Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Mormonism and Judgement

Mormons argue that it is reasonable to expect Joseph Smith to have a role in the Judgement since several Bible texts refer to apostles, as well as the saints in general, judging. The references they use are Matthew 19:27-28; Luke 22:29-30; 1 Cor.6:1-3; Rev.20:4. From this “Biblical evidence” they argue their case for Joseph Smith having authority delegated to him to judge with Christ.

The Bible and Judgement

Let us first look at what the Bible has to say about “Judgement” in its various meanings. The first thing Scripture makes clear is that all will be judged by Christ.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it…And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. (Rev.20:11-13)

Everyone appears before the throne on which Christ alone sits and issues judgement.

But Scripture does say that others will “judge”, apostles (Matt.19:27-28; Luke 22:29-30), as well as the saints (1 Cor.6:1-3). How are we to understand the role of believers in the judgement? If all the dead, great and small and including the saints, have already been judged how are the saints to judge? Who are they to judge and what form does this judgement take?

Judges or Rulers?

In reference to 1 Cor.6:2, the Oxford Bible Commentary explains:

The consistent understanding of “Judge the World” here is that it is a reference to ruling rather than handing down judgements. Clearly, only Christ will judge in a juridical fashion because all judgement has been given to him, and “the dead, great and small” will stand before him on that day. (Rev.20:11-15, c.f. 2 Cor.5:10)

It goes on to explain:

The Old Testament understanding of judge is “ruler”. Therefore in Daniel 7:22, “the saints of the most high…possessed the kingdom”, and in Rev.2:26-7, “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – he will rule with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery just as I have received authority from my father.” (c.f. Psalm 2:9)

The role of saints and apostles, then, is that of rulers in Christ’s established kingdom, not judges alongside Christ on the Day of the Lord. Expanding on this theme, it explains that Paul underlines this inheritance in 1 Cor.3:1-3 as he portrays the Corinthian saints as underestimating their own importance.

If they remembered their destiny in judging the world, even angels, they would not consider themselves incompetent to judge the trivial matters which they now ask others to decide.

NB There is a juridical setting here in that legal disputes are in view. However, this is not a precedent for believing the saints will judge in the final judgement. It is also worth noting that Paul is likely talking about cases involving property (v.7), i.e. a situation is being judged and not a man. This is the very situation in which a judge in the context of ruler would adjudicate. They settle matters, keep order and mete out justice. The whole thrust of Scripture signifies they will “rule” after judgement. This is shown in Daniel 7:22&27 (see above).

Judges in Israel

In reference to Matt.19:28, the Oxford Bible Commentary says:

The crucial verse 28, which alludes to Daniel 7:9-27, refers not to a one-time judgement but lordship. The text is not about Israel’s condemnation at the consummation but the disciples’ exercise of authority in the future (c.f. 20:20-21 “When you come into your kingdom”.) As the twelve Phylarchs once directed the twelve tribes under Moses, and as Israel was once ruled by judges, so shall it be at the end.

In reference specifically to judges we see this working out in the Book of Judges 2:16-19, where the Lord raised up rulers, or judges, to lead the people. The explanation in the introduction to this book in the NIV Study Bible states, The title describes the leaders Israel had from the time of the elders who outlived Joshua until the time of the monarchy.

In Isaiah 1:21 in the KJV we read of Jerusalem:

How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgement; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.

In the NIV the word judgement is given as justice. The Amplified Bible gives, “she was full of justice! Uprightness and right standing with God [once] lodged in her.” The New Century Bible gives the verse as:

“The city of Jerusalem once followed the Lord. But she is no longer loyal to the Lord. She used to be filled with fairness. People there lived the way God wanted.”

What judgement means here is the ongoing administration of justice and right living rather than the meting out of final judgement. Thus the judges are to rule in Christ’s kingdom.

The Consent of Joseph?

In their book Mormonism 101 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson remark on this subject:

”The Bible clearly states that every person - both believer and non-believer - will be judged by Jesus, not Joseph! There is no hint that somebody like Smith would assist in the judgement. Jesus said in John 5:22-23a, ‘For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”

Scripture plainly shows us that all judgement, in the sense of juridical work, is committed to the Son, while judgement in the administrative sense of sharing in the rule of Christ’s kingdom, is given to the saints.

Justified by Joseph

Now let us look, in light of what we have said above, at what Mormons think of Joseph.

Brigham Young said:

”If I can pass brother Joseph, I shall stand a good chance for passing Peter, Jesus, the Prophets, Moses, Abraham, and all back to Father Adam, and be pretty sure of receiving his approbation.... If we can pass the sentinel Joseph the Prophet, we shall go into the celestial kingdom, and not a man can injure us. If he says, ‘God bless you, come along here’; if we will live so that Joseph will justify us, and say, ‘Here am I, brethren,’ we shall pass every sentinel.”

He declares further:

No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are - I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation - the keys to rule in the spirit world.”

LDS Apostle George Q. Cannon concurred:

“He stands, therefore, at the head of this dispensation and will throughout all eternity, and no man can take that power away from him. If any man holds these keys, he holds them subordinate to Joseph Smith.... If we get our salvation, we shall have to pass by him; if we enter into our glory, it will be through the authority that he has received. We cannot get around him.”

And LDS prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said that nobody could reject this "testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

There will be those who will be reading this, who will wonder where these ideas come from and what this all means. Evangelical commentators are objecting that Mormons make too much of Joseph, while Mormons protest that their beliefs are misrepresented and that Joseph is subservient to Jesus and acts only on authority given by Jesus. There are even quotes that say as much. But there are also quotes that do, to the Evangelical mind, seem to clearly venerate Joseph to a position no Evangelical believer would ascribe to any man, no matter who he is or what he has done. One correspondent on this subject makes a point worth considering when he asks whether, if we were to render the words of Brigham Young substituting the name Peter for Joseph, we would take a very different view of things, thus:

“Whosoever confesseth that Peter was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit of God; and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Peter, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist..."

But, of course, that proposition is never put in Scripture! We do have the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:40, “He who receives you receives me”, and in Luke 10:16, “He who listens to you listens to me.” But look at that Luke quote again, “He who listens to you listens to me.” Listens to what? What were people listening to? What were the apostles saying? Brigham Young knows:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (1 John 5:1)

“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” (1 John 4:2)

“New Scripture”

These are the very references Young uses to build up to his incredible proclamation, his “new scripture”, concerning the role of Joseph Smith:

”For unbelievers we will quote from the Scriptures - "Whoso ever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." Again - "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God." I will now give my scripture - "Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit of God; and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist, no matter whether it is found in a pulpit or on a throne, nor how much divinity it may profess, nor what it professes with regard to revealed religion and the account that is given of the Savior and his Father in the Bible."

But nowhere is our future in eternity dependent upon accepting a man. It is dependent on accepting the message of Jesus as preached through these men – and that is a completely different proposition. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that we must gain the approbation of a man; nowhere are we told that we enter God’s heaven only with the permission of a man; nowhere, certainly, are we told that we must look to a man to justify us. It is to the God-man Christ Jesus we look, and it is to him faithful men of God point. “But we point to Jesus, Joseph points to Jesus”, protests the Mormon. Which brings me back to the question, where do these Mormon ideas come from and what does this all mean? Why do Mormons appear orthodox one minute in proclaiming Jesus, and the next totally unorthodox in proclaiming Joseph? Why are the arguments of one side so compelling – until I hear the arguments of the other?

Coming up: Sensational Dispensationalism

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