We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
All may be saved
That's our happy message, that all men and women can be saved. Mormons do not wish, as others accuse us, to be the only ones in heaven. We want everyone to be there. We strive for all men to be worthy of the greatest reward that divine justice will allow.
The Lord... inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God both Jew and Gentile. (2 Ne. 26:33)
"For any people to believe that it is the only people in whom God is interested, or helps, or that we have special merit because of our color, race, country or beliefs, that is, that we are inherently superior and loved by God without regard to the lives we live is one of the great fallacies and barriers to peace. This is a fallacy whether in an exploded myth of an Aryan race of supermen, or disguised in more subtle form in our own consciousness. We must not be guilty of such a fallacy." (Harris, Franklin S. Jr., The Book of Mormon: Messages and Evidences, p. 20)
James E. Faust
I hope we can all overcome any differences of culture, [and] race....In my experience, no race or class seems superior to any other in spirituality and faithfulness....Spiritual peace is not to be found in race or culture or nationality, but rather through our commitment to God and to the covenants and ordinances of the gospel. (Ensign, May 1995, pp. 61,63)
Would it not be marvelous if all the world could see and come out of darkness, as Peter said, to his marvelous light, and we have it to offer, and we invite all men everywhere to listen to our message, and I always say that there is not an honest man or an honest woman in this world who really loves the Lord who would not join this Church if he knew what it was. (Conference Report, April 1962, Second Day-Morning Meeting 44)
What does it mean to be saved?
We believe in a heaven with three degrees: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial (D&C 76; 1 Cor. 15: 40). In a manner of speaking, all who inherit one of these three kingdoms are "saved." If you define salvation as being saved from physical and spiritual death, then all but the sons of perdition are saved. The lowliest soul in the telestial kingdom is saved from physical death by the resurrection; he is also saved from spiritual death, the separation from the presence of God, by virtue of the influence of the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost (D&C 76:86). On the other hand, the sons of perdition, while saved from physical death by the universal resurrection, are not saved from spiritual death. Hence the scripture, "These are... the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord." (D&C 76:36, 38)
That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him; (D&C 76:40-42)
To be fair, salvation in the telestial kingdom is NOT what Joseph Smith is talking about in the third Article of Faith. He is talking about being saved "in the kingdom of God," or the celestial kingdom. That is an important distinction. Also, exaltation and salvation are not the same thing. Exaltation refers to the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom, "And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it." (D&C 131:2-3) Temple marriage is the ordinance that qualifies an individual for exaltation. Without it, one can be saved but he can't be exalted.
In LDS theology, it is correct to discuss salvation in terms of any of the three kingdoms of glory. More commonly, however, the term refers to a celestial reward. On occasion, it is used to refer to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. If we use the term salvation in so many different ways, perhaps other Christians do the same thing.
What does it mean to be saved? That depends on who you ask and their understanding of the term salvation. Way too many conversations with our Christian friends have been unnecessarily confrontational because we use the term salvation differently. We need to be on common ground when discussing salvation and its requirements. Most Christians think of salvation in terms of going to heaven. They don't have a complex vision what heaven is like, and they are speaking of the immediate state of the soul after death. What we call spirit paradise is the Christian heaven. They do not imagine a different destiny after the resurrection. They don't believe in three degrees of glory in the resurrection. Their doctrine just doesn't go there. They don't understand how God will reward a man according to his works. The reward is heaven or hell. It's that simple.
Miscommunication and misunderstanding have clouded many discussions on this subject. For Mormons, the term salvation usually means being saved in the celestial kingdom. The righteous man goes to spirit paradise, awaits the resurrection, then is resurrected and judged according to his works. Receiving a reward based on his faith and his compliance with the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
Gordon B. Hinckley
I cannot be grateful enough for the Atonement wrought by my Savior and my Redeemer. Through His sacrifice at the culmination of a life of perfection-that sacrifice offered in pain unspeakable-the bonds of death were broken, and the resurrection of all became assured. Beyond this, the doors of celestial glory have been opened to all who will accept divine truth and obey its precepts. ("My Testimony," Ensign, November 1993, p. 52.)
Salvation only in Christ's name
There is no other name by which man can be saved, only in and through the name and atonement of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; Mosiah 3:17; 5:8). No offense to Buddhists or Hindus, but we reject the notion that all religions can produce the same result-that all roads lead to Rome. That doctrine is sometimes unpopular and may even seem arrogant, but it is true nonetheless. We are bound by the word of God to teach that salvation comes only through Christ. God makes the rules. He made us. He can decide the requirements for salvation. We understand that without Christ there would be no salvation (2 Ne. 9:9). The first requirement is to acknowledge Jesus Christ and his atonement. Eventually, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ. Our job is to help others realize that truth and confess his name before they are compelled to by the justice of God at the last day.
Are Mormon's Christians?
Two of the greatest modern criticisms of the Church are 1) that Mormons are not Christians, and 2) that we believe Mormons are the only people who will be saved. The third article of faith debunks both criticisms arguing that we believe it is Christ's saving redemption by which all can be saved.
Again, it is a matter of terminology and semantics. Who decides what a Christian is? Isn't a Christian one who believes in and follows Jesus Christ? Or must the definition be more complicated than that? Some have explained why Mormons are not Christians by imposing their own definition of Christianity upon the world and then construing Mormon doctrine falsely with respect to their definition:
"The reason Mormonism is not Christian is because it denies one or more of the essential doctrines of Christianity. Of the essential doctrines (that there is only one God in all existence, Jesus is divine, God in flesh, forgiveness of sins is by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:1-5), and Jesus rose from the dead physically (1 John 2:19; Luke 24:39), the gospel being the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, 1 Cor. 15:1-4), Mormonism denies three of them: how many gods there are, the God of Christianity, and His work of salvation...
"Why is Mormonism a non-Christian religion? It is not Christian because it denies that there is only one God, denies the true Gospel, adds works to salvation, denies that Jesus is the uncreated creator, distorts the biblical teaching of the atonement, and undermines the authority and reliability of the Bible." (http://carm.org/is-mormonism-christian)
Jeffrey R. Holland
In the year A.D. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to address-among other things-the growing issue of God's alleged "trinity in unity." What emerged from the heated contentions of churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries came to be known (after another 125 years and three more major councils) as the Nicene Creed, with later reformulations such as the Athanasian Creed. These various evolutions and iterations of creeds-and others to come over the centuries-declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, immanent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted "mystery of the trinity." They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible.
We agree with our critics on at least that point-that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible. With such a confusing definition of God being imposed upon the church, little wonder that a fourth-century monk cried out, "Woe is me! They have taken my God away from me, ... and I know not whom to adore or to address." How are we to trust, love, worship, to say nothing of strive to be like, One who is incomprehensible and unknowable? What of Jesus's prayer to His Father in Heaven that "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent"?
It is not our purpose to demean any person's belief nor the doctrine of any religion. We extend to all the same respect for their doctrine that we are asking for ours. (That, too, is an article of our faith.) But if one says we are not Christians because we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century view of the Godhead, then what of those first Christian Saints, many of whom were eyewitnesses of the living Christ, who did not hold such a view either?
...Now, to anyone within the sound of my voice who has wondered regarding our Christianity, I bear this witness. I testify that Jesus Christ is the literal, living Son of our literal, living God. This Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer who, under the guidance of the Father, was the Creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are. I bear witness that He was born of a virgin mother, that in His lifetime He performed mighty miracles observed by legions of His disciples and by His enemies as well. I testify that He had power over death because He was divine but that He willingly subjected Himself to death for our sake because for a period of time He was also mortal. I declare that in His willing submission to death He took upon Himself the sins of the world, paying an infinite price for every sorrow and sickness, every heartache and unhappiness from Adam to the end of the world. In doing so He conquered both the grave physically and hell spiritually and set the human family free. I bear witness that He was literally resurrected from the tomb and, after ascending to His Father to complete the process of that Resurrection, He appeared, repeatedly, to hundreds of disciples in the Old World and in the New. I know He is the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah who will one day come again in final glory, to reign on earth as Lord of lords and King of kings. I know that there is no other name given under heaven whereby a man can be saved and that only by relying wholly upon His merits, mercy, and everlasting grace can we gain eternal life. (Ensign, Nov. 2007, 40-42)
Nephi said it best:
We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they man look for a remission of their sins. (2 Ne. 25:26)
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. (History of the Church, 3:30)
Are we saved by grace alone?
What if Joseph Smith had worded the third article differently? "We believe that through the grace of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by exercising faith on his name." This idea is prevalent through modern Christianity. It is the "grace alone" doctrine that claims to be Biblical but rejects the teachings of James chapter 2. The misunderstanding comes from Ephesians 2:8-9. The context of Paul's message is lost. What was he trying to say? He was trying to teach Christian Jews that they couldn't save themselves by obedience to the law without Christ. The Law of Moses couldn't save them. The Jews overemphasized works. They didn't understand the importance of faith. Paul was trying to set them straight. The modern "grace alone" doctrine goes to the opposite extreme.
Probably the most damning part of the doctrine is the implications it puts forth. If works are unnecessary, then obedience is unnecessary. If belief in Christ is all I need to be saved, then I will believe Christ and do whatever I want. What a terrible consequence of a false doctrine! The subliminal message is "do what you want, just believe in Christ." Is this really the message Paul was teaching? Logic alone should be enough to see the fallacy. It is a perfect satanic half truth. The devil is best when he gets you believing you are religious while you are really doing what he wants. The underlying message is "Eat drink and be merry; nevertheless, fear God... God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God" (2 Ne. 28:8)
...we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Ne. 25:23)
Obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel
Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5)
The ordinance of baptism and obedience to God's law are required in order to enter the God's kingdom. No ordinances are required for the other kingdoms-only for the celestial. Every ordinance of the gospel, from baptism to marriage, is specific to the celestial kingdom. Every temple ordinance is celestial in nature. If your goal is the terrestrial or the telestial, then you don't need any ordinances. You don't need to be baptized. You don't need to be sealed to your spouse, children, or parents. You don't need to be endowed.
Jesus Christ told Nicodemus that unless he was born again he could not see the kingdom of God, and that unless he was born of the water and of the Spirit he could in no wise enter into the kingdom of God; and when He, Jesus went unto John to be baptized of him, and John forbade him, He said, "Suffer it to be so now for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." There are two principles, Christ and anti-Christ. Anti-Christ is opposed to the doctrine of Christ. Anti-Christ says the ordinances are non-essential; Christ says these ordinances are essential. He also says "not those that say Lord, Lord shall inherit the kingdom, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven." Again-"He that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken to a man that built his house upon a rock, and the winds blew and the rains descended and beat upon that house, but it stood, because it was built upon a rock," "but he that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not, is like the man that built his house upon the sand, etc." The difference between the obedient and disobedient. (Conference Report, April 1899, Second Day-Morning Session)
Boyd K. Packer
Good conduct without the ordinances of the gospel will neither redeem nor exalt mankind; covenants and the ordinances are essential. (Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 86)
Bruce R. McConkie
We invite all men everywhere to come unto Christ, to accept him as the Son of God, to obey the laws he has revealed, thereby gaining peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come. (Conference Report, October 1964, Afternoon Meeting 36)
Latter-day Scriptures Expounding the Doctrines of the Atonement
I fear the Latter-Day Saints don't appreciate what great blessing latter-day scripture has brought to our understanding of Christ's atoning sacrifice. First and foremost, they should be thankful the Book of Mormon elucidates these concepts in plainness and simplicity. They teach us the consequences of the Fall and why we need salvation in the first place. They open the door to the conundrum of satisfying both mercy and justice. They teach us what is our individual responsibility and what can be reconciled by the Atonement.
For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Ne. 9:26)
For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned. (Mosiah 3:11)
Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life. (D&C 45:3-5)