In my first study we looked at the questionable apostolic claims of Mormon leaders and the way Mormonism demotes Jesus to the status of “a God” in a pantheon. In the last study we looked at who Mormons look to for Salvation – Joseph Smith or Jesus Christ. In this third and final study we look at the Mormon denial of the full efficacy of the Cross and ask whether Mormons are truly Christians, as they claim, or “enemies of the Cross of Christ.”
The Biblical Apostle Peter first publicly declared the Good News of Christ's triumph at Pentecost saying,
“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
From that time the theme of the cross has been another constant in the Christian faith. The Biblical Apostle Paul wrote,
For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
When you were dead in your sins and in the circumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
The Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R Holland, speaking from the Mount of Olives, declared, "It was here in the Garden of Gethsemane, on that last night in mortality, that Jesus left His Apostles and descended alone into the depth of agony that would be His atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind." (p.14) So no one misunderstands the place of the cross in Mormon thinking let me quote thirteenth Mormon president, Ezra Taft Benson,
"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." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.14)
The cross is merely an afterthought, a fact clearly illustrated in the words of Mormon Apostle Bruce R McConkie,
"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)
What more subtle way could there be to empty the cross of its power with words of human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:17) than to empty it into Gethsemane? While Biblical Apostles look to the cross (John 3:14) Mormon Apostles dismiss the cross declaring "he 'suffered death in the flesh' even as many have suffered agonising deaths".
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 (Luke 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 man is from the cross, so far is he from Christ (Galatians 6:14).
I Will Build my Church
We have already observed that a new and unique category of revelation is experienced in the Son who is God's loudest and clearest expression of Himself. That His coming brings the kingdom of God and ushers in the Messianic age, the era of God's mercy and salvation. Having "endured the cross, scorning its shame [he] sat down at the right hand of the throne of God", and we are to "fix our eyes on [him], the author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus' promise to all who look to him is that what he has established, will not be overcome, not even by hell itself (Matthew 16:18). What did he establish?
The Biblical Apostle Peter described the church as a "spiritual house" built of "living stones" (1 Peter 2:4-5). The Biblical Apostle Paul referred to Christians as "God's building" and "God's temple and that God's spirit lives in us" (1Cornthians 3:9&16) In his letter to the Ephesians he speaks of Christians as "fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household" (Ephesians 4:19). In the same letter he describes how someone becomes a member of that household,
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession.
Thus the church is not an organisation, but an organism; not a structure, but a body; not marked by offices and hierarchies, but by the life of the Spirit in true believers. And the "guarantee" is an eternal inheritance, that that life would continue unabated. The promise is that "the gates of Hades will not overcome [the church]"; that the church would endure as it looks forward to that city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10-16).
Whichever way the church is organised it is always people, and not buildings or institutions, not formalistic. This living body consists of those who are alive to Christ, those who have died in Christ, and those who are yet to be born and believe in Christ. This is what might be termed the catholic, or universal, church.
The Lord Jesus warned His disciples, "In this world you will have trouble." (John 16:33). Down through the centuries the body of believers has experienced much trouble. As the church grew some turned away from the faith (1 Timothy 1:6-7; Galatians 1:6-9). Christians had been warned of this by the Biblical Apostle Paul, "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your Guard!" (Acts 20:20-31). The Biblical Apostle Peter warned that many would follow after false prophets and bring the way of truth into disrepute (2 Peter 2:1-3).
However Jesus, in John's gospel, went on to say, "But take heart! I have overcome the world". He promised that he had overcome the world and that the world would not overcome the church, and that "the gospel of the kingdom (which His coming established) will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14). Thus the agenda for the church, "until He comes" is set.
Technology Deficit Causes Apostasy – Read it Here!
The Mormon Apostle M Russell Ballard, in a remarkable and amusing comparison, declared, "When the Savior originally charged His Apostles, 'Go into all the world' (Mark 16:15) His Church was very small, with members scattered in the geographic region now known as the Middle East. His dynamic Apostles, James, John, and Paul, travelling mostly by foot or by ship, did everything they could to keep the little flock together. But the distance and the lack of communication made their work very difficult. They themselves knew that the future would bring "a falling away" (2 Thes.2: 3); they also knew that eventually there would come to the world a restoration of the fulness of the gospel…Today our labours are greatly enhanced by jet airplanes and remarkable technology that stretch the reach of our ministry to the furthest parts of the world…I testify to you that it is the will of our Father in Heaven…that this mighty work moves forward." (p.15, I didn’t make that up)
Mormon Apostle Thomas S Monson spoke of the unerring will of God in accomplishing the establishment of the Mormon Church. (p.19). This raises a serious question. Why was God so impotent to keep his promises in the first century yet so overwhelmingly capable in the nineteenth? A lack of technology? Really?
This is a picture of a God who is able to break the bands of death, reconcile sinful men and women to Himself, and authenticate the work of His Son by miracles, signs and wonders but is unable to stop the world overcoming His church for want of an aeroplane and modern technology. This ridiculous and farcical picture is contradicted by looking at the maps depicting missionary journeys found at the back of any good Bible.
The Oxford Companion to the Bible says of the "dynamic Apostle" Paul,
"In his travels Paul took advantage of the fine highway system built by the Romans and, in the course of three extended tours, he visited most of the key centres of Greece and Asia Minor…. Paul seems to have had a carefully designed strategy for evangelism. He aimed to establish churches in the largest population centres, which he could easily reach on the paved Roman roads. From there, local converts could take the message into more remote towns and villages. This was evidently successful. At least one of his letters (Colossians) was written to a church founded in this way, and later in the first century most of the areas he visited had many flourishing congregations."
(Oxford Companion to the Bible, p.577)
If the work of one Apostle could be so successful, producing "many flourishing congregations", what does it tell us when we multiply that by the number of apostles and evangelists scattered throughout the Roman world of the first century?
The success of early missionary efforts is evident from the fact that "converts were a typical cross section of Roman society. Many Christians were slaves, though the gospel attracted cultured, upper-class Romans. Some were clearly influential people (Romans 16:23), the kind who would take personal disputes to law courts (1 Cor.6: 1-11) and who could afford to make donations for good causes (2 Cor.8: 1-15; Rom.15: 25-33). Paul's co-workers also enjoyed the typical mobile lifestyle of the upper classes."
(Oxford Companion to the Bible, pp 577-78)
Let Him who Boasts Boast in the Lord (1 Cor.1:31)
Finally the Mormon Apostle and prophet Gordon B Hinckley, speaking from the "Sacred Grove" where Joseph Smith was supposed to have had the "First Vision", said, "Here is where it all began, the miracle of this great work which has spread over the earth". (p.20)
He speaks as though no vision had preceded it; as if 2,000 years of Christian history, drama, sacrifice and faithful devotion had never happened; as if the promises of Jesus and the founding success of His followers counted for nothing! Here is the true beginning of Mormonism, in a sacred grove where one man's vainglorious ambition negates all that has gone before in an effort to "make [himself] like the Most High" (Isaiah 14: 12-14)
Can you doubt it when Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, said of himself,
"I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has 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. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I."
(Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol.6, p.409)
And who also declared,
"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man…Here then is life eternal - to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you".
(Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol.6, pp.3-4)
This is a religion that has rejected the "foundation of Apostles and Prophets" laid by Jesus and, in their place has established it's own Apostles. A religion that has rejected the remarkable story of Christ's triumph and the establishment of His church as told in the Testaments of the Bible, and produced their own, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ", in the Book of Mormon. A religion that has rejected the stone that has become the capstone (Mark 12:10) and sought to lay a new foundation of their own. In great ways and small Mormonism takes and changes so much that is Christian, fooling the unwary with the familiar terminology while all the time hiding a meaning quite alien to true Christianity.
Thus the truth is subtly changed and pressed into the service of a religion that has appropriated to itself statements, acclamations, names and titles in such a manner as to give Mormonism pre-eminence over even the Jesus of whom they claim to be special witnesses.
Who is the Way? Joseph or Jesus?