Thursday, 10 August 2017

Mormon Excomunication

News broke on 8 August of the excommunication of a high ranking Mormon Church leader. Read the official statement here. The story was covered by major news outlets, but the most frequently cited reports are from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. The Tribune reported:

James Hamula'On Tuesday morning James J Hamula was released from his position in the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after disciplinary action. LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins provided no details about the removal. But the church did confirm Hamula was no longer a member of the church and that his ouster was not for apostasy or disillusionment.'

What does excommunication mean in the Mormon Church? What does it mean for such a high profile figure? The official statement that his excommunication was not for apostasy or disillusionment means he has done nothing to publicly oppose church leaders, did not 'persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine...,' nor has he 'continued to follow the teachings of apostate sects...' according to the Church Handbook of Instructions Book 1.

Disillusionment is another issue. There was a time when simply being disillusioned and deciding to leave would have triggered a disciplinary council and excommunication. It was said that there was no honourable way out of the Mormon Church, the stigma of excommunication following you into your future life.

This had especial impact in high Mormon population areas, where you would expect to conduct your every day business and life within the Mormon community. A decades-long campaign forced the leadership to revisit this policy and allow the disillusioned to simply walk away. The community impact of simply leaving, however, can still prove costly, closing businesses, withdrawing livelihoods, splitting families.

Today, the policy of the church is, 'If a member requests name removal and a bishop or stake president has evidence of transgression that warrants convening a disciplinary council, he should not act on the request until Church discipline has been imposed or he has concluded that no disciplinary council will be held. Name removal should not be used as a substitute for or alternative to Church discipline.'

Otherwise, the member's name is removed from church records, after a drawn out process involving much paperwork, a cooling off period, and dire warnings of eternal consequences, as well as an invitation to come back to the 'One True Church.' (Church Handbook 1)

Much further down the pecking order is Kate Kelly who, in 2014, was excommunicated for founding a movement advocating the ordination of women in the all-male Mormon priesthood. In 2015 John Dehlin was excommunicated for raising questions about church history and doctrine. He blogged and made podcasts about his questions and the church's reluctance to deal with the issues raised.

The last high-ranking leader of the church to be excommunicated was George P Lee, the first native American (Lamanite) to become a General Authority. He was excommunicated in 1989, according to Lee for disagreeing with then Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson over the ending of the Indian Placement Program. He was charged with apostasy and claimed that church leaders had accused him of polygamy, immorality, and teaching false doctrines. Later he admitted that, in 1989, he had sexually abused a neighbour's 12-year-old daughter.

Prior to that, Mormon apostle Richard Lyman was excommunicated for adultery in 1943. Lyman described his secret relationship with Anna Jacobsen Hegsted as a 'plural marriage.' Church authorities didn't see it that way and Lyman was excommunicated. Worries that he might join a fundamentalist group proved unfounded and he was rebaptised in 1954. He died in 1963 at the age of 93 and his full priesthood blessings were restored posthumously in 1970.

In this latest instance excommunication follows 'disciplinary action,' and since it isn't for apostasy or disillusionment, its anybody's guess what the cause. Discipline is sometimes discretionary, sometimes mandatory, the latter covering particularly serious sins, usually of a criminal nature.

We do know James Hamula no longer holds any office in the church, indeed he is no longer a Mormon. When he gets dressed in the morning, he will not wear his temple garments, which in itself will be a strange and painfully difficult experience. He will no longer be considered worthy to attend the temple, which has further ramifications for his family. Family occasions exclusive to the temple will be barred to him.

He will not have a job to go to, since he worked full time for the church. If he attends church he cannot play an active part in the simplest of activities. He cannot pray in public, take communion (which Mormons call the sacrament), take part in discussions. The most callow youth, a twelve-year-old boy, will now wield more authority as a Mormon deacon than this man who has been a missionary, bishop, stake president, mission president, and General Authority of the Mormon Church. Read his background here.

ShameWhatever the reasons behind this news - and they may well be distressingly intimate and personal - it is important to realise how very painful and difficult this will be for all involved, especially for his wife and six children. Perhaps our best response as Christian believers would be to pray for him and his family, and to count our blessings.

Regaining Covenants?

The June 2017 Ensign magazine of the Mormon Church carried an anonymous personal testimony of someone who had suffered excommunication. One wonders at the timing. This person writes:

'I never realized how losing my membership would change my life completely. I could no longer wear my temple garment or attend the temple. I could not pay my tithing, serve in any calling, take the sacrament, or bear my testimony or pray in church. I no longer had the gift of the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, I was not in a covenant relationship with my Saviour through the ordinances of baptism and the temple...I was frightened that I no longer had the blessings of keeping my baptism covenants, and I worried that I might not be washed clean again.'

We don't find out, and really don't need to know, the reason for her excommunication. What stands out, and this is true for every Mormon, is that the church stands as guardian and arbiter, through ceremony and sacraments, over whatever blessings the faithful receive. On being excommunicated, everything is withdrawn. It is as if you were never a member of the one true church, except you 'know the truth' and no longer enjoy the benefits of it. Like a child looking through a sweet shop window, you can see but mustn't touch. But this is simply not the way to mend a broken relationship.

When are blessings restored? In this case it took a year, for Richard Lyman it took eleven years, but it depends to a degree on the temperament and attitude of whoever has direct authority over you. In one instance I know, an ex-communicant and personal friend was so desperate to return she abased herself before church members to the point of personally confessing and repenting of bad thoughts she had had about them.

Finally, she asked her bishop what she had to do to get back into the church. He replied, 'You have to knock on the church door until your knuckles bleed.' Thankfully, she heard the true gospel, repented before the One who is always ready to forgive, and was baptised a Christian before she died.

Christian Church Discipline

Church discipline is biblical, of course, but nowhere is the church an institution that issues or withholds blessings, like a corporation suspending an employee. Rather, it is a community in which we determine and develop our relationship with each other according to gospel principles and act in the last resort to protect ourselves from error and sin, and correct and restore the sinner.Help Community

Jesus explains the love and patience Christians should have in dealing with these difficult issues in Matthew 18:15-17. Here the offender is first challenged personally. If the offender refuses to listen, two others come along to witness the challenge. If he still refuses to recognise his sin then the whole church is to get involved. If there is still a refusal to listen then he is cast out of the community.

In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 Paul recognises that sin has impacted the whole community, as well as noting the punishment meted out. Now he urges the church to reach out to the penitent so as not to overburden him with 'excessive sorrow.' How many, including my friend, have been overburdened with excessive sorrow because of a legalistic attitude on the part of Mormon Church leaders?

Within the context of factions in the church, Paul writes, 'No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval.' (1 Corinthians 11:19) Yet he uses the phrase 'when you come together' three times in verses 17 to 19, indicating that differences are no reason to avoid fellowship, or to exclude someone. Here correction is to happen within the fellowship as people grow together in the faith.

Paul warns against idol feasts, 'The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too...' But he recognises some have a weak conscience and even refuse meat from the market previously sacrificed to idols, while others eat conscience free. (1 Corinthians 10:23-30) This is no cause for division, but a reason for exercising grace.

My point is, while there is family discipline in the Christian Church (1 Corinthians 5:12,13; 6:4; Ephesians 5:4; Titus 3:10) it is exercised in light of the freedom we all have and grace we all enjoy in Christ, and not under the cosh of an inflexible legal system. We are intimate family, not impersonal society.

Excommunication is a last resort and is the exclusion of a person from active involvement in worship and fellowship. It is activity that is curtailed and not identity. 'No amount of excommunication will produce a perfect church, since it cannot deal with secret sins and hypocrisy. Also the oil of leniency has to be mixed with the vinegar of severity' (New Bible Dictionary) Such judgement as is necessary is passed by a community that is, itself, imperfect and in need of daily grace. Augustine wrote:

'We judge that it pertains unto sound attempt our life and opinion, so that we both endure dogs in the church, for the sake of the peace of the church, and, where the peace of the church is safe, give not what is holy unto dogs...that we neither grow listless under the name of patience, nor be cruel under the pretext of diligence.' (Augustine, Treatises, 1884, p.43)

Friday, 14 August 2015

Mormonism: Joseph’s Real Seer Stone (or ‘Sofa so Good’)

Seer Stone LDSMany will be aware of the news story coming out of Salt Lake City about Joseph Smith’s ‘seer stone’ (pictured right, read more here) Conflicting accounts have come out over the years about how the founding prophet of Mormonism translated his seminal work, the Book of Mormon. The original claim was that, buried with the gold plates from which he translated the book, was a device he called the Urim and Thummim. Joseph Smith described the Urim and Thummim as “two stones in silver bows … fastened to a breastplate” (JS—H 1:35). In other words, rather like a pair of spectacles. The Urim and Thummim was described by Smith himself as ‘interpreters.’ The Mormon Bible Dictionary describes it this way:

Urim and Thummim. Heb. term that means Lights and Perfections. An instrument prepared of God to assist man in obtaining revelation from the Lord and in translating languages. Using the Urim and Thummim is the special prerogative of a seer…Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon and in obtaining other revelation…

  God led Joseph Smith to the place where the Book of Mormon had been buried for some 1600 years and, with the gold plates, provided the means to interpret and translate it, the Urim and Thummim. Yet, contemporary accounts speak of his putting aside the ‘interpreters’ and using a stone that was said to have magical powers. It would seem the Urim and Thummim was returned, with the gold plates, to the angel who first delivered them to the prophet, Moroni. The stone he used was known as a ‘Seer Stone’ and he is described putting it in a hat, putting his face to the hat, and writing what would appear – in the hat! David Whitmer, one of Smith’s early followers, describes the process:

Joseph Smith and Hat 2"Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear."

Questions have been asked about the nature of the stone he used, whether it would be right for a prophet to use what amounts to folk magic; how he was able to see in the dark; where did the hat go; did the real power lay in the stone or in the hat, and why is the Mormon Church hiding the hat, and drawing our attention now to a stone? I can reveal, exclusively, that the power lay neither in the hat nor the stone revealed by the Mormon Church. The stone is a decoy, designed to draw attention away from the fact that they have ‘mislaid’ Joseph’s true instrument of revelation.

Sidney’s Sofa

Since earliest days Mormon history has been carefully managed, redacted, rewritten, and reinvented (I know, shocking, isn’t it?) to cover up the fact that the Seer Stone disappeared down the back of the sofa in Sidney Rigdon’s house after a family barbecue. A search party was immediately formed as Sidney Rigdon protested his innocence. Joseph Smith never believed Rigdon’s lame story about the sofa, swore he would never crack corn with ‘that man’ again, seeing to it that Sidney, the most natural successor to Joseph, was never again invited over to the Smith’s for as much as a yard sale.

Rigdon was replaced in the prophet’s affections by Brigham Young. Had Sidney succeeded Joseph, Mormonism would be very different today, much more like the Reorganised Church (the Community of Christ). There would be a growing Doctrine & Covenants, women in leadership meetings, communal living, and good stuff like that. Now all that would change. The patriarchal system, Misogyny, Polygamy, and Salt Lake City called.

But the whole thing had to be covered up. The story of the Urim and Thummim was put out to hide the fact that the true instrument of interpretation had long gone missing. Joseph Smith, in the absence of the only true source of light in a hat, had begun making things up! (I know, shocking!) Fortunately, he had been raised on a diet of Dr Seusse, Edward Lear, and classic episodes of the Outer Limits.

As Mormonism has grown, successive prophets, lacking that same rich background, have found it increasingly difficult to pretend to prophecy in the absence of the Seer Stone and sans Joseph’s fertile imagination. This explains why, today, the Mormon Church is ‘led by prophets’ but get their theology from FARMS and other sub-prophetic instruments of theological confusion and apostasy. That is why they don’t add to their supposed ‘open canon’ of Scripture, why they have abandoned the Journal of Discourses as an instrument of published revelation, and why fifteen ‘prophets, seers, and revelators’ attend a biannual conference to say what amounts to nothing much at all; they lack the instrument that would give them light in a hat.

They have the hat! They just haven’t wanted to admit it in case people ask about the stone.

This latest move is perilous for the Salt Lake hierarchy because they have drawn attention to a stone (not the stone) and are so lacking now in prophetic skill they haven’t anticipated that people are bound to ask, ‘what about the hat?’ They have the hat! Now they will be expected to put the stone in the hat (probably somewhere sacred, like the upper room in the Salt Lake Temple, or maybe at the temple of the Golden Arches at 140 S Rio Grande St.) and begin to prophecy. But they can’t because, they have the hat, but don’t have the real stone!

I can now reveal the long-hidden secret of Sidney Rigdon’s sofa. Joseph Smith believed Sidney Rigdon was trying to have the stone and the power to himself but the stone had truly disappeared down the back of the sofa into a space known the world over as the-land-of-lost-for-good. It would take brother Indiana to recover the stone but, since he hadn’t been born yet, hope was slim indeed. Smith never got over Rigdon’s apparent betrayal and Rigdon never got over Smith’s paranoia. I came across this story in a back street chop shop somewhere unpronounceable in mid-Wales some forty-two years ago and have spent the time since tracking down that sofa. I can reveal that I have found it!

Strange Sofa Sails Seas to Swansea Storage

That was the headline in a late nineteenth century South Wales newspaper that I found in a dark and dank archive under the old guild hall in the old port area of the ancient city of Swayne’s Eye. All this can only be described as – old. For the first time I can relate the sad story of Sidney’s increasingly alliterative sofa.

Following the search, the sofa was in a sorry state and it was secreted away (I did say it was alliterative) by Sidney Rigdon’s family to be recovered, sewn, and sold. This is why it was not so easily recognised thereafter. Remarkably, it had made its way across the Atlantic in steerage, brought over by a disappointed convert from Liverpool who was discouraged by the sight of handcarts and snow ( and, to be fair, a mob in Nauvoo) and came back on the first boat, sitting in steerage on the singularly strange sofa. From there it was inherited by her cousin in North Wales and passed down the family, along with a full account of its provenance, which they kept secret because they were ashamed of this association; they thought they were sitting on the sofa of a Mormon fifth columnist. A brief moment of infamy, a newspaper headline, then the sofa was drawn back into the obscurity of a Swansea storehouse for another century

Finally, it was discovered, by me, after over forty years of research and detective work, in a back street warehouse in Swansea. The stone has been found! The land-of-lost-for-good, it seems, does sometimes give up its secrets. There, among the butt ends, coffee grounds, dime pieces, a set of marked playing cards that once belonged to Joseph Smith, and a postcard from Zarahemla I found the stone. Sidney is vindicated and the truth can now be revealed. Here is the real Seer Stone!


2015-08-06 19.37.302015-08-06 19.38.00


The first picture shows a remarkable phenomenon. Clearly delineated is the north coast of South America and  the isthmus of Panama. There we see prominently marked the place where Lehi and his family first landed after crossing the largest ocean in the world in a ship that would not be officially invented for another thousand years.

On the reverse is a curiously astronomical pattern. It seems to show planets orbiting a sun that can’t quite be made out in the picture. I can assure you, as the owner of the stone, it is clear when looked at close up. There seems to be one planet closest to that sun and trouble has been gone to in order to make it stand out. This, I believe, is Kolob, to which Mormons would dearly love to hie in the twinkling of an eye, after visiting Temple Square, Carthage jail, and Machu Picchu of course.

The truth is out and the challenge to Salt Lake City is, I have the stone, you have the hat, its time to right a lot of wrongs, and restore revelation to the Restored Church.

With the stone, I found what seems to be a first-hand account of one episode in the founding of Mormonism, written in a curious rhyme on the back of a receipt for a month’s supply of green Jello-O. I am still working on its interpretation, but it is slow work since the stone appears not to function properly without the hat. Make of it what you will.


‘The time has come,’ the prophet said, ‘to speak of many things.

File:Quick, Easy Jell-O Wonder Dishes 1930 Cover.jpg

Of rocks-and hats-and golden plates,

of angels without wings.

And why there is no evidence,

for, oh, so many things.’


‘But wait a bit,’ the doubters cried, ‘Before we swallow that;

for we are not so credulous,

And none have seen the hat.’

‘I’ll show you,’ said the prophet,

and they thanked him much for that.


‘The eyes of faith,’ the prophet said, ‘is what we chiefly need.

Eyes that are physically closed,

are very good indeed.

Now if you’re ready, doubters dear,

you’ll see just what you need.’


‘But what of us?’ Some cynics cried, their doubting undisguised.

‘You needn’t think we’d fall for that.’

The prophet was surprised.

‘The eyes of faith!’ the prophet cried.

‘Now kindly shut your eyes!’


‘I have a seer stone, you see.’ ‘We can’t, our eyes are shut.’

‘I was speaking metaphorically!

The stone goes in the hat.’

‘Neither have we seen the hat

So are you sure of that?’


‘Now, look,’ the patient prophet said. ‘We can’t’ the doubters cried.

‘’The eyes of faith’ you said,

and then you told us ‘shut your eyes.’

Now where’s this hat and pebble?’

Their impatience ill-disguised.


‘Their wrapped inside a home-made quilt, to keep them safe from harm.’

‘Well, if you’d said,’ one, Harris, cried,

‘I’m off to sell the farm.’

‘I’ll buy your sofa gladly.’

Sidney Rigdon said with charm.


And so it was that hat and rock and prophet with his wives,

ate at Sidney Rigdon’s house

where joy was undisguised.

Little did they know that day

how it would change their lives.


From that day to this there’s been no Mormon prophecy.

Without the rock, redundant hat

was under lock and key.

If Joe had trusted Sidney

Oh, how different things might be.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Legalism: What Does Grace Say to Legalism?

Judge's BenchLegalism is defined by Chambers Dictionary as “strict adherence to law…the tendency to observe letter or form rather than spirit, or to regard things from the point of view of law.” It also helpfully illustrates the definition with a reference to the opposing doctrines of salvation by works and salvation by grace. I do like The Chambers Dictionary and commend it to you.

But what is wrong with keeping the law? Surely as Christians we believe in being law-abiding? There is certainly enough in the New Testament about obedience to authorities. We are instructed, “obey your parents in the Lord” (Eph.6:1); obey your earthly masters with respect” (Eph.6:5); obey your leaders and submit to their authority” (Heb.13:17) and we are reminded “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:3)

The Challenge of Legalism

When we witness to those with a legalistic bent we are often challenged with these and similar texts. Sometimes we are accused of antinomianism, “being emancipated by the gospel from the obligation to keep the moral law, faith alone being necessary” (that’s Chambers again)

Of course, if we were antinomian in our teaching and practice our prisons would be full of Christians. In some parts of the world Christians do find themselves imprisoned and worse but for entirely different reasons. The folly of legalism is highlighted in Matthew 19:1-12 as Jesus answers what his interrogators think is a difficult question. It had certainly exercised the best Jewish minds for generations. Moses said:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes here a certificate of divorcement, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord” (Deut.24: 1-4)

Legalism insists on formulaic answers to such questions; answers by the book that go into incredible detail covering every eventuality. In Jesus’ day there were two schools of thought. The scholar Shammai taught that “something indecent” meant marital unfaithfulness. Hillel emphasised the words “who becomes displeasing to him”and taught that if she did anything he didn’t like, such as burning the toast, it justified divorce.

You see, that is the trouble with legalism, not that law is a bad thing but that we always put ourselves in the place of God and make it mean what we like, or what seems right to us. In our everyday lives we are often very sure of what are our rights and what are other people’s obligations. Legalism isn’t at all fair in its judgements. Jesus’ answer cut right through this tangle of opinions and interpretations by appealing to the purposes of God.

The Challenge to Legalism

Someone following either the school of Shammai or Hillel might feel justified, righteous and superior for having nailed it, but neither was right, although Jesus clearly took the side of Shammai over Hillel. Divorce, he said, was granted because of sin. God, whose purpose and ideal from the beginning had been that the two would be one, graciously accommodated his purposes to circumstances because of sin that caused damage to people. The Pharisees had asked the wrong question. They wanted to know what was permitted or forbidden when they should have been asking what was the purpose of God.

They asked when and under what circumstances disappointed and hurting people should separate. They should have been asking how broken relationships can be mended and people healed from their hurts and disappointments. It is a stark and frightening insight into what they cared about, and what we care about when we address these life issues from the point of view of legalism.

Jesus preached the standards of the kingdom which see citizens as servants who seek each other’s good and the heart of God in every matter. Of course Christians believe in and practice obedience but from a heart changed by the miracle of the new birth, not from a list of statutes, permissions and prohibitions. Where do we find and how do we follow these standards of the kingdom that speak so eloquently of obedience yet offer citizenship not to the obedient but to the believing? As Jesus taught Nicodemus:

I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn.3:3-6)

The Answer From Grace

We are saved into the kingdom by the miracle of rebirth. We take hold of and begin to understand the will of God and the standards of the kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. The regenerate person has a renewed mind (Ro.12:12), has the law set in their minds (Heb.8:10;10:16) and has the mind of Christ (1 Cor.2:16)

In our witness we teach truth, correct doctrine, and bring understanding. We are not, like Shammai and Hillel, simply interpreters of the Bible but offer to people nothing less than new birth, renewed minds, the mind of Christ in all matters pertaining to the kingdom,

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.

For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor.2:12-16)

This article appeared in the April 2015 Reachout E-Newsletter. You can read more on legalism on the Reachout website in Robin Brace’s article  ‘Moving Away From Legalism’

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Mormons, Gays–and the Easter Story?

General Conference imageEaster this year (2015) fell on the weekend of 5th April. This was also the weekend of the Mormon Annual General Conference so you might expect a special theme to run through this conference weekend. A theme did emerge, one that has coloured the whole conference, although not one you might expect. Look at the themes running through the conference:

Filling our Home With Light and Truth

The family is of God

The Family is ordained of God

Defenders of the Family Proclamation

The Plan of Happiness

Why Marriage and Family Matter

Why Marriage, Why Family?

Fatherhood, our Eternal Destiny

Blessings of the Temple

Waiting for the Prodigal

Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom (see below)

The Eternal perspective of the Gospel (Families are Forever)

Be Fruitful, Multiply and Subdue the Earth

And these are the more obvious family-centred subjects. So why, on a weekend when you might expect a people calling themselves Christians to emphasise the flesh and blood atonement of Christ, do they emphasise the flesh and blood of progeny? Why does Calvary take a back seat to Kith and Kin?

The Mormon Church has figured much in the issue of gay rights in recent years. It began negatively when it emerged that as much as half the $40m donated to the campaign to ban gay marriage in California came from Mormons. At that time the church made an unequivocal statement saying “the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan,” and urging members to become involved with the cause. You can read about it here.

More recently, however, the Mormon Church has expended a lot of time, energy, and resources into building bridges to the gay community, even having their own official, dedicated web pagesMormons and Mormon leaders pledged to support anti-discrimination laws for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, as long as the laws also protect the rights of religious groups. You can find a report here.

The church has not changed its position on gay marriage, however. On 10th April 2015 the LDS Church joined with other faith traditions and religious organizations in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Read more here.

Families Are Still Forever

This Spring Conference weekend has seemed to me a time of regrouping, consolidating, and nailing colours well and truly to the mast, lest the faithful felt the church leadership had gone soft on its central message; families are forever, marriage is for eternity, progeny its purpose, and men and women its natural heads. The church’s 20-year-old document, The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was dusted off and given a good airing.

The General Women’s Session

Cheryl Esplyn, Primary Second Counsellor, reminded us that …‘in order for us and our families to withstand the pressures of the world, we must be filled with light and gospel truth.’

Carole Stephens, Relief Society First Counsellor, reminded us that, Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for [us] to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.’

Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women General president, spoke of, ‘standing up boldly and being defenders of marriage, parenthood, and the home.’ and went on, ‘I would hope that as we encourage our children to reach for the very best in this life that we also teach them to honor and exalt the roles that mothers and fathers play in Heavenly Father’s plan.’

In a short film, President Monson reminded people that ‘The Family is Ordained of God’

The Saturday Morning Session centred on the family structure within Mormon practice and theology:

Boyd K Packer, President of the Twelve, spoke of God’s Plan of Happiness, saying,the end of all activity in the Church is to see that a man and a woman with their children are happy at home, sealed together for time and for all eternity.’

Linda Burton, Relief Society President, warned,of the scale is the degrading and mocking message that husbands and fathers are no longer needed. I plead with you not to listen to Satan’s lies!’

L Tom Perry, of the quorum of the twelve, taught,Family is the center of life and is the key to eternal happiness.’ insisting, ‘the restored gospel centers on marriage and family.’

The Saturday Afternoon Session saw the most exciting moment of the conference. During the sustaining of church officers, a handful of members stood and shouted ‘Opposed!’ at the sustaining of President Monson, and of the quorum of the twelve. Reactions were mixed among the faithful, with some insisting they had a right to express their opposition, while others condemned them for disloyalty.

The most interesting reaction was that they had no business dissenting during conference, which is odd since it was in conference that their vote was sought. All who dissented were counselled by Dieter Uchtdorf to contact their stake presidents. I would give a lot to have been in the room when those conversations were had.

Todd Christofferson, of the quorum of the twelve, reminded members of God’s eternal plan, ‘God ordained that men and women should marry and give birth to children, thereby creating, in partnership with God, the physical bodies that are key to the test of mortality and essential to eternal glory with Him.’

Elder Quentin L Cook, of the quorum of the twelve, whose talk gave strong emphasis to families said, ‘The role of the family in God’s plan is “to bring us happiness, to help us learn correct principles in a loving atmosphere, and to prepare us for eternal life.” The beautiful traditions of religious observance in the home need to be embedded in the hearts of our children.’

The General Priesthood Session

M Russell Ballard, of the quorum of the twelve, insisted young single Mormons should be, ”anxiously engaged’ in righteous dating, courting, and marriage.’

Larry M Gibson, of the young men’s presidency, reminded young priesthood holders, ‘Now, you young men, whom I dearly love, you know you are preparing to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, receive sacred temple ordinances, fulfill your duty and obligation to serve a full-time mission, and then, without waiting too long, get married in the temple to a daughter of God and have a family. You are then to lead your family in spiritual things as guided by the Holy Ghost.’

The Sunday Morning Session

The man who is increasingly the acceptable face of Mormonism, Dieter Uchtdorf, spoke on ‘The Gift of Grace.’ This is a must read if you are to understand Mormonism’s Dog-Whistle Theology But again family loomed large this session.

Thomas S Monson, church president, spoke of ‘The Blessings of the Temple,’ sharing, ‘The blessings of the temple are priceless. One for which I am grateful every day of my life is that which my beloved wife, Frances, and I received as we knelt at a sacred altar and made covenants binding us together for all eternity.’

The sessions were filled with talk of family, calls to obedience, keeping the faith, and references to God’s ‘Plan of Happiness,’ which centres on the traditional family unit.

The Sunday Afternoon Session

Elder Robert D Hales’ talk is entitled Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom. This is clearly a timely reference to the recent attempts at a quid pro quo with the gay community. We will fight for your freedoms but you must recognise ours. The key to the talk is the word, ‘Agency.’

To a Mormon, agency is a touchstone of their religion, a defining principle of their faith, a shibboleth to the faithful. Hales’ talk is an unpacking of Mormon cosmology against a very specific background. He defines the bad guys:

Some are “false accusers … [and] despisers of those that are good.” Others “call evil good, and good evil; [and] put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”

These are likened to Lucifer who, ‘In that Grand Council…used his agency to oppose God’s plan. God said: “Because … Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, … I caused that he should be cast down.”’

So that is ‘pre-mortal existence’ affirmed, with all its ramifications. We are all children of a Heavenly Father and Mother, Jesus is our elder brother, Lucifer the black sheep of the family, and our purpose is to build for eternity now on the wise use of our agency back then. All this passes through the mind of a Mormon hearing this. The bad guys are those who oppose this family-oriented world-view, this cosmological soap opera.

He presses home his point by defining the good guys and what they are up against:

‘As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom. We already know that Satan does not want this freedom to be ours. He attempted to destroy moral agency in heaven, and now on earth he is fiercely undermining, opposing, and spreading confusion about religious freedom—what it is and why it is essential to our spiritual life and our very salvation.’

Jesus, on the other hand, is portrayed as volunteering to obey God’s plan and give mankind our agency to choose to follow the plan, to obey the commandments. This principle of agency is inevitably meant to chime with people who cherish the freedoms that democracy affords.

The message is, America is a democracy, democracy is God’s idea, religious freedom is God’s idea, so don’t mess with it. To Mormons specifically, the message is, American exceptionalism is part of the Restored gospel, with all its attendant liberties, egalitarianism, and individualism so if you are faithful you will stick to the plan.

What is at stake here, then, is not simply a redefining of societal norms, but the undermining of God’s plan, and the frustration of eternal hopes and ambitions. He ends with a dire warning and a call to action:

‘Our Savior’s Second Coming is drawing nearer. Let us not delay in this great cause. Remember Captain Moroni, who hoisted the title of liberty inscribed with the words “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.” Let us remember the people’s response: exercising their agency, they “came running together” with a covenant to act.

My beloved brothers and sisters, don’t walk! Run! Run to receive the blessings of agency by following the Holy Ghost and exercising the freedoms God has given us to do His will.’

Anyone who knows the Book of Mormon will know the story of Captain Moroni. It is the words on the banner that are important;“In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.”

Nothing could sound more Tea Party America. Did someone just say, ‘Families are Forever?’



The theme of faithfulness then follows throughout the session. Elder Kevin Pearson, of the seventy, urged members to ‘stay by the tree,’ a reference to Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon. The tree is contrasted with the dream’s ‘wide and spacious building,’ the forces of anarchy and change currently surrounding Mormons and threatening the plan.

Elder Raphael E Pino, of the seventy, urged members to take an ‘eternal perspective of the gospel. In other words, the meta-narrative of Mormonism, the Plan of Salvation, God’s great plan of happiness for mankind.

Elder Neil L Anderson, of the quorum of the twelve, painted a deceptive picture of the size of the church as a world-wide institution. It is only world-wide in the sense that there are Mormons across the world, but not in the sense that they form a significant majority of the faithful. Most Mormons live in the Americas, the greater part of them in the US. But this is meant to be reassuring.

He urged Mormons to remember ‘We live, brothers and sisters, in the days preceding the Lord’s Second Coming, a time long anticipated by believers through the ages.’ ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is his theme and when Mormons think of this they think of eternal families and what would be lost if they were not faithfully having babies, going to the temple, and being eternal family units.

Referencing again the tree of life, Elder Jorge Zeballos, of the seventy, urged members to be responsible, the theme of agency coming to the fore again, ‘Let us press forward by learning our duty, making correct decisions, acting according to those decisions, and accepting the will of our Father.’ His will, of course, his purpose, is worked out in the plan.

Elder Russell M Nelson, of the quorum of the twelve, was the final speaker and said the Sabbath is a delight. The theme very much runs along the line of families, family times, family activities on the Sabbath, and so the theme continues.

But before he spoke there was a penultimate message from the first black African General Authority, Elder Joseph W Sitati. His culture and background are not insignificant I suggest. His theme was very much a closing off of the whole conference theme as he reminded True Believing Mormons that procreation is the name of the game, the centre-point of God’s plan. be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth is his theme, and he makes probably the most pointed observation of the whole weekend:

‘The body enables Heavenly Father’s obedient spirit children to experience life on earth. Bearing children gives other spirit children of God the opportunity to also enjoy life on earth. All who are born in mortality have the opportunity to progress and to be exalted if they obey God’s commandments.

Marriage between a man and a woman is the institution that God ordained for the fulfilment of the charge to multiply. A same-gender relationship does not multiply.’ (Emphasis added)

What Robert D Hales began with, pre-mortal existence, agency, and the plan of God, Joseph W Sitati rounds off with a clear call to stick to the plan, have babies the way God designed, and make this arrangement eternal by sealing it in temples.

This has to be one of the most political Mormon conferences I can remember and the agenda is clear. We may agree with Mormon teaching on gay marriage, sympathise with their being the focus of so much bad feeling because of their stand, and admire the way they stick to their guns, but…

What colours should be flying from the mast for Christians? What should be written on any Christian’s standard as he/she stands for truth?


The Bible

It is notable that there is no reference to the clear teaching of Scripture on the issue of homosexual practice, even though the Bible is clear. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price on the subject. The only Scripture they can look to on this issue is the Bible and yet no real Scriptural argument, no Bible apologetic is put.Well, you wouldn’t if your agenda is poitical.

Nor, indeed, can they build from the Bible anything like the Mormon cosmology, soteriology, or eschatology. Their argument revolves around God’s plan of happiness for man and not God’s authoritative word in Scripture. They are making a stand for a gospel that puts man and man’s happiness at the centre, that seeks man’s exaltation. (Gal.1:6-9)


The Plan

There is a plan and God’s purposes are clearly told in the Bible:

“The God who made the world and everything in it, (we are created and not procreated Gen.1:27; Is.45:12) being Lord of heaven and earth, (there is none beside him Is.45:5) does not live in temples made by man, (heaven is his throne and the earth is his footstool Is.66:1)nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind (not from one god countless millions of spirit children) to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. (Our purpose is God, not us his purpose)

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, “‘In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (In the sense of being made in God’s image Gen.1:28, being chosen for his purposes Ex.4:22, and finally being born again in Christ Gal.3:26)

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (As God’s creatures, made in his image, we are to honour him, not in plastic image worship but in the God-centred lives he gave us)

The times of ignorance God overlooked, (We are profoundly sinful in our ignorance Ro.3:10-18, but God is scandalously generous, not exactingly demanding of us) but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (patiently giving us the gift of repentance 2 Pet.3:9) because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world (his creation) in righteousness (we have none of our own Philip.3:9) by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (And it is in him, in Christ, that we have peace with God Ro.5:1, and will not be condemned Ro.8:1-2; John 5:24)

Acts 17:24-31

Thereafter, as the Larger Westminster Catechism has it; Man’s highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.

Here is what should emblazon the standard of every Christian:

‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.’(Ro.11:36)


This article originally appeared in the Reachout Trust May Newsletter. Reachout Trust is a Christian ministry to the cults, founded by the late Doug Harris, and now chaired by Mike Thomas.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Mormonism’s ‘Dog-Whistle’ Theology

‘I have taught you nothing but God’s holy word, and those lessons that I have taken out of God’s holy book I have come hither to seal with my blood’ (Rowland Taylor, to his parishioners at Hadley, [Suffolk, England] before kissing the stake at which he was to be burned February, 1555)

‘We present you with this book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom; this is the royal law; these are the lively oracles of God’ (Words at the presentation of the Bible at a coronation, spoken by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland)

What do you think of the Bible? Is it, to you, ‘the most valuable thing that this world affords?’ Is it worthy of being sealed with the blood of martyrs? The New Testament is described in the January Ensign magazine of the Mormon Church as, ‘…one of the most influential and life-changing texts in the history of the world…’ (Ensign, Jan.2015, p51)

One of the most influential texts? This suggests there are other texts we may legitimately put alongside the Bible for which Rowland Taylor, and so many others, died. That Queen Elizabeth II might have been handed other, as precious ‘lively oracles’ in 1953. That the Bible is simply one of the most valuable things this world affords, containing some useful wisdom, a handy portion of the royal law, some of the lively oracles of God. But then, the Mormon Church has a history of dismissing established truth in order to establish its own, and this Ensign article is no exception.

Bible falling apartIt reads almost like a valediction to a superseded age, a farewell to an old retainer who serves ill this latter age of prophets, seers, and revelators. ‘The restoration,’ we are told, ‘clarifies and enhances New Testament teachings…’ Truth, it appears, is not as steady on its legs any more and needs help getting around, making its point, being understood. There ought, perhaps, to be a home for old truth, a place of retirement, a comfortable chair beneath a shady tree where it can receive the plaudits it deserves for what it did in its day, get a well-earned rest, be visited occasionally, a sunny veranda from which it can watch new truth play at redefining the world in its own image.

For all that, we are assured that this superannuation of old truth, ‘does not diminish the love and reverence that [Mormons] feel for the New Testament.’  ‘Grand old thing,’ you can almost hear them say. Do the revelations of Mormonism enhance established truth? Does its doctrine ‘build upon the foundation of New Testament teachings?’

Faith and GraceBook of Mormon

Here we find the usual dog whistle theology, something for the faithful that the rest won’t hear, the employment of a coded language to convey a hidden message. The article insists, ‘true faith in Jesus Christ is coupled with obedience,’ and any true believing Mormon will understand that this means, “not like my one-day-a-week ‘Christian’ neighbour.”

And so it goes on:

Ephesians 2:8, ‘By grace ye are saved, through faith…’ is ‘enriched’ by reference to 2 Nephi 10:24 and a call to ‘yield our wills to God by believing in His Son, repenting, keeping His commandments, and doing good works.’ (Can you hear the whistle?)

Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,’ is ‘clarified’ by a reminder that the atonement doesn’t just save us but enables us to do good, to ‘bear our burdens with ease.’ It is an ‘enabling power.’ (Can you hear the whistle now?)

‘Thus, Restoration scriptures,’ we are assured, ‘support the New Testament’s teachings on grace and also expand our view of it, helping us see the hand of the Lord in our lives and how we can access His power here and now.’

This is a coded allusion, a sideswipe at Christians who are portrayed in Mormonism as not believing in perseverance, obedience, good works, being faithful to the end.  Mormonism insists that Christians pay mere lip service in their devotion, have an easy-believism. Joseph Smith even said our creeds are abominable, and we who profess them corrupt (Joseph Smith History 1:19)

But obedience was never lost to the Christian faith, as history and current experience show. It is an insult to caricature Christians in this way. Our creed is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but that faith doesn’t come alone, it is accompanied by obedience, ‘works that follow.’ (Eph.4:12) The Bible doesn’t need enriching, or clarifying here, it has myriad calls to action of which Christians are well aware and on which we daily act. What Mormons misunderstand, sometimes wilfully it must be said, is that we don’t depend on our ‘good works’ to gain us any merits with God. Our God isn’t that gullible.

The article speaks of the ‘'’enabling power’ of grace as something ‘clarified’ through Mormon prophets, quoting Elder David Bednar:

‘Not only does the Atonement overcome the effects of the Fall of Adam and make possible the remission of our individual sins and transgressions, but His Atonement also enables us to do good and become better in ways that stretch far beyond our portal capacities.’ (Ensign, May 2014, p.89)

The article goes on:

‘This idea that God grants people His enabling power here and now is a theme that runs throughout the Book of Mormon, which contains numerous stories of people who are strengthened to overcome life’s difficulties,’ but goes on, ‘Even though the Book of Mormon doesn’t often use the word grace in describing such events, it contains multiple accounts in which the Lord strengthens people who humble themselves and exercise faith in him.’

It might occur to you to ask exactly how many times grace is mentioned in the seminal book of Mormonism, and how does this compare with Christian Scripture? Using their edition of the King James Bible, the official Bible of Mormonism, I have found 122 verses containing 131 matches. In the Book of Mormon (22), the Doctrine and Covenants (17), the Pearl of Great Price (1), together there are forty uses of the word ‘grace.’ One thing of which we may be certain, far from enhancing the Bible’s teaching on grace, Mormonism has rather diminished it!

Be that as it may, the typical Mormon when presented with this teaching thinks, of course my Christian neighbour doesn’t have the Book of Mormon so doesn’t understand this principle of works, which explains their tardiness in following faithfully, explains their blind faith in ‘Jesus Saves!’ (Can you hear the dog-whistle?) But the ‘enabling power’ of grace has always been familiar to Christians who, having been saved by it, walk in the strength of it every day. We trust in Christ and work out our faith in our lives (Philip.2:12).

Mormons, on the other hand, believe themselves, ‘saved by obedience,’ (3rd Article of Faith) and that salvation they describe as ‘progression’ to a state they term ‘exaltation.’ ‘This is my work and my glory,’ declares the Mormon God, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39, Pearl of Great Price) I can’t think of anything more self-serving and impious than to assign to God the task of exalting me. Nor can I  imagine anything more futile than the pursuit of my own exaltation.

The Bible is very clear in ascribing all the glory to God, ‘from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever, Amen!’ (Rom.11:36) The Larger Catechism sums it up well in declaring, ‘Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever.’ The familiar doxology in Ephesians tells us all we need to know:

‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his great power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!’ (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Faith and Works

The Christian emphasis on grace and faith seems to a Mormon an easy way to heaven, a ‘get out of jail free’ card, undeserved and unmerited. But that is the nature of grace, it is undeserved. In the Old Testament it translates the Hebrew chesed, normally translated ‘loving-kindness.’ It stands for God’s continued faithfulness to his covenant people, even as they prove less than faithful to him. In the New Testament it translates the Greek charis, which denotes God’s redemptive love, always active to save sinners and maintain them in a proper relationship with him. The emphasis of grace is always and without exception the work and activity of God, his active redemption of undeserving sinners.

The Mormon emphasis on works seems commendable but simply doesn’t reflect Bible teaching.It fails completely to recognise the desperate state of fallen man, ‘dead in sin’  (Eph.2:1). Mormons ‘strive to be worthy’ of God’s undeserved favour; surely a contradiction in terms. If it is undeserved you cannot, by definition, be worthy of it. Paul makes clear, ‘the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Ro.6:23). According to the Bible, the only thing you can earn, indeed have earned, is death, while the life for which Mormons strive is God’s gift to repentant sinners. It is when that life is received, is ‘in us,’ that we are enabled to ‘work out [our] salvation’ working out in our lives what God has put in our hearts simply because we have trusted in Jesus. It is only having received eternal life that we are able to ‘show [our] faith by what [we] do’ (James 2:18)

‘Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.’ (2 Cor.4:1-2)

There are no secret asides, no knowing looks, no nods and winks, there is no dog whistle in the Christian faith. We set out the truth plainly and commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Finally, it is a question of which comes first, the cart or the horse. Mormons put the cart before the horse, making faithfulness a condition of salvation, whereas the Bible puts the horse first, making faithfulness the fruit of salvation. That is why a born-again believer in Jesus can confidently declare they have an eternal inheritance. This is not arrogance, it is assurance. Jesus declared:

‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life [present possession] and will not be condemned [future hope]; he has crossed over from death to life [past event].’ (John 5:24, cf Ro.10:9-12)

As I sit and write this I ‘stand’ in life; where do you stand?

Friday, 13 March 2015

Another Cross-less Easter for Mormons

Some deceptions are so obvious as to be audacious, like the Jehovah’s Witness teaching that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 when he failed to turn up physically, as predicted. Or the Mormon claim that Jesus walked the Americas following his resurrection and spoke to a boy in a grove of trees in 1820. Others are so subtle as to pass you by if you don’t know what you are seeing, what you are hearing.

Easter this year of 2015 is the weekend of 3rd to 5th April. The March Ensign magazine of the Mormon Church, as you might expect, anticipates Easter, and the momentous events of that first Easter, as will Christian publications around the world. Well, not quite as will Christian publications.

The Christian Easter

The focus of every Christian on Good Friday is Golgotha, the place where Jesus bore the penalty for the sins of the world, suffered crucifixion, and died. The events surrounding that defining sacrifice are also in mind of course.

The Last Supper, at which the new covenant was inaugurated; the servant king washing the disciple’s feet; the high priestly prayer prior to going out into the night; the charge to the disciples to watch and pray, and their failure to watch one hour; the struggle to face the impending suffering and the heart-rending petition, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass’; the supreme act of submission, ‘yet not my will, but yours’; the extreme anguish that produced hematidrosis, where the capillary blood vessels burst in extremis, causing him to, ‘sweat, as it were, great drops of blood’; the comforting presence of a messenger of God, an angel to strengthen him; the affectionate betrayal by Judas; the brutality of the guard; the desertion of his friends; the mocking trial; the scourging, and the cries of,‘Crucify!’

The final cry, ‘It is finished,’ tetelestai, paid in full; the taking down of his lifeless body; the petition of Joseph of Arimathea to Pilate to be allowed to bury the Lord; the hurried preparation of the corpse; the hasty burial, and the inconsolable grief of his family and followers.

Yet much of this would have been the experience of so many unfortunate men. The summary justice, the brutal treatment, the baying crowd, even sweating blood in the extremity of anguish is not an unknown phenomenon in history. What set this God/man apart was what happened on the cross of Calvary. The pivotal point of this drama is Golgotha, the crucifixion, where Jesus bore the penalty for the sins of the world. The blood of Calvary has a sacred significance for Christians.

In the Old Testament we read about animal sacrifices to God, part of the animal eaten by God’s people signifying their close fellowship with God. The drinking of blood, however, was strictly forbidden. The blood signified life. In Leviticus we read, ‘the life of the creature is in the blood.’ (Lev.17:11) The blood was not drunk but was poured on the altar to remind God’s people of the price of their fellowship with God (Lev.3&7).

When God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt the angel of death is said to have passed over the houses of the Israelites who had smeared their door posts and lintels with the blood of a lamb. That is where the festival of Passover comes from. Passover, that time when the Lamb of God sacrificed himself, shed his blood, for our sins.

Blood signifies a life sacrificed and means the same as the word death, as when we speak of ‘bloodshed.’ Whenever, in the New Testament, we read about the blood of Jesus we should always understand it to mean his death.

The New Testament tells us that, ‘in him [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood [death] of his cross.’ (Col.1:19-20, ESV) It is the blood of the cross that reconciles.

The apostle John reminds us that, ‘the blood [death] of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.’ (1 Jn.1:7, ESV)

In Revelation we read about, ‘Jesus Christ…who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood [death]…’(Rev.1:5)

Peter writes, ‘you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood [death] of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot,’(1 Peter 1:18-19) The analogy of a sacrificial lamb couldn’t be clearer. We are ransomed from our sinful lives by the shed blood (death) of Christ, ‘a lamb without blemish or spot.’

‘In him we have redemption through his blood [death], the forgiveness of our trespasses,’ writes Paul in Ephesians 1:7, and again in Romans 5:9, ‘we have been justified by his blood [death]…’

I reiterate, whenever in the New Testament we read about the blood of Jesus we should always understand it to mean his death and the Scripture makes that clear.

Murillo_Bartolome_Esteban-ZZZ-CrucifixionThe Message of the Cross

is the power of God to those being saved (1 Cor.1:18)

Christians were, and still are, persecuted for the cross of Christ (Gal.6:12)

Paul boasted in nothing but the cross of Christ (Gal.6:14)

Enemies of Christ are enemies of the cross (Philip.2:18)

Our debt because of sin is cancelled by being nailed to the cross (Col.2:14)

And Jesus triumphed on the cross (Col.2:15)



The Mormon Easter

Yet there have always been, and still are, those who consider the message of the cross foolish (1 Cor.1:18) It is a stumbling block to them ((1 Cor.1:23) and of such it appears are the Mormons. In their ‘modern revelation’ they empty the cross of its power into the Garden of Gethsemane.

In one of his earliest ‘revelations’ Joseph Smith redefined the atonement of Jesus:

‘But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of the pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.’ (Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) 19:17-18)

Mormon Church president Joseph Fielding Smith said of this passage, ‘We get into the habit of thinking, I suppose, that his great suffering was when he was nailed to the cross by his hands and his feet and was left there to suffer until he died. As excruciating as that was, that was not the greatest suffering he had to undergo…so great was his suffering before he ever went to the cross…blood oozed from the pores of his body.’ (D&C Institute Student Manual, 1981, p.38)

The problem Mormons have with this section of the D&C is its description by Joseph Fielding Smith as, ‘one of the great revelations given in this dispensation; there are few of greater importance than this.’ (ibid) It is difficult, then, for Mormons to get around Gethsemane and back to Golgotha and it has always been a controversial teaching.

Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “As He came out of the Garden, delivering himself voluntarily into the hands of wicked men, the victory had been won. There remained yet the shame and the pain of his arrest, his trials, and his cross. But all these were overshadowed by the agonies and sufferings in Gethsemane. It was on the cross that he ‘suffered death in the flesh’, even as many have suffered agonising deaths, but it was in Gethsemane that ‘he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come to him.'” (The Mortal Messiah, McConkie, pp 127-28)

The Mormon apostle Jeffery R Holland, speaking fro the Mount of Olives, declared, ‘It was here in the Garden of Gethsemane. on that last night of mortality, that Jesus left His Apostles and descended alone into the depth of agony that would be his atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.’ (Ensign, April 2002, p.14)

Thirteenth Mormon president, Ezra Taft Benson, in the same edition, ‘It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that he descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him.’ (Ensign, 2002, p.14)

Agony in the GardenSo, again this year, the first presidency message, by Deiter F. Uchtdorf, concentrates entirely on the garden, even down to an illustration of Jesus being comforted by an angel. There is no cross in this Easter edition of theEnsign. Quoting D&C 19, he illustrates his understanding of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice with a painting by the Danish artist Frans Schwartz, The Agony of Gethsemane (right).

In the centre pages there is a pictorial retrospective of where Jesus lived and walked. The Jordan River; the temple; Temple Mount; an ancient olive tree; a possible site of the Garden Tomb, and Golgotha, but no cross.

In a later article, Russell M Nelson writes about ‘the unspeakable agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross,’ yet the text he comes back to is D&C 19.

But it is the cross not the garden – oh, yes, the cross, not the garden. If they could but grasp the significance of the cross, the total loss and abandonment he suffered, the weight he bore, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Not the comforted and strengthened Jesus of the garden (Lk.22:43) but the abandoned and desolate Saviour of the cross. Not the garden where, in exquisite anguish, he anticipated his sacrifice in intimate association with heaven, but the cross where heaven looked away for the sin he bore. As far away as a person is from the cross, so far they are from Christ (Gal.6:14)

In March of 2014 I was visiting the small Maltese island of Gozo with friends. We went into a church in the capital, Victoria, and being Roman Catholic it had statuary depicting the Easter events that were soon to be extravagantly marked. I called my friends over and we sat as I used the imagery to explain to them why I finally left Mormonism and became a disciple of Jesus Christ. I told them about the Mormon view of Gethsemane and of how the wisdom of the cross finally broke through to me, showing me that my hope was found in the God/man who suffered for my sins as he hung there and died, and in the miracle of the empty tomb.

I could never go back to the Garden.

*This article first appeared in the recent Reachout Newsletter. If you would like to get the newsletter (monthly) subscribe here

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