Friday, 6 August 2010

Mormons Who Are Confident, Christians Who Aren’t

Holmes handed his visiting card to the aristocrat who looked at it, disdainfully observing the address, “Baker Street...221...B. Hardly an address to inspire confidence.”

Sherlock Holmes replied, “My Lord, I have more than enough confidence in myself. I do not need to inspire it in others.”

It’s one of my favourite exchanges from the Jeremy Brett television series’ of the Sherlock Holmes adventures and demonstrates the supreme confidence the great man has in his formidable powers of deduction. Of course, he has every reason to be as confident as subsequent events affirm.

Mormons can Inspire Confidence

Christians can be discouraged from talking to Mormons as, aping their leaders, they display a similar confidence in what they are saying. And Mormon leaders know that, unlike Sherlock Holmes, they do need to inspire confidence in others if they are to win converts. In this instance however there is no justification for encouraging or reason for entertaining such confidence. I say this not because Mormonism isn’t true (it isn’t), nor because the claims of Mormonism are not capable of being substantiated (they are not) but because of the ignorance of the average Mormon of their own faith, much less the Christian faith they reject in embracing Mormonism.

My heart sinks each time I find a Mormon declaring with supreme assurance that, “the church is true”, that those who deny or challenge the claims of Mormonism have failed to grasp simple truths and that "people who leave 'the church' misunderstand some of our basic teachings." To the uninitiated, to those who are perhaps a bit slack about their own faith, this unwavering confidence can seem intimidating. These self-possessed, bright young things who come to our doors, oozing self-assurance and bringing an unfamiliar and unsettling message seem completely at home sharing their faith and we might be forgiven for cautiously stepping back, or even being taken in to some degree. Even those who finally reject the Mormon message can be duped into accepting the Mormon claim that they are Christians. Those who don’t and set to the task of witnessing to Mormons can still demonstrate a certain begrudging respect and wariness because of the apparent depth of knowledge and sincerity of Mormons.

Mormon Confidence in What?

But my heart sinks because, sincere as they may be the ignorance of most Mormons today is so profound and worrying that you have to teach them what they believe before you can begin to show them they are wrong. Don’t believe me? Allow me to illustrate:

I spoke with authority (which means I knew what I was talking about) to four young Mormon missionaries about the guns smuggled in to Joseph Smith and his companions when he was in Carthage Jail. They mocked this claim, insisting, "No one in jail can get hold of a gun." I showed them a picture of the gun Smith used, a 'pepper-box' repeating pistol, and they looked at it and declared mockingly, "That gun wasn't even around at the time of Joseph Smith." I then showed them that the account and the picture of the pistol came from an official Mormon Institute manual "My Kingdom Shall Roll Forth" (p281). Faces fell, a silence ensued and, studying the pages more closely, they asked, "Can we take a copy of this?" Of course I had copies prepared and gave them out willingly. Mormons are ignorant of their own history, even when it is sanitised and presented in official manuals.

Grace and Works

One of the fundamental errors taught by Mormonism is that man is saved by a combination of grace and works. In the Book of Mormon there is a verse to this effect: “For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (2Nephi 25:23) I had two charming 'older' ladies, lifetime Mormons on senior mission visit my home. As we discussed the merits of our respective messages and I insisted that we are saved by grace alone one demurely offered, "Didn't Paul say, 'we are saved by grace after all we can do'?" Of course, Paul said no such thing, indeed he said the very opposite, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph.2:8) Frightening to think that these two “missionaries” not only didn’t know Paul but neither did they know their own Book of Mormon.

Mormons quote James 2:17 to 'prove' that we are saved by faith AND works. Challenged to reconcile their interpretation of James with the words of Paul quoted above, they cannot and fall back on the familiar Mormon claim that this is because the Bible is not reliable, having been passed down to us through the hands of scheming priests and profane interpreters, thus rejecting the Bible as the reliable word of God. But James and Paul are easily reconciled when you realise that Paul is writing as a missionary about the condition of the lost while James is writing as a pastor about the obligations of the saved. Paul is emphasising the futility of depending on our own efforts to be saved and put right with God while James is writing about how those who are now right with God should live in the power of God. Paul is writing against legalism while James is writing against Antinomianism. Mormons cannot understand the difference and reject God’s word because they don’t understand it.

Moroni’s Promise

Mormons quote James 1:5 to put a biblical sheen on Moroni's promise. This is a text at the back of the Book of Mormon that effectively bypasses the reasoning process and challenges people to pray about the book with the promise that God will answer with a warm sensation in the breast known as the burning in the bosom. But it is already established that James is writing to Christians, those who already know the truth, and this verse is advising on the wise application, in times of trials and testing, of what they already know. This is plain from the opening verses of the letter so why don’t Mormons know this?

To answer that you might ask them to close their Bibles and tell you, who is James? Who was he writing to? What is the main theme of his letter and what are the key texts that illustrate that theme? How many chapters does it contain and how does his message develop? They have no idea because they only know proof-texts and haven't read it like a letter. Rather as someone looking at an old school photo naturally scans first to see their own face, so Mormons scan Scripture to find those familiar texts that jump out at them affirming what they already “know”; but they don’t know and, tragically, they don’t know that they don’t know.

They go on about context but don't know the meaning of the word. For instance, if they understood the identity of the recipients of James' letter they would see that James 1:5 is not instructing us to pray to find out truth and has no bearing on Moroni's promise. Indeed, if they knew their Bible they would know that nothing there remotely resembles Moroni's promise and God deals in facts, events and people not feelings, impressions and inclinations.

You might think a Mormon, who lays such great store by “priesthood authority”, would be familiar with the profound and wonderful portrayal of Jesus as our great high priest in Hebrews, chapters five to eight. Yet a Mormon will typically know the first five verses of chapter five because they are twisted and taken out of context to fit the Mormon account of things and then has no idea of the depth of truth to be mined elsewhere in the book. Why is this so?

Mormons Please Face Reality!

It is their ignorance of the Bible that leads to their being so confused and misled, without clear biblical answers about biblical themes. It is their ignorance of their own faith that leads to them naively trusting in what they are told and leaves them vulnerable to robust challenges to Mormon claims of “Restoration” and of being led by apostles and prophets. Why do you think Mormons so often "bear their testimony"? It’s because they have nothing else to offer. They are stumped, so they fall back on, "this is the way I feel about the church."

Even Mormon apostles recognise this fatal deficiency in Mormon knowledge and understanding. In an address entitled The Peaceable Followers of Christ given on 1 February 1998, and reported in the April 1998 Ensign magazine, Mormon apostle Boyd K Packer spoke of how troubling it is not to have robust and reasoned answers to questions about the Mormon faith:

"It is not an easy thing for us to defend the position that bothers so many others. But, brethren and sisters, never be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Never apologise for the sacred doctrines of the kingdom. Never feel inadequate and unsettled because you cannot explain them to the satisfaction of all who might enquire of you. Do not be ill at ease or uncomfortable because you can give little more than your conviction."

I don't write this to insult anyone; I simply wish to urge on every Mormon who cares about the truth to consider what your true position is. You are eating husks of corn with the swine and they have you convinced you are eating well. You are blind, ignorant and lost and they have you believing you see more clearly than everyone and that you are wise and are on your way to a degree of glory. Even a Mormon apostle is troubled by his inability to come up with reasonable answers beyond, "I know the church is true..." But knowledge is based not on feelings, sentiments. It is based on evidence, events, people and places. Faith is not the opposite of evidence and reason but is based on what God shows you in this life, of this life. Of course, faith is more than reason but it is never less than reason.

Be Encouraged Pastor

I write also to encourage Christians, particularly that special breed of overworked and underappreciated people, Christian pastors. Pastors have onerous responsibilities, so many concerns. Their primary concern however is for the safety of their flock. When the Mormons call, pastors are rightly protective of their congregations and might discourage them from engaging with Mormons, “just in case.” I know there is enough to do without a late night phone call from a worried parent saying that their son or daughter is talking to the Mormons.

But be encouraged because a Bible-centred church and Bible-centred congregations are ready for the fray and should be encouraged to talk to Mormons. Don’t super spiritualise this away with talk of demons and demon-possessed books as though God has left you orphans, unprotected. Don’t discourage your people by indicating that you don’t trust them to witness. Rather prepare them, pray for them and send them out to the mission field on their own doorstep. If I may be frank, if you are fearful of talking to Mormons and having your people talk to them the reason lies not with the Mormons’ knowledge and abilities but with you and your people for not being prepared to give an answer at every opportunity to anyone who asks. Of course there are those who need protecting, the vulnerable, the young in the Lord, but let’s not be timid when we have such as great message and people calling at our very doors to hear it.

Mormons do not know as they think they know and Mormons who leave the Mormon Church and find and turn to Jesus and the Bible, far from not understanding, find themselves seated at a table groaning with true knowledge and understanding of God and His ways for the first time. They begin to know as they are known and as they have never known before and grow in a confidence that even a Mormon prophet confesses he lacks. The field is white and ready for harvest so don’t hunker down in the safety of Sunday services and midweek meetings. Pick up your Bibles and tell the Good News, even to the Mormon at your door. S/he may well be eternally grateful that someone did; I am.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post! I live in Carthage, IL and have many opportunities to see missionary girls (though I think the most recent ones have been discouraged by me) and older missionaries. I love going to the jail and hearing the story, then sharing things they don't bring up: why the railing is low on the right hand side going up, the song they sing is not one from the LDS fathers but from Europe from a Christian church background. And if the gun is not brought up, I want to make sure nobody is deceived into thinking that they had no defense when History of the Church in Vol 6 says both Joseph and Hyrum did have guns and used them. Some are surprised I know that, but visitors need to know about the "Martyrdom" as it really happened from those who were there.

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  2. Thnaks Jo. Yes, it is always right to remind them of what they don't know but should and to give visitors all the facts and not just the ones in the latest version of Mormonism.

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  3. Hey thanks for your post--I'm sure glad someone told me too!

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