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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label LDS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LDS. Show all posts

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Talk with Mormons (podcast)

Mormonism boasts over 12 million adherents, and it's still growing. What should we say when Mormon missionaries come to our door? How are Christian beliefs different than Mormon beliefs? In this new podcast series, Lenny teaches you how to engage Mormons in fruitful discussion.

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Not to Show You Have Truth...

View of the Salt Lake Temple from the East.
In Utah, I was able to speak to several sister missionaries, some young and some old. After watching "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, a pair of sister missionaries and an older one asked me a few questions. I explained what I was doing there – that I had questions about the LDS faith and that I was there to find out more about the religion and discuss how it differs from Christianity.

I later found out the older sister missionary got reprimanded for "debating" with us, that "debating was not what they were here to do," and that "if she continued to do this, there would be problems." But the discussion we had was highly civil, respectful and mutually enjoyed – which the sisters themselves verbally acknowledged. This was not an isolated incident, however. Most of my experience with LDS leadership has been that of discouraging questions that are not easily answered via 1) pushing any serious questions to the faith towards the LDS church’s website or 2) by asserting that I needed to test what is true by means of prayer or 3) by simply brushing me off. Obviously, these could possibly be isolated incidents, but the sheer consistency of these responses makes me think this is how the LDS faith actually responds to those sincerely trying to seek truth that have difficult questions.

I appreciate that in following Christ, critical thinking, testing, and transparency is not only a righteous ideal, but a command. The whole worldview of Christianity is strong enough to withstand testing and to be put through the ringer of reason and evidence. If it really is true, shouldn’t that be the case?  Would we really have anything to hide? Had the situation been in reverse, if they sought us for questions about Christianity, I can GUARANTEE we would have been there as long as possible.

It has once been said that, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." That same person did not say truth would be known by feeling, but by reading the word of God. And it is true: in Christianity, testing important truths is not really about feeling; it’s about reading the words of God: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, IF you continue in my word, THEN are you my disciples indeed; AND you shall know the truth, AND the truth shall make you free." John 8:31-32 (and essentially Psalm 119).

If you are truly serious about telling me you have truth, then please be intellectually honest: do not discourage sincere questions or stifle the gift of rational, critical thought.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mormonism, Hell, and God's Holiness

This year, I took a group of students to Manti, Utah where they had the chance to talk with many people who were raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons. Most of these folks didn't even understand orthodox Christian doctrine. Part of the problem is that Mormons will use Christian terms but pour different meaning into them, such as the concept of salvation.

For a Christian, salvation means a person has recognized his sinfulness, knows that there is no way he can justify his sinful actions to a holy God, and places his trust in Christ's sacrifice on the cross as atonement for those actions. In this way, Christians are seen as righteous in the sight of God and they may dwell with Him eternally. However, Mormon doctrine is very different. The LDS church teaches that "salvation is synonymous with immortality" 1 and all are saved except for those that apostatize against Mormonism. Thus, almost everyone will live in a heavenly terrestrial kingdom but only Mormons in good standing will live in the higher celestial kingdom.2

The Mormon view of salvation is attractive to many people because hell isn't necessarily an eternal punishment. Like a lot of others who are uncomfortable with the idea of "nice" people going to hell, this seems to be a more comfortable solution. However, while the idea may seem uncomfortable, part of our discomfort is in our fallen state we tend to diminish the heinousness of sin and misunderstand what holiness really is.

God is a Holy God

One of the differences between the Christian God and the Mormon one is that the Christian God is completely holy. He has never not been completely holy. He is eternally God, and therefore His holiness is essential to His nature as God. The God of Mormonism, however, was once a man like you and me. He didn't create us out of nothing, but we were his spirit children birthed from a heavenly mother, and if one practices proper Mormon rituals he may become a God himself.3

These competing views really affect how one understands holiness. I like to use the comparison of an old laundry detergent commercial to make this point. The camera would show one sock on a table. A second sock would fall on top of it with the voice-over narrating "Your old detergent may get your whites this clean." The sock was indeed markedly cleaner and whiter. People would perhaps buy the detergent if the commercial stopped there. But the commercial then shows a third sock falling atop both. This third sock is much whiter than even the second sock, and the narrator promised that his product can produce whites this much whiter than the competing brand.

The reason why the second sock appeared white is because the comparison was relative to only the first. In our sinful world, we have only other sinners by which to compare ourselves. Once we begin to understand true holiness, we begin to see all of humanity stained with the blackness of sin. A holy God cannot allow any sin to go unpunished. Every sin must be dealt with. Just as any amount of sewage left untreated will corrupt the purity of water, so any amount of sin left unpunished would corrupt the nature of a holy and just God, making Him something less.4

So, each person is offered a choice – you may accept the atonement Jesus provided for your sin and apply his righteousness (his "whiteness' as it were) to yourself, or you may choose to rely on your own level of righteousness. Sewage doesn't clean itself up, even after an eternity. Thus, you will forever be stained and forever be separated from God by your stain. It's what we would expect from a holy God.


1. McConkie, Bruce R. "Salvation". Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966. Print. 471.
2. McConkie, "Terrestrial Kingdom", 548.
3. As Lorenzo Snow, fifth prophet of the LDS Church exclaimed, "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be" (Ensign, February 1982, pp. 39-40). This means that every worthy male, according to the standards of Mormonism, will become a god and rule over their own planet. But what about the women? That question was answered by Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth prophet of the Church, when he spoke of man's exaltation as it is called in Mormonism:
The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fullness of his kingdom. In other words we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fullness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over world, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring. We will have an endless eternity for this (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 48).
4. For more on this, see my article "How can a loving God NOT send people to hell?" at

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Are Mormons Christians, too?

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of Mormons during my trip to Utah. When we visited Temple Square, I spoke with a couple of Sister Missionaries who were giving us a tour of the facilities. Both sisters echoed the official Latter-day Saints claim that they were Christians even as I am. One said, "Of course we're Christians. We worship Jesus Christ just as you do. Even the name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So, we are definitely Christians."

This stance of the Mormon Church has always bothered me. In The Pearl of Great Price, considered to be sacred scripture by the LDS church, Joseph Smith canonized his account of the "first vision" of two personages (identified as God the Father and Jesus Christ) that supposedly gave birth to the church.1 Smith explains:
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof."2
Smith here clearly states that all the Christian denominations are "all wrong," "their creeds are an abomination," those that profess Christianity "were all corrupt," and they are denying the power of godliness. These are basically the harshest condemnations one could receive from God, and yet Mormons are steadfastly claiming "I'm a Christian, too!" If Mormons and the LDS church believe this vision is true and God really did day these things, then why on earth would they want their name associated with an apostate group whose beliefs are an abomination before the Lord?

To look at it another way, imagine that I was discussing my beliefs with a group of Wiccans. Further, imagine me stating, "I know that we disagree on the nature and character of God, but because I believe that God is responsible for creation and you do too, that makes me as pagan as you. I'm a pagan Christian!" The claim is not only nonsense, it would offensive to both the Wiccans and it would be offensive to Christianity. Paganism is the opposite of what Christianity teaches, just as the Mormon view that man may become God is the opposite of Christianity's transcendent Creator.

Christianity throughout its history has faced heresy and apostasy. Jesus warned his followers to ""Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15) and Paul cautions the church in Galatia that "even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8). Jesus and Paul were exclusivists; they held — and the early church codified — there are certain beliefs that identified someone as a Christian. If one rejects any of those essential beliefs, they must be excluded and considered not a Christian.

While the LDS church likes to use the line "we're Christians, too," it doesn't mean it's true. Perhaps they can gain some PR or a sympathetic listen from a potential convert, but Mormonism is as far from Christianity as I am from becoming a God myself. Why they would claim such is disingenuous and insulting to both their beliefs and to mine.


1. There exist a lot of conflicting accounts about this first vision in documents written both before and after the one included in The Pearl of Great Price. This has caused many scholars to doubt that Joseph Smith repeated the story consistently. For a few of these, see Tanner, Sandra. "Evolution of the First Vision and Teaching on God in Early Mormonism" Utah Lighthouse Ministries. Web. 8 Nov 1998. Accessed 3 July 2014.

2. Smith Jun., Joseph. "Joseph Smith—History." The Pearl of Great Price. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Web. Accessed 3 July 2014.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Afghanistan Across the Street

Missions work can be exciting and exotic. Visiting foreign lands and experiencing different cultures emphasizes some of the differences people have even though we all have much in common, like the love of family, the desire to prosper, and the need for worship. Different cultures have different worldviews.

The phrase "mission opportunities" frequently triggers thoughts of faithful souls braving cultures unfamiliar with Christianity. The Joshua Project defined any nation that has less than a 2% Christian as an unreached people group.1 Nations like Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia fit this category.

Christless Counties in Utah

You wouldn't have to go as far as Africa or the 10/40 window to find an unreached people group, though. This week I have taken a group of students to Sanpete County in Utah to witness to Mormons. Sanpete County has a population of almost 28,000 people and according to Tri-Grace ministries less than 1% of the people who live here are Christian, and Sanpete County isn't the only county in Utah where that's true.2 That means in the Unite States of America there are several large geographic areas that contain unreached people groups.

My experience in talking with people this week has proven that out. All the Mormons I talk with not only don't know any Christians, they completely misunderstand Christianity. They are convinced that Jesus taught eternal marriage and that we all existed as spirit children in a pre-mortal state. They believe that Christian ministers, being paid, must be in ministry for the money. They think that the Book of Mormon is comparable with the Bible and they think that Jesus taught one must perform certain works in order to be in the presence of God. Mormons I've talked with don't say "we were married in Salt Lake"or "we were married in Manti."They say "we were sealed in Manti."

This grieves my heart. One high school student who lives here told me today that when they were studying Martin Luther in her class as student exclaimed with amazement, "Martin Luther believed that you can get to heaven by faith alone?"The teacher affirmed her incredulity by answering, "I know, right?"The basic concepts of Christianity were as foreign to them as Arabic.

Making No Assumptions

Of course, it's easier to approach the people of Utah. I didn't have to learn a new language, eat strange foods, or figure out what cultural triggers are insulting. I can talk sports or child-rearing with the folks here just as I do my neighbors. And that is my point. No Christian should assume that just because you share a common bond with a neighbor or acquaintance you should never assume they know even the basics about the Gospel. Even those who use Christian phrases may not know what the gospel truly is.

I am very proud of these kids that took a week out of their summer to come to Utah and begin to reach these unreached people. They are amazing. I hope to lead many more trips out here during the year. If you or your church is interested, please contact me to discuss what's involved. It's the least we can do for those who are as desperately lost as those who live on the other side of the world.


1 "Definitions." The Joshua Project. Web. Accessed 6/28/2014.
2 "Field Demographics.” Tri-Grace Ministries. Web. Accessed 6/28/2014

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Book of Mormon Shows Joseph Smith to be a False Prophet

Last night on the streets of Manti, I had an interesting discussion with a man about his beliefs and the Book of Mormon. He was older, in his sixties, and he had been studying the book fervently. Born and raised in Utah, he came from a multi-generational family that was faithful to the LDS. He said that he had to read the book "hundreds of times" before he could truly understand it, but he now does and it drove him to some interesting conclusions. One of the most surprising admissions he made to me was that the later revelations of Joseph Smith were wrong and he was a false prophet!

A statement like the one above strikes people as counter-intuitive, but I actually agree with the man. If you were to read the Book of Mormon alone, you would never arrive at Mormon doctrine. In fact many passages in the Book of Mormon directly contradict the later revelations that Smith taught, even regarding the nature of God Himself.

Eternal Progression

The central concept of LDS theology is the doctrine of eternal progression. That doctrine teaches that God is a man who was a faithful Mormon in his physical life and has now been exalted. As the LDS prophet Lorenzo Snow famously put it, "As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be."1 While Snow coined that phrase, he didn’t create the doctrine. Joseph Smith originally taught this idea in a very famous sermon known as the King Follet sermon. There, Smith in his office of prophet who is to present the revelation from God Himself, Smith teaches:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.2
Smith goes on to explain that "you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves" in order to have eternal life.

The unchanging nature of God in the Book of Mormon

The teaching of the exaltation of God from a man is in direct contradiction to Smith’s Book of Mormon, though. Moroni 8:18 declares, "For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity."3 Mormon 9:9, borrowing from the book of Hebrews reinforces the idea that God is changeless. "Do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing."4  According to the Book of Mormon, then, Joseph Smith’s teaching that God was once a man is false.

It is interesting that Joseph Smith prefaced his remarks about God by saying how important it is to get the doctrine correct. He put it in no uncertain terms:
My first object is to find out the character of the only wise and true God, and what kind of a being He is; and if I am so fortunate as to be the man to comprehend God, and explain or convey the principles to your hearts, so that the Spirit seals them upon you, then let every man and woman henceforth sit in silence ... But if I fail to do it, it becomes my duty to renounce all further pretensions to revelations and inspirations, or to be a prophet; and I should be like the rest of the world—a false teacher.5
I believe Smith is a false teacher.  The man with whom I was conversing did as well, however he still held to the Book of Mormon and claimed that Smith was called to be a translator, not a prophet or political leader. I think that someone who claims to be a prophet and is proven to be false would not be used of God to reveal his word. That’s pretty simple since the definition of a prophet is someone who reveals the word of God to the people. Smith is a false teacher, and none of his teachings, including the Book of Mormon should be trusted.


1. The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow. (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012). 83.
2. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "The King Follett Sermon." Ensign Magazine. April 1971. Web. Accessed 27 June 2014.
3. Smith, Joseph. "The Book of Moroni." The Book of Mormon Online. (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Web. 2007. Accessed 27 June 2014.
4. Smith, Joseph. "The Book of Mormon." The Book of Mormon Online. (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Web. 2007. Accessed 27 June 2014.
5. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "The King Follett Sermon." Ibid.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mormon Testimonies and the Feedback Loop

Yesterday, on our Apologetics Missions trip, I took the team to Salt Lake City to visit Temple Square. We talked with a couple of Mormon missionaries there who were very nice and showed us some of the grounds. One of the missionaries explained that one aspect of the weekly Mormon church service was to offer their testimony. The LDS web site defines a testimony as "a spiritual witness given to an individual by the Holy Ghost… that Joseph Smith is a prophet, which God called to restore Jesus Christ's church to the earth; that we are led today by a living prophet; and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior's Church restored on the earth today."1

The missionary explained that everyone was to offer their testimony at some point. On the first Sunday of the month, in the Mormon sacrament meetings, the attendees are encouraged to share their confirmation of the truth of Mormonism.2 Those who teach are also encouraged to share their testimonies to one another.3

Later, when I was asking a few questions, I had said that I understood God and heaven differently than the LDS doctrine she had stated and I explained how the Bible promises that not just my family would be together in eternity, but that I would have a relationship with all the saints in Heaven, and we would be closer than even my family and I am now. This obviously caused some significant problems because shortly afterwards, I was warned by Mormon security that I am not allowed to share my testimony with the missionaries. Basically, they require visitors to just listen to missionaries talk about their faith; it should never go the other way. It seems that the Mormon church's use of testimonies in their services are a lot like that feedback loop.

The Feedback Loop

I've been a professional musician for over thirty years, so I know a little bit about feedback.Some people may not know the term feedback, but you are probably familiar with the concept. Feedback is that high-pitched squeal that gets really loud and hurts everyone's' ears. Sometimes it comes from a guitar but you more often hear it coming out of the PA.

Feedback is caused when a signal amplifies itself. Singers will use wedge speakers on the floor to project their voices and the music back at them for a reference monitor. If the singer's microphone isn't positioned correctly, it will catch the monitor's sound output and send it back through the PA, amplifying it again. Of course, you can see where this will lead: as the monitor gets louder, the mic catches more signal and sends it back to the PA which then sends a louder signal back to the monitor and everything begins to increase exponentially until either the speaker blows out or someone's eardrums do!

The Mormon use of testimony is a lot like a feedback loop. Good Mormons will stand up and share how they "know" that the Mormon doctrine is true because of the feelings they have. This truth-bearing isn't based on scholastic research. As the Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains, "Latter-day Saint missionaries, in particular, rely on testimony bearing, rather than on logic or artifice, to reach their listeners."4 So testimony isn't about logic. But the result is that people hear other's unwavering devotion to Mormonism and they don't feel like they are good Mormons unless they have a testimony to offer as well.So, just as everyone's life looks a lot more perfect on Facebook than it is in reality, the Mormons' use of testimony simply makes doubt or questioning seem foolish or unholy. Testimonies simply amplify the one message the Mormon church wants people to hear: that it is beyond question.

Ultimately, I believe this is one sign that Mormonism is a cult. When another person explaining his understanding of spiritual things is questioned by security because he dared do so on Temple grounds, it raises suspicion. When the security guard told me that we are not allowed to share our testimony, it revealed what the practice of testimony really is: to keep the faithful Mormons faithful and only hear the message the church wants. But, like that signal from the PA, you don't get truth from a feedback loop. Ultimately, you end up with a lot of noise that will hurt people.


1. "What is a 'testimony' that Mormons speak of?" The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Web. Accessed 6/26/2014.
2. Christensen, Clayton "Testimony Bearing." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. (New York : Macmillan, 1992) 1470. Digital version may be found at
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Why does Lehi disobey direct commandments of God?

All Jeremiah references are taken from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints King James Version (LDS KJV).

Lehi is the first distinct LDS prophet and Nephi is his son, who takes the spiritual lead after Lehi's death. Nephi records his father's revelations in the first chapters of 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

1 Nephi: Lehi and Nephi's Commands

The heading just prefacing 1 Nephi 1:1 reads, "[Lehi] is persecuted by the Jews."  The events of the book begin "in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah." (1 Nephi 1:4).  Nephi's father, Lehi, begins in joining other prophets (initially, just Jeremiah; Jeremiah 25) that preach repentance in the face of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Book of Mormon references Jeremiah 26:18-20 in its footnotes and there, Jeremiah, Micah, and Uriah are all despised for prophesying destruction of Jerusalem because of its evil ways (also, 1 Nephi 1: 18-20). Shortly thereafter, Lehi is given a very comprehensive revelation, one so great that his son, Nephi, is unable to make a full record thereof: "And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written, many things which he saw in visions and dreams…" (1 Nephi 1:16). Lehi later receives many words from God in visions and dreams (1 Nephi 2:1-2, 11; 3:2; 5:4). Such words include commandments such as: God's call to the wilderness then short return to Jerusalem to collect bronze plates (containing secular and Jewish history, even up to contemporaneous history and Jewish genealogy), then back to the wilderness. Later, Nephi is in charge of his fleeing people and is commanded to build a ship that will later lead him to a promised land (1 Nephi 17:8, 49, 51). Nephi loads himself and his family to the Promised Land and they arrive in 589 B.C. (1Nephi 18:8, 23)

Jeremiah and the Commands to Israel

Now continue on to Jeremiah 27. It has a small forward in the LDS KJV: "The Lord sends word to many nations that they are to serve Babylon—the vessels of the Lord's house will go into Babylon." The later verses follow in 8-10:
"And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand. Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: For they prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and ye should perish."
This message continues on through the rest of the chapter. The Israelites are not the only things of God commanded to go to Babylon, but the vessels of the Lord's house are also. Jeremiah prophesied that Hananiah would die because he falsely prophesied that God would break Babylon's rule and return the vessels of the Lord back to Jerusalem and Hananiah dies later that year. Further doom is given to those that prophesy against Jeremiah's words, which are to go to Babylon and take up roots there (Shemaiah in Jeremiah 29:24-32).

Promised Return

Lastly, God promises that he will return everyone that was scattered and captured by Babylon, back to the place from where they were dispersed, "And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive." (Jeremiah 29:14) So even if Nephi did receive a commandment to go to a promised land, he and the other Jews there would be gathered back from their original land.


Contrary to the previous instructions, God previously directed Lehi to take the bronze tablets out of Jerusalem and away from Babylon. This takes them out of the category of the "vessels of the Lord's house." To resolve the issue there are at least two options:
  1. Either the bronze tablets are not vessels of the Lord's house, or
  2. Lehi disobeys a direct commandment of God.
What if the event dates are all off? That presents multiple concerns.
  1. Since there is a serious degree of evidence surrounding the accuracy of the traditional dates of the captivity, that undermines the historical authority of what Joseph Smith labeled the "…most correct of any book on earth…" 
  2. Why would Nephi, "having been taught somewhat in all the learning of [his] father," have been taught a different calendar or dating system?
  3. Even still, this still does not change that both of these refer to the exact same event, exile to Babylon, with the exact same consequences for not going, judgment. Even Nephi acknowledges that it was good Lehi did not stay long in Jerusalem while getting the bronze plates, lest he face destruction (1 Nephi 3:18). This aligns with the similar warnings Jeremiah gives to anyone in Jerusalem.
  4. If Lehi and/or Nephi was/were given different instructions than Jeremiah and other contemporary prophets, then why does he never speak with any of them to verify his visions? Even Paul does this in the New Testament. He not only receives direct revelation from Christ, but also validates this message with the other apostles on at least two different occasions.

What Then?

If we are to accept any words of Lehi, the first in the line of distinctly Mormon prophets, then we need to resolve why his behaviors and the behavior of his son Nephi (who was fully taught by Lehi in all spiritual matters) acted contrary to God's directives for all members of Israel. But, if no such resolution exists for Lehi and/or Nephi, then is it unreasonable to reject their prophecy?

Friday, August 02, 2013

Three Signs of a Religious Cult - Denying Essential Doctrines

We are all familiar with dog lovers versus cat lovers, Coke versus Pepsi, Mac versus PC; people like to divide themselves by their preferences. However, there are some things that are divided not by preference, but by the facts of the matter. Whales and dolphins, for example, look like fish, live in water like fish and swim like fish. However, they are not fish but mammals. We know this because mammals have certain essential features that fish don't have. There is a nature to fish and a nature to mammals, and whales and dolphins have a mammalian nature. No matter their preference, their nature says "you are a mammal, not a fish."

The nature of God, like the nature of mammals, is what defines God. The Christian God has a certain nature; there are essential attributes that make the God of Christianity God. If one teaches that God has different attributes, you are no longer talking about the God of Christianity and therefore you no longer teaching Christianity. You are teaching something fundamentally different.

In my last two posts, I've begun to explain some identifying characteristics of any religious movement that could be defined as a cult of Christianity. While the word cult immediately evokes mind control or armed compounds, it's more formal definition much more broad. As I've explained before, the word is used to express the idea of being seduced away from the historic Christian faith. That is really the third marker of cult of Christianity: it is any sect that claims to be Christian but teaches a denial of one or more of the essential doctrines that make Christianity what it is.

What are some of the essential doctrines of Christianity? Well here are a few:
  1. The nature of God: Christianity defines God as one being in three persons. Jehovah's Witnesses teach that God is one person and Mormons claim that God is multiple beings. Christian Science also denies the Trinity, with Eddy writing "The theory of three persons in one God (that is, a personal Trinity or Tri-unity) suggests polytheism, rather than the one ever-present I  AM."[1]
  2. The nature of Christ: Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus, claiming He's a created being. Mormons hold that Jesus was the physical offspring of Elohim and a spirit brother of all humans. In Christian Science, "Jesus Christ is not God, as Jesus himself declared, but is the Son of God."[2]
  3. The nature of salvation: Salvation is wholly accomplished by Christ on the cross. However the Book of Mormon teaches that "it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." [3] The Watchtower teaches that Jesus' death paid the ransom only for sin inherited from Adam, but believers' names won't be committed to the Book of Life until they pass the test of loyalty.[4] Christian Science teaches ""One sacrifice, however great, is insufficient to pay the debt of sin. The atonement requires constant self-immolation on the sinner's part."[5]
Other essential doctrines include the nature of man, the Second coming, and the person and work of the Holy Spirit. These beliefs have provided the framework for Christianity since its very beginning. The early church fathers were very careful when teachings that contradicted these would be offered; they would ultimately censure the teachers as heretics. Heresy is another word that has been weakened in modern times, but it is a proper label for these modern movements that attempt to supplant the truth of Christian theology with their own.

Heresy used to be a more serious charge as people understood that by changing any essential doctrine also changes the nature of the belief. It would be like claiming to be a fish but not having gills. For while these movements may look Christian on the outside, their nature shows they are not what they claim to be.


[1] Eddy, Mary Baker. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. (Boston: Mary Baker Eddy Foundation, 1986) 256. Accessed online at <>

[2] Eddy, Ibid. 361. <>

[3] Smith, Joseph, Jr. The Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1948. Print. 92.

[4] McClane, Joe. "Understanding the Jehovah's Witness Teaching of the Ransom Sacrifice and the Atonement." Accessed online at> 8/2/2013

[5] Eddy, Ibid. 23. < >

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Three Signs of Religious Cults - Offering a New Revelation

We are currently looking at three signs of a religious cult of Christianity– that is a religious sect claiming to be based on the teaching of Jesus but one that in reality promotes heretical doctrines. My last post talked about the fact that many of these cults have a charismatic leader who claims to have the "inside track" on God's truth. They claim that all of Christianity has been corrupted, mistaken, or duped by its hierarchy and only they can set things right again.

Today, I'd like to look at the second sign of a cult—a new revelation from God that becomes the authoritative source for understanding Him and His word. This is a natural corollary to the first sign. Since these sects claim that historic Christianity has been duped, they need to provide their followers with some type of new filter or new revelation in order to "set things right" again. Sometimes, this appears as an entire new set of Scriptures. Joseph Smith offered his Book of Mormon as "another testament of Jesus Christ" Smith claimed it is "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."1 Along with the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, Smith offered an entirely new set of scriptures to his followers. He claimed that the Bible text had been lost or changed,2 and he took it upon himself to provide a new translation, a project he did not finish before his death.

Many other sects rely on the bible as the source of scripture, but make the claim that one cannot understand the truths therein without their special insight. Mary Baker Eddy produced Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures claiming to have "rediscovered the healing principle of Jesus and his disciples, lost since the early Christian era."3

The Jehovah's Witnesses continue to make this claim with their production of The Watchtower and Awake! magazines. In fact, the September 15 1910 edition of the Watchtower made this famous claim:
"If the six volumes of Scripture Studies are practically the Bible, topically arranged with Bible proof texts given, we might not improperly name them the Bible in arranged form. That is to say, they are not merely comments on the Bible but they are practically the Bible itself… people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, we see that if anyone lays the Scripture Studies aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone.. within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he has read the Scripture Studies with their references, and has not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light after two years, because he would have the light of the scriptures."4

If it's new, it's not true.

When the Apostle Paul heard that the church he planted in Galatia was falling for one of these charming preachers teaching a new doctrine, he wrote them a letter and made his concerns known in no uncertain terms:
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed!" (Gal 1:6-9)
Paul uses the strongest language possible to say that the idea of new doctrine, no matter the source, is not really something new, but something false! He says that such teachers should be accursed, using a term reserved for those to whom the most severe judgments apply.

Ultimately, this concept of a new scripture or a new interpretive scheme is a big red flag that what these sects offer is not to be followed. Jesus said that scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) and even the gates of hell could not prevail against His true church (Matt. 16:18). So why should we believe that His teachings have been lost? If the claims of these new revelators are true, then they contradict Jesus Himself!

Peter tells us that "no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." He then warns that "there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Pet. 1:20-2:1). Cults deny Jesus by denying His word is sufficient in itself. Such denials do not lead to life but to the destruction of those who would hold them.


1. "Introduction." The Book of Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Accessed online at on 7/31/2013
2. "The Scriptures Are Available to Us Today." Gospel Principles, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2011). 44-46. Accessed online at
3. Martin, Walter. The Kingdom of the Cults. (Minneapolis:Bethany House Pub. 1997) 264.
4. Martin, Ibid. 87

Monday, July 29, 2013

Three Signs of Religious Cults - God's Inside Guy

Since its inception, Christianity has had those individuals who sought to change its core teachings to fit some other model. Even during His sermon on the mount, Jesus warned, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits (Matt.7:15)." Paul warned Timothy  of false teachers in 1 Timothy 1:3 and Peter warned the churches about false prophets in 1 Peter 2, saying that their false teaching would "secretly bring in destructive heresies" (1 Pet. 2:1).

Today, there are more groups than ever claiming to follow the real teachings of Jesus. Some claim that Jesus' teachings have been forgotten or corrupted and they have come to restore the true faith. Could this be? How can someone quickly and accurately identify false sects from true ones? Are there markers to identify these ‘ravenous wolves' who seek to devour the people?

 False religious sects that claim Christian teachings seem to follow a pattern that has three common traits:
  1. They have a charismatic leader who claims to have unique authority to speak on God's behalf.
  2. They offer some type of heretofore "secret" or exclusive revelation now being made public.
  3. They deny one or more of the essential doctrines (nature of God, nature of Christ, atonement, way of salvation, Christ's promised coming) that have always identified Christianity.
Over the next three posts, I'd like to look at each one of these in turn and see how they compare to those religious movements that claim to be the true revelation of Jesus and the Christian faith.

#1—A charismatic leader who claims to have unique authority to speak on God's behalf.

The first sign of a false sect is each has a leader who teaches with a bold authority, claiming to have the authority to speak on God's behalf. Mormon founder Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet from God and said that all Christian denominations were wrong and "all their creeds were an abomination in his sight." The Christian Science church says that its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, "saw herself as having discovered the spiritual science behind Jesus' healing works." In 1917, the Watchtower magazine claimed that Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses movement, was the "faithful and discreet slave" that is spoken of in Jesus' parable in Matthew 24.  The Watchtower organization continues to claim only they fulfill this role even to this day.

The idea of God revealing some new doctrine to a single individual is antithetical to the New Testament.  Paul warns Timothy of this sign in 1 Timothy 1:6-7 when he writes, "Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions ." Notice how Paul describes these leaders as making confident assertions, but they really have no understanding.

In his first epistle, John writes, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full." Here, John says that he and the other writers of the New Testament were reporting eyewitness events. John and Matthew were eyewitnesses themselves while Mark and Luke reported the eyewitness testimony of others. Paul claims to get his instruction from Jesus directly also (Gal. 1:6) and his writings are confirmed as authoritative by Peter (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

The model displayed in the New Testament contrasts that of the single person providing a new revelation. As the church is forming, we don't see one man independently claim to have God's "inside track", but the apostles as a group were given authority by Jesus to teach others about Him.  Jesus promised this very authority and insight to the apostles when He told them:

"However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you." (John 16:12-15)

Jesus said the Holy Spirit will come upon all the apostles so they can authoritatively teach on Jesus' behalf. Even when matters of discernment or controversy come, we never see only one man proclaim a new teaching from God, but the apostles gather together, as in Acts 15, to discuss the matter and bring forth a full consensus.

The sign of one man claiming some unique revelation from God heretofore undiscovered is a clear hallmark of one who doesn't have the truth. The believers in Galatia fell for such a charismatic speaker, an action that made Paul write to them using the strongest possible language: "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:9).

The essentials of Christianity are well-established. Anyone, no matter how charming or persuasive, who asks you to believe something different is distorting the teachings of the Bible and is leading others to death rather than to eternal life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Book of Mormon's Slip is Showing

Have you ever watched the History Channel show Pawn Stars? Although many customers are obviously pre-selected and the facts are scripted ahead of time, my boys still like to watch how different quirky items claiming to be from years past get inspected to see if they're the real deal (and worth some real money) or simply forgeries that are worthless. I find it interesting as to how the experts that the staff call into the store look for telltale clues as to the legitimacy of the item.

The reason I bring this up is I recently came across a passage in the book of Mormon that would set off all the bells and whistles of Rick Harrison and his crew immediately. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi was part of a wave of Hebrew exiles, fleeing the Babylonians that were conquering Jerusalem at that time. These refugees supposedly built boats and sailed to the Americas, as they were told by God. Nephi also recounts how he had known of a stunning prophecy of the coming Messiah; a prophecy that gives more detail about the Savior to come than any Old Testament prophet ever did.  He writes:
"For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (2 Nephi 25:19)
Here's my question. At this date in history, the Babylonian empire was at its zenith. They would be overthrown by the Medo-Persians. We also have this book itself claiming it was written in "reformed Egyptian." The Greeks didn't come along until some 300 years later.

So, given all this, how in the world would Nephi use a word like "Christ", which is a transliteration of the Greek word Χριστός, the language of the New Testament? Hebrew prophets before Nephi would've called Jesus "anointed one" or "Messiah" (משיח), but not "Christ". Greece was a series of fragmented city-states at that time that fought among themselves as much as fighting any others. It wasn't until after Alexander the Great conquered the known world by 323 B.C. did the establishment of Greek as the common language become  settled across the empire.

But here we see a supposed Hebrew prophet who was raised near Jerusalem and could write in a modified Egyptian language using a term for the Messiah that only comes from a Greek word.  Does this sound believable?  It's kind of like claiming you found a book written by George Washington where, when visiting New York he borrowed a 20th century advertising slogan and exclaimed, "I love the Big Apple!" Such points are clear signs that the book's author sits well outside its historical setting - and they are a clear sign of a forged document.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What's an Apologetics Missions Trip?

This month, I had the privilege of leading a group of 34 people, ranging from junior high to post-college, on an Apologetics Missions Trip. What kind of trip is an Apologetics Missions Trip, you ask? It's a trip where we not only train people how to defend their faith and share it with others, we go out and do it in real world settings. We meet with people on the street, we ask the staunchest defenders of those who hold different beliefs to tell us their views, and we discuss them in an intelligent and loving way.

For this trip, we caravanned to Salt Lake City, Utah so we could interact with members of the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) church. We chose Salt Lake because it is explicitly immersed in Mormon culture and thought. In some suburbs, there are populations of over 60,000 people and only two Christian churches to serve the cities! This is a non-Christian environment.

After some extensive training, we took the students to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake where they were able to strike up discussions with Mormon missionaries and ask them about their beliefs. Students visited a splinter LDS group in southern Utah that still practices polygamy and attended one of their services. We also visited the campus of Brigham Young University and were able to interact with the students attending there. In between, we had opportunities to hear from some ex-Mormons and those with ministries that reach out to Mormon communities.

For most of our students, the experience was life-changing. Here are a few of their comments:
  • "I went on this trip expecting God to use me to minister to Mormons in any way He willed, but God in all His wisdom and beauty ministered to my heart as well through the most unassuming circumstances! What a rich experience this trip was. I came back with more passion and fervor to communicate the truth of the Word to the unsaved who enter and surround my daily life."
  • "The Lord broke my heart for the lost and gave me a new passion for His Word. But it also made me appreciate my salvation, the truth, and freedom that are God’s grace to me, so much more."
  • "My heart absolutely broke for the Mormons who were so lost in a lie. It felt like there was no freedom of religion in Utah and that the Christians were forced to be underground or hidden from society."
  • "Truly God is faithful to not only do a mighty work in the heart of those whom we had the opportunity to talk to, but to do a mighty work in my own heart as well!"
  • "This trip has given me a greater confidence and ability to articulate and defend orthodox biblical Christianity in the marketplace of religious and philosophical ideas."
  • "Before I went on the Utah Apologetics trip, some of my friends had jokingly said to me ‘if you want to talk to Mormons, why do you need to go all the way to Utah? You can find plenty right across the street!' And I kind of understood what they meant. But going to Utah and being in the middle of the Mormon culture opened my eyes to what a need they have to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. One Christian Pastor who is an ex-Mormon, Russ East, mentioned at the beginning of our trip that when we talk with the Mormons, we need to speak the truth to them and show them where the Book of Mormon falls short, but that it's also very, very important to show the love of God to them by being good listeners and not being in "attack mode". And he also mentioned inviting them to church with us so that they can hear good worship music. I think he said this because the death of Jesus for the sins of the world is so downplayed in the Mormon faith, that the freedom and joy of the Lord is lacking. So, although they are pre-occupied with other ‘good things' like works, family, etc., the importance of Jesus' death and salvation for our sins is easily neglected. It's so important to remember that the Lord looks on our heart."
Apologetics Missions trips are unique experiences where students get to study theology, apologetics, and evangelism and then use it right away with real people. Even as I continue to hear from those who attended the trip, they are continuing to talk with the Mormons they met in salt Lake. Some have even asked local Mormon missionaries to come over for dinner so they can discuss faith in greater detail. Above all, God is working in the hearts of all those who went, strengthening their walk and teaching them to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3 NKJV).

Next spring, we are hoping to have another Apologetics Missions Trip, targeting a hub of atheistic culture, U.C. Berkeley. I hope you can join us. If you'd like to read more about some specific encounters we had with the Mormon missionaries, read this recent blog post. And if you'd like to attend one of the apologetics classes held monthly, look at our calendar for upcoming classes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Burning in the Bosom Might Require a Tape Measure

Last week, I had the privilege to lead a group of 34 students to Salt Lake City, Utah for an Apologetics Missions Trip. These trips are designed to help students interact with those who don’t hold to their religious views, to ground them in the theological truths of the Bible, and to teach them how to witness more effectively. It’s one thing to read a book or listen to a lecture on witnessing to the cults; it’s a far different thing to take it out of the classroom and actually do it.

One destination on our trip is the Temple Square in Salt Lake. This is the focal point of the LDS faith, with the Temple being the most iconic element of Mormonism. When we arrived at Temple Square, we had the students break into groups of two or three and then disperse to discuss beliefs with the Mormon Missionaries who are all too eager to engage visitors. In my time, a friend and I were able to engage with two different sets of Mormon Sisters – women in their early twenties who are on their mission, representing the LDS faith. The Sisters showed us the various buildings (the Tabernacle, Joseph Smith memorial, Church History Museum, and such) and along the way we began talking about Mormonism.

Now, the main “proof” of the validity of Mormonism for the overwhelming majority of Mormons is what has commonly become known as the “burning in the bosom.” Taken from a passage at the end of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4), Moroni instructs the reader

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Time and time again, as we talked with Mormons, they ultimately retreated to this passage as the unshakable measure of proof that the Book of Mormon is God’s word and that Joseph Smith was His prophet. “The Holy Ghost has confirmed these facts to me, and how can you get a higher authority than the Holy Ghost?” was the questions I received. They would then ask, “Have you read the Book of Mormon and prayed sincerely for God to reveal whether it’s true?”

I responded, “Yes, I have read the Book of Mormon, and I have prayed. However God revealed to me quite clearly that this was not His word. So, what do we do now?” At this, the missionaries were a bit taken aback. They suggested that I must not have prayed sincerely enough. I countered with an analogy.

“Look, suppose I was a house builder with 10 years of experience. I may look down on that two by four and say, ‘That’s a 92-1/4” stud. My experience gives me the ability to eyeball those and tell.’ You may come up and say, ‘Well, I have 10 years of experience, too! I can eyeball that board and tell you it’s a full eight feet long!’ We each have had an experience, and we each believe sincerely that we’re right. But out experiences are in contradiction to one another. How do we solve the issue?” The answer is obvious, of course. You measure the board! We appeal to an objective standard. You can place the board against an eight foot wall being framed and if it fits within the opening, it is 92-1/4” and if it is the same as the height of the entire wall, it’s a full 96”.

This appeal to an objective standard is common-sensical and is how Mormons would settle any other question – except the question of the Book of Mormon. The personal experience in proving it to be true trumps everything, including archaeological evidence (there are no traces of any of the civilizations that the Book of Mormonism mentions1), the factual evidence (The Book of Abraham has been proven to be the Egyptian book of the dead2), DNA evidence (the American Natives are not Semitic in origin3), and the contradictory nature of Joseph Smith’s teachings when compared to the Bible.

In my discussion, the missionaries simply refused to acknowledge my point. “But you must pray!” they told me. “The Holy Ghost is the ultimate authority!” So, they basically said that their personal experience trumps all, even the facts when they are presented. I again asked how we can reconcile this stand-off. They had no further answer and bit me good-bye.

This to me is sad. These girls have so much of themselves invested into their belief system, that they cannot even make room for admitting there is more than one way to find the truth! I’ll keep praying for them. I also hope that we as Christians don’t fall into that same trap. 1 Peter 3:15 says we’d better be able to give reasons for why we believe as we do. To do anything else would result in building a house of faith where the walls are eventually going to collapse.


1. See “The Lost Book of Mormon Geography” at
2.Joseph Smith’s papyri was rediscovered in 1967 and, now that we can translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, its plain to see this is true.
3.See “Who Are the Lamanites?” at
Image courtesy Flickr user redjar.Typhoon at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons
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