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 Gays.org. 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?’

 

Faithfulness

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

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