“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.
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-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)
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.