I think it’s pretty safe to say that every single church out there claims to be “the one and only true church or religion,” right? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is no exception. We do claim to be Christ’s restored Church. But what do Latter-day Saints believe is going to happen to you if you don’t get baptized into our church? HELLFIRE AND DAMNATION?! Take a deep breath, let’s work through it.
Not all, but some Christian denominations simply teach that if you don’t believe that Jesus Christ is your Savior, you will be sent to Hell. If that’s true, the vast majority of humanity is doomed to eternal torment. It’s not quite that simple to Latter-day Saints. Our beliefs about Heaven and Hell are a bit different.
For example, we believe that “Heaven” has a few different degrees to it, which we often refer to as “Kingdoms of Glory.” The kingdom where God the Father and Jesus Christ live is called the Celestial Kingdom. Those who will go there are those who accept Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, strive to keep the commandments, and receive certain ordinances by proper authority, such as baptism.
The next kingdom down is called the Terrestrial Kingdom. Those that go here are good people, but people that were “blinded by the craftiness of men” or people, even Latter-day saints, who were “not valiant in the testimony of Jesus” during their lives. While Christ may not live in this kingdom, we believe he will still visit and minister to these people from time to time. So, is this kingdom “Hell?” No. I mean, you might consider it Hell in that you have to live with the fact that you could have inherited the Celestial Kingdom, but this is still a kingdom of Heaven. Christ will still be here. People will be happy here.
The last kingdom is called the Telestial Kingdom. This is where the worst that humanity had to offer will go. But even here the people will obtain a certain level of happiness. Christ will not go here, but the Holy Ghost will visit from time to time.
The point is, no matter what religion you belong to, Latter-day Saints believe a form of heaven awaits you. Don’t get me wrong, if there are things we haven’t repented of, we’re going to suffer for them, but eventually everyone will either end up in the Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial Kingdom. They’re not all equal in awesomeness, but they’re all heaven.
Many people feel like that’s a patronizing doctrine because obviously nobody wants to be in a lower kingdom, but it’s actually quite merciful, if the only other option is an eternal Hell, which in many religions it is.
Of course, everyone’s goal should be to live worthily of the Celestial Kingdom. So the next question is, do I have to be a Latter-day Saint in order to enter the Celestial Kingdom?
The short answer is NO. People back in Christ’s day weren’t called Latter-day Saints. Moses technically wasn’t a Latter-day Saint. What matters is that we meet the requirements that Christ has set. One of those requirements is baptism by the authority of the Priesthood. We believe that authority is only found within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so there’s the catch. So the answer is no, but by implication, yes.
One of the purposes of Latter-day Saint temples is to perform proxy baptisms for people who have died that didn’t have the opportunity to learn about Christ and be baptized during their lifetime. Those people who have passed on, now spirits, will have the opportunity to accept or reject that baptism.
We do not consider people who are baptized by proxy to be Latter-day Saints, because we don’t know whether or not they accept that baptism. Even if they do accept it, I doubt The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exists in the afterlife the same way it does here.
Our scriptures simply teach:
All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;
For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.
The last point I want to make is this: God is fair. He’s not looking for excuses to bar you from Heaven. He wants you there. He is your judge, and He’ll look at everything when making the final call. Your circumstances, beliefs, biology, genetics, culture, everything. If you are simply doing your very best to live a Christ-like life during your time on this little blue planet, I am confident that, no matter your religion, you’re going to be comfortable with where you end up in the eternities.
Or the Latter-day Saint perspective is wrong and we’re all totally screwed. Leave a comment and subscribe!
In the news today there was an article about an adoption service in South Carolina that refuses to place foster children with Catholics “because they are not Christian.” There are over 45,000 Christian denominations in the world, all claiming to have authority and truth, and all claiming to put you on the path to heaven. Universalists do believe that everyone on earth goes to heaven, but if you look at the way life is structured, it allows for an infinite number of choices and consequences according to the “agency” of mankind.
Jean Paul Sartre, an existentialist writer, wrote that hell is essentially being around people you can’t stand. Who would you want to be with in the afterlife? For some people, living in the same realm as God’s most faithful prophets would be a dream come true. For others, it would be awful. God is absolutely fair, just, and merciful. Mortality is absolutely not fair, but in the Spirit World, God levels the field for all of His children. He is able to heal the wounds of mortality that so many of us suffer. He is able to present you with the true gospel and offer the atonement of His Son if you then wish to repent of your sins through Christ.
Because our agency is eternal, we can choose to repent or not and to be assigned to a place in heaven where we are most comfortable. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has power and authority assigned by Christ to seal in heaven what is sealed on earth, preparing people for the highest kingdom of heaven. Really, everything the Church says and does is supposed to help do that. What Mormon missionaries do is seek out those who might be spiritually prepared to start on that path.
It is said that the average person needs 11 encounters with Latter-day Saints and the gospel before he or she warms to it. Many are so prepared they need only one encounter.
Some people wonder what will happen if some family members set their sights on the Celestial Kingdom and others don’t. Since those who are heirs to Celestial glory minister to people in the Terestrial Kingdom, they can visit that kingdom. It’s a question of glory. People in the lowest kingdom, the Telestial, can’t abide the glory of a Celestial person. So look forward to ending up in heaven if you are a good person of any religion, and look forward to seeing your loved ones again on the other side, Mormon or not.