QUESTION: How is Martin Luther different from Joseph Smith or the JW’s? Aren’t they all the same? They all broke from Rome, they all are Protestants, right?
ANSWER: Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation. The big idea was that he felt like church traditions had overtaken the Bible as the rule for Christians. Idea was not held only by him. Before him, by about a century, the Waldensians had launched a movement in France with very similar leanings. After Luther this “back to the Bible” movement quickly spread to many different countries, and many different leaders, like Calvin (France), Zwingli (Switzerland), the Baptists (the Dutch), the Anglican Church (England) etc.. they all agreed that we needed to appeal to the original community of apostles and to Jesus himself for our highest authority.
So in that sense the Protestant Reformation was very different than these non-orthodox Christian sects, like the Jehovah witnesses or the Mormons. The reason is this: the reformation decentralized authority, and put the Bible in the hands of everyone, it acknowledged that everyone in the church was a priest and had access to God by faith in Jesus.
With the Witnesses and with the Mormons they centralized authority again. Which is weird because they’re considered Protestant sects, but they both went in the opposite direction of the original Protestants. So for the JW’s, the Watchtower Society now carries unique authority to not only authorize a special translation of the Bible with unique readings (The New World Translation), but they also have the sole authority to interpret and create new doctrine for the church.
In the same way Joseph Smith claimed very unique authority, because he actually gave us new scripture, the book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. So he’s even higher than a Pope, in that sense, he’s like a whole new prophet with higher authority than even Isaiah or Paul.
His unique authority carries on today with the council of 12 apostles that rule the Mormon Church. This committee also carries unique authority to interpret the Bible and establish new doctrine which it has many times, essentially adding to Scripture. As such they are like a return to the Catholic model, where church tradition and a small group of people reserve the right to have authority over the faith and practice of the Church as opposed to the Word of God itself.