“We as a people have one supreme thing to do, and that is to call upon the world to repent of sin, to come to God. And it is our duty above all others to go forth and proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the restoration again to the earth of the plan of life and salvation...” (Mormon prophet Heber J Grant, April 1927)
I have been leafing through the Mormon Missionary Guide in an attempt to understand where the ideas so readily taken up by converts come from and how they are instilled. Last Monday Mormon I observed that people can use Mormon jargon confidently without having a firm grasp on what Mormonism teaches or of the Christianity they too readily reject.
How do ideas so far removed from biblical Christianity convince people they are Christians? How do Mormon missionary “lessons”, so spare on data and honest discussion, convince people to become Mormons? I suggested that these ideas are insinuated, introduced in a subtle and oblique manner.
There is a hint in the First Presidency Message in the Preach my Gospel manual as to how these things are done. The missionary has a role, it declares, in helping “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39). Immediately the focus of attention is the good of man and not the glory of God.
The letter goes on, “The Lord will reward and richly bless you as you humbly and prayerfully serve him. More happiness awaits you than you have ever experienced as you labour among his children.”
It sounds orthodox enough until you realise that the words we readily associate with the Christian message are missing; sin, repentance, atonement, salvation. There is no sense of peril because of sin, of hope because of Jesus, of urgency because of judgement; there is no Jesus in this letter at all. The whole thrust of the message is satisfaction and happiness for the missionary and the Mormon convert.
A Mormon might argue that, in the body of the manual, there certainly is mention of those defining Christian words and that is right, they are there. But this letter sets the tone for the rest of the book and the Mormon message that mentions sin and judgement, repentance, atonement and salvation but can’t be said, by any stretch of the imagination, to major on those things; which is strange since no less an authority than the apostle Paul declared:
“For I resolved to know nothing when I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor.2:2)
“Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve.” (1 Cor.15:1-5)
You might think this tenuous but this reading of the Mormon message is reinforced when we get to the first chapter of the manual - What is my Purpose as a Missionary? Many familiar Christian themes appear here but time and again they are little more than jumping off points for talking at length about the peculiar emphases and claims of Mormonism.
A picture is painted of people lost for a purpose, in need of a plan, an understanding of what life is about. The answer is Mormonism that promises to fulfil their deepest desires and give them a sense of belonging: “The gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith will bless their families, meet their spiritual needs, and help them fulfil their deepest desires.”
Sin is seen as a barrier to this fount of blessing but the greatest problem is not sin but lack of knowledge, knowledge of Mormonism. Every time you read the word gospel from now on it is synonymous, not with Christ, but with Mormonism. Immediately we are plunged into a lengthy discussion of the Mormon Missionary’s sole authority to help people become clean from their sins, “by inviting them to come unto Jesus Christ and become converted to His restored gospel” – Mormonism.
There are two lengthy discourses on the exclusive authority and power of the Mormon missionary. The Bible is barely mentioned except as “evidence” for the Mormon message of apostasy and it is never allowed to speak for itself. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, is pressed into service at length to make the case for Mormonism. It is presented as evidence of the love of the Mormon god, of Joseph Smith’s bona fides as a prophet, and as the natural companion for anyone seeking truth.
Bible history is barely touched upon except to talk about three things:
1. The “priesthood” authority Christ gave his disciples, lost in apostasy, and an authority Mormons now claim exclusively; except there is nothing in the New Testament remotely relating to Mormon priesthood.
2. The claim that God always speaks through prophets, whose ministry was lost in apostasy and Mormons point to their prophets as evidence of the authenticity of their claims; except this simply isn’t true, God doesn’t always and solely speak through prophets. This is a clever trick because it takes people’s eyes off the Bible even though God clearly speaks through Scripture.
3. The Mormon teaching that after the death of Christ and the apostles there was a great apostasy followed by 1800 years of spiritual darkness until Joseph Smith came along. Thus, opportunity is provided to discuss Mormonism as a new beginning, “Beginning with the First Vision, God has again reached out in love to His children.”
Time and again the message is pressed home that everything begins with Joseph Smith, the Mormon priesthood, the Mormon Church and the Book of Mormon. Henceforth every claim to truth is brought to the judgement bar of Mormonism and every Christian doctrine redefined or more often rejected in light of the teachings of Mormonism. The message of the restoration is presented in so many words as “the foundation of faith” and investigators are taught “the pattern of restoration” which is defined by Mormon authority, Mormon ordinances and the Mormon Church.
The message of Mormonism is summed up in one neat sentence:
“Through a modern prophet, God has restored knowledge about the plan of salvation, which is centred on Christ’s Atonement and fulfilled by living the first principles and ordinances of the gospel.”
Mormonism is about prophets, knowledge, a plan, principles and ordinances and, although it is claimed to be centred on Christ’s Atonement, it is fulfilled by living Mormonism. The atonement opens the door, not to God (Heb.4:16), but to salvation by being baptised a Mormon, by believing in the Mormon prophet, by recognising Mormon priesthood authority, by going to the Mormon temple and receiving knowledge of God’s plan and purpose, knowledge available only to the initiated.
This is how a Mormon can use Mormon jargon confidently without having a firm grasp on what Mormonism teaches on key issues. The Mormon mind is so set on duty and progress through the process of Mormonism, the pursuit of happiness and exaltation, that it doesn’t actually ponder these deeper issues.
Once these ideas are planted they dominate their thinking and any challenge is met with empty assertions about authority, apostasy, restoration, prophets and, if all else fails, testimony. As to the Christian message it is missing entirely and only mentioned in passing to be quickly dismissed. Mormons are convinced that they have “investigated” these things thoroughly when they haven’t been discussed at all.
People sometimes ask how you can start with the Bible and the Christian message and end up with Mormonism. But Mormons don’t start with the Bible and the Christian message they start with Mormonism. If you put the Bible side-by-side with Mormonism and Christianity and give each a fair hearing you will find that, while Christianity can be found throughout Scripture, Mormonism isn’t there. Mormonism only seems Christian if you start with Mormonism, if every verse and text is viewed through the prism of Mormonism.
So the Mormon convert is taught to see things and brought to believe that only Mormons have authority from God, have “the fullness of the gospel”, and have the key to life and happiness for them and their family. It is an attractive prospect but it puts the emphasis on entirely the wrong thing and bends people’s minds to the wrong ends. As we go on to look at the missionary lessons we will see how all this works out in the home visited by Mormon missionaries and in the lives of Mormons.