Thursday, 20 December 2012

Mormon Women “Go Commando?”

Mormons are very formal, some might say old-fashioned in their attempts to “keep the Sabbath.” Especially in the chapel area, what some Christians call the Sanctuary, men are encouraged to dress formally, women to wear dresses or skirts. American missionaries have the task of preparing people for their first visit to a Mormon Sunday meeting and will tell women they shouldn’t wear pants in the chapel.

Where I come from pants means underwear, as in underpants, what others call briefs, or panties. What Americans mean by “pants” we call trousers. Now imagine the reaction of a middle-aged married woman being informed that she should not wear her underwear in the chapel.

December 16th, 2012 was declared “Wear Pants to Church Day,” good news for those chilly women here in the UK who misunderstood the traditional instructions and went to church commando. There was a Facebook page to fuel this campaign to bring equality for women in the Mormon Church, but the original had to be taken down because of death threats.

Mormon feminists

Some Mormon women were turned away from their ward buildings, it has been reported, while others were invited to interviews with their bishops. One report said that, “despite the death threats, and the informal social pressures, some brave Mormon women went to Twitter to tweet pictures of their mild mannered defiance: #PantsToChurch.

Some posted pictures on the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog. There was for many a lot of soul searching, for others fear of what people would say. Some Mormon men wore purple, the traditional colour of suffragettes, as an act of solidarity.

But the people my heart goes to, and the reason I feel this movement should succeed, is those poor young men sent on mission to the United Kingdom only to find themselves having to tell middle-aged married women that Mormon women go commando in the chapel.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Mormon Christmas

The December Ensign magazine came through my letterbox today and President Monson’s “First Presidency Message” reminded me that its that time of year again. That time when those good old boys down at Mormon Corporation HQ do their best to make Mormon folk feel all squidgy inside about the “Christmas Spirit.” When they help people remember in the hustle, bustle and distractions of cribs and shepherds,  Joseph and Mary, angels and kings, what its really all about – Joseph Smith and the “Restored Gospel.”

Happy Smithmas Mr Mormon

As I leaf through the pages of the Ensign I see on the front cover of what would for any other Christian magazine be a Christmas edition the featured article is about Mormon temples. The accompanying picture is of the Mesa, Arizona temple. Well, you won’t find Jesus in there.

The aforementioned First Presidency Message is all about the “Spirit of Christmas,” epitomised in the cheery greeting of a lad in a hospital bed, “Oh, brother Benson, Merry Christmas to you.” He reminds us that it is in “this dispensation of the fullness of times” (ushered in by Joseph Smith of course) our opportunities to enjoy that spirit are “limitless.”

Ensuring Jesus is tucked safe and sound in his crib and out of the way of the real message of Mormonism, the editors press on to a feature entitled, “What we Believe” and the theme in this “Christmas edition?” The Christ child born into this world to die on a cruel cross? No, the theme is,

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ was Restored Through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

I have tried to faithfully represent the relative scale of the lettering in the magazine and give you some idea of what hits your eye as you turn the page. The online edition is not laid out in the same way, the lettering being the same size throughout.

We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet

Here, in a sentence, the whole 2,000 year history of the Christian Church is dismissed with the word “Apostasy!” and the rest of the admittedly brief piece lauds Joseph Smith and his “Restoration” church. Plenty of pictures of Joseph by the way, soft focus, looking into the middle distance, by candlelight, by a heavenly light. When they laud him they don’t do it by half measures.

Jeffery R Holland sends his thoughts out to those who will be spending Christmas away from hearth and home. Mary N Cook (Young Women’s Presidency) remembers Christmases of her younger years.There is quite a lot to make you feel  a catch in your throat if, like me, you are the sentimental type.

An article by David S Baxter of the Seventy begins with reference to a “great hymn of the Restoration” as he urges Mormons to “Leave Adversity Behind.”

L Tom Perry writes sentimentally about the Founding Fathers of the United States and the importance of family traditions. After placing Jesus firmly in the context of Mormonism he ends, “Remember all that the Church has done, is doing, and can do for you and your family. And remember that this is not just any other church; it is the restored Church of Jesus Christ.”

Now, if he had said Jesus instead of “the church,” but then he didn’t.

The Coming of Christ (well, sort of…)

Either side of the country insert there is a piece about “The Coming of Christ,” no more than three paragraphs. You can read them here. Otherwise it is mostly one of those tasteful photo montages the magazine regularly does (the JWs could take lessons from the Mormons on this score) Sadly, not in the online version where their absence makes the piece about Christ seem even more sparse than in the paper magazine.

There is what I can only describe as a forensic article about repentance that reads like something from Spencer W Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness. It might be helpful if, like the Bible, it concentrated more on the finished work of Christ at Calvary and the sure hope he offers but…

In a piece about “Prophets at Christmastime” we read of how Mormon prophets, past and present, spent their Christmases. The themes are giving, family and temples at Christmas. Yes, even under the theme of “A Testimony of Jesus Christ” it is about Mormon temples at Christmas.

Joseph Smith - again

There are a couple of articles about the service and testimony of seniors and then the obligatory reminder that blessing comes because of our obedience in keeping the commandments. After some fillers comes another piece about – Joseph Smith.

This time it addresses the question “What Did Joseph Smith Really Look Like?” to mark the 207th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth. Who marks a 207th anniversary! Yet here we have six images of Mormonism’s founder, from his death mask, through two busts, a statue and three portraits, all from different periods from 1844 to 1987. Again, sadly, not online.

Oh, and, remember I said the front cover carried a picture of the Mesa, Arizona temple? The inside back cover features a painting of Jesus.

A pity, by the way, they don’t publish online the pictures we have in print. There is a wonderful picture accompanying L Tom Perry’s piece that looks spookily like an old Soviet poster. Soviet MormonsI’ll scan it for you to see. See what I mean? But Soviet Posterwhich is which?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mormonism’s Miracle of Unforgiveness

This article was written by my wife, Ann, and published originally on the Reachout Trust web site. It addresses the troubling and we would say unbiblical Mormon message about God’s forgiveness. Indeed, the book is a perfect primer for anyone who wants to pursue the path of the Pharisee, that is, making burdens for other men’s backs while not lifting a finger to help.

I have heard Mormons insist that this book was one man’s opinion and not “official doctrine.” That flag might fly but for the fact that the one man happened to be a prophet, indeed the prophet of the Mormon Church.

a Mormon classic is born

In 1969 Spencer W. Kimball published a book entitled "The Miracle of Forgiveness". This book became a classic within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormons], in fact it was so successful that the copy we have was from the 40th printing in 1991. By 1998 the total number printed was 1.6 million.

At the time of first publication he was an apostle in the Mormon Church, one of the Council of the Twelve, second only in authority within the Church to the First Presidency. In 1973 he became President of the Church, until his death in 1985. This man spoke with authority, and his book has become the definitive work on sin and forgiveness for Mormons. How strange, then, that missionaries of the Church have been discouraged from reading it!

a great Burden indeed

Perhaps the reason is because of statements like the following:

No matter how brilliant was the service rendered by the bishop or stake president or other person, if he falters later in his life and fails to live righteously "to the end" the good works he did all stand in jeopardy. (p.121)

for who can tell when one might slip across the line? (p.122)

Good works are not enough. A life spent in good works can still be lost if we do not keep it up "to the end". Life for Mormons must be a great strain, having to be on your guard all the time not to stray, not to falter. This is a great burden indeed. But the message of the book is that there is forgiveness for those who sin and are repentant. After spelling out the details of sin and its consequences, Kimball gives assurance that there is a way out:

There must be works - many works - and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and "a broken heart and a contrite spirit."

It depends on you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility, your sincerity, your works, your attitudes. (p.325)

Jesus paid the price, made it possible for you to be forgiven, but whether you are forgiven depends entirely on you. More works are required, this time to prove to God how repentant you are, and assurance can be a very long time in coming. It seems from the quote above, that some people may never know for sure that they are forgiven.

The real miracle? – that any mormon is forgiven

There is also no room for weakness or error, especially if you commit the same sin again. If you succeed in being forgiven, receiving that assurance that you are once more right with God, you have to go back on your guard again, because those who repeat a sin are in very deep trouble:

"… Unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God." (D&C 82: 7).

Would this mean that the person who has returned to the sins he has professedly abandoned must start the process of repentance again from the beginning? that one cannot return to sin and then start repentance from where he left off?

To return to sin is most destructive to the morale of the individual and gives Satan another hand-hold on his victim. Those who feel that they can sin and be forgiven and then return to their sin and be forgiven again and again must straighten out their thinking. Each previously forgiven sin is added to the new one and the whole gets to be a heavy load. (p.170)

The load which Mormons have to bear is a heavy one indeed. This book, which outlines so graphically the extent of sin and the way to forgiveness, makes it clear that forgiveness is not a miracle at all, the miracle is that anyone gets forgiven!

after all you can do

The Mormon Church teaches that we are saved by grace "after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25: 23). This means that the grace of God only comes into effect after you have done everything you could and should have done. There is the idea that we spend our entire lives accumulating good and bad deeds which will be weighed at the judgement bar to see if we have done enough to merit heaven.

Even the murderer is justified in repenting and mending his ways and building up a credit balance in his favour. (p.131)

The child born in the Church goes to Primary and Sunday School; later attends MIA and seminary and institute; works in scouting and exploring; later participates in Relief Society and much other specialized works, besides serving and attending and participating in other meetings and conferences, and all this in addition to the study of the gospel and many hours on his knees in prayer. The adult convert can make up much of this training by intensive study and pondering and prayer. (p.203)

The Mormon God's 'Plan of Salvation' is to make an earth for his children to live on

And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; and they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; … and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever. (Abraham 3: 25,26)

The first estate was life with God before we were born, the second estate is life on earth, and the glory to come is eternal life. This life is a school for godhood, where we prove ourselves.

While we lack recollection of our pre-mortal life, before coming to this earth all of us understood definitely the purpose of our being here. We would be expected to gain knowledge, educate ourselves, train ourselves. We were to control our urges and desires, master and control our passions, and overcome our weaknesses, small and large. We were to eliminate sins of omission and of commission, and to follow the laws and commandments given us by our Father. (p.5)

We are to spend our lives working to add to our credit balance, and working to prove our repentance in order to decrease our debit balance. This is the message of this book. The miracle of forgiveness is that we can repent of the bad deeds and have them taken off the scale, and even transform our lives so that no more bad deeds need ever be added.

god in embryo

The underlying problem is the Mormon doctrine concerning the nature of man.

The scriptures point clearly to the high purpose of man's existence…that, having within him the seeds of godhood and thus being a god in embryo, man has unlimited potential for progress and attainment. (p.3)

It thus becomes the overall responsibility of man to co-operate fully with the Eternal God in accomplishing this objective. To this end God created man to live in mortality and endowed him with the potential to perpetuate the race, to subdue the earth, to perfect himself and to become as God, omniscient and omnipotent. (p.2)

Because man is told that he has godhood within him, he is tempted to believe that he really can perfect himself. The Mormon belief that man is born sinless, adds to this idea. The only problems we carry are those of our own making, and therefore we have the power to overcome them.

All transgressions must be cleansed, all weaknesses must be overcome, before a person can attain perfection and godhood. Accordingly the intent of this book is to stress the vital importance of each of us transforming his life through repentance and forgiveness. (p.16)

Kimball quotes a previous Prophet of the Church, Joseph F Smith:

True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution, so far as it is possible, for all the wrongs we have done, to pay our debts, and restore to God and man their rights - that which is due them from us. This is true repentance, and the exercise of the will and all the powers of body and mind is demanded, to complete this glorious work of repentance…(p.149)

Indeed, Spencer Kimball insists that it is possible not only to overcome sin, but to reach the point

where the desire or the urge to sin is cleared out of his life.

Surely this is what is meant, in part at least, by being pure in heart! And when we read in the Sermon on the Mount that the "pure in heart" shall see God, it gives meaning to the Lord's statement, made through the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832, that presently impure people can perfect themselves and become pure:

"Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him;…"(D&C 88). (p.355)

This teaching gives man at the same time arrogance and hopelessness: I am born perfect, containing the seeds of godhood, with the potential to become a god myself one day. Yet at the same time the belief that I can perfect myself does not bear out in my daily experience. I cannot so easily overcome my faults and sins, yet the Mormon Church teaches that I can and should.

body of death

When we first became members of the Mormon Church, the idea that we could 'turn over a new leaf' and work hard to become acceptable to God sounded good. Most people believe that they need to be good in order to be accepted by God. But the reality is that perfection is impossible because we are all flawed. Even the great apostle Paul, who had a personal experience of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and spent his life serving God and preaching the Gospel, knew that he was weak and sinful:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7: 15, 18b, 19, 24)

The very purpose of the law in the Bible is to show us how impossible it is for us to reach God's standard on our own, and how much we need God's gift of grace made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

“What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of man’s transgressions until the SEED to whom the promises referred had come…If a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those that believe,

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Gal.3:19-25)

That is why Jesus is called the Saviour - because he saves us when there is no other way, no hope for us.

The Mormon Church, by denying the free gift of grace and insisting that members perfect themselves, is laying an impossible burden on them. Those who take their obligations seriously live in guilt and fear that they will never be good enough. Those who believe that it will be all right are simply deluded. That is why this book is so dangerous to Mormons.

Many will read it with 'rose-tinted glasses' and see the excellent exposition of what sin really means and the encouragement to 'endure to the end' and not reason it through. But many will see the import of the message and despair.

We ask all Mormons to seriously ponder what Spencer W Kimball is laying out so clearly - that the Mormon Church is asking you to do the impossible and telling you it is possible. We have seen lives wrecked in trying to keep the standards and to be forgiven for sin which they can never beat on their own.

One friend, who was excommunicated and who made herculean efforts to be restored, asked her bishop, “What does it take to get back into this church?”

The bishop replied, “You have to knock on the door of the church until your knuckles bleed.”

do it yourself salvation

In a nutshell, the Church program is like this:

  1. The Malady: Mental and physical sin.

  2. The Vehicle: The Church and its agencies and programs.

  3. The Medication: The gospel of Jesus Christ with its purity, beauty, and rich promises.

  4. The Cure: Proper attitudes and self-mastery through activity and good works. (p.88)

Thus Spencer Kimball sums it all up, and clarifies the problem for us all. The Malady is correct, and The Medication, but the Mormon Church insists that it is the only way, and we must do it ourselves.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Relief Society

My good friend Bobby Gilpin put together a team to comment on the October 2012 General Conference of the LDS Church. He kindly asked me to comment on the Relief Society session and my thoughts were duly posted on his blog Mormonism Investigated UK I reproduce it here.

General Relief Society Meeting

The Relief Society of the LDS Church is often referred to as one of the oldest and largest women's organisations in the world. Established in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1842, what was originally proposed as another Benevolent Society was named the Relief Society.

Their declared object was,“that the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor—searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants—to assist; by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties, &c., in their public teaching."

Although I was a Mormon for fourteen years and my wife was once a local Relief Society president, I have never been to a Relief Society meeting, nor listened in to the conference general session. So, despite my first-hand experience of Mormonism, I was looking at this as an outsider of sorts.

first impressions

The first thing that struck me was how impenetrable this might be to an outsider. You have to cut your way through thick layers of cultural overgrowth to even begin to understand these proceedings.

But, of course, it must be remembered that the Mormon General Conference in its entirety, while presented as an opportunity to “come listen to a prophet's voice,” is a tableau, intended to give an impression rather than offer instruction – even to the faithful.

Each plays their part, speakers and conference goers alike, the latter attending with the determination to believe, the former fuelling that belief with Mormon tropes, homilies and anecdotes.

In an hour and twenty-six minutes that is how this Relief Society session proceeded. It taught you very little about what Mormons believe but delivered the impression of an admirable group of women who should be proud of their achievements, resolved to achieve more, expectant of many trials and determined to win their heavenly reward by diligence and good works.

Only the observant with a grasp of Mormon doctrine and praxis might spot the complete absence of grace and total dependence on works for salvation. The session, like the whole of Mormonism, might be summed up in the words of the Mormon 3rd article of faith; “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.”

The Speakers and their Message

Linda K Burton has been the general president of the Relief Society since March 2012, along with her counsellors, Carol M Stephens (first counsellor) and Linda S Reeves (second counsellor). The keynote speaker was Henry B Eyring, first counsellor in the Mormon presidency. Through choking tears and brave smiles they told their stories, encouraged the sisters to self-congratulation, to awake to their duties and strive to be covenant-keepers. You can read a summary of the meeting here and hear and watch the full proceedings here

Henry B Eyring urged LDS women to greater acts of service and sacrifice.

Carole M Stephens emphasised covenant and duty with a particular emphasis on worthiness.

Linda S Reeves spoke of her personal experiences and trials and urged sisters to look to God for strength in times of trial.

the christian bit

There was much with which Christians might feel they can identify.

Christians are, indeed, a covenant people who worship a covenant-making God (1 Cor.11:25; Heb.9:15)

When we are born again we enter into a covenant relationship with God and recognise that, “the Lord has assigned to each his task” (1 Cor.3:5);

We are acutely aware of our need to follow obediently (James 2:14-20); maturing in our Christian lives (James 1:4; Eph.4:11-14)

We expect to face trials of many kinds (James 1:1-5) and know that these are our participation with Christ in his suffering because we bear his name(1 Peter 4:12-16).

But the Scripture makes clear that any work, however good it looks, will not survive judgement if it is not built on the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor.3:10-13) It was the Relief Society president who most clearly elucidated the true foundation of Mormonism, although a previous knowledge of Mormon doctrine is necessary to understand the short-hand in which she speaks.

the Mormon bit

Linda K Burton spoke of the importance of having the principles of Christ's Atonement written on Mormon women's hearts. She listed three principles of the Atonement:

Principle 1: “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

Principle 2: There is power in the Atonement to enable us to overcome the natural man or woman and become true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Principle 3: The Atonement is the greatest evidence we have of the Father’s love for His children.

Central to this idea is an old and familiar illustration of a woman who fell into a deep pit. She could not get out herself and called for help. A kind passer-by heard her cries and lowered a ladder. Sister Burton told the women in the congregation they are like the woman in the pit. Sin, she said, can be likened to falling in the pit. The power of the Atonement “not only enables us to climb out of the pit, but also gives us power to continue on the strait and narrow path leading back to the presence of our Heavenly Father.”

Every Mormon will know this illustration and many Christians might be impressed by it but what does the Bible have to say about the true state of sinful man?

when a pit is a grave

Where the Mormon likens the sinful state of man to falling into a pit the Bible speaks of the state of such a man in much more dire terms:

We are told that death spread to all men because of sin (Rom.5:12)

That the wages of sin is death (Rom.6:23)

That it is through sin that death reigns (Rom.5:21)

That sin kills man through deception (Rom.7:11)

That full-grown sin brings sure death (James 1:15)

  1. The sinner is not simply fallen into a pit but is actually dead! The pit is not an unanticipated trap but an inescapable grave. The Bible tells us that:

The reign of sin makes us obey sins passions (Rom.6:12)

The influence of sin enslaves us (Rom.6:20)

Because sin lives in our very being (Rom.7:17)

  1. The sinner is not just fallen into sin, sin has fallen into him! It inhabits him so that sin's passions are natural to him, sin enslaves him and lives in him to rise up at a time sin chooses. If we don't identify the true nature of the problem we cannot expect to find an adequate solution.

Where the Mormon sees Jesus as a passer-by who lowers a ladder into the pit so the unfortunate sinner can climb out the Bible portrays Jesus as:

Giving his life to ransom the sinner from sin's enslavement (Mt.20:28)

So that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn.3:16)

He was able to do this because he had life in himself (John 1:4; 5:26)

For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Rom.5:17)

  1. She who is dead in sin but who has come to trust in Jesus now has eternal life as a present possession, has crossed over from death to life and need no longer fear judgement (John 5:24)

The Plan of Happiness?

The true role of Jesus in Mormonism is articulated as president Burton makes plain that, “Without an understanding of Heavenly Father’s perfect plan of happiness and the Saviour’s Atonement as the central feature of that plan, [life's] challenges could seem unfair.”

The Mormon gospel is not about sin and death, faith and life but about “Heavenly Father's perfect plan of happiness and the Saviour's Atonement as the central feature of that plan.”

The “plan of happiness” is the ladder and “the Saviour's Atonement” lowers the ladder but the sinner must climb, scramble to freedom, follow the plan. Of course, if you are in a pit and a saviour provides a ladder then it is reasonable that you should climb. But the sinner, if she is in a pit, is lying there – dead! You could install an escalator and it would not help one whit.

It is important to realise that Jesus is “a central feature” of the Mormon plan. With Jesus in place, playing his part, the Mormon is now enabled to be “saved, by obedience,” as the third article of faith has it.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6) The biblical apostle said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we may be saved” (Acts 4:12)

The Mormon apostle Joseph B Wirthlin testified, “Jesus Christ taught the words of life. He showed the way to truth, the way to peace, the way to happiness.” The Mormon apostle Dallin H Oaks said, “I testify that as the Light of the world, He has provided the way for us to return to our heavenly home.” (Special Witnesses of Christ, Ensign, April 2001)

The Christian Christ and the Mormon Jesus

The Jesus of the Bible is the way while the Jesus of Mormonism shows the way. He is a central part of God's “plan of happiness” but Mormons must follow the plan to gain their heavenly reward.

The Mormon Apostle Neal A Maxwell declares "Having purchased us (1 Cor.7: 23) with His atoning blood (Acts 20:28) in the great and marvellous Atonement, Jesus became our Law-giver (Isaiah 33:22). It is by obedience to His laws and His commandments that we may return one day to His presence and that of our Heavenly Father." (Special Witnesses of Christ, Ensign, April 2001. You can read a full report on this here)

This is the gospel message turned entirely on its head! Where Biblical Apostles have the law leading us to Christ, Mormon Apostles have Christ leading us to the law. Where Biblical Apostles have men and women justified by faith in Christ who fulfilled the law, Mormon Apostles have us justified "by obedience to His laws and His commandments", laws that we ourselves must fulfil.

This is the true background to these Relief Society talks. This is the way Mormon women listening would understand what was said and why so much emphasis is placed on covenant, duty and service. Where the Christian keeps covenants and serves out of the new life they have in Christ, the Mormon strives for the perfection Jesus offers us through simple faith in the finished work of the cross.

The lot of the redeemed is not to find themselves climbing to the top of a ladder and following the plan, but free from sin where once she was slave to sin, alive in Christ where once she was dead in sin, standing in life where once she stood in fear of condemnation. This is the foundation on which she stands to serve, sacrifice and obey.

This is why Paul was able to write to the troublesome Christian believers in Corinth “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor.3:16) Because of the finished work of Christ their immaturity (1 Cor.3:1) did not disqualify them from the free gift of salvation in God's kingdom.

As we ponder the differences between the Christian message and the message of Mormonism we might be forgiven for marvelling at how “Christian” Mormonism sounds. The Bible tells us, however, that we must make sure we build on the foundation of Christ otherwise we build in vain; sadly, Mormons who left this conference determined to redouble their efforts and “lengthen their stride” as one Mormon prophet put it, are building in vain.

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Mormon Mystique

In an article in their online magazine the BBC asks, “Has the Mormon Mystique been Lifted?”

Mystique is defined as “incommunicable spirit, gift or quality; the secret of an art as known to its inspired practitioners; a sense of aura, of mystery, remoteness from the ordinary…”

Certainly, Mormonism has traditionally been viewed as secretive, mysterious, remote from the ordinary. However, the fact that a Mormon American presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, lost the popular vote by just one percent, that a greater percentage of evangelicals (79%) than Mormons voted for a Mormon, and the consequential increase in people’s curiosity about Mormonism all seem to point to the idea that Mormonism is becoming “mainstream.”

What has happened to change that perception? Have Mormons become more open about their historical faith? Has the Mormon Church opened itself up to closer scrutiny? Has the world looked in “the vaults” and found nothing to worry them there?

misconceptions

"As far as world attention on Mormonism goes, it's huge," says Scott Gordon, a former Mormon bishop and president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, which aims to counter misinformation about the Church.

That last paragraph was lifted from the article and goes some way to answering the original question in the negative while explaining how the mystique appears to have lifted. This is the tame sort of reporting Mormonism thrives on.

Someone official-sounding comes along (Scott Gordon is not a church official) representing an official-sounding and impressively serious-minded organisation (FAIR is not an official Mormon organisation) and talks about the solemn business of countering “misinformation.” This is quoted uncritically and the mystique is maintained even as gullible, perhaps indifferent reporters think it is lifting.

A picture has been painted in the reader’s mind of an innocent, Christian mainstream church besieged by sinister forces spreading misinformation while said church does its best to dispel the rumours and correct distortions and misunderstandings.

talking mormonism

For organisations like FAIR, however,  it is the perception that they “counter misinformation” that matters much more than any attempt to talk openly about Mormonism. This countering misinformation has more to do with continual denial, prevarication, obfuscation and downright disingenuous and ad hominem commentary than ever to do with talking about Mormonism.

With a suitcase full of well-worn rebuttals Mormon apologists will argue that comments are taken out of context, are not official doctrine, are simply one man’s opinion.

They will put forward the “that was then this is now” defence when faced with their murky history. Failing that they marshal the “we don’t do that any more” defence, the “we don’t understand really what he meant when he said that but its all sorted out now” defence and, putting on a pious face, present a “the temple is not secret but sacred” gambit.

Mormons regularly blame others for how their faith is perceived, insisting that if it wasn’t for critics they would have no critics (they do major on the blindingly obvious) and, all else failing, will tell you sincerely that they know their church is true.

The one thing they will never do is actually discuss any concerns you might have about their Mormon faith. Bring up any controversial issue and they will respond, “You have been talking to enemies of the church, anti-Mormons!” Mormons don’t talk Mormonism as you might reasonably expect them to.

The BBC article, likewise, does not discuss Mormonism, only making political comment and repeating the same old Mormon sound bites as though they are the most up-to-date, cutting edge commentary. The real story runs thus:

Mormonism is secretive, mysterious and out of the ordinary but public perception is changing because Mormons repeatedly claim they are persecuted, misrepresented and hide behind a cloud of words that amount to nothing much at all. Because Mormons in the public gaze have an interest in playing down their Mormonism and presenting to the world a wholesome, patriotic, family-oriented and conservative image.

Because Mormons don’t, and in turn secular commentators don’t actually talk Mormonism perception changes even while underneath Mormonism is still Mormonism. The mystique is intact and Mormonism continues apace even as the latest public face draws smiles and approbation.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Are Thinking Mormons Apostate?

“A Mormon blogger — accused of apostasy for writing critical web essays about LDS history, temple worship and contemporary issues — has been given a reprieve, for now,” reports the The Salt Lake Tribune of 27 September 2012.

The offending blog is MormonThink.com and the “apostate” is David Twede of the Hunter’s Creek Stake, Orlando, Florida. So, what is MormonThink.com? According to the blurb on the home page:

“Mormonthink.com is a site produced largely by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are interested in the historical accuracy of our church and how it is being taught to its members and portrayed in the media.

We invite scholarly debate by critics, true-believers and anyone interested in Mormon history.

There is a lot of misinformation on the LDS church that is presented by both critics and defenders of the faith - particularly on the Internet. We present both sides fairly and let the reader decide.”

Sounds positively hazardous, doesn’t it? I mean, approach Mormon Church history with that attitude and who knows where it will lead? Well, Gordon B Hinckley, the late Mormon prophet and patron saint of Alzheimer's sufferers, claimed:

"Well, we have nothing to hide. Our history is an open book. They may find what they are looking for, but the fact is the history of the church is clear and open and leads to faith and strength and virtues."
~ Dec. 25, 2005 interview with The Associated Press

So, what’s not to like about writers who simply accept the invitation to read the “open book” and comment on what they find there?

Well now, the problem is you can take these invitations to “investigate” Mormonism a little too literally. I mean, when they say “investigate” they mean for you to look at and approve of, be impressed by those things they want to show you.

It’s rather like inviting someone around to your home and saying, “make yourself at home!” You don’t expect them to take you literally, to find them poking around in your drawers, looking through your private papers. If they do that you might be inclined to call the police.

Who calls the authorities when someone goes poking around in Mormon affairs they have no business looking at? Never fear, there are always fine, upstanding, true believing Mormons ready to do their duty. Scott Gordon, president of FAIR for instance. In the Salt Lake Tribune story he is quoted:

Scott Gordon, president of a group of Mormon defenders called FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research), said he believed Twede was going to his LDS meetings to try and shake the faith of members he met there. Scott said he forwarded his concerns about Twede to "a list of friends, including some who work in the LDS Church Office Building."

I can imagine the e-mail: “Guys, we invited someone into the house and now he’s rummaging around in brother Joseph’s underwear draw.”

On the other hand, some people just take themselves too seriously.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Book of Mormon Archaeology-The Closer Look

Book of Mormon 

The subject of Book of Mormon archaeology is fraught with difficulties for the Mormon apologist. The remarks in the last post illustrate very well some of those problems. If I lift out a few key points from the “compelling argument” I reproduced there you will see what I mean. If you haven’t already perhaps you should glance over what I wrote last time then – read on:

for “scholars” read “Mormon” scholars

The second paragraph of the argument reads:

Archaeological data from the ancient Near East and the Americas have been used both to support and to discredit the Book of Mormon. Many scholars see no support for the Book of Mormon in the archaeological records, since no one has found any inscriptional evidence for, or material remains that can be tied directly to, any of the persons, places, or things mentioned in the book (Smithsonian Institution).

It would be closer to the truth to say:

[Non-Mormon] scholars [without exception] see no support for the Book of Mormon in the archaeological records, [this is because] no one has found any inscriptional evidence for, or material remains that can be tied directly to, any of the persons, places, or things mentioned in the book.

You see what they have done of course. Taken the honest distinction between Mormon and non-Mormon scholars and substituted the dishonest distinction of some scholars who see it this way and some that. This plants the idea that the controversy is simply between scholars and not between Mormon scholars and non-Mormon scholars.

It goes on to state:

Several types of indirect archaeological evidence, however, have been used in support of the Book of Mormon. For example, John L. Sorenson and M. Wells Jakeman tentatively identified the Olmec (2000-600 B.C.) and Late Pre-Classic Maya (300 B.C.-A.D. 250) cultures in Central America with the jaredite and nephite cultures, based on correspondences between periods of cultural development in these areas and the pattern of cultural change in the Book of Mormon.

Two points arise from this paragraph. The first follows from my point above, for it would be closer to the truth to state:

Several types of indirect archaeological evidence, however, have been used [although speculatively and only by Mormon scholars] in support of the Book of Mormon. For example, John L. Sorenson and M. Wells Jakeman [both Mormon scholars] tentatively identified the Olmec (2000-600 B.C.) and Late Pre-Classic Maya (300 B.C.-A.D. 250) cultures in Central America with the jaredite and nephite cultures, based on correspondences between periods of cultural development in these areas and the pattern of cultural change in the Book of Mormon.

pyramids

My second point is obvious when you think about it, which is that correspondences are not evidence of a relationship. A classic example is the once much-vaunted account of pyramids in Central and South America. Many who have spoken to Mormons will have been told of the curious correspondence between pyramids in the Old World and pyramids in the New World.

The implication has always been that it is evidence of culture and technology travelling via means accounted for in the Book of Mormon. The truth is that pyramid structures are found in many parts of the world along a parallel just north and south of the equator. This is accounted for by the fact that people here embraced sun worship (for obvious reasons) and built structures to get closer to the object of their worship.

Without mortar the most efficient structure for reaching the greatest height was the pyramid. Wherever in the world these people were they worked this out for themselves and built accordingly. If they can do it with the pyramid then they can do it with all kinds of inventions, and the following paragraph in the “compelling argument” admits as much, speaking of "independent inventions".

Likewise, parallels between cultural traits of the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica perhaps indicate transoceanic contacts between the two regions. Among these are such minor secondary traits as horned incense burners, models of house types, wheel-made pottery, cement, the true arch, and the use of stone boxes. All of these may, however, represent independent inventions.

Tree of life

The next paragraph answers its own point:

Stronger evidence for contacts may be found in the tree of life motif, a common religious theme, on Stela 5 from Izapa in Chiapas, Mexico. Jakeman, in 1959, studied Stela 5 in detail and concluded that it represented the sons of a legendary ancestral couple absorbing and perhaps recording their knowledge of a munificent Tree of Life. This can be compared favorably to the account of Lehi's vision in the Book of Mormon (1 Ne. 8).

Of course, the Tree of Life is a popular motif in Mormon theology. But note the key phrase in the opening words:

"A common religious theme"

Like the pyramids, the tree of life can be found in many cultures and a significant connection could be seen by those who want to see it with any representation of this motif anywhere in the world. The only thing this discovery proves is that the tree of life is a common motif.

Note the careful wording in the following paragraph:

The presence of a bearded white deity, Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan, in the pantheon of the Aztec, Toltec, and Maya has also been advanced as indirect evidence of Christ's visit to the New World. The deity is represented as a feathered serpent, and elements of his worship may have similarities to those associated with Christ's Atonement.

Note the tentative "advanced as indirect evidence" and "elements of his worship may have similarities". This is typical of this kind of non-reasoning. Evidence is always “indirect”, “tentative”, “suggested”, maybe, could be, might be, should be, ought to be, etc. but no evidence.

a word of Caution

Finally, I would draw your attention to the attempt to give the impression of scholarly substance and gravitas to this whole subject in the following paragraphs:

“Recent work by LDS professional archaeologists such as Ray Matheny at El Mirador and by the New World Archaeological Foundation in Chiapas has been directed toward an understanding of the factors that led to the development of complex societies in Mesoamerica in general. Under C. Wilfred Griggs, a team of Brigham Young University scholars has sponsored excavations in Egypt, and other LDS archaeologists have been involved in projects in Israel and Jordan.

Another area of archaeological investigation is in LDS history. Dale Berge's excavations at Nauvoo; the Whitmer farm in New York; the early Mormon settlement of Goshen (Utah); the Utah mining town of Mercur; and, most recently, Camp Floyd, the headquarters of Johnston's army in Utah, have provided information about the economic and social interactions between early Mormon and non-Mormon communities.”

the sleight of hand

Two things need highlighting here. The first is to reiterate that all the scholarship alluded to is Mormon. The names named are Mormon, the grand sounding New World Archaeological Foundation is Mormon, the prestigious seat of learning, BYU, is Mormon, the excavations are exclusively Mormon in motivation, in execution, and in the final assessment of whatever is uncovered.

One might be forgiven for suspecting that Mormons are finding what they are looking for, and not simply discovering what is there. Now no one wants to deprive Mormons of their scholars. However, for this type of scholarship to have weight and due influence it must be recognised outside the circle of those with a vested interest in furthering a faith position. This scholarship is not so recognised.

The second point is that the introduction of the subject of more recent Mormon history might be seen as prejudicing the evidence by introducing unrelated but more credible research. The “compelling argument” is originally introduced as a piece on Biblical and Mesoamerican archaeological research, and gives the impression of ancient discovery, but ends with an account of how knowledge of early Mormon pioneer history is being confirmed by archaeology.

Adding an exciting piece of news about early Mormon history has the effect of making people look at what is historically more solid ground, i.e. pioneer archaeology, and draw a direct comparison, concluding that the same degree of reliability can be expected of early Mormon/Mesoamerican archaeological research. This is certainly not the case, and we must be careful how we read these things.

So, now you know how credibility can be conjured from thin air, how reputations can be built on sand, fame fed by no more than people’s trusting faith, and a whole industry grow up around a set of gold plates no one has seen, giving a history no one can establish about a people  no one can find in a land even Mormons cannot reliably identify.

Maybe you will still want to book your day at the Book of Mormon Lands Conference but, if you do, maybe you will want to prepare some more probing questions than you at first thought were needed. And if you see a shiny-faced, wide-eyed, True-Believing-Mormon sitting next to you filling in the form and writing out the cheque for the next Book of Mormon Lands Tour, well, perhaps you should do the Christian thing and have a “word to the wise”; if you know what I mean.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Book of Mormon Archaeology-The Compelling Argument

The Book of Mormon Lands Conference will be held this year on October 20th at the Salt Lake City Sheraton (parking at rear though no word about a helipad; sorry Mitt)

I am so looking forward to it. There are scholars, educators, an artist, and they have an archaeo-astronomer (a discipline so new it isn’t even in my spell-checker).

Some fellow is bringing along his magnum opus and I for one cannot wait to see that. There are explorers (one of them even looks a bit like Indiana Jones) and there’s a bloke billed as a motivational speaker. No doubt he will be needed by day’s end to help any with nagging doubts, unanswered questions or any thoughts of asking for a refund.

Some might say that looking for Book of Mormon lands is rather like seeking out Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, Lewis’s Narnia or Swift’s Lilliput. Well, the cynics needn’t be so quick to judge according to one of my correspondents. Reading his comments you can’t help but think there must be great lumps of BOM archaeology lying around, tantalisingly close, just waiting to be found. Hmm, sound familiar? In any event, this is his,

Compelling Argument

Archaeological data from the ancient Near East and the Americas have been used both to support and to discredit the Book of Mormon. Many scholars see no support for the Book of Mormon in the archaeological records, since no one has found any inscriptional evidence for, or material remains that can be tied directly to, any of the persons, places, or things mentioned in the book (Smithsonian Institution).

Several types of indirect archaeological evidence…have been used in support of the Book of Mormon. For example, John L. Sorenson and M. Wells Jakeman tentatively identified the Olmec (2000-600 B.C.) and Late Pre-Classic Maya (300 B.C.-A.D. 250) cultures in Central America with the jaredite (sic) and nephite (sic) cultures, based on correspondences between periods of cultural development in these areas and the pattern of cultural change in the Book of Mormon.

Likewise, parallels between cultural traits of the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica perhaps indicate transoceanic contacts between the two regions. Among these are such minor secondary traits as horned incense burners, models of house types, wheel-made pottery, cement, the true arch, and the use of stone boxes. All of these may, however, represent independent inventions.

Stronger evidence for contacts may be found in the tree of life motif, a common religious theme, on Stela 5 from Izapa in Chiapas, Mexico. Jakeman, in 1959, studied Stela 5 in detail and concluded that it represented the sons of a legendary ancestral couple absorbing and perhaps recording their knowledge of a munificent Tree of Life. This can be compared favorably to the account of Lehi's vision in the Book of Mormon (1 Ne. 8).

The presence of a bearded white deity, Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan, in the pantheon of the Aztec, Toltec, and Maya has also been advanced as indirect evidence of Christ's visit to the New World. The deity is represented as a feathered serpent, and elements of his worship may have similarities to those associated with Christ's Atonement.

Recent work by LDS professional archaeologists such as Ray Matheny at El Mirador and by the New World Archaeological Foundation in Chiapas has been directed toward an understanding of the factors that led to the development of complex societies in Mesoamerica in general. Under C. Wilfred Griggs, a team of Brigham Young University scholars has sponsored excavations in Egypt, and other LDS archaeologists have been involved in projects in Israel and Jordan.

Another area of archaeological investigation is in LDS history. Dale Berge's excavations at Nauvoo; the Whitmer farm in New York; the early Mormon settlement of Goshen (Utah); the Utah mining town of Mercur; and, most recently, Camp Floyd, the headquarters of Johnston's army in Utah, have provided information about the economic and social interactions between early Mormon and non-Mormon communities.”

Come now. You’re impressed. Didn’t know there was so much in it did you? Feeling foolish now aren’t you? Maybe you should sign up for this day conference, let me know how it goes. I won’t be there of course. 4,000 miles is a stretch even for something this compelling.

not a shard

On the other hand, notwithstanding this apparent cornucopia of BOM scholarship, the subject of Book of Mormon archaeology is still fraught with difficulties for the Mormon apologist. I would repeat the second paragraph in the “compelling argument”,

“…scholars see no support for the Book of Mormon in the archaeological records, since no one has found any inscriptional evidence for, or material remains that can be tied directly to, any of the persons, places, or things mentioned in the book.”

By their own admission, not a city, not a town or village, not a building, not a wall, or a stone, not a pot, not a shard,not a coin, not a hair grip, not a spear, or a sword, not an arrowhead, not a language, not a dialect, not a syllable, not a record, not a page or a portion of a text remains from a people group said to have lived, thrived, built large cities, raised huge armies, fought great battles, won and lost wars, traded, travelled, taught and preached and put a high premium on record keeping between 600BC and 400AD.

Mormons will argue that “after all this is ancient history.” But, while this 800-year period does come at the end of what is generally recognised as “Ancient History” (from the earliest known civilisations – c15,000BC - to the fall of the roman Empire – 456AD) it is still pretty recent history and readily accessible to modern historians. When we look at the world in that time period we can be confident of the following because it is established by historical research;

  • c600BC Development in present day Mexico of Zapotec pictograph writing.
  • Upanishads texts of Hinduism compiled in India
  • Mayan ;people start construction of the city of Tikal in modern Guatemala
  • c575BC Etruscan engineers dig the Cloaca Maxima sewer in Rome
  • c563BC Birth of Siddhartha Gautama (d483BC) – the Buddha
  • c550BC Methods for mass producing cast iron invented in China
  • c500BC First Chinese coins manufactured, in the shape of miniature tools
  • Emergence of Paracas culture in s Peru
  • c430BC Earliest known woven wool carpet buried with a Scythian chief in s Siberia
  • c425BC Greek philosopher Democritus (460-370BC) theorises atoms
  • c400BC Start of Nazca culture in Coastal s Peru
  • c300BC Maya build cities in the lowland region of Peten in Guatemala
  • Museum and Great Library founded at Alexandria
  • c200BC Emergence of the Zapotec state in present-day Mexico

I believe you get the picture. Any serious historian will tell you that a civilisation cannot disappear with no trace. The above list is evidence of the fact and confirms our confident knowledge of other parts of the world and the Americas in the main period in question from the BOM.

So, given the evidence, or lack of it, how do these “scholars” make their living, keep their audience and credibility, sound so compelling – to some at least? In the next post I sound a word of caution and we will lift out a few key points from the “compelling argument” so you will see how it is done. Perhaps you should delay your rush to find Zarahemla until you take a closer look.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Mormons:Standing Together Through Mormon Eyes

“Surely  there is a way for people of goodwill who love God and have taken upon themselves the name of Christ to stand together for the cause of Christ and against the forces of sin.”

So reasons Elder Jeffrey R Holland, Mormon apostle in an address delivered to “a group of Christian leaders” in Salt Lake City in March 2011, subsequently excerpted in the August 2012 Ensign magazine. Its a popular sentiment and, as a general principle, it is no bad thing that people of good will work together for the common good.

Typically, the devil is in the detail and defining terms helps us see a different picture from the one being painted in this carefully crafted address with its selective references and heavy emotional appeal.

the cause of Christ through Mormon eyes

Any reasonable, gospel motivated Evangelical believer might find heart warming this invitation from a senior Mormon leader. How can we deny the earnest plea of a co-belligerent against the works of sin? We must learn, however, to read these things through the eyes of a Mormon if we are to understand the subtext here.

Two clear themes emerge from this talk. The theme of duty overriding differences, and the idea that Mormons are Christians too, therefore those differences are surmountable in service to the common good.

When we look closer we find that the “soft” message, that Mormons revere the Christ of the Bible is taken from Mormon texts, while the “hard” message that we are “saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (3rd Article of Faith) is almost exclusively lifted from the Bible. Ergo, Mormons preach Christ and the Bible teaches works salvation.

You can read more about how Mormons view Scripture here.

works salvation

In the context of standing together against the forces of evil he insists the effort is worthwhile, quoting Ro.8:31, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

In trying harder not to separate each other from the love of Christ he insists we will be, “…more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Ro.8:37

Insisting we unite “in the ‘hands-on’ work of the ministry” he quotes Luke 11:17 regarding a house divided against itself not standing. Conveniently he overlooks the fact that we are not one house to start with and suggests we unite because we have a more united common foe.

He even manages to work in the familiar Mormon saw that insists we are saved by a combination of faith and works, citing James 2.

We are enjoined to deny ourselves of all ungodliness, to “take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23); keep all his commandments (John 14:15, emphasis his); after which we are told God will give us the victory through Jesus (1 Cor.15:57)

He closes quoting Hebrews 13:20-21, which is a prayer that we be made perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ…”

“You see!” says the Mormon reader, “We are not simply “saved by grace” (Ro.3:24) but “saved by grace after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23, BOM)

“the Christ we revere”

In establishing Christian credentials for Mormons Elder Holland speaks of “the Christ we revere”, citing the title page of the Book of Mormon, which declares Christ to be “the Eternal God." He is discrete about the fact that the Christ of later Mormonism evolved dramatically from the pseudo-orthodox Modalism of his church’s founding book.

“Early in the Book of Mormon,” he declares, “a Nephite prophet, ‘saw that [Jesus] was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.’” (1 Nephi 11:33) We are meant to overlook this anachronism, putting these New Covenant words into the mouth of someone who is meant to have lived some 600 years before Christ, before the mystery hidden for ages past was revealed (Col.1:26)

He points out that Mormons demonstrate their faith, “by trusting in and relying upon '’the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah’” (2 Nephi 2:8) and he ends this witness to Christ with the familiar quote from 2 Nephi 25:26,27) “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ…etc.”  again overlooking the glaring anachronism of the text (Ro.16:25)

He emphasises the unity of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Ghost (sic): “one in spirit, one in strength, one in purpose, one in voice, one in glory, one in will, one in goodness, and one in grace – one in every conceivable form and facet…” citing 2 Nephi 11:36,

“And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto me,; for the Father and I and the Holy Ghost are one.”

“You see!” says the Mormon. “We worship the same Christ of Scripture.”

But Elder Holland finishes his thoughts about the unity of the godhead, “…except that of their separate physical embodiment” (emphasis his)

Oh, but that exception speaks volumes. Behind those seven words is the fact that Mormons believe God wasn’t always God, but is an exalted man who became God by doing the works discussed earlier. That men may become gods by the same process. That Jesus, far from being “the Eternal God” does not enjoy the same level of glory as God the Father (D&C 93)

co-belligerents?

Co-belligerence may be defined as a co-operation with others against a common enemy without any formal treaty of alliance.

Alliance, on the other hand, indicates a closeness that is not there in co-belligerence.

While the last defines a broad affinity in terms of culture, religion, ideology and so forth, in the former this affinity is absent and there is a remoteness between the parties, the only common ground being a common enemy.

We can all appreciate freedom of religion and conscience, see the threat to the family as the basic unit of society, understand our duty to the poor and disadvantaged.

If Elder Holland’s appeal advocated nothing more than co-belligerence in their cause we might cautiously give it our amen. I would stand with any decent human being against the evils that beset our world, no matter they disagree with me on every point of my faith. But this is not what we are being urged to here.

This apostle of Mormonism urges an alliance, a “standing together for the Cause of Christ.” But Mormonism does not serve the cause of Christ as understood from the Bible by Evangelicals. There is no affinity, which explains why we evangelise Mormons and they proselytise us.

And, lest anyone think this comment uncharitable, unworthy remember that to Mormons, we are apostate, all wrong, corrupt, our creeds abominable. The Christian service Elder Holland so eloquently commends at the beginning of his talk is portrayed in Mormon scripture as nothing more than lip-service; the gospel we preach only “the commandments of men.” (Joseph Smith – History 1:19)

standing together

Of course, Standing Together is the name of Greg Johnson’s Christian ministry responsible for the dialogue celebrated by Elder Holland in his address. It brought Ravi Zacharias to Utah to speak at the Mormon Tabernacle in 2004. This was where Richard Mouw made his controversial apology to Mormons on behalf of Evangelicals.

It is a Christian ministry that has won respect and support from evangelical leaders, although others question the wisdom of such a close association with Mormonism.

It has been said that, while Greg Johnson’s aims are noble his work is being cynically used by Mormon leaders to gain acceptance and respectability by association. You might understand this concern when you see the very different take this Mormon leader has on this initiative.

It must be hoped that the amicable proximity of Mormons to Christians results in the challenging proximity of Mormons to the truth. But the Scripture tells us we should be wise as serpents as well as innocent as doves (Mt.10:16) and in our reaching out to Mormons remember that, while my Mormon neighbour may be my friend, Mormonism remains the enemy of the gospel.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Mormonism: Unto all the World?

The Mormon website has a big feature on prophets and apostles, declaring, “Today’s prophets and apostles carry the gospel ‘unto all the world,’ as they have throughout history.”

Throughout history? Really? prophets and apostles throughout history? But this is not about historical accuracy so much as it is about establishing the right image, first in the minds of the faithful and, through them, in the minds of the unwary beyond the Mormon organisation.

One has only to mention prayer, the Bible, church, Jesus, prophets and apostles and many will readily assume they are hearing a Christian message. “Look at the name of our church!” a Mormon might exclaim. “The name of Jesus is in our church’s name. Of course we are Christian.” ‘What you see is what you get,’ is the reasoning and it is not unreasonable that people buy it.

There is even an interactive map showing where in the world these prophets and apostles have been carrying the Mormon gospel. Pins on a map can give a real sense of size and influence. Each pin tells a story. Accompanying the pin stuck in China, for instance, is the story of how “Elder Holland and Elder Bednar expressed their love for members throughout Asia and encouraged them to build up the Church in their part of the world.”

“Throughout Asia?” The current population of Asia is reckoned at 4.2 billion, some 60% of the world’s population. The Mormon population of Asia is just over 1 million. That’s 0.0238% of the Asian population. The Christian population of Asia is estimated at 351million. Gives  perspective doesn’t it? More than a map with strategically placed pins.

You see, anyone can send a newsletter abroad, collect a few foreign followers online, send out E-Newsletters to a few different countries and call themselves an International ministry. But the test of a ministry is effectiveness not whether your newsletter goes out to Brian in Canada, Lesley in the UK and Freiderich in Germany, or whether a couple of guys have made some overseas trips to a congregation in Turkey. The fact is its all smoke and mirrors, albeit the best smoke and mirrors money can buy.

And on the subject of money, you don’t think all those overseas units of the Mormon Church are self-sustaining do you? Here in the UK there are 188,000 members. only one third of these are “active” and only half of that one third will be temple worthy, i.e. able to fill leadership roles, pay a full tithe etc. That leaves a shave under 63,000 going to church and 32,000 carrying most of the burden of leadership and finance.

So where does the money come from? “The parent company” according to the accounts that, unlike in the US and according to UK law, have to be lodged at Companies House.

In 2005, they reveal, The charity is under the sole ownership of the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated  £16,698,000 to the on going running of the UK church during the year.

What? You didn’t think 32,000 Mormons were paying for and running two temples, 332 congregations, 116 family history centres and six missions with a little help from the nominal membership – did you?

For more on the true picture of this “World-wide church” see my post on Mormon Demographics

Friday, 8 June 2012

Joseph Smith and Jesus the Christ

One of the most serious charges brought against Mormonism and one of its most controversial teachings is the relation of Joseph Smith to Jesus. Some critics go so far as to claim that, in Mormon teaching, Joseph is the equal of Jesus. Mormons, scandalised by such a charge insist is defamatory and even some Christians jump to the defence of Mormons, insisting that, in this instance at least, Critics have gone too far.

I have addressed before the question of whether Mormonism is Christianity restored or Christianity replaced. We have also looked at the Mormon claim that authority is delegated to Joseph to judge with Christ and asked Who is the Way, Joseph or Jesus? Here we see the key to understanding this issue is the question of which Jesus?

Which Jesus?

The danger in addressing this question is in comparing Joseph Smith of Mormonism with the Jesus of the Bible, the Christian Jesus. It quickly becomes apparent that Mormons cannot be making any such comparison since the Jesus of Scripture is God and Joseph Smith is a man. But then the Jesus of Mormonism is not the Jesus of the Bible and we are not comparing these two characters. We are comparing Joseph Smith and the Mormon Jesus and the difference is profound.

I should make plain that Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith while they do worship the Mormon Jesus. It is notable however that, while Mormons worship Jesus they do not address him in prayer.

Bruce R McConkie famously described “the approved pattern of prayer”, which is addressed to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ; Mormons don't pray to Jesus. Clearly worship of Jesus is qualified and this is significant.

The Plan

The first thing to consider is that the Jesus of Mormonism is not the 'Way' of Scripture. In Mormonism he came not to be the Way but to show us the way and the way is the Plan of Salvation. Mormonism doesn't bring us a Saviour so much as a system and the Mormon Jesus, while they call him Saviour, is one, albeit significant part of that system.

Where a Christian looks to John 3:16 etc. and builds their faith on the promises of God and the finished work of Christ at Calvary, a Mormon looks to the plan and on Jesus as having, in Gethsemane, made a second chance for him to work that plan - and as an example to follow in obeying the plan. This is Jesus as exemplar and not Jesus as emancipator.

As we have so often heard it expressed by Mormons, “We still have to do our part in keeping the commandments” or, as the 8th article of faith has it, “...all mankind may be saved, by obedience...”

The Man

The plan is the way, then, and not the Man, and it was voted upon in a pre-mortal council of the gods. Each person in that pre-mortal council was to play their part in administering the plan. Each was a son or daughter of an exalted man called Elohim, Jesus being the eldest, Lucifer the second son.

They were, and are still, the same species, men, sons of an exalted man, the only difference being their place in the order of 'birth' in that pre-mortal life and their role in administering Elohim's plan for his children on earth. Mormon 'scripture' explains that each 'intelligence' was assigned a role as 'ruler' in God's plan. (Abraham 3:21-23)

Joseph Smith was one such 'intelligence' just like Jesus and, just as Jesus was to be the 'Saviour' who would come in the Meridian of time, so Joseph would play his role as Joseph the Prophet (note how they capitalise it) of the last days, holding the keys of all previous dispensations, including that of Christ. We are talking about two 'men' with different roles in a drama that revolves not around Jesus the Christ but around 'God's great plan of happiness', the Plan of Salvation.

Brigham Young said of Joseph Smith:

No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith...He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity and calling, as God does in heaven.”

I am an Apostle of Joseph Smith...all who reject my testimony will go to hell.”

I will now give you my scripture...Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God...that spirit is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that God sent Joseph Smith...is anti-Christ.”

(Journal of Discourses, Vol.14, p 203; vol.7, p 289; vol.8, p 176)

All who have wondered how a man could make such audacious claims may begin to understand them in light of the fact that Mormons have not just elevated Joseph but have demoted Jesus, making him the same species as Joseph and Brigham since before the world began. Once you have two beings of the same species carrying out different roles in a wider plan it is not so great a leap from Joseph to Jesus.

Progression

I am sure you are familiar with the Mormon idea of progression. The idea that God came to be God by being obedient as a man to his God, according to the infamous King Follett Discourse. According to Doctrine and Covenants 93 Jesus himself progressed, “he received not of the fullness at the first, but received grace for grace;And he received not of the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace until he received a fullness; and thus he was called the Son of God because he received not of the fullness at the first.” (D&C 93:12-14)

This is not the Jesus of Philippians 2, “Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philip.2:6-7 ESV).

This is not the condescension of God. This is the progression of one who once sat in a pre-mortal council with other 'spirit children', including Joseph Smith, as first among equals. One day Joseph expects to sit in judgement with Jesus, meanwhile, as the Mormon hymn has it, “Mingling with God's, he can plan for his brethren; death cannot conquer the hero again.” (Praise to the Man, Hymns 27)

Joseph Smith

Having made Jesus man become god and not God become man, having given him a part to play in the plan of happiness, what do the Mormons do with Joseph Smith?

Exalted Progenitors

Brigham Young said of Joseph Smith:

It was decreed to the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of the world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fullness of the keys and power of the priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father's father, and upon his progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood, as it has circulated from it's fountain to the birth of that man. He was foreordained in eternity to ;preside over this last dispensation.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p 108)

That sounds remarkably like the Mormon equivalent of Jesus' genealogy and fore-ordination doesn't it? A line clear back to Abraham, even to Adam? Fore-ordination in eternity, before the foundations of the earth were laid? It sounds positively blasphemous until you realise that just about every key figure in the plan can make the same proud boast.

Precious Blood

I had a brief but interesting correspondence with Daniel Peterson on this next issue. Professor Peterson came to the defence of his fellow BYU professor Robert Millet whose words I use in both my book and in articles to illustrate how dangerously close to out-and-out blasphemy even intelligent and thoughtful Mormons can get. In an article in the June 1994 Ensign magazine (p 20) Robert Millet extols the virtues and character of Joseph Smith:

Save Jesus Christ only, the world has never known a more competent authority than Joseph Smith. It is one thing to read a book of scripture and quite another to be personally instructed by its authors. Who among the world's scholars and religious leaders can lay claim to having stood face to face with Adam, Enoch, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John?”

That sounds remarkably like Joseph Smith's own Mount of Transfiguration experience but only so in the context of what Mormons teach happened on the Mount. To a Christian the three disciples saw Christ's glory unveiled as he was transfigured but Mormon apostle Bruce R McConkie cited in the New Testament Institute Manual The Life and Teachings of Jesus explains it thus:

Transfiguration is a special change in appearance and nature which is wrought upon a person or thing by the power of God . This divine transformation is from a lower to a higher state; it results in a more exalted, impressive and glorious condition.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd.ed. P 803)

Joseph Smith wrote that it was Peter, James and John who were transfigured (Teachings, p.158) and in Doctrines of Salvation (Vol.2, p 16) Joseph Fielding Smith said that Peter, James and John received their endowments on the Mount and, like Joseph Smith, received instruction while there (D&C 63:20-22). Another example of exalting men by demoting Christ and misinterpreting a Bible event.

Mediating Blood?

The most shocking commentary was to come. Millet goes on to compare the death of Smith with the death of Christ:

The life of Joseph Smith was in some degree patterned after that of his Master, Jesus Christ. That pattern holds true even when extended to its tragic conclusion. Like his Master, Joseph Smith also shed his blood in order that the final testament, the re-establishment of the covenant, might be in full effect (see Heb.9:16)”

Hebrews 9:16 (his reference) refers to the death of Jesus releasing to those who trust in him “the promised eternal inheritance” (Heb.9:15). Mormon theology teaches that such benefits were lost in apostasy. Therefore it was necessary for blood to be shed again in order to re-establish what had been lost.

The blood of Joseph was deemed sufficient to achieve that for which the blood of Christ was once thought sufficient. Joseph, then, becomes mediator of the restored covenant. Bill McKeever tellingly relates how a guide at Carthage Jail bowed his head and in a solemn and reverent tone said that the place was “the Mormon Calvary.”

In a note to Peterson, Robert Millet wrote:

"Dear Dan:

"I remember writing the piece for the ENSIGN that you sent to me. Obviously I never intended anyone to suppose that I meant that Joseph Smith's blood was shed for the remission of sins, or that Latter-day Saints esteem Brother Joseph to be other than a prophet-leader, the head of the final dispensation. Moses stood in a mediational role with ancient Israel, not in the sense that he was their Savior or Redeemer, but rather in the sense that God had called him as a covenant spokesman, someone to speak to the people on his behalf. So it was with Joseph Smith.

He was a man, a mortal man, but a man called and empowered of God. We do not worship Joseph Smith, but we do admire him, love him, and deeply appreciate him for what God made known through him and for the fact that he sealed his testimony of the Savior with his own blood. That blood was not shed to ransom or redeem anyone, for that power is found only in the precious blood of Christ. Joseph Smith's blood reminds us of the price that must occasionally be paid by the Lord's chosen servants to declare the truth." I hope these brief comments help to clarify our position toward Joseph Smith.

"Robert L. Millet"

I responded, in part, as follows:

A Christian reading his article would still be hard-pressed, I believe, to confidently come to the conclusion that, as Professor Millet put it, We do not worship Joseph Smith, but we do admire him, love him, and deeply appreciate him for what God made known through him and for the fact that he sealed his testimony of the Savior with his own blood. Let us look at what he is saying now and compare it with what is recorded in the Ensign article, June 1994, p.22.

NOW: Joseph Smith's blood reminds us of the price that must occasionally be paid by the Lord's chosen servants to declare the truth. In a dissembling fashion Professor Millet seems to be saying that Joseph's blood was shed simply to seal his testimony. This, however, seems suspiciously like back peddling on his part for, whatever his intentions now, it is not what he wrote in 1994.

THEN: The life of Joseph Smith was in some degree patterned after that of his Master, Jesus Christ. That pattern holds true even when extended to its tragic conclusion. Like his Master, Joseph Smith also shed his blood in order that the final testament, the re-establishment of the new covenant, might be in full effect (see Heb.9:16)" (Emphasis added).

As I have already explained, Hebrews 9:16 is a reference to the death of Jesus releasing to his beneficiaries (all who believe - Rom.10:9) "the promised eternal inheritance" (v15), thus making him "the mediator of the new covenant" (v15). Mormon theology teaches that such benefits were lost in apostasy (a complete falling away from the truth) before the end of the second century and that a restoration was necessary.

Professor Millet appears to be saying that it was necessary that there had to be a shedding of blood once more in order to re-establish that which was once lost, thus making Joseph the mediator of the restored covenant. This comparison is extravagant, to say the least, even for someone whose blood was shed to seal his testimony.

For such a one surely the heroes of Hebrews 11:32-40 would have been a more appropriate comparison than Hebrews 9:16. For here are the equals in scripture of those who die in order to seal their testimony of God.

However, Professor Millet compares Joseph, not with saints of previous ages martyred for their testimony, but with Jesus. Did Jesus, then, simply die to "seal his testimony", as Professor Millet is now saying Joseph did? Not at all! Taken in context, verse 16 of Hebrews 9 is speaking not of testimony but of testament (Mormons use the KJV which uses this word). Here the word means will, as in last will and testament, (NIV, Jerusalem Bible, RSV), and the passage is speaking of an inheritance following the death of one who made a will. In this case it is an eternal inheritance, freedom from sins (v15).

Professor Millet does not seem to be confusing testimony and testament because he does clearly use the word covenant in the correct context. I cannot see how he could have been ignorant, therefore, of the parallel he was drawing in comparing Joseph with Jesus. The key phrase is in order that. He declared that Joseph "…shed his blood in order that the final testament (not testimony or witness but testament, covenant or will), the re-establishment of the new covenant (or will), might be in full effect".

He then makes clear reference to Hebrews 9:16. Joseph's blood, then, does not simply seal his testimony but rather releases new covenant blessing. I simply cannot get "shed his blood to seal his testimony" from "shed his blood in order that the final testament (or covenant) might be in full effect (see Heb.9:16)".

Whatever his intention he is declaring that Joseph's death had the effect of releasing covenant blessing as did the blood of Jesus. This is not a matter of theology but of plain English.

In light of the above, I have tried to understand Professor Millet's latest assertion that Joseph's death simply sealed his testimony. The only way this could be so is if he is reading Heb.9:16 out of context. In the KJV it reads: For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. Perhaps he is making this verse stand alone and interpreting it as, where there is a testimony then the testifier must seal it with his death. If this is the case this is poor exegesis, indeed it is not exegesis but eisegesis.

Furthermore, if this is the case he certainly should have known better, for the Mormon reference Bible has a footnote for this verse that clearly shows testament to mean covenant and not testimony. We cannot get away, I am afraid, from the phrase "shed his blood in order that the final testament (or covenant) might be in full effect (see Heb.9:16)".

This is a lengthy explanation but I think it illustrates very well the dilemma faced by every Mormon who seeks to expound and explain his faith in the restored gospel of Joseph Smith. They are so used to speaking and writing of Joseph Smith in these exalted terms they don't even know they are doing it and, I suspect, don't understand the terms they do use to speak of him.

There seems to be nothing so extravagant that it cannot be used to describe Joseph; exalted forebears, foreordained from before the foundations of the earth, the one all must pass to get into heaven, mingling with gods and planning for his brethren, his blood shed to release covenant blessing.

Two Faces

Of course, as we consider this issue it is well to remember that a Mormon can make two conflicting claims for their religion at the same time, insisting they are led by prophets then as easily dismissing those prophets when their statements are inconvenient; claiming prophets declare new scripture then insisting on a fixed canon; declaring the Bible unreliable then insisting they trust it – you know this tune as well as anyone I am sure..

Then there is the amazing disappearing doctrines, disappearing like a politician's election promises, conveniently “forgotten” by octogenarian leaders in Salt Lake City when challenged about these things. Today, of course, Mormonism has more facets and expressions than ever as those leaders increasingly lose control of amateur 'scriptorians' (an exclusively Mormon epithet) and BYU professionals who make most of the running on doctrine these days.

And with increasingly irrelevant leaders many Mormons are defining their religion according to their personal paradigms and so it is reasonable to expect any Mormon you meet to see things a little differently than what you expected. They don't worship Joseph but still they revere him such that you might be forgiven for thinking they did.

I recall a Mormon bishop I knew building a sermon around the Messianic prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:18. Having built a picture, much as you might expect, of a prophet above all prophets he then described its fulfilment in Joseph Smith. They can't help themselves it seems. When challenged they quickly reject any notion of their having any more than respect for Joseph Smith, insisting it is all “anti-Mormon” lies. Left to themselves, however, from Brigham Young to Robert Millet, from the usurping of Messianic prophecy to “the Mormon Calvary” they extol him, exalt him, even sing a hymn in his name.

One other personal experience sums up for me the relative positions of Joseph and Jesus. On a Christian ministry forum a few years back a Christian struck up a good relationship with a Mormon. He offered to send the Mormon a CD of lively Christian worship music and the Mormon took him up on the offer. A couple of weeks past and the Christian asked him, on the forum, how he got along with the music. It was great, said the Mormon, and they had enjoyed it all as a family, his children even dancing to it.

“One thing that did strike me though”, said the Mormon, “you do make rather a lot of Jesus.”

I think Mormons, like the young man with the music CD, are so enamoured of Joseph that they find it peculiar that we make so much of Jesus, so thrilled with tales of the Sacred Grove that they don't really 'get' the Christian emphasis on Calvary. I recently even had a Mormon declare that Calvary was a minor theological point raised by nit-picking Christians trying to 'bring down my religion.' His religion, of course, is Joseph Smith.