This is the foundational teaching that affects virtually all other Mormon beliefs. "As man is, God once was; As God is, man may become." Much of the following is borrowed/adapted from Sandra Tanner‘s booklet, The Bible and Mormon Doctrine.
a. Pre-existence of man
(1) Intelligences: Mormons teach that matter has eternally existed, and they don’t really have an explanation as to how this came about. Intelligences were part of this pre-existing matter. Somewhere, somehow, the first man came into existence and, through his works, he became a god. Somewhere along the line he acquired a wife who was his goddess and they produced spirit children. Again, with no real explanation, the Mormon doctrine teaches that this progression has been eternal and in this line came the man who became exalted as a god over this planet.
(2) Spirit Children: All beings of which we know - humans and angels - were all born as spirits to Heavenly Father and his wife, Heavenly Mother. They all lived in the Spirit World, and this is known as the “First Estate.”
(3) War in Heaven: Prior to sending the spirit children to earth to earn their salvation, Heavenly Father wanted a way for them to have atonement for sin. Two of his spirit children, Jesus and Lucifer, had plans that they felt would be proper. Heavenly Father chose the plan by Jesus over that of Lucifer. Lucifer became angry and gathered a following of spirit children and fought a war against Jesus and his supporters. Lucifer and his followers lost the war and were cast out of Heaven with no chance to get a body on earth, so they became the evil forces on earth and will eventually be sent to the second death.
(4) Man reaps what he sowed in pre-existence: Those spirit children who followed Jesus now become born on earth depending on how well they performed for Jesus, and then they can progress through this “Second Estate.” Those spirits who remained neutral, who refused to choose sides between Jesus and Lucifer, were punished by being born on earth with dark skin. Skin color is the way in which we can tell how well people performed in the pre-existence.
b. Earth; Man's second estate:
(1) The Fall of Adam: According to Mormons, Adam was supposed to sin or else he never could have had children, who then would not have had a chance to progress to godhood.
(a) “Adam, our first parent (1 Ne. 5:11), a "son of God" (Moses 6:22), was first placed on earth as an immortal being. … Blood did not flow in Adam's veins, for he was not yet mortal, and blood is an element that pertains exclusively to mortality. … Radical changes were in the offing for man, the earth, and all forms of life when the fall came. In that first edenic day, Adam was still in the presence of God… He had not yet come to that state of mortal probation in which are found the testings and trials requisite to a possible inheritance of eternal life. As yet the full knowledge of good and evil had not been placed before him; and, what was tremendously important in the eternal scheme of things, he could have no children. [my emphasis] But all these conditions, in the providences of the Almighty, were soon to change. According to the foreordained plan, Adam was to fall…. Adam was to introduce mortality and all that attends it, so that the opportunity for eternal progression and perfection might be offered to all the spirit children of the Father. In conformity with the will of the Lord, Adam fell both spiritually and temporally.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 268.)
(b) “Adam fell, but he fell in the right direction. He fell toward the goal…. Adam fell, but he fell upward.” (Sterling W. Sill, Deseret News, Church Section, 7/31/65, p. 7, cited by Tanner)
(c) “This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin in the strict sense, for it was something that Adam and Eve had to do!” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.121, cited by Tanner)
(2) Christ's mission: “It was also necessary because of Adam’s transgression for the Only Begotten Son of the Father to come to redeem the world from Adam’s fall.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.121, cited by Tanner)
(3) Christ's birth: Christ’s conception was by the way of literal sexual intercourse between the Mormon god and Mary, who he took as his wife. LDS claims she is still a virgin to mortal man because it was the god-man who had relations with her. Christ was then born as any human is born. This is a doctrine which officially the LDS church denies, yet it has been taught by their apostles, prophets and other teachers.
(a) “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which he performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father.” (Ezra Taft Benson, 13th President of the LDS, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 1988,pp.6-7)
(b) “Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers.” “Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; he was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events.” (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 546-7, p742. McConkie was an apostle, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, and a General Authority )
(c) “The birth of the Savior was a natural occurrence unattended with any degree of mysticism, and the Father God was the literal parent of Jesus in the flesh as well as in the spirit.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, 6th LDS President, Religious Truths Defined, p.44)
(4) The Atonement: The LDS teach that the atonement of Christ paid for the sin of Adam and paves the way for our individual atonement by our works. One citation will suffice here, although many more can be brought to bear.
(a) “The atonement of Jesus Christ is of a twofold nature. Because of it, all men are redeemed from mortal death and the grave, and will rise in the resurrection to immortality of the soul. Then again, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, man will receive remission of individual sins, through the blood of Christ, and will inherit exaltation in the kingdom of God, which is eternal life.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, p.123)
(5) Mormon Temple Work: This is where a lot of the works are done for “points” towards exaltation. There are elaborate ceremonies to “endow” members as “Temple Mormons” - qualified to perform baptisms for the dead and to be married for eternity, both of which take place in the temples. In order for exaltation, a Mormon man must have a wife and must be married in the temple. For those who died without hearing the gospel, they can hear it after death while in spirit prison and be baptized by proxy by someone doing the temple works. Without baptism, one cannot enter the celestial kingdom. Temple ceremonies developed mostly from Masonic ceremonies. The ritual required special clothing with Masonic symbols on them. Smith taught that the Masonic ritual was a corruption of the ancient temple ritual and that the Mormons restored it.
c. Spirit Prison (Hell) or Paradise: Upon death all spirits will go to one of these places. Those who have been baptized as Mormons go to Paradise, while all others go to Spirit Prison to repent. The spirits in Paradise preach the gospel to those in Spirit Prison. Those who repent and are vicariously baptized, will then go to Paradise for the first resurrection and into the millennium , while those who remain evil and refuse to repent await the second resurrection to judgment. Joseph Smith stated, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” (Times and Seasons, Vol.5, p.616).
d. First Resurrection/Millennium: “Two great resurrections await the inhabitants of the earth: one is the first resurrection, the resurrection of life, the resurrection of the just; the other is the second resurrection, the resurrection of the damnation, the resurrection of the unjust…. Those being resurrected with celestial bodies, whose destiny is to inherit a celestial kingdom, will come forth in the morning of the first resurrection. Their graves shall be opened and they shall be caught up to meet the Lord at his Second Coming. They are Christ’s first fruits, and they shall descend with him to reign as kings and priests during the millennial era…. ‘then cometh the redemption of those who are Christ’s at his coming; who have received their part in that prison which is prepared for them, that they might receive the gospel, and be judged according to men in the flesh.’ (D.&C. 88:99). This is the afternoon of the first resurrection; it takes place after our Lord has ushered in the millennium. Those coming forth at that time do so with terrestrial bodies and are thus destined to inherit a terrestrial glory in eternity. (D.&C. 76:71-80.)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p.640.) “The great work of the millennium will be the salvation of the dead, and those who are on the other side will help us, too, by bringing us information…. GENEALOGICAL RECORDS TO BE REVEALED IN MILLENNIUM. Those who will be living here then will be in daily communication with those who have passed through the resurrection, and they will come with this information, this knowledge that we do not have and will give it to those who are in mortality saying, ‘Now go into the temples and do this work; when you get this done, we will bring you other names.’ And in that way every soul who is entitled to a place in the celestial kingdom of God will be ferreted out, and not one soul shall be overlooked. The Lord has not overlooked these things. He has seen the end from the beginning. Every name is recorded.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.2, pp. 166-167)
(1) A particularly odd doctrine is that in order for a Mormon woman to be resurrected she has to be called forth from the grave by her husband, using the new name given to her in their temple wedding. Otherwise, women remain in the grave.
(2) Plural marriage will be restored in the millennium. Polygamy was put on hold by President Wilford Woodruff in 1890, but the doctrine of plural marriage is still very much in force as outlined in Doctrine & Covenants Section 132. This doctrine states that a man must have more than one wife to become like a god in the Celestial Kingdom.
(3) Animal sacrifices will be restored at the beginning of the millennium.
e. Second Resurrection: During the millennium, those who did not go to paradise spent the entire 1000 years in Hell. At the end of the millennium they are resurrected to face judgment. “At the end of the millennium, the second resurrection begins…. These are the ones who have earned telestial bodies, who were wicked and carnal in mortality, and who have suffered the wrath of God in hell ‘until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work.’ (D.&C. 76:85) Their final destiny is to inherit a telestial glory. (D.& C. 88:102). Finally, in the latter end of the resurrection of damnation, the sons of perdition, those who ‘remain filthy still’ (D.& C. 88:102), shall come forth from their graves.” (Mormon Doctrine, p.640) “Truly he has declared that those who reject his truth shall be damned, but he has not said that when they have paid the penalty of their transgression they shall not come forth from the prison house. But on the other hand, he has said that after they have paid the penalty of their transgression, they shall come forth, and they shall receive their reward.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, pp.131-132)
f. Judgment day: On this day, at the end of the millennium, everyone will be judged and it will be determined where they will spend eternity.
g. Eternity. The three levels of heaven idea was developed in 1831. It reflects a universalist view of salvation. “Contrary to the views found in the uninspired teachings and creeds of modern Christendom, there are in eternity kingdoms of glory to which all resurrected persons (except the sons of perdition) will eventually go. These are named: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial - the glory of each being beyond mortal comprehension. (D.&C. 76:1 Cor. 15:39-42; Rev. 21). However, only the celestial kingdom is the kingdom of God where the faithful saints will gain their eternal inheritance. All who fall short of the glory of eternal life will in greater or lesser degree be damned (even though they dwell in a kingdom of glory), for their eternal progress will be limited, and they can never go on to an eternal fullness in the Father’s presence (D.&C. 132:16-17).” ( Mormon Doctrine, p. 420) There is no progression from Kingdom to Kingdom.
(1) Celestial Heaven - the glory of the sun; where true members go. There are actually three levels in the Celestial Kingdom: “Rewards granted individuals in eternity will vary between and within kingdoms. Only those who are sealed in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and who thereafter keep the terms and conditions of that covenant will attain the highest of three heavens within the celestial kingdom.” (Ibid) Part of this marriage covenant for the highest echelon is procreation. This is what is called “eternal life” in Mormon theology. These people reach “exaltation” and become gods, and will then go to different worlds to go through the whole process all over again. Those Mormons who were not married in the temple are in the two lower levels of the Celestial Kingdom where they still have immortality, but they will be servants and ministers of those who reached exaltation. They will remain unmarried.
(2) Terrestrial Heaven - the glory of the moon; for those who never knew the gospel according to Mormons, but were good people and accepted the gospel while in Spirit Prison. “And again, we saw the terrestrial world,… Behold, these are they who died without the law;… Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men…. These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fullness of the Father.” (D&C 76:71-78) Those in this kingdom will also remain unmarried and unable to procreate. They will be servants and ministers to those in the Celestial Kingdom.
(3) Telestial Heaven - the glory of the stars; for those who refused the law of God. “Most of the adult people who have lived from the day of Adam to the present time will go to the telestial kingdom…. They will be the endless hosts of people of all ages who have lived after the manner of the world rather than accept the testimony of Jesus; who have been liars and thieves, sorcerers and adulterers, blasphemers and murders …. ‘And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end.’ (D.&C. 76:112)” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 778) “Though they attain a kingdom of glory, yet to all eternity they are damned, cannot go where God and Christ are…and are never completely free from the lingering remorse that always follows the loss of opportunity.” (Ibid., p. 235) “Those who live lives of wickedness may also be heirs of salvation, that is, they too shall be redeemed from death and from hell eventually. These, however, must suffer in hell the torments of the damned until they pay the price of their sinning, for the blood of Christ will not cleanse them.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, p. 133-134).
(4) Second Death: We have already seen that Satan and his followers were cast out of heaven and didn’t get to go through the second estate, the resurrection and judgment. So for eternity they go to the second death. The other class of people who go to the second death are “Those in this life who gain a perfect knowledge of the divinity of the gospel cause, a knowledge that comes only by revelation from the Holy Ghost, and who then link themselves with Lucifer and come out in open rebellion, also become sons of perdition. Their destiny, following the resurrection, is to be cast out with the devil and his angels, to inherit the same kingdom in a state where ‘their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.’ (D.&C. 76:32-49; 29:27-30...)” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 746) So who are these people? They are ex-Mormons who have rebelled against the Mormon doctrine and left the church.
Christian response to eternal progression.
To begin with, there is only one God and there have never been, nor will there ever be, any more gods (Is. 43:10-11; Is. 44:6). Only God pre-existed before he created man, and God is not married nor did he have spiritual children. Adam and Eve rebelled against God when they chose to disobey Him. They were able to have children before their sin (Gen. 1:28), unlike the Mormon Adam and Eve. The Bible tells us we can do nothing to earn our salvation (Is. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9), that we must put our faith in Christ to have our sins forgiven. Eternal life is just that and not a state of godhood and procreating. There is no second chance at salvation (Heb. 9:27). And while the Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection and a millennium, there is no marrying in heaven (Matt. 22:30). There is only one level of heaven and only those who have placed their faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for their sins will be saved.