Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Why Mormons Have problems with Jude

How often have you set out to argue your case for your Christian faith with a Mormon only to be met by a determination on their part to maintain what they regard a civilised detachment, insisting they don’t want to be contentious? You expect at least a lively discussion, for your Mormon friend to give a good account of his/her faith, but they imperiously declare that they don’t engage in such dubious and uncharitable bickering.

They quote the late Krister Stendahl, (1921-April 2008) one time Bishop of Stockholm and renowned religious pluralist, who said that when you are trying to understand another religion, don’t compare your best with their worst. Of course, in quoting him like this, they are doing that very thing, comparing their admirable determination to stay out of it with your unfortunate propensity to argue.

Contend for the Faith

Mormons have a real problem with Jude. Jude instructs Christians to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3) But Mormons confuse contending for the faith with being contentious, arguing your case with being argumentative. You are left staring incredulously as the Mormon runs every time to the protection of "contention is of the devil. I would never drag down your church!"

This way the actual issues that stand between Mormons and Christians (and they are legion) never actually get addressed. Not least the fact that the Mormon Church is built on a claim that specifically “tears down” other churches (Joseph Smith History, 1:19)

Jude wrote, "Contend for the faith" and if today's Mormons can't bring themselves to defend their beliefs and contend for their faith they are actually being unbiblical. Mormons will protest that any such argument as you present is based on the idea that Mormons are not Christians and since Mormons are Christians your argument is hollow. But this response postulates the very thing that is in contention and is yet to be demonstrated. Their view is based on the hubristic assumption that what Mormons believe is true beyond doubt or revision, is not there to be questioned but received gratefully, and therefore anyone questioning Mormonism is misled, mischievous or plain wicked

Ultimately it excuses the Mormon from the biblical injunctions to "contend for the faith" and "go into all the world telling the good news". The refusal to engage is hard-hearted because it says in effect, "I ‘know it’s true’ and if you don't believe it, tough luck." You may be a soul to win but because you come up with good questions and won't just roll over and express your undying admiration for all things Mormon no one will contend for your soul. So it’s the Terrestrial Kingdom for you.

Do Not Judge

A Mormon will cite the words of Jesus, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Mt.7:1). However, the idea that we should not judge is unbiblical in respect to the words of Jude. Even Paul urged his readers to "judge for yourself what I say" (1 Co.10:14) and the saints of Berea are commended as noble for "examining the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11) Proverbs counsels us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Pro.31:8-9) (What about the spiritual poor and needy)

The injunction from the Lord that we should not judge is a warning to not put ourselves in the place of God as ultimate judge. It does not condone the strange idea that we are not to use wise judgement. Scripture counsels us to judge wisely in doctrine and practice, in faith and action. We judge what company we keep, what we believe and what we reject as untrue, how we respond to the needs of others and who we trust. And James, so beloved of Mormons, wrote a whole letter about wisdom and sound judgement in how we conduct ourselves and live out our faith (Js.1:5 has nothing to do with finding truth but with the wise application of the truth we have. See how he develops his argument in Js.3:17)

When the Mormon Meets the Real World

Many Mormons are raised in almost entirely Mormon communities and many others come under no other influence. Until they serve a mission, or venture onto the Internet for the first time, or engage in this discussion they are so keen to avoid they never hear any other argument. They are drilled with these ideas by their families and church leaders who will shake their heads in regret more than anger that muddle-headed Christians, influenced by anti-Mormon elements, still misunderstand Mormonism and would rather contend than act in the grace so clearly taught in the Bible. But Jude wrote that we should “Contend for the faith.”

Jesus said that if we love our friends we only do what the heathens do. It seems to me that Mormons only want to love their friends and only want to keep company with those who love them back. But Jude said that we should contend for the faith; perhaps because he felt he had a faith worth contending for and because there are souls out there worth the battle.

Note: You may ask how a man like Krister Stendahl, Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm, religious pluralist, ecumenical and gay rights activist and champion of women’s ordination, came to be a champion for the anti-clerical, anti-gay, anti-women’s ordination and staunchly conservative Mormon Church.

It seems that in 1985 the Mormon Church met strong opposition to their building a temple in Stockholm. In a press conference Stendahl took the part of the Mormons and presented his three rules of understanding, developed in response to this crisis for Mormons. It was, then, not so much a meeting of minds but more a case of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Strange bedfellows indeed.

Stendahl’s rules are:

(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.

(3) Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

These are very helpful as a rule of thumb and we mustn’t dismiss them as guides to conduct but:

(1) what if the adherents of the religion are deceived or, heaven forbid, deceiving? Would we have been considered wise to ask Kenneth Lay about Enron?

(2) What if direct comparisons don’t help except in the most general terms, since generalisation is a lie. Mormons are nice people but what does that tell us?

(3) What if you find nothing to envy and much to regret about their religion? How far would investigators have got in probing the truth about Enron if they had grubbed around determined to find something to like?

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