Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday Mormon - What are or Were the Gold Plates?

It all started with the claim that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from Gold Plates delivered to him by an angel. Where are these gold plates? Were there witnesses and, if so, how reliable are they? As before, we will look at the questions (Q) and answers (A) with comments (C) and quotes (Qu.)

Q: What are or were the "Golden Plates"?

A: The Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith from records made on plates of gold, similar to metal plates that have been found in other ancient cultures. It contained a history of peoples in the Western Hemisphere including an appearance by the Savior to them. As such, the Book of Mormon is considered a second testimony of Jesus Christ.

C: The Bible lays great store by eyewitness accounts and Christians have always appreciated authentic testimony. In the Bible we have Luke’s carefully researched account of events “just as they were handed down to us by those who from were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Lk.1:1-4). Luke tells how he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning.”

John declared, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory...” and later wrote:

“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...We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard...” (Jn.1:14; 1 Jn.1:1-4)

Paul wrote that Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred at one time, most of whom (at the time of writing) are still alive” (1 Cor.15:6)

These people established the largest religion in the world and went on, many of them, to die for their witness. Jesus said of his inner core of witnesses, “not one has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (Jn.17:12)

While Jesus’ resurrection was witnessed by hundreds, the Gold Plates had a very select group of witnesses. First there were three, all of whom denied and/or changed their story about seeing the Gold Plates and were all excommunicated from the church.

Originally there were only going to be three “witnesses” because Doctrine and Covenants 5:11-15 clearly states that there would only be three. But since these three proved so thoroughly unreliable Joseph Smith picked another eight.

Of the twelve three were Smith’s and five were Whitmer’s. All left the Mormon Church except Joseph Smith’s father and two brothers. There is, then, no credible evidence for the Gold Plates from which Smith claimed to translate the Book of Mormon so we can say with confidence that there were no Gold Plates.

As a postscript it is interesting that Joseph Smith began with three witnesses and ended with eleven witnesses because he subsequently laid great store by copying Jesus in having twelve apostles.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Video: Köstenberger Discusses “The Heresy of Orthodoxy”

A must see interview with Andreas Kostenberger about his new book. It addresses some of the things discussed in my last post regarding the reliability of the Bible and the integrity of biblical scholarship. A tremendous testimony of the gospel from a top Christian scholar.

Video: Köstenberger Discusses “The Heresy of Orthodoxy”

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Bible’s “Missing Books”

Mormons don’t entirely trust the Bible. Their eighth article of faith declares, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” One of the reasons they give for having this reservation is the apparent evidence, found in the Bible text itself, of missing books. Here is a list from James Talmage’s Articles of Faith:

1. The Book of the Covenant cited in Exodus 24:4-7

2. The Book of the Wars of the LORD cited in Numbers 21:14

3. The Book of Jasher cited in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18

4. The Book of Statutes cited in 1 Samuel 10:25

5. The Book of the Acts of Solomon cited in 1 Kings 11:41

6. The Books of Nathan and Gad cited in 1 Chronicles 29:29 and 2 Chronicles 9:29

7. The prophecy of Ahijah and the visions of Iddo cited in 2 Chronicles 9:29

8. The Book of Shemaiah cited in 2 Chronicles 12:15

9. The Book of Jehu cited in 2 Chronicles 20:34

10. The Acts of Uzziah written by Isaiah cited in 2 Chronicles 26:22

11. The Saying of the Seers cited in 2 Chronicles 33:19

12. The missing letters of Paul cited in 1 Cor.5:9; Eph.3:3-4; Col.4:16

13. The missing letter of Jude cited Jude 3

14. The Prophecies of Enoch cited in Jude 14

15. The missing text quoted in Mt.2:23

16. A declaration of belief cited in Luke 1:1

That’s a big list; a bit worrying isn’t it? Where’s my blankie? But, not to worry, because Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founding prophet, published his own translation of the Bible, “an inspired revision of the Authorized Version.” (Title page, The Holy Scriptures, Inspired Version, Pub. Herald House)

It seems he was commanded in 1830 to produce a new version of the Scriptures “even as they are in mine [God’s] own bosom, to the salvation of mine elect” (Doctrine and Covenants 35:20 [34:5 in RLDS version], December 1830). This is a mighty big promise and reflects the claim Mormons wish to make for their prophet. That, unlike the corrupt Bible of apostate Christendom (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13) Mormon Scripture was to be exactly as God intended it. No profane hands would touch this work, no corrupt priests defile it, and no careless scribes despoil it.

The picture being built up is of a distinct contrast between the incomplete, “as far as it is translated correctly” Bible and Scripture as it is given through the prophets of Mormonism. The marks of this new dispensation are to be comprehensiveness and trustworthiness as evidenced in the claim to have an open canon of Scripture; fully the word of God as it is in the bosom of God.

This is no better illustrated than in the early Mormon preoccupation with record keeping. From the 26 volume Journal of Discourses recording the sermons of Brigham Young and others to the personal journals diligently kept and still kept by Mormons today the promise is of comprehensive and authoritative accounts of God’s dealings with Mormons.

If the absence of these books is serious enough then to cause Mormons to doubt the reliability of the Bible their absence is serious indeed. This makes their absence from the so-called Inspired Translation all the more puzzling.

How went the Wars of the Lord? What were the Acts of Solomon, or Uzziah? What did the Seers say and Ahijah prophesy? What did Iddo see in vision? What were the statutes that ruled the conduct of kings? We are not to know since the books whose absence Mormons insist fatally compromises our Bible are as absent from Mormon Scripture.

Indeed, Joseph Smith, far from expanding the biblical record by restoring lost books, is one book short because he deleted the Song of Solomon. So we have 66 books while Mormons, so preoccupied with missing books, now have 65 where they might have 86!

One might be forgiven for thinking that the urgent highlighting of their absence serves well to discredit the Bible and give precedence to Mormon Scripture while indifference to their restoration conveniently removes any responsibility to actually account for them.

Define “Missing”

We were having a dinner party, my wife and I. Six guests were invited. Perhaps you know them: Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice and Dick and Dora. A spledid time was had by all, spoiled only by the absence of Bob, who had man flu and so couldn’t make it. We sent Carol home at evening’s end with the charge to be sure and tell him we regretted his being missing from our soirẻe.

During the evening someone asked where Janet and John were and I explained that they hadn’t been invited because our table seats only eight. But I would be sure to include them on another occasion. You see, Bob was missing in the sense that he was meant to be there but was absent, while Janet and John were missing in the sense that they were absent because they were not meant to be there.

Something is only missing in the way Mormons mean it if it is meant to be there in the first place. Just because something is mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean it is intended that it should be included in the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were included according to certain sound criteria while other gospels were not, based on those same criteria, more of which in a future post.

All the Mormons are doing is complaining that certain books didn’t get invited to the party. But then neither have they been invited to the Mormon party; pots, kettles stones and glasshouses spring readily to mind.

Define Scripture

This idea of ongoing revelation and an exhaustive and comprehensive record is problematic and raises a very important question. It is problematic because the Mormon Church, despite its claims, does not live up to their own expectations of “the true church” since their canon is effectively closed and official sources are seriously proscribed. It raises the question of what exactly is Scripture.

Is the Bible intended to be an exhaustive record that is more, or less complete depending on how it has been translated and transmitted, and to which further revelation is added? Or is the Bible a discrete collection of messages, a closed canon that is nevertheless sufficient for life and godliness? Are we spiritually impoverished because we have no record of Jesus’ childhood, or his life from the age of twelve until he was 30 years old? Or does the Bible give us only those things relevant to our salvation and our saved lives?

The Bible favours the latter:

“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (Jn.21:25 ESV)

The notion of an exhaustive account of God’s dealings with man is inexpressibly silly since the world would not be able to contain nor humanity be able to make use of such a record.

“As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim.3:14-16 ESV)

Paul makes clear in his letter to Timothy that Scripture has the purpose of making people “wise for salvation through faith in Christ”, of making the man of God “competent, equipped for every good work.” The question is not whether we have an open canon but of whether we are wise for salvation and competent, equipped for every good work. It doesn’t take an encyclopaedic knowledge, just knowledge of Christ to be saved and an understanding of what we are to be in Christ to be equipped for every good work.

Timothy was wise for salvation because he knew from childhood the sacred writings (Old Testament) that pointed to Christ and knew the Christ to whom those Scriptures pointed. He was equipped for every good work because he had the example of Paul to follow (2 Tim.3:10). We, too, have that example in the Bible that has been wonderfully preserved for us.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev.22:18-19 ESV)

Mormons are always quick to point out that this dread warning applies only to the Book of Revelation and not the whole Bible; they miss the point. Whether we consider this or similar warnings in Deut.4:2 and Deut.12:32 the offense is not in multiplying books but in adding to the established, sufficient word. We are not limiting God in having a closed canon but obeying God in recognising his purpose in having a message that is sufficient and not a record that is exhaustive.

Does God speak today? Of course he does! We follow prophets who lead us, as they led Timothy, to being wise for salvation, we know the Christ to whom they point, and we follow, as did Timothy, the examples of New Testament leaders like Paul, growing in competence, increasingly “equipped for every good work.” The Bible does speak today (Heb.4:12), the Spirit opens our understanding (Jn.16:13) and we, devoting ourselves to the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42-44), walk in his grace, living our faith before a watching world and looking forward to that day when he will come for his own (Rev.22:20; 1 Cor.16:22)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday Mormon – The Unworthy Negro?

We have finished with making men into gods with their own planet. In the latest of our 21 Questions we move to the other end of the Mormon social scale and ask what Mormonism teaches about African-Americans and Native Americans. As before, we will look at the questions (Q) and answers (A) with comments (C) and quotes (Qu.)

Q: What specifically does the Mormon Church say about African-Americans and Native Americans?

A: Mormons believe that all mankind are sons and daughters of God and should be loved and respected as such. The blessings of the gospel are available to all.

Qu.Though he was a rebel and an associate of Lucifer in pre-existence, and though he was a liar from the beginning whose name was Perdition, Cain managed to attain the privilege of mortal birth... he came out in open rebellion, fought God, worshipped Lucifer, and slew Abel...

As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those spirits who were not worthy to receive the priesthood are born through his lineage.” (Mormon Doctrine, Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie, 1958, p.102)

Qu.And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham's wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God” (Mormon prophet John Taylor, Journal of Discourse, vol.22, p.304)

C. In summary then, Mormonism traditionally teaches and believes that in the pre-existence black people were the least valiant. Because of their unfaithfulness they were assigned to be born to an inferior race through the lineage of Cain. Their black skin is the Mark of Cain, an emblem of eternal darkness and a representation of the devil upon the earth. Being inferior, they were not entitled to the full blessings of the gospel, denied the priesthood, and barred from the temple.

The earliest example of this doctrine in the Mormon Church is to be found in the Book of Mormon story of the Nephites and the Lamanites, forebears of Native Americans according to traditional Mormon teaching. The Lamanites, having rebelled, were cursed with a dark skin.

“... as they were white, and exceeding fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety...” (BOM, 2 Nephi 5:21-24)

C. On the basis of this teaching only white people were allowed full participation in the Mormon church until social pressure made the church change its policy in 1978. The teaching illustrated above is not an aberration, as some Mormons claim, but is substantial and extensive and still integral to Mormonism, enshrined in Mormon scripture. In spite of what Mormonism does in relation to black people today, it says something quite different in its official documents and historical statements and has never renounced or repented of this teaching.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Should I Read the Book of Mormon?

The Book of Mormon is purported to be “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” and “a volume of Scripture comparable to the Bible.” When people ask whether they should read the Book of Mormon I always ask why they would want to. I understand the fascination Mormonism has for people but its fascination can blind people to its danger.

Some think that if they acquaint themselves with the Book of Mormon Christians will be better prepared to witness to Mormons. I have seen the Book of Mormon used to very good effect by those who know what they are doing but, especially here Beyond the Zion Curtain there are three good reasons why you shouldn’t bother.

It’s irrelevant

That surprised you, didn’t it? The Book of Mormon is claimed by Mormons to be the “keystone of our religion”,  yet it may astonish you to know that most of the things for which Mormonism is best known are as absent from the Book of Mormon as they are from the Bible. When a Mormon speaks of priesthood authority, for instance, the last source he will appeal to is the Book of Mormon; there is nothing about the familiar Mormon priesthood in the Book of Mormon.

The same is true of a pre-mortal existence, a council of the gods, a war in heaven, the Mormon plan of salvation, eternal progression, degrees of glory, celestial marriage, polygamy, temple ceremonies, baptism for the dead, God as an exalted man and men becoming gods, all are absent from the Book of Mormon although all are key Mormon doctrines. In truth the Book of Mormon serves just three purposes:

1. Written in faux King James English the Book of Mormon sounds like the Bible. Couched in that familiar language it authenticates itself in that it contains uncontroversial teachings such as God as Creator (1 Nephi 17:36) and omniscient (Mosiah 4:9) death resulting from the fall of man etc (2 Nephi 9:6). But these familiar teachings will be redefined later when Mormon authority is established.

2. It goes on to cast serious doubt about the Bible, telling a story of murdered apostles, corrupt priests, unauthorised and extensive changes to the biblical text resulting in spiritual darkness and the need for restoration (1 Nephi 13)

3. Finally, the Book of Mormon is offered as “proof” that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the restoration, evidence of his calling. It sounds like the Bible, contains familiar and uncontroversial teachings, comes as a timely warning about apostasy and “restores” doctrines lost when the Bible fell into the hands of “profane and corrupt translators.”

But those “restored” doctrines are nowhere to be found in the Book of Mormon, no priesthood, pre-mortal existence, a council of the gods, a war in heaven, the Mormon plan of salvation, eternal progression, degrees of glory, celestial marriage, polygamy, temple ceremonies, baptism for the dead, God as an exalted man and men becoming gods...Yes, it’s a circular argument and careful attention will show that the Book of Mormon doesn’t teach these things; it simply clears the way so that they may be taught.

It’s their territory

Even if you pick up some tips and wrinkles by reading the book you will not know the territory as a Mormon would. Just consider the fact that Mormonism cannot be found in the Book of Mormon. Once you discover this what will you do? You will challenge your Mormon friend about this but soon you will find yourself following a Mormon through the well rehearsed “explanations” about continuing revelation, down the rabbit hole to the maze of Mormonism for which you are ill-prepared because you spent so much time reading the Book of Mormon - which doesn’t contain Mormon teaching.

Added to which is the obstacle of perception and familiarity. In the mind of a Mormon, even one who doesn’t know so much, he has the inside track and you don’t. You will always be wrong-footed with endless supplies of explanations that explain nothing, understandings you don’t understand and revelations that reveal little more than your ignorance of the Mormon mindset. A way of thinking with which your Mormon friend feels quite at home but you find unfamiliar, strange, even bizarre.

Like Alice hearing the apparently familiar words uttered by the Queen of Hearts and her court you will feel you ought to understand but really have no idea what it all means and before you know it a sort of disorientation sets in. The best you can do is go along with it until you see or hear something familiar but nothing you can get a firm grasp of comes.

It feels that it might, that it should because they do talk about the Bible and use what appear to be familiar Christian terms but not in the familiar Christian way. And the Book of Mormon has not prepared you for this either because the way Mormons talk is as unrelated to the Book of Mormon as the things they believe.

This is where the real danger lies because some mistake this unfamiliarity for new knowledge, revelation, and proof that Joseph Smith was a prophet. But this is not revelation and what you have taken for new insights is an old deception dressed in new clothes.

It was Satan who tempted Eve with the promise of godhood (Genesis 3:5), the pagans of Babel who built temples for instruction to guide them past sentinels to get to heaven (Gen.11:4), Israel who were warned about making a covenant with death (Is.28:15), the early church that was warned against “myths, and endless genealogies” (1 Tim.1:4; Titus 3:9). And so a practical familiarity with the Bible, rather then with the Book of Mormon, begins to lay bare what is truly familiar about Mormon doctrine.

It’s the wrong direction

Too much witnessing to Mormons involves talking too much about Mormonism. There, I’ve said it. Mormonism is fascinating to people and, having developed a little interest, it is easy to talk about it for hours, convincing ourselves that we are confidently meeting Mormons on their own turf. There are circumstances in which this is all-too-necessary but, as engaging as is the strange history and dubious progress of Mormonism it is a progress in the wrong direction.

A Mormon will want to inform you about all those Mormon teachings that are absent from the Book of Mormon. In which case he will use the book simply as a jumping off point to introduce other sources and authorities, i.e. modern prophets. It is, therefore, not a discussion of the Book of Mormon. It is, in reality, a discussion of Mormonism compared with the Bible, of whose lost truths Mormonism claims to be a restoration. So why not simply go directly to the Bible?

The aim of all witnessing is to bring people to the cross (Lk.24:45-48; Acts 2:22-24; 1 Cor.2:2). As we “go into all the world” we will, like Paul, come across all sorts of philosophies and religious ideas but, like Paul, we must keep in sight that single biblical imperative to preach Christ and him crucified. This is biblical truth.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Athens where Paul, in just ten verses, goes from acknowledging the piety of the Athenians to delivering a gospel message (Acts 17:21-31) identifying three key truths:

1. There is only one God and he doesn’t live in man-made temples

2. God wants us to seek him and be reconciled to him

3. A day is set when he will judge by the one he raised from the dead

In his letter to Christians in Corinth Paul identified those things that are “of first importance...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures...” (1 Cor.15:3-4, ESV) These “fundamentals” are all biblical truths.

Fortunately, unlike the Athenians, Mormons use and claim to believe in the Bible. If there is any common ground then it is the Christian Scriptures. If there is a right direction of travel it is the shortest route to the cross. If there is anything a Mormon needs to know above all else it is the Bible’s good news message that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us...while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son...” (Ro.5:8-10)

Here, Beyond the Zion Curtain, where there are no Mormon cities and towns, businesses, politics, historical baggage, pageants, historical sites, no plethora of temples, no strong Mormon culture to confront and overcome, the route to the cross can be short indeed. Why make it longer than it needs to be by reading the Book of Mormon and tangling with Mormonism more than you have to? Why not read the Bible, which is relevant, is our territory and takes the right direction?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Monday Mormon – Your Own Planet?

Last Monday Mormon we discovered that Mormon men intend to become gods. In the latest of our 21 Questions we ask what they expect to do when they are gods. We are getting rather used to the increasingly curt answers given by the Mormon Church but, still, this “No!" is still a bit – short. Oh, and did I mention disingenuous? What do you think? As before, we will look at the questions (Q) and answers (A) with comments (C) and quotes (Qu.)

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe in the existence of another physical planet or planets, where Mormons will "rule" after their death and ascension?

A: No.

Qu. "In the Heaven where our spirits were born there are many Gods, each one of whom has his own wife or wives, raises up a numerous family of sons and daughters... each father and mother will be in a condition to multiply forever and ever.

As soon as each God has begotten many millions of male and female spirits, and his Heavenly inheritance becomes too small, to comfortably accommodate his great family, he, in connection with his sons, organizes a new world, after a similar order to the one which we now inhabit, where he sends both the male and female spirits to inhabit tabernacles of flesh and bones....

The inhabitants of each world are required to reverence, adore, and worship their own personal father who dwells in the Heaven which they formerly inhabited.” (Mormon apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, March 1853, pp. 37-39)

C. In the most fundamental way this describes the Mormon Plan of Salvation, the plan by which God himself became God according to Mormonism. God made this planet to accommodate his spirit children (us) and faithful Mormons will go on to create and inhabit their own planets, which will be populated by their spirit children who will, in turn, worship them – and the whole process starts again. And of course there is an awful lot of begetting that must go on if whole worlds are to be inhabited.

The answer, then, is that there are, or will be planets which Mormons expect to rule after their death and ascension to godhood.

Ye are gods!

Of course the whole purpose of the Mormon temple endowment ceremony is that faithful members are given instruction in the cosmology of Mormonism.

Christians view God as the first cause of all creation, and declare that “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Catechism).

Mormons see mankind’s true origins in a Von-Daniken type cosmos in which God is an exalted man; men and women are not creations of God but the same species as God, and lived with God in a pre-mortal life, gods in embryo if you will. The secrets of the Mormon temple are the means by which they come into their full inheritance as gods ourselves.

Mormons use several Bible texts to support the idea that there are many gods and these texts are worth knowing about.

Genesis 1:26a “And God said, Let us make man in our image.”

The Hebrew word for God used here is Elohim. This is a plural form and normally requires the pronouns “us” and “our” to be used. However, the rest of the account is in the singular: “So God created man in his own image, in the image God he created him; male and female he created them.” Several explanations seem reasonable.

Elohim might be seen as the plurality of majesty, reflecting the human agency in the authorship of Scripture, i.e. it is the practice for earthly monarchs to refer to themselves as “we” and so the writer represents God in the same way. Alternatively, God might be addressing his heavenly court or, thirdly God might be addressing Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Whichever way you look at it God is using here a plural noun but singular verb and pronoun. There is a mixture of the many and the one in reference to the same thing – the Godhead. The trinity explains this phenomenon very well.

Psalm 82:1 “God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgement among the ‘gods’.”

The Hebrew translated “gods” here is again elohim but the meaning is quite different to what we find in Genesis. Elohim can mean the one true God. It can also refer to idols and false gods. And it can, as in this case, mean judges - those given power on earth to mete out God’s judgement. An illustration can be drawn from the use of the word Lord, which can refer to God the Father, or to Jesus, or to members of the British judiciary.

When a barrister refers to a judge as “my Lord” there is no suggestion that the judge is a god. If you substitute the word “Lords” for “gods” in this Psalm you get the sense immediately. It is notable that the “gods” in Psalm 82 are themselves being judged and their mere humanity is clear from verse 6, “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.”

John 10:34 “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I have said, you are gods”?’

This is out of chronological order but worth mentioning here since it is a reference to Psalm 82. The same argument applies here as there, i.e. “gods” means judges. Jesus argues that if sinful men can be called “gods” and the Pharisees raise no objection, why do they object when such a good and holy man calls himself God’s Son?

Matthew 3:16-17 “As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

You can see immediately the argument. There are clearly three separate persons here, so how could they all be one God? Of course, this comes from a misunderstanding of language and terminology more than anything. Christians believe in one God, but that there are three persons in the Godhead. This does not mean that there are three Gods, or that God is “one person who is three persons”, a typical Mormon straw man description offered usually with a great theatrical expression of exasperation.

It is important not to confuse the word “God” and the word “person”, i.e. God is not a person but three persons; he is a being (singular) who exists in three persons (plural).

Acts 7:55 “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”

Here you have what seems to be a description of the Father and the Son similar to Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision. The first thing to be said is that Stephen didn’t claim to see God physically but “the glory of God”. Secondly, to see Jesus standing on the right hand of God is a figurative expression meaning that he “saw” Jesus in the place of honour. This is a poetic description of a Spirit-filled perception of Jesus’ place in heaven, a place of honour, and God’s glory vindicated in Christ.

1 Corinthians 8:5 “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God.”

Mormons argue that, although there are clearly many gods, yet Mormons only worship one God, “for to us there is but one God”. But Paul is writing here about food offered to idols not the order and population of the cosmos. Should Christians buy food in the marketplace that has almost certainly been offered to some pagan “god” or other? His answer is yes because “We know that an idol is nothing at all in this world, and that there is no God but one.”

n other words, these “gods” are idols and not true gods therefore they are of no consequence. He goes on to declare, “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth [as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”], yet for us there is but one God.” The NIV brings out the meaning very well in calling them “so-called gods”.

He does counsel, however, that those who know this should be sensitive towards those who “are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.” In other words, to pay heed to these false gods is a mistake and we are free to eat, but we should be patient with those who still feel there is something in it and fear to partake.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Won’t You Pray About This Book?

Anyone who has taken lessons with Mormon Missionaries will have met the challenge of the Book of Mormon. “Won’t you pray about this book and ask God if it is true?”

They will have heard Moroni’s promise, “Ask God, the Eternal Father in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)

This is the experience on which the Mormon testimony is based, the starting point of someone’s involvement in the Mormon Church.

In principle Moroni’s promise extends beyond the Book of Mormon, promising that by this method we “may know the truth of all things.” In practice I doubt you will find a Mormon today who has read and prayed about the Bible.

Of course Mormons pray about many things as they seek that inner affirmation that tells them they are being led correctly, confirms that the Mormon Church is true, and their leader is a living prophet.

They don’t, however, pray about the Bible. This is hardly surprising since the Mormon Church has by-passed God’s word in those very missionary lessons that are meant to teach God’s truth.

The whole thrust of the Mormon missionary lessons is their account of apostasy and restoration. The Bible is the book of the apostasy, the Book of Mormon the instrument of God’s restoration of truth through Joseph Smith.

References to the Bible are restricted to questionable interpretations of texts that confirm apostasy (Acts 20:29-31) and Mormon doctrine (John 10:14-16). While the Book of Mormon is presented as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” and a companion volume to the Bible, in truth this book of the restoration delivers the final blow to the Bible:

“Thou hast beheld that [when] the book proceeded forth from the mouth of the Jew; …it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord…Wherefore these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles…And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious…and all this they have done that they may pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they may blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.” (1 Nephi 13:24-27,cf Joseph Smith History, 1:18-19)

Here is the true heart attitude of the Mormon Church to Christian Churches. Christians are portrayed as corrupt and abominable and The Bible is relegated to only a remnant of truth. A book into which many errors have crept, whose dependability is confined to those bits that agree with the words of the Mormon prophets.

No, Mormons don’t pray about the Bible. They already “know” that it has been corrupted in its transmission, altered by profane and uninspired translators, and misinterpreted by “corrupt professors” whose creeds are “an abomination in the sight of God” who “draw near [to God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [him].” (JSH 1:19) They know this because the book they have prayed about has told them so. By the end of the first lesson the Bible has been effectively dismissed.

By the time the typical Mormon convert has a Bible in their hands they know that it is untrustworthy without ever having read it. Now the path is clear for establishing Mormon authority in its place. Mormons do read the Bible but their reading is guided by commentary from “official” sources through manuals and study guides, church magazines and conference talks, and church meetings.

The Bible is never allowed to speak for itself because it is not reliable. They need someone to guide them and to teach them what it really means, to untangle its skein and fill in the gaps. Typically in this process the Bible message is revised to fit ideas peculiar to Mormonism.

A piece of timely advice to Christians on how to deal with suffering (James 1:5) becomes a key formula for discovering truth much like Moroni's promise. An obscure reference to baptism for the dead that is neither taught nor explained in the early Christian Church (1 Cor.15:29) becomes the basis for the Mormon preoccupation with the dead. A prophecy concerning Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 37:16-17) and a dire warning to Judah about unholy alliances and false prophets (Isaiah 29:1-4, 11-14) become predictions about the Book of Mormon.

Mormons have no idea of any other interpretations because the Bible that Reformation martyrs died to bring us has been taken from them and made to mean whatever Mormon leaders tell them it means.

Won’t you Please Pray about this Book?

If Moroni’s promise is to be taken seriously, however, we should pray about all things that are presented to us as truth and the Bible should be no exception.

Here is a book, much of which Jesus, the apostles and gospel writers quoted extensively. A book so widely quoted by the Early Church Fathers that it could be reconstructed almost whole simply from lifting it from those extensive references.

It contains the most comprehensive account we have of the life and ministry of the Saviour, the establishment of the church and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. A book which, contrary to Mormon claims has been miraculously preserved at great cost to men and women who even died to preserve it, and extensively authenticated by archaeological evidence and under stringent academic scrutiny.

Written over a period of 1500 years by more than 40 authors from many walks of life, written in different places and differing circumstances across three continents and in three languages, yet with harmony and continuity from Genesis to Revelation, telling one story of God’s dealings with humankind and with his people.

Any person seeking truth would surely consider seriously a book with such qualifications, would read it, ponder and pray about it. And any church purporting to represent the authority of the Bible’s central character, the Lord Jesus Christ, would surely emphasise it and give it the attention it deserves; more attention than the Mormon Church gives it. No one would dismiss it on the word of two strangers whom they have just met – would they? Tragically many do.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament?

We have seen that here, Beyond the Zion Curtain, our first encounter with Mormonism will be The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Last time we tested the claim in the introduction to the Book of Mormon that it contains, “as does the Bible, the Fullness of the Gospel.” Today we ask if the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

testimony

“Believe in the Book of Mormon as another witness of the Son of God. This book has come forth as an added testimony to the world of the great truths concerning the Master as set forth in the Bible. The Bible is the Testament of the Old World. The Book of Mormon is the Testament of the New World, and they go hand in hand in testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ensign. June 2000, pp.18/19)

These are the words of Mormon prophet, the late Gordon B Hinckley, and neatly illustrate the Mormon use of “Testament.” But is this a correct usage and what does “Testament” mean in the context of the Judeo-Christian heritage in which the Mormon Church claims to stand?

According to Webster’s third New International Dictionary one definition of testament is, “a tangible proof or tribute: EVIDENCE, WITNESS…an expression of conviction: AFFIRMATION, CREDO…”

This is clearly the meaning in view above, but given this definition of testament can we say, as we are clearly meant to believe, that The Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”, i.e. another of the same kind as the first two testaments?

We have already seen that the Book of Mormon is described as “a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.” It takes no great imagination, therefore, to make the connection thus, Old Testament, New Testament, Another Testament. Of course, this is exactly the train of thought the Mormon Church wants us to follow.

Having led us by that word “another” to think of the earlier testaments of our Christian experience, the Old and New Testaments, it seems reasonable to understand testament, not in the dictionary sense, but in the specific biblical sense.

Covenant

Vine’s Expository Dictionary gives the following simple entry under the word Testament: For TESTAMENT see COVENANT

Easton's Bible Dictionary helpfully clarifies the NT use of the word:

Testament: occurs twelve times in the New Testament (Heb. 9:15, etc.) as the rendering of the Gr. diatheke, which is twenty times rendered "covenant" in the Authorized Version, and always so in the Revised Version. The Vulgate translates incorrectly by testamentum, whence the names "Old" and "New Testament," by which we now designate the two sections into which the Bible is divided.

Nave's Topical Bible gave the following information:

TESTAMENT: A will: Heb 9:16-18

The new: Mt 26:28; Mr 14:24; Lu 22:20; 1Co 11:25

See COVENANT

Testament occurs in the following verses in the NT:

Mat 26:28; Mar 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1Cr 11:25; 2Cr 3:6; 2Cr 3:14; Heb 7:22; Heb 9:15; Heb 9:16; Heb 9:17; Heb 9:18; Heb 9:20; Rev 11:19.

Testamentum

The word testament comes from the Latin testamentum meaning covenant. The Latin Bible comprises the Vetus Testamentum and the Novum Testamentum, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

The Greek for testament is diathéké and the Greek Bible comprises the hépalaia diathéké and the hé kainé diathéké. The Latin testamentum and the Greek diathéké in the biblical context both mean covenant, as in a solemn and binding agreement between two parties.

The New Testament can, then, be called the collection of the books of the New Covenant. This is borne out in some key New Testament passages:

“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant [testament in the KJV] in my blood” (Lk. 22:20, ESV)

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor.3:6,NIV)

And in Galatians 4, we have a clear picture of the old covenant, which is “from Mount Sinai and bears children who are slaves,” and the new covenant whose children are “children of promise.”

The Old Testament is not the Old Testimony; neither is the New Testament the New Testimony. The Old Testament is the old covenant, which is of the law and which brings slavery and the New Testament is the new covenant which is of the Spirit and brings freedom in Christ.

martureo

In each instance the Greek word used is diatheke which commentators already quoted translate covenant. Interestingly, there is an instance in Revelation where Jesus himself uses the word testimony in its true meaning (Rev.22:16). The Greek word used here is martureo which means to testify. The Old Testament, therefore, is the Old diatheke, the New Testament the New diatheke. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand is no diatheke but a martureo, and cannot, then be “another Testament”; but a diatheke of what?

It is clear that the addition of “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to the title of the Book of Mormon is designed to help people associate the Book of Mormon with the Bible, i.e. the Old Testament, the New Testament, Another Testament. It is clear from the introduction to the Book of Mormon that this other testament is meant to be viewed as “a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.” Yet, the Mormon word testament means testimony while the biblical word testament means covenant.

Given that we now have in The Book of Mormon Another Testament of Jesus Christ, it seems appropriate to ask what the nature of this other covenant is. This is an essential question because the message of the Novum Testamentum is that, through Christ, believers enter into a new covenant relationship with God and anything that obscures, confuses or otherwise meddles with this clear message must surely be rejected.

The Book of Mormon is not etymologically  “another covenant” but neither is it “another testimony” because it denies the very nature, the grace-centred, faith-based nature of God’s new covenant with his people. What might be called the Mormon covenant, with its temples, preoccupation with the dead and works-based message, is not another of the same kind but quite different from the new covenant entered by grace through the blood of Christ (Eph.2:1-4) Therefore, both etymologically and practically, the Book of Mormon is not “Another Testament” but "”another gospel” (Gal.1:6-9)

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday Mormon – Every Mormon’s Goal: godhood?

Here’s something to bend your mind on a Monday Mormon; can men become gods? In the latest of our 21 Questions that is what we ask. So many Mormon leaders have said as much but will today’s Mormon Church give a straight and comprehensive answer to a straight question? What do you think? As before, we will look at the questions (Q) and answers (A) with comments (C) and quotes (Qu.)

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe its followers can become "gods and goddesses" after death?

A: We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being 'joint heirs with Christ' reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.

C: That is quite a mouthful when a simple “yes” would have done to start with. Consider what a Mormon prophet said back in 1975:

Qu: “Brethren, 225,000 of you are here tonight. I suppose 225,000 of you may become gods. There seems to be plenty of space out there in the universe. And the Lord has proved that he knows how to do it. I think he can make, or probably have us help make, worlds for all of us, for every one of us 225,000” (Spencer W Kimball, Ensign, Nov.1975, p.80)

C: Mormon men intend to become gods, just as their god has done before them. Joseph Smith taught this and, in 1974, Mormon apostle Marion G Romney stated, “God is a perfected, saved soul, enjoying eternal life.” (Salt Lake Tribune, Oct.6, 1974) That is what “salvation” is to a Mormon, i.e. godhood.

Not only does Mormonism teach that God has a physical body, but that He is an exalted man. Joseph Smith said “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens.” Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt went even further:

Qu. “The Gods who dwell in the Heaven have been redeemed from the grave in a world which existed before the foundations of this earth were laid. They and the Heavenly body which they now inhabit were once in a fallen state... they were exalted also, from fallen men to Celestial Gods to inhabit their Heaven forever and ever.” (The Seer, Jan 1853, p.23 quoted in the Salt Lake City Messenger, Nov. 1994, p.6.)

C. The Mormon Plan of Salvation teaches that those who live worthy lives and fulfil all the ordinances of the church can become gods one day. This is an endless cycle: God was once a man and lived worthy to become a god. He created an earth to hold his spirit children, so that they in their turn could follow him. Mormon Apostle Le Grand Richards wrote a letter to Morris L. Reynolds on 14th July 1966, in which he stated: ‘There is a statement often repeated in the Church, and while it is not in one of the Standard Church Works, it is accepted as Church doctrine, and this is: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”’

The Mormon religion is aimed specifically at the exaltation of men, dedicated to making men into gods. It may surprise you to know that this doctrine can be found in the Bible:

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Gen.3:5)

You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the most high.

But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:13-15)

In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.’ But you are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.” (Ezekiel 28:2)

Lest there should be any doubt consider the words of the LORD to Israel through Isaiah:

“’You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. before me no God was formed, nor will there be one after me.’” (Isaiah 43:10)

The truth is there if we allow the Bible to speak.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Book of Mormon: Fullness of the Gospel?

Here Beyond the Zion Curtain our first encounter with Mormonism will not be the political candidate, the fundamentalist, or the controversialist but The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It was the 1981 edition that first carried the subtitle, Another Testament of Jesus Christ and included the now familiar introduction written by Bruce R McConkie which begins:

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.”

Perhaps you want to read that again. The introduction to the Book of Mormon declares that the Bible contains “the fulness of the everlasting gospel.” But it is a fundamental of Mormonism that the plain and simple truth, the fullness of the gospel, was substantially lost after the death of the apostles and Mormonism is a restoration of those truths. The Book of Mormon says of the Bible:

1 Nephi 13

24 And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book [the Bible] proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God…

26 And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away…

28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.

But these plain and precious truths, lost through the corruption of the great and abominable church, would be restored:

35 For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious [The Book of Mormon]; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb [through Joseph Smith].

38 And it came to pass that I beheld the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the book of the Lamb of God, which had proceeded forth from the mouth of the Jew, that it came forth from the Gentiles unto the remnant of the seed of my brethren [the Lamanites, or American Indians].

39 And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.

40 And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records [The Book of Mormon], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first [The Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved. (Words in square brackets added)

The following is from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

A somewhat parallel statement [to that in 1 Nephi 13] came to Joseph Smith in June 1830 while he was restoring a revelation received by Moses, declaring that many things would be taken "from the book" which Moses would write, but that the missing information would be restored through another prophet and thus be "had again" among those who believe (Moses 1:41). Latter-day Saints believe that the "other records" referred to include the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, the JST, and other records still to come forth, and that the prophet divinely raised up to begin restoring the lost material is Joseph Smith (see Scriptures: Forthcoming Scriptures).

In light of the foregoing statements, it is worth observing that the principal difficulty in the Bible apparently has been omissions. The remaining text may be generally correct in itself, but many important doctrinal items (resulting from the loss of a single word, a verse, a longer passage, or even whole books in some instances) are now missing. (Words in square brackets added]

how full is full?

Now if the Bible contains the “fullness of the everlasting gospel” what exactly did Joseph restore? How full is full? Here we have a message that declares the Bible contains the fullness of the gospel while claiming that the Book of Mormon is a restoration of that fullness. Matters are further complicated in that much of what we would today recognise as Mormonism is not to be found either in the Bible or the Book of Mormon. The Mormon Church would claim that revelation is progressive in nature and one of the benefits of modern prophets.

This leaves us with the fullness of the gospel being consistently available in the Bible, being restored through the Book of Mormon, though it was never missing and being topped up by modern revelation, though we had the fullness of the gospel all along. How full is full? How did the restoration of “plain and precious truths” come to be so confusing?

In an attempt to appear orthodox and align themselves with the mainstream Christian churches, the Mormon Church must embrace the Bible, the book that everyone associates with the Christian faith. But for Mormons the Bible is the only book of scripture that is not viewed as infallible. Just look at their eighth article of faith:

“We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God.”

However, this idea cannot be allowed to enter into the perceptions of the world “out there” before there has been an opportunity to “explain” the Mormon position on the Bible. Having started a religion that is based on an unreliable Bible they have realised what a liability they have in a message that distrusts the Bible and prefers the Book of Mormon.

Of Course we Trust the Bible

This is nowhere better illustrated than in the experience of a friend who met several times with Mormon missionaries. On their first visit he asked about their attitude to the Bible, declaring, “I am a Christian and trust the Bible as the fully reliable word of God. I have been told that Mormons are not Christians and do not fully trust the Bible”. Their reply was an unequivocal endorsement of the Bible and they promised that they took exactly the same view as our friend.

Several meetings later, frustrated by not being able to deal with the Bible verses our friend used to challenge what they were teaching, they declared the Bible to be unreliable and corrupt, “translated incorrectly.” Challenged to square this with their first declaration of full trust in the Bible they struggled to hold two opposing thoughts in their minds at the same time. On the one hand, the “official” stand before the world is that Mormons trust the Bible; on the other, the true position is that the Bible is only reliable “as far as it is translated correctly.”

The typical Mormon’s knowledge of Bible translation generally, and how we got our Bible in particular, is woefully inadequate. The truth is that the popular Mormon account of Bible translation work is embarrassingly fanciful and designed with a built in prejudice against the Bible and for the restored gospel of Joseph Smith. A common Mormon explanation of how we got our Bible is that it is “a translation of a translation of a translation…” Each generation is seen as a translation of a previous translation.

Using this reasoning one might understandably conclude that modern translations of the Bible are merely paraphrases of previous Bibles, subject to the fads and prejudices of translators.

The following is again taken from the same section of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

‘The official position of the Church is stated in its eighth article of faith: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." The message of the Bible is held to be true, while details of accuracy and completeness are accepted within certain limits. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained:

"I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors." (TPJS, p. 327). And again, "From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled"’ (TPJS, pp. 9-10)

In addition, Mormon apostle Orson Pratt wrote the following:

“The Bible has been robbed of its plainness; many sacred books having been lost…and what few we have left, were copied and re-copied so many times, that it is admitted that almost every verse has been corrupted and mutilated to that degree that scarcely any two of them read alike”. (The Seer, p.213, 1854)

The very process of translation is seen as having a corrupting effect, the more modern the Bible, the more times it has been translated, the more corrupt the text. Thus the Bible is explained away. Not wanting the world to know this, they are happy to declare that the Bible contains “the fulness of the everlasting gospel.”

Having gained a hearing by posing as Bible believing Christians who simply have more to offer, they can then proceed to teach their message of a corrupt Christianity and an unreliable Bible. The trouble is that this leaves them with a claim to be a restoration of something that has always been here, and with a book that claims to be another testimony of something we knew all along.

 

Coming: The Book of Mormon, Another Testament?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Monday Mormon – Secret Underwear

When you got dressed this Monday Mormon I hope you put on clean underwear because, as my mum used to say, “You never know when you might be in an accident and how embarrassing when they get you to the hospital and find you’re not wearing clean underwear!” This latest in our 21 Questions we talk about Mormon temple garments. As before, we will look at the questions (Q) and answers (A) with comments (C) and quotes (Qu.)

Q: Is there such a thing as Mormon "underwear"? if so, are all Mormons required to wear it? What does it symbolize?

A: Like members of many religious faiths, Latter-day Saints wear religious clothing. But members of other faiths — typically those involved in permanent pastoral ministries or religious services — usually wear religious garments as outer ceremonial vestments or symbols of recognition. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, garments are worn beneath street clothing as a personal and private reminder of commitments to God.

Garments are considered sacred by Church members and are not regarded as a topic for casual conversation.

C: The Mormon temple garment is issued to each Mormon when they go through their first temple endowment ceremony. It carries significant Masonic marks that mirror marks on the temple veil referred to earlier. Mormons wear these garments at all times, and they act as a continuous reminder of covenants made in the temple. To not wear your temple garment is as serious an offence as can be imagined.

Qu. “Wearing the temple garment has deep symbolic significance. It represents a continuing commitment. Just as the Savior exemplified the need to endure to the end, we wear the garment faithfully as part of the enduring armor of God. Thus we demonstrate our faith in Him and in His eternal covenants with us.” (Russell M Nelson, Mormon apostle, Liahona, July, 2001)

C: Note the reference to armour. Like other churches and religions, Mormonism has its apocryphal tales, including anecdotes of ten foot angels, timely encounters and divine appointments and peoples lives being saved from peril by temple garments; truly like armour, although if a Mormon didn’t experience protection guess whose fault it is?

Nothing in the Bible even hints at the wearing of such garments in relation to the every-day devotional life of Israel or of the Christian Church. Members of different faiths, both in the Bible and in history, have worn special vestments, garments or jewellery etc. designed to distinguish them in society, much as a priest’s surplice distinguishes a priest, or as a wedding ring distinguishes a married person. Temple garments cannot fall into this category since there is nothing distinguishing about them because they are invisible to society.

For some the temple garment is an occasion for mirth and mockery but it is quite wrong to take such an attitude to something that is important to someone’s faith. Trivialising it also detracts from the important fact that, actually, it is a first class method of control since its presence acts as a constant reminder and sort of “silent policeman”.

In a person’s most private and intimate moments its presence is a check on the wearer and can be like a bridle, reflecting perhaps the power and control leaders wish to have as well as their lack of trust in their followers. It must be said that it is also a profoundly effective passion killer except perhaps for those few who might get a kick out of strange underwear and I suppose there are those.

Furthermore, it imposes someone else’s definition of modesty in that you have to wear clothes that cover the substantial (neck to knee) garment. Of course modesty is a characteristic of Christian life but one elects to be modest under the influence of the Spirit and Christian teaching.

This practice of imposing a standard by effectual dictate has been problematic for the church down the years as “eternal standards” change with society’s trends and fashions. The design of the garment which, like so much Mormon doctrine and praxis was considered unchangeable, has changed, from a neck to ankle one-piece item to a neck to knee two pieces, to reflect changes in fashions.

It also encourages an elitist attitude in followers who regard themselves as “superior” because of their involvement in secret ceremonies and their wearing of special clothing compared to others who are not initiated as are Mormons. In all these ways it forms a real barrier on so many levels.