Seminal – Pertaining to, or of the nature of, the germinating principle
The Mormon Church claims to be Restored Christianity and a growing number of people are beginning to think of Mormonism as a legitimate Christian denomination. And yet the seminal events, the germinating principles of the Mormon Church are rooted firmly on the American continent and in the life of Joseph Smith and not, as one might expect, in the Middle East and the first century accounts of Jesus Christ. But what are the seminal events of Christianity and where is the Christian faith, of which they claim to be a restoration, rooted? What does a Christian think about when he thinks about his faith and what does a Mormon think about when he thinks about his?
A seminal and most beloved Bible text for Christians is John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
It encapsulates the Christian message that man is a fallen creature, hopelessly lost in sin, and in need of a Saviour, and that God provides a Saviour in His Son, Jesus Christ, through whom all who believe will be saved into the Kingdom of God. It brings repentant sinners to Jesus.
The seminal Bible text for Mormons, the Mormon equivalent of John 3:16, is James 1:5
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.”
Why would this be the key biblical text for Mormonism’s “Restored” Christianity and not the tremendous truth of John 3:16? Because it is the text that, allegedly, sent Joseph Smith into the Sacred Grove and from there to start the Mormon Church. It brings them back to Joseph.
That which we have seen, heard and touched
The seminal message of the Bible is that God the Son was born into this world, lived and worked amongst ordinary people, identified with their fallen state, went to the Cross to pay the price for sin, was raised the third day, breaking the bands of death, and was taken into heaven. The whole thrust of the New Testament is that witnesses saw these events and faithfully related them to others who passed them on until we have those same accounts today. The focus of that message is Jesus.
These things can be known and are attested to by many infallible signs:
“This Salvation was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb.2:3b-4)
These witnesses left ample testimony as to the reality of their message:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us.” (1 John 1:1-4)
The seminal message of Mormonism is that God and Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith in a Sacred Grove and, through a series of visions, dreams and revelations, restored (replaced?) almost every aspect of the message attested to by prophets, signs, wonders and various miracles and by the Holy Spirit. The focus of Mormonism’s message is Joseph. And to replace the message of those who proclaimed what they have seen and heard concerning the Word of life as inadequate Joseph wrote:
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: that he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God…” (D&C 76:22-23)
In light of “the many testimonies that have been given of him”, what was the purpose of this testimony? It brings them back to Joseph. Another self-proclaimed prophet springs to mind and the words “seal of the prophets”. It is a parallel that has not escaped the attention of some.
The Good News for Christians is dramatically illustrated in Mark 15:37-38:
“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
The consequence of that event is described clearly in Hebrews 4:14-16
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of trouble.”
And how will a Christian gain such access and with assurance approach the throne of Grace?
“In him [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”(Ephesians 3:12)
The “good news” of Mormonism is that temples are being built around the world at an increasing rate. In these temples the curtain is re-hung, and the barrier that was torn asunder to create a way, the Way (John 14:6), re-erected. Where Jesus opened a way through which we may confidently gain access to the throne of God another way has been devised.
“If you would become a son or a daughter of God and an heir of the kingdom, then you must go to the house of the Lord [temple] and receive blessings which there can be obtained and which cannot be obtained elsewhere; and you must keep those commandments and those covenants to the end.”(Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, V.2, p.40)
And how will a Mormon know when he or she has been faithful enough and gained access to such blessings as are promised by this “way”?
“No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith…every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith junior as a passport to their entrance into the mansions where God and Christ are…”(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol.7 p.289)
It all comes back to Joseph Smith, who declared of himself,
“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day saints never ran away from me yet.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol.6, p.409.
As we encounter Mormons wishing to share with us the story of Joseph’s birth and encourage us to “follow the prophet” we must be prepared to share with them the reality of Christ’s finished work and continuing presence with the true saints of God and encourage them to know His true voice and follow the Way (John 10:4).