Monday, 17 January 2011

Monday Mormon – What is the Role of the Book of Mormon?

Last Monday Mormon we started looking at the role of the Mormon missionary as it is described in the Missionary Service handbook Preach my Gospel. We were asking how people can use Mormon jargon confidently without having a firm grasp on what Mormonism teaches or of the Christianity they too readily reject? How ideas so far removed from biblical Christianity convince people they are Christians? How Mormon missionary “lessons”, so spare on data and honest discussion, convince people to become Mormons?

The role of the missionary, far from being to teach a “restored” Christianity lost in apostasy, is to bring people’s attention to a fresh start through faith in the new message of Mormonism and the prophetic ministry of Joseph Smith. The Bible hardly ever speaks in this process and never speaks for itself. Although familiar Christian terms crop up in discussion nothing remotely recognisable as biblical Christianity emerges.

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 trusting Mormon prophets and living Mormonism, not by trusting Christ (Ro.3:21-28; Eph.2:8-9; Gal.2:16). There is something disturbingly Gnostic about the whole thing in that it is a salvation by knowledge and by works. This is not Christianity restored but Christianity replaced.

The Book of Mormon

The Mormon missionary is urged to consider the Book of Mormon essential in teaching Mormonism and a helpful chapter, What is the Role of the Book of Mormon?” elucidates. Joseph Smith is quoted as saying the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion” (BOM Intro.) and “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations and where is our religion? We have none.” (History of the Church, 2:52) There is a helpful diagram and explanation of a “keystone” making clear that removing the keystone would bring the whole church structure down. Three reasons are given for making this claim:

Witness of Christ. “The Book of Mormon is the keystone in our witness of Jesus Christ, who is Himself the cornerstone of everything we do. It bears witness of His reality with power and clarity.”

But we already have a clear and unequivocal witness of Christ in the Bible (Heb.1:1-3; Heb.2:1-4). We have four gospels while the Book of Mormon has none; we have a substantial account of the early Christian Church in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles and an unparalleled insight into the challenges they faced and the actions they took in the letters.

Fulness of doctrine. “The Lord Himself has stated that the Book of Mormon contains the ‘fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ (D&C 20:9 [;27:5].) . . . In the Book of Mormon we will find the fulness of those doctrines required for our salvation. And they are taught plainly and simply so that even children can learn the ways of salvation and exaltation.”

But we already have a full and clear account of those things necessary for salvation in the teachings of the Bible. From Creation (Gen.1-2; Ps.33:6) through the fall (Gen.3; Ro.5:12; Ro.7:18) the promise of redemption (Gen.3:15; 12:1-3) the beginning of fulfilment and the setting-apart of a people (Ex.19:3-7) the coming of a Redeemer (Mt.1:20-23) the work of the cross (Mk.15; Lk.23:44-49) the resurrection (Mt.28:1-8) the proclamation of the gospel (Acts 2:17-24) the establishment of a called out people, the church (Acts 2:42-47) the prophesy of future events and a promise of Christ’s return (Mt.24:4-14)

But, of course, the Bible doesn’t contain Mormonism. It is argued that the so-called restoration necessarily involves those things peculiar to Mormonism and reasoned that if the Bible contained Mormonism there would be no need for a restoration. You can’t argue with such logic, except to say that there is precious little Mormonism in the Book of Mormon, little more than there is in the Bible. There is nothing about:

Church organisation

The Aaronic priesthood

Priesthood organisation

Plurality of gods

God as an exalted man

Men becoming gods

Degrees of glory

Plurality of wives

Celestial marriage

Temple ceremonies

Baptism for the dead

Word of wisdom

The pre-existence doctrine

The teaching on eternal progression

Yet all these things are integral to the Mormon message and define the Mormon plan of salvation.

Foundation of testimony. “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the Restored Church. But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true—and millions have now testified that they have the witness of the Spirit that it is indeed true—then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it” (A Witness and a Warning [1988], 18–19).

Now we come to the nub of it. Consider what the Mormon missionary is taught:

“The Book of Mormon is powerful evidence of the divinity of Christ. It is also proof of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith. An essential part of conversion is receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. As a missionary, you must first have a personal testimony that the Book of Mormon is true. This testimony can lead to a deep and abiding faith in the power of the Book of Mormon during the conversion process. Have confidence that the Holy Ghost will testify to anyone who reads and ponders the Book of Mormon and asks God if it is true with a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in Christ. This witness of the Holy Ghost should be a central focus of your teaching.”

The Book of Mormon does not testify of the Mormon message, but of the Mormon prophet. It is “proof of the Restoration through the prophet Joseph Smith.” The investigator (inquirer) is urged to see the Book of Mormon as witness to the claims of Joseph Smith and the power of the book is seen in its ability to authenticate Joseph Smith; all else follows from that.

Responding to Objections

“We are to use the Book of Mormon in handling objections to the Church. . . All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship, etc., basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation. . . . The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.

Our main task is to declare the gospel and do it effectively. We are not obligated to answer every objection. Every man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there he must make his stand” (A Witness and a Warning, 4–5).

Mormons are familiar with this argument and often and without reflection appeal to it. “All objections...hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God...” The example is given of someone objecting to the Word of Wisdom, the Mormon health code:

“Help them see that their real question is whether Joseph Smith was speaking as God’s prophet when this commandment was renewed in this dispensation. You might say:

‘Having the faith to accept this teaching will require the assurance that this commandment came to us through revelation from God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The way to know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God is to read and pray about the Book of Mormon.’”

bait and switch

This is a classic bait and switch, a ruse in which people are enticed by the offer of one item then offered something entirely different when their interest is piqued. Beginning with the promise that the Book of Mormon contains ‘the fullness of the gospel’, teaching that actually the ‘fullness’ comes through Mormon prophets, then insisting that the Book of Mormon, which doesn’t contain ‘the fullness’ testifies that these prophets are true.

The Word of Wisdom is not something that is “renewed in this dispensation” since it cannot be found to have existed in any previous dispensation, not even in the Book of Mormon, the book of the restoration. It is the product of modern Mormon prophets and of its time – see The Mormon Java Jive.

Mormons believe it not because it is in the Book of Mormon but because it is taught by Joseph Smith, to whom the Book of Mormon testifies. So it is with much of what is taught in the Mormon Church. It’s a circular argument that confuses the unwary with emotive language, promises of sincerity and unsupportable assertions.

first principles

The missionary is taught that “the first question for an investigator to answer is whether Joseph Smith was a prophet, and he or she can answer this question by reading and praying about the Book of Mormon.”

But the first question surely is whether the Book of Mormon is all it is claimed to be by Mormons. My objection is that the Book of Mormon doesn’t deliver on its promises because it doesn’t contain the promised “fullness of the gospel” as it has been taught (and changed and doctored) by Mormon prophets for 180 years. If it fails this test then Joseph Smith is not a true prophet and neither are his successors.

Because people fail to reflect on these things, fail to step back and ask these questions, they can end up simply accepting the Mormon message, parroting its credo, repeating these same arguments convinced they are saying something rather profound and compelling.

But in this process the Bible has rapidly become little more than a source for proof-texts, the Book of Mormon little more than testimony to Joseph Smith and the real source of Mormonism is where it has always been – with a group of  men in Salt Lake City who insist they are prophets and apostles and who demand unquestioning obedience. After all, they insist, the Book of Mormon is “proof of the Restoration through the prophet Joseph Smith.”

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