This coming Sunday, in Relief Society and priesthood quorum meetings, Mormons will pick up their study of the teachings of President George Albert Smith with chapter three. (For the past three weeks they have been studying other material in these meetings.) Chapter Three is entitled “Our Testimony of Jesus Christ” with the sub-title, “The restored gospel gives Latter-day Saints additional witnesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
The sub-title is instructive because it already indicates the main focus of Mormonism’s testimony about Jesus. It places the highlight on his divinity – on the fact that he is the Son of God. This emphasis carries through chapter three. Repeatedly it underlines the fact of his divinity.
I think it is very important that both Mormons and Christians are aware of this emphasis. Being sensitive to this emphasis can help both understand why many Christians say that the LDS don’t believe in Jesus. (The chapter begins by acknowledging that fact.) The problem is that what Christians mean when they say that they believe in Christ differs from what Mormons mean by that.
It is true that both describe Jesus as the Son of God. But they don’t mean the same thing with that statement. A key passage for Christians is John 5:23: “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.” These words of Jesus nicely summarize the biblical teaching that the Son is to receive the same honor as the Father receives. That is the force of the words “even as” in that passage. It means “just as”. The Son is to have equal honor with the Father.
This is something Mormonism doesn’t teach. Admittedly, this is often not apparent. But it is there. I don’t know how many Mormons, over the years, have explained the Bible passages that talk about one God by saying that there is only one God for this world, namely, Heavenly Father. Thus they do not see Jesus as the God of this world. Otherwise, according to their interpretation and line of thinking, there would be two Gods over this world.
In this regard read carefully Mormonism’s first article of faith. “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” Who is called God in that sentence? That it treats the Father and the Son differently is also brought out ever so subtly in how Mormonism describes worship. Again read carefully this sentence from True to the Faith. “As you reverently partake of the sacrament and attend the temple, you remember and worship your Heavenly Father and express your gratitude for His Son, Jesus Christ.” (p. 188)
Or how about prayer? “Your Heavenly Father loves you and knows your needs, and He wants you to communicate with Him through prayer. Pray to Him and no one else.” (True to the Faith, p.118) “Prayer is a sincere, heartfelt talk with our Heavenly Father. We should pray to God and to no one else.” (Gospel Principles, p. 35) Over the years, Mormons have responded that they pray to the Father through Jesus, in his name. But that is different than praying to Jesus. It is not giving Jesus equal honor.
In short, what Mormonism means when it calls Jesus the Son of God and what Christians mean when they call Jesus the Son of God are worlds apart. Christians call Jesus God and not just the Son of God. Christians worship Jesus as their God. Christians pray to Jesus as their God. Christians give Jesus equal honor with the Father.
Mormonism doesn’t. Therefore we feel that it falls under the verdict of the second half of John 5:23. After talking about giving the Son equal honor, Jesus said: “He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”