Friday, 16 January 2015

Twelve Baptisms and a Mormon

In ministry the least reliable thing of all is a testimony. I know that sounds a strange thing to say but when people stand up and tell their story you really have little or no control over what they will say, there is often little chance of verifying their back story and, especially if it goes to print, it can be a serious liability. Testimonies can also be heart-warming, encouraging, and inspiring, and I don’t want to discourage them. Its a question of how they are handled, what we make of them, and what weight we give them. Content is a good guide.

Twelve Baptisms

My wife and I were invited some years ago to a baptism in a local church. It was a pretty exciting occasion, in a charismatic church so plenty of music, ‘alleluias, and arm waving. If I tell you there there twelve baptism candidates that night you will understand all the excitement. We took our seats, but not for long, as the band struck up a hearty chorus and the congregation were on their feet, on their chairs – you get the picture.

After a while the first person was invited up and interviewed, before the whole congregation, about their faith, something I always admire no matter how often I see it. It does take great courage and is an encouraging evidence of faith. As I have already said, testimonies are not altogether reliable and so, when this one turned out to be all about ‘what the church has done for me,’ I wasn’t concerned. After all, the church does do a lot for people and nothing wrong with gratitude.

Alarm bells began ringing as, one after the other, the candidates stood and told a similar story. Their life had been a mess and the church had turned things around for them. Don’t mistake me, I am all for the church being Jesus in the community, reaching out to the poor, the disaffected. The trouble was that there was no mention of sin, repentance, the cross, forgiveness, from any of them, all things I would have expected as pretty basic to any convert’s story. I don’t say they weren’t taught these things, just that these things didn’t carry the significance I would have expected at a baptism service.

I am always glad when someone can give the church a good report, happy for people when they have found somewhere to belong. But if your testimony is founded on better lifestyle choices and the friendship and sacrifices of Christians, what will you do when you discover that Christians are sinners too, and can let you down? Where will you put your faith then?

How will you deal with the disappointments that any good Christian will tell you are bound to come, if you start off with a testimony based on being accepted among nice people, not on looking to a perfect Saviour? How will you be able to say with Habakkuk, “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.”? (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

And a Mormon

There was an interesting testimony in the January 6 edition of the Mormon Deseret News about the conversion of a young lady from Horsham, Surrey, England. It is, by any standard, a heart-warming story and concerns her being lifted out of a pit of despair by watching some YouTube videos by a Mormon family from Idaho. So impressed was she by these people, so lifted by their outlook on life that her own mood lifted, her outlook changed for much the better. When she saw, for the first time, Mormon missionaries in her own home town she leapt at the chance to speak to them. Soon enough, she and her husband and children were Mormons.

Just as with the twelve baptism candidates, I would be churlish and mean to begrudge her and her family the joy of finding acceptance and encouragement among a group of people who I know form my own experience are fine people. Unlike the twelve mentioned above, I had no serious expectations that her story would be other than it is. A Mormon testimony is about ‘the church’ and I wasn’t disappointed. You can read it yourself.

But the same questions arise as with the testimonies of the twelve. How will she deal with the disappointments that are bound to come with a testimony about being accepted among nice people? What will she do when she discovers that Mormons will let her down, not because they are Mormons, but because they are sinners? How will she deal with the discovery that the church is imperfect? This is before she even discovers, if she ever discovers, that what she has been taught is seriously questionable.

More importantly, who will be there for her and her family when the storm comes and they discover they have built on sand? Who will, without judgement, hold her hand through the turbulent times, graciously explain the truth, and bring her to a place of true safety and assurance?

My prayer is that your testimony is built on the one Rock that is Christ, your assurance founded on his finished work at Calvary, and your hope founded on his sure promises, and not on the ‘good phase’ your church was going through when you met them. I pray that if you get an opportunity to meet and witness to a cult member you will remember how shaky their testimony can really be, and not be taken in by their appearance of confidence. That you will be prepared to hold their hand through the storm that will come when their organisation fails them, and they discover they didn’t have Christ at all.

This post appeared originally on Bridge of Reason the official Blog of Reachout Trust

Thursday, 23 October 2014

General Conference October 2014, Saturday Morning Session

General Conference image

Welcome to conference

A Christian friend once spent some time with Mormons in New Zealand researching a paper. He visited with Christian friends there and asked them how they felt being surrounded by so many Mormons. His question mystified them. The Mormon community was so small, they insisted, as to be negligible. He realised that spending time surrounded by Mormons, listening to their self-aggrandising conversation, had put in his mind a completely false picture of the strength of the Mormon Church in that community.

Werlcome to ConferenceThe same is true, multiplied a hundredfold, listening to Thomas Monson welcome the faithful and the habitual to conference. It’s “a great world conference” he insists. People are gathered, “in locations around the world to listen to and learn from the brethren and sisters whom we have sustained as General Authorities and general officers of the Church.”

We are told this is the 90th anniversary of conference broadcasts, the 65th of television transmission. Modern media and technology are being harnessed and he lists them; “television, radio, cable, satellite transmission, and the Internet, including on mobile devices.” “The church” is busy, busy, busy…but, like my friend, we mustn’t be fooled.

The Mormon church has no more temples to announce for now and they don’t have the population of “worthy” members to fully utilize the ones they have. They have had to lower the age at which they call missionaries to achieve the 88,000 he boasts of because numbers were falling at an alarming rate just a few short years ago. And the 15 million membership is largely numbers, names on record, and mainly in the United States. In conference Mormonism seems ubiquitous; out here we see the real scale of things.

Sacrament

If I were to pick one talk in this session to take away with me it would be Cheryl Esplin’s on the power of the sacrament. Mormons, of course, don’t understand that there is more than one sacrament in Christ’s church but she is to be forgiven for following the Mormon convention of calling what we know as communion the sacrament.

She speaks of the power of the sacrament to bring healing and wholeness to the sinner, the importance of renewing covenants at the table (Christians are a covenant people), and the strength we get from the Saviour to help us walk in his ways. Cheryl Esplin is the 2nd counsellor in the primary general presidency.  There is much to commend this talk and if I were a Mormon I would want this woman teaching my grandchildren.

That said, the glow quickly comes off these sessions for me and I want to demonstrate how with a talk about loyalty, another about agency.

Loyalty

Loyalty is an abiding theme for Mormons and Lynn Robbins’ talk is much of a kind as he challenges people not to give in to peer pressure. His is a worthy message as he warns us not to reverse the first and second great commandments given by Jesus to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”…and to, “love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt.22:37-39)

Another context might have lent it greater authority and, certainly, the basic theme would be worthy of any Christian pulpit. This context, however, makes it political as much as theological.

He offers a robust challenge to defy the world and make the commandments our priority. I confess my heart leapt at it, and I cheered him on as, quoting Proverbs 29:25, he warns of the snare that waits those who fear men more than God. His examples are good as he warns us against those temptations that appeal to our compassionate side, eliciting sympathy and drawing us in to condoning sin. He quotes CS Lewis, one of my favourite Christian apologists and fast becoming popular with Mormons:

“Courage is … the form of every virtue at the testing point. … Pilate was merciful till it became risky.” (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

Mormon leaders owe a great debt of gratitude to Christian thinkers down the years, though, given the way they talk about us behind our backs, you wouldn’t think it.

But then certain words and sentences began to stand out for me as carrying the greatest significance in the context of a Mormon conference at the beginning of the 21st century:

“Prophets through the ages have always come under attack by the finger of scorn…”

“The scornful often accuse prophets of not living in the 21st century or of being bigoted. They attempt to persuade or even pressure the Church into lowering God’s standards to the level of their own inappropriate behavior (sic)…Lowering the Lord’s standards to the level of a society’s inappropriate behavior (sic) is—apostasy…”

“Some members don’t realize they are falling into the same snare when they lobby for acceptance of local or ethnic “tradition[s] of their fathers” (D&C 93:39) that are not in harmony with the gospel culture. Still others, self-deceived and in self-denial, plead or demand that bishops lower the standard on temple recommends, school endorsements, or missionary applications…”

“When others demand approval in defiance of God’s commandments, may we always remember whose disciples we are, and which way we face...”

It became very pointed and I thought of Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, who was excommunicated for little more than having a view of Mormon priesthood. You can read about it here. Then there is the on-going struggle within Mormonism to hold onto their perfect “families are forever” message while addressing the question of gay relationships. You can read a New York Times report on Dallin H Oaks’ words on the subject at this conference.

This was the church using a low-ranking General Authority to send a shot across the bows of any who might be wavering. This was Mormonism struggling to hold the line against the rising tide. We might sympathise, except our loyalty as Christians is not to an institution, nor to its leaders. It is certainly not bought by intimidation, but by the love of Christ that compels us (2 Cor.5:14-15).

Mormons struggle with the tension between agency and authority. The Mormon Church relieves that tension periodically by making gestures, such as the website dedicated to gay issues, even by changing doctrine, such as allowing Black men to hold the priesthood and take their families through the temple. But make no mistake, the price is unquestioning loyalty to the church and, where it can, it demands such loyalty.

Agency

Countless thousands of hymns, songs, and choruses have been produced over the centuries. Some have become household favourites, church-wide anthems, others have been forgotten, some regrettably, some deservedly. The hymn I want to bring is wonderful!

I bring it because of something that was shared in this session by D. Todd Christenson of the quorum of the twelve. You can read him hear. Speaking of agency, he presented the classic Mormon doctrine of salvation, demonstrating that in the essentials Mormon teaching is just as wrong and dangerous as ever it was.

Mormon “salvation” is of the greasy pole variety. It is driven by vain ambition for godhood, it reflects the classic can-do attitude of the culture from which it sprung, chains people to a system that will never deliver what it promises, and it offers no real help for poor sinners who realise the impossible task set before them. The hymn words I bring hold out that hope, absent from Mormon teaching, and I want to explain why.

Christenson’s theme runs, “It is God’s will that we be free men and women enabled to rise to our full potential both temporally and spiritually.” He declares:

God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, “that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” It is His plan and His will that we have the principal decision-making role in our own life’s drama.

This is a version of the fifth century heresy of Pelagianism, which insists that mortal man is capable of justifying himself by good works without justifying and enabling grace. Pelagius wrote:

"It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the possibility of choosing either alternative...he could do either quite naturally and then bend his will in the other direction too. He could not claim to possess the good of his own volition, unless he was the kind of creature that could also have possessed evil. Our most excellent creator wished us to be able to do either but actually to do only one, that is, good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do His will by exercising our own. That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good – good, I say, because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not bound by necessity but free to decide for itself."

The similarity is striking! But both Pelagius and Christenson deny the Bible’s teaching on original sin.

“…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Ro.5:12)

When did all men sin? When they chose that path and began sinning in this life? No!  All men sinned when Adam sinned. Death and sin are not natural to man in his original state; sin brought death. Sin is our inheritance because we are “in Adam.” This is why Paul wrote that, “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin…None is righteous, no not one…” (Rom.3:9-10)

Paul is very clear in stating that, “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” (Ro.5:19) and that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor.15:22)

Note this is not universalism since it clearly states that all “in Adam,” or of the line of Adam, will die because “in Adam” many were made sinners, and sin brings death. By the same token, all “in Christ,” or born-again into the line/family of Christ will live because in Christ they are made alive. That is why Christ is called “our ever living head” in the Christian hymn “I Know That my Redeemer Lives” found in the LDS hymnbook (136). They sing it but hardly could they be accused of believing it.

This is as fundamental as it gets for Christians. Read the first eight chapters of Romans and I defy you to get a different message. Nothing else could explain how we are “justified by faith [and] have peace with God” (5:1); this is how Paul can write confidently, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith…” (Eph.2:8); this is how we can know no condemnation – because we are “in Christ Jesus” (8:1)

How does a person transfer their heritage from Adam to Christ? “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast.” (Eph.2:8-9)

Mormonism teaches a form of universalism that is reiterated in this talk.

We are forever grateful that the Savior’s (sic) Atonement overcame original sin so that we can be born into this world yet not be punished for Adam’s transgression. Having been thus redeemed from the Fall, we begin life innocent before God and “become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon.” We can choose to become the kind of person that we will, and with God’s help, that can be even as He is.

In the Mormon scheme this universalism is what they call “salvation.” But the Bible clearly states that salvation is a) by faith and not universally distributed and b) faith puts the believer “in Christ,” and salvation by grace through faith thus means life eternal. It is clear that the Mormon scheme has Christ deal with Adam’s sin for everyone, faithful and faithless, clearing the way for us to “rise to our full potential.”

If there were any doubt read his words further:

So God does not save us “just as we are,” first, because “just as we are” we are unclean, and “no unclean thing can dwell … in his presence…And second, God will not act to make us something we do not choose by our actions to become. Truly He loves us, and because He loves us, He neither compels nor abandons us. Rather He helps and guides us. Indeed, the real manifestation of God’s love is His commandments.

What an appalling state of affairs! Where the Bible states that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, Mormonism teaches that all are saved whether they believe or not, and only those who follow the Mormon plan can truly know God, indeed, reach their full potential in becoming gods. Consider those words, “So God does not save us “just as we are,” first…” This is the antithesis of Jesus’ message:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

Paul wrote:

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…for, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Ro.10:9-10)

The Mormon will now have rattling around in his head the familiar trope “faith without works is dead,” (James 2:20) and would be quite right. The apparent conflict between Paul and James is not a conflict of ideas however but a difference of ministry. Paul is writing, indeed Jesus is speaking to a people who need salvation. It is a missionary work. James is writing to a saved people and firmly reminding them that we are saved by grace alone but that grace does not come alone. God does save us “just as we are,” but he does not leave us as we are. You can read more about this on The Mormon Chapbook.

But now consider the hymn I started talking about. It is entitled Just As I Am. Here is the plea of the sinner, here the answer to Paul’s question, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” May the Lord reveal its wonderful truth.

Just As I Am

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt;
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive;
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down;
now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
the breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
here for a season, then above:
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Words: Charlotte Elliott, 1841

Music: Woodworth, Saffron Walden, St. Crispin, Misericordia

This post first appeared as a guest post on the Mormonism Investigated blog.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Mormons and the Perils of Social Media

Those of us who have been around social media for a long time know too well the perils of ‘sharing your faith’ online. We are familiar with robust exchanges of view, from thoughtful comments to ill-considered plaudits and brickbats, the angry exchanges, and the downright rudeness. Whatever your position on issues of faith, when you step into this arena you must be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. When you are a Mormon I imagine you get more than your fair share, what with half the online Evangelical world looking to put you right, and the other half cheering them on.

Yet Mormons have taken to the Internet with the best of them. Half the church’s 85,000 missionaries are given digital devices, the church has a sophisticated presence on the web, and members enthusiastically populate forums, blogs, and social media. How would you feel, however, if your church leaders used this net presence to check up on your faithfulness?

It has been reported that, “Some local church leaders have found individual pages, for example, a good way to learn the needs of their congregants.”  How would you feel if a chat with your pastor began with the words, “I saw something on your Facebook page, and wondered if everything was alright?” Maybe you would feel it showed pastoral initiative but…

How would you feel if your faithfulness was brought into question because of comments you made? If your involvement in church was proscribed because you took a different view on an issue? This is what has been happening to otherwise good Mormons.

The most high-profile victim is Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women, who has been excommunicated, a decision she is now appealing. Her parents had their temple recommends revoked because they refused to take down their profiles from the Ordain Women website. But there are many more examples of this heavy-handed approach to social media activity.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports one woman losing a calling in the Young Women’s presidency after she posted a picture of herself nursing her daughter on her private Facebook page.

A man was “released” as elder’s quorum president because of his views on same-sex marriage.

A woman in  Australia was excluded because of “feminist views” she expressed on social media.

There are rules and guidelines for teachers, and others in public life, on the use of social media. Care must be taken to not inadvertently get into a compromising situation. But private citizens being censured by church leaders like this, and the trolling of social media for intel on your church members hits a new low.

The Mormon church has been making great efforts to deal with its questionable history and it hasn’t turned out well for them. They need to deal with the present and realise from their history that you can’t hide this stuff anymore. No sooner is there a development than its around the world, reported, commented on, and watched carefully. For a church that prides itself on its web presence it still has a lot to learn

You can read more about it at the Salt Lake Tribune

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Purpose of Mormonism

The August 2014 Ensign magazine of the Mormon Church carries the theme of missionary work and an article by Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explains Why we Share the Gospel. There is a helpful summary here.

He begins, reasonably enough, by drawing a distinction between purpose and planning and it would be right to say he is warning readers that the map is not the territory, that the method used is not an end in itself, the end being to bring people to faith.

There is so much here with which a Christian might agree. The need to live an exemplary life; the importance of listening to God; understanding the message;telling the ‘good news’ of Jesus, and inspiring faith. It is on such Christian principles, apparently so characteristic of Mormonism, that a growing number of liberal Christians are finding it easier to accept the Mormon Church as  fundamentally Christian, and to take a bemused, even hostile stance towards ministries that challenge Mormon teachings; but look closer…

Drawing on the official missionary lessons of his church, Christofferson explains:

“The world has no access to atoning grace and salvation but through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

The fact is that everyone outside the Mormon Church, including the Christian community that they are supposedly part of, is the target of their proselytising.  There has always been the idea that everyone will be saved into one degree of glory or another in God’s kingdom, that non-Mormons will inherit, ‘a lower degree of glory.’

But make no mistake, Mormons regard Christians the same way that Christian ministries to cults regard Mormons. If you’re a non-Mormon you are going to get visited, by the same token if you’re a Mormon you’re going to be witnessed to. Life’s like that.

Christofferson goes on:

“Coming unto Christ is an abbreviation, a way of describing in three words the plan of salvation.”

There is a world of information in that one sentence if you know how to understand it. “Coming unto Christ” seems so Christian, doesn’t it? And don’t you love the affected way Mormons use ‘unto’ in these statements? They seem to believe that 400-year-old English is somehow more reverent, and in some way sanctifies their speech; it isn’t, and it doesn’t.

When an evangelical Christian talks about coming to Christ for salvation, what we mean is laying aside all our futile efforts at saving ourselves and finally depending on the finished work of Christ on the cross to save and to sanctify us. This has nothing to do with how we live as Christians, that is a different subject altogether, and you can read a fuller explanation on my post about Paul and James.

As Christians we have always known that we are saved for works. But that is the point; Christians are saved for works, while Mormons are saved by  works. They insist otherwise, of course, but that is because they haven’t understood grace. I know something about this because I travelled that journey from Mormonism’s works salvation to the Bibles grace salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that we are saved by grace, for works, and not by works (Eph. 2:8-10);  that outward shows of religious observance profit us nothing (Philip.3:7-11); that there is no dietary law now (1 Cor.8:8; Mk.7:18-23) and for those who trust Jesus there is free access to the throne of grace, without intermediaries, or religious ceremony (Heb.4:14-16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”)

Mormonism makes much more of ‘coming unto Christ,’ subtracting from the gospel by adding to it. The plan of salvation, for which these three words are a shorthand, involves joining the Mormon Church; being baptised by Mormon ‘authority’; proving yourself ‘worthy’ to hold the Mormon priesthood if you’re male; gaining a temple recommend (only available to those considered most ‘worthy’), marrying in that temple; raising a Mormon family; keeping the Mormon dietary law, and enduring to the end.

This enduring to the end is not enduring in faith, but enduring in keeping all the rules of Mormonism so as to show yourself ‘worthy’ of grace. Stop and think about that for a moment. Mormonism effectually invites you to enjoy God’s grace at great cost to – yourself! This idea is best summed up in the words of the 3rd Article of Faith:

“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

Compare that with these wonderful words of Jesus:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

The third claim Christofferson makes is:

“The why, the what, and the how of missionary work are more compellingly proclaimed in the Book of Mormon than anywhere else. It is filled with examples of those who understood and laboured to fulfil the missionary purpose. It contains the clearest expositions anywhere in scripture of the fundamental doctrines we should teach.”

This is a church that claims to trust the Bible. The Bible that contains the four gospels, gospels not found, or duplicated, in Mormon scripture. The Bible that contains the clearest expositions of the Christian faith anywhere, from the magisterial exposition of the gospel in Paul’s letter to the Romans, through the denouncing of works salvation in his letter to the Galatians, and the magnificent description of Christ and his authority in Ephesians, to the comprehensive exposition on priesthood in Hebrews.

From the words of Jesus to the Revelation of John, it has been the source of our understanding of the faith for 2,000 years, and has proved its worth to countless generations.

Further, the claim that the Book of Mormon, “…contains the clearest expositions anywhere in scripture of the fundamental doctrines we should teach” cannot go unchallenged. We all know the list of Mormon teachings not found in the Book of Mormon:

  • Mormon priesthood
  • Mormon temple worship
  • Eternal marriage (polygamy is preached against)
  • Plurality of gods
  • God is an exalted man
  • Men becoming gods
  • Degrees of glory
  • Word of Wisdom
  • Pre-mortal existence
  • The plan of salvation itself.

If ‘coming unto Christ’ is a shorthand for the plan of salvation, why isn’t that plan in the clearest expositions of fundamental Mormon doctrines? It’s a conundrum.

The point, of course, is that Mormons consider all who aren’t Mormons, including so-called ‘other Christians’ legitimate subjects for evangelism. Mormons do not understand the biblical doctrine of grace, and teach a works-based salvation. And Mormons mistrust the Bible, preferring the Book of Mormon, even though the Book of Mormon is devoid of some of the most fundamental doctrines of Mormonism.

I don’t mind Mormon missionaries calling by, telling me where they believe my understanding is wrong, and offering me what they regard as something better. They have a calling and a job to do for their church, and I respect that. But Mormons really should adopt the same attitude to ministries and individuals who seek to evangelise Mormons, pointing out the errors in the Mormon faith and offering Mormons something we regard as infinitely better.

It’s more honest that way, creates a better atmosphere, makes it easier to listen respectfully, and doesn’t make differences into an all-out war of words; of yes you do, no we don’t. Wouldn’t you say?

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Mormonism Misusing Scripture 2: The Case of the Absent Atonement

I wonder would you do something for me? Read through the following brief account of a little adventure I had recently and then answer the two questions at the end. Its a true story, I know because I made it up myself:

I recently bought a car because I planned to go on a road trip with a friend and my old jalopy simply wasn’t up to it. It surprised me that, within my budget, I was offered a great little model, much better than my old banger and with an interior so comfortable it was like driving a limo.

When I arrived at my friends’ house he took one look and said, “Nice wheels.”

“You like my motor?” I replied.

“Its a nice Auto,” he said, “and it looks like that model is going to take us places.”

With that we got in the vehicle and drove off on our adventure.

Q1. How many times does the word “car” appear in this narrative?

Q2. How many times is a car mentioned in this narrative?

We’ll get back to this shortly.

It still amazes me how Mormon thinking makes Mormon leaders so clumsy, so blindly incapable in their handling of the word of God. I recently blogged about Mormonism Misusing Scripture using the example of Spencer W Kimball in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness. It is an illustration that seems familiar enough to make us say, “they’re at it again,”  yet still surprising enough to make us marvel at such ineptitude. Sometimes, however, they just go too far and something here is more than clumsy and inept, its downright dishonest!Russell_M._Nelson

I refer to an article in the latest, July 2014, Ensign magazine. It is written by Russell M Nelson, a Mormon apostle, an “authority,” and addresses the issue of the gathering of Israel and the second coming. The theme is a subject for another time but I want to pick up on one almighty untruth right there towards the end of the piece.

Claiming that the Book of Mormon is “the instrument to bring about the gathering,” and that it clarifies the connection of the Mormon Church with the biblical house of Israel, Nelson goes on to assert:

“The Book of Mormon contains the fulness (sic) of the gospel. Without the Book of Mormon, we would know little about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

A footnote to this astonishing claim states:

KJV-King-James-Version-Bible-first-edition-title-page-1611.xcf“The word atonement in any of its forms appears in only one verse of the King James Version of the New Testament (see Romans 5:11). It appears in 24 verses of the Book of Mormon.”

You know, I just read that again as I typed it and realise it says, “In any of its forms.”  Its worse than I thought.

Of course, as a Christian, I instinctively react to this claim with disbelief. This can’t be true. Surely the atonement is found throughout the Bible, prophesied in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New Testament. Yet here is a claim that even the language of the atonement is practically absent from our precious Bibles.

Did you answer my questions:

How many times does the word “car” appear in my story? (1)

How many times is a car mentioned in the story?(9)

You can see where this is going already, I am sure, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But lets go through this and see how mendacious this claim actually is, how far this “authority” is prepared to go with his fraudulent claims.

The word Atonement is a Bible word, describing a central Bible teaching. Indeed, it might be said that the theme of the whole Bible is the Atonement and its effect on all those who believe. So, is it true that, “The word atonement in any of its forms appears in only one verse of the King James Version of the New Testament (see Romans 5:11)”?

No! Absolutely not! The problem for Nelson is that phrase, “in any of its forms.” If he hadn’t included that then he would have been (technically) correct but, as usual with Mormon leaders, actually deceptive.

“Atonement” is an Anglo-Saxon word. It means ‘a making of one’ - “at-one-ment,” the bringing together of estranged parties, making them one again. The Greek is katallagē and the better translation is “reconciliation.” In the New Testament it denotes the work of Christ in dealing with the problem of sin and reconciling fallen man with God.

The word atonement appears once in the KJV New Testament, but remember we are looking for that word “in any of its forms.” The better word is reconciliation, another form of the word atonement. In the KJV the word reconciliation, or some form of it, appears four times:

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation

                                                                                                                                                                              (2 Corinthians 5:18)

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2Corinthians 5:19)

Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)

Add to this the example of the word atonement in Romans 5:11 and you have FIVE instances when, “The word atonement in any of its forms appears” in the KJV New Testament. It gets interesting when you start looking at modern translations.Crucifixion Gustave_DorĂ©-Le_Calvaire

In the New International Version Heb.2:17 uses the word atonement but Ro.5:11 uses reconciliation while Ro.3:25 uses atonement where in the same verse the King James Version uses propitiation. The English Standard Version also uses propitiation here but in Ro.5:11, where the King James Version uses atonement, the English Standard Version uses reconciliation. In fact, the English Standard Version doesn’t use atonement, not even once.

Clearly, just as in my car example, it isn’t as simple as counting instances when a word appears. Anyone with a thesaurus, even a dull, disinterested Mormon apostle, can find synonyms for atonement. Anyone with a good reference Bible, even a lazy, agenda-driven Mormon apostle, can find out what I have – if there is a will.

The Book of Mormon not only doesn’t contain “the fulness of the everlasting gospel,” it doesn’t contain the gospel. It merely contains a word for the gospel. The Bible contains the gospel and several different words, phrases, images, similes, parables that all tell the full and unadulterated story of the gospel.

To give the impression that the Bible is so deficient in telling the story of Christ’s Atonement, act of Reconciliation, Propitiation for sin, is to lie plain and simple. If anyone knows this old fox personally and wishes to pass this on I would welcome the opportunity to teach him how to use and understand the Bible. Apostle? Apostate more likely. Shame on you Nelson, shame on you.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Mormonism Misusing Scripture

Miracle of ForgivenessI want to show you, from chapter 9 in Spencer W Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, how Mormonism misuses the Bible, misapplies its texts, and rips them from their natural context.

I have noted down and counted the relative Mormon and biblical texts in this chapter and discovered that a total of 29 Mormon sources are quoted compared with a total of 13 Bible texts . That is more than twice as many Mormon texts as Bible texts.

(notably, one Bible text is taken from the Joseph Smith ‘Inspired Version’ of the Bible, making that, in some people’s thinking, one less Bible text and another Mormon text)

Mormon Old Testament New Testament
Alma 34:35 Genesis 9:16 1 John 5:16-17
Heleman 13:38 Exodus 21:12 Hebrews 6:4-6
Mormon 2:13 Leviticus 24:7 Mat. 12:31-32 JST*
Ether 15:19   2 Peter 2:20-22
3 Nephi 27:17   John 6:70
Alma 39:6   John 17:12
Mormon 10:5   Acts 1:20
Heleman 14:18   Acts 2:29-34
Heleman 4:24-25   John 20:29
John 12:6
D&C 84:41    
D&C 43:33    
D&C 132:27    
D&C 22:2    
D&C 84:33-41    
D&C 88:24    
D&C 76:31-38    
D&C 76:44-46    
D&C 42:18,19    
D&C 42:79    
     
Teaching of PJS    
Teachings of PJS    
Teachings of PJS    
Improvement Era    
Improvement Era    
Gospel Doctrine    
Gospel Doctrine    
Gospel Doctrine    
Doc.Hist.of Church    
Ist Pres. Message 1942    

 

The argument could reasonably be made that of course Mormons quote and cite more Mormon sources; after all, they believe in them. But a careful reading, backed by good Bible knowledge, demonstrates that the argument put cannot be made from the Bible so the Mormon writer has to work from Mormon texts, using badly applied Bible texts to ‘back up’ the argument.

The Bible texts used serve only to back up a Mormon argument, often being wrought from their context to make a point they were never meant to make, supporting a point that cannot be made from the Bible itself.

The chapter concentrates on the “unforgivable sin” seeking to define it and warn against it, but that isn’t going to surprise you, is it? Mormons are frequently preoccupied with what might cause them to, “slip across the line” as Kimball puts it.

I want to look at three things: The peculiar fate of Cain, the curious judgement on King David, and the odd response of Peter to those who repented at Pentecost.

The Case of the Hirsute Murderer

There are two unforgivable sins in this chapter, actually. There is the denial of the truth once you have received it and there is the shedding of innocent blood – murder. The former appears to be difficult to define, even by modern prophets. He says of apostates who commit this sin:

We cannot definitely identify them [as unforgivable] individually since it is impossible for us to know the extent of their knowledge, the depth of their enlightenment, and the sureness of their testimonies before the fall.”

Somehow I am not reassured…

After speculating on this subject he turns to a more easily identifiable sin, that of murder;although, even here, he prevaricates between murder and manslaughter. But, turning to “the first murderer” he seems to be on more solid ground (though you might not agree).

Cain, we are told, was “thoroughly taught the gospel by his parents…” This may come as a surprise to Bible students who know well enough that this gospel of Jesus Christ was a “mystery hidden for long ages past” (Ro.16:25, c.f. 1 Cor.2:6-10)

Kimball is fascinated by this character and can’t help but retell a story he read from The Life of David W Patten, The First Apostolic Martyr, by Lycurgus A Wilson (strangely enough, I thought that title of first apostolic martyr went much further back than the early 19th. Century) Patten was an original member of the quorum of the twelve Mormon apostles.

“As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me…His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wonderer in the earth and traveled (sic) to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of Jesus Christ and by virtue of the the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight…”

Several things in this popular tale demonstrate how Mormonism takes familiar Bible stories and bends them to the purpose of validating Mormon claims.

In Genesis the punishment Cain suffered is explained no further than that he was cut off from his livelihood as a farmer/agriculturalist in that he was made a wanderer, and further cut off from God. A mark was placed on Cain to protect him from those who might kill him, the nature of which mark is unknown so we might assume it isn’t important to know. This is not enough for an early Mormon leader who must demonstrate his credentials by knowing more than the Bible.

First, Cain is still alive, though the Bible clearly indicates he should die, since the mark of Cain was to protect him from premature death. There has been a long tradition of believing Cain’s “wanderings” as unending but the Bible says nothing about that. It is a sound principle that where the Bible is silent so should we be.

Secondly, his skin was dark, a dark skin traditionally considered by Mormons to be the mark of Cain and a bar to any dark-skinned male having the priesthood until the doctrine was changed in in 1978.

Thirdly, it was the exercising of Mormon priesthood that rebuked Cain and made him depart. This is the key to understanding this story. It validates Mormon claims to authority.

Thus we see how a fiction is devised to fill tantalising gaps in our knowledge, not to educate and enlighten but to make the Mormon Church the definitive authority, the ones who know, the ones with the power to command.

The Case of the King in Purgatory

King David, we are told, “is still paying for his sin.” Does that surprise you? Do you think a man can pay for his sin?

David, you will recall, committed adultery with Bathseba, the wife of one of his most trusted military leaders, Uriah the Hittite. When she became pregnant David panicked, called Uriah home from the battlefront in the hope he would lay with his wife and think the baby his. Noble Uriah refused, saying:

“The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” (2Samuel 11:11)

Plan B: David has Uriah killed “in battle,” (2 Sam.11:14-16) and marries Bathsheba.

Here is what Joseph Smith said about David:

“A murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness.  David sought repentance at the hand of God carefully with tears,  for the murder of Uriah;  but he could only get it through hell: he got a promise that his soul should not be left in hell.” (TPJS p.339)

Where does this thinking come from? Here it is in the Acts of the Apostles (but you must have a Mormon explain it because you would never…well take a look):

"Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.' (Acts 2:29-35)

This is evidence, it is claimed, that David remains unforgiven. Kimball explains, “…David is still paying for his sin. He did not receive the resurrection at the time of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter declared that his body was still in the tomb.”

The text that is a clear prophecy of Christ’s resurrection becomes a prediction about David’s ultimate destiny. Mormon prophet Joseph F Smith explains:

“But even David, though guilty of adultery and murder of Uriah, obtained a promise that his soul should not be left in hell, as I understand it, that even he shall escape the second death.” (Gospel Doctrine, p.434)

But this text has nothing to do with the eternal fate of David.

David writes in Psalm 16:

“…you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

When he writes this, Peter insists, he cannot be talking about himself because,

“Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ…”

Stop for one moment. Read that last again, “Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ…” Could he make any clearer what this is about? Its about the resurrection of Christ.

“…that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

Peter goes on to use Psalm 110 to press home his point:

“For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord (God) said to my Lord (the son of David, the Messiah) Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”

The fact of David’s still being in the tomb is used by Peter to explain that the risen and exalted Christ is so much greater than David, who prophetically calls Jesus ‘my Lord.’ This text is about Christ.

Nevertheless, Joseph Smith makes it about the convoluted Mormon priesthood doctrine, insisting that, “though he was a king, David did not receive the spirit and power of Elijah and the fullness of the priesthood…” [which Smith did of course]

You see how it works? You begin with an unbiblical doctrine of priesthood, then you read the Bible looking for opportunities to insinuate that idea into the text, thus you miss the obvious in your pursuit of the ridiculous.

The Case of the Pentecost Penitents

Peter’s Pentecost sermon had a dramatic effect:

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…’”

                                                                                                                                                                                 (Acts 2:37-38)

Kimball quotes Joseph Smith saying,

Peter referred to the same subject on the day of Pentecost, but the multitude did not get the endowment that Peter had; but several days after, the people asked, “What shall we do?”

Peter says, “I would ye had done it ignorantly,” speaking of crucifying the Lord &c. He did not say to them, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins”; but he said, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19.)
This is the case with murderers. They could not be baptized for the remission of sins, for they had shed innocent blood.

I know! Isn’t that weird? Take the time to open your Bible as you look at this and read the text for yourself. He is referring to two groups of people met by Peter, one on the day of Pentecost, the other in the days following. He then makes the reply Peter gave in Acts 3:19 answer the question asked in previous days in Acts 2:37, which he had already answered in Acts 2:38.

He then misrepresents what Peter is saying. The KJV has:

“And now brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.”

Smith makes this mean, “I would ye had done it ignorantly” (see above quote) clearly saying they did it knowingly. But every translation, even Smith’s own, makes the verse say, “I know that through ignorance ye have done this thing, even also your rulers.” (That is the so-called Joseph Smith Translation: wot means know, see Strongs)

He then makes the strange assertion that the call to repent (3:19) and have their sins blotted out, with no mention of baptism means they are not to be baptised because they are murderers. But in Acts 2 he told those who crucified Jesus (murderers?) they should repent and be baptised!

So what is going on here? The clue, again, is in the word endowment, meaning the peculiar Mormon idea that you can get endowed with secret knowledge and insight in the temple. Murderers cannot receive their endowments.

As with the story of King David, Mormonism has taken a clear to understand text and insinuated into it their peculiar idea of endowments, implying they have insights other churches don’t have. When someone claims to be the sole channel of truth, through whom God speaks, they have to live up to that claim. Where “apostate” churches have no answers the prophets must have answers. This is illustrated with the Mormon doctrine of baptism for the dead.

Based on one Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 15:29, it might have seemed like a great idea back in the day to dunk a few followers in the pool and tell them their ancestors are now Mormons. But it has got completely out of hand with Mormon temples going up at a rate that Joseph Smith couldn’t have begun to imagine. And, of course, it detracts from the chapter’s true and wonderful theme, the assurance of resurrection to eternal life through faith in Christ.

In the same way, Smith has taken a clear enough passage in Acts, about repenting and being baptised in the name of the risen king, and turned it around to make it mean certain people can’t have certain blessings that are available alone through the good offices of the Mormon priesthood.

Whether we are talking about the obscure story of Cain, the eternal fate of King David, or of murderers, the point here is that Scripture is twisted for the sake of making it bow to Mormon authority and to make Mormon leaders look as if they truly are prophets.

Sadly, this too can get out of hand and, finding nothing of their teaching in the Bible, even plain verses are twisted out of shape to look like they are talking about Mormonism.

What makes me so sad is that a whole chapter, a whole book, a whole enterprise is wasted in the service of a lie that has long been forgotten to be a lie. It must be perpetuated because they think its true, even when the plain truth of the Bible says otherwise.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

This is an article I posted in 2011 on the fascinating subject of Chiasmus. It is found in the Bible and Mormons will argue that its presence in the Book of Mormon is evidence of its authenticity – read on:

Chiasmus is “a figure of speech by which the order of the words in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second” (Oxford companion to English Literature, 1985 ed.). One way of identifying a chiastic quote is to mark the repeated words or phrases with the letters ABBA. To illustrate, one of the most familiar examples of this is the phrase spoken at the foot of the Cross:

“He saved others, himself he cannot save.”

This becomes:

A. He saved

B. others,

B. himself

A. he cannot save.

There is an excellent web site dedicated to the subject, www.chiasmus.com and it’s a lot of fun as well as educational.

Since we are currently looking at the Book of Mormon and “questions of the soul” I thought I should say something about this. Thanks Staci for your timely reminder about this fascinating subject. Mormons claim that examples of chiastic writing in the Book of Mormon help authenticate the book. It is found extensively in the Bible and is also to be found in the Book of Mormon, Ipso facto, etc.

Chiasmus is a sophisticated literary device that ranges from the most simple, as illustrated above, to complex examples. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, abound with examples and it is accepted that it is typical of one form of Hebraic writing.

A good example from the Book of Mormon is found 2 Nephi 29:13

The Jews

shall have the words

of the Nephites

and the Nephites

shall have the words

of the Jews;

and the Nephites and the Jews

shall have the words

of the lost tribes of Israel;

and the lost tribes of Israel

shall have the words of the Nephites and of the Jews.

The example Mormons most like to talk about is chapter 36 of Alma, 30 verses which, verse for verse, sets out parallels, verse 1 with verse 30, verse 2 with verse 29 etc. If you read it yourself it is easy enough to identify the parallels. Does this lend weight to Mormon claims?

Falling over Chiasmus

Contrary to past Mormon claims, Chiasmus was not unknown at the time of Joseph Smith. Today Mormon scholars have recognised that this literary form was known at that time but still insist it is unlikely that Smith was aware of it

The Book of Mormon has many examples and, at first sight, this seems impressive. However, while it is common in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Mormon, it is by no means restricted to these. It is a generally used literary style found in many cultures, both in simple and complex forms and people even use it unconsciously. Take for example the famous Mormon couplet

A. As man is

B. God once was

B. As God is

A. Man may become

The person who coined this phrase didn’t think “I will put it in chiasmic form to make it memorable”. It just came out that familiar way we all recognise but don’t know the name of. One of my favourite quotes is by Thomas Fuller:

A. If an ass

B. Goes a travelling

B. He’ll not come back

A. A Horse

An example from a nursery rhyme is:

Hickory, dickory, dock

the mouse ran up the clock

The clock struck one

The Mouse ran down

Hickory, dickory, dock.

Even if Smith didn't know the word chiasm he would have had ready access to the distinctive form in his reading of the King James Bible. Indeed, if he copied his style from the Bible it would seem inevitable that his work would contain chiasmus, not just in those parts he plagiarised but even in those parts peculiar to the Book of Mormon. It is so common you practically trip over it at every turn.

Here’s another example, this time in a familiar Christian children’s song:

Whose the king of the jungle

Whose the king of the sea

Whose the king of the universe

and whose the king of me

I tell you J-E-S-U-S Yes!

He’s the king of me

He’s the king of the universe

the jungle and the sea

Chiasmus in the Doctrine and Covenants

To show this you need to realise that chiastic forms are found in the Doctrine and Covenants. It can't be explained, then, simply as an ancient literary form whose presence "proves" the Book of Mormon, and Mormon scholars readily acknowledge the accidental nature of its presence in the D&C. If Smith could draft chiastic forms in the D&C he could have done the same with the Book of Mormon – whether consciously or no. Here is an example from D&C 107:34-38

The Seventy

are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve

or the travelling high council,

in the building up the and regulating all the affairs of the same

in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews;

The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews.

The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion,

form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church,

in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency or to the travelling high council.

The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church,

in all to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.

It is the duty of the travelling high council to call upon the Seventy,

when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel instead of others.

Other D&C texts include 76:28-30; 76:89-98; 109:24-28.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this a simplistic literary style. It can be very complex and involved. But don’t make the mistake, either, of thinking that its presence in a text is compelling proof of a claim. It is a style both complicated and common that the untutored can easily fall into, the educated unconsciously copy to a degree of complexity, and the trained and determined can reproduce well enough, or offer involved enough comment on to impress the unwary.

Here is one of my own humble making:

Chiasmus

is a form

not a proof.

Proof comes

In the form of

Christ.