Thursday, 6 January 2011

Moroni’s Promise: By Irrational Means

“Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction"

(I Thessalonians1:5)

I gained a valuable and interesting insight into the thought processes of a Mormon as we discussed the relationship between Scripture and the Spirit. A correspondent wrote of the importance of mystical experience in gaining knowledge of the truth. Arguing from 1 Thessalonians 1:5, he insisted that finding truth requires “a mystical experience which transcends rationality” He further stated, “It is only by the Spirit one understands the will of the Father (John 14:21)”.

Anyone familiar with Mormonism will recognise this oblique allusion to “Moroni’s promise” in the Book of Mormon. This is an assurance to readers of the Book of Mormon that if they will pray sincerely God would reveal it’s truthfulness by “a mystical experience which transcends rationality”, as my friend eloquently states it; the Mormon “burning in the bosom.”

To many this typifies the problem with Mormonism, in that Mormon ‘truth’ is established by an irrational experience rather than by a careful investigation of the facts, as is found in the writings of Luke for example, or closely reasoned arguments as put by Paul in Romans or Galatians.

A Mormon is someone who believes in spite of the evidence not in light of the evidence and to a Mormon this makes perfect sense. I have even had Mormons insist that, since we are living in an age of faith, facts and evidence are not important. If we had the facts, they reason, we would not need faith.

What is more worrying is that this thinking characterises for many people what faith is in general. Unbelievers generally assume that if you “believe” you have given up on thinking and rely on warm fuzzy experiences to affirm your faith. That faith is arrived at by irrational means and followed blindly. But simply feeling good about something is no guide to faith for the Christian.

Let’s take the text he quotes from Thessalonians clause by clause and see what it is telling us:

"Our gospel came to you not simply with words"

The gospel doesn’t come “simply with words” but it does come with words. It is capable of being understood plainly by someone with a grasp of the language and a basic understanding of Bible interpretation.

Of course we need help from experienced Bible scholars but the notion that there is some sort of spiritual insight to be gained by joining this church or that is simply not true. When Jesus declared, "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) you don't need a degree in advanced celestial interpretation to understand that he meant he was the only way to the Father.

This is important because, if we have a special insight available only to the spiritually initiated, then those without the insight cannot be judged or held accountable. However Paul tells us that we all stand condemned because God's truth is made plain (Romans 1:18-20). It cannot be plain if it is, at the same time, hidden to the uninitiated. The question, of course, is not whether you know the truth but whether you believe it, which means trust it, and will act upon it.

"…but also with power"

This is important because the gospel “is the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) and it must have an impact for real change in people because that is what it promises. When we trust God’s Word we see a difference in our lives because it has power to save us. We can understand it because it comes in words that we understand - and people died so we might have that privilege - and we can trust it because it self-evidently does what it says it will do.

"…with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction"

However, while we can understand it because it comes in words that we understand, and we can trust it because it self-evidently does what it says it will do, nevertheless man is rebellious, a sinner.

It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and brings us to repentance in the face of what we have already understood (so we are without excuse) and what has already been demonstrated to us as powerful to save (because we have seen it in others).

If we depend upon some mystical experience, like Moroni's promise, to give insight to plain truth we negate what God makes plain in Scripture. That is how Mormons end up believing the very opposite of what Scripture tells us and thinking they are being faithful in believing it. That is how they end up inventing excuses for why people leave, or find fault with the Mormon Church, i.e. they've “lost the Spirit”.

It is easier, I'll grant you, than facing and dealing with serious questions and challenges and with the plain truth of the Bible but in the end it is not a godly way to behave and, frankly, it is rather feeble.

Doubt is not a healthy preoccupation but neither is it a sin if it causes us to question closely our preconceptions. If we find, after investigation, that we are right and standing on solid gospel ground then our faith is strengthened. If we are wrong then the sooner we find it out and change the better surely.

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