Monday, 21 March 2011

Self-Help Mormonism

The Mormon missionaries’ “Questions of the Soul” are  meant to demonstrate that the Book of Mormon “answers the great questions of the soul.” These are not presented in any particular order but their order is interesting nonetheless. We have looked at them in this order: God, obedience, faith, eternity, life’s purpose and the problem of evil, infant baptism and the question, “Does God know me?”

The list goes on to address questions about finding peace and joy, having a happy and united family, balance in family and career, our relationship with our spouse and guarding the individual and the family from sin and evil.

There is a strong risk of my being dubbed cynical here but I have been called worse. Its just that as I look through the list I can’t help but see, as a former Mormon who once taught this material, what goes through a Mormon’s mind that would perhaps be missed by a Christian reading this list.

Let me take you through the list and demonstrate:

Is there a God? – Yes and he is an exalted man with a body, your Heavenly Father who sent you here to see if you will pass muster and prove worthy to be like him. [You are to work your way towards godhood]

What does Jesus Christ expect of me? – That you should prove obedient in all things in order to gain celestial glory.

How can a belief in Jesus Christ help me? – Jesus’ atonement makes it possible for you to earn celestial glory by giving you a fresh start so you can work the Mormon plan to achieve godhood.

Is there life after death? – Yes, and where we spend it depends on how worthy you prove to be.

What is the purpose of life? – To work for our salvation and exaltation by following God’s great plan of happiness.

Why does God allow evil and suffering to occur? – To test our determination to follow God’s great plan of happiness and show ourselves worthy in the face of opposition.

Does my infant need to be baptized? – No, because he/she is born innocent but he/she will need to be baptised later as a work of obedience, the first step in obeying God’s great plan of happiness.

Does God know me? – He watches your every move to see if you are worthy.

Does God answer prayers? – Yes, provided you are worthy of an answer.

How can I find peace and joy? – By being sure to be obedient to God’s great plan of happiness and proving worthy.

How can my family be happier and more united? – By going to church, having Family Home Evening, being worthy to faithfully hold callings in the church, going to the temple, paying tithing….

How can I balance my family and career? – By striving to build a forever family through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and dedicating everything that you produce in work to the building of the Mormon Church as you promised in the temple.

How can I strengthen my relationship with my spouse? – By attending to your patriarchal duty thereby proving worthy of being head of your family.

How can I avoid the evils that threaten my family? – By teaching them to take on the yoke of Mormonism and strive for worthiness as you have done all your life.

This is what the Bible tells us about being a Christian:

A Christian is one who trusts fully in the finished work of Christ on the Cross (Ro.10:9-13), depending wholly on him and not on anything in themselves for salvation (Ro.3:21-28). Someone who has been Born Again (John 3:5-6), who has crossed over from death to life and no longer fears judgement (John 5:24), who has peace with God through faith in Christ and stands in a place of grace and assurance (Ro.5:1-2) and knows free and open access to the Father because of Christ our great high priest, approaching God with confidence (Heb.4:14-16). Someone for whom the journey of faith is a walk of service and sacrifice and who, because of God’s grace, abounds in good work but these works are the fruit of salvation and not the root from which salvation springs (2 Co.9:8).

The difference is profound with consequences that reach into eternity. Mormonism is a self-help religion in which Mormons expect to prove worthy of blessings by their own efforts. Christianity is a self-denying religion in which the Christian knows he/she will never be worthy and depends entirely on Christ for new life and eternal hope.

The “old, old story” rejected by Mormons as apostate turns out to be the true, old story that offers the only way to have peace with God and assurance for eternity; salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9) It isn’t a game of words – it never was.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Praise To The Man. | Mormonism Investigated UK

 

Do Mormons worship Joseph Smith? This is a question many Mormons would find laughable and is only something that would be asked by someone with a very limited knowledge of Mormonism surely? This is the response to this question that can be found on some Mormon Websites.

This is how Bobby Gilpin starts this well researched and thought-provoking blog post that I think is well worth the time to read. He addresses one of the key issues we meet when we look at Mormonism, the uneasy relationship between Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ and he finds his answers from official Mormon sources.

Praise To The Man. | Mormonism Investigated UK

Monday, 14 March 2011

Questions of the Soul - Does God Know Me?

Another Monday Mormon and another look at the Mormon missionary lessons’ “Questions of the Soul.” These are presented such as to imply that the Book of Mormon alone answers these questions but we have seen that fuller, more correct answers can be found in the Bible. Here is this week’s question:

Does God Know me? – The Mormon answer given is in Alma 5:38,58. The first verse speaks of Christ calling a person by name, the second of the names written in the book of life. Again we find the Bible has answers more fulsome and carrying greater clarity and authority.

From the beginning God has called out to man personally (Gen.3:9). The psalmist wrote, “O LORD, you have searched me, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you discern my going out and my lying down, you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely O LORD…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Ps.139:1-4, 16)

The LORD said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer.1:5) In Rev.2:9 Jesus declares that he knows the the afflictions of the saints of Smyrna and in Rev.2:19 he knows the love and faith of those in Thyatira and Rev.21:27 speaks of those faithful whose names are written in the lamb’s book of life.

But what is most interesting about the Mormon answer is that it has nothing to say about the Mormon teaching on the pre-mortal life. This doctrine is missing from what Joseph Smith said is, “the most correct of any book on earth.” This book that is purported to contain “the fullness of the everlasting gospel” is missing completely the key Mormon teaching that underlies the answer to every question on the list we have been looking at.

Last time we saw that, while the Bible addresses the question, “How has God dealt with man through history and what are the implications for man today?” the Book of Mormon answers the question, “What do we believe about...?” The story is a vehicle for lengthy discussions about what should be believed. Yet in all this discussion there is no Mormonism. Answer these“questions of the soul” through the prism of modern-day Mormon teaching and you will see what I mean.

Is there a God? – Yes, he is your literal Heavenly Father with whom we once all lived in the pre-mortal existence.

What does Jesus Christ expect of me? – That you should strive to become more like your Heavenly Father and return to him and heavenly home in which we all once lived.

How can a belief in Jesus Christ help me? – As our literal elder brother Jesus has paid for our sins so that we can work our way back to be with God.

Is there life after death? – Yes, we left the pre-existence in order to return there after passing life’s tests and dying.

What is the purpose of life? – To return to our heavenly home where we once lived with out Heavenly Parents.

Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? – To test our faith as we strive to return to him.

Does my infant need baptism? – No, because he/she was innocent when leaving the pre-existence and entering this world.

Does God know me? – Yes, he your literal Heavenly Father and you once lived with him before coming here.

Does God answer prayers? – Yes, he is interested in all the prayers of all his children who left his side to be here.

How can I find peace and joy? – By realising who you are, a literal child of God who should strive to return to that life you had before you came to earth.

How can I make my family happier and more united? – By going to the temple and making them a forever family who can return together to Heavenly Father where they once lived.

How can I balance family and career? – By prioritising family and being responsible for bringing them back to Heavenly Father.

How can I strengthen my relationship with my spouse? – By making our eternal relationship centre in our lives and making sure we who kept our first estate are added upon.

How can I avoid the evils that threaten my family? – By remembering together that we came from our pre-mortal state to pass such tests and return to our heavenly home.

How can I avoid sin? – Christ redeems the repentant so they can strive to return to their heavenly home.

None of these orthodox Mormon answers find their foundation in the Book of Mormon. Indeed, anyone reading the Book of Mormon would not come up with a doctrine of pre-mortal life because it is simply not there. The fundamental questions that Mormons down the generations have been fond of plying are threefold:

Where did I come from?

Why am I here?

Where am I going?

The fundamental and familiar Mormon answers to these familiar questions cannot be found in the key text of the restoration, the Book of Mormon. This means the much-vaunted Mormon Plan of Salvation can find no basis in the Book of Mormon.  It seems that not only does the Book of Mormon give poor and unbiblical answers to the questions it does address, it fails entirely to give the most fundamental answers to what Mormons regard as the key questions that the restoration is meant to answer.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Questions of the Soul–Infant Baptism

Here we are again answering from the Bible the Mormon missionary lessons’ “Questions of the Soul.” These are presented such as to imply that the Book of Mormon alone answers these questions but we have seen that fuller, more correct answers can be found in the Bible. Here is this week’s question:

Does my infant need to be baptised? – The Mormon answer is in Moroni 8 where, in a lengthy (30 verse) rant infant baptism is described as ”an evil abomination” and those who teach it as “in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.” Pretty strong stuff.

My own position is that baptism is for believers, by immersion, a means of grace but not a “work” done for the salvation of the candidate, rather an outward sign of an inward work of the Spirit. It is the saved, those who have already entered into the life of faith, that are baptised.

I am not going to defend a position however. Instead I want take a different approach and draw out some interesting insights from this question and the Mormon attitude it reveals.

The Book of Mormon and the Bible

The Bible, while it of course teaches truth, addresses the question, “How has God dealt with man through history and what are the implications for man today?” In the course of answering that question we learn about God’s purposes in creation, in redemption and in building a community of faith centred on the person and work of Christ.

We learn about how that community works, how it relates to the world and how its members relate to each other and grows in understanding of what God requires, but there is no list of answers to frequently asked questions. Rather, there is an unfolding of revelation as people, individually and collectively, deal with questions of faith and as God deals with them.

The Book of Mormon answers the question, “What do we believe about...?” The story is a vehicle for lengthy discussions about what should be believed. From Nephi’s description of “the great and abominable church” (1 Nephi 13;22;28), through Amulek and Zeezrom discussing God (Alma 11) to this question of paedobaptism doctrine is expounded at length and at every turn.

Mormons think this is a virtue but it is a blunt instrument by comparison, designed to promote a doctrinal package rather than relate the story of God and man. In this story man doesn’t relate to God but to doctrine. No surprise since the single theme throughout the Book of Mormon is apostasy and restoration.

Lehi has the truth and leaves behind an apostate Jerusalem; Nephi has the truth and stands against his apostate brothers; records of the truth are carefully made and kept until finally this truth comes into the hands of Joseph Smith who wants to know “which church is true.”

But the Bible doesn’t work like that. God doesn’t say to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or King David, “They’ve got it all wrong, let me explain the correct doctrine.” In his sermons, Jesus doesn’t expound doctrine, rather he addresses God’s promises and man’s conduct in light of them. If anything, it is the Pharisees, denounced by Jesus, who carefully construct and multiply doctrinal arguments. There is, then, something of the Pharisaic about Mormonism.

Mormon “Authority”

This is typical of how Mormonism works. Mormons are not pastored, they are instructed. They are not nurtured, they are informed, not discipled but disciplined. They don’t have leaders so much as line managers. The tape running in their heads is always asking, “What do we believe about..?” These questions are answered in a didactic fashion and they believe what they are told.

The problem with this form of church government is that it makes no allowance for grace, growth or error. No allowance for error in that, while Mormon prophets self-evidently contradict one another Mormons simply must believe, on pain of discipline, that the prophet is always right. This is blind following not thoughtful discipleship.

No allowance for growth because on the personal or on a church-wide level truth is not discovered, realised, developed and matured into, but dictated and obeyed. Searching the Scriptures becomes an exercise in seeking answers rather than a growing experience of God. This way the Mormon ends up with a poor grasp of Scripture, relying on little more than proof texting. The irony is that in this way Mormons, who lay such store by revelation, fail to understand how biblical revelation works.

No allowance for grace in that there are no secondary issues with Mormons. While paedobaptism is a controversial issue in the Christian Church brothers and sisters in Christ generally do not divide over it. Rather they try to understand each other’s viewpoint while at the same time keeping, as far as possible, the unity of the Spirit.

Mormons of any stripe will not allow any dissent from their brand of the faith (and there are many) and this creates any number of sects of Mormonism, each denouncing, excommunicating and otherwise bad-mouthing all the others. Mormonism has “denominations” but they simply refuse to recognise each other. It makes one wonder who best fits the cynical Mormon picture of an apostate church.

infant baptism

Which brings me to the subject in hand. Christians who believe in paedobaptism put a pretty strong case based in Bible texts and promote the idea that the children of Christian believers are effectively baptised into the “covenant community.” What is puzzling about the Mormon position is not so much that they don’t agree with this view but that they don’t understand it and so vociferously denounce it.

You see, children born into a Mormon family are said to be “born in the covenant.” This means that the work done by their parents in the temple in being sealed together for eternity brings new-born children into the covenant community. A paedobaptist would say the work has been done for the child and so the Mormon would make the same claim.

Furthermore, it is done on the same premise i.e. that someone with the appropriate “authority” vicariously decided for the child that an ordinance should be done for that child to bring them into community. If Mormon children can be born into the covenant then surely Christian children can be baptised into the covenant community?

Mormons would argue that they are Christians and just because they do some things differently, such as build temples, baptise for the dead, add to Scripture, follow prophets etc. this is no reason to preclude them from the wider Christian community. But when the boot is on the other foot there is no one in the world more intolerant than the Mormon. From the nature of God, through the structure of church to the question of infant baptism Mormonism has but one answer; agree with us or be wrong.