More editing and trimming (still a work in progress!)
Joseph Smith and early Mormon leaders taught that any person with a testimony of Christ is a [[prophet]]. However, the LDS church remains a
highly hierarchial organization, with a president-prophet (usually assisted by two "Counselors") who claims to alone possess all the "keys" to prophetic power and authority. Most modern members of the LDS church believe that their current president, Gordon B. Hinkley (as of 2008), is a living prophet, and the sole person authorized to speak definitively for God on the earth today. Below this president and his counselors are twelve "Apostles," who are also considered "prophets, seers, and revelators," but do not exercize the authority held by the church president. Beneath the Mormon apostles are the "Seventies," concerned mainly with heading up Mormon missionary efforts worldwide, together with a "presiding Bishopric" mostly concerned with temporal church affairs. These men are collectively referred to as the "General Authorities" of the Mormon church.<ref>All Utah LDS priesthood offices are limited to men; the Community of Christ, on the other hand, ordains both men and women (since 1984).</ref>
A local Mormon congregation, called a "ward" (equivalent to an Orthodox parish) is headed by a "bishop" (equivalent to an Orthodox parish priest). A group of wards occupying a specific geographical area is organized into a "stake" (equivalent to an Orthodox diocese), headed by a "stake president" (equivalent to an Orthodox bishop). The disparity between Mormon and Orthodox usage of
the term "bishop" can cause confusion for the uninitiated!
potential source of confusion is the Mormon usage of the word "Elder." Whereas Orthodox Christians use "Elder" to refer to a holy person who has been given a special gift or charism of spiritual insight and direction (but who is not necessarily a priest or monk, or even a male), Mormons use this term to refer to a specific office in the higher of their two "priesthoods" (the lower is called the " Aaronic Priesthood," while the higher is called the " Melchizedek Priesthood ;" "Elder" is the lowest office in this " higher priesthood" ) which is generally held by all male members of their church over the age of eighteen who are deemed "worthy" of it.
===The "Doctrine of Eternal Progression"===
A major pillar of Mormon belief is their concept of [[theosis|deification]], which they refer to as the "Doctrine of Eternal Progression." This
doctrine bears little genuine resemblance to the Orthodox doctrine of [[theosis]], as explained by the [[Holy Fathers]] of the Church. In diametric opposition to the Trinitarian dogmas of the [[First Ecumenical Council|First]] and [[Second Ecumenical Council|Second]] [[Ecumenical Council|Ecumenical Councils]], Mormons believe that [[God]] the Father, whom they refer to as "Elohim ,"<ref>LDS Bible Dictionary, Entry "God," at http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/g/43.</ref> was originally a flesh-and-blood human being, who was spiritually "begotten" by another "god" (and his "godess" wife) who lived before him and then physically born on another planet (not Earth). "Elohim" lived an ordinary human life, and by following his world's version of Mormonism, he gradually "progressed" to "become" the "god" he is today.<ref>Numerous quotes from Mormon leaders on this topic, past and present, may be read at http://blog.mrm.org/category/eternal-progression/. See also the ''Mormonwiki'' article on "Eternal progression" at http://www.mormonwiki.org/Eternal_progression.</ref>
For a casual observer, this may seem similar to the Church's teaching of [[theosis]], but this is most emphatically ''not'' so:
:'''Third''', Theosis is a unification between God and mankind, not the creation of an entirely separate deity (or dieties).
While Mormonism claims to focus on salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ, their concept of ''exaltation'' goes far beyond this. All mankind, say the Mormons, will be saved from death through the resurrection of
Jesus Christ; but it is only those whom God judges as obedient and faithful, who receive specific saving ordinances (which will be offered to every person that has ever lived), and who fully accept the atonement of Jesus Christ before the judgment who will be exalted to the highest of the three "degrees of glory" which comprise the Mormon vision of heaven. Only those exalted to this highest "Celestial glory" will become "gods" and go on to create their own worlds. Those in the lower two degrees, while enjoying a blessed and happy state, will still be limited in their "progression" and will become "servants" to those in the highest "degree. "
The Mormon hell is limited to those who have apostasized from the Mormon religion, broken their oath of secrecy about the Temple rituals (see below), committed murder after becoming a Mormon, or are guilty of other very serious offenses.
===Attaining to "Godhood"===
To attain to the "Celestial glory" (and thus, Mormon "godhood"), one must be baptized as a Mormon by "true authority" (meaning a regularly-ordained member of the LDS church), confirmed by
"true authority, " and then receive certain "sacred" or "higher" ordinances that can only be had within a Mormon temple. While Orthodox Christians tend to use the term "temple" to refer to any Orthodox Church building, Mormons use this term only for specific structures specially dedicated as such.<ref>The regular Mormon meetinghouses are generally called "chapels" or "stake centers," and unlike their temples, are generally open to the public.</ref>
Within these structures, Mormons practice (for themselves, or on behalf of others):
:'''Baptism for the Dead''', where proxies act on behalf of deceased persons who are then "baptized" into the LDS church; names are obtained from geneological research, for which the Mormons are world-famous. This practice was rejected by the Council of Hippo and the Third Council of Carthage, and St. John Chrysostom associated it with the heretical [[Marcionites]]. St. Clement of Alexandria indicated that Baptism for the Dead was a doctrine also particular to the [[Gnosticism|Gnostics]].
:'''The so-called "Endowment'''," where initiates are taught the "fullness" of Mormon doctrine on such subjects as the "plurality of Gods," the Mormon version of creation, and the process by which one may "progress to godhood." Additionally, participants take a solemn oath never to reveal anything that goes on in the temple, as well as oaths to faithfully abide by all
of the Mormon teachings. This ceremony essentially becomes a "contract" between the Mormon "god" and his adherents, by which they promise to obey his laws and earthly leadership, and he in turn promises to advance them to "godhood" upon their resurrection. Many elements of this ceremony were stolen from the rituals of the heretical [[Freemasons]], and Joseph Smith (who had been a Master Mason himself) was expelled from membership in that fraternity as a result.
:'''Marriage for Eternity''', where participants, upon receiving their "Endowment," are married "for time and all eternity." This is seen as an indespensible requirement for "godhood." The Orthodox Church has traditionally rejected this concept.
===The Mormon Concept of Angels===
In sharp contrast to Orthodoxy, which views angels (whether righteous or fallen) as a separate class of beings created by God prior to
(and separate from ) humanity, Mormonism sees angels as being either the pre-existent spirits of human beings not yet physically born, or the spirits of departed "righteous" men (such as characters from the Bible and the ''Book of Mormon'', for instance ). "Moroni," the alleged "angel" who showed the original golden plates of the ''Book of Mormon'' to Joseph Smith (see below), was supposed to have been an ancient American prophet who figures prominently in the final portions of that book.
In contrast to the traditional Orthodox admonition to mistrust ''any''
seemingly spiritual manifestations one might see (even Orthodox saints have been deceived by demons, such as St. [[Nikita]] the Venerable of Novgorod, for instance!), Joseph Smith offered his followers a rather novel test by which he claimed to be able to discern true angels of God from demons. This test, which involved asking to shake the "angel's" hand, is found in LDS Doctrine and Covenants Section 129,<ref>http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Doctrine_and_Covenants/Section_129</ref> and illustrates the deluded kind of teaching this "American Prophet" offered his followers. In the life story of St. Martin of Tours , one may see that the fallen angels are quite capable of affecting the human sense of touch (contrary to Joseph Smith's assertion ), the same as other senses.<ref>See St. Martin's story at http://celticchristianity.org/COCQ/COCM200111.html, or in Chapter Five of Fr. Seraphim Rose's ''Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future''.</ref>
==="The Great [[Apostasy]]" and Apostolic Succession===
Like many Restorationist heresies that arose in the
early 18th and 19th centuries, Mormons believe that the [[Orthodox Church|Church]] entered an age of opprobrium several years after its founding. Since most Mormons tend to follow the erroneous Western viewpoint that posits [[Roman Catholicism ]] as the "ancient church" (rather than Orthodoxy ), they are often surprised to hear that Orthodoxy even exists , much less that it predates Roman Catholicism and all other Christian sects. But no matter, say they; the original Church of Christ--whatever its name might have been--"fell away" completely sometime after the Apostolic Age. In doing so, it lost all right to perform sacraments, consecrate priests, or otherwise act in the Name of God. And from that moment until 1830, say the Mormons, there was no true Church of any kind anywhere on the earth.
While Mormons offer no specific date for this alleged
event, they largely tend to believe that it had been accomplished by the time of St. [[Constantine the Great]] and the calling of the [[First Ecumenical Council]] in A.D. 325. Essentially, Mormons reject the [[One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church]], by professing that while it may have once been the Church founded by [[Jesus Christ]] and promulgated through his [[Apostle|Apostles]], it long ago ceased to be so. The Orthodox Church, which at this very moment traces its unbroken succession to the Apostles themselves and ''alone'' teaches the fullness of their doctrine and practice, ergo is in apostasy according to the Mormons.
Mormons point to New Testament scriptures<ref>I Timothy 4:1, II Timothy 3:1-5, Acts 20:28-31, among others.</ref> that they assert as speaking of a complete apostasy of the entire Church, as proof of their assertions. While Orthodox Christians would agree that these passages did indeed speak of apostates to come (such as [[Arius]], [[Nestorius]] and [[Paul of Samosata]], for instance), they emphatically reject the Mormon interpretation (advanced to varying degrees by nearly all Protestants) that the entire Apostolic Church would fall into heresy. In St. Matthew 16:18, our Lord clearly states that the "gates of hell shall not prevail" against the Church He Himself founded
, and which the Mormons themselves agree indeed existed (but which they claim to have been subsequently lost ).
Mormons believe strongly in the concept of Apostolic Succession, which they refer to as "Priesthood succession" or "Priesthood lineage." However, since they recognize no church prior to the establishment of their own in 1830, they trace their succession to one of four "exalted beings,"<ref>The Mormons claim these beings to have been St. John the Baptist, and the Holy Apostles SS Peter, James and John.</ref> who they claim visited Joseph Smith on two separate occasions in the 1820's, just prior to their church's founding.