by which Mormons identify themselves.
LDS Teaching #1: There are numerous gods.
Ask a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, etc. how many gods there are, and they are sure to answer, "One!". Indeed, the Old Testament passage Deut. 6:4 HCSB (known to those of a Jewish background as the Shema) states, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." There is One God...One. Christianity teaches that God is One but found in three separate but equal persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is Christianity 101 type stuff. However, the LDS church teaches something vastly different.
As a part of this discussion it must be noted that the LDS church doesn't only look upon the Bible as a sacred text. Nor do they acknowledge only the Bible and the Book of Mormon as sacred texts. They have four. These include, The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and their Doctrine and Covenants. For the sake of this conversation on gods, we must look at a book that is part of the Pearl of Great Price, "The Book of Abraham".
In 1835, Joseph Smith and the young LDS church purchased a scroll from ancient Egypt. Joseph Smith quickly "discovered" that he was able to interpret the scroll, and that it was indeed writings of Abraham (see Genesis 12 onward). Joseph Smith went on to interpret the scroll which is known today as the Book of Abraham. This book is of crucial significance to LDS doctrine, as it gives a detailed account of the creation of the earth. The book describes how a council of the gods comes together to discuss the creation and birth of various spirits, and the differences of the spirits...and so on.
At the time Joseph Smith and the LDS church purchased this Egyptian papyri, nobody on earth could translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, so nobody had any reason to doubt Smith's interpretation. The papyri was determined to have been written by the hand of Abraham himself, and nobody should doubt it's authority as a part of true scripture. To make a long account short, the papyri was eventually lost, and thought to have been burned The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. However, two things are of significance here: 1) Smith left facsimile's behind depicting the scrolls, and 2) the scrolls were later discovered to have not been destroyed, with the originals still fully in tact.
Due to the discovery of the Rosetta stone, these papyri have now been translated by scholars dozens of times. They are certainly not anything written by Abraham, but is instead the writings of ancient Egyptian burial ceremony (much like a funeral service today) known as "The Book of the Dead".
However, this is still a tremendous belief system in the LDS church. The Book of Abraham is still upheld today as a book written by Abraham himself, and Smith's translation of the document stands.
If discussing this point with an LDS member today, they will likely point to such Bible passages such as, Genesis 1:26 which says, "Let us make mankind in our image." They defend the counsel of the gods by acknowledging the the Hebrew text of the Old Testament itself using the term "us". However, the Christian teaching of this passage is that "us" refers to God and his angelic court, or perhaps is an early acknowledgment of the Trinity. There is much that could be written here, but Christian scholars affirm that it is not an acknowledgment of a plurality of gods.
For more on the Book of Abraham, feel free to check out these resources:
20 Truths About Mormonism
Outside the Book of Abraham, the LDS church teaches that we may become gods ourselves.
The Doctrine & Covenants states:
19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, ...Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; ...and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, ...and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.
22 For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me. (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-22)This is a drastically different teaching than what one would learn from Catholics or Protestants today. While there are some differences among denominations as to when believers in Jesus Christ will be in heaven with him (Luke 23:43), it is well taught that 1) We will be with Jesus - Phil 1:23, 2 Timothy 4:6 and 2) God will rule over a new heaven and a new earth (we won't rule or become gods over anything ourselves) - Revelation 19-21.
As you can see, these are not minor differences in a belief system, they are quite significant. We'll discuss more in future posts, concluding with ideas on how to converse with LDS members today about these differences.