Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mormons and CS Lewis: Virtue by Association

CS LewisNovember 22 marked the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis’ death. The great man is being honoured with a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey. The CS Lewis Foundation is marking the anniversary with a series of events celebrating his enduring legacy.

Belfast city council has funded a festival celebrating his life and a 50th anniversary memorial weekend was held on 22-23 November. All in all, Christians all over the world have found some way to make the time special and all about CS Lewis.

The Mormon Church, too, has marked the special anniversary but their “celebration” is somewhat different. While Christians concentrate on Lewis, celebrating his life, faith and accomplishments, Mormons have made a great deal of how many times he has been quoted by Mormons, in Mormon conferences and periodicals.

It is reported that Lewis has been quoted in LDS Church magazines more than 100 times, and almost one-third of the citations are from speakers in general conference. Aren’t you glad I told you that?

The first time he was quoted in conference was in 1977 by Paul H Dunn. Now that is an unfortunate association since Dunn turns out to have been one of the biggest fibbers in Mormon Church history, rivalling even the great obfuscator himself, Joseph Smith.* Its a name the church will not appreciate being dug up and thrown around.

Neil A Maxwell, so beloved of right-thinking Mormons, quoted him most with 19 different citations, then James E Faust with 9. There is even a list of 23 quotes cited by Mormon leaders, along with a brief account of when, where and in which context.

Virtue by Association

There was an old British music hall song from the Edwardian era that ran:

I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales.
I'm crazy with excitement, completely off the rails
And when he said to me what she said to him -the Prince remarked to her
It was simply grand, he said "Topping band" and she said "Delightful, Sir"
Glory, Glory, Alleluia! I'm the luckiest of females;
For I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales.

The pleasure of reflected glory is a heady business for some. To have heard from her dance partner the words, he assures her, were uttered by the Prince to his partner was something to write a song about - apparently.

“Topping band,” remarked the Prince. “Topping band,” reported his dance partner. “Topping band,” repeated her friend to another girl; Swoon!

So it was that, for everyone else, it is all about CS Lewis, but for Mormons it is all about Mormonism. “What a great Christian thinker,” remarked his friends. “What a great Christian thinker,” repeated other Christians. “I quoted him,” said a Mormon.

One has to wonder at the state of the mind that can make capital of simply having quoted someone, but then this is a key facet of Mormonism. It might be said to be virtue by association.

 

*Former BYU researcher Lynn Packer extensively researched the General Authority and his lies and got sacked from BYU as a result of his publishing the truth, while Dunn was quietly retired “for health reasons” and never held to account for his perfidy.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Mormon Women: “Wear Pants to Church”–or Nothing at All?

Wear Pants to Church 2What is happening in the Mormon Church? For a second year Mormon women are being encouraged to wear pants (trousers) to church to support a feminist drive in Mormonism. What is it about?

According to the Pants to Church official website:

“Mormon feminists, women and men, wore dress pants and the color purple to their local LDS Church services on December 16, 2012. People wore pants for many different reasons, but many of those who participated were concerned about gender equality in the LDS Church.

This year, Mormon feminists will be wearing dress pants and/or the color purple to LDS Church services on December 15. We are wearing pants to celebrate inclusiveness in the LDS Church. We believe that everyone is welcome at church.

and he inviteth them all to come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile (2 Nephi 26:33)”

This gives an insight into the level of anxiety felt among Mormons over the simplest, most innocent things. I remember being at a Mormon dance in the 1970s where there were some colourful lights travelling gently around the walls and ceiling. One woman (it always seemed to be the women) protested, “Strobe lighting has been banned by the church!” She clearly had no idea what strobe lighting was but she knew the rules.

Mormons worry about such things and who can blame them when their religion is so often about petty rules and regulations? Even when you leave such a setup it can take years to get out of the habit of asking yourself, “Is it allowed?” The Pharisee party in the Bible would feel at home among these people.

Church leaders, too, can’t help themselves, with an “official statement” being issued:

"Millions of women in this church do not share the views of this small group who organized today's protest, and most church members would see such efforts as divisive."

For pity’s sake! Its a pair of trousers. But that is where Mormonism is, culturally, in the 21st century; anxious, apprehensive, legalistic, always looking around, anticipating a tap on the shoulder, an invitation to have a chat with the bishop about appropriate clothing. “Brother Thomas, where is your tie today?”

Apparently, there was “a milestone at a church general conference in April when a woman led a prayer for the first time in the conference's 183-year history.”

Imagine that! A woman praying – in church!!

As these things do, it can get ridiculous. At the most recent general conference in October, women stood in line outside an all-male priesthood meeting and asked to be let in. They were denied. They were protesting at women’s exclusion from the Mormon priesthood.

Imagine that! Women barred – from a church meeting!!

Mormon Women Bare

But imagine if they had turned up naked! Salt Lake City photographer, Katrina Anderson has been photographing nude women for the past year for her project mormonwomenbare.com You can read an interview with here on Religion Dispatches.

The photos, she says, are a statement against the "extreme modesty culture within Mormonism."  She feels although the intention to teach modesty is good, the effect is often shame and too much focus on sex. "I don't think women should carry the burden of how men view them and see them," she said.Eliza Snow

Imagine trying to persuade Eliza Snow (right) to take off her clothes for the camera! She would banish you to Outer Darkness.

Of course, like all legalistic systems, Mormonism majors on guilt, and sex is such an easy target in the Christian West. Many a young Mormon has spent two years fighting against his hormones on a mission, far from home, dreaming of his wedding night only to find duty, religion, piety and a set of ugly, cumbersome temple garments all conspiring to make the night memorable for all the wrong reasons.

What is happening in the Mormon Church? The world, the march of progress, education, the challenge of post-modern culture. It is what is happening to churches across the western world.

They are having to face the onslaught of reason and the challenge of liberalism and reason demands they pick their battles more wisely. I suppose trousers in the chapel are radical enough for now.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Lorenzo Snow Tells Mormons: Don’t Copy Joseph Smith

lorenzo-snow manual

Lorenzo Snow was the fifth president of the Mormon Church (1898-1901) and presided over a period of enormous upheaval and change. His predecessor, Wilford Woodruff, had, in 1890, officially declared the Mormon practice of polygamy heterodoxical. Mormon men were still being arrested, or living in hiding because of their polygamous lifestyles.

Legal problems over polygamy had almost bankrupted the church. His fear was that, faced with such desperate circumstances, Mormons might be tempted to emulate the questionable practices of Joseph Smith and early church leaders.

Imagine that for a moment. A church leader warning his followers against using early church leaders as role models. Its rather like your pastor saying you should not model yourself on Peter, Paul, Timothy.

Snow sought to begin solving this problem by preaching tithing. It was during his presidency that the law of tithing became official church doctrine and practice.

He delivered a sermon back in April 1889, just after he had been called as president of the Quorum of the Twelve, in which he addressed his concerns. Extracts from that sermon form chapter 21 of this year’s official Mormon study Manual, the latest in a series on Teachings of Presidents of the Church.

A version of this post appeared recently on the Mormonism Investigated ministry blog.

The Richest People in the World

1889 is significant because many of the conditions that prevailed some fifty years earlier were again being experienced by the Mormon Church.

In her seminal biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, the historian Fawn M Brodie wrote:

“Mormon theology was never burdened with otherworldliness…Wealth and power [Mormons] considered basic among the blessing both of earth and of heaven…” (No Man Knows My History, 1966 ed. pub. Alfred A Knopf, p.p. 187/8)

A quote from an 1831 letter throws light on the Saints’ view of wealth and entitlement:

“It passes for a current fact that there are immense treasures in the earth, especially in those places in the State of New York from whence many of the Mormonites emigrated last spring; and when they become sufficiently purified, these treasures are to be poured into the lap of their church; to use their own language, they are to be the richest people in the world.” (Ezra Booth, letter written late in 1831. Quoted in Brodie p. 187)

This understanding has bearing on the subject of Snow’s sermon. Here are the salient facts surrounding both periods, 1835 and 1889:

By 1835 Joseph Smith had built his own little kingdom in Kirtland

By 1877, the time of his death, Brigham Young had built a kingdom in the Salt Lake Valley

In 1835 rumours of polygamy were causing problems for the church and Joseph Smith was forced to deny the rumours, even though his denial was a palpable lie.

In 1887 the Edmunds-Tucker Act allowed the government to effectively dissolve the Mormon Church as a legal entity because of the practice of polygamy and, in 1890, it was this that forced the hand of church president Wilford Woodruff who issued the Manifesto abandoning polygamy.

In 1835 a new temple had been completed and had drained church resources

By 1890 the Salt Lake temple was completed and had drained church resources

So, what did the Saints do in 1835 to solve their financial problems? What caused Lorenzo Snow to refer to an apostasy?

Land-Grabs and Dodgy Banking

in the mid 1830’s Mormons entered a period of frenzied land speculation led by Joseph Smith himself. In other words, if there was an apostasy, Joseph was chief heretic. There was a huge influx of immigration that caused the population in and around Kirtland to jump 62 percent and the question of where they would all live had dollar signs spinning in the eyes of those able to buy and sell property.

kirtland-templeIn Kirtland, lots jumped from $50 to $2,000, and surrounding farms from $10 and $15 an acre to $150. Joseph began buying and selling land with the rest. His credit, backed by the collateral of the new temple built for some $70,000, was good so he borrowed, speculated to accumulate. Along with three others, he began a frenzy of borrowing and purchasing, hoping to make riches from the incoming Mormon population. Of course, this created a property bubble that couldn’t last but that didn’t seem to trouble the prophet.

Mormon apostle, Parley P Pratt was so concerned he wrote a letter to Joseph Smith in which he declared himself, “…fully convinced that you, and president Rigdon, both by precept and example, have been the principle means in leading this people astray, in these particulars, and having myself been led astray and caught in the same snare by your example, and by false prophesying and preaching, from your own mouths, yea, having done many things wrong and plunged myself and family, and others, well nigh into destruction, I have awoke to an awful sense of my situation, and now resolve to retrace my steps and get out of the snare, and make restitution as far as I can.” (quoted in Tanner, Mormonism-Shadow or Reality, p.528)

The level and extent of speculation was so damaging it depreciated paper money going into the United States Treasury. On July 11, 1836 Andrew Jackson issued a specie circular, forbidding agents to accept anything but gold and silver for the sale of public land (specie is a term for money in the form of coins and paper)

According to the History of the Church, Joseph Smith had marked September 11, 1836 as the day God would redeem Zion. Quoting in part Isaiah, he said, “Then, for brass the Lord will bring gold, and for iron silver, and for wood brass…and then the land will be worth possessing and the world fit to live in.” Unfortunately, the prospect facing the Saints was bleak, and they faced being driven out of Missouri as those who once were pleased to shelter them now lost all sympathy for them.

Buried Treasure

Money had to be gained from somewhere, but the specie ban made it very difficult. It was then that news of buried treasure reached Joseph, first in the form of a story in the Painesville Telegraph.

War treasure was said to be buried beneath a house in Salem, Massachusetts, and a convert named Burgess claimed he was the only one who remembered its exact location. I know what your thinking; he surely isn’t going to fall for this. Well, the pull of the old days was just too strong, the promise of buried treasure too tempting, and he arrived in Salem early in August, 1836.

Joseph’s true objective could not be revealed and in this he faced a dilemma. His initial explanation was that this was a mission tour. The truth had to come out at some time however and, as so often before, he solved his problem by receiving a revelation, Doctrine & Covenants 111 which begins:

“I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies. I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality.

Therefore, it is expedient that you should form acquaintance with men in this city, as you shall be led, and as it shall be given you. And it shall come to pass in due time that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours. Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them.” (v.v 1-5)

Mormons today who get their Mormon history only from official sources will know nothing of Joseph’s true motives, of the Saints’ true financial and moral dilemma. The heading for section 111 disingenuously reads:

“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Salem, Massachusetts, August 6, 1836. At this time the leaders of the Church were heavily in debt due to their labors (sic) in the ministry. Hearing that a large amount of money would be available to them in Salem, the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery traveled (sic) there from Kirtland, Ohio, to investigate this claim, along with preaching the gospel. The brethren transacted several items of Church business and did some preaching. When it became apparent that no money was to be forthcoming, they returned to Kirtland. Several of the factors prominent in the background are reflected in the wording of this revelation.”

They were not, however, “in debt due their labours in the ministry,” they were in debt because of wild and unsustainable land and property speculations, Joseph leading the charge.

It had been ten years since he had dug for buried gold but he hadn’t left behind his simple faith in the folklore and blind superstitions that had led to his early treasure-seeking adventures in the first place. Unfortunately for him, Burgess soon abandoned this venture, claiming the city had changed so much he could no longer be sure of the treasure’s location. The biter bit? It would seem so, since Joseph had fallen victim to the same scam he had pulled on others and, like them, he walked away without the gold in which he so believed and on which he had so depended to get him out of his dilemma.

Dodgy Banking

Joseph Smith didn’t come back entirely empty-handed, having negotiated more loans from companies in the East. However, he couldn’t go on living indefinitely on borrowed funds. At some point, he knew, his debts had to be liquidated and the Saints’ finances established on a more sure footing.  It was now, and in the same spirit of wild speculation, that Joseph Smith established his own bank, the Kirtland Safety Society Bank Company. This wasn’t unusual at the time; the rapid expansion of the West created a demand for money that wasn’t being met by existing banking institutions.

Again, Joseph legitimised this new venture with a new revelation. The Saints were assured that Smith’s bank would “grow and flourish, and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins.” (Reported in Zion’s Watchtower, March 24, 1838)

The bank’s establishment was announced in January 1837 in the Messenger and Advocate, which issued an appeal…”We invite the brethren from abroad, to call on us, and take stock in our Safety Society; and we would remind them also of the sayings of Isaiah…’Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God.’”

The problem was that this rapid expansion of banking facilities to meet these needs led to a chaotic banking system and on January 1, 1837, the same day the Kirtland bank’s printed bank notes were issued, the Ohio legislature refused the bank’s incorporation.Bank note issued by the Kirtland Safety Society in early 1837, after its reorganization.

Joseph told his followers that it was because they were Mormons, but the truth was only one bank was allowed incorporation and the legislature was simply gaining control of a spiralling situation.

To get around the problem Joseph stamped his bank notes with the prefix anti and the suffix ing around the word Bank, creating the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-bank-ing Company. Now it was a quasi-bank, needn’t be incorporated and, if he could pull this off long enough to convince investors his problems might be solved.

The problem was he didn’t have the assets to back up the notes being printed. Bills were being paid, debts cleared and, for a fleeting fortnight, Kirtland was rich; but all on notes not worth their face value.

Joseph Smith confidently assured people he had $60,000 in the vaults and a further $600,000 readily accessible. The truth is he had $6,000 and access to not a penny more. He said there was no more than $10,000 in bills in circulation when, in fact, there was more than $150,000.

By January 27 merchants were refusing notes and the bills were streaming back into Kirtland.  Joseph Smith redeemed the notes but soon realised a run on the bank would ruin him so stopped taking his own money. By February 1 every dollar of Kirtland money was worth no more than twelve and a half cents!

The truth is, the bank had always been illegal, the fixed penalty for the crime was $1000 with informers taking a share of the fine. Joseph Smith had enemies aplenty and it didn’t take long for one to swear a writ against him. By March 24 Joseph was on trial and ordered to pay the $1000 penalty, plus costs. The final reckoning established that the Mormon leaders owed non-Mormon individuals well over $150,000.

So, Lorenzo Snow-1889

In 1889 the Mormon Church had arrived at the same place. Church property had already been confiscated under the Edmunds-Tucker Act, the $4m temple had depleted church funds and there was another bubble, this time a railroad bubble, as well as overbuilding that would lead to the panic of 1893. Hundreds of banks would close across America, thousands of businesses go under.

Lorenzo Snow’s sermon was aimed at Mormons who might be tempted to follow the example of their founding prophet and speculate their church out of existence and themselves into “apostasy.” It is clear that he was not impressed by Joseph’s conduct, which he had witnessed first-hand. Nevertheless, he hawked around the “official” account which had been worked up over the years, and that exonerated Joseph and blamed “apostate” church members as well as some leaders.

Mormons were still facing financial ruin and would still need to resolve their financial difficulties. In 1899,  now as president of the church, Lorenzo Snow toured the territories preaching tithing. You can read about that here. There the church’s subsequent change in fortune was described in this way:

“The church’s 1898 deficit of $1.25m became a net worth of $3.2m by 1904 and, while church leaders ascribed the changing fortunes of the church to God’s blessing tithe payers, it may have had more to do with the saints gaining full statehood and involvement in the rapid growth of the US economy from 1897 to 1907. Of course, the eyes of faith would have it otherwise, with the fortunes of the United States tied in with the fortunes of Mormons.”

When Mormons became American Mormonism became financially secure and Mormonism the American Religion.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Mormons and Tithing

The law of tithing is one of the most important
ever revealed to man. . . . Through obeying
this law the blessings of prosperity and
success will be given to the Saints.”

Lorenzo Snow

A Revelation

It was in early May 1899, we are told, that president Lorenzo Snow ‘felt prompted to visit the city of St. George and other settlements in southern Utah.’ The president, the story continues, on arriving in St George, received a clear revelation in which the saints were urged to obey the law of tithing:Tithing Slip

“The word of the Lord to you is not anything new; it is simply this: The time has now come for every Latter-day Saint, who calculates to be prepared for the future and to hold his feet strong upon a proper foundation, to do the will of the Lord and to pay his tithing in full.That is the word
of the Lord to you, and it will be the word of the Lord to every settlement throughout the land of Zion.”

Snow described this experience, “I never had a more perfect revelation,” he later said, “than [the revelation] I received on this subject of tithing.”

We are further informed, “On July 2, all the General Authorities and representatives from all the stakes and wards in the Church attended a solemn assembly in the Salt Lake Temple, having fasted and prayed in preparation for the meeting. There they unanimously accepted the same resolution [to accept this revelation on tithing].”

Mormonism is founded on the doctrine of continuing revelation and an open canon of Scripture. Why did this revelation not make its way into the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C)?

D&C_1921There are many such instances when claims to have received revelation are not followed by any additions to the increasingly inappropriately described Mormon “open canon.”

On one hand Mormons insist their leaders are prophets and what they say “officially” is binding, on the other hand, when those prophets are quoted – as I am quoting Lorenzo Snow here – Mormons will insist the only truly binding teaching is that contained in the “Standard Works” of the Mormon Church; the Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C and Pearl of Great Price.

Is this word binding if it isn’t between the bindings of official doctrine? This is a troubling issue for both Mormons and those who question Mormon claims. You can read more about it in Here

Historical Context

Some historical context will shed light on these developments in Mormon history. In their book,The Mormon Experience, A History of the Latter-day Saints, Leonard J Arrington, (Mormon Church Historian 1972-1982) and Davis Bitton (Assistant Church Historian, 1972-1982) wrote:

“The financial condition of the church throughout the 1890s was desperate. Contributions had dwindled to a trickle due to hard times and fear that donations would end up with the federal government. When escheated church properties (properties that had reverted to the government)were finally returned after statehood, their value had been substantially reduced by mismanagement and the sale of several revenue producing properties. The prolonged depression of the 1890s cut income from church-supported industry, while calls for welfare expenditure increased.

The completion of the four-million-dollar Salt Lake Temple also helped to deplete the church’s resources. The seriousness of of the situation at the end of 1896 was described in a journal entry by Wilford Woodruff: ‘The presidency of the church are so overwhelmed in financial matters it seems as though we shall never live to get through with it unless the Lord opens the way in a marvellous manner. It looks as though we shall never pay our debts.”’”

In response to Mormon intransigence with regard polygamy the Edmunds-Tucker Act, 1887, allowed the government to effectively dissolve the Mormon Church as a legal entity and required the church to forfeit to the government all property in excess of fifty thousand dollars.

The dire financial straits of the church were the direct consequence of a leadership that thought itself above the law in respect to polygamy. It was this that forced the hand of church president Wilford Woodruff, in 1890, to issue the Manifesto abandoning polygamy, and the Manifesto that led to the return to the church of seriously mismanaged and depleted properties.

The church was on the brink of bankruptcy and the leaders who got Mormons into these shocking circumstances were now insisting Mormons had a duty to get themselves out of it.Panic of 1893

The United States was already in the grip of a huge depression, begun in 1893, in which hundreds of banks closed and thousands of businesses went under. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania hit 25%, in New York 35%, and in Michigan 43%. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the destitute and some women, it is reported, turned to prostitution to feed their children.

For Mormons, added to this was the burden of church property being confiscated and tithes drying up for fear the little the saints were able to give might end up in the coffers of the federal government.

The church’s 1898 deficit of $1.25m became a net worth of $3.2m by 1904 and, while church leaders ascribed the changing fortunes of the church to God’s blessing tithe payers, it may have had more to do with the saints gaining full statehood and involvement in the rapid growth of the US economy from 1897 to 1907. Of course, the eyes of faith would have it otherwise, with the fortunes of the United States tied in with the fortunes of Mormons.

Tithing

This post is a comment on Chapter 12 of the Mormon official teaching manual for 2013, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. It originally appeared on the Mormonism Investigated ministry blog.

It was during Snow’s brief stint as president that tithing became formal doctrine in the Mormon Church. I want to pick up on three Lorenzo Snow quotes from the manual:

“If we will keep that law . . . the land will be sanctified, and we shall be counted worthy to receive the blessings of the Lord and to be sustained and supported in our financial affairs and in everything we do, temporal as well as spiritual.”

“Here is a law revealed specially for our protection and safety, as well as for our advancement in the path of righteousness and holiness; a law by which the land on which we dwell might become sanctified; a law by which Zion might be built up and established never more to be thrown down or removed out of her place by wicked and ungodly men.”

“The temporal salvation of this Church . . . depends upon obedience to this law.”

The above quotes chime with everything written in the Old Testament regarding tithing. It is a law that must be obeyed by the people of God, obedience to which will bring temporal blessing in the land to a specific people group. The problem is it isn’t binding on Christians under the New Covenant (Testament means Covenant)

Tithing didn’t originate with the Mosaic Law. Nor was it peculiar to the Hebrews but was widely practiced among ancient peoples and civilisations. When Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, king of Salem, it was not in obedience to a specific command from God. It was a tithe of the spoils of war, a voluntary act of devotion to God in thanks for the rescue of his nephew Lot(Gen.14: 17-20, c.f. 28:20-22, Jacob does something similar)

Lets take a quick tour through the requirements of the Old Covenant (Testament) regarding tithing and its purpose.

Tithing in the Old Testament

The tithe was of the land, its seed and fruit, and of animals  and it related to service in the sanctuary. Given its nature it was almost certainly paid annually. Every year after the land had been harvested, the people would bring to the priests the tithe of their harvest and increase in herds and flocks – Lev.27:30-33

Tithes were given to support the Levites. Because the Levites had no inheritance in the land of Canaan, like the other tribes, God provided for their support through the tithes of the rest of Israel – Numbers 18:21-24

There was a second tithe to provide for the religious feasts and festivals of Israel – Deuteronomy 14:22-27

Every three years the people of the town were to bring a tithe of their crops and herds and gather them together to take care of the poor of their towns including the alien, orphan and widow. There is debate over whether this is a third tithe or the second tithe put to a different use –Deuteronomy 14:28-29

These tithes were lawfully required and not voluntary – Nehemiah 12:44

Malachi 3:8-12 – This is the familiar text used by Mormon to justify their quid pro quo approach to tithing. Lets see what it actually says:

You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the Lord of hosts. And all the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land, says the Lord of hosts.”

Tithes are the annual, or triennial first fruits of crops and animals. Offerings are the grain and animal sacrifices brought to the temples. If we are to tithe are we to make animal sacrifices? The curse for disobedience was a curse on crops, fields and stock, the very things in which they had sinned in not tithing, “…because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you” (Deut. 28:18, 23-24, 38-40, 45)

The “storehouses” referred to were chambers in the temple set apart and designated to hold the tithes of the people for the support of the priests (Nehemiah 12:44) It is these Tithe Barnthat would be filled until they overflowed when Israel obeyed. The “pests” (devourer AV) who would not destroy their crops was the locust (Deut.28:38) Israel’s obedience would result in abundant crops, rain and increase in herds and flocks. Tithe barns can still be seen around Europe. The one on the left is in Great Coxwell, Oxfordshire, England. We are no longer under that system but this is the system prescribed by Mormonism.

I mentioned a quid pro quo approach for Mormons. Mormonism teaches that our obedience binds God to bless us, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10)

This is the lens through which they view the law of tithing: If you obey you are bound to prosper. You will sometimes hear Mormons insist that, “Those who leave the church never prosper,” and this it is that stands behind their salvation by works. The Mormon message is a message of “progression” not salvation, and that progression depends not on the finished work of Christ at Calvary but on their strict obedience to the Mormon Plan of Salvation, including the law of tithing.

Giving in the New Testament

There are only four New Testament passages in which tithing is mentioned:

(Matthew 23:23, c.f. Luke 11:42) This text is talking about tithing herbs under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was not yet inaugurated until Jesus’ death (Lk.22.20; Heb. 7:12)

Luke 18:12: This is the parable about the Pharisee and the tax-collector.  The words, “I pay tithes of all that I get,” are put into the mouth of the self-righteous Pharisee who thinks himself justified before God on the basis of his works.  Some people are in Scripture as examples, others as warnings. Is this Old Covenant warning our example for Christians living under the New Covenant!

Hebrews 7:1-10 This passage is not about tithing but about the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over the Levitical priesthood, even as Melchizedek was superior to Levi who, being in the loins of Abraham, paid tithes to the priest/king. Even so, the New Covenant is superior to the Old.

So how is giving understood under the New Covenant?

There is no percentage prescribed but, like Abraham and Jacob, Christians are to give voluntarily,“just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

1 Corinthians 16:1-2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.  On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save,as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”

Here saints are urged to give proportionately as they have prospered.

Acts 11:27-39 “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.  And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them Collection Platedetermined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.”

Here we see people giving as they are able. Those with more give more, those with less give less.

2 Corinthians 9:7: “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Here we are urged to be faithful to give what we have purposed in our hearts. When we see a need we meet it as best we can.

The Needs of Believers

Acts 2:44-45“And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”

1 John 3:17: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Galatians 6:9-10: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

The Needs of Christian Workers

1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’ and ‘The labourer is worthy of his wages.’”

1 Cor.9:11-14: “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?  If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.  Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar?  So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”

So much for the much vaunted Mormon lay clergy. Mormons will often sneer at the idea of a paid clergy, suggesting some sort of compromise with mammon, but the Bible insists “the labourer is worthy of his hire.”

The Needs of the Poor

Luke 12:33-34: “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Ephesians 4:28: “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labour, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.”

James 1:27: “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

New Covenant giving is to meet people’s needs, it is done as we are able, as we have determined in our hearts. It is to be anonymous (Mt.6:1-4); Voluntary (2 Cor.9:7); Expecting and trusting in God’s blessing and provision (2 Cor.9:6); Cheerfully (2 Cor.9:7); sacrificially (Mk.12:41-44) and for the right motives, i.e. following Christ’s example (2 Cor.8:9) and obeying his command of love(Jn.15:12-13)

Just as Christ’s priesthood is greater than the abolished Levitical priesthood, as the New Covenant is greater than the Old Covenant, so the new way of giving is more heartfelt and demanding than the old. The old way was easily fulfilled by the measuring out of stock and crops, the new is measured by the heart and sacrifice of the giver.

Here is the tragedy: Mormons follow the way of the Old Covenant, Christians are free to be generous and sacrificial in the New Covenant. Mormons remain under law, while Christians operate under grace, a grace that equips them for greater responsibilities than were ever required under the Old Covenant.

There is an enlightening and informative article on Mormon finances here. For a fuller treatment of the biblical teaching on tithing and giving read Brian Anderson’s excellent article on The Bridge Online, from which I have taken some of these bullet points.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Union Square Plan of Salvation

So two Mormon missionaries decided to draw in chalk the Mormon Plan of Salvation in Union Square, New York and it did appear to attract a lot of attention. You can read about it in the Deseret News. But watch the film and look carefully for what is not included in this familiar, if novel, representation of what Mormons consider to be true Christianity.

Here are some clues: 29 seconds; 1 minute and 33 seconds (the kid in the yellow top) and the aerial view at the end. Knock yourself out and find it...




Monday, 14 October 2013

General Conference, October 2013, Priesthood Session Review

These days Mormon Conferences are rather like the Reader’s Digest; convivial, safe and predictable. You will smile at old men with a twinkle in their eyes telling heart-warming anecdotes about when they were in Primary a zillion years ago. You will laugh at the folly of muddle-headed home teachers and the fun apostles can have intimidating them. There may be a catch in your throat as a speaker’s voice breaks in the retelling of a story filled with the wisdom of those who were once his elders and betters.

What you will struggle to find is a reason to rush out and tell anybody about it. If asked about your marathon conference weekend you will search your memory in vain for that weighty nugget of insight you know would be bound to impress your non-Mormon friends; if only you could recall…

Your heart will sink as you hear the especially thick conference edition of the Ensign magazine dropping on your doormat, and wonder if its some sort of test that, having listened to, you now must read those same inane pep-talks you thought were behind you for another six months at least. You wonder if anybody does read the conference Ensign.

That, at any rate, was my experience as I listened to the priesthood session of the conference.

Good ‘ol Boys

The session was typically avuncular, good ‘ol boys chewing the fat and putting the world to rights, the audience, appropriately suited and booted, awed to be invited to sit on the porch with the big guys, nodding sagely and agreeing eagerly, laughing in all the right places, sharing knowing looks and aping their ‘betters.’General Conference leaders

Thomas S Monson was last to speak, sitting sagely as five men took their turn at the podium to present their credentials and give another little turn on the screw that bears down on every faithful priesthood holder, reminding them of their duties, urging them to achievement, setting ever higher goals and informing them that “life is a test!” (Dieter Uchtdorf)

You could almost hear the younger generation fidget in their seats, anxious to get out and get the job done, while the older men, who have been here before so many times, sucked air through their teeth, secretly praying, “How long, oh Lord, how long?”

The Mormon prophet spoke about Home Teaching, a worthy church programme in which every family gets a monthly visit from priesthood holders. The message was, “A home teacher is a friend.”

Anecdotes amply illustrated the right and wrong ways to go about the task, from the home teacher turning up unannounced to be confronted with three apostles and their wives ‘visiting’ in one of their homes, to the man who turned up at the prophet’s home alone to confess that he had only made the visit so he could tick it off his list. These guys always seem to have the best stories.

The message is summed up using the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, “Brethren, as the priesthood of God we have a shepherding responsibility. The wisdom of the Lord has provided guidelines whereby we might be shepherds to the families of the Church”

The problem is that, whatever the vehicle, however sincere the sentiment, worthy the cause, or great the sacrifice it is the gospel of Joseph these men bring and not that of Jesus. “Oh, but Mike, isn’t service part and parcel of the gospel?” Well, yeeesss…but….let me explain.

Henry B Eyring, speaking of “overburdened priesthood holders,” used a biblical illustration. “It is a parable for overloaded priesthood holders.” he insists. “We sometimes call it the story of the good Samaritan. But it is really the story for a great priesthood bearer in these busy, difficult last days.” He goes on, “Just remember that you are the Samaritan and not the priest or the Levite who passed by the wounded man.”

The irony here, of course, is that the Samaritan is not a priesthood holder. Indeed, it is the priest and the Levite who pass by on the other side and, like those priests and Levites of Jesus’ time, Mormons make much of their position and authority. It is Mormons who, like the priest and Levite, claim exclusive access to truth and authority. It is they who are rejected by Jesus, and the Samaritan, the one regarded as apostate, who is the exemplar in the story.

The emphasis on duty would have suited the priest and Levite to the ground but Jesus’ emphasis was on the spontaneous, sacrificial act of a stranger and outcast as an example of true, selfless service.

Dieter Uchtdorf insisted, “life is a test!” and urged men to positive thinking and goal setting. “You are stronger than you realise,” he assures them, “you are more capable than you imagine; you can do it…Brethren, our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.”

As he spoke, the words of William Ernest Henley’s Invictus echoed in my mind:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…

…It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Is this the good news of Jesus Christ? I can do it? My fate is in my hands? The message of the New Testament is clear:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…”
(Eph 2:1-10)

We were dead, God made us alive in Christ. We were not capable, we were dead. Christ died because we can’t do it. We now walk in good works, not because we are capable but because we are God’s workmanship, “Created in Christ Jesus for good works…”

[Note to any Mormons reading this: Christians believe in good works. Christians do good works. You see us do them all the time, sometimes you do them alongside us and report on it in your publications and at your conferences. So stop peddling the lie that Christians are somehow antinomian, lazy, sitting light to our duties and responsibilities.]

Randy D Funk insisted that we receive strength by proving ourselves worthy and obeying the commandments, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 112:22:

“Inasmuch as [which means the promise will be fulfilled if] they [meaning the missionaries who are sent] shall [1] humble themselves before me, and [2] abide in my word, and [3] hearken to the voice of my Spirit.”

He goes on, “The Lord’s promises are clear. In order to have the spiritual power necessary to open the door of the kingdom of God in the nation to which you are sent, you must be humble and obedient and have the ability to hear and follow the Spirit. These three attributes are closely interrelated. If you are humble, you will want to be obedient. If you are obedient, you will feel the Spirit.”

Certainly, the Bible teaches us the discipline of discipleship but, while Mormons “strive to be worthy to return to Heavenly Father,” a Christian knows he is already accepted by God through Christ (Romans 8:1; Hebrews 4:14-16) and it is the new nature, what the Christian has become and is becoming that is the motivation to obedience and spiritual growth.

Gérald Caussé confirmed a suspicion for me because, like Dieter Uchtdorf, he seemed warmer, more accessible, his message more sympathetic and appealing. Of course, both men are European and the difference in culture shows. The unremitting demands of Mormonism are very much the product of the burgeoning, can-do America of the past 150 years. European history, longer, bloodier, more mature has, I suggest, produced a more nuanced approach to life. I wonder what this bodes for the future of Mormonism.

Two things stood out for me and they are not insignificant. The first is his handling of the familiar doctrine of Abraham being the father of the faithful, making all who trust in Christ children of Abraham and heirs of the promises made to Abraham. For Christians this is explained by Paul in Romans 4.

The difference here is that he puts this explicit gospel promise into the story and time of Abraham, quoting Abraham 2:10 from the discredited Book of Abraham. “God promised Abraham that ‘as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after [his] name, and shall be accounted [his] seed, and shall rise up and bless [him], as their father.’” Of course, Mormonism is full of such anachronisms and we shouldn’t be surprised but here Mormons are claiming exclusively to themselves those same promises; “As members of the Church, we are admitted into the house of Israel.”

Where Paul declares this promise to be for the faithful in Christ, Mormonism teaches that church membership and faithfulness qualifies them, keeping “the law of the gospel;” an oxymoron if ever there was one. Paul clearly precludes any idea of winning that place “according to the flesh,” and goes on to make plain:

For if it is to the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring…to the one who shares the faith of Abraham…” (Romans 4:14-16)

L Tom Perry took us back some 80 years to his last days in the Primary organisation of the church. He proved his mettle by confidently handling the thirteen Articles of Faith of the Mormon Church, a tribute, he insists, to his Primary teacher, but…

Where God himself declares, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god…Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:6-8)

L Tom Perry insists: We learn from the first article of faith that the Godhead is three personages: God the Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Three gods.

Where the Bible states, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) In other words, you are either “in” Adam, or “in” Christ.

L Tom Perry states: The second article teaches us that we are responsible for our own actions on earth. In other words, you we are either good or bad people.

Where the Bible teaches, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

L Tom Perry says: The third gives a vision of the Saviour’s mission for the salvation of Father in Heaven’s children. The third Article of Faith teaches a salvation not by faith and confession but by obedience and ritual; “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” The next three articles, likewise, teach laws, ordinances, priesthoods, hierarchies. There are, of course, aspirational articles of faith – notably the thirteenth - and very commendable they are but…

Mormonism isn’t “The Old, Old Story”

When I became a Christian I was astonished, and not a little embarrassed, to find that the old, old story I had so long rejected, reviled and ridiculed as simplistic, easy-believism was actually the true story of salvation - by grace, through faith, in Christ.

The hardest thing about being a Christian is not the weight of duty, the busyness of church involvement, the call to sacrifice, or the responsibilities of leadership. The hardest thing is coming to that place at the foot of the cross and confessing we can’t do it, that all our best efforts count for nothing before a perfectly holy and righteous God. That, far from being able we are poor and needy, helpless and defiled, dead in sin and in need of a Saviour. That is not the story of Mormonism, it is the story of Christians saved, at last, not by works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)

  • Tell me the old, old story,
      Of unseen things above,
    Of Jesus and His glory,
      Of Jesus and His love;
    Tell me the story simply,
      As to a little child,
    For I am weak and weary,
      And helpless and defiled.

     

  • Tell me the story slowly,
      That I may take it in—
    That wonderful redemption,
      God’s remedy for sin;
    Tell me the story often,
      For I forget so soon,
    The “early dew” of morning
      Has passed away at noon.

     

  • Tell me the story softly,
      With earnest tones and grave;
    Remember I’m the sinner
      Whom Jesus came to save;
    Tell me the story always,
      If you would really be,
    In any time of trouble,
      A comforter to me.

     

  • Tell me the same old story,
      When you have cause to fear
    That this world’s empty glory
      Is costing me too dear;
    And when the Lord’s bright glory
      Is dawning on my soul,
    Tell me the old, old story:
      “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”

     

  • Tell me the old, old story,
    Tell me the old, old story,
    Tell me the old, old story,
        Of Jesus and His love.
    Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/1075#ixzz2hE4yn8z9

     

  • This post appeared originally on Mormonism Investigated

  • Wednesday, 29 May 2013

    Mormon Phenomenon: Here Come the Girls

    A Mormon Church for Everyone

    Every time I look at the antics of the Salt Lake City Mormons and think, “good grief!” I know I can look across at the Independence, Missouri based Mormon Church and think, “WHAT!”

    Community of Christ conventionAt a conference (above) on April 19-21, the Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Community of Christ) the recommendation was made to marry and ordain same-sex couples.

    The two churches are like polar opposites, the Salt Lake Mormons patriarchal, conservative and traditional, the Independence Mormons egalitarian, liberal and modern. It seems there is a Mormon Church to fit all tastes if you know where to look. Once, that was considered a sign of apostasy but, hey-ho.

    Salt Lake Mormons sneer at this group, suggesting they are “falling apart,” “riven by schism,” but it will be interesting to see how this plays out because there is a growing liberal arm in the traditionalist church as well as a feminist movement pressing for the ordination of women.

    Perhaps in the future folk will see the Community of Christ as trail-blazers in the battle between traditionalists and modernists. Could Salt Lake City effect a reconciliation with Independence as culturally they move closer to their way of thinking? – Holy Moroni!

    Heavenly Mother

    Of course, the cause of Mormon women would be advanced enormously if Mormons were to be more open about God’s wife. The idea of a Heavenly Mother is familiar enough to Mormons but they don’t know much about her. This is usually put down to a sacred diffidence but it has more profane origins.Eliza Snow

    Heavenly Mother is the product of Joseph Smith’s strange cosmology and sexual adventuring. God is an exalted man, men may become gods, gods have wives (plural) therefore – Heavenly Mother. What started as a convenient way to make men gods and women former day Stepford wives developed a theology all its own.

    Eliza Snow (I love that her middle name is Roxcy, very recherche’) was Smith’s polygamous wife and wrote a poem, Invocation, saying in part:

    “In the heavens are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason, truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.”

    The Salt Lake Tribune reports, “No matter what the institution does, more and more LDS women are finding solace, empathy and identification in the notion of a Mother God. Most do not pray to a female god, but many do write, talk or whisper about her — and some unexpectedly sense her presence.”

    These things do grow like Topsy and a burgeoning interest in this elusive heavenly being reflects, it seems, the frustration of Mormon women in the very patriarchal Mormon Church. What next, goddess worship? Maybe the Christus in the Salt Lake City visitors centre will be replaced by Artemis in the not too distance future.

    Temple on stilts

    Ogden Temple construction

    People often imagine all sorts of wacky things going on in Mormon temples and Mormons are diffident on the subject. This temple, however, is looking pretty transparent. The Provo temple was seriously damaged in a fire in 2010 and what remains has been gutted and lifted forty feet in the air on scaffolding so a new two-story basement can be built.

    Apparently, the 112 year old structure weighs 7million pounds. You can read about it and see more stunning pictures on the Colossal web site You can read elsewhere on the Mormon Chapbook about Mormon temples and what they really “restore.”

    Monday, 20 May 2013

    Mormon Phenomenon: The Mormon Mosque

    Mormon Mosque

    It surprises people to find the many and remarkable similarities between Mormonism and Islam.

    Both start with an angel and a book; both were founded by a “prophet” of the last days; both founders it is said uneducated; both claim to be “the only true religion”; both teach and practice polygamy; both are fiercely patriarchal; both have complicated laws, including dietary restrictions – the list goes on.

    Now the artist’s impression of the proposed temple for Meridian, Idaho,instead of the usual steeple or spire, has Moroni standing atop a dome that looks strikingly like the dome of a mosque. What would a Mormon muezzin recite to call the faithful to prayer? “There is only one God with whom we have to do, and Joseph is his prophet?”

    Everybody Draw Muhammed Day

    News reaches us that The University of Utah prominently depicts Mohammed in the rotunda of the Park Building. Given sensibilities surrounding depictions of the prophet it seems the University has apparently removed the prophet’s name that was displayed prominently under his image.Muhammad 2

    Fred Esplin, a University spokesman, explained; “Eventually the decision was made to cover the name of Muhammad that appeared beneath the image,” Esplin said. “The image remains, but it is not identified as Muhammad. The viewer can interpret the figure as they wish.”

    You can read more in the Daily Utah Chronicle.

    May 20th, 2010 was declared Everybody Draw Muhammed Day in protest against the violent reaction among Muslims to the publication of satirical pictures of the prophet. The idea came from US cartoonist Molly Norris and is based on the idea that if enough people draw pictures of Muhammad, Islamic terrorists would not be able to murder them all, and threats to do so would become unrealistic.

    Personally, I don’t believe being realistic is high on the agenda of these people but I am willing to be proved wrong. Anyway, the Mormons won’t be joining in but then they have a track record on violent censorship so I am not surprised.

    Eric Johnson of Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM) has written a great book Joseph Smith and Muhammad. You can find it in the MRM Store.

    Meanwhile, I don’t know who that fellow is in the picture but he looked interesting so I just thought I would put him there to see if you might interpret him as interesting too.

    Friday, 17 May 2013

    Is Mormonism Ditching prophets 2: Sack the Seers, Summon the Scholars

    Last time I asked, “Is Mormonism ditching prophets?” we looked at the fact that Mormonism taught and practiced racial discrimination as a key doctrine for almost 140 years of its 180 year history. What is surprising is that today’s Mormon prophets insist they have no idea where this teaching originated, or why it was taught, suggesting it was no more than cultural.

    Comparisons are made with other churches that also practiced discrimination. They changed their stance on these issues and so has the Mormon Church. Not an unreasonable argument, we are meant to conclude. But the Mormon Church cannot reasonably make that defence, the comparison doesn’t bear scrutiny.

    Fallen Man, Risen Lord, Sure Hope

    Christian churches are led by fallible people, depending on centuries of scholarship and a developing theology for understanding and insight. We are led, we would insist, by the Spirit but flawed, we would confess, by the fallen nature of leaders and congregation alike.

    That is why we go to great lengths to maintain biblical fundamentals while “allowing” disagreement on secondary issues. We recognise the wisdom of St Augustine who said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

    Our standing before God does not depend on our capacity to grasp an exhaustive theology but on our faith in Christ and his simple message of salvation (John 5: 24-25) We confess our sin, run to the cross and throw ourselves on God’s generous mercy (Romans 3; Acts 2:21) Only this way can fallen man, trusting in a risen Lord, have a sure hope.

    That said, we are not saved into ignorance but need to grow in the things of God (Acts 2:42-47) That growing happens across cultures, generations and ages and is informed by scholarship that produces better Bible translations and commentary, debate and disagreement that challenge preconceptions, insight and inspiration that shine light into blind corners and experience that humbles us before the towering word of God. For Mormons this is evidence of apostasy.

    After the death of Jesus Christ, they claim, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and killed them. Without Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted…Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures (scholarship, debate, disagreement)…False ideas were taught as truth…The doctrines…became distorted or forgotten. This eventually led to the emergence of many churches – apostasy.

    The message of Mormonism centres on “living prophets” (insight, inspiration). John Taylor, third Mormon president, wrote, “the principle of present revelation…is the very foundation of our religion” (Journal of Discourses, p.371). Elder Joseph W. McMurrin was one of the First Seven Presidents of the First Council of the Seventy from Oct.5 1897. In a General Conference address in April 1902 he said:

    “A Prophet of God stands in the midst of the people now, clothed upon with every gift, key, power, and authority, that was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that same inspiration, that same power to penetrate the future, to comprehend the purposes of the Almighty, is with the Priesthood that is in our midst today.”

    So, how did Mormonism go from being led by men clothed upon with every gift, key, power, and authority, who can penetrate the future and comprehend the purposes of the Almighty to, “Holy Moroni! What just happened?”

    Sack the Seers, Summon the Scholars

    Mormons reject the orthodox churches with their scholars, theologies, creeds and denominations and follow prophets, seers and revelators; one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph.4:5). Books are well and good, scholarship admirable but the sure word of prophecy gives us “the mind of Christ.” ( 1Cor. 2:16) “Surely, the LORD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7 KJV)

    But what do you do when those prophets prove less than insightful and inspired? When “modern prophets” can’t explain the “essentials” around which Mormons are to unite? When comprehension, inspiration and penetrating insight fail where do you turn?

    1981

    The Mormon Church has helpfully published an online comparison of the differences between the 1981 and 2013 editions of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. In the Introduction to the 1981 edition we are told:

    “The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days…In the revelations, the doctrines of the gospel are set forth with explanations about such fundamental matters as the nature of the Godhead, the origin of man, the reality of Satan, the purpose of mortality, the necessity for obedience, the need for repentance, the workings of the Holy Spirit, the ordinances and performances that pertain to salvation, the destiny of the earth, the future conditions of man after the Resurrection and the Judgment, the eternity of the marriage relationship, and the eternal nature of the family.

    Concerning this publication the elders of the church gave solemn testimony that the Lord had borne record to their souls of the truth of the revelations.” (Emphasis added)

    Notable is the unequivocal endorsement of these revelations as coming direct from God, having absolute and unqualified authority. They are divine and inspired in their nature, authoritative in their purpose, revelatory in regards doctrine, fundamental in their matter and comprehensive in their teaching; undiluted by the corruption of having passed through “profane hands,” a popular Mormon description of how we got the Bible.

    Unlike the churches of apostate “Christendom”,  there is no speculation or disagreement, no recourse to scholars to explain, no equivocation; doctrine and praxis are plainly set forward as they come from the very mouth of God and pen of the prophet. This is the Mormonism of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph F Smith, James E Talmage, Spencer W Kimball and Bruce R McConkie. This is the Mormonism with which I am familiar: reassuringly certain, declarative and dogmatic.

    2013

    Into this affirmative account these words were inserted for the 2013 edition. I include my own commentary in plain text and brackets:

    The revelations were originally recorded by Joseph Smith’s scribes (like the Bible, they are now at least once removed from their source),  and Church members enthusiastically shared handwritten copies with each other  (like the Bible there were many early copies that may not have all agreed at every point) To create a more permanent record, scribes soon copied these revelations into manuscript record books  (like early Christian leaders they selected the best from a variety of copies),  which Church leaders used in preparing the revelations to be printed  (which selected copies were then published as the ‘authoritative’ version)

    In other words, the Doctrine and Covenants was put together the same way Mormons think the Bible was. The difference is, we have thousands of part and full copies of early New Testament texts, which we can compare with our Bibles and which give us confidence in their faithfulness to the original. In a striking parallel with Islam, “early copies” of Joseph’s “revelations” have failed to come down to us and we are left only with what the church “officially” tells us belongs in the book. To continue:

    Joseph and the early Saints viewed the revelations as they did the Church: living, dynamic, and subject to refinement with additional revelation  (opening the door for scholarship to define doctrine, bearing in mind the 2013 edition is the product of scholarship, not revelation) They also recognized that unintentional errors had likely occurred through the process of copying the revelations and preparing them for publication  (they have passed through corrupt hands) Thus, a Church conference asked Joseph Smith in 1831 to “correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit…”

    …The early Latter-day Saints prized the revelations and viewed them as messages from God  (note they are now only “viewed” as messages from God).  On one occasion in late 1831, several elders of the Church gave solemn testimony that the Lord had borne record to their souls of the truth of the revelations.

    Notable now is the apparent equivocation over these revelations coming direct from God, having now a qualified authority. Apparently divine in origin, they seem more capable of interpretation and disagreement in their nature. It is a short step from here to saying that these are true “in the original autographs,” as is said of the Bible. The Bible, however, can appeal to an embarrassment of riches evidentially in manuscript, history, archaeology and scholarship to strengthen its claims.

    Writings of Joseph Smith

    I suggest the next step in this reassessment of Mormonism will be opening up the secret vaults in church headquarters and bringing out early Mormon documents, diaries and journals we know are there. There is already a work in progress to collate and make public the exhaustive writings of Joseph Smith. What a resource for those now seeking to reinvent Mormonism for the 21st century.

    Against these early Mormon Church documents official Mormon writings and claims can be compared. This will give space for Mormons to move from a fundamentalist, literalist view of their faith to something that builds more on mythic truth than its traditional dogmatic truth.

    It was felt necessary in the 1981 introduction to give an unquestionably positive account (some might say a selective account) of the publication of these revelations. Why, if not to instil in Mormons the thought that nothing qualified the utterances of their prophet. The substantial account inserted in 2013 offers considerable qualification of everything in the book and makes it capable of “explanation” by scholars in a way it never was before, and that puts scholars, not prophets, in the place of authority for the 21st century Mormon.

    This was originally a guest post on Mormonism Investigated UK

    Doug Harris–With the Lord

    DougThis morning at 9.00 am the best and wisest man I ever knew departed this world and entered glory. He was a friend, a brother in Christ, a mentor and I miss him more than I can say.

    Please pray for his wife Noemi, his family, his church family, close friends and the countless folk to whom he ministered and who will mourn his passing.

    Doug Harris founded Reachout Trust in 1982, initially as an outreach to Jehovah’s Witnesses but it quickly grew as a ministry to the cults, the occult and New Age movements.

    Doug’s work, of course, involved so much more. He had been a church elder since 1963 and for the past five and a half years was a key member of the team at Revelation TV. He and his wife, Noemi, had only last year moved to Spain as the TV operation moved its main office and studio over there. I am sure Revelation TV will soon publish its own account of Doug’s work with them but it has been every bit as substantial as anything he did with Reachout Trust.

    Doug was instrumental in guiding our transition from Mormonism to Christianity, allowing Ann and I to “purge” old and unhelpful ideas by talking about our journey in seminars, and by writing on the subject for Reachout. We learned from him the value of grace, the importance of patience and the skills involved in sharing our story in a way that challenged Mormon teaching while loving the Mormon to whom we were witnessing.

    We worked together for over twenty years he as chairman and Ann and I as trustees of Reachout. We shared platforms, developed the ministry, wrote and published together.and lead in twenty or so Reachout Conventions. They were great times, challenging times and he will be missed more than words can say.

    About thirteen years ago I suggested I interview him for a short history of Reachout that was eventually published in booklet form. In 2005 this was updated and is still the most recent account of an exceptional work started and driven by an exceptional Christian man of vision and grace. I reproduce it in part here:

     

    The Reachout Story

    The Story So Far

    It is sobering to reflect that the day you stepped out with some tracts and a handful of friends you started something that would grow to national proportions. Reachout Trust began in 1982 as a local outreach to Jehovah's Witnesses. From a single initiative, by a handful of people, at a Witness convention in Twickenham the Trust has grown to become a nation wide ministry to those in the cults, the occult and the New Age movement.

    Over the years we have taken on responsibilities, met needs, and developed in ways that were never envisaged in those early days. No one sat down and said, "why don’t we see if we can achieve this?" The ministry can truly be said to have evolved until, today, we are one of the foremost Christian groups in our field.

    The first newsletter was produced in 1984, was four pages long and photocopied, and had a run of a few hundred. Today's newsletter is sixteen pages and growing and goes out to several thousand individuals and churches across the country. It is our main organ of communication and seeks to keep people informed and equipped for what they face on their doorstep or high street.

    Doug Early Reachout

    The first Reachout convention was held in New Malden Baptist Church in 1984. After that it moved to Kingstanding Elim Church until 1991 when we held it at the Wycliffe Centre at High Wycombe. Having outgrown that venue we moved in 1996 to the Pioneer Centre near Wolverhampton. From a handful of 'interested' people at that first meeting we have grown to over a hundred attending a full weekend of seminars every November.

    2004 saw a landmark 20th Convention and proved successful with seminars on Developing the Ministry, Defining “Salvation”, True Christian Communion and the need to be a peculiar people. In 2005 we found ourselves moving back - or is that forward? - to the significantly expanded Wycliffe Centre and it has been a little like coming home.

    Seminars and workshops typically cover all the main cults including, of course, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, but also other groups such as the Children of God, Freemasonry, Moonies etc. We also provide instruction in dealing with the occult and the New Age and have included counselling workshops and teaching on deliverance.

    A landmark in the growth of Reachout was the introduction, in 1988, of the Action Pack. This has been a special blessing over the years and has contributed significantly to meeting our financial needs. Especially gratifying has been the fact that it gives us the opportunity to give something practical to those who give to us. This partnership scheme means that the giver is entitled to receive regularly free or discounted Reachout resources from books to videos to regular publications.

    The Task

    Ours is a ministry of discernment and apologetics and our primary role is 'truth-telling'. However, we have developed beyond simply publishing and distributing information. One area in which we have been particularly successful and effective is in recruiting people, many from cult backgrounds themselves, to represent Reachout 'on the ground', to be Reachout in their location.

    Our system of having Associates is unique in this ministry in the UK and is a major contributory factor in our growth and success. These people who represent Reachout in their locality are a help to the local church and a first point of contact for those seeking the help Reachout provides. Through their different talents and experiences Associates are able to provide training for the local church, specialised insights into the world of the cults, and sympathetic support for those seeking freedom and truth.

     

    Our spiritual forebears fought hard for the
    eternal truths cherished by today’s believers.
    Similarly, tomorrow’s believers will inherit
    what we contend earnestly for today

     

    Where possible our Associates are encouraged to work closely together in their regions under a regional leader who co-ordinates their efforts and is responsible for training etc. Praying together, sharing problems and ideas, and encouraging one another builds strength, encourages commitment and makes Reachout a real local resource.

    Reachout continues to evolve and we face new challenges almost daily. Managing and training a growing number of people, and maintaining and enhancing the reputation of Reachout in an increasingly demanding ministry, means finding new, more efficient ways forward. In these challenging times we seek to define more clearly what we do and how we do it. To help in this work a 'ministry team' is being developed to look at all aspects of the ministry, from literature to training to how we should respond to developments in the constantly changing world of the cults.

    2004 saw the publication of Should Christians Apologise, a book that shows every Christian that apologetics is something we all need to learn, and that equips every Christian to begin that process of learning and gaining in confidence in their witnessing. The Reasoned Defence series of booklets begin to address some of the key issues Christians might meet and have proved a handy reference tool.

    We also re-published Audrey Harper’s testimony book Dance With the Devil, a harrowing account of one person’s experiences in the occult. It has been controversial and we have had our critics but we feel it is important that people like Audrey have the opportunity to tell their story, and important that others hear them.

    We also continue to find popular Doug Harris’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, Their Beliefs and Practices as well as, Mormonism, a Gold-Plated Religion, the definitive British books on these groups. A full catalogue is available from Head Office.

    In 2004 we also saw an increase of 30.8% in the number of people reached. Much of this is accounted for by the continuing development of our web site. A new version of the web site was produced in 1994 and has proved very popular. Our presence on the world-wide-web can now be said to make a significant difference in the number of people we can reach. 1998 saw us reach 104,746, while 2001 saw this figure increase to 188,337. In 2003 we reached 221,028 but this latest increase has seen us reach a record 289,158 people in 1994.

    Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone
    who asks you to give the reason for the hope you
    have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
    1 PETER 3:15 (NIV)

    Reachout Trust has a good relationship with the media and undertakes a number of media interviews each year, being called on by researchers for a wide range of subjects. Representatives appear regularly on news items, 'chat shows' and documentaries covering all areas in the cults, occult and new age.

    When stories, such as the first 'approved' Satanist in the Navy are reported on, many newspapers and TV programmes request information and interviews. These do not always bring direct responses to Reachout Trust, although it does make us known. It also enable a 'Christian' perspective to be placed on the items of news people are talking about. This is a demanding avenue of work and we would welcome the help of people who feel they would like to join us to work in this area.

    The Church

    We are sometimes referred to as a para-church organisation. As an organisation, of course, that is what we are. Reachout is not a church, but neither are we separate from, or in addition to the Christian community. We are Christians first and foremost who see our role in the body as that of watchmen. The way we fulfil that role is in organisations like Reachout, just as those called to mission form missionary societies.

    People who escape the cults need a new spiritual home. God's provision for all new Christians is the church. Members of Reachout Trust are members of the local church and Reachout always seeks to work closely with local church leaders. From the beginning it has been very important to have a network of church contacts across the country.

    As people have come to Reachout for help we have in turn sought to 'plant' them in an appropriate fellowship. Reachout is often simply a first point of contact leading to more appropriate ministry within the church and even professional help in a counselling setting.

    The Need

    There is an urgent need for Christians to be equipped to meet the challenges of the modern world. People are needed to act as comforters to the hurt and wounded, bringers of fresh hope to the disillusioned, friends to the betrayed and truth-tellers to the deceived.

    Churches need to act as communities of refuge where there is shelter and safety for the vulnerable, life and hope for the lost, and sound teaching and gentle discipling for the many who need correcting and direction.

    Reachout Trust seeks to provide that equipping through a training programme designed to teach individuals and churches. Through seminars and workshops we bring to the Christian community specialist knowledge, gained from first-hand experience, that will arm Christians for the battle for truth that rages in our society

    By means of newsletters, fact sheets, books, audio and video- tapes, as well as the internet, we share our knowledge and understanding and keep the church informed of up-to-the-minute developments in the ministry.

    We are, then, those who in Christian love, often having experienced ourselves life in a cult, wish to come alongside, advise, pray with and otherwise help cult members and their families and friends.

    As far as our experience and knowledge takes us, as God leads, we help and minister.

    Doug Monotone