It only stands to reason that this would be one of the first questions asked by someone seeking to learn more about Mormonism. After all, the idea of “being saved” from Hell and eternal damnation and “going to heaven” when one dies is the basis of what most people in the West believe about an afterlife. Religion is usually presented as a means of “getting into heaven,” and more than a few religious people believe that others will not get into heaven unless they accept their religion--which can mean everything from “having a personal relationship with Jesus,” to obeying the dictates of a particular book of scripture, a particular person or an institution.
Because of all of this, it’s perfectly understandable that most people would assume that Mormons believe that only Mormons will “get into heaven.”
In the first years of the Mormon movement, it’s pretty safe to say that most Mormons--coming from a traditional Christian background--probably did believe this. After all, “The Book of Mormon” itself contained many passages on Hell, damnation and salvation.
And so it not only surprised many Mormons, but also troubled some, when on February 16, 1832 Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and his councilor, Sidney Rigdon had a vision of eternity that was not only at odds with “the Grand Scheme of Things” as traditionally envisioned, but also hinted that human nature itself was quite different than what was commonly believed.
Even Mormon leader Brigham Young admitted, "My traditions were such, that when the Vision came first to me, it was so directly contrary and opposed to my former education, I said, wait a little; I did not reject it, but I could not understand it" (Deseret News, Extra, September 14, 1852, p. 24).
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had been studying the Bible when they came across the Apostle Paul’s writings on the Resurrection of the Dead. Paul’s reference to there being “bodies Celestial and bodies Terrestrial” piqued their curiosity, and they decided to study further and pray over the matter.
Joseph Smith wrote:
"From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one."
After studying further in the Gospelof John, Joseph and Sidney decided to pray for further understanding and knowledge. As a result of their prayers, they envisioned what might now be called “The Mormon Grand Scheme of Things,” and set it down in writing. At first known simply as “The Vision,” it was widely circulated among Mormons and eventually was canonized as Section 76 of “The Doctrine & Covenants.”
From its birth, Mormonism had been viewed by most people as unorthodox. After all, it rejected the Bible as the sole source of authority, regarding “The Book of Mormon” and other writings by Joseph Smith as divinely inspired scripture. “The Vision” signaled what would eventually become a complete break not only from traditional Christianity, but also from monotheism itself. For those who accepted the scheme of things as laid out in “The Vision,” the question, “Who will get into heaven and who will go to hell?” became obsolete.
Of "The Vision," Mormon pioneer leader Wilford Woodruff said it was "a revelation which gives more light, more truth, and more principle than any revelation contained in any other book we ever read." Twentieth century LDS leader Elder Melvin J. Ballard called it "the greatest revelation the Lord, Jesus Christ, has ever given to man, so far as record is made."
The case could be made that in 1832 the majority of Christians believed that only Christians would inherit “The Kingdom of God.” Many believed that the majority of mankind would be damned. Thus it was believed that one’s eternal happiness would depend on whether one had accepted the right religion.
But according to “The Vision” recorded on February 16, 1832, one’s religious affiliation, as well as the doctrines that one accepted, had little if anything to do with this. What matter was one’s character, one’s personal virtue and righteous. That virtue would be manifested in one’s actions--in one’s works. It is by one’s works--not by one’s faith and beliefs --that one would be judged.
No one is either all good or all bad. Each human being is a mixture of light and dark. All have free will (Free Agency) and can chose their actions. People have minds that are capable of learning and acting upon new truth. In short, each of us can grow and progress.
Each of us is on an eternal journey not to a particular destination such as traditionally envisioned with Heaven and Hell, but journey towards becoming a particular type of person. We are each progressing, evolving; and since we are each a free agent, we each control the pace and extent of our progress and evolution. Being born in the image of God, each of us--by our very nature--can progress and become like God.
In “The Vision” the Glory of God--that is, God’s virtue, knowledge and power--was likened to the brilliant light of the sun. Those who become like God will inherit this glory: the Glory of the Sun, or Celestial Glory. “The Vision” went so far as to declare that those who inherited this Celestial Glory would., in fact, become Gods.
Because of their choices and works, some will not progress as far. Using the symbolism of light, “The Vision” says that some will inherit a glory that could be compared to the light of the Moon (Telestial Glory). Still others will progress and inherit a glory that could be compared to the Light of the Stars (Terrestrial Glory).
These various degrees of glory are not given to people by God or anyone else. One’s degree of glory is the direct result of the type of person that one has become--the knowledge gained, the virtue cultivated. Because of this, all people will have some degree of happiness in eternity.
Joseph Smith likened “The Vision” of February 16, 1832 to a “light which burst upon the world,“ the truths of which were “so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every man is constrained to exclaim: "It came from God"' (“The Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” p. 11).
A REFORM MORMON HOLIDAY
Because of the new understanding of humanity’s nature and divine potential laid forth in “The Vision,“ Reform Mormons revere February 16th as a holiday. In some Reform Mormon homes, the Sacrament will be taken as part of the day’s main meal. In some of their homes, Reform Mormons will light three candles--symbolizing the Celestial, Telestial and Terrestrial Glories. Still others may read “The Vision,” published as Section 76 in “The Doctrine & Covenants,” and mediate upon it. What unites all will be the feeling of celebration and thankfulness for a vision of eternity in which all human beings will inherit a degree of glory and happiness; a vision in which the labels of “saved” and “damned” have no place; a vision that truly embraces all mankind.
THE OBJECTIVE OF REFORM MORMONISM
Eternal Progression is central to Reform Mormonism. Whereas others might ask, “What must I do to be saved?,” Reform Mormons ask, “How can I become more like God? How can I progress? What more can I learn? How can I further develop my talents? I can I reach my full potential? How can I fulfill the measure of my creation?” In contemplating the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory, these questions can take on deeper meaning and help serve as a compass for living.
At the most basic level, Reform Mormonism is an approach to living for individuals who wish to progress, to realize their full potential and to have joy not only in eternity, but now in this life.
Reform Mormon rituals, ordinances and holidays have the most potential for deep meaning when they are observed in the home--either alone or in the company of family and friends.
The Sacrament (traditonally called Holy Communion or The Lord’s Supper ) is an ordinance to be observed in the home. Neither priest, rabbi or clergy is needed; Reform Mormons believe that each person can approach God as a Priest or Priestess for him or herself. The notion of “the Priesthood of All Believers” is an accepted truth for Reform Mormons.
The Sacrament--the blessing and partaking of bread and wine--usually takes place at one’s own dinner table, as part of one’s main meal on the Sabbath or on holidays.
If, as part of celebrating February 16th (The Day of Eternal Progression), you would like to administer the Sacrament, the Reform Mormon Sacramental prayers are printed below.
Once the food has been prepared and all members of the family are seated at the table, the person administering the Sacrament, waits for quiet, takes bread, and breaks it. After pausing for a moment of quiet meditation, the following is spoken:
(Addresses God,) we ask thee to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of thee, and of the covenant to emulate thy creation. Amen.
The bread is passed among all at the table, and all partake. The person administering then pours wine into a glass, pauses, and speaks:
(Addresses God,) we ask thee to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may drink in remembrance of thee, and always have thy spirit to be with them. Amen.
Once all have partaken of the wine, the Sacrament is ended; the meal progresses.
Reform Mormons have a variety of ways to address God in prayers and ordinances. The particular method chosen is at the discretion of the Officiator. Three of the most common are:
"O God, the Eternal Father,""O God, the Eternal Mother,""O God, our Eternal Parents"