Special Witnesses of Christ
This reproduces in three parts an article I wrote in response to a special feature in the April 2001 Mormon Ensign magazine containing the text from a video presentation, Special Witnesses of Christ, broadcast by the leaders of the Mormon Church during their annual convention. The text can be found in the online edition of the April Ensign. From carefully selected locations Mormon leaders spoke of various aspects of their faith. It was clearly an attempt to present to the world the Christianised message of Mormonism at a time most precious to all true Christians throughout the world and that time is here again.
Inevitably there will be those whose initial reaction to this message will, like my own, be an audible groan as Mormonism once again misrepresents itself before the world. Once again it claims to itself an authority it does not truly have, presents itself as being in the vanguard of Christian faith and culture, which it is not, and tells it's own story in language that is characteristically hyperbolic as, with no more than a passing nod at the truth, it hurries on to give it's own version of events.
Of course, this sophisticated representation of Mormonism will impress many – that is what it is designed to do. Not least it will confirm Mormons, had they ever dared to doubt, in their conviction that they are indeed Christians. And this is a great pity since their convictions are misguided, their hope unfounded, their message misleading - and their non-member friends in real danger of falling for the same 'gospel, that is no gospel at all'. Hence the concern of so many Christian ministries that people should know the truth about Mormonism and, more importantly, about the Jesus Christ of the Bible of whom we are all special witnesses.
Carefully read, this videotext does tell us a great deal that is true about Mormonism. Indeed it may tell us more about the Mormon faith than those who produced it ever intended. Unfortunately, it will not be so carefully read by many of those invited to consider it's message. As we look at the Mormon message contained in the text, comparing it with Biblical truth, I encourage Christians to read carefully where others might read superficially and explain to their Mormon friends, and to their non-Christian friends who might consider becoming Mormons on the strength of it, how far from the truths of the Bible is the message of these 'Special Witnesses'.
In his opening address the Mormon president (Gordon B Hinckley at the time) speaks against the carefully chosen backdrop of Jerusalem. Here he is to introduce the special witnesses, telling of their "unique calling [as] Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, chosen and commissioned by him". This is clearly an attempt to suggest a direct connection between the apostles of Utah with the apostles of Jerusalem. Much might be said about the Mormon claim to such authority, indeed much has been said on the subject. I simply point out the special qualifications for a member of the twelve Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ as clearly explained by the Biblical Apostle Peter, i.e. he should be:
"One of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."
Any claims to being "special witnesses" of this kind must be questioned since no one of any subsequent age or time could possibly qualify. Yet we are invited to believe that this is the message of apostles, having the same authority, qualification and calling as the twelve of old. Indeed Mormon Apostle M Russell Ballard states that the Mormon Church has to date seen "more than 90 men called to serve as Apostles".
But are the messages of these two groups of men, apostles both ancient and modern, the same?
Jesus, The Way
Those who carefully consider the message of the Bible cannot help but come to the conclusion that it is all about Jesus. From the promise made to our first parents that Christ, their offspring, would crush Satan, the serpent, in final victory (Genesis 3:15; Rom.16: 20); through the promises made to Abraham and his descendants that the original blessing on all mankind would be restored through Christ, the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:3; Acts 3: 24-26; Gal.3: 8,18); to the powerful symbolism of Old Testament temple worship that foretells the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Genesis 22:8; Exodus 12:21; Numb.9:1-12; John 1:29), it is Christ who is the focus and theme of Biblical prophecy.
In the glorious fulfilment of those promises in the New Testament, where Christ, the new Adam, offers life eternal to all those who look to Him with the faith of Abraham, (Romans 5:12-20; 4:11-12), Jesus proves to be the origin, theme, purpose and fulfilment of God's will for His creation.
As we consider the opening verses of the letter to the Hebrews we see the apex of God's message in Jesus who is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word". He is God's loudest declaration of Himself and His clearest message in "these last days". As we read the first chapter of Ephesians we see that all blessings, hopes and aspirations of men and women everywhere find their fulfilment in Him.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Christ Jesus in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
As we read the words of Jesus Himself we see that He is 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life'; the one through whom all must come if they are to know God, which knowledge is life eternal. (John 14:6; 17:3) Like the Biblical Apostle Paul, every true Christian can say,
“Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
To the evangelical mind Jesus is all in all.
What have these special witnesses to say of Christ? Where and what is Jesus in the mind of a Mormon, in the minds of these exemplars of Mormonism? They seem to speak in the idiom of Christianity, employing distinctly Christian superlatives to demonstrate their credentials as His special witnesses. They refer to Him as "The Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, the Savior (sic) of mankind, the Prince of Life and Peace, the Holy One", claiming Him to be at the centre of their faith. And yet a more careful reading reveals a disturbing characteristic of this message. The message of Mormonism raises serious questions as it subsumes Jesus into the greater message of the 'plan' that is the Mormon gospel.
My Lord and my God
The Biblical Apostle Thomas recognised Jesus as "My Lord and my God", (John 20:28) a confession for which he was commended. Jesus Himself claimed equality with the Father, a claim for which the Jewish authorities "tried all the harder to kill him" (John 5:18).
In the Ensign magazine the Mormon Apostle Neal A Maxwell declared, "Long before He was born at Bethlehem and became known as Jesus of Nazareth, our Savior was Jehovah". (p.6) Mormon Apostle Russell M Nelson referred to Jesus as "Jehovah - God of the Old Testament". (p.7) There seems to be agreement here. Yet to Mormons He is not God as He is to Christians, as He was to Thomas.
Mormons differentiate between Jehovah, who is Jesus, and Elohim, who is God the Father, under whose direction "Christ was the Lord of the universe, who created all worlds without number". (p.6) In reference to "the literal relationship of the Father and the Son" Mormon Apostle James Talmage wrote, "Among the Spirit children of Elohim the firstborn was and is Jehovah or Jesus Christ" (Articles of Faith 1977 ed. p.472). Speaking in the April 1994 General Conference of the Mormon Church newly appointed Mormon Apostle Robert D Hales spoke of his "opportunity to bear testimony as a special witness of …Jesus Christ". He went on to declare that, "Jesus Christ is a God; he is Jehovah of the Old Testament…he is the Savior (sic) of the New Testament. Jesus Christ dwelt in the heavens with his Father…and we dwelt with them as spirit children of God the Father." (Ensign, May 1994, p.79, emphasis added)
Yet Jehovah is referred to as Jehovah-Elohim over five hundred times in the Old Testament. For example in Genesis 2:4 we read, "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the Lord God (Jehovah-Elohim) made the heavens and the earth". Deuteronomy 10:17 reads, "For the Lord your God (Jehovah your Elohim) is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome." In other words Jehovah is God of gods, the supreme God.
Deuteronomy 6:4 reads literally, "Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah". In our Bibles the Hebrew word for "Lord" is Jehovah and the Hebrew word for "God" is Elohim, i.e. "The Lord our God is one Lord". Perhaps the most telling reference is Isaiah 9:6 "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God (literally Elohim), Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
The Biblical Apostle Thomas' utterance translates "My Lord (Jehovah, Greek Kyrios) and my God (Elohim, Greek Theos)." To Thomas Jesus is God, Theos or Elohim, while to the Mormon Apostle He is “a God”, and not God Almighty. This demotion of Jesus does not bode well in comparisons between Biblical and Mormon Apostles. However it is a common theme in the message of these "special witnesses".
Who is the Way? Joseph or Jesus?
Enemies of the Cross