Archive for the ‘Mormonism’ Category

Ben Witherington III, a well-known evangelical New Testament scholar, recently posted an article on “Why Mormonism is not Christianity.” William J. Hamblin, a Mormon scholar, swiftly responded on his blog with a critique of Witherington’s six criticisms of Mormon belief. The two articles may be read here:

Ben Witherington III, “Why Mormonism Is Not Christianity—the Issue of Christology,” Patheos, 27 Aug. 2012.

Bill Hamblin, “Are Mormons Christians? Witherington Says No,” Mormon Scripture Explorations (blog), 28 Aug. 2012.

For the most part, Hamblin misses the point, as I shall explain. In fact, much of Hamblin’s response misses the context of Witherington’s six points, which are not presented as “six reasons why he believes Mormons are not Christians,” as Hamblin claims. In fact Witherington is very clear as to what the six points represent. Read the rest of this entry »

On IRR’s website, we now have a new resource giving an overview of Mormon doctrine. Entitled Mormon Belief: The Doctrine of the LDS Church, this web article lists 13 basic doctrines of the Mormon faith and provides select quotations from LDS Church publications documenting these doctrines. One notable feature of this article is that all of the quotations can be found at the LDS Church’s official website. For each of the 13 points the doctrine is briefly stated, then a paragraph of explanation is given, followed by the quotations. This article gives no critique or refutation of the Mormon doctrines, instead referring readers to other sources on the site. Thus, the article can be especially useful as a starting point for those who are looking for objective information on Mormon beliefs.

Constructive criticisms and suggestions for improving this or any other article on IRR’s website are welcome.

 

Elder Tad R. Callister is a member of the Presidency of the Seventy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In his General Conference address on October 2, 2011, Callister presented an argument in support of his theme, “The Book of Mormon—a Book from God.” The argument reportedly comes from his great-great grandfather Willard Richards, an apostle in the LDS Church under both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. According to LeGrand Richards, grandson of Willard’s nephew Franklin, Willard’s first impression of the Book of Mormon was that it “was either written by God or the devil”—and after reading it twice in ten days he had concluded, “The devil could not have written it—it must be from God.”[1]

The Argument

Callister compares Richards’s argument to C. S. Lewis’s most memorable argument, the classic aut deus aut malus homo (Latin, “either God or a bad man”) dilemma argument for the deity of Jesus Christ.[2] According to Lewis, a merely decent or nice man, a “good teacher,” who was not God would not claim the sorts of exclusive, divine prerogatives that Jesus did, forcing us to choose between viewing him as a very bad man—“a madman or something worse”—or the divine Son of God.

According to Callister, “Likewise, we must make a simple choice with the Book of Mormon: it is either of God or the devil.” This choice is forced on us by the fact that “it is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud.” The Book of Mormon “claims to be the word of God—every sentence, every verse, every page,” and if it is not, “it is a sophisticated but, nonetheless, diabolical hoax.”

To determine which of these viewpoints is correct, he tells his listeners, “Ask yourself if the following scriptures from the Book of Mormon draw you closer to God or to the devil.” He then quotes Book of Mormon texts urging people to “feast upon the words of Christ,” to “build your foundation” on Christ, to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (2 Nephi 32:3; Helaman 5:12; Moroni 10:32). Callister asks, “Could these statements from the Book of Mormon have possibly been authored by the evil one?” He argues that they could not, because Christ’s teaching that Satan would never be divided against himself (Matt. 12:24-26) proves that Satan would never encourage people to turn to his arch-enemy, Jesus Christ. Since scriptures that teach people to worship, love, and serve Christ cannot come from the devil, the Book of Mormon “must be from God.”[3]

This argument presented by Callister takes the following logical, deductive form:

  • Either the Book of Mormon is from God, or it is from the devil.
  • It is not from the devil.
  • Therefore, it is from God.

The argument is a deductively valid one, which simply means that the form of the argument is properly structured or ordered such that if the first two statements (the premises) are both true then the third statement (the conclusion) must also be true. When assessing a deductively valid argument, the only relevant way to challenge the truth of the conclusion is to critique one or both of the premises. I will consider each of the premises in turn.

God or the Devil: The Argument’s First Premise

Is it true that the Book of Mormon is either from God or the devil? Dilemmas like this can be and often are oversimplifications, but some logical dilemmas are, after all, quite reasonable. One of the most common fallacies is the false dilemma, and it is important that we be able to recognize true logical dilemmas from false dilemmas. Here are some good examples of true logical dilemmas:

  • Either Jesus Christ rose from the grave, or he did not.
  • Either Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ in 1820, or he did not see Jesus Christ in 1820.
  • Joseph Smith was either a true prophet of God or a false prophet.

Here are some examples of false dilemmas; note how these differ from the ones just stated:

  • Either Jesus Christ rose from the grave, or the disciples stole the body.
  • Either Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ in 1820, or he experienced a demonic deception.
  • Joseph Smith was either a true prophet of God or the Antichrist.

The first three statements are true logical dilemmas because in each case the two choices express the only hypothetical possibilities, either by definition or by accepted facts. The first two are proper dilemmas by simple definition: one either rose from the grave or one did not; Joseph either saw Jesus in 1820 or he did not. The third statement is a proper dilemma by accepted facts: it is an undisputed fact that Joseph explicitly claimed to be a prophet of God, and in such cases one either is a true prophet of God or one is a false prophet.

The next three statements are all false dilemmas because in each case significant hypothetical alternatives are overlooked or ignored. For example, if Jesus did not rise from the grave, any number of other things might have happened. The disciples may have stolen the body, or the Romans may have moved it, or the body might have been buried in a different place, or the reports of the empty tomb may be false…all of these hypothetical scenarios and more have been put forward and defended by non-Christians. The statement is therefore a false dilemma. This doesn’t mean the conclusion that Jesus rose from the grave is false (it turns out that all of the many proposed alternative theories are seriously flawed), but it does mean this dilemma is not a good premise to use in an argument for Jesus’ resurrection. In the next statement, Joseph Smith may have seen Jesus, or he may have experienced a demonic apparition, or he may have made the whole thing up (and there are still other possibilities). Finally, if Joseph Smith was not a true prophet, he must (since he claimed to be a prophet) be a false prophet, but it does not follow that he is the Antichrist.

In order to assess the first premise of Callister’s God-or-devil dilemma argument, we need to be clear as to its meaning. By themselves, the expressions “of God” and “of the devil” are somewhat ambiguous. However, in context Callister evidently means that the Book of Mormon was supernaturally inspired either by God or by the devil. One reason for concluding that this is his meaning is the fact that by “of God” he clearly means inspired by God supernaturally as the very word of God, which suggests that “of the devil” in the same context means supernaturally inspired by the devil. Furthermore, Callister introduces the dilemma with the words of his great-great-grandfather, “That book was either written by God or the devil” (emphasis added). Posed in that way, the dilemma would seem rather clearly to mean that the Book of Mormon must either be inspired by God or be inspired by the devil.

Assuming this is Callister’s meaning, the dilemma is clearly a false one. A fraudulent scripture certainly could be concocted by a false teacher without needing to have it supernaturally inspired by the devil. Mormons do believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and it is quite correct to say that this claim is either true or false. Thus, we could easily agree that either the Book of Mormon is the word of God, or it is not the word of God. But if it is not the word of God, it might not be the word of the devil, either. It might be the word of man.

Consider the following genuine logical dilemma posed by Jesus Christ: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” (Matt. 21:25 ESV). Since John the Baptist obviously was a man, Jesus’ dilemma is logically valid: if his baptism was not of heavenly origin (i.e., from God), then it was of human origin. These two views exhausted the hypothetical possibilities in that context. Notice that Jesus’ dilemma does not exclude a role for Satan in a religious practice not mandated from God, nor does it need to say anything about the devil at all, since to say that John’s baptism was of man would in no way exclude a demonic aspect if such were involved. On the other hand, if Jesus had asked if John’s baptism was “from heaven or from the devil,” Jesus’ critics might plausibly have responded that these two views ignored a third possibility, namely, that John was simply doing his own thing.

We should probably say the same thing about Callister’s first premise. Perhaps the Book of Mormon is neither of God nor of the devil; perhaps it is of man. In order to make the God-or-devil dilemma work, Callister would need to show that a book that claims to be the word of God but is not would have to be inspired by the devil. Callister points out that Joseph claimed that an angel of God gave him the Book of Mormon plates and that he translated them by the power of God. If Joseph’s claims on these points were false, that would be very bad indeed, but would it require the conclusion that the book was a production of Satan? Not necessarily. Joseph may have made up the story about the angel appearing to him, or he may have been suffering from delusions. Likewise, Joseph may have mistakenly thought he was inspired to translate the plates, or he may have knowingly claimed to have a divine gift of translation that he did not. Again, Callister poses a valid dilemma when he says, “It is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud,”[4] but a “total fraud” need not be a Satanically inspired fraud.

To salvage the argument, one might suggest reinterpreting Willard Richards’s and Tad Callister’s dilemma so that “of the devil” did not mean inspired supernaturally by the devil. To do this, however, one would need to interpret “of God” to mean something other than supernaturally inspired by God. For example, someone might suggest that the Book of Mormon must either be something God approves or something the devil approves. Such an approach to the first premise, however, actually makes it far less plausible as a true logical dilemma. After all, God might approve of or like some things in the Book of Mormon but not others, and the devil likewise might be happy about some parts of the Book of Mormon but not other parts. All sorts of religious writings may be regarded as good books with some significant errors, or as bad books that make some good points.

The “God or a bad man” dilemma that C. S. Lewis and other Christians have posed with regard to the identity of Jesus Christ is a genuine logical dilemma once one understands that Jesus did make the divine claims reported in the Gospels (a point not at all lost on Lewis, by the way). If I were to claim in all seriousness that I would be sitting on the throne of God on Judgment Day deciding who lived forever in God’s kingdom and who did not, dispensing condemnation to some and forgiveness to others at my own discretion, you would rightly conclude that I was a menace. It would make no sense to reject such divine claims from me and at the same time to suggest that I was a pretty decent guy or even a good theologian! Lewis’s argument works because his dilemma, properly understood in context, does present two mutually exclusive possibilities regarding someone (anyone!) who claims to exercise the prerogatives of the Creator of the universe. The “God or the devil” dilemma with regard to the Book of Mormon does not, however, hold up, because a book that falsely claims to be inspired by God might be inspired by the devil or merely inspired by human creativity and ambition.

Not of the Devil: The Argument’s Second Premise

The second premise of the Richards-Callister argument is that the Book of Mormon cannot be “of the devil” because it draws people “closer to God” and teaches them to come to Christ and build their lives on him. The devil, Callister explains, would “be divided against himself and thus be destroying his own kingdom” if he were to encourage people to align themselves with the kingdom of Christ.[5]

It is true that Satan would never deliberately undermine his own dominion or control over people’s lives, as Jesus taught in his famous comment denying that his exorcisms were merely “Satan driving out Satan” (Matt. 12:25-26; Mark 3:23-26; Luke 11:17-18). However, Satan is not above pretending to support the cause of Christ for his own diabolical purposes. Simon Peter thought he was defending Jesus’ divine calling as the Messiah (Christ) by denying that Jesus would be rejected by the Jewish authorities and put to death, but Jesus responded to Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33). Paul, in the context of criticizing those who “preach another Jesus, whom we did not preach,” warns that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:4, 14). John, likewise in the context of warning about false teachers who claim to represent Jesus Christ, described those who follow the sinful path of such false teachers as “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10). Both Jesus and his apostles warned about “false prophets” and “false teachers” who claimed to represent Christ (Matt. 7:15-23; 24:23-24; Mark 13:21-22; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1-6). Although we should not make such judgments lightly or carelessly, the sad reality is that some people who talk in glowing terms about Christ and profess to follow him are, according to New Testament standards, really working for the kingdom of the devil.

I have already argued that there is no need to claim that the Book of Mormon is either directly inspired by God or directly inspired by the devil. However, the Book of Mormon might be “of the devil” in the more general sense of contributing to the cause of the devil’s agenda. We cannot assume that if a book such as the Book of Mormon speaks in pious language about Jesus Christ, then that book cannot in some sense be “of the devil.” After all, even the Book of Mormon itself describes what it calls “this great and abominable church” and claims that “the devil…was the founder of it” (1 Nephi 13:6; also 14:3, 9, 10, 17; 22:22-23). Clearly, then, the Book of Mormon itself acknowledges that some people who claim to believe in Christ and to follow Christ are deceived by the devil. If this is so, then it is not impossible for the Book of Mormon to be “of the devil” in some sense, even though it contains many pious statements about Christ.

Consider the following statements, each appearing in writings regarded by many as scripture:

  • “When Jesus appeared on earth, he performed miracles and great wonders for the salvation of humanity.”[6]
  • “His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter.”[7]
  • “Jesus established in the Christian era the precedent for all Christianity, theology, and healing. Christians are under as direct orders now, as they were then, to be Christlike, to possess the Christ-spirit, to follow the Christ-example, and to heal the sick as well as the sinning.”[8]
  • “Never have I read in the works of the philosophers anything that can compare to the maxims of Jesus…. He could convert water into wine; he could change death into life, disease into health; he could calm the seas, still the storms, call up fish with a silver coin in its mouth.”[9]
  • “And as you go and preach, baptize the people in the name of Christ. They who believe and are bap­tized shall rise up in the newness of the life of Christ….”[10]

The above quotations come, in chronological order, from the Gospel of Judas (late 2nd cent.), the Qur’an (7th cent.), Science and Health (1875), the Archko Volume (1884), and the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (1908). Each of these writings makes respectful and honorable statements about Jesus and encourages people to believe in him. Three of them are in effect alternative “gospels” or books focusing directly on Jesus. Yet each also makes highly controversial and clearly unbiblical statements about Jesus and about the gospel of Christ. Are these books “of the devil”? A Christian could easily justify such a conclusion, without necessarily suggesting that any of them was inspired supernaturally by the devil and without denying that there are good and true statements about God and about Jesus in each of them. That is, a Christian could argue that such books, despite their laudatory statements about God and Christ, work against the cause of Christ (and therefore in support of the devil’s agenda) by teaching confusing and contradictory ideas about Christ. The fact is that each of these books, in different ways, calls into question the reliability and adequacy of the New Testament writings’ teachings about Jesus Christ. Sometimes subtly, and sometimes blatantly, these pseudo-scriptures attack the biblical foundations of the Christian faith, challenging the historic Christian view of the person of Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon, from an orthodox Christian perspective, falls into this same category of pseudo-scriptures that undermine confidence in the trustworthiness of the revelation of Jesus Christ found in the New Testament. It is one of a long list of supposedly inspired writings appearing in modern times that claim to “restore” the true understanding of the teachings and life of Jesus. In some cases these are supposedly new, modern scriptures or inspired writings, such as Heaven and Hell (by Emanuel Swedenborg, 1758), Doctrine & Covenants (mostly by Joseph Smith, 1828-1844), Science and Health (by Mary Baker Eddy, 1875), or A Course in Miracles (by Helen Schucman, 1976, supposedly dictated to her by Jesus himself!). In other cases these writings are modern fictions purporting to be rediscovered ancient scriptures, including the Book of Mormon (1830) and the Book of Abraham (1842), the Archko Volume (1884), the Life of Issa (1894), the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (1908), and the Secret Gospel of Mark (1973).

While the Book of Mormon is probably the most subtle of these pseudo-scriptures in its deviations from the biblical teachings about God and Jesus Christ, it still falls into this category. The Book of Mormon questions the completeness and integrity of the Bible, teaches that Jesus started a separate church in the Americas and that the church there and in the Old World had become apostate, and directs its readers to view Joseph Smith, its modern publisher, as the divinely chosen instrument of the restoration of the true Christian faith. The fact that it generally uses traditional-sounding Christian language about God and Christ makes it all the more potent as a means for drawing people from traditional Christian churches away from a faith resting solidly on the foundation of the Bible.

We have good reasons, then, to dispute Callister’s second premise. It may very well be that the Book of Mormon is “of the devil” in a loose sense. That is, it may be a tool or instrument supporting or helping to advance the devil’s agenda of undermining confidence in the Bible as the fully trustworthy and reliable word of God and of leading people away from a biblically sound understanding of the Christian faith.

Conclusion

I have argued that the first premise of the Richards-Callister “God or the devil” argument is false: the claim that the Book of Mormon must be either of God or of the devil ignores the possibility that the Book of Mormon might simply be the work of man, a product of human deceit and ambition. It does not follow that if the Book of Mormon is not directly inspired by the devil then it must be directly inspired by God. In a broader or looser sense, a book might be “of God” in some respects but “of the devil” in other respects; that is, it might be a mixture of truth and error, of good and evil.

With regard to the second premise, namely, that the Book of Mormon cannot be of the devil because it encourages faith in Christ, I have argued that many books purport to encourage faith in Christ but undermine a sound, biblically authentic faith in Christ. To the extent that the Book of Mormon is such a book, it might very well be described, in the looser sense, as “of the devil.” Thus, the second premise of the argument is also highly questionable.

Since the first premise is false and the second premise is at least highly questionable, the God-or-devil dilemma argument for the Book of Mormon fails. From an orthodox Christian perspective, the Book of Mormon is a mixture of truth and error. After all, much of the Book of Mormon is copied, often nearly verbatim, from the Bible! Where the Book of Mormon repeats what the Bible says, it is true. Where the Book of Mormon makes statements that reflect biblical truths and values (as it often does), even though it is not quoting the Bible, here again the Book of Mormon may be viewed as containing significant truth. Unfortunately, the Book of Mormon presents these true statements in the framework of a false historical narrative designed to undermine the integrity and trustworthiness of the Bible, to indict traditional Christianity as apostate, and to present Joseph Smith as a modern channel of divine revelation through which true Christianity is being restored. For that reason, despite all of the true and good things one can find within the Book of Mormon, we cannot accept its claim to be a restored scripture. Without going to the extreme of denouncing everything in the Book of Mormon as of the devil, we therefore conclude that as a whole the Book of Mormon is not of God.

 

NOTES

[1] LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, rev. and expanded ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), 79; see also D. Michael Quinn, “They Served: The Richards Legacy in the Church,” Ensign, Jan. 1980, 25.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960), 55-56; see also The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 23-24; Miracles: A Preliminary Inquiry, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1978 paperback ed.), 109; and especially “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 156-60. The cogency of the argument is currently the subject of vigorous debate among philosophers and theologians.

[3] Tad R. Callister, “The Book of Mormon—a Book from God,” Ensign, Nov. 2011, 74-75.

[4] Ibid., 74.

[5] Ibid., 75.

[6] Gospel of Judas, trans. Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst (National Geographic Society, 2006).

[7] The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, trans. ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, 11th ed. (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 2004), 3.45.

[8] Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: First Church of Christ, Scientist, numerous editions [orig. 1875]), 138.17.

[9] “Pilate’s Report,” in The Archko Volume, or, the Archaeological Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews [by William Dennes Mahan] (Philadelphia: Antiquarian Book Company, 1913), 132, 146-47.

[10] Levi H. Dowling, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (London: L. N. Fowler; Los Angeles: Eva S. Dowling, 1911), 180.8-9.

 

2
Jun

Mitt Romney’s Mormonism Back in Focus

   Posted by: Rob Bowman Tags: , ,

Now that Mitt Romney has officially begun his campaign for the Republican nomination for U.S. President in 2012, attention will no doubt focus again on his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have therefore written a new article that reviews the controversy over Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and puts the matter in some perspective. Feel free to leave comments about the article here or on our Facebook page.

In an essay on IRR’s website, “Did Not Our Heart Burn within Us: Luke 24:32 and the Mormon Testimony,” I have argued that the “burning” of the disciples’ hearts was not the means by which the disciples became convinced of the truth of the gospel. Rather, they had experienced that “burning” feeling while still in a state of disbelief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What convinced them that Jesus had risen from the dead was God’s gracious “opening” of their eyes to recognize that it was Jesus who had physically appeared to them, talked with them, and broken bread with them (Luke 24:30-31, 35). They knew because they saw—and they saw because God graciously allowed them to see what was right in front of their eyes.

This explanation of Luke 24 receives interesting confirmation and support from a new article by Dane C. Ortlund, a Bible editor at Crossway Books. The article, “‘And Their Eyes Were Opened, and They Knew’: An Inter-canonical Note on Luke 24:31,” appears in the new issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Vol. 53, No. 4, Dec. 2010), pages 717-28. Ortlund shows that the quoted statement by Luke alludes to Genesis 3:7, where the same statement is made about Adam and Eve’s eyes being “opened” when they ate of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Ortund’s conclusion is worth quoting:

“The first eye-opening with its attendant knowledge ushered humanity into a new moral universe of darkness, exile, sin, and death. The second eye-opening with its attendant knowledge pulled back the eschatological curtain to allow Jesus’ distraught disciples to perceive that he himself had inaugurated the long-awaited new world of hope, resurrection, restoration, and new creation” (728).

Christians know that the gospel is true, not because they have a “burning” feeling in their hearts (something they may or may not experience), but because they perceive the truth that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.

In his General Conference address “Gospel Learning and Teaching” in October 2010, David M. McConkie, First Counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency (and nephew of Bruce R. McConkie), made the following comments:

Soon after I was called to be a stake president, our stake presidency received training from an Area Seventy. During the training, I asked a question to which he responded, “That is a good question. Let’s turn to the Church Handbook of Instructions for the answer.” We then went to the handbook, and there was the answer to my question. A little later in our training, I asked another question. Once again he responded, “Good question. Let’s turn to the handbook.” I did not venture to ask any more questions. I thought it best to read the handbook.

I have thought since that the Lord could give a similar response to each of us as we go to Him with concerns or questions. He could say, “That’s a good question. If you will review Alma chapter 5 or Doctrine and Covenants section 76, you’ll remember that I have already spoken to you about this.”

Brothers and sisters, it is contrary to the economy of heaven for the Lord to repeat to each of us individually what He has already revealed to us collectively. The scriptures contain the words of Christ. They are the voice of the Lord. Studying the scriptures trains us to hear the Lord’s voice. (Ensign, Nov. 2010, 14-15)

Some obvious questions come to mind in reflecting on these statements by David M. McConkie. Has it always been “contrary to the economy of heaven” for the Lord to respond to questions already addressed in scripture? If it has always been so, then (assuming the accuracy of the official account of the beginning of the LDS faith), did not Joseph Smith err by asking the Lord questions on doctrinal matters already addressed in the Bible? Should he not have gone to Scripture for his answers instead of asking the Lord to provide these answers to him individually? Had Joseph Smith believed what David M. McConkie asserts, then the LDS religion would never have gotten off the ground.

If it has not always been “contrary to the economy of heaven” for the Lord to answer such questions, what has changed? One possible answer is that the LDS Church now has reliable and comparatively complete scriptures in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. The traditional view among Mormons appears to be that while these scriptures are reliable, the Bible is reliable only where it agrees with (current) LDS teaching. Many if not most Mormons view the Bible as less reliable than the other three “standard works” of the LDS Church. Another possible answer is that the LDS Church now exists, so that there is a collective organization with the priesthood, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and so forth, whose members now have the spiritual ability to read the scriptures and understand them. I suppose Mormons might accept both answers together.

What I would say to Mormons on this issue is this: When we who are evangelical, Bible-believing Christians have questions, or are asked questions, about doctrinal and practical matters, our answer will sound very similar to what David M. McConkie says: “Good question. Let’s turn to the Handbook.” For us, the Bible is the Lord’s Handbook of Instructions (among other things). It is contrary to the economy of heaven for the Lord to repeat to each of us individually what he has already revealed to us in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God—the written revelation of the loving heart of God, the holy standards of God, and the merciful works of God by which he reconciles us to himself through Christ and empowers us for life and ministry through the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, we hear the voice of the Lord. In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, we find Christ.

Thus, when someone asks us, “Do you believe that all worthy males can hold the Aaronic priesthood today?” we reply, “That’s a good question. If you will review Hebrews 5-8, you’ll remember that God has already spoken to you about this.” When someone asks, “Will all of the redeemed live together in one glorious kingdom of God or will they be separated into three different glorious kingdoms?” we reply, “That’s a good question. If you will review Colossians 1:12-14 or Revelation 21:1-7, you’ll remember that the Lord has already spoken to you about this.” If someone wants to know if there is any God other than Jehovah, we reply, “That’s a good question. If you will review Isaiah 43:10 and 44:6-8, you’ll remember that Jehovah has already spoken to you about this.”

If LDS doctrine simply went beyond the Bible to provide additional revelations that agreed with and supplemented what the Bible teaches, that would be one thing. If, however, we find that LDS doctrine repeatedly conflicts with the teaching of the Bible, then our stance needs to be uncompromising. If you’ll study the Bible, you’ll find that the Lord has already spoken on a number of subjects on which the LDS Church claims to have the truth. Time and time again, a careful comparison of LDS teaching with the Bible turns up disconnects, discrepancies, and deviations of LDS doctrine from what the Lord has already said on these issues. I present just such a comparison in the Gospel Principles Scripture Study Guide, a resource on the website of the Institute for Religious Research. The method of that study guide can be summed up in five words: Let’s turn to The Handbook.

10
Sep

Glenn Beck – Christian, Mormon, Both?

   Posted by: Joel Groat Tags: ,

Let’s hear it for the wisdom of college freshmen. Seriously. I have 30 of them in my class at Cornerstone University and together we are studying Biblical Hermeneutics and it’s plain to see this class is going to be far from boring. So what is Beck doing in a Hermeneutics class? Helping me make it relevant. After all the class is a study in how to appropriately, accurately and relevantly apply ancient texts from different languages and cultures to the Facebook generation and stay true to what God really meant to say.
So out of the blue I asked my class “How many think Beck should be considered an evangelical Christian?” Only one hand out of 30 went up. I must admit I was surprised and said so. ‘After all,’ I told them, ‘he espouses Christian values, uses Christian terminology and has garnered the support of numerous Christian leaders – why don’t you think he should be considered a Christian?’ Several people answered at once “He’s a Mormon.”
Yes he is, and that doesn’t make him any more fallen or any less likeable than anyone else. But the fact of the matter – that these tuned-in university students got – is that the Mormon Church for its 180 year history has officially, and at times vociferously, rejected all the primary doctrines that define Christianity and set it apart from every other religion in the world.

  • Only one God who has forever existed as a single tri-personal being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit — rejected.
  • God the Father as a personal being who as spirit cannot be bounded by a body or any other space-time limitation (it’s what allows him to be all-powerful, all-knowing and simultaneously everywhere present) — rejected.
  • Jesus Christ who existed prior to his virgin birth as God, the eternal creator and Logos, and who while condescending to become fully human and image the invisible God and make him visible to us, continued to be also completely and fully deity — rejected.
  • The only way we escape the just and eternal consequences of our sin and daily selfish, egocentric choices is to exchange our sinfulness and unrighteousness for the perfect righteousness of Jesus, which God offers to us as a gift, we receive by faith – believing that God out of his goodness and grace will just give to us for the asking — rejected.   For more information IRR.org has several articles on Mormon-Christian differences.

So does Glenn Beck inspire a return to Christian and conservative values? Yes. Does Glenn Beck use imagery and terminology that resonates with evangelical Christians?  Sure looks that way. Do other Christian leaders seem to be welcoming Glenn Beck as a fellow Christian and expressing a certain level of comfort with how he articulates his personal beliefs and faith? Mmm hmmm.   Does any of that make Glenn Beck a Christian?  Not if we are going to use good hermeneutics and a historical and biblical definition for “Christian.”  Until the LDS Church changes the articulation of its core doctrines and stops rejecting what Christians have affirmed for the past 2000 years, we are all going to have to continue to choose – Mormon or Christian – but not both.

There are certain subjects in Christian theology that tend to attract a lot of attention among evangelical Christians. We love to discuss controversial questions concerning soteriology, the doctrine of salvation (e.g., the perennial debates among Calvinists, Lutherans, and Arminians regarding predestination and election). Of course, discussions about eschatology (the Millennium, the Rapture, 666, etc.) seem to be never-ending. Among those who are interested in apologetics, we have some interest in such essential theological subjects as the nature of God and the deity of Jesus Christ. But ecclesiology–the study of the doctrine of the church–tends to evoke yawns.

C. S. Lewis once wrote that “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered” (The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949; New York: Collier, 1980], 50). As with other doctrinal matters, ecclesiology may not seem very important–until you encounter bad ecclesiology. Then the need for good ecclesiology becomes a felt need and not just an abstraction. I first discovered this fact when working through the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim to be the only true religion on the earth today. Despite their confident assertions that everything about their religion is Bible-based, the bureaucratic structure of the religion, led by a “governing body” that runs “Jehovah’s organization on earth,” does not fit at all with what we find in the New Testament. Studying Watchtower ecclesiology forced me to think through that the Bible teaches about ecclesiology. One gains a different perspective on ecclesiology when one is confronting a heretical religion than when one is caught up in skirmishes among evangelicals over, for example, congregational polity versus presbyterian (elder-based) polity.

The same principle applies when dealing with the ecclesiology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons confidently claim that the LDS Church is the only true church on the earth today, and one reason they give in support of this claim is that their religion is supposedly organized in the same way as the New Testament church. Superficially, Mormons can make a plausible-sounding case for this claim: the New Testament church had apostles, and the LDS Church has apostles. Hey, my church doesn’t have apostles! Maybe we’re missing something. The LDS Church has other offices that sound biblical but that your congregation or denomination probably doesn’t have: patriarchs, for instance, or high priests. Do Mormons really have a “restored” church that corresponds in its organization and offices to the church of the New Testament era? I discuss this question in a new article on the website of the Institute for Religious Research. That article, entitled “Church Organization and Apostasy,” is a response to chapter 16 of Gospel Principles, a doctrinal manual that Mormons around the world are studying throughout 2010 and 2011. The thesis of that article will surprise some people: my contention is that the apostles did not have an “organization” to run Christianity in the first century. That is, there was no hierarchical institution that directed the activities of Christian missionaries, evangelists, and other church leaders throughout the world, or that dictated doctrine and policy from the top down. I also show that the offices of the LDS Church have little or no connection to the ministries of Christian leaders in the first century. The article also offers a response to the LDS claim that early Christianity became so corrupt that the church ceased to exist for some seventeen centuries (what they call the Great Apostasy) until Joseph Smith came along. Understanding where these claims go astray biblically will not only help us be prepared to confront the errors in the LDS religion, but they will help us have a better appreciation for what the Lord Jesus Christ intended when he founded his church.

The pain came off the paper in waves. It was just one of several similar contacts we’ve gotten recently — candid, revealing, heart-rending.

“I accidentally came across your website and wish I’d known about it sooner. I was born to militant Mormon parents and basically didn’t know anything except what I was taught by them and at church. …I used to be a very trusting soul. … I was given some answers that only made me uneasy. I went to BYU and was uncomfortable there but my parents wanted me to stay so I did. I ended up marrying a returned missionary who was hiding a dark side. …My marriage imploded after trying for 16 years and I raised my 4 children alone. … I felt like I was never good enough. …It made me angry that no one would discuss anything controversial and was warned about looking “too deeply and in the wrong places”. …[I] soon found it difficult to go to church and listen to the airbrushed versions of things. I have been feeling like Neo in the Matrix when he finds out that what he believed to be reality all his life is a sham. I turned in a letter to my bishop a month ago requesting that my name be removed from the membership records of the church. He attempted to heap guilt and threats of damnation on me and unleashed the visiting teachers and home teachers to talk sense into me. I want out of a church that is based on fabrication, control and guilt trips. I am VERY distrusting of any organized religion and am trying to sort through fact vs. fiction. Is there a God and what is He like? Where does Jesus fit in and what am I doing here really? I am a very confused person right now. The only thing I know is right is leaving the LDS church. My sisters and brother (all militant Mormons) have no clue any of this is going on with me and I dread when I am forced to tell them. A mentor would be a great lifeline right now when everything else is crumbling. Thanks for your assistance with this!”

How does a lifetime in a religion that claims to be “the one and only true church” lead to this level of pain and despair? The answer in part: Being subject to an authority structure that cannot be questioned whose claims of unique divine power lends itself to a lack of authenticity and a lack of integrity. For this person it led to being given answers that left them uneasy, feeling pushed to remain where they were uncomfortable, trusting someone who was hiding a dark side, an atmosphere that stifled honest inquiry with an unwillingness to face controversial topics, spiritual leaders who heaped guilt and threats of damnation in an effort to control those who raise questions they can’t or won’t answer. Is any of this unique to LDS religion? Hardly. It can happen anywhere there is a trusted spiritual leader – but much more so when the leader or leaders claim special spiritual power or authority that is uniquely theirs and is inherent to their position or calling.

This for me is one of the most troubling aspects of the Mormon priesthood hierarchy structure, a system where every leader is told he is vested with special power that has come from the leader above him, that has come from the leader above him – all the way up to the President, Prophet, and Seer, of whom it is taught that God will not allow him to lead the people astray. The potential for abuse is obvious. What does a Home Teacher do if the assignment he’s been given by his bishop borders on harassment? What recourse does a young Mormon Missionary have when his Mission president endorses or encourages unethical or less than honest proselytizing methods?** After all, these leaders have been “divinely called” and they have been given special “keys” to which those below them have no access. They possess “priesthood power” – the very power that transformed their God from man to Deity – and it authorizes and often justifies their actions. To question them is tantamount to questioning God himself.

There is only one answer to this type of authority and power structure – re-evaluate the whole system in light of a higher and absolutely reliable authority – the Bible. Bottom line: there is no support in the Bible for the LDS conception and practice of priesthood authority. It’s the invention of the very leaders who devised the Mormon religion. And that should give us pause.

You can access a detailed biblical and historical evaluation of the Mormon priesthood system here. http://mit.irr.org/mormon-priesthood-do-mormons-alone-have-power

It just might save you some pain.

** For more on questionable LDS missionary activity over the past 50 years do Google searches on “Mormon Baseball baptisms,” “oaksletter guatemala soccer baptism” “LDS Groberg Kikuchi Tokyo South Mission”, and/or “LDS Lure English Korea”

9
Jul

Gospel Principles and the Priesthood

   Posted by: Rob Bowman Tags: , , ,

Mormons are studying chapter 13 of their Gospel Principles manual this weekend, the first of two chapters focusing on the LDS priesthood. I have written a response to that chapter that is now available on the IRR website. In my article I make a number of observations that I will merely summarize here:

  • In LDS doctrine, “priesthood” is an impersonal divine power, the power that Heavenly Father obtained in the process of his exaltation to Godhood and that he used in creation, and that human beings can also obtain through the ordinances of the LDS Church.
  • The above conception of priesthood appears nowhere in the Bible, the LDS scriptures, or the teachings of Joseph Smith.
  • In New Testament teaching, there is no such thing as an earthly office of priest in the Christian church.
  • Priesthood in the Bible was an earthly type of the heavenly ministry of salvation that Jesus Christ alone performs for us. Christians now have something better than that priesthood.
  • The LDS Church distorts the words of Jesus and other passages of the Bible to support its notion of priesthood.

This is an extremely important issue in LDS religion. I offer my analysis and response in the hope that some members of the LDS Church will take a good hard look at what they have been taught.