In the early 1900s Christian pastor and author Harry A. Ironside met with two Mormon missionaries. In 1932 an account of this meeting was published under the title, “What Is the Gospel?” The whole report is quite fascinating, but I want to highlight one section of it here. We begin with Dr. Ironside speaking to one of the missionaries:
“And now, sir,” he was asked, “would you kindly favor us” (a number were present) “with a short statement of what the gospel really is?”
“Certainly,” he replied. “The gospel consists of four first principles. The first is repentance; the second, faith; the third, baptism for the remission of sins by one duly qualified; while the forth is the laying on of the hands of a man having authority, for the reception of the Holy Ghost.”
“Well, and supposing one has gone through all this, is he then saved?”
“Oh, of course, no one can know that, in this life. If one goes onto the end, he will be exalted in the kingdom.”
So we understand just how important the “first principles” of the gospel are in Mormonism, consider the relatively recent teaching of LDS Seventy Bruce D. Porter:
“…these principles and ordinances constitute the heart of the gospel of salvation, being the essential requirements for entry into the celestial kingdom.” (“The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel,” Ensign, Oct 2000)
“The heart of the gospel.” Please keep this in mind as you read more of Dr. Ironside’s story.
After hearing the LDS gospel presented, Dr. Ironside said:
“I asked you for a statement of the gospel. If these so-called ‘four principles’ be indeed the gospel, then you have a gospel without Christ; in other words, a gospel with the Gospel omitted. And if you are correct, then surely the apostle Paul, at least, labored under a most serious delusion, for he gives us a clear statement of his Gospel, and actually says nothing of either one or other of the various points upon which you have dwelt. No doubt you will recollect the passage?” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Commencing at the first verse of this precious and wondrous portion of Scripture, we read: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, with also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (see Isaiah 53:5-6) “and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
Dr. Ironside quickly arrived at the heart of the matter:
“I noticed, then, to begin with, that the Biblical Gospel is concerning a Person, and quite a different person than the person you brought before us. Paul’s Gospel message is ‘concerning the Son of God,’ as Romans 1:3 tells us. Your gospel did not have a word about Jesus in all its four points. The subject of Paul’s gospel has not a word about anyone or anything except Christ. Perhaps we might say it also could be divided into four points, though more properly three; but even divided into four (to go as far with you as we can), what marked differences do we find! Your four points are all concerning the poor sinner, and might be put this way:
1. The sinner repents;
2. The sinner has faith;
3. The sinner is baptized;
4. The sinner has hands laid on him.
“Now, in contrast to this, see how the true Gospel can be put:
1. Christ died;
2. Christ was buried;
3. Christ has been raised again;
4. Christ is the object for the hearts of His own.
Seeing the distinctions between the gospel messages communicated so clearly by Dr. Ironside, his conclusion can hardly be challenged:
“Surely the two gospels have nothing in common.”