Thursday, 29 December 2011

Mormon Librorum Prohibitorum: What “They” Don’t Want You to Know

What do the following have in common and which is the odd one out?

Nicolas Copernicus, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, André Gide, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal, Hugo Grotius, Saint Faustina Kowalska and Adolf Hitler.

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

In response to the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press and the mass production of books governments and church made every effort to control and regulate printing.  Presses were licenced, the right to print restricted to approved publishers.

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, or List of Prohibited Books, was a list of publications prohibited by the Catholic Church, first published by Pope Paul IV in 1559. The aim of the list was to protect the faith but its effect was to prohibit the dissemination of knowledge, limiting freedom of inquiry. The index was last updated for the 1948, 40th edition and was abolished on 14 June 1966. You can read about it here.

The people listed were all at one time on the list of prohibited books. The odd one out? Adolf Hitler. Ironic that the work of the man who effected a revolution in the way we saw the universe was prohibited while the man who almost destroyed our world in the name of his struggle (Mein Kampf) was free to publish his poison.

The next time such lengths were gone to to combat the development of technology has been, well, today. With the advent of the Internet, the explosion of information, the dissemination of ideas, another Gutenberg moment is on us.

China is enjoying some success in restricting the kind of information available within its borders. Visitors to North Korea have to surrender all technology at the border as they enter a communication black spot with no contact with the outside world. For certain governments, organisations and individuals all over the world it is increasingly a game of damage control as they try and put their own spin on their history, purpose and activities.

Where the flow of ideas is free both sides of the story can be heard. If your story is misrepresented you can correct it, if it is challenged you can meet the challenge on equal terms, if there is controversy it can be dealt with openly and informed people have the opportunity to make up their own minds.

Of course, that is the one thing the censors don’t want. Freedom of information, the sharing of ideas all wrestle control from them and controlling information is the goal today. I am no anarchist, but on so many levels we must be free to know, to understand the world in which we live so that we can engage with it intelligently and make informed decisions.

Mormon Librorum Prohibitorum

What has this to do with Mormonism? Mormons put out this burnished image of a saintly Joseph Smith, a courageous history and a godly people offering the world a restored gospel in place of an apostate Christianity. Its all pretty damning stuff if you’re one of those Christians they describe as  apostate, corrupt and abominable (Joseph Smith, History, 1:19)

Others with a different view and experience of Mormonism seek to redress this sanitised account with inconvenient facts, awkward questions and clear Bible teaching that challenges Mormon claims. Mormons, in their turn, seek to refute the critics’ claims. All this is as it should be in this new world of ideas without frontiers; but for some it isn’t enough.

For some nothing but absolute control of the conversation will do. For some the way to deal with all criticism and dissent is to shut it down. In the absence of the absolute power of state, they approach Internet services with stories of imagined “offences” with the aim of having those critics banned; as though there is such a thing as a right to not be offended. They spread rumours and lies about critics with the aim of discrediting them; as though they alone have the monopoly in virtue. Then they carefully burnish again the image so recently tarnished by nothing more sinister than a different viewpoint; a viewpoint banned on the Mormon Librorum Prohibitorum

Such efforts are minor irritants in the main, and successes are usually short-lived. But it gives an insight into the psyche of those who go to such lengths to ensure only they are heard. There is something of the folie de grandeur about people who believe theirs is the only voice deserving of an audience. But the truth, as the old adage goes, can surely bear a little scrutiny in the rough and tumble world of ideas. For some, not so it seems.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Mormon General Conference: Blessing or Boredom?

I just got the latest Ensign through my door (September 2011 edition). I always promise myself I will write about something in the magazine but never seem to get around to it. Anyway, others seem to do a good enough job of it so no pressure. But this caught my eye today and I just had to do something with it. We are asking the question, Is General Conference No Ordinary Blessing, as suggested by Dieter Uchtdorf of the first presidency?

He tells of a Mormon who spoke to his non- Mormon neighbour about his faith and the subject of general conference came up.

“You say you have prophets and apostles? And twice a year in a worldwide conference they reveal the word of God"?” asked the neighbour.

“Absolutely!” the Mormon replied enthusiastically.

“What did they say in the last general conference?” the neighbour asked.


“You mean to tell me,” the neighbour said,” that God speaks to man in our day and you can’t remember what he said?”

How embarrassing!

Now, of course, we all know whose fault this is. Yes, that’s right – its your fault for not paying attention! Three specific examples of LDS tardiness are given and here are three suggestions of my own for how to get over these problems and a get out strategy for those times when you are caught out like our friend in this anecdote (MY but they like their anecdotes since Monson took up the reins. I think they should change the name to The Church of Jesus Christ of Anecdote Saints”:


  1. Mormons are entitled to ‘personal revelation’ and are just not listening: Well, maybe these people are not ‘worthy’ enough to listen so I suggest Mormon sisters adopt the burka. This will stop sisters coming to conference thinking “I look more worthy than you. Your skirt is too short and you just can’t be wearing garments under that top.” And it will stop the Mormon men thinking…well, you know what their thinking.
  2. Mormons assume if they’ve heard it all before they can discount it: I suggest we all meet up sometime the following week and have a pub quiz about conference talks – loser buys the drinks. It might be turned into a board game in which losers are given a card saying, “Go directly to the bishop’s office for a temple recommend interview, do not pass the sacrament, do not collect tithing.”
  3. Mormons are simply not listening to to and following the Holy Spirit and not using their personal Liahona: I suggest the Liahona be developed as an application for the IPhone and then no one will forget it, or forget to use it. And if things get desperate members can look like their using the Liahona while actually texting friends, playing games or checking the time in Kuala Lumpur.


Well, in any event, it might surprise you to know that I can remember what was said in the last general conference – nothing much. But if you build in your mind a rough template of stock phrases, dictums, anecdotes and aphorisms you can usually blag your way, Tom Ripley style, when all else follows:

“My beloved brothers and sisters, welcome to this the umpteenth world conference of the church, this is a wonderful building; our youth are the best in the world; the church continues to grow; there’s going be a new temple in Brighamborough; love your wives brethren; sisters you are so precious to us; young men prepare for a mission; young women prepare for celestial marriage; the Book of Mormon is the word of God; the church is true, Joseph was a prophet and we are led by a prophet in these latter days, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

Memorise this and not only will you save face in most social settings but you will give a reasonably accurate account of the last general conference - the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, and…

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Mormon and the Christian Apologist

The Christian Apologist

Ask a Bible student to define apologetics and they will likely describe it as a reasoned defence of the faith and that would be a good answer. The New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics describes it as, “The art of persuasion, the discipline which considers ways to commend and defend the living God to those without faith.” It further ascribes to apologetics the task of meeting legitimate “questions and objections raised by Christian beliefs with credible and cogent answers.”

The text we usually associate with this idea is:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)

But there is more - the book goes on to describe a secondary application in that apologetics is also useful for correction and edification within the Body of Christ. Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the young church leader Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16)

And again:

I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

This latter application will be readily seen in what Paul describes as the man of God trained in righteousness and thoroughly equipped. This is someone who, from their first faltering steps in the new birth, learns and grows, develops as he submits to correction and sound teaching. In this process new things will be learned and old ideas fall away.

When we become Christians we don't “download” a whole knowledge set like computer software. Correction and sound teaching help us reconsider long-held, perhaps even cherished ideas and help us find a better, sometimes different understanding of things.

As we learn and grow we find ourselves perhaps clinging more tightly to old familiar truths because we have seen them in a new light. By the same token other things we thought we knew may fall by the way as we grow in the faith and see more clearly. Some ideas need honing and refining while others need to be replaced.

We see this in the experience of New Testament leader Peter whose reluctance to evangelise the Gentiles made way for a broader vision of God's great work of salvation (Acts 16&17). We see it in the life of Martin Luther, the 16th Century German priest and theologian who, in setting out to tackle the thorny issue of indulgences, found himself at the centre of a Reformation rediscovering grace.

It happens in much more modest lives when Christians hear a sermon, a powerful illustration, read a book, turn a page, new vistas open and the world changes. John Piper says that books don't change people, paragraphs do, sometimes even sentences.

In this process of growing, maturing, sanctifying we don't always see eye-to-eye but if we are wise we remember the dictum “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity.” Paul, who was no slouch in commending and defending the faith nevertheless wrote to Christians in Rome, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters...Who are we to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:1,13)

This is well illustrated in the life of John Stott, who passed away recently. In an obituary in our local church magazine he is described as having a “humility and respect for others differing with his views especially on secondary points of doctrine...In Essentials, a liberal-evangelical dialogue with fellow Anglican David L. Edwards, he is able to differ with him firmly on what is fundamental, without losing sight of the need to consider other viewpoints when it comes to less important aspects of doctrine.”

There are times when we blow things out of proportion and turn secondary issues – Paul's disputable matters – into mountains, obstacles in the way of others. At such times we need to be reminded of the liberty in which we all now stand. As Paul wrote, “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of [these things]” (Romans 14:20)

There are those occasions when we legitimately disagree on essentials and it is incumbent on us to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3); fundamental truths cannot and must never be compromised for the sake of unity.

Yet at such times it is good to be reminded, in the midst of our contending, of the grace in which we all stand. Paul urges us to “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7) This is grace.

The Christian walk is one in which we are intended to do more than simply put one foot in front of another. We are meant to learn, grow and mature in heavenly wisdom and we are to make space for one another's growing too. In his letter to Christians in Philippi Paul writes of not having yet fully taken hold of every Christian's goal, the full knowledge of Christ, but “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

He goes on, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:12-16)

In all things we aim for this; we don't always achieve it, but it is a much more common characteristic of the Christian life than some think. In such ways we grow, in understanding, wisdom and grace.

The Mormon

So what has all this to do with the Mormon? It is relevant because Mormons claim to be Christians.

From books like Stephen Robinson's, “Are Mormons Christians?” which address directly the familiar charge brought by cult ministries, through Richard E Grant's, Understanding These Other Christians, which title provocatively assumes Mormons are Christians, to the recent use of the terms LDS Christian and The Church of Jesus Christ by which, increasingly, Mormons describe themselves, Mormons are insisting that they are part of the wider Christian community.

Yet none of what we have said so far applies in the Mormon approach to the issues that typically stand between them and other churches. Indeed apologetics, correctly understood, as a tool of commending and defending the faith and correcting and building up the faithful is a novelty to Mormons in their engagement with “these other Christians”. And what passes for Mormon apologetics today is more a blunt tool of refutation and assertion than a crafted discipline of gracious commendation and defence, instruction and correction.

Given the fundamental claim of Mormonism, that all other churches are apostate - “corrupt and abominable” (Joseph Smith-History: 1:19) - for most Mormons in the past 180 years there is nothing to discuss, you either agree with them or you are wrong.

Led, they believe, by apostles and prophets, and trusting unquestioningly in these oracles, Mormons are, in discussion with Christians, disinclined to reconsider their position on anything. Mormonism is cultishly homogeneous, therefore The Mormon Church is never wrong, so there are no secondary issues, or debatable questions, on which to differ.

Everything then becomes a test of orthodoxy, everything is an essential. Given this situation, there is nothing in which we may exercise liberty beyond the most trivial of matters. There is nowhere where we may expect to see grace as individuals disagree, much less serious reflection as a Mormon ponders the possibility they might be mistaken about an issue

Put bluntly, if you question Mormonism the Mormon never expects that you should have anything to teach him or her. Given this and your stubborn and “unreasonable” questioning of Mormon doctrine the Mormon quickly arrives at the conclusion that the only explanation for your contrary view is mischief; either on your part or on the part of people who have influenced you.

You will never hear a staunch Mormon say, “You have given me something to think about there.”

A true believing Mormon will never be heard to say, “I may have to reconsider my position on that.”

In discussion you will never get the response, “You are right and I am wrong.”

Critics of every stamp are called “anti-Mormon”, the meanest motives are attributed to them, they are described as the lowest of characters, called everything bar respectable, their motivation often linked to money-making and their every protestation of genuine Christian concern for the lost is regarded as the lowest trick of all. Hardly surprising since the Mormons' founding prophet early on characterised Christians and Christian churches as untouchable, untrustworthy, corrupt:

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong...their creeds were an abomination...their professors all corrupt” (Joseph Smith-History:1:19)

The Mormon Church as an institution can and does get along with other faiths, Mormons can and do work with people of other faiths in civic and social programmes in their communities. But when it comes to doctrinal issues there is a marked difference between how Christians try to deal with differences between themselves, as prescribed in the Bible, and the way Mormons deal with such differences.

Perhaps they are not equipped to exercise such grace as is required, to recognise such liberty as is described in Scripture. I suggest this is possibly the most telling thing of all. It betrays a non-Christian attitude to criticism that brings into question Mormon claims to be Christians.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Understanding Mormonism

Three Mormon commentators have helpfully set out to explain their faith and clear up misunderstandings and misconceptions such as Mormon demographics. So if you want to understand Mormonism as they would have you understand it go here

In an effort to support this initiative I thought it would be helpful to point you to some other sites. So if you want to understand Mormonism without the spin go here

or here

or here

or here

or here

or here

or here

If you want to understand why Mormons are so misunderstood go here

If you want the truth about Mormon demographics go here

Friday, 29 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to deal With the Church–6 Anatomy of a Cult

Jesus' attitude to the lost is summed up perfectly in John 3:17, a verse perhaps not as familiar as the one preceding it: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.” (NASB)

In any and every aspect of the Christian life it has become commonplace to ask, “What would Jesus do?” But how does this text work out and what would Jesus do in relation to the cults? Did Jesus meet and interact with any cults?

People usually think of the Pharisees here but, while they certainly did display classic cultic characteristics – such as a strong legalism, judgementalism, controlling leadership, adding to the Law – it is well to remember that the Pharisees were part of the orthodox religion of the day.

We see the same in today's church, where a particular group may be a little legalistic, judgemental and disapproving, may make past tradition into a creed for today and so forth. But this does not disqualify such a group from the wider body of Christ.

Anatomy of a Cult

Jesus met a cult when he met the Samaritans. As we look at the history of the Samaritans we build up a profile of the typical cult, identify the characteristics to look for, and the pitfalls as well as the opportunities in witnessing.

2 Kings 17:21-23 - Here we find the roots of the Samaritan culture and people. These verses are an overview of what happened to Israel after the reign of Solomon. From the death of Solomon Israel was ruled by kings who compromised.

The situation is described more fully in 1 Kings 12. Here the kingdom is divided under the rule of Solomon's son, Rehoboam. The northern kingdom is ruled by Jeroboam who, fearing that Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the temple and Jewish festivals might turn back to Rehoboam, built altars and established worship in his own kingdom:

“So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."

And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.

Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.

He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.

And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.

He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of- Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings. (1 Kings 12:28-33)

Power and Control

Cults, and cultic churches, are not about truth but about power. Like Jeroboam, their concern is controlling and holding onto their constituency. There is usually a power centre, just like Shechem or Bethel in the story of Jeroboam, and a figure who sets up alternative worship, feasts and special days “devised from [their] own hearts.”

They create their own centres of worship

The identify another focus of worship

They establish their own methods of worship.

Some things develop, evolve with time in a church. Mode of dress, language and idiom, types of activities, organisation but there is always a sense of continuity with the past, of tradition. But the cult makes a clean break with the past. What has gone before is invariably swept aside to make way for the new. It is revealing to compare this attitude with that of Jesus who said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Mt.5:17) Going on to give the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reinforces what has gone before.

Ad Hoc Development

2 Kings 17:7-20 - Eventually Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria, a permanent exile.

2 Kings 17:24-41 - We go on to read that Samaria was resettled with foreigners (2 \kings 17:24), a strategy of the Assyrian king who would exile conquered people's in foreign lands. These were punished by God for not fearing him (2 Kings 17:25-26) but the king of Assyria had a solution (2 Kings 17:27-28) and brought back one of the priests exiled from Israel. This, however, was no solution because “Every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. (2 Kings 17:29) and they ended up with a corrupt mixture of Israelite and foreign gods and abominable practices that were a sin before God.

When exiles returned to rebuild Jerusalem, as recorded in Ezra (4:1-3), these were the people who came down to Jerusalem and offered to help. But they were rejected and so set out to discourage those who had returned (Ezra 4:4).

As with the Samaritans the ideas and practices of a cult are often developed in an ad hoc fashion. Improvised solutions to local problems build up to a confusing collection of contradictory teachings and ideas. Future generations face the challenge of making sense of doctrines and practices that cannot be reconciled because they were never developed with any plan in mind. Like the Samaritans members can end up with their own version of the cult built around some basic central ideas.

The Ezra Strategy

As with the Samaritans at the time of Ezra, cults sometimes attempt to be accepted as part of the orthodox religion. When we reject these overtures we are simply doing what Ezra and the people did in keeping our orthodoxy free of confusing and deceptive ideas that would ultimately hinder the work of God.

By the time of Jesus the Samaritans were a mix of races with a questionable history and questionable and unorthodox practices. They rejected much of the revelation of God, their scriptures were restricted to the five books of Moses and they disputed the true place of worship with the Jews in Jerusalem. They had even built a rival temple on mount Gezirim, about 400BC, which the Jews destroyed in 128BC.

The Samaritans were leftovers from the Northern Jewish kingdom who had intermarried with foreigners after the chiefs and nobles were taken into exile in 722BC” (John Piper)

  • Temple on Mount Gezirim

  • Rejected OT except selections from Moses

  • Mixture of truth and error

This was a cult and we can learn a great deal from Jesus and his encounter with the woman of Samaria.

The Samaritan Woman John 4

John 4:9-15 Jesus offers “the gift of water” but she can’t see past her immediate circumstances. Her view of the world is circumscribed and limited but Jesus perseveres. In the same way the cult member can't initially see past their own world-view. Don’t give up on people too soon.

John 4:16-18 Why does Jesus reveal her sin? (John 3:20) We can’t, as Jesus, read people’s hearts but we can and must bring people by way of the Cross and the gospel message is always the same – man has sinned and God calls us to repentance. Romans 7 is helpful here as Paul describes the human plight in Rom.7: 7-25 (esp. Rom.7:19-20)

John 4:19-20 The universal response to conviction is avoidance, changing the subject, talking a little religion. Jesus patiently uses the opportunity to talk about truth. Where we worship is not as important as how and who we worship. We mustn't be side-tracked by discussion of relatively minor issues.

John 4:21-24 Jesus points out that Samaritan knowledge of God is deficient and their worship, therefore, deficient, so he deals now with the error (v22) We mustn't be afraid to correct error.

He brings out three things in this conversation:

  • Sin blinds us and we must allow Him to deal with our sin and recognise this problem for others

  • Religion, per se, is no good if we have the wrong God and come to Him the wrong way and we must be prepared to demonstrate the right way

  • As witnesses we must understand why people’s understanding is so deficient and show patience and persevere in our witnessing, using God’s priorities

Where else do we find Samaritans?

We find them in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and of the faith and gratitude of a leper (Luke 17:11-19). You can see why the Pharisees hated Jesus when he compared them unfavourably with Samaritans! Paul writes about those who obey the law for conscience sake (Romans 2:14-15) and people from all sorts of backgrounds can and do work good works.

This doesn't mean they don't need saving or correcting; the “Good” Samaritan needed Jesus too. It does mean that we should value them for who they are as we seek to bring them into the good of what God has for all who turn to him in faith and stop trusting in their own good works.

How would you feel if it was the parable of the Good Mormon? Or the thankful JW? Are you grateful for such people in the world even as you seek to evangelise them? Conversely, do you allow their good conduct to blind you to the problems in their faith and does this stop you witnessing? Can you love and value them and share boldly the gospel truth?

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

The Dos and Dont's

The Myth of the Killer Text

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Are we Putting Mormonism in a Box?

Should we reconsider our use of the word “cult” in describing the Mormon faith? Michael Otterson, head of public relations at the Mormon Church thinks we should, complaining that “it’s a neat, shorthand and rather lazy way of putting a whole group into a box.”

Two Mormon candidates for high office are running in the 2012 US elections and, writing in the Washington Post, Otterson warns, “I have a message to political journalists who over the course of the current campaign may be tempted to throw out this nasty word with abandon. Expect to be challenged.”

He does raise some good points, such as the fact that Googling “Mormons” and “cult” is no more helpful than Googling “Evangelicals” and “cult”, “Methodists” and “cult” or “Manchester United” and “cult”. And it is certainly true that the word is a neat shorthand and lazy way of dealing with a group for some in some contexts. But is it right to characterise the word as lazy, indiscriminate and all-too-convenient in its every usage?

Defining “Cult”

How do we define “cult?” Otterson goes to that fount of all wisdom and truth, Wikipedia, and finds the very convenient definition “cult” as a pejorative term insisting that respectable folk (academia) don't use it, preferring the more neutral “new religious movement.” The implication, of course, is that only the uneducated and/or ill-informed and prejudiced use the word and only because they are too lazy to engage with the real issues. But what are the real issues?

In ministry “cult” is used, not in a lazy way, but in a specific way, not indiscriminately but thoughtfully. The dictionary definition of “cult” is:

1a a system of religious beliefs and ritual, or the body of adherents of one: the cult of the Virgin Mary b a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious, or the body of adherents of one 2 (often before a noun) great devotion, often regarded as a fad, to a person, idea, or thing, or a group showing such devotion. (Penguin English Dictionary)

Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones defines it thus:

A heretic is a man who is a professed Christian but who goes wrong with regard to some particular doctrine.

A cult is not Christian at all, but a counterfeit of Christianity.

Apostasy is when the general body of Christian doctrine was held but there were certain things which rendered it null and void.

In the cults this general body of doctrine is not held at all.

“Cult” as it is used in ministry appeals to these definitions, a faith or movement wherein the general body of Christian doctrine is not held, a counterfeit of the truth as described in Gal.1:6-9.

There is a long-established body of teaching and any body of believers purporting to be worthy of the title “Christian” will have its teachings closely examined and compared with this received biblical doctrine, preserved and transmitted down the ages. So there is an established truth and a test (2 Cor.13:5; 1 Jn.4:1) or plumb line by which any truth claim is tested. Those that fail the test are to be named and the name we use, according to carefully considered definitions, is “cult.”

People in Glasshouses

Some examples of this approach are to be found in Mormon history.

Joseph Smith, founder and first president of the Mormon Church, insisted that the churches of Christendom had become completely apostate and that Mormonism was the restoration of those truths lost in apostasy. Apostasy is the most serious charge one can level against any church but Smith did not pull his punches in describing apostate Christendom. He described the church and its creeds as an abomination in God's sight and Christian believers as corrupt and hypocritical (Joseph Smith-History 1:19)

John Taylor, third president of the Mormon Church declared, “We talk about Christianity, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense...Myself and hundreds of the Elders around me have seen its pomp, parade and glory; and what is it? It is a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol; it is as corrupt as hell; and the Devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work than the Christianity of the nineteenth century.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.6, p. 167)

More recently Mormon apostle Bruce R McConkie described the Catholic Church as “the mother of harlots” (cf Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:6-8) and the Protestant churches as “the harlot daughters which broke off from the great and abominable church”, apostate churches. (Mormon Doctrine, 1958 ed. Pp314-315)

It all seems rather harsh but at least it is honest! Christians, believing themselves guardians of “the faith once for all delivered to the Saints” (Jude 1:3), testing all things (1 Thess.5:21) contend for that faith (Jude 1:3) calling false worship a cult. So Mormons once took up a position that clearly distinguished them from other churches, calling those churches, without exception, apostate, abominable, corrupt, and insisting they were harbingers of a message of apostasy and restoration. This is most clearly demonstrated in the Book of Mormon which declares,

Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14:10)

“Creedal Christianity” as a pejorative term

Anxious not to be seen as a complainer Otterson writes,

Lest anyone think I am unduly thin-skinned, it’s the insult implicit in the word “cult” that I am objecting to, not the reasonable point that some Christians are indeed uncomfortable with aspects of Latter-day Saint theology. Of course they are. I am equally uncomfortable with some aspects of traditional, orthodox Christianity, which was the very issue that gave rise to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the first place. Such differences, however, should be examined thoughtfully, reasonably and respectfully in any national conversation about a particular faith. And they should be examined alongside the enormous doctrinal and practical similarities between these different branches of Christendom.”

But he has sneaked into the post, perhaps unconsciously, significant dismissive comments about Christian churches today. In describing this conversation he is anxious we should have he suggests we address, “Why Latter-day Saints consider themselves New Testament Christians, rather than creedal Christians whose doctrines were formalized in the centuries following the foundation of Christianity.”

Mormon watchers will be familiar with the term “creedal Christianity.” It has entered Mormon-speak recently like a trend, a fad, an idea of the moment, a cultic piece of terminology designed to be pejorative of Christian churches in that it implicitly claims that “creedal churches” are, by nature, not authentic in the same way as the “restoration church.”.

Underlying this is the fundamental claim of Mormonism, that Christian churches derive their doctrine from later, non-authoritative church councils and the creeds they produced, while the Mormon Church derives from the Bible and is a restoration of the original New Testament model of church. This neat little trick simply postulates what is still in dispute and is yet to be proven. Mormons do it a lot.

There are reasons why Mormonism is a cult and there are reasons why Mormons regard other churches apostate and life was much easier on both sides of this divide when Mormons were happy to declare themselves neither catholic, nor protestant but uniquely a restoration church. Times have changed as Mormons run for office and seek respectability and acceptance in the wider society of churches that they once rejected as “a perfect pack of nonsense.”

Unwilling as Michael Otterson is to hear it, Christians will continue to highlight the stark differences between Mormon teachings and historical biblical doctrine and American voters will continue to have the opportunity to vote on all the issues and not just the ones these candidates and their supporters are comfortable talking about.

Recommended reading:

When Salt Lake City Calls is an excellent commentary on this issue

Mormonism 101 by McKeever and Johnson is a good introduction to Mormonism

The Mormon Mirage by Latayne C Scott is a very good study

Inside Mormonism by Isaiah Bennett is a good study from the Catholic perspective

Monday, 18 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal with the Church–5 The Myth of the Killer Text

Last time we looked at some of the dos and don’ts of witnessing to the cults and now we come to the myth of the killer text. “What do you say to a Mormon/JW?” I often get asked this question and my reply is always, “There is no killer text you know.” “I know that”, is the reply, “but what do you say?”

It’s a question that troubles me because it betrays a lack of understanding and poor preparation. It isn’t as simple as dropping some text into a conversation, standing back and waiting for a reaction. It involves relationship, understanding, preparation and patience and there are no short cuts.
Why Texts Don’t ‘Work’
The question about that killer text also reveals a certain attitude to preparation and learning. Some see learning as something that is done by rote, an accumulation of handy texts that can be brought out and used on appropriate occasions. These cold, hard texts are to be marshalled when ‘opportunity’ presents itself and are expected to do all the work that preparation, patience and understanding are meant to do.

When the texts ‘don’t work’, or worse, are forgotten in a moment of crisis, the Christian is driven back to his books to relearn what he thought he knew better or to glean more texts that might prove more effective; or he just gives up, declaring that it is “a waste of time talking to these people.”
The Map is Not the Territory
Of course, we all start by collecting texts and the ideas behind them but true learning is not so much a map to help us find our way, as a personal familiarity with the territory that helps us confidently negotiate the terrain and helps us find our own way on the subject. We are then not just thinking other’s thoughts after them but finding our own thoughts and giving them form with our own voice to express them.

Using the ‘three handy texts’ method when we go to the door, or out into the world, and encounter witnessing opportunities we leave the book on the shelf and rely on the little we remember; but how much do we remember? When we have drawn our own map of faith and understanding, based on our reading but comprised of our own discoveries, thoughts and development, we have that with us wherever we go.

It is simply the way we look at and find our way around the world. It remains familiar because it is the way we think about things and not what we remember imperfectly of how others see them. The map helpfully provided by others is not the territory and we need to know the territory. This is what prepares us to think clearly and critically about faith claims.
My Territory, My Thoughts
When a man has his own thoughts he is always prepared. Even when he meets something new he is less likely to be caught unprepared because, although he hasn’t thoughts specific to what he encounters, he does have a familiarity with the territory and a familiar process of thought which can be applied.

Being familiar with the territory I need not be apprehensive about what I might meet, or fearful of what I might forget, since what knowledge I have is mine, After all, issues of faith, especially the Christian faith, are my territory and I do think about my Christian faith and I know my way around.
The clearest insight, the greatest revelation of God is Jesus Christ and God’s plan is plainly set before us in the Bible. It is focussed on the Cross of Calvary, and is lived out in the community of faith that is the Christian Church; the quest for “spirituality” finds its goal in the Christian message and we already know that.

It is not a question, then, of judging the comparative qualities and benefits, failings and challenges of respective groups but of putting each group we come across up to the light of the gospel and judging them by God’s revealed truth. It is not so much a case of being expert in the error but of being proficient in the truth against which any error must be judged.
So What do you say?
First I chat and get to know them. If and when an opportunity comes up to talk about my faith, either in something they bring up if they try to witness to me, or in some opportunity I see I tend to see it in stages and consider myself as having succeeded if any stage is successfully negotiated:
  1. I get into a conversation about them. What do you say to a Mormon? You say, “Hello. How are you?” I don’t understand why some people think that being a Christian witness gives them the right to ignore the normal rules of human intercourse. You wouldn’t speak to your neighbours the way I hear some people talk to a Mormon they have never met before.
  2. I tell them I am a Christian. Not in an accusative fashion as though challenging them to make something of it but simply declaring that I see the world through Christian eyes.
  3. I get them to talk about what they believe, rather than telling them what they believe. Even when you are right in your understanding it is well to get them to articulate their beliefs because it can be advantageous because: a) They can’t deny it if they have said it; b) they have heard themselves say it and that is important; c) they may say it in a way that gives you fresh insight and opportunity.
  4. I get to share in more detail what I believe; confidently negotiating the terrain because I have walked here before many times and I have my own map. I am leading them through my faith world not just telling them things.
I work from number 1 to number 4 and with each step I consider myself as having succeeded more and more. Most people work from number 4 to number 1 and with each step consider themselves as having failed more and more.

I always try and take the shortest route to the Cross, which is not always short – trying to avoid minor issue - listening and then trying to bring the conversation back to what I consider needs to be addressed.
helpful texts not killer texts
I have simple texts memorised but I never expect them to be "killer texts" because such texts do not exist. I do expect them to throw out a challenge, to use them confidently and expect them to stick. An obvious one for a JW would be John 20:28 ("My Lord and my God"). One I use for Mormons is John 5:24 because it challenges their view of salvation as being achieved by a mixture of faith and works.
1 John 5:13 works alongside this very well. I also have some texts about the nature of God because their view of God is so unbiblical. I don’t throw these texts out as though they are truth bombs that will explode to devastating effect. Rather, they form an integral part of the discussion that move the conversation along in a direction I already know and anticipate.

Of course, these encounters can be brief so I use my knowledge appropriately, sometimes having the luxury of time to develop a theme, sometimes only being able to share a few appropriate words. But if I move from 1 to 4 then I will never have failed if only because I have shared with them my Christian conviction and shown them Christian charity in taking the time to speak to them.

It is important not to always expect to talk about your own favourite subjects. Instead I find out what is important to them and try and speak to that because that is where there will be the greatest challenge and the best opportunity.

Finally, this reflects my aspirations and does not describe how I always conduct myself. We are all human and it makes no sense to despair because we have not yet attained all that God has for us.

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

The Dos and Dont's

Next: Anatomy of a Cult

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church–4 What Can Christians do? (the dos and don’ts)

So far we have seen how Christians often fail to see past their preconceptions and judgements when dealing with cults, how the church is often ill-prepared to meet the challenge of the cults, and that anti-cult ministry is sometimes regarded as an inconvenient reminder to the church that it has a responsibility to contend for the faith.

Yet a basic approach to witnessing is not difficult. A little preparation, some understanding and a sure faith in Christ can make anyone an effective witness to the cults.


This starts before you open the door.

  • Know your own faith. Confidence in your Christian faith is the best preparation for witnessing.
  • Know something about the belief system of the group. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need to know who your dealing with and that’s not hard.
  • Know your position in Christ. Every believer is secure in Christ and need not be fearful of meeting the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness on your doorstep.
  • Make sure can share own faith. Have something to say and know how you will say it.
  • Make a list of the groups you are likely to meet. Spend an evening researching them. Its not hard to pay attention to the people you are most likely to meet and learn a thing or two.
  • Be aware of reality of Ephesians 6 – ‘the armour of God.’


You’re not trying to make something happen, that is the work of the Spirit. You’re simply sharing, plainly and honestly, the gospel truth.

Live your faith - what you are speaks louder than what you say.

Establish the Bible as your source of authority.

Define your terms.

Stick to key teachings & don’t be side tracked (1 Cor.2:2).

Show love for them and maintain  respect for the message (1 Peter 3:15)

What not to do

  1. Do not panic or react. Some Christians think that if they fail in any way they have really blown it and so don’t even try. Others cannot stand to hear some of what cultists routinely say and wish to jump in and correct them as a matter of urgency. Either way you close the door on an excellent opportunity. If you have nothing else to share you have your testimony.
  2. Do not exchange insults. If you get to know these people, you often find that they do not fit the stereotype picture many have of cultists. Insulting them is the same as shouting at foreigners in the foolish belief that they will understand better.
  3. Do not feel obliged to talk if it is truly inconvenient. Tell them your busy and arrange for them to call back, perhaps at a time when you can have someone with you.
  4. Do not be afraid to say that you don’t know. There are things they do not know and they often get asked questions on which they have to do some research. Say you don’t know and offer to find out.
  5. Do not do anything you are too uncomfortable doing. We all can feel a little on the spot when people call and that should not put us off talking to people. However, you are not obliged to meet them on your own, have them in your house if you don’t want to, go to their meetings or take lots of literature.
  6. Do not try to win the argument, try to win the person.

What to do

  1. Do listen. You win the right to be heard by first listening.
  2. Do seek to understand. They get so many people who slam doors in their faces, misrepresent them, caricature them and abuse them that if you listen and seek to do some genuine bridge building you will touch their hearts.
  3. Know your facts – do not waffle, exaggerate or make things up!
  4. Do ask Questions. Turn your remarks and counter-arguments into questions if you can do so the onus is on them to think and respond rather than listen and react.
  5. Have literature ready. They will expect you to take theirs; it is reasonable to expect them to take yours in exchange. May not happen with the Jehovah's Witness.
  6. Know what to do next if they respond. They have a game plan and know how to proceed if you show interest and will invite you to church or set up a study programme, or both. Be prepared.
  7. Have a back up in someone who knows more than you or literature with which you are familiar that can fill the same role.
  8. Go to church and be involved - otherwise you will be the blind leading the blind. Your credibility is shot if you show them what is wrong with their church and then tell them that you do not attend church because your church is hopeless.
  9. Read your Bible. You do not have to be an expert but you should know the basics and more familiar passages.
  10. Know what you believe and why. The gospel is mystical but it is also logical and can be explained in terms of logical and philosophical sense.
  11. Have a prepared script. “When someone comes to the door I will say this and do these things.” That way you will not have to come up with answers on the spot as so many seem to feel they should. God can be in your plans as well as in their execution. Know what you want to do in the time you have – do not spend 2 hours on ‘irrelevancies’ and then have no time for the ‘essentials.’
  12. Tell them you are a Christian. Some like to feign credulity because they think it helps. No good comes from being “found out,” and they will work it out for themselves a lot faster than you think.

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church

The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

Next:: The Myth of the Killer Text

Coming Up: Anatomy of a Cult

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church – 3 The Problem With Anti-cult Ministry

The universe next door

Actually, there are a series of problems with so-called “anti-cult” ministry. The first is that it is so foreign. To paraphrase the opening lines of LP Hartley’s book The Go-Between, “The cults are a foreign country: they do things differently there.”  It is like stepping into a parallel universe. James Sire refers to it, in the title of his book, as “The Universe Next Door”.

When the local church is dealing with a foreign land and culture it typically throws its weight behind some missionary organisation. It might have one or two people who feel called to foreign parts, people for whom it will pray and to whom it will send funds and encouragement periodically.

Their pictures will be put on a notice board, alongside a map showing their location and newsletters will be read to the congregation. Some youth might be sent out for two or three weeks experience but otherwise foreign mission needn’t disturb the church’s comfortable, middle-class existence.

However, when the foreign country is a cult the church can’t simply “send” because this foreign country isn’t abroad so much as abroad in the land. Having a few people dedicated to the work doesn’t cut it because the cult comes to your neighbourhood, to your own door!

This is shockingly uncomfortable and so the church largely ignores the problem, adopting a policy of keeping as healthy a distance as possible in the circumstances. Since that distance cannot be maintained geographically it is maintained ideologically. Cults are dubbed dangerous and subversive and members condemned as culpable and beyond the pale.

There is no need therefore, let alone any imperative to prepare thoughtfully, witness intelligently and reach out lovingly. After all, we have decided that it is too dangerous and they are too far beyond talking to.

The Christian Pedant; How Embarrassing!

Thank goodness for people in “anti-cult” ministries! However, there is a problem even here. People working in “anti-cult” ministry are often embarrassingly emphatic about what they believe and this does not sit well with the modern, middle class Western church. These people draw the church’s attention to the uncomfortable issues surrounding truth and error, doctrine and teaching. They inconveniently insist that the church has a responsibility to guard the deposit of faith.


The church often sees this as unreasonable pedantry and blush in its presence and wishes these people would go away or at least like good cobblers stick to their last; become a picture on a notice board; be thankful for the occasional hand out. Those in the ministry wish the church would live up to its responsibilities and actually learn to reach out to cult members not react to them.

Too many preach victory on a Sunday singing, “The Battle Belongs to the Lord”, then hide in the bathroom on a Monday when the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness calls. They preach grace on a Sunday and sing, “Just as I am, with not one single plea”, and on Monday stand at the door berating the Mormon for not being fit for human company let alone the company of Christians, much less the company of God. They harangue him as we might the devil himself.

What the former cultist needs

The new believer coming out of a cult faces challenges of her own. He has made a huge decision, the magnitude of which the Christian surely fails to appreciate. he has left behind friends, often relations, has changed loyalties, lost status perhaps, reputation and standing in the community that, until recently, was his world. He comes with a mixture of excitement about the Good News of Jesus Christ, questions and understandable doubts about his decisions, and hope for the future.

The best advice the new believer can have is to spend the next few years establishing firm Christian foundations. This is so vital and yet the new believer, perhaps flattered by invitations to ‘share your testimony’, is often tempted to throw himself into “ministry” and help others come out

He doesn’t need this right now and it won’t help him become a fully born again Christian, with a knowledge of Christ that will take him through life. Much needs to be unlearned and much to be learned and the best place to learn is not the public platform.

The Christian attitude to the former cultist so often re-enforces this ill-advised ambition as the former Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness finds he has to prove his bona fides to everyone he meets by taking every opportunity to tell his story, publicly reject his past and work against his former friends. He is cast into the role of an “ex-Mormon/Jehovah’s Witness” and is forever known by what he was and not by what he has become or what he is becoming in Christ.

What good is it if a man claims to have faith?

To put his roots down and establish a firm Christian foundation he needs to be welcomed and encouraged as would any other convert, lock, stock and misconceptions. His views and contributions need not be constantly treated with suspicion. When he struggles with issues, disagrees with people or otherwise proves increasingly comfortable in his new found freedom it shouldn’t automatically be attributed to his background for which Christians, all-too-often, and all-too-often inappropriately “make allowances”.

If he speaks warmly of his old friends and associates he need not be treated with suspicion, as though he were an unrehabilitated cultist. His old friends were probably very nice people and, in light of the role his new Christian friends have thrust on him, he might be missing just a little his old friends who simply accepted him and gave him status.

The bottom line is that it takes joined up church and grown up Christianity to make it possible for a former Jehovah’s Witness/Mormon to find a home amongst Christians and too many Christians, leaders included, are less than mature and all too autarchic. We ‘believe’ in the doctrine and sing with gusto the songs but need to realise that ‘faith without works is dead’. With James, I say, ‘show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’.

If you truly believe in victory don’t go to the door in fear.

If you believe in grace don’t go to the door in judgement.

Otherwise don’t open the door because you will only make things worse.

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church

Next: What are the Dos and Don’ts?

Coming up: The Myth of the Killer Text

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Intimations of Immortality

By Ann Thomas

Mormonism claims to answer the big questions of life: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? The answers are called The Purpose of Life, or God's Plan of Happiness. This is how it begins on the official Mormon Church website:

Your life didn’t begin at birth and it won’t end at death. Before you came to earth, your spirit lived with Heavenly Father who created you. You knew Him, and He knew and loved you. It was a happy time during which you were taught God’s plan of happiness and the path to true joy. But just as most of us leave our home and parents when we grow up, God knew you needed to do the same. He knew you couldn’t progress unless you left for a while. So he allowed you to come to earth to experience the joy—as well as pain—of a physical body.

One thing that makes this life so hard sometimes is that we’re out of God’s physical presence. Not only that, but we can’t remember our pre-earth life which means we have to operate by faith rather than sight. God didn’t say it would be easy, but He promised His spirit would be there when we needed Him. Even though it feels like it sometimes, we’re not alone in our journey. (

All their teaching about the pre-existence, or pre-earth life, cannot be substantiated because they say that we are made to forget it when we are born. That makes this life more of a test, because we have no memory of our previous life with God. Many years ago there was a video presentation called 'The Purpose of Life', which used lines from William Wordsworth's poem 'Intimations of Immortality' to talk about their belief in the pre-existence.

Wordsworth also believed in a pre-existence of the soul, so these lines seemed perfect:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,

        Hath had elsewhere its setting,

          And cometh from afar:

        Not in entire forgetfulness,

        And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

        From God, who is our home:

These are stirring words, to think that we come 'trailing clouds of glory'. We may let them carry us along and not examine the detail too closely. But, in the same way that they treat the Bible, the Mormons picked carefully which lines to use. Because they believe that our memory of the pre-existence was taken from us, 'Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting' is spot on. Except that is not what Wordsworth believed, nor what he says in this poem.

This poem is considered one of Wordsworth's greatest works and took him two years to write. It has eleven stanzas – these lines are part of the fifth. Here is what a literary analysis says about this section of the poem:

In the fifth stanza, he proclaims that human life is merely “a sleep and a forgetting”—that human beings dwell in a purer, more glorious realm before they enter the earth. “Heaven,” he says, “lies about us in our infancy!” As children, we still retain some memory of that place, which causes our experience of the earth to be suffused with its magic—but as the baby passes through boyhood and young adulthood and into manhood, he sees that magic die. In the sixth stanza, the speaker says that the pleasures unique to earth conspire to help the man forget the “glories” whence he came. ( )

The poem is 208 lines long, and this extract is lines 59 to 66. And, just as is often the case with scripture, reading a few lines above and below establishes the context. Wordsworth believed that we do indeed remember God when we are born, and as children we can still see His glory in nature, which fades as we grow older. Here is the wider context:

  —But there's a tree, of many, one,

A single field which I have look'd upon,

Both of them speak of something that is gone:

          The pansy at my feet

          Doth the same tale repeat:

Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,

        Hath had elsewhere its setting,

          And cometh from afar:

        Not in entire forgetfulness,

        And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

        From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

        Upon the growing Boy,

But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

        He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

    Must travel, still is Nature's priest,

      And by the vision splendid

      Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.

The full poem can be read here

Far from supporting the Mormon claim about forgetting our pre-earth life when we are born, Wordsworth regrets that the memory, so clear in infancy, fades with age. And indeed, Wordsworth's idea of the pre-existence of the soul would in no way have fitted in with the Mormon teaching about this pre-earth life. He just believed our souls came from the presence of God.

Mormons believe that God is an exalted man, who has many wives who bear him many spirit children. The first child born was Jesus, the second was Lucifer, so they are our elder brothers. In jealousy of Jesus, Lucifer later led a rebellion against God, which led to a war in heaven.

Like many Mormon doctrines, what seems at first glance to agree with orthodox Christian teachings, is only using the same terminology, but means something totally different when examined in detail. Wordsworth would not have recognised any of these teachings in his beliefs, nor did he portray them in his poem.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church – 2 The Problem With the Church

so how are we doing?

I sometimes imagine myself having the opportunity to address church leaders from across the UK on the subject of the cults. I imagine a lively question and answer session during which a hand would go up and someone would ask the question. “How well do you think we are doing in handling the challenge of the cults?” After a pause to gather my thoughts I would reply,

Watching the church handle the cults is rather like watching a bus crash in slow motion. You know it isn’t going to turn out well, you wish you could do something to stop it, but past experience has taught you that all you can do is be there to pick up the pieces and deal with the casualties afterwards.”

I think of the otherwise intelligent and sensitive church leader who said, “I didn’t know what to say to the Mormons at my door so I asked to see their magic underwear.” Or the pastor who proudly related how he told a Jehovah’s Witness to “leave that satanic Bible on my doorstep and come inside so I can tell you the truth!” Or the Christian who, finding that 1 John 5:7 in the King James Bible fails to impress a Jehovah’s Witness, can’t talk about Jesus’ deity from anywhere else in the Bible. Shocking I know but not unusual.

Don’t misunderstand me, there are individual Christians and churches that do reasonably well, occasionally very well, but the picture across the church in general is inexcusably poor. I have been the hapless Mormon victim of such poor practice and as a Christian shocked by the irrational fear, careless indifference, profound ignorance and inexcusable prejudices so prevalent among even mature Christians and Christian leaders.

two ways to fail

It seems that there are two extremes, two ways to ensure failure in witnessing, that are common and thoroughly unbiblical. The first is one in which the cult member is regarded as having no intrinsic worth unless and until they convert. Before that happens a Mormon is fair prey for anyone who fancies chancing their arm at a bit of witnessing, that witnessing usually involving a lot of shouting, finger pointing, denouncing, ridiculing and ‘casting out’ as though outrage is a spiritual multi-tool.

The other extreme is that post-modernist attitude that ‘respects’ other faiths, new religions etc. such that there are no meaningful differences between them. There is no objective truth, no way to be lost, no way to be saved and no faith for which to contend. In short no light in the darkness just a crowd of people scrambling around in the failing light politely repeating, ‘after you’, ‘no, after you’ as they defer to one another all the way down to hell.

My experience of the two extremes has seen some so bent on giving the cultist a good telling that they fail to model hope and forget their responsibility for the reputation of Christ. The message is not “look and live” but “turn or burn”. Disgust and disapproval are so reassuring. They anchor our moral sentiments and feel instinctively like a moral proof. To abandon our sense of disapproval seems to have the effect of cutting at the very foundations that support our innate sense of being right. Yet, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ then grace demands that we overcome our instincts and look at the world through the eyes of Christ.

Others, however, are so determined to nurture a good reputation before the world (usually their own is uppermost in their thinking, “see how liberal and enlightened I am?”) that they dare not risk offence even though the Bible makes clear that the Cross is an offence to those that are dying. These take every opportunity to find the good in Mormonism, downplay differences as experimental rather than fundamental, and reinforce in Mormons the false notion that they really are part of the wider Christian community and have something ultimately positive to offer. Such an approach would have robbed me of my salvation and I do not appreciate it.

The heart of the matter

What is the answer? It has been said that the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Peter wrote:

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Christians have a hope uniquely founded upon Jesus Christ. There is one hope and one reason for that hope and a clear injunction to evangelise those without hope. But it is to be done with gentleness towards others, respect for the Lord and concern for his good name. This means we daren’t compromise when sharing the one way – by grace, through faith in Christ. It also means making sure our heart attitude is Christ-like; gracious, sacrificial and intelligently compassionate.

The Cross is an offence (Gal.5:11) and foolishness to those that are perishing (1Cor.1:18) but that is not a reason to be offensive, to be foolish. If we preach the Cross that is offence enough and the hackneyed question “I am a fool for Jesus, whose fool are you?” is not a call to be foolish but a call to disregard the foolish judgement of the world as we abandon worldly loyalties and follow Jesus. In making that choice we are still to be wise in our walk and understanding (Eph.5:15-17), “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Tim.4:6) In these things we are to grow so that we are prepared to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15)

Some will still take offence, speak maliciously against our good behaviour in Christ, but if we have set apart Christ in our hearts we can be confident that no offence has been given and our conscience is clear before God and man. No one can ask more of us, for the sake of the lost we dare not ask less of ourselves.

Previously: If These are Christians

Next: The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

Coming up: What are the Dos and Don’ts?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church–1 If These are Christians

The Pastor’s Tale

The young man loiters outside the church office as though in a fog of indecision. Seeming to resolve his apparent doubts, he climbs the few steps leading up to the church building and walks purposefully through the door, not knowing what to expect when he gets inside. He finds meets a young woman, a secretary perhaps, who confidently asks him how she might help. He asks to see the pastor.

Ushered through the outer office into an inner sanctum, his resolve is already beginning to fail him. A middle-aged man sitting behind a large desk looks up and asks him what he wants. Words almost fail the young man but he manages, “I am a Mormon” immediately doubting the wisdom of such an opening as he sees a look of caution come over the pastors face. Pressing on regardless he stutters, “I want to talk about the differences between what you believe and what we believe.”

The pastor hasn’t risen from his chair, hasn’t offered his hand and nor has he offered his visitor a seat, suggesting that this might be a very short interview and getting shorter by the moment. “You know,” he responds dryly, “there is a vast chasm between what you believe and what we believe?” His tongue clinging to the roof of his mouth and his voice failing him, the young man says in what is almost a whisper, “Yes, I know.”

The pastor is silent and the combination of the cold welcome and his own failing nerve motivates the young man to mutter his thanks and retreat back out onto the cold pavement where, moments earlier, his resolve had seemed so strong. Where he was once confused and harboured questions about his faith he is now mortified and asking how he could possibly have believed this was a good idea.

The Christian “Witness’”Tale

That same young man stands on the perimeter of a Christian bookshop in the local indoor market, surreptitiously scanning a book that purports to expose the truth about “the cults”. If a pastor won’t help him understand, then he will just have to find out for himself and so he peruses the pages about Mormonism. An older man is looking over his shoulder but he is completely unaware of this man’s presence until he speaks.

“You don’t believe that rubbish?” He hears the disparaging words before turning to see the older man walking off briskly through the market. This time the young man’s nerve holds, indeed he is angry. “Who do these people think they are!” he thinks to himself. Putting down the book he rushes after the man, catching up with him at the other end of the market building. Putting his hand on the man’s shoulder, he makes the man turn to face him and demands, “Do you know me?” This has caught the older man completely off guard and he says, “No, I don’t know you.”

““Then why,” the young man demanded, “assume that I was a Mormon? I needn’t have been.”

He continued, “I am a Mormon, and want to know what exactly gives you the right to speak to me in that way when you don’t even know me?”

The older man squirms, turns and rushes off as a very angry and disappointed young man watches him go. He’s got the message; he’s a Mormon so fair game. “If these are Christians,” he thinks to himself, “I don’t want to be one of them!” I remained a Mormon for another ten years.

the convert’s tale

When I finally became a Christian, I was convinced that it was a true miracle, and one that occurred in spite of most Christians and not because of them. That was twenty-five years ago and I have spent the best part of that time trying to equip the church to deal with the cults. I have chosen the title of this series because I have wondered over the years whether my time would have been better and more productively spent equipping the cults to deal with the church.

Just a few years after coming to Christ my wife and I got involved with Reachout Trust ( and have spent the past twenty years or so increasingly involved in cult work. For many years I had been a director and trustee, have written books and articles, given seminars at conferences and in churches, met with, spoken to and corresponded with cult members and with those Christians who are concerned with the work of reaching out to the cultist. Having recently (Summer 2008) stepped down from that official position with Reachout Trust I feel I can and should share something of my experience and my deep concern for the role of the church in that work.

Next: The Problem with the Church

Coming up: The Problem With Anti-Cult Ministry

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Pharisee, the Temple and Polygamy

The Pharisees come in for a lot of criticism in the New Testament and, picking up on this, Christians down the generations have come to use the name as a byword for someone who is overzealous and legalistic. This is a correct application and you can see why.

When he [John the Baptist] saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them; 'You brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.'” (Mt.3:7-8)

Pronouncing seven woes on Pharisees and experts in the law Jesus said:

And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Lk.11:46)

Pharisees tried very hard to be good and keep the law, hedging it about with ever more petty rules to ensure no one transgresses, “you give a tenth of your spices – mint and dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Mt.23:23)

The result of all this was an increasingly weighty body of rules to cover every aspect of life and ensure obedience in everything but to the neglect, as Jesus pointed out, of the weightier parts of the law. Jesus referred to Pharisees who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Mt.23:24) This is a reference to fastidiousness about dietary law that caused Pharisees to strain their wine through their teeth in order to “strain out a gnat” and avoid eating something forbidden but to turn a blind eye to more serious issues.

If you want to get a feeling for what it is to live under such a regime you need look no further than the Mormon rules on temple marriages.

The Temple

Last time we looked at how Mormon temples divide families and how controlling the Mormon Church is, even dictating who can and can't, should and shouldn't be invited to a temple wedding. This control extends to even the formal dress worn by the bride, groom and guests, with wedding dresses being “white, long-sleeved, modest in design and fabric and free of elaborate ornamentation” - and without a train. “Tuxedos, dinner jackets, cummerbunds, formal head-wear, and boutonnières and other flowers are not appropriate...” (Church Handbook of Instructions, book 1, p.71) The exchanging of rings and vows are also prohibited during the temple marriage ceremony.

“Unworthy” relatives and friends may be invited to a special meeting that “provides an opportunity for those who cannot enter the temple to feel included in the marriage.” How included they might feel is questionable since “no ceremony is performed, and no vows are exchanged” during this meeting. Given the distance most Mormons must travel to get to a temple it hardly seems worth the journey for “unworthy” members and non-members to sit in a room waiting to be told the bride and groom are now married and to possibly hear “a prayer and special music, followed by the remarks of a priesthood leader” because that is all they will hear. What will he say? They are now married – honest? The ceremony was beautiful, you should have been there?

There are countries, such as here in the UK, where secret wedding ceremonies are not recognised in law. But this brings into play a host of other rules. Here a civil ceremony may be conducted in the usual way followed, after one year, by a temple ceremony. However, the one year waiting period is waived provided one or more of a number of conditions are met. Conditions including legal requirements, the availability of a temple, unchaperoned travel by an already civilly married couple requiring one or more overnight stops (yes, ironically, sex between a faithfully married couple not already sealed in the temple disqualifies the candidates)

Then there are the “special circumstances” that may arise prompting the question, “can a couple be married in the temple if...?” Just the kind of question the Pharisees and teachers of the law would have relished. “Ooh, that's a good one. What happens if a man marries a woman who was already previously sealed to a husband who is now dead AND if the proposed new husband was previously divorced from the woman who was sealed to him?”

Well, this is what happens. The couple may marry in the temple for time only and she may petition the First Presidency for a cancellation of the previous sealing (her poor dead husband having apparently no say in the matter. Imagine that, coveting the wife of a man who is beyond the grave. Is that Celestial adultery? Even Joseph Smith didn't do that) and he may receive a sealing clearance from the same source. Then they may, on presentation of the appropriate paperwork at the temple, be sealed together for time and eternity. She has a new husband and he another wife - of which more presently.

But what if there are children from these previous relationships? Children born to temple-married parents are said to be “born in the covenant” but where will your kids go if a previously entered into sealing is revoked? What about children born out of wedlock? Foster children, adopted children? Children conceived by artificial insemination? What happens if two people who previously committed adultery now want to make their relationship legitimate? It gets complicated and, frankly, silly but it is all covered in the Mormon Handbook of Instructions. The oddest one however is “deceased couples who were divorced.”

“Deceased couples who were divorced may be sealed by proxy. These sealings often provide the only way for children of such couples to be sealed to parents.” (Church Handbook, book 1, p.74) It happens - Elisabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But really now. Is it likely that two people who couldn't abide the thought of a lifetime together would seriously consider a relationship for eternity?

Temple Polygamy

The surprising and revealing thing is, however, the practice of polygamy in Mormon temples. Ask a Mormon about polygamy and they will likely raise their eyes to the skies and patiently explain, “We don't practice polygamy. It has been banned since 1890.” But this is a disingenuous answer because, in Mormon temples, members may enter into polygamous marriages.

In the example given above a man's wife has died and he is entering into a marriage with another woman. They may be sealed for time and eternity, leaving him with two wives as far as the Mormon Church is concerned and they will both be his after the resurrection. Note in the example that the only requirements are that his first wife is dead and he gets a “sealing clearance”, a certificate allowing him to take another.

The church leadership is effectively saying, 'Yes, you may take a second wife.' Further, the handbook says, “A deceased man may have sealed to him all women to whom he was legally married during his life if they are deceased or if they are living and not sealed to another man” (ibid. p.73) This is polygamy – isn't it?

Especially noteworthy however is the fact that, “A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life” (ibid) Note the words, “sealed to all men to whom she was legally married.” This is polyandry, the practice of one woman taking more than one husband – isn't it.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? (Jer.13:23)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Mormon Temple Marriage

I suppose we all have a general idea of how a wedding is arranged. Two people who epitomise the triumph of hope over experience propose to be married. They may plan a civil ceremony, or they might go for a church wedding but, either way, certain legal requirements must be met.

That done the venue is booked – a registry office or a church – and arrangements are made. If a church wedding the Christian minister/pastor/priest counsels the couple on the serious, covenant nature of the promises they are about to make and there is a reminder that they make these vows before God.
Guest lists are “negotiated”, giving the happy couple their first real row perhaps, with the realisation that they might have been naïve in thinking they were simply marrying each other

A celebratory feast is planned, the reception at which the happy couple receive their guests formally, and during which key people whose usual conversation is football, cars and work, stumble over effusive praise and admiration for the bride/groom. Mother cries, father is manly, young brothers embarrassed, sisters jealous and altogether a sense of having done something special as a community prevails.

Marriage is public and societal

The above may strike you as a rather jaded description and it is. I wrote it that way deliberately to make this point. However modest or grand, easy or difficult the day. However embarrassing some relatives and friends, however noble and wonderful the way others rise to the occasion. However stirred we may be on the day, or blunted may be our enthusiasm for these customs in light of their subsequent problems and failings a marriage is something a community agrees to together

It is a public declaration before witnesses and before God of two people's intention to live in relation to that community in a new relationship with that community and with each other and it is a serious, and inclusive, business.

The happy couple are reminded of “the solemn and binding character of the vows you are about to make.” They and all those present are reminded that marriage is the union of one man with one woman voluntarily entered into for life to the exclusion of all others. So the community know “he/she is mine”, understand the exclusive nature of this new relationship and their role towards it.

The bride and groom are, respectively, asked searching questions about their intentions. “Will you love, honour and respect..?” and are invited to “solemnly declare that there is no reason why” they should not be married. They then “call upon the people here present to witness” to these things. When you witness a wedding you are a witness to a wedding and a participant in the establishment of a new arrangement. In this way the community is invited to recognise the relationship and do all it can to help make it work.

Something is said along the lines of, “In the presence of family and friends (groom and bride) have given their consent and made their marriage vows to each other. They have declared their love by the joining of hands and by the giving and receiving of a ring.”

Then, on behalf of the gathered community the officiating officer says - “I therefore declare that we (the community) see them now as husband and wife.” Note “In the presence of family and friends” and “we see them now as husband and wife.”

Throughout history such vows have been essential to the cementing of communities, vital to the building of civilisation. The solemn and public recognition of the roles played by different members of the community brings order and understanding, builds trust and strength as we relate daily to the people who mean most to us, and with whom we identify. We recognise, we promise, we covenant before and with our community.

Mormon Marriage is Secret and Exclusive

To a Mormon, especially for a young Mormon woman, a temple marriage is the great goal; to be worthy to attend the temple and to marry in the temple. A Mormon temple wedding, unlike any other, is not just for life but “for time and all eternity” and these vows are taken very seriously. So you might expect that a young couple would want everyone who is important to them to attend and witness this special day.

According to the Mormon Church Handbook of Instructions, “Only members who have valid recommends and received their endowments may attend a temple marriage.” (Church Handbook p.71)

For those not familiar with the role and purpose of Mormon temples let me explain that, unlike biblical temples, Mormon temples can only be attended by Mormons in good standing with the church, worthy and shown to be worthy after rigorous and probing interviews with church leaders who issue passes into the temple called recommends. Only a third of Mormons are meaningfully involved in the church and only half of those are considered worthy and so even Mormon family and friends may not attend a Mormon temple wedding.

Even then, there are limits to who may attend. The Handbook goes on to dictate, “ Couples should invite only family members and close friends to be present for a temple marriage” (ibid) Where couples usually discuss whether their wedding should be a small affair or a grand day, for the Mormon couple the decision is made.

Only temple worthy Mormons may attend and, even then, only a select few. Anyone who has been inside a Mormon temple sealing room will readily understand the logistical problem of seating a large party of guests into a space no bigger than a small hotel room. But imagine telling family and friends they can't come to your wedding because they are not worthy, or not close enough to be included.

Mormon Temples Divide Families

The church that insists “Families are Forever” and declares that, “the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of his children” (Proclamation on the Family) divides families at the very point where families should be most involved. The covenant traditionally made before and with the community that means most to us are now entered into before a select group of “worthy” witnesses whose involvement is controlled by the Mormon Church.

What arrangements can be made to include the unworthy and “distant” friends and relations? The Handbook explains:

“A couple may arrange with their bishop to hold a special meeting for relatives and friends who do not have temple recommends. This meeting provides an opportunity for those who cannot enter the temple to feel included in the marriage and to learn something of the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. The meeting may include a prayer and special music, followed by the remarks of a priesthood leader. No ceremony is performed, and no vows are exchanged.

No other marriage ceremony should be performed following a temple marriage.” (p.71)

So “unworthy”dad won't walk his daughter down the aisle; “unworthy” mum won't be involved in preparing her daughter for the big day, won't give her reassuring looks, won't shed a tear as her daughter's hand is given; “unworthy” family and friends will not witness a ceremony, will not be invited “I call upon these people here present”, will be excluded from the very covenant ceremony of which they are among the most important celebrants. I call upon these people here absent?

It is about control, power and control, and nothing is so important to the Mormon Church as that level of control in members' lives that allows it to dictate their lives in every respect. The church doesn't celebrate the family, rather, where the family should be most involved and embraced, it seeks to replace the family. The family that can only be included if it surrenders control to the Mormon Church.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Monday Mormon: What a Malarkey! Malachi 4:6

Mormons insist that Elijah, whose return is prophesied in the Old Testament book of Malachi, “restored in this dispensation” the doctrine of saving the dead by means of vicarious temple work.

Mormons all over the world – but largely in the USA it must be said – spend countless hours doing genealogical work to trace their dead forebears to submit their names to Mormon temples for such work to be done. The Mormon Church spends millions of dollars raising elaborate buildings in which to do this work and countless hours are further spent attending these temples and toiling at “saving the dead.”

In the February 1910 Improvement Era (p.352, reproduced in the Feb.1971 Ensign) Mormon president Joseph Fielding Smith quoted Joseph Smith, saying,

“the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” Because we cannot be saved without them, “it is necessary that those who have gone before and those who come after us should have salvation in common with us, and thus hath God made it obligatory to man,” says the Prophet Joseph Smith. (Times and Seasons 5:616.)

From this, then, we see that while it is necessary to preach the gospel in the nations of the earth and to do all other good works in the Church, yet the greatest commandment given us, and made obligatory, is temple work in our own behalf and in behalf of our dead.

He goes on to state the familiar Mormon view that people who do such work will be “saviours on Mount Zion”, that the neglect of this work puts our own salvation in jeopardy because “we without them cannot be saved”, and he makes clear that the great purpose of God is the binding, or sealing of families together in one long family line going back to Adam saying:

Again, quoting from the prophet: “The Bible says, ‘I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”

“Now, the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal. But what is the object of this important mission? or how is it to be fulfilled? The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God to be gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion.

“But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah. And I would to God this temple was now done, that we might go into it, and go to work and improve our time, and make use of the seals while they are on earth.” (Teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, p.330)

So there you have it, the whole plan, explained by the man himself, of how the heart of the children are turned to the fathers, and the heart of the fathers are turned to the children. But wait! What did he just say?

“Now, the word ‘turn’ here should be translated bind, or seal.”

Is that right? I am no Hebrew or Greek scholar but that’s why we have Bible helps and Study Bibles. The word translated “turn” in your Bible is the Hebrew shûb (shoob), which Strong gives as to turn back, bring back, call to mind, recall etc. There is no mention of binding or sealing here and the context simply doesn’t allow it (as we shall see). The same word appears in the New Testament in the same context and in reference to John the Baptist:

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."  (Luke 1:16-17)

Here we have the Greek epistrephō (ep-ee-stref'-o), meaning “to revert (literally, figuratively or morally): - come (go) again, convert, (re-) turn (about, again).” (Strong)

So both the Old Testament and the New Testament clearly prophecy a turning back, a moral reversion, a conversion for fathers and children of Israel at the time of the coming of Elijah. Jesus identified John the Baptist as “that Elijah that was to come” (Matthew 11:1-14) and it was John, in preparing the way of the Lord, who preached a message of repentance, conversion, moral reversion, turning back to God (Matthew 3) the true meaning of the prophecy.

But if Joseph Smith received a vision of Elijah D&C 110) and understood that “turn” in the Malachi text, “should be translated bind, or seal” then surely he must have corrected it in his own “Inspired Version” (JST) of the Bible. In that version the verses reads the same as the KJV of which it is said to be a revision. So the Joseph Smith Translation has nothing to say about this mistranslation.

The official Mormon Bible is the KJV with selections from the JST in footnotes and endnotes. Here again no indication that “turn” is incorrect even though notes refer to Genealogy and Temples.

On the word of a man who gives no rationale or apologetic for making the claim, and who disregards his own teaching in producing his version of the Bible, generations of Mormons have put their hope in an unbiblical doctrine that offers false hope and empty promises. The gospel of repentance (turning back) exchanged for a message of vain genealogies (1 Tim.1:4; Titus 3:9) fruitless labour.