Saturday, 12 April 2014

General Conference, April 2014 – Saturday Morning

General Conference image

(This was originally a guest post on the Mormonism Investigated site where you will find a team of writers producing commentary on all the proceedings of the conference weekend)

This session was presided over by Thomas S Monson and conducted by Dieter Uchtdorf, affectionately dubbed 'the silver fox' by some, and second counsellor in the first presidency. Boyd K Packer of the twelve apostles is, not so affectionately, nicknamed 'Darth Packer' and 'Boyd KKK Packer,' by critics both inside and outside the church for his unreconstructed Mormon outlook. I point this out only to say the two men represent for many the passing of the 'old guard' (Packer) and the coming of a softer, more acceptable face of Mormonism (Uchtdorf). Yet it might be said of Mormonism, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

In a world where many are struggling to define themselves, to identify which “tribe” they belong to, where Western Europeans (my perspective) are asking whether theirs is a local, regional, national or European identity, Mormons see themselves as a people group with clear distinctives of which they are unashamed. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang beautifully looking splendid in their matching outfits, plum coloured two piece for the women, conservative suits, white shirts, and ties for the men, and all obviously enjoying themselves.

This uniformity extends to all true-believing-Mormon attendees, as you will see from the pictures in the May Ensign magazine; it struck me as a key theme in the conference. There is apparent change, i.e. from Packer to Uchtdorf, yet there is also obvious uniformity. At a time when even Mormons are asking themselves who exactly is making doctrine for the church these days, the General Authorities or church lawyers and members of the BYU faculty, conference is where Mormons get reassuring answers. This where the Mormon world, troubled by a clear shift in the tectonic plates of their faith, find apparent continuity, a squaring of the circle, a reconciling of the old (Packer) with the new (Uchtdorf).

This uniformity, which Mormons mistake for unity, sometimes works, as in the case of Linda S Reeve, president of the Relief Society, who gave an impassioned and earnest plea for people to face up to the problem of pornography. I found myself nodding enthusiastically as she spoke reason and faith on a subject that should concern us all, and I noted how comfortable Mormons would have been with a female leader that fitted the mould of generations of Relief Society presidents.

On the other hand, Carlos Amado, originally from Guatemala City, and of the first quorum of the seventy, appeared to struggle not so much with speaking English, which he handled well enough as a second language, as with the peculiar idiom of Mormon leadership. I don't write this to in any way denigrate the man but I considered, if he came and spoke in my church we would not expect such a performance from him and he would have been encouraged to be his native self and share his message in his own words.

He had to wrestle with the Jacobean English in the King James Bible that Mormons insist on using, but he further struggled to sound like a General Authority, mimicking tones and inflections, phrases and terminology clearly designed to give the impression of solemnity and reverence, nevertheless language that has no place in the modern world and that would trip up anyone using English as a second language. But that image of unity and continuity was achieved as he met the demands of being a General Authority, speaking Mormonese to the conference.

President Monson came out with the expected anecdote to illustrate his theme, “Live true to the Faith.” This is a Mormon trope designed to reassure people that what they are about to hear is consistent with the faith of their fathers. It is a package, and the whole package must be embraced, from Henry B Eyring (crying Eyring) and his typically tearful account of his forebears and the importance of genealogy, to Jeffrey R Holland's call to “suffer the shame of the world,” for the Mormon faith.

So lets tick some boxes and see what Mormonism teaches because the Mormon Church has apparently shifted its position on many issues in recent times:

Added Upon

It was Henry B Eyring who, speaking of covenants, reminded listeners that blessings are predicated upon their keeping those covenants. He spoke of our having had a life before this one with God in a pre-mortal state, which Mormons call the first estate, and as literal children of God. We are, according to Mormonism, the same species as God, gods in embryo and, as Mormonism has always taught, God is an exalted man. It is on this very site that a Mormon insisted that this is but a speculation about God's nature. In this conference we can lay speculation aside and identify Mormon 'truth.'

Here on earth we are in our second estate, Eyring insists, and we got here by being obedient in our first estate. Our eternal destiny is dependent on our continuing to keep covenants, from baptism to temple, till death.

President Eyring quotes the Mormon Book of Abraham:

And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abraham 3:26)

The Mormon 'scripture' declares:

There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-

And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.(Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21)

God's 'Plan of Happiness'

It was Neil L Anderson who, speaking of building a foundation on Christ, came up with the statement that has all the Mormon world buzzing. After much effort in the recent past to reach out to the gay community, he states clearly that civil law cannot change moral law – something with which we would agree – and that marriage is between one man and one woman – something else with which we would agree, although I question whether Joseph Smith and Brigham Young would.

His reason for insisting on this male/female partnership is the fulfilment of God's great plan of happiness, the creator's plan for his children to go through this testing second estate and prove worthy. You don't hear so much these days about the 'duty' of having children to bring people from the spirit world (the first estate) to this (the second estate), with even Mormons being given licence to limit their family size, yet this is what is in view here. So we have a pre-mortal existence where we are literally spirit children of God, and a testing ground (this world) in which we prove ourselves fit and worthy to go on to receive glory for eternity.

Gethsemane

It was the aforementioned Carlos Amado who spoke movingly of Jesus going “to face his most demanding trial, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in all the loneliness he suffered the most intense agony, bleeding from every pore, in total submission to his Father he atoned for our sins...”

But it was in Gethsemane that Jesus, comforted by an angel, prepared for his most demanding trial on the cross. Remarkably, Mormons don't lay great store by the cross of Christ. In a special broadcast in 2001 entitled Special Witnesses of Christ, in which Mormon 'apostles and prophets' testify to their faith, the cross is absent as the story leaps from the Garden to the tomb. You can read about this peculiar treatment of a key Christian and biblical doctrine on The Mormon Chapbook Nevertheless, the atonement achieves for everyone a general resurrection, which Mormons call 'salvation,' but what Christians call eternal life Mormons achieve by obedience not faith.

Carlos Amado goes on to describe Christ as spending three days setting up missionary work among the dead so that those who did not hear the Mormon 'gospel' in this life might have a chance to hear and accept it there. This raises, of course, the question of original sin and whether we are saved by the grace of God from a just but terrible punishment, or saved by hearing and having the sense to accept a message.

This is an issue with which some Christians struggle but lets be clear, we are not in a neutral place, innocents, until we accept or reject the Christian message, we are sinners bound for condemnation unless someone steps in and, by his grace, saves us. It is that saving that is the message, not some system of eternal attainment. Faith in Mormonism appears to be, not the Christian settled trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross, but a determined conviction that these Mormon teachings are true and should be acted upon in order to obtain blessing and glory.

Temples

There are now apparently 142 operating Mormon temples across the world we are informed. When all planned temples are completed that number will rise to 170. President Monson insists that Mormons are a temple-building people. Later it is Neil L Anderson who reminds us that it is in these “holy places” faithful Mormons are to stand and he celebrates the proliferation of temples since his youth. “The Lord has given this generation greater access to temples than any generation in the history of the world.” Both men overlook the fact that, in the history of the Bible, the only temple-building people of the sort described are the builders of the ziggurats on the plains of ancient Mesopotamia, out of which Abraham was called.

Prophets

Finally, we are reminded by Jeffrey R Holland that Mormons have prophets to guide and inspire. Referring to the spirit of this age he speaks of prophets that say pleasing things, that “not only don't rock the boat, they don't even row the boat,” the irony of which obviously escaped him. Mormon prophets these days appear to have a great deal of time on their hands – perhaps to open temples and shopping malls - as BYU and amateur Mormon apologists do most of the doctrinal heavy lifting.

Nevertheless, Mormons attend and/or listen to conference twice a year to gain the reassurance that, despite the fact their prophets don't actually prophecy any more (don't rock or row the boat), nevertheless they have prophets; that despite more recent public prevarication on the issue they can look forward to godhood as did their forebears; that regardless of more recent obfuscation on the subject they are of the same species as God, and God is an exalted man; that they have already proved 'worthy' as evidenced by their presence in this 'second estate'; that by their obedience they can be entitled to blessings; that they can attain an eternity with God, not because of God's undeserved grace, but because they have passed the test set for them by the one who was their literal father in the first place.

Grace

In all this, of course, one wonders what room there is for the grace of God. What significance has the sacrifice of Christ in a system where he conquers death without conquering for us the sin that brought death into the world. Where the problem is not our slavery to sin but the prospect of a test.

The Mormon answer is, once again, the squaring of a circle. In Mormon thought “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, we are saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (third Article of Faith)

What is the point of the atonement if we are “saved by [our own] obedience?”

Mike Thomas was a Mormon for 14 years, became a Christian in 1986 and for many years worked with Reachout Trust speaking and writing about Mormonism. He still researches Mormonism and occasionally posts his thoughts on Mormon issues at The Mormon Chapbook

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Does DNA Disprove the Book of Mormon?

Over at the Salt Lake Tribune resident writer Peggy Fletcher Stack has written a helpful piece summarising a larger piece on the official Mormon web site addressing the question of DNA and the book of Mormon. They conclude, DNA doesn’t prove or disprove the Book of Mormon.”

I wrote this post back in 2009 and thought it would be timely to repost it here today. I hope some find it helpful.

Dear Mormon: A Word can Change your World

Language is a powerful weapon. The ancients knew this and some societies put such great store by it that they wouldn’t even commit it to writing. Enormous feats of memory were developed to pass on the stories of the community from one generation to another and in such communities writing was regarded with great suspicion, as placing your story at the disposal of your enemies. If it could be written it could be owned by others and altered.

In those societies where writing developed and oral traditions were committed to writing the people guarded their written texts as their greatest treasures, copying them with meticulous attention to detail. The ancient texts of the Bible were copied with careful and detailed checking and correction and modern archaeological discoveries confirm the incredible accuracy of modern translations when compared with recent discoveries of ancient texts. It is little wonder since a word can change your world or worldview. One word change can reverse entirely the meaning of a text. Take the familiar John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish” (NASB)

One word change can turn a message of hope into one of despair:

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should perish”

Or consider that well-known text from Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro.8:1)

One word change can bring us up short and cause us to question the message of the Bible:

“There is therefore now much condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

Introducing the Lamanites

In light of the above, one would have expected Mormons to take more seriously the recent change in the introduction to the Book of Mormon. Where once the Introduction reflected the traditional Mormon view that, "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." The new version, seen first in Doubleday's revised edition, reads, "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians."

Inevitably, and sadly it seems to me, much has been made in informal discussion about the fact that the introduction was written in 1981 by Bruce R McConkie who is now routinely seen as someone who got a lot of things wrong. That doesn’t, of course, stop the church citing him as an authority in their manuals and magazines when it suits them. When he wrote the Introduction, of course, he was singularly orthodox, reflecting the firmly held view at the time that had been taught by Mormon leaders since Joseph Smith. A Mormon correspondent wrote:

I think there's good thought in this comment:

"I have always felt free to disavow the language of the [Book of Mormon's] introduction, footnotes and dictionary, which are not part of the canonical scripture," said Barney, on the board of FAIR, a Mormon apologist group. "These things can change as the scholarship progresses and our understanding enlarges. This suggests to me that someone on the church's scripture committee is paying attention to the discussion."

It is true that the introduction to the Book of Mormon was only published in 1981 and is not "Holy Writ" as defined by Mormons [or is it? see below]. It is not true that it has no more significance than a casual commentary that can be adopted and dismissed as it pleases Mormons and I will explain why.

The 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon was published under the name of the church. The copyright of the book is attributed to the first presidency of the church. They officially put their name to something that has been true since the earliest days of the church but, according to the latest orthodoxy, is no longer true. They have affirmed what is ultimately and by their own admission false and they have misled their followers, their missionaries and those they presume to teach the truth regarding the "true history" of the Book of Mormon and its peoples.

What Mormon Missionaries Teach

I have a copy of the missionary discussions, 1986 edition, and on the second page missionaries are instructed to use the relatively new Introduction in teaching their investigators about the Book of Mormon. Again on page fourteen missionaries were instructed:

“Show the investigators a copy of the Book of Mormon. You might show them some of the features (such as the title page, the introduction and testimonies, the table of contents, the chapter headings, the index). You might also share with them one or two passages that are most meaningful to you.”

This shows the legitimacy the Mormon Church then gave, not only to the Introduction but to all the other features now dismissed as a gloss on the text, giving them the same authority as the testimonies of the three and eight witnesses.

On page 15 missionaries were instructed:

“To help you begin reading the Book of Mormon, we suggest that you read a few selected passages by our next visit. We suggest the Introduction (including the testimonies and the brief explanations of the plates), Moroni 10:3-5, and 3 Nephi 11.”

Here the Introduction is given the same significance as Moroni's promise.

More significantly, in the most recent missionary guide, Preach my Gospel, copyright 2004, missionaries are directed on page 39 to "briefly review the contents" of the Book of Mormon:

“Scripture Study

Title page of the Book of Mormon
Introduction to the Book of Mormon Paragraphs 1-7 [ NB which include the claim in question about the Lamanites being the "principal" ancestors of the American Indians]
D&C 1:17-23; 20:5-12
Joseph Smith-History 1:27-64”

Now the Introduction is introduced within a list of "Scripture Study" texts and on a par with the title page and the Doctrine and Covenants! The Introduction is regularly used as an aid to teaching people "the truth" about Mormonism and the ancient inhabitants of America. Now that "truth" is rejected and those who challenged it are mocked for being so foolish as to take the claims of the Mormon Church so seriously. I think we get the message. The question is, do the Mormons?

The Mistakes of Men

But all this shouldn’t surprise us I suppose when we consider the Mormon attitude to Scripture. Joseph Smith described the Book of Mormon as “the most correct book of any book on earth”. The title page of the book states, “if there are faults they are the mistakes of men". How do you think "most correct" and, "if there are faults they are the mistakes of men", compare with 2 Timothy 3:16:

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work"

A Christian sees in the Bible God's all-sufficient provision for equipping thoroughly every Christian for kingdom living. Mormons, on the other hand, seem to be full of excuses for their not-altogether-reliable modern revelation, ready to admit faults and declare their Scriptures correct only by comparison, i.e. "most correct" rather than thoroughly reliable because "God-breathed". One I spoke to even insisted that the title page of the Book of Mormon is, like the introduction, nothing more than a gloss on the text. This, however, is plainly not true as shown in Joseph Smith’s own words:

“I wish also to mention here, that the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said title page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation.”
(Joseph Smith Jr., Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 24, p. 943)

If this statement was appended to the Book of Mormon, on a page just left from the Title Page, that says , “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the House of Israel…” It would clear the issue if someone should have any questions about how Joseph Smith viewed the Lamanites/American Indians.

Falling Over Lamanites

Every LDS president from Joseph Smith to Gordon Hinckley has made statements to say that American aboriginals are Hebrews/Israelites. The Title Page, which we are told was part of the original on gold plates, says that Lamanites (not just a few or some of them), without exception, are Israelites and there was a time when you couldn’t move without falling over Lamanites. DNA testing has proven that they are NOT Israelites. There has not been even one single Native American found that is connected to Abraham and his descendants!

I press my point again, i.e. that the doctrine that the Lamanites are the principle ancestors of the American Indians, was routinely taught throughout the history of the church, and even in the 2004 Missionary Guide this thought is pressed into service in convincing people that the Book of Mormon is true.

One final point worth noting is that the Introduction declares that the Book of Mormon, "contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel". Christian ministries have been pointing out for years that, if the Bible contains the everlasting gospel as does the Book of Mormon (you see it works this way around as well), then what need have we for the Book of Mormon.

A good friend in Germany has pointed out that the new German edition of the Book of Mormon omits the words "as does the Bible". Clearly, the Bible has contained the fullness from 1981 until 2006 but has mysteriously become less reliable, at least for Germans. But it seems to still be true for the rest of us! A word can change your world and the world of Mormonism has changed again.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Miracle of Forgiveness Ch.1 Life’s Divine Purpose?

Spencer W KimballI wrote this  by way of an introduction to the 2014 series on The Miracle of Forgiveness, on Mormonism Investigated UK. Its a series well worth following.

Here is a brief introduction to the book’s author, Spencer W Kimball.

Ten Things You Should Know About Spencer W Kimball

  1. He was born 28 March 1895, the grandson of early Mormon leader Heber C Kimball and nephew of Joseph Smith Jr. Even today, it may ( perhaps might not) surprise you how closely related Mormon leaders are at the top of the tree, either by marriage or descent. Nepotism is a key characteristic in Mormon leadership.
  2. He worked in a bank as a young man, later setting up a successful insurance and savings business. Many Mormon leaders come from business backgrounds, which is good for business since the Mormon Church has been described by Newsweek Magazine in 2011 as a “sanctified multinational corporation,” and “the General Electric of American religion.”
  3. Those who heard him speak remarked on his quiet, hoarse voice. From 1950 he was treated for throat cancer and surgery permanently impaired his speech. To overcome this he would use a special ear-mounted microphone so he could he heard.
  4. In 1914 he was called to serve a mission in the Swiss-German mission but was shipped back to the Central States Mission following the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand.
  5. He wanted to be a schoolteacher but he was drafted into the army in 1917, the year the US entered the First World War.
  6. He married Camilla Eyring in November 1917. She was born 1894 in Chihuahua, Mexico, where early Mormon polygamists had fled back in 1885 to avoid federal law. She is the aunt of current first counsellor in the presidency, Henry B Eyring. Her father, Vernon Romney, is said to be the last Mormon to practice polygamy, as recently as 1954 when two of his wives died. You may have noticed the name Romney, a familiar dynastic Mormon name that can be traced by marriage all the way back to Parley P Pratt, one of the church’s earliest apostles.
  7. He became an apostle in 1943 and the then church president directed him to work with Native Americans who, in those days, were universally called Lamanites among Mormons.
  8. His work led him to believe that as “Lamanites” turned to Mormonism the curse pronounced on them in the Book of Mormon making them “dark and loathsome” (1 Nephi 12:22-23; 2 Nephi 5:21) was visibly being lifted, fulfilling a prophecy they would become “white and delightsome” (2 Nephi 30:6, 1959 ed. changed since to “fair and delightsome” but carrying the same meaning) He is quoted as saying, “I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people…today they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people…for years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome.” (Improvement Era, Dec.1960, pp922-23)
  9. It was Spencer W Kimball who presided over the church (1974-1985) when the famous 1978 announcement was made that Negroes would no longer be barred from holding office in the Mormon Church.
  10. His book The Miracle of Forgiveness has been a great burden to generations of Mormons, those who have grasped its message discouraged by the impossible task Kimball lays on them. Many have come to realise, as did Paul in Romans 7, that they cannot deliver themselves from their sin. Unfortunately, Mormonism insists it is possible and offers no Christian/biblical solution to this dilemma, as we will see.

The Miracle of ForgivenessMiracle of Forgiveness

A Christian might reasonably expect a book entitled The Miracle of Forgiveness to focus on God and his purposes, grace and mercy, Christ and the work of the cross. After all, miracles are his province and forgiveness in his gift. It is true that the Divine is part of the Mormon story, yet the striking thing is that the focus from the start is man, the creature rather than the Creator (Ro. 1:25)

The chapter begins by addressing the destiny of man, the journey of man's life on earth, and the goal of man in eternity. When it addresses Life's Divine Purpose one might expect that here, after all, is the correct focus. But this Mormon prophet insists that the Divine purpose is, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39, Pearl of Great Price)

He goes on to write that, “...immortality and eternal life constitute the sole purpose of life...” Later in this discussion of life's Divine purpose he writes:

...that man is the supreme creation, made in the image and similitude of God and His Son, Jesus Christ; that man is the offspring of God; that for man, and man alone, was the earth created, organised, planted and made ready for human habitation; and that, having within him the seeds of godhood and thus being a god in embryo, man has unlimited potential for progress and attainment.”

It is to this end, the progress of man, man's attaining his unlimited and divine potential, immortality and eternal life, godhood, that Spencer Kimball writes. This, he insists, is the drama and purpose of life. Yet the psalmist sees it quite differently:

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Ps.73:24-28 ESV)

The psalmist expects not to receive glory but to be received into God's glory; his desire, in heaven or on earth, is God and not his own godhood; his strength is God and not his own ability to attain; his “portion,” or reward, is God and not his own achievements; his desire, his refuge is God and not his own “progress” and the only works that concern him are the works of God.

As the Westminster Catechism rightly puts it, “Man's chief purpose and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.”

It is important to keep in the forefront of your mind that while for Christians our chief purpose and highest end is the glory of God, for Mormons God's chief purpose and highest end is their own attainment and progress, achieving their full potential - the glory of man. Kimball writes that this brings glory to God, but this is not God glorified in his creation but God glorified in our glorification. His book is a self-help manual on how this is achieved.

Belief in God

Unsurprisingly, the first requirement is belief in God. But belief here is not trust in God and his finished work in saving sinful and helpless man through the cross as Christians understand it, but a belief that God exists and an understanding that God's purpose is our immortality and eternal life. He writes, “This book presupposes a belief in God and in life's high purpose.”

This is not the familiar Bible story of man's low state resulting from the fall, and God's reaching down in Jesus to save man from himself. Rather, it is the story of man's high purpose in striving for and achieving godhood. He touches on many key shibboleths of the Christian faith - repentance, forgiveness, mercy, etc. but, having “believed” there is a God, he insists we co-operate with God, following a strict code of laws, to achieve our own exaltation. He writes:

Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Saviour, has given us our map – a code of laws and commandments whereby we might attain perfection and, eventually, godhood.”

Mormonism is an exhaustive, if often confusing, account of the plan by which this is achieved. Confusing because, where the Bible makes clear that Christ's is a once-for-all sacrifice, making salvation in the kingdom of God available “to all who believe,” (Eph.2:8) to a Mormon Christ's sacrifice made resurrection(what Mormons call salvation) inevitable and universal, regardless of faith, and everything beyond that is provisional upon our obedience to the Mormon plan. If sufficiently faithful we will enter God's highest heaven and become gods ourselves (what Mormons call exaltation)

The Plan

This plan, according to the Mormon prophet, posits the following ideas:

  1. Pre-mortal Life

That we had a pre-mortal existence, first as spirit matter, which was eternal and co-existent with God, then as spirit children of God, born of heavenly parents with spirit bodies made of this eternally existing spirit matter. So we are, in effect, as eternal as God himself since what we were made of co-exists eternally with him.

This is contradicted by the Bible which states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1) In other words, there was a beginning for everything, and when it began God was already there. Paul refers to the God “who calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Ro.4: 17)

Later we read, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Heb.11:3) This is directed at the mistaken Greco-Roman idea that matter existed eternally, and the erroneous gnostic notion that evil was a lesser, eternal force alongside God. Again, speaking of the eternal Word (Jesus), “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3) God is eternal, all else is temporal.

  1. Mortal Life

He also states that in this “first estate” we underwent a period of training and testing to be admitted into this present, mortal state. Our current estate as mortals on earth is evidence that we passed the test and our primary purpose in becoming mortal is to gain a physical body, like God's physical body, and undergo further testing.

We do this with no recollection of our “first estate.” This is Mormonism's 'faith,' i.e. a blind following, uninformed by experience, knowledge or memory. Christians speak of and produce “reasons to believe” when challenged in our faith. There cannot be found any reason to believe this account of our origins outside the instruction of Mormon leaders and the collective imagination of Mormons.

Mormons will refer to Bible texts such as Jeremiah 1: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” How, Mormons ask, could God know Jeremiah before his birth if not in a pre-mortal life? But the question is a denial of a fundamental characteristic of the omniscient God, God's foreknowledge, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,'” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

There is a certain circular reasoning going on here, in which the fact of our being here is presented as evidence that we passed our pre-mortal test while, at the same time, in being here we are deliberately deprived of any memory of it that might help us get oriented on this journey, or travel it with any sure conviction.

  1. Immortal Life

Our immortal future depends in large part on our passing this current testing. That future is potentially to be lived in one of three more states, or “degrees of glory,” depending on our level of faithfulness and obedience. The most faithful he assures us will be gods, explaining that after death, “...there would be a resurrection or reunion of the body and the spirit, which would render us immortal and make possible our future climb toward perfection and godhood.”

Now note the following carefully:

This resurrection has been made available to us through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of this earth, who performed this incomparable service for us – a miracle we could not perform for ourselves. Thus the way was opened for our immortality and – if we prove worthy - eventual exaltation.”

He ends with this warning that, “All transgressions must be cleansed, all weaknesses must be overcome, before a person can attain perfection and godhood. Accordingly the intent of this book is to stress the vital importance of each of us transforming his life through repentance and forgiveness.”

Make no mistake, repentance is what is needed when you fall away from the plan, walk off the map, but repentance and forgiveness does no more than put you back on track. It is like the dispensation in particular circumstances that allows you to take your exam at a later date. Generous, to be sure, but the exam must still be sat and passed. Like everyone else, you will be “saved” in the Mormon sense of being resurrected, but what every Christian might understand to be eternal life in the kingdom of God – achieved by grace, through faith in Christ “to all who believe” (Eph.2:8-9) – is in Mormonism only attainable by the strictest adherence to the plan.

Repentance and forgiveness are part of the glorious climb toward godhood. In God's plan, man must voluntarily make this climb, for the element of free agency is basic. Man chooses for himself, but he cannot control the penalties. They are immutable. Little children and mental incompetents are not held responsible, but all others will receive either blessing, advancements, and rewards, or penalties and deprivation, according to their reaction God's plan when it is presented to them and to their faithfulness to that plan.”

Three things must be taken into account as you read:

First, what Mormonism offers is a replacement for Christianity. There is nothing here that remotely resembles what our Bibles teach and have taught for millennia. To make its claims Mormonism has to teach that Christianity is corrupt and that Mormons alone have the truth and the authority to teach and administer that truth. This is what they do claim and, to validate their claims, they proof-text the Bible, taking Scripture out of context to create something not found in the Bible.

Secondly, Mormons like to claim their message is so strange to us because the Bible is corrupt. The Book of Mormon speaks of, “many plain and precious things taken away from [the Bible]” (1 Nephi 13: 28) Mormons think they are offering the restoration of those things and believe our knowledge deficient because the Bible is deficient. This sets a dangerous precedent and calls into question every claim God has to being faithful and trustworthy.

Finally, and most importantly, the Bible is not deficient, nor is it silent or ambiguous, as they imagine. From the Bible we know:

The nature of God, “the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God...” (1 Timothy 1:17)

His purpose in creation, “...that God may be all-in-all” (1 Cor.15:28)

What we are and are meant to be, “created in [God's] own image” (Gen.1:27)

The reason Christ came, died, was buried and resurrected, “by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners” (Ro.5:18-19) The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim.1:15) Christ came to save us, to be the way not to show us the way (John 14:6)

How we gain this blessing for ourselves, “The word is in you, in your mouth and in your heart that is, the word of faith that we proclaim; If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Ro.10:8-10) Salvation is gained by faith and is not a universal resurrection.

What is the Miracle of Forgiveness, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace...” (Eph.1:7) The miracle is that, according to the riches of God's grace, and by the blood of Christ, we are forgiven and redeemed, made right with God (Heb.4:14-16) Because we have confessed and believed and are now found “in him,” we have become Christians (read Ephesians 1)

What we are if we are Christian, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor.5:17) Not the old creature put back on the path but a new creature. A Christian is a new creature, not the old creature given another chance. This is the “Miracle” missing from Mormonism. This is what we want Mormons to know, even as we know it.

The destiny of man and how he is to achieve that destiny. “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Cor.5:4) The destiny of the man of faith is life in God, not life as god.

The purpose of all this, “Man's chief purpose and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.”

There is another overview of The Miracle of Foregiveness by Ann Thomas on The Mormon Chapbook and another helpful podcast from Vincent McCaan on this Mormonism Investigated blog

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mormons and CS Lewis: Virtue by Association

CS LewisNovember 22 marked the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis’ death. The great man is being honoured with a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey. The CS Lewis Foundation is marking the anniversary with a series of events celebrating his enduring legacy.

Belfast city council has funded a festival celebrating his life and a 50th anniversary memorial weekend was held on 22-23 November. All in all, Christians all over the world have found some way to make the time special and all about CS Lewis.

The Mormon Church, too, has marked the special anniversary but their “celebration” is somewhat different. While Christians concentrate on Lewis, celebrating his life, faith and accomplishments, Mormons have made a great deal of how many times he has been quoted by Mormons, in Mormon conferences and periodicals.

It is reported that Lewis has been quoted in LDS Church magazines more than 100 times, and almost one-third of the citations are from speakers in general conference. Aren’t you glad I told you that?

The first time he was quoted in conference was in 1977 by Paul H Dunn. Now that is an unfortunate association since Dunn turns out to have been one of the biggest fibbers in Mormon Church history, rivalling even the great obfuscator himself, Joseph Smith.* Its a name the church will not appreciate being dug up and thrown around.

Neil A Maxwell, so beloved of right-thinking Mormons, quoted him most with 19 different citations, then James E Faust with 9. There is even a list of 23 quotes cited by Mormon leaders, along with a brief account of when, where and in which context.

Virtue by Association

There was an old British music hall song from the Edwardian era that ran:

I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales.
I'm crazy with excitement, completely off the rails
And when he said to me what she said to him -the Prince remarked to her
It was simply grand, he said "Topping band" and she said "Delightful, Sir"
Glory, Glory, Alleluia! I'm the luckiest of females;
For I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales.

The pleasure of reflected glory is a heady business for some. To have heard from her dance partner the words, he assures her, were uttered by the Prince to his partner was something to write a song about - apparently.

“Topping band,” remarked the Prince. “Topping band,” reported his dance partner. “Topping band,” repeated her friend to another girl; Swoon!

So it was that, for everyone else, it is all about CS Lewis, but for Mormons it is all about Mormonism. “What a great Christian thinker,” remarked his friends. “What a great Christian thinker,” repeated other Christians. “I quoted him,” said a Mormon.

One has to wonder at the state of the mind that can make capital of simply having quoted someone, but then this is a key facet of Mormonism. It might be said to be virtue by association.

 

*Former BYU researcher Lynn Packer extensively researched the General Authority and his lies and got sacked from BYU as a result of his publishing the truth, while Dunn was quietly retired “for health reasons” and never held to account for his perfidy.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Mormon Women: “Wear Pants to Church”–or Nothing at All?

Wear Pants to Church 2What is happening in the Mormon Church? For a second year Mormon women are being encouraged to wear pants (trousers) to church to support a feminist drive in Mormonism. What is it about?

According to the Pants to Church official website:

“Mormon feminists, women and men, wore dress pants and the color purple to their local LDS Church services on December 16, 2012. People wore pants for many different reasons, but many of those who participated were concerned about gender equality in the LDS Church.

This year, Mormon feminists will be wearing dress pants and/or the color purple to LDS Church services on December 15. We are wearing pants to celebrate inclusiveness in the LDS Church. We believe that everyone is welcome at church.

and he inviteth them all to come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile (2 Nephi 26:33)”

This gives an insight into the level of anxiety felt among Mormons over the simplest, most innocent things. I remember being at a Mormon dance in the 1970s where there were some colourful lights travelling gently around the walls and ceiling. One woman (it always seemed to be the women) protested, “Strobe lighting has been banned by the church!” She clearly had no idea what strobe lighting was but she knew the rules.

Mormons worry about such things and who can blame them when their religion is so often about petty rules and regulations? Even when you leave such a setup it can take years to get out of the habit of asking yourself, “Is it allowed?” The Pharisee party in the Bible would feel at home among these people.

Church leaders, too, can’t help themselves, with an “official statement” being issued:

"Millions of women in this church do not share the views of this small group who organized today's protest, and most church members would see such efforts as divisive."

For pity’s sake! Its a pair of trousers. But that is where Mormonism is, culturally, in the 21st century; anxious, apprehensive, legalistic, always looking around, anticipating a tap on the shoulder, an invitation to have a chat with the bishop about appropriate clothing. “Brother Thomas, where is your tie today?”

Apparently, there was “a milestone at a church general conference in April when a woman led a prayer for the first time in the conference's 183-year history.”

Imagine that! A woman praying – in church!!

As these things do, it can get ridiculous. At the most recent general conference in October, women stood in line outside an all-male priesthood meeting and asked to be let in. They were denied. They were protesting at women’s exclusion from the Mormon priesthood.

Imagine that! Women barred – from a church meeting!!

Mormon Women Bare

But imagine if they had turned up naked! Salt Lake City photographer, Katrina Anderson has been photographing nude women for the past year for her project mormonwomenbare.com You can read an interview with here on Religion Dispatches.

The photos, she says, are a statement against the "extreme modesty culture within Mormonism."  She feels although the intention to teach modesty is good, the effect is often shame and too much focus on sex. "I don't think women should carry the burden of how men view them and see them," she said.Eliza Snow

Imagine trying to persuade Eliza Snow (right) to take off her clothes for the camera! She would banish you to Outer Darkness.

Of course, like all legalistic systems, Mormonism majors on guilt, and sex is such an easy target in the Christian West. Many a young Mormon has spent two years fighting against his hormones on a mission, far from home, dreaming of his wedding night only to find duty, religion, piety and a set of ugly, cumbersome temple garments all conspiring to make the night memorable for all the wrong reasons.

What is happening in the Mormon Church? The world, the march of progress, education, the challenge of post-modern culture. It is what is happening to churches across the western world.

They are having to face the onslaught of reason and the challenge of liberalism and reason demands they pick their battles more wisely. I suppose trousers in the chapel are radical enough for now.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Lorenzo Snow Tells Mormons: Don’t Copy Joseph Smith

lorenzo-snow manual

Lorenzo Snow was the fifth president of the Mormon Church (1898-1901) and presided over a period of enormous upheaval and change. His predecessor, Wilford Woodruff, had, in 1890, officially declared the Mormon practice of polygamy heterodoxical. Mormon men were still being arrested, or living in hiding because of their polygamous lifestyles.

Legal problems over polygamy had almost bankrupted the church. His fear was that, faced with such desperate circumstances, Mormons might be tempted to emulate the questionable practices of Joseph Smith and early church leaders.

Imagine that for a moment. A church leader warning his followers against using early church leaders as role models. Its rather like your pastor saying you should not model yourself on Peter, Paul, Timothy.

Snow sought to begin solving this problem by preaching tithing. It was during his presidency that the law of tithing became official church doctrine and practice.

He delivered a sermon back in April 1889, just after he had been called as president of the Quorum of the Twelve, in which he addressed his concerns. Extracts from that sermon form chapter 21 of this year’s official Mormon study Manual, the latest in a series on Teachings of Presidents of the Church.

A version of this post appeared recently on the Mormonism Investigated ministry blog.

The Richest People in the World

1889 is significant because many of the conditions that prevailed some fifty years earlier were again being experienced by the Mormon Church.

In her seminal biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, the historian Fawn M Brodie wrote:

“Mormon theology was never burdened with otherworldliness…Wealth and power [Mormons] considered basic among the blessing both of earth and of heaven…” (No Man Knows My History, 1966 ed. pub. Alfred A Knopf, p.p. 187/8)

A quote from an 1831 letter throws light on the Saints’ view of wealth and entitlement:

“It passes for a current fact that there are immense treasures in the earth, especially in those places in the State of New York from whence many of the Mormonites emigrated last spring; and when they become sufficiently purified, these treasures are to be poured into the lap of their church; to use their own language, they are to be the richest people in the world.” (Ezra Booth, letter written late in 1831. Quoted in Brodie p. 187)

This understanding has bearing on the subject of Snow’s sermon. Here are the salient facts surrounding both periods, 1835 and 1889:

By 1835 Joseph Smith had built his own little kingdom in Kirtland

By 1877, the time of his death, Brigham Young had built a kingdom in the Salt Lake Valley

In 1835 rumours of polygamy were causing problems for the church and Joseph Smith was forced to deny the rumours, even though his denial was a palpable lie.

In 1887 the Edmunds-Tucker Act allowed the government to effectively dissolve the Mormon Church as a legal entity because of the practice of polygamy and, in 1890, it was this that forced the hand of church president Wilford Woodruff who issued the Manifesto abandoning polygamy.

In 1835 a new temple had been completed and had drained church resources

By 1890 the Salt Lake temple was completed and had drained church resources

So, what did the Saints do in 1835 to solve their financial problems? What caused Lorenzo Snow to refer to an apostasy?

Land-Grabs and Dodgy Banking

in the mid 1830’s Mormons entered a period of frenzied land speculation led by Joseph Smith himself. In other words, if there was an apostasy, Joseph was chief heretic. There was a huge influx of immigration that caused the population in and around Kirtland to jump 62 percent and the question of where they would all live had dollar signs spinning in the eyes of those able to buy and sell property.

kirtland-templeIn Kirtland, lots jumped from $50 to $2,000, and surrounding farms from $10 and $15 an acre to $150. Joseph began buying and selling land with the rest. His credit, backed by the collateral of the new temple built for some $70,000, was good so he borrowed, speculated to accumulate. Along with three others, he began a frenzy of borrowing and purchasing, hoping to make riches from the incoming Mormon population. Of course, this created a property bubble that couldn’t last but that didn’t seem to trouble the prophet.

Mormon apostle, Parley P Pratt was so concerned he wrote a letter to Joseph Smith in which he declared himself, “…fully convinced that you, and president Rigdon, both by precept and example, have been the principle means in leading this people astray, in these particulars, and having myself been led astray and caught in the same snare by your example, and by false prophesying and preaching, from your own mouths, yea, having done many things wrong and plunged myself and family, and others, well nigh into destruction, I have awoke to an awful sense of my situation, and now resolve to retrace my steps and get out of the snare, and make restitution as far as I can.” (quoted in Tanner, Mormonism-Shadow or Reality, p.528)

The level and extent of speculation was so damaging it depreciated paper money going into the United States Treasury. On July 11, 1836 Andrew Jackson issued a specie circular, forbidding agents to accept anything but gold and silver for the sale of public land (specie is a term for money in the form of coins and paper)

According to the History of the Church, Joseph Smith had marked September 11, 1836 as the day God would redeem Zion. Quoting in part Isaiah, he said, “Then, for brass the Lord will bring gold, and for iron silver, and for wood brass…and then the land will be worth possessing and the world fit to live in.” Unfortunately, the prospect facing the Saints was bleak, and they faced being driven out of Missouri as those who once were pleased to shelter them now lost all sympathy for them.

Buried Treasure

Money had to be gained from somewhere, but the specie ban made it very difficult. It was then that news of buried treasure reached Joseph, first in the form of a story in the Painesville Telegraph.

War treasure was said to be buried beneath a house in Salem, Massachusetts, and a convert named Burgess claimed he was the only one who remembered its exact location. I know what your thinking; he surely isn’t going to fall for this. Well, the pull of the old days was just too strong, the promise of buried treasure too tempting, and he arrived in Salem early in August, 1836.

Joseph’s true objective could not be revealed and in this he faced a dilemma. His initial explanation was that this was a mission tour. The truth had to come out at some time however and, as so often before, he solved his problem by receiving a revelation, Doctrine & Covenants 111 which begins:

“I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies. I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality.

Therefore, it is expedient that you should form acquaintance with men in this city, as you shall be led, and as it shall be given you. And it shall come to pass in due time that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours. Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them.” (v.v 1-5)

Mormons today who get their Mormon history only from official sources will know nothing of Joseph’s true motives, of the Saints’ true financial and moral dilemma. The heading for section 111 disingenuously reads:

“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Salem, Massachusetts, August 6, 1836. At this time the leaders of the Church were heavily in debt due to their labors (sic) in the ministry. Hearing that a large amount of money would be available to them in Salem, the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery traveled (sic) there from Kirtland, Ohio, to investigate this claim, along with preaching the gospel. The brethren transacted several items of Church business and did some preaching. When it became apparent that no money was to be forthcoming, they returned to Kirtland. Several of the factors prominent in the background are reflected in the wording of this revelation.”

They were not, however, “in debt due their labours in the ministry,” they were in debt because of wild and unsustainable land and property speculations, Joseph leading the charge.

It had been ten years since he had dug for buried gold but he hadn’t left behind his simple faith in the folklore and blind superstitions that had led to his early treasure-seeking adventures in the first place. Unfortunately for him, Burgess soon abandoned this venture, claiming the city had changed so much he could no longer be sure of the treasure’s location. The biter bit? It would seem so, since Joseph had fallen victim to the same scam he had pulled on others and, like them, he walked away without the gold in which he so believed and on which he had so depended to get him out of his dilemma.

Dodgy Banking

Joseph Smith didn’t come back entirely empty-handed, having negotiated more loans from companies in the East. However, he couldn’t go on living indefinitely on borrowed funds. At some point, he knew, his debts had to be liquidated and the Saints’ finances established on a more sure footing.  It was now, and in the same spirit of wild speculation, that Joseph Smith established his own bank, the Kirtland Safety Society Bank Company. This wasn’t unusual at the time; the rapid expansion of the West created a demand for money that wasn’t being met by existing banking institutions.

Again, Joseph legitimised this new venture with a new revelation. The Saints were assured that Smith’s bank would “grow and flourish, and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins.” (Reported in Zion’s Watchtower, March 24, 1838)

The bank’s establishment was announced in January 1837 in the Messenger and Advocate, which issued an appeal…”We invite the brethren from abroad, to call on us, and take stock in our Safety Society; and we would remind them also of the sayings of Isaiah…’Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God.’”

The problem was that this rapid expansion of banking facilities to meet these needs led to a chaotic banking system and on January 1, 1837, the same day the Kirtland bank’s printed bank notes were issued, the Ohio legislature refused the bank’s incorporation.Bank note issued by the Kirtland Safety Society in early 1837, after its reorganization.

Joseph told his followers that it was because they were Mormons, but the truth was only one bank was allowed incorporation and the legislature was simply gaining control of a spiralling situation.

To get around the problem Joseph stamped his bank notes with the prefix anti and the suffix ing around the word Bank, creating the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-bank-ing Company. Now it was a quasi-bank, needn’t be incorporated and, if he could pull this off long enough to convince investors his problems might be solved.

The problem was he didn’t have the assets to back up the notes being printed. Bills were being paid, debts cleared and, for a fleeting fortnight, Kirtland was rich; but all on notes not worth their face value.

Joseph Smith confidently assured people he had $60,000 in the vaults and a further $600,000 readily accessible. The truth is he had $6,000 and access to not a penny more. He said there was no more than $10,000 in bills in circulation when, in fact, there was more than $150,000.

By January 27 merchants were refusing notes and the bills were streaming back into Kirtland.  Joseph Smith redeemed the notes but soon realised a run on the bank would ruin him so stopped taking his own money. By February 1 every dollar of Kirtland money was worth no more than twelve and a half cents!

The truth is, the bank had always been illegal, the fixed penalty for the crime was $1000 with informers taking a share of the fine. Joseph Smith had enemies aplenty and it didn’t take long for one to swear a writ against him. By March 24 Joseph was on trial and ordered to pay the $1000 penalty, plus costs. The final reckoning established that the Mormon leaders owed non-Mormon individuals well over $150,000.

So, Lorenzo Snow-1889

In 1889 the Mormon Church had arrived at the same place. Church property had already been confiscated under the Edmunds-Tucker Act, the $4m temple had depleted church funds and there was another bubble, this time a railroad bubble, as well as overbuilding that would lead to the panic of 1893. Hundreds of banks would close across America, thousands of businesses go under.

Lorenzo Snow’s sermon was aimed at Mormons who might be tempted to follow the example of their founding prophet and speculate their church out of existence and themselves into “apostasy.” It is clear that he was not impressed by Joseph’s conduct, which he had witnessed first-hand. Nevertheless, he hawked around the “official” account which had been worked up over the years, and that exonerated Joseph and blamed “apostate” church members as well as some leaders.

Mormons were still facing financial ruin and would still need to resolve their financial difficulties. In 1899,  now as president of the church, Lorenzo Snow toured the territories preaching tithing. You can read about that here. There the church’s subsequent change in fortune was described in this way:

“The church’s 1898 deficit of $1.25m became a net worth of $3.2m by 1904 and, while church leaders ascribed the changing fortunes of the church to God’s blessing tithe payers, it may have had more to do with the saints gaining full statehood and involvement in the rapid growth of the US economy from 1897 to 1907. Of course, the eyes of faith would have it otherwise, with the fortunes of the United States tied in with the fortunes of Mormons.”

When Mormons became American Mormonism became financially secure and Mormonism the American Religion.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Mormons and Tithing

The law of tithing is one of the most important
ever revealed to man. . . . Through obeying
this law the blessings of prosperity and
success will be given to the Saints.”

Lorenzo Snow

A Revelation

It was in early May 1899, we are told, that president Lorenzo Snow ‘felt prompted to visit the city of St. George and other settlements in southern Utah.’ The president, the story continues, on arriving in St George, received a clear revelation in which the saints were urged to obey the law of tithing:Tithing Slip

“The word of the Lord to you is not anything new; it is simply this: The time has now come for every Latter-day Saint, who calculates to be prepared for the future and to hold his feet strong upon a proper foundation, to do the will of the Lord and to pay his tithing in full.That is the word
of the Lord to you, and it will be the word of the Lord to every settlement throughout the land of Zion.”

Snow described this experience, “I never had a more perfect revelation,” he later said, “than [the revelation] I received on this subject of tithing.”

We are further informed, “On July 2, all the General Authorities and representatives from all the stakes and wards in the Church attended a solemn assembly in the Salt Lake Temple, having fasted and prayed in preparation for the meeting. There they unanimously accepted the same resolution [to accept this revelation on tithing].”

Mormonism is founded on the doctrine of continuing revelation and an open canon of Scripture. Why did this revelation not make its way into the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C)?

D&C_1921There are many such instances when claims to have received revelation are not followed by any additions to the increasingly inappropriately described Mormon “open canon.”

On one hand Mormons insist their leaders are prophets and what they say “officially” is binding, on the other hand, when those prophets are quoted – as I am quoting Lorenzo Snow here – Mormons will insist the only truly binding teaching is that contained in the “Standard Works” of the Mormon Church; the Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C and Pearl of Great Price.

Is this word binding if it isn’t between the bindings of official doctrine? This is a troubling issue for both Mormons and those who question Mormon claims. You can read more about it in Here

Historical Context

Some historical context will shed light on these developments in Mormon history. In their book,The Mormon Experience, A History of the Latter-day Saints, Leonard J Arrington, (Mormon Church Historian 1972-1982) and Davis Bitton (Assistant Church Historian, 1972-1982) wrote:

“The financial condition of the church throughout the 1890s was desperate. Contributions had dwindled to a trickle due to hard times and fear that donations would end up with the federal government. When escheated church properties (properties that had reverted to the government)were finally returned after statehood, their value had been substantially reduced by mismanagement and the sale of several revenue producing properties. The prolonged depression of the 1890s cut income from church-supported industry, while calls for welfare expenditure increased.

The completion of the four-million-dollar Salt Lake Temple also helped to deplete the church’s resources. The seriousness of of the situation at the end of 1896 was described in a journal entry by Wilford Woodruff: ‘The presidency of the church are so overwhelmed in financial matters it seems as though we shall never live to get through with it unless the Lord opens the way in a marvellous manner. It looks as though we shall never pay our debts.”’”

In response to Mormon intransigence with regard polygamy the Edmunds-Tucker Act, 1887, allowed the government to effectively dissolve the Mormon Church as a legal entity and required the church to forfeit to the government all property in excess of fifty thousand dollars.

The dire financial straits of the church were the direct consequence of a leadership that thought itself above the law in respect to polygamy. It was this that forced the hand of church president Wilford Woodruff, in 1890, to issue the Manifesto abandoning polygamy, and the Manifesto that led to the return to the church of seriously mismanaged and depleted properties.

The church was on the brink of bankruptcy and the leaders who got Mormons into these shocking circumstances were now insisting Mormons had a duty to get themselves out of it.Panic of 1893

The United States was already in the grip of a huge depression, begun in 1893, in which hundreds of banks closed and thousands of businesses went under. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania hit 25%, in New York 35%, and in Michigan 43%. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the destitute and some women, it is reported, turned to prostitution to feed their children.

For Mormons, added to this was the burden of church property being confiscated and tithes drying up for fear the little the saints were able to give might end up in the coffers of the federal government.

The church’s 1898 deficit of $1.25m became a net worth of $3.2m by 1904 and, while church leaders ascribed the changing fortunes of the church to God’s blessing tithe payers, it may have had more to do with the saints gaining full statehood and involvement in the rapid growth of the US economy from 1897 to 1907. Of course, the eyes of faith would have it otherwise, with the fortunes of the United States tied in with the fortunes of Mormons.

Tithing

This post is a comment on Chapter 12 of the Mormon official teaching manual for 2013, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. It originally appeared on the Mormonism Investigated ministry blog.

It was during Snow’s brief stint as president that tithing became formal doctrine in the Mormon Church. I want to pick up on three Lorenzo Snow quotes from the manual:

“If we will keep that law . . . the land will be sanctified, and we shall be counted worthy to receive the blessings of the Lord and to be sustained and supported in our financial affairs and in everything we do, temporal as well as spiritual.”

“Here is a law revealed specially for our protection and safety, as well as for our advancement in the path of righteousness and holiness; a law by which the land on which we dwell might become sanctified; a law by which Zion might be built up and established never more to be thrown down or removed out of her place by wicked and ungodly men.”

“The temporal salvation of this Church . . . depends upon obedience to this law.”

The above quotes chime with everything written in the Old Testament regarding tithing. It is a law that must be obeyed by the people of God, obedience to which will bring temporal blessing in the land to a specific people group. The problem is it isn’t binding on Christians under the New Covenant (Testament means Covenant)

Tithing didn’t originate with the Mosaic Law. Nor was it peculiar to the Hebrews but was widely practiced among ancient peoples and civilisations. When Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, king of Salem, it was not in obedience to a specific command from God. It was a tithe of the spoils of war, a voluntary act of devotion to God in thanks for the rescue of his nephew Lot(Gen.14: 17-20, c.f. 28:20-22, Jacob does something similar)

Lets take a quick tour through the requirements of the Old Covenant (Testament) regarding tithing and its purpose.

Tithing in the Old Testament

The tithe was of the land, its seed and fruit, and of animals  and it related to service in the sanctuary. Given its nature it was almost certainly paid annually. Every year after the land had been harvested, the people would bring to the priests the tithe of their harvest and increase in herds and flocks – Lev.27:30-33

Tithes were given to support the Levites. Because the Levites had no inheritance in the land of Canaan, like the other tribes, God provided for their support through the tithes of the rest of Israel – Numbers 18:21-24

There was a second tithe to provide for the religious feasts and festivals of Israel – Deuteronomy 14:22-27

Every three years the people of the town were to bring a tithe of their crops and herds and gather them together to take care of the poor of their towns including the alien, orphan and widow. There is debate over whether this is a third tithe or the second tithe put to a different use –Deuteronomy 14:28-29

These tithes were lawfully required and not voluntary – Nehemiah 12:44

Malachi 3:8-12 – This is the familiar text used by Mormon to justify their quid pro quo approach to tithing. Lets see what it actually says:

You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the Lord of hosts. And all the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land, says the Lord of hosts.”

Tithes are the annual, or triennial first fruits of crops and animals. Offerings are the grain and animal sacrifices brought to the temples. If we are to tithe are we to make animal sacrifices? The curse for disobedience was a curse on crops, fields and stock, the very things in which they had sinned in not tithing, “…because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you” (Deut. 28:18, 23-24, 38-40, 45)

The “storehouses” referred to were chambers in the temple set apart and designated to hold the tithes of the people for the support of the priests (Nehemiah 12:44) It is these Tithe Barnthat would be filled until they overflowed when Israel obeyed. The “pests” (devourer AV) who would not destroy their crops was the locust (Deut.28:38) Israel’s obedience would result in abundant crops, rain and increase in herds and flocks. Tithe barns can still be seen around Europe. The one on the left is in Great Coxwell, Oxfordshire, England. We are no longer under that system but this is the system prescribed by Mormonism.

I mentioned a quid pro quo approach for Mormons. Mormonism teaches that our obedience binds God to bless us, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10)

This is the lens through which they view the law of tithing: If you obey you are bound to prosper. You will sometimes hear Mormons insist that, “Those who leave the church never prosper,” and this it is that stands behind their salvation by works. The Mormon message is a message of “progression” not salvation, and that progression depends not on the finished work of Christ at Calvary but on their strict obedience to the Mormon Plan of Salvation, including the law of tithing.

Giving in the New Testament

There are only four New Testament passages in which tithing is mentioned:

(Matthew 23:23, c.f. Luke 11:42) This text is talking about tithing herbs under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was not yet inaugurated until Jesus’ death (Lk.22.20; Heb. 7:12)

Luke 18:12: This is the parable about the Pharisee and the tax-collector.  The words, “I pay tithes of all that I get,” are put into the mouth of the self-righteous Pharisee who thinks himself justified before God on the basis of his works.  Some people are in Scripture as examples, others as warnings. Is this Old Covenant warning our example for Christians living under the New Covenant!

Hebrews 7:1-10 This passage is not about tithing but about the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over the Levitical priesthood, even as Melchizedek was superior to Levi who, being in the loins of Abraham, paid tithes to the priest/king. Even so, the New Covenant is superior to the Old.

So how is giving understood under the New Covenant?

There is no percentage prescribed but, like Abraham and Jacob, Christians are to give voluntarily,“just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

1 Corinthians 16:1-2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.  On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save,as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”

Here saints are urged to give proportionately as they have prospered.

Acts 11:27-39 “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.  And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them Collection Platedetermined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.”

Here we see people giving as they are able. Those with more give more, those with less give less.

2 Corinthians 9:7: “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Here we are urged to be faithful to give what we have purposed in our hearts. When we see a need we meet it as best we can.

The Needs of Believers

Acts 2:44-45“And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”

1 John 3:17: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Galatians 6:9-10: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

The Needs of Christian Workers

1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’ and ‘The labourer is worthy of his wages.’”

1 Cor.9:11-14: “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?  If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.  Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar?  So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”

So much for the much vaunted Mormon lay clergy. Mormons will often sneer at the idea of a paid clergy, suggesting some sort of compromise with mammon, but the Bible insists “the labourer is worthy of his hire.”

The Needs of the Poor

Luke 12:33-34: “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Ephesians 4:28: “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labour, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.”

James 1:27: “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

New Covenant giving is to meet people’s needs, it is done as we are able, as we have determined in our hearts. It is to be anonymous (Mt.6:1-4); Voluntary (2 Cor.9:7); Expecting and trusting in God’s blessing and provision (2 Cor.9:6); Cheerfully (2 Cor.9:7); sacrificially (Mk.12:41-44) and for the right motives, i.e. following Christ’s example (2 Cor.8:9) and obeying his command of love(Jn.15:12-13)

Just as Christ’s priesthood is greater than the abolished Levitical priesthood, as the New Covenant is greater than the Old Covenant, so the new way of giving is more heartfelt and demanding than the old. The old way was easily fulfilled by the measuring out of stock and crops, the new is measured by the heart and sacrifice of the giver.

Here is the tragedy: Mormons follow the way of the Old Covenant, Christians are free to be generous and sacrificial in the New Covenant. Mormons remain under law, while Christians operate under grace, a grace that equips them for greater responsibilities than were ever required under the Old Covenant.

There is an enlightening and informative article on Mormon finances here. For a fuller treatment of the biblical teaching on tithing and giving read Brian Anderson’s excellent article on The Bridge Online, from which I have taken some of these bullet points.