Monday, 31 January 2011

Monday Mormon – The Plan of Salvation is Back

We saw last time that missionary lessons/discussions were not uniform until 1952. Different missions provided different schemes for presenting Mormonism. Yet the central themes of Mormonism were always there and, in content, there was a high degree of uniformity and consistency.

Prompted by increasing Mormon/Evangelical dialogue and the challenge it posed to the Mormon claim to being a Christian Church the lessons were significantly rearranged in 1986 to de-emphasise the traditional Joseph-centred story of Apostasy and Restoration and emphasise a Christ-centred narrative and similarities with other churches. The Book of Mormon became Another Testament of Jesus Christ instead of evidence of the Restoration and the church that always insisted that it was neither Catholic nor Protestant now insisted it was “a Christian denomination.”

With the introduction of Preach my Gospel in 2004/5 the missionary lessons reverted to the pre-1986 programme and emphasised again the story of Joseph Smith, Apostasy and Restoration and claims of exclusive authority for Mormonism. The change in order can be seen here:

 

New Lessons

1. The Restoration

2. The “Plan of Salvation”

3. The Gospel

4. Commandments

5. Membership

Old Discussions

1. The “Plan of Salvation”

2. The Gospel

3. The Restoration

4. Eternal Progression

5. Obedience

6. Membership

The “Gospel” has been relegated to third position. By the time you get to it the idea has been firmly established that it is Joseph Smith we have to thank for the gospel. Even the all-embracing “Plan of Salvation” takes second place now to the message of the Restoration.

Lesson 1 – The Restoration

The emphasis of every evangelist is the “evangel”, the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul declared:

“We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor.1:23)

“I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor.2:2)

In stark contrast, the emphasis of this opening presentation of Mormonism is Dispensationalism, the role of Prophets, the Apostasy and the person of Joseph Smith. The Lesson outline is reproduced here:

Missionary Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

2 God Is Our Loving Heavenly Father

2 The Gospel blesses Families

6 Heavenly Father Reveals His Gospel in Every Dispensation

2 The Saviour's Earthly Ministry

9 The Great Apostasy

10 The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith

3 The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ

3 Pray to Know the Truth through the Holy Ghost

Note the highlighted words. The numbers down the left-hand side represent the number of paragraphs dedicated to each subject. Out of 37 paragraphs fully 25 are dedicated to the message of Joseph – 6 on dispensations, 9 on apostasy and 10 on restoration. Note only 2 on “The Saviour’s Earthly Ministry”.

Lesson 2 – The Plan

The Bible makes plain that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1); that Adam, a created being, broke his covenant with God (Hosea 6:7); that this resulted in sin and death (Ro.5:12-14); that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn.3:16) and that “It is by grace you [are] saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph.2:9)

Before the Mormon “gospel” is presented in lesson 3 it is first put into the context of Mormon Cosmology (the study of the universe) and Cosmogony (the theory of origins); the Plan of Salvation. Mormonism teaches that from a pre-mortal existence as spirit children of God we come to earth to gain a body (like God’s) and pass through the test of mortal life, walking by faith. In Mormonism this is how God came to be God. Because of the fall of Adam we are subject to death but Jesus overcame death for us and so we will all be resurrected.

According to how faithful we are to God we will spend eternity in one of three kingdoms. The highest is reserved for those most faithful Mormons who will go on to become gods and start the process over again. It is important to realise that everything, even God himself, is subservient to the Plan. It is also important to realise that our future hope is based upon the degree of our faithfulness to the Plan.

Lesson 3 – The Gospel

The Christian gospel is a matter of being kept by Christ. Jesus said:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus also declared:

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

The apostle Paul wrote:

You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Mormon “gospel” is a matter of keeping covenants. Jesus is part of the way but The Plan is the way and we must be prepared to follow it.

“The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ made it possible for us to overcome the effects of the Fall…Christ promises to forgive our sins on the condition that we accept Him by exercising faith in Him, repenting, receiving baptism by immersion, and laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and striving faithfully to keep His commandments to the end of our lives.”

(Preach My Gospel, p.52)

The lesson manual gives a guide to key but unfamiliar words and phrases used by missionaries. This list underlines the importance of defining your terms in any conversation with a Mormon.

Covenant: An agreement between God and his children…God gives the conditions for the covenant, and we agree to do what he asks us to do. God then promises us certain blessings for our obedience…”

Gospel: God’s plan of salvation, made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The gospel includes the eternal truths or laws, covenants, and ordinances needed for mankind to return to the presence of God.”

Grace: The enabling power from Jesus Christ that allows us to obtain blessings in this life and to gain eternal life and exaltation after we have exercised faith, repented, and given our best effort to keep the commandments.”

Eternal Life: To live forever as families in God’s presence. Eternal life is God’s greatest gift to man.”

Note that the atonement puts into effect the plan but it is obedience to the plan that determines our future state. The Doctrine and Covenants states:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (D&C 130:20-21)

And they who are not sanctified through the Law which I have given unto you, the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom. (D&C 88:21)

Where the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ, Mormons enter into a covenant with God based on law. The gospel itself “includes the eternal truths or laws, covenants, and ordinances needed for mankind to return to the presence of God.” Every blessing they receive is recompense for keeping the law on which it is predicated, i.e. if they keep the law God is bound to bless. The law they keep determines the estate they inherit in the afterlife.

To gain a celestial inheritance (Eternal Life) they must keep a celestial law. Note the words in the second quote above, “sanctified through the Law” It makes you wonder how they can go on to state that, “Eternal life is God’s greatest gift to man”! But the Bible clearly teaches that sin pays wages, eternal life is a gift (Ro.6:23)

Lesson 4 – The Commandments & Lesson 5 – Laws and Ordinances

Both these reinforce the idea of Covenants, Commandments, and Ordinances being the route to get us to God. They unpack, if you like, how Mormons are to conduct themselves in order to prove their worthiness and faithfulness to the church. Christians believe in obedience but have a completely different understanding of where commandments fit into the scheme of things. Where Mormons strive to be worthy of salvation Christians see the commandments as instruction on how a saved people live. We are saved by grace for works. Paul writes about this:

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith...not by works...For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus [the new birth Jn.3:3] to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph.2:10)

The Lessons comprise a total of 60 pages. The “Gospel” section comprises 12 pages. To a Mormon it is all, “the gospel” and Mormons believe they are bringing good news when they share it. This is not good news; it is news of the worse kind. Their striving to be worthy is like the burden of Sisyphus, a Greek king who was punished by being compelled to roll a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll down again when he would start his labour over again.

Paul captured the heart-cry of Sisyphus when he wrote: “Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Ro.7:24); Paul of course referring to death through sin, the state of fallen man, his subject for the previous seven chapters. His answer is equally heart-felt and clear, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Mormon Times and Seasons

There is a trick I like to play on friends occasionally. I wait until someone consults their watch then ask them for the time. They will almost invariably look at their watch again. “But you just looked at your watch,” I say, “Why did you look at it again?” Of course, they don’t know, it is just something they do instinctively.

They may well have very short memories but I think there might be another explanation. You see, the first time they consult their watch they are not looking at the time but at the time in relation to some event in their lives. They want to know if they are early or late for an appointment, if they will catch their train, when they need to leave for the theatre. It is the time of the event and not the time per se that interests them.

In the same way, when we share the gospel with Mormons they don’t look directly at it but consider it in relation to what is going on in their faith lives. They already have a world-view, constructed for them by their faith, and it is natural that they should compare your message with that paradigm, immediately fitting your words into the definitions given them by Mormonism.

We must help them look at the important things in their life in relation to the gospel; bring their attention to here and now and this particular text. They have preconceptions about the Bible, misconceptions about the Christian faith and apprehensions about what it will mean for their lives and we must help them understand what is true and what is not and that is not usually as easy as dropping a text into the conversation.

A typical misconception is that Scripture is a record intended to be exhaustive and designed simply to inform us, that it is incomplete and needs supplementing, restoring. But to a Christian Scripture is a message that is God-breathed and, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim.3:16-17) We need to draw their attention to God’s true purposes in inspiring, preserving and transmitting Scripture. Show them the difference between exhaustive and sufficient.

A typical preconception is that, since Christians believe we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ and not by works, Christians don’t believe in good works. This is often expressed in the question, “So you believe you can go out and murder someone tomorrow and still go to heaven?” It is as though Mormons think Christians ignore or are ignorant of the numerous injunctions to act on their faith: the Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, the words of James that “faith without works is dead.”

But the Christian Church has a long and noble history of practical service in the name of Christ, from mission to prison visiting, feeding and sheltering the homeless to schooling and mentoring the young. The Good Samaritan is a Christian exemplar, James’ concern for orphans and widows (Js.1:27), Paul’s concern for his neighbour (Ro.15:2) a byword. The Christian message is one of salvation, sanctification, equipping and growing in the things of God. In this picture sin is something we repent of and for which we gain forgiveness not something we callously indulge because we have our ticket to heaven.

Where do these ideas come from? Why do Mormons miss these things? Because, just as my friend looks at his watch but fails to register what it is telling him about “now” so the Mormon is looking at the message but failing to see what it is telling him about Christ. Just as my unwitting friend looks as though he has already consulted his watch and discovered the time, so our Mormon friends may look as though they have considered your message, thought about it but...

Mormons think what we believe is foolish, but Paul said that the gospel is foolishness to those who are dying (1 Cor.1:18). They think our hope is a false hope but the Bible tells us it is a sure hope because it is founded in Christ (Ro.8:1). Mormons, finally, are understandably apprehensive because the gospel is counterintuitive, teaching salvation by grace. They think of modern prophets, extra scripture, temple work, families are forever and shrink at what they believe they will lose. To embrace this message seems unthinkable to someone who already “knows” so much, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor.1:25)

We are called to witness, to do it with love and respect, to be patient in the face of stubborn misunderstandings, doubts and fears and to realise that it is God’s wisdom and God’s strength that has to be seen, that one may plant, another water but God who gives the increase (1 Cor.3:6) When we have shared a good message we need to persevere because we cannot know how God will use our continuing witness. It is easy to give up because we don’t see something come of it but we forget to consider the Spirit’s ongoing role in that person’s life.

We don’t pick the times and seasons. When someone finally does “see it” it isn’t because we have shown them anyway but because God has shown them that what you have told them is true. When they come to faith, while they need your support and friendship, the most important source of strength and encouragement will be the Spirit and we must model dependence on God in our own lives so it is with them from the beginning. My Christian friend witnessed patiently to me for ten years before God showed me the wisdom and truth in his words. This seems a good model for witnessing and living in general.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Monday Mormon - Preach my Gospel

We have looked at how people can use Mormon jargon confidently without having a firm grasp on what Mormonism teaches or of the Christianity they too readily reject. We have studied The Missionary’s Purpose and The Role of the Book of Mormon.

Preach my Gospel

An October 2004 satellite broadcast introduced the Mormon Church worldwide to the revised missionary lessons Preach my Gospel. It is part of the most ambitious plan to date to simplify, standardise and centralise the way that Mormonism is both taught inside the church and presented to the world. Such efforts at correlation began in 1961 with the creation of the Correlation Committee under the presidency of Harold B Lee and have continued through the Correlation Department set up in 1987 to approve all church publications and programmes.

As part of this new programme Preach my Gospel is not confined to use by missionaries. Members and leaders are encouraged to use it where appropriate in the home, leadership meetings etc. along with the new church training manuals for Sunday school, priesthood quorums, Relief Society and so forth. This correlation of church teaching materials is said to be an attempt to police and promote orthodoxy using strategies drawn from the world of business.

Anyone who has discoursed with Mormons in recent years might feel grateful for such efforts since, in the experience of many, it seems harder than ever to get a clear picture from the ordinary Mormon “in the pew” of what Mormons are supposed to believe. Conversely, it is not encouraging to witness the strengthening of the controlling hand of Salt Lake City on the lives and thoughts of ordinary members.

The missionary “discussions” have been integral to Mormon outreach for so long it is hard to imagine that it might have been any different. However, Mormon missionary work has developed and changed markedly over the short life of the Mormon Church and it would be well to be aware of those developments and changes.

A Potted History of Mormon Mission

The first Mormon converts were simply people who had converted to Mormonism through personal contact with the key players most closely involved in founding the Mormon Church. They went on to talk to their families and friends about their new-found faith and so on. In those days the Book of Mormon wasn’t given away as readily as it is today. Early missionaries made circuit tours to preach the Mormon message and sell the Book of Mormon, although they did give away copies too. Their message was the story of Joseph Smith, the first vision, the visit of angels and the gold plates.

By the turn of the 20th century church leaders decided that missionaries needed to be better prepared for service. Training courses were established where prospective missionaries were taught theology, religious history and teaching methods over a period of six months. In 1925 a missionary training centre was established in Salt Lake City where missionaries received intensive instruction, over two weeks, in manners, punctuality, missionary methods and Mormon gospel principles. Their message also was the story of Joseph Smith, the first vision, the visit of angels and the gold plates.

At this time there was no church-wide system of missionary lessons and individual mission presidents made their own arrangements. It was around 1925 that elder Gustive O Larson produced a series of illustrated lectures which he used with his mission president’s approval. The lectures had three themes: ancient American civilisation (you won’t see that today), Mormon history and temples and temple work. Meanwhile the president of the Eastern States Mission, B H Roberts, trained his missionaries to organise their message sequentially concentrating on the Book of Mormon.

In 1937 the president of the Southern States Mission, LeGrand Richards, produced The Message of Mormonism, twenty- four weekly presentations of Mormon topics. This eventually was published as A Marvellous Work and a Wonder and became very popular for the basis of subsequent mission plans as well as with Mormons in general. It is still a good primer for anyone trying to organise their thinking about Mormonism. The Message of Mormonism covered apostasy, the story of Joseph Smith, the first vision, the Book of Mormon and its evidences etc; very much the classic Mormon message.

In the late 1940’s something called the Anderson Plan was introduced by missionary Richard L Anderson. It is said that eleven thousand copies of the plan were sold to missionaries around the world. LeGrand Richards expected investigators to receive weekly discussions for at least six months and, where Richards’ plan covered twenty-four weekly lessons the Anderson Plan contained twenty-eight lesson topics.

The first official missionary lessons coming from the Mormon Church appeared in 1952. A Systematic Programme for Teaching the Gospel was created under the direction of Gordon B Hinckley and, although it was published by the church it was still optional. It had only seven lessons and that is a dramatic reduction. I am reminded of the words of the Mock Turtle who explained to Alice, “They are called lessons because they lessen and lessen.” They took the form of dialogues between missionaries and a hypothetical investigator named Mr Brady and concentrated on logic and proof texts.

In 1961 Gordon B Hinckley, assistant to the Twelve introduced A Uniform System for Teaching Investigators in the first world-wide seminar for mission presidents. These were the first for mandatory use across the church and the first to be called “discussions”, a misnomer by any intelligent assessment. These were six lessons written in the form of dialogue with the Mr Brown who will be so familiar to a certain generation of Mormons. The cutting edge technology of flannel board images was introduced and ‘Mr Brown’ was led to a place of agreement via a series of questions and answers. It was about this time that church president David O McKay urged members with the slogan “Every Member a Missionary” to actively fellowship potential converts.

These were superseded in 1973 by The Uniform System for Teaching Families, a series of seven discussions accompanied by teaching aids such as suggested Scriptures and ideas for teaching. Flannel boards were replaced with flip charts. These discussions went through revisions to one degree or another in 1978, 1981 and 1982, were simplified and rearranged. 1986 saw the “improved discussions” introduced, twelve lessons, six taught before baptism and six after that more or less went over the same material.

Where did Joe go?

The 1986 discussions rearranged significantly the order and emphasis of the topics. Whereas previous lessons plans had presented the Book of Mormon and the first vision as witness of the Restoration, these introduced them as an additional modern witness of Jesus Christ. Whereas, before, the Restoration was the motive for “joining the church” now it was the desire to follow Jesus. The significance of this change has long been understood by ministries attempting to witness to and about Mormons. It has allowed Mormons to insists “we are Christians too!” while their church is still founded on the story of Joseph Smith and the traditional Mormon story.

This change, it is thought, was prompted by a growing Mormon/Evangelical dialogue which, inevitably, concentrated on salvation by grace and a Christ-centred message that challenged the traditional Joseph-centred story of Restoration. Differences between Mormonism and other churches and the story of apostasy were played down and similarities with the rest of Christendom emphasised. Missionaries were encouraged to find similarities with the beliefs of their contacts. Many will be familiar with the ploy of quoting the Trinity-sounding first Article of Faith to emphasise that Mormons believe in the same God. The church’s claim to exclusive authority and revelation were deemphasised although never lost altogether. The church that always insisted that it was neither Catholic nor Protestant now insisted it was “another Christian denomination.”

I became a Mormon in 1972 when Bruce R McConkie was not yet persona non grata, the apostle Mormons love to hate, when books like A Marvellous Work and a Wonder were still common faire for Mormons trying to understand and share their faith and when the distinctions of Mormonism were very much emphasised; we took pride in our uniqueness. How things have changed. Now I don’t recognise the world of the Mormons with whom I dialogue and find myself explaining what Mormonism is “really about” before refuting it to a Mormon who has little or no idea what I mean. But help is at hand.

The new lessons (they have gone back to being lessons) have reverted to the pre-1986 themes and format and, once again, emphasise Joseph Smith, apostasy and Restoration and the Book of Mormon. That said, they present apostasy against a background of a series of apostasies and restorations, thus playing down the particular apostasy of Christendom, and present Restoration as part of an historical pattern, which it is not. They also continue to press the Book of Mormon as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” while re-establishing it as witness of the Restoration. Well, that change worked so well they are hardly going to put it back in its box now are they?

To get a flavour of what that pre-1986 world was like here is a quote from The Mormon Story, an admittedly unofficial book written by Rulon S Howells and published by Bookcraft in 1957. Under the title Mormon are Missionary-Minded he writes:

“Mormons...take their religion seriously. They try to practice its principles in their daily lives. One of their endeavours individually and collectively has been and is to share the ‘Restored’ Gospel of Jesus Christ with all people....A Mormon believes it to be his or her responsibility to spread the new concept of life as it has been revealed from Heaven to Joseph Smith and his successors.

This new concept of life, they believe, will, if followed, bring peace, satisfaction and happiness to mankind. Mormonism has what it believes to be the answers to man’s origin, man’s purpose here on earth and man’s destiny in a continued existence as an individual identity after this life.

It is a philosophy that gives the Mormon a purposeful life. Birth into this life is a glorious opportunity. Death loses its horror, and the family is eternal.”

The next time a Mormon tries to say that, of course, they are Christians and believe more or less the same as you remember that, prior to 1986, Mormonism was a philosophy, a concept of life, that Joseph Smith brought a way of living and a hope based on concepts and ideals, lifestyle, purpose and opportunity - gnosis. This is not the Christianity of Jesus, Paul, Peter, of the Bible which teaches not a philosophy but a Saviour, not a lifestyle but a life-giver, not hope in action but hope in Christ, not a sense of purpose but a sense of sin and repentance, not opportunity but rescue and redemption. After all, isn’t that why we witness to Mormons, why we obey Christ’s injunction to “Preach my Gospel?”

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.”

Monday, 10 January 2011

Monday Mormon: The Missionary’s Purpose

“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.

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.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Monday Mormon; “Preach my Gospel”

It strikes me as quite remarkable the speed and ease with which converts to Mormonism take on and parrot Mormon jargon. It’s an interesting word “jargon.” It describes “the terminology or idiom of a particular activity.”

Based on the French for “the twittering of birds” jargon is said to confer two benefits: “the affirmation of the group identity and exclusion of those outside the initiated” (Jonathon Green, Penguin English Dictionary)

I recall an encounter with a young new convert to Mormonism. We discussed the nature of God and when I described the God of the Bible she had no difficulty agreeing with me. She was genuinely puzzled when I went on to describe the exalted-man-god-in-a-pantheon of Joseph Smith.

Perhaps having been to a Christian Sunday School as a child, she readily identified with my description of God and objected to my description of the Mormon god. I was an “anti-Mormon” and “enemy of the church” she twittered.

This all happened in the city centre where she had joined some Mormon missionaries in street witnessing. A few of us had turned up to give the alternative story and were simply handing out a leaflet about Mormonism to anyone who walked away with Mormon literature. We simply handed out the leaflet and said, “This goes with the book” and people readily took it, along with details of where to find out more.

I suggested that we might call over a Mormon missionary and ask him and she agreed, confident that I was about to be “put right about what Mormons really believe.” So I dared the missionary to contradict my description of the Mormon god. When he confirmed my account however she remained unmoved, explaining that this was an elder of the church. “The church is true” she twittered and “he must know what he is talking about.”

In moments we had gone from agreeing there was only one God, eternal and unchangeable through confidently insisting a missionary would say as much, to accepting there was a pantheon of gods who once were men and the missionary must speak with authority because “the church is true”; and no sense that this needed some thinking about or further discussion. How does this happen?

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. It’s an interesting word “instilled”.

A thesaurus gives the synonyms, “infuse, imbue, insinuate, implant, engraft, inculcate, impress, infix, introduce and teach” The dictionary gives instilled the definition, “to cause something to enter drop by drop”. If I were to choose one synonym to best describe how Mormonism instils its doctrine it would be “insinuate.”

“Teach” is out of the question because, as my encounter shows, they hadn’t taught this young lady Mormonism, a Christian had to come along to do that. “Inculcate”, meaning to teach by repetition, is disqualified for the same reason, as is “infix”, meaning to fasten a lesson firmly. “Infuse” isn’t right, it means to steep, or pour in and she certainly wasn’t steeped in Mormonism. For the same reason “imbue” is wrong because this means to saturate.

To “implant” is to fix or set securely or deeply and there was nothing deep or secure about her knowledge of Mormonism and by the same token “engraft”, meaning to insert or implant something, doesn’t work. “Impress”, in this context, means to make a deep impression like a seal in wax, so that doesn’t work.

To insinuate, however, is” to introduce or suggest an idea in a subtle or oblique manner; to gain acceptance by crafty or stealthy means.” Maybe we should spend a few Monday Mormons looking through the Mormon missionary guide Preach my Gospel together to discover how someone with so little knowledge of Mormonism can cheerfully twitter Mormonism all the live long day.