Tonight may be the night of the McCain-Obama so-called debate ( I prefer to call it a joint interview), but I need a break, and perhaps you do, too. So, last night I finished reading the Book of Mormon, and I'm going to write about that.
The final editors and writers, Mormon and his son Moroni, mention that the language they are writing in is "Reformed Egyptian," because it is more compact than Hebrew. It must be quite reformed indeed, since Hebrew omits all its vowels, and considerably more compact than standard Egyptian, whose sounds are represented by pictographs rather than more compact alphabetic characters. They also discuss their own ability to express themselves in writing, stating that in their culture people are inspired to speak, not to write. The Lord assures them that despite their weakness in writing compared to speaking, people will still read and believe. This reminds me of the Gospel of Mark, which reads well in translation, but was written badly in Greek.
But who is the audience for their work? Mormon and Moroni witness the complete destruction of their culture and their people. There is literally nothing and no one left when Moroni finally signs out. Yet they write in faith that God will bring out their work to a far future people.
And indeed, looking ahead to Doctrine and Covenants, that far future people consists of Joseph Smith, his companions, and the Church they found, or rather restore upon the earth. This is why Mormons do not subscribe to the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed. These creeds specifically claim apostolic succession for the Christian Church - direct connection of the church leadership from Jesus, Peter and the Apostles in the Holy Land to the present day.
In contrast, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church) does not claim this apostolic succession. Rather, church leadership passed from fathers to sons and disciples from 600 years before the coming of Christ, through his birth, life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, his post-resurrection appearances in the New World, to the annihilation of the Nephites after they had finally fallen away from the true faith. When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he appointed twelve Apostles to carry the Church forward among the Nephites (paralleling the twelve Apostles appointed in the Land of Israel). Hence the LDS Church is the original Christian Church of the Nephites restored after a hiatus of some 1400 years.
And not just restored, but personally handed off by Moroni, appearing as a resurrected being to Joseph Smith and giving him the engraved plates and the means to translate them. That is to say, the person-to-person connection is unbroken, even though a gap of 14 centuries has passed. The LDS church does not subscribe to the standard creeds because it participates in a parallel kind of Apostolic succession, independent of the rest of the Christian Church, and connected to it only through the person of Jesus Christ himself.
That said, there is still the question of what Mormons believe that is different from the rest of the Christian Church. For one thing, the designation "Son of God," is ambiguous in the New Testament. (And I continue to await the fourth volume of A Marginal Jew for an explication and exegesis of it.) In the Book of Mormon, however, it is quite clear. Jesus is God's Son in the same literal sense that I am the son of my human father.
There is also very specific soteriology (theology of salvation) in the Book of Mormon. The sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ opens the door of salvation, but it is up to the individual to walk through it. This is also the soteriology of much of the Christian Church, but not all of it. In Catholic soteriology, you must partake of the sacraments of the Church. In mainline Protestant soteriology, God calls you to salvation personally and specifically (God elects you) and you respond because God enables you to do so. Your own will is corrupted and unable to comply without God's help. That is to say, through Jesus Christ, God does all the work of salvation, and you do none.
Thus, the LDS ordinances (similar to sacraments) are administered only to those who have shown themselves worthy. In contrast, the individual is assumed to be unworthy in mainline Protestant soteriology, and thus the sacraments are administered because they have the power to make the recipient worthy. In the Catholic church, the sacraments must be administered by a priest, in the Protestant church the sacraments are believed effective regardless of who administers them. In the LDS church, every male adult is a member of the priesthood and can administer certain ordinances.
However, there are levels or orders of priesthood in the LDS church, such as the Aaronic priesthood, and the order of Melchizidek. These orders may have knowledge that is not published to the LDS Church as a whole, much less to the entire world. For example, I note that in the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ designates that three of the Nephite Apostles he appoints should "tarry," as the "Apostle whom Jesus loved," in the New Testament Gospel of John (presumably John, himself) should tarry. Again, the word "tarry" is an ambiguous concept in the New Testament. In the Book of Mormon it is quite specific - these three and John will remain alive on this earth until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in power and glory to end the world and judge the living and the dead.Perhaps there is some order of LDS priesthood that knows who they are.
Likewise the unnamed brother of Jared. The Jaredites were a separate people from the Nephites, whose records came into possession of the line of Nephite prophets and were translated by them and abridged by Mormon. The brother of Jared received great prophecies that are alluded to but not revealed in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps some order of LDS priesthood knows the name of the brother of Jared and something of his prophecies.
Finally, I note that according to the Book of Mormon, there is some kind of post-death conscious existence until the day of the Resurrection, when all, saved and sinner alike, are miraculously reunited with their bodies to stand before the judgement seat of Christ. The rest of the Church has varied opinions on what the post-death experience is like, because the description of it in the Bible is so sketchy.
Well, that's it for now. If I have erred it is because I am being lazy and am writing from memory, rather than doing the diligent thing and looking everything up, chapter and verse, in the Book of Mormon. Neither do I see it as my place to opine here on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. As the Book of Mormon implies, that is between the reader and God. I merely wanted to mention a few things that jumped out at me as theological differences between the LDS Church and the rest of the Christian Church. The differences are not so great, but differences there are.
Now, on to Doctrine and Covenants...