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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 www.comereason.org 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 Mormonism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mormonism. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Talking 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 latest podcast, Lenny provides are some ways to help you how to engage Mormons in fruitful discussion.
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Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Do We Mean When We Say the Word "Cult"? (video)



Say the word "cult" and what comes to mind? Perhaps hooded figures keeping people against their will or a maniacal preacher fighting against the government. But the word cult has a religious as well as a sociological sense.

In this short video, Lenny adds a bit of clarity to the term cult, showing how certain belief systems would actually qualify as cults of an established faith.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Identifying Impostor Christianity (podcast)



What really defines Christianity? Mormons claim that they are Christians, simply another denomination. So do others who differ on Jesus' identity. What are the essentials of the Christian faith and how can we identify orthodox beliefs from heterodoxy or heresy? In this series, we will examine the clear lines separating true Christianity from its impostors.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Who Counts as a Christian? (video)



Mormons claim to be Christians as do Jehovah's Witnesses. But each belief system contradicts the other as to what kind of being Christ is and both contradict historic Christianity. Is there some way to understand who is a Christian and who is not?

Looking back in history, the answer is yes. In this short video, Lenny reviews both the need for an objective standard that defines the minimal beliefs of a Christian as well as how the early church codified that standard.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Talking with Mormons: When Beliefs Contradict Themselves



Yesterday, I had two LDS missionaries come to my door. These sisters have visited me before; they came to the door a couple of weeks ago asking me to sign a birthday card for a neighbor which gave me the opportunity to engage them in conversation. Both girls were in their early twenties and both had grown up in Utah. Each had at least one parent who was a multi-generational Mormon.

As we talked, I explained that I've spoken with Jehovah's Witnesses and others who have come to the house. These folks were very sincere in their beliefs, but I explained why sincerity isn't enough. I explained that there is only one good reason for believing anything, and that is it must be true. I then said that a lot of people trust their feelings as a guide to know what's true, but this is a terrible guide, for certainly the Muslims who blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings are very sincere in their beliefs. I offered the tape measure analogy as a better way to discover truth.

Lastly, I said that for belief systems, the way one can objectively assess their truth value was to look for two things: external correspondence and internal consistency. That is any belief system or word view must be internally coherent and not hold to contradictory beliefs and its claims must match the way we understand the external world to really work. If a belief system is contradictory, then I cannot see how it can be true.

Up to this point, the ladies were following along pretty well and agreed with me. So I then raised the point of eternal progression. I didn't want to talk about ancillary issues but focus on the critical beliefs central to their faith, and eternal progression sits right at the center of Mormonism. They agreed and also agreed that the God we now worship had also progressed from being a man to a God. So, I said I had a difficulty here as the Book of Mormon states in Moroni 8:18 that God is eternal and unchanging (you can read the entire argument here.) The sisters were taken aback at this passage and said they would have to research it more. They took down my number and agreed to come back with an answer for me. I gave them my thanks and our meeting ended.

A Question, a Contradiction, and a Response

Yesterday, the ladies returned with a response. They told me that it was pretty difficult to get an answer to this question; they had to go all the way up to their mission president to find one. As they explained it, all human beings exist in a spiritual state prior to their earthy birth. (This I already knew.) Their president had told them that our God, Elohim, then had existed with his God attributes in this state and he still has them now. They pointed to the teaching of Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse where there was a council of the Gods called to create a plan of salvation for the people of earth and how Jesus existed as God there even before he was born on earth.1 They concluded that just like Jesus was considered God before his embodiment, so too was Elohim considered God before his embodiment and thus has been God forever.

The answer has several problems, two of which I pointed out immediately. The first was "If God existed as God before his embodiment, then why bother with the work of being embodied at all?" The whole concept of God means a perfect being. That's why we worship him. If Elohim had all the attributes necessary to qualify him as God, then he doesn't need to be improved through bodily experiences where he can be shaped and learn. Either he was something less than God in his premortal existence or He went through the exercise for no purpose. Notice this is Elohim, not Jesus we're discussing.

Why Worship God and Not the Guy Down the Street?

The second reason is even more troubling. If their claim is true, that Elohim was God in a premortal state, and he retained that even when he was embodied and went through all the experiences and temptations, learning to resist them on his planet then it means that everyone who is in that embodied state now is also God right now! Mormon theology makes no distinction between Elohim's eternal progression and those Mormon missionary ladies who were standing in front of me. So I asked them, "Why then should I worship Elohim and not the Sister standing next to you right now if what you say is true? In fact why should I worship anyone if I'm a God in my earthy state?"

They countered that we worship God because he created us, but that isn't right as we existed as God prior to our embodiment. This is where Mormon theology becomes hopelessly confused. According to LDS thought, all spirits existed eternally in the past. There is no creation ex nihilo for the LDS. Elohim and his spirit bride gives birth to spirit children who are I guess formed into spiritual bodies (their understanding here was vague) just as earthly parents then give birth to physical children where that spirit joins with a physical body. But given this view, it's just as legitimate to worship our physical parents as it is to worship Elohim, who is our spiritual parent. Of course the sisters were not at all eager to believe in worshiping other people. But that's the logical conclusion if their explanation of Moroni 8:18 is right.

In order to get out of the quandary, they appealed to the mysteries of God, quoting article 9 of their articles of faith: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."2 They suggested that he may reveal more, but we just must have faith and approach God sincerely.

At this point I reminded them of my first conversation with them, that the truth is something more than sincerity; the 9-11 hijackers were very sincere. I said this is more than a misunderstanding; it's an internal contradiction in Mormon theology. And it isn't any little issue, either. It is the core of Mormonism! Why should I reject historic Christianity for a system that shows itself to be incoherent? (I didn't use those words, but that was the jist of my question to them.)

I then asked how well they understood historic Christian theology. They responded that they didn't know it very well. That gave me the chance to tell them the Gospel and how Christianity is never about works (article 3 of their Articles of Faith) but about a loving response to what God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ.

I don't know if I'll see the sisters again. I hope I do. But I pray even more that those bothering contradictions that sit at the center of Mormonism will dog them. I pray that the Hound of Heaven will pursue these ladies and they don't find rest until they rest in the one through whom all real rest comes. Pray for them if you get the chance. I think God is on their trail.

References

1. Joseph Smith Jr., "The King Follett Sermon," Ensign, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. May 1971, 13
2. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "Articles of Faith." Mormon.org. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2015. https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/articles-of-faith.
Image courtesy More Good Foundation and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Modern Heresies and the Christian Response




Heresies — those deviations from essential Christian doctrine — were painstakingly refuted in the early years of the church. But today, some of those same heresies have reappeared, only using new labels or a different forms. Join us in this new podcast series where Lenny outlines how many of the "new religious movements" that crop up are actually regurgitations of old, deadly errors.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Defending the Trinity Against World Religions (video)

The Trinity and the Atonement are the doctrines that most differentiate Christianity from all other faiths. It's no surprise then that it's also one of the most attacked doctrines from those of other faiths. What makes the Trinity so unique and why is it such a crucial concept? How should Christians understand the doctrine of the Trinity and how should we best defend it against skeptics and objectors?




In this video class, Lenny helps believers defend critical challenges against the Trinity such as the claim that it is logically contradictory, the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and the Trinity is too mysterious and unintelligible for us to understand. Plus we look at common objections to the Trinity from Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and others.


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.

References

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 http://www.comereason.org/going-to-hell.aspM

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Heresies of Mormonism



What is a heresy? Any belief that denies those Christians have historically recognized as essential to the faith; such beliefs include the triune nature of God, the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, His eternality,  and the nature of His incarnation. Mormonism rejects these essentials and substitutes its own fictions. In this video clip, Lenny takes a brief look at the teachings of the LDS church and demonstrates why Mormonism is not a Christian faith.


Monday, July 07, 2014

Why is a Common Thread of Perfectionism Inherent in the LDS Community?

Note: All textual references within this article strictly correspond to the LDS standard works and LDS-authorized literature.
The Greek word for 'sin' in the New Testament means "to miss the mark"

A recent article written by Gerrit W. Gong, an elder of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the LDS church, addresses "unrealistic expectations of what perfection is." His article1 published this July, is entitled, "Becoming Perfect in Christ." My first question is why exactly this would need to be addressed at all. LDS elder Gong writes:
The word perfection, however, is sometimes misunderstood to mean never making a mistake. Perhaps you or someone you know is trying hard to be perfect in this way. Because such perfection always seems out of reach, even our best efforts can leave us anxious, discouraged, or exhausted. We unsuccessfully try to control our circumstances and the people around us. We fret over weaknesses and mistakes. In fact, the harder we try, the further we may feel from the perfection we seek.
Although I agree with his view, the notion of perfection he describes is different from the traditional LDS teachings on perfection. And as I continue to review the LDS gospel, it stuck out to me that perfection is critical because of its role in salvation. Salvation first requires perfection. This is the teaching found directly within the scriptures and from LDS leadership on the matter; it is not unrealistic, incorrect or self-imposed. It is traditionally-taught LDS doctrine. That is why perfectionism is such an inherent force within the LDS community. That being said, I feel this raises a few questions. For answers, I look to Christ's words and the words of the Apostles. To begin:

How then, is perfection a prerequisite for salvation in the LDS gospel?
This depends on what it means to be saved, so take the next natural question in line:

How am I saved?
You are saved by grace after all you can do (2 Nephi 25:23).

What do we do?
We do not sin, because if we sin, there is no grace (Moroni 10:32). We cannot be saved in our sins (Alma 11:37). God cannot allow any sin (D&C 1:31).

But, humans are imperfect. Don't we still sin in that imperfection?
God wouldn't command us if it were impossible (1 Nephi 3:7), so it must be possible to not sin. And if we have sinned, we must repent.

What does repentance do?
Repentance is not a gift since it merits something: forgiveness.2 We cannot commit the same sin again, we must forsake it (D&C 58:42-43) or it is not at all true repentance.3

But what happens if the sin is performed again? Can't we just do our best?
If sin is not forsaken, the sins will return to us again (D&C 82:7). Again, the forsaking must be permanent.4 Moreover, it is not sufficient simply that repented sins are forsaken, but the urge to sin in general must be out of our life.5 If we haven't truly repented, then the devil has power over us after death (Alma 34:35). So it specifically is in this life, not the next, that we are to prepare for God (Alma 34:32). Having a desire not to sin or sincerely trying our best is not good enough in this continual progression, either.6We must live a sinless life, absent of all ungodliness – in both action and urge – unto the rest of our lives in order for grace to save us. In essence, we must be perfect. Only then, will we be saved.7

But isn't the LDS gospel what Jesus and the apostles taught?
Paul gives a detailed explanation of this in Romans, but also makes similarly clear and decisive statements as in Galatians 2:16, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." The LDS gospel does not exactly give the same message that is given in the gospel of the New Testament: "One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation." (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 206-207). Unfortunately, the overwhelming manuscript evidence to the contrary refutes that notion - not just in 1 gospel account or epistle, but all over the correctly translated New Testament.

What about righteous works?
"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:28). That means that there is nothing a person can do, even in the Law, to be justified. It is by faith alone that people are justified. Continuing into chapter 4, Paul talks about faith (and not works) counting as righteousness: "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." This directly contrasts the verse prior, where Paul says that, "if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." So although Abraham may have done righteous works, these account for naught. And this makes sense, because even in the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks for God that "all our righteousness is as filthy rags…"

Paul continues to explain what he means by a work. He says "to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." A paycheck is not grace. A person earns a paycheck. Grace is not something that is earned, but given. Even Abraham received righteousness in his faith prior to circumcision. The covenant of circumcision came after Abraham was already justified in the righteousness of his faith. That was the blessing of promise God gave Abraham in Genesis 12:2: that righteousness comes by faith (Romans 4:13). If those are heirs of the world because of the law, then "faith is made void," and the promise is made of "none effect," that is, the promise is nullified. Even further, Paul repeats the distinction of grace and works in chapter 11:6 "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." So salvation cannot by both grace and works – Paul explains that they are mutually exclusive. That is, they cannot be mixed. Salvation is either by works or by grace, but not a combination of both. To be "saved by grace after all we can do" is in direct conflict with the gospel message Paul preaches us. If there were plain and precious truths that Paul left out regarding salvation, then Joseph Smith must have restored this when he restored the gospel.

What does it mean that Christ was a propitiation? (Romans 3:23-26)
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice. But Christ's sacrifice imparts righteousness to those that have faith in his atoning blood. It is not about what we can do. He did it all for us on the cross. Christ speaks his last: "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." (John 19:30). "It is finished" is not a difficult translation of Greek/Aramaic phrase. It means exactly that: it is finished. There is nothing else for us to do or earn, but to accept his free gift.

What about James' talk about showing faith by his works?
Because Christ has saved us, we love to do good works not to earn any righteousness (Paul already taught us that trying to earn righteousness before God is a worthless endeavor) but to bring glory to God because we love Him. James cites the same example that Paul does of Abraham (James 2:23), that faith brings righteousness, then goes on to say that a person is justified by works and faith. So is this a contradiction? No. James is correcting a distortion of Paul's teaching. James, in his very first verse, is specifically directing his letter to the Jews, and even more specifically, the Diaspora "The 12 tribes scattered abroad…" He is commanding them to be doers of the word, not simply hearers, because "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans10:17). They need to do, to put their faith into action. Just as much as the love of a spouse to the other makes them want to do things for the other, so too is the faith of a person in Christ. Their love for Him cultivates a spirit of action. That is what the apostle John is talking about in the beginning of his gospel account in chapter 15; abiding in Christ to bear fruit, which brings glory to God as well as makes one a disciple. And so, James continues to correct the behavior of the recipients of his letter. He gives them examples to continue to properly live out their faith, which has already saved them, and to continue to abide in the love of Christ. This love and the commandment, given by Christ to love one another, continues in John 15.

What about "be perfect, as our father is perfect?"
The Gospel is the euangelion (literally, "good news", where we get the root for terms like evangelical). Being perfect is not exactly good news. Here, knowledge of the language of the New Testament, Koine Greek (or "Common Greek") can shed light on such a passage. Thankfully, because we have an over-abundant plethora of manuscripts for the Bible, this task is possible. Take Matthew 5:48, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The word for perfect is 'telayois' (τέλειος: complete – as in being fully grown; i.e. maturity, perfect, whole). This is the same type of perfection that occurs in James 2:22, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" This perfection and idea of works is not talking about leading to salvation. This is talking about coming to a mature faith. And not just a maturity, but an ideal, a wholeness of faith. Again, notice what James does not say, that faith does not bring salvation. James is continuing the same idea of perfection as Matthew writes about, which is a maturity of faith that is ripened by loving works, which have themselves been borne out of saving faith in Christ.

Conclusion: Faith, Salvation, and Seeing God

Although striving to do God's will and earnestly seeking to glorify Him through good works is a worthy cause, it does nothing to change our state of salvation and where we wind up after death. Our trust in Christ accepts the gift of salvation. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." And as John writes in his gospel account aDismisst 11:40, "Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" Truly, this is the good news of the gospel - it's not at all about anything we can do - but that his loving atoning sacrifice completed it all for us. "Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."(John 6:28-29)

References

1. Gerrit W. Gong, "Becoming Perfect in Christ," Liahona, (July 2014). 14-19. Elder Gong is a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
2. Spencer Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1969. p. 354. "…the former transgressor must have reached a 'point of no return' to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin – where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life"
3. Ibid., p. 37.
4. Spencer Kimball, "President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality," Ensign, (November 1980). Exact page number unavailable at time of viewing; article only available as a webpage, not a re-print or PDF. Former LDS President Kimball explains that repentance "seems to fall into five steps." In step 2, "Abandonment of sin," (Italics in text) Kimball states of sin, "The discontinuance must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit repetition. The Lord revealed this to the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning repentance: 'By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them' (D&C 58:43)." And also: "Elder Kimball warns: 'Even though forgiveness is so abundantly promised, there is no promise nor indication of forgiveness to any soul who does not totally repent. . . . We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect forgiveness' (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 353, 360). Those who receive forgiveness and then repeat the sin are held accountable for their former sins (see D&C 82:7; Ether 2:15)" (Gospel Principles, pp. 252- 253). Kimball held this view as an LDS elder and as LDS president.
5. Spencer Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness. p. 355. This reference is merely the continuation of the quote starting on page 354. 6. Ibid., p. 163, pp. 164-165. 'There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin. Desire is not sufficient. In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his ways and started on a new path… the saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life. Trying is not sufficient, nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin;' 'It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults who have gone through these learning periods must determine what they will do, then proceed to do it. To try is weak. To 'do the best I can' is not strong. We must always do better than we can'
7. Ibid., p. 163. In reality, this particular chapter is probably the most critical on the concept of simply trying one's best. It makes statement after statement affirming perfection in this life first.

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.

References

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.http://utlm.org/onlineresources/firstvision.htm 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. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng 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.

References

1 "Definitions." JoshuaProject.net. The Joshua Project. Web. http://joshuaproject.net/help/definitions Accessed 6/28/2014.
2 "Field Demographics.” www.trigrace.org. Tri-Grace Ministries. Web. http://www.trigrace.org/Demographics.html Accessed 6/28/2014

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.

References

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Of Pageants and Propaganda

Yesterday, we arrived in Manti for the first night of our Apologetics Missions Trip. Each year for two weeks in June, the LDS Church hosts The Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, reenacting Joseph Smith's claims of visions from God, an intricate history of ancient Israelites transplanted to the Americas with wars and revivals, and the ultimate exaltation of faithful Mormons to Godhood. It was a big production, with thousands coming out to watch each night.


The interesting thing about this performance is it fits the same mold as other official church "biographies" produced about Joseph Smith and the Mormon church. Every one I have seen really whitewashes the history of Smith and his followers, and falsely characterizes what traditional Christianity teaches. I get that people want to hold their leaders I high regard, but Smith is clearly inhuman in LDS presentations. Even in the Bible, the Apostle Peter is shown as a flawed man who denied Christ in Jesus' hour of trial. This is peter, the one whom Jesus called "rock", the one whose declaration of Jesus as the Christ prompted Jesus to respond that His entire church would be built on it.

I think many people relate to Peter in the Bible not because he was given such revelations from God, but because he was so flawed and carried away by his emotions. Peter was a "ready, fire, aim" kind of guy; he said what he felt at the time even when it was wrong. I think that's why so many people relate to him so well; he was human.

We see none of that humanity in Joseph Smith. Instead he is portrayed in mythic form, like Hercules. Smith is portrayed as pious at the tender age of fourteen and the play's script hammers home this point with a narrative that has Smith clinging to his first vision "in spite of persecutions and threats of death." Of course, it wasn't the first vision that upset the people of Illinois and Missouri so much. It was the fact that the Mormons were polygamous, which endangered their daughters, and later they were politically manipulative, controlling the vote.1

Beyond the fanciful representation of Smith, the retelling of the Book of Mormon's account of the history of the Americas. As the tale unwinds of the great civilizations of the Nephites and Lamanites who go to war again and again, with various revivals and fallings away, and with the supposed appearance of Jesus on this continent to establish His church here, it becomes clear just how mythical the story is. Forget the fact that there is no archaeology to support any recognition of any civilization advanced as the Book of Mormon claims. Forget the fact that there isn't a shred of DNA to show the native American peoples were of Semitic descent. The Book of Mormon has huge historical anachronisms that show it couldn't be an account written in the time period given.

One of the biggest was on full display at the Pageant as the supposed ancient faithful continued to proclaim that they had established themselves on this continent for the reasons of worshipping the true God, practicing the true faith and pursuing freedom and liberty.2 As Americans, we understand the idea of freedom of religion and freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, but such words don't fit in a civilization existing about one hundred years before Christ. Those are words coming from the American revolution. They are a out of place as someone today finding a supposedly ancient scroll from Egypt and translating it to say that someone chose to open a home office. They also repeated the canard that people who lived prior to Jesus would claim the name Christian. As I've explained before, this makes no sense at all.

I had the opportunity to talk with a Mormon couple before the pageant and asked them why they were Mormons. How did they know that this is the true faith? Although they were both raised Mormon, the wife said that there was a time when she had to "investigate these things for herself." She ultimately admitted that the truth value of the entire LDS faith rests on the truth or falsehood of the Book of Mormon's claims. "If it isn't true, then everything we've been teaching in our churches and classrooms is wrong." I agree with her. The question is only will she be open to investigating the facts instead of her feelings towards her church?

References

1.In Joseph's Smith's idyllic community of Nauvoo, Illinois, even some of his followers including publisher William Law grew increasingly disenchanted with the changes that Smith was instituting, including such political manipulations. Law published a single edition of the Nauvoo Expositor that highlight's Smith's interests with politics. In the online copy found here, he writes:
The next important item which presents itself for our consideration, is the attempt at Political power and influence, which we verily believe to be preposterous and absurd. We believe it is inconsistent, and not in accordance with the christian religion. We do not believe that God ever raised up a Prophet to christianize a world by political schemes and intrigue."
2 Alma 43:47-48 specifically uses the concepts not only of freedom from bondage, but the idea of freedom of religion and liberty, wording more indicative of a 9th century author rather than an ancient author.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Changing Lives Through Apologetics Missions Trips

As you're reading this, I will have already hit the road, leading a group of students from Harvest Christian Fellowship to Utah for one of our Apologetics Missions Trips. You may wonder what exactly an Apologetics Missions trip is. Basically, it's a way to train Christians on how to discuss and defend their faith while witnessing to those who need to hear the Gospel.

The idea is simple: take Christians out of their familiar environment and place them in a location where the vast majority of people do not believe as they do. This helps the students see what the world is like from a non-Christian viewpoint; it takes them out of their bubble and out of their comfort zones. Then, we teach them how to respectfully and graciously interact with others on campus or our on the streets and we set them loose.

We've taken such trips since 2010, going to such diverse areas as UC Berkeley, Salt Lake City, and Dearborn Michigan (a predominately Muslim community). The results are astounding. Kids learn not only to support their own worldview, but they see how atheists or those with different faiths are not equipped to answer the hard questions themselves. We don't pull punches on these trips, either. For Berkeley, we brought in Richard Carrier to address the kids, as well as a couple of notable atheists. In Michigan, we brought in a Muslim apologist. In Salt Lake, we went to the center of Mormonism at the Temple Square and interacted with the missionaries assigned there.

In each outing, I've seen our students become more confident and more assured that the Christianity they hold is true, it not only holds its own against these different worldviews, it offers a much better explanation of how the world works. These kids now know how to answer questions on matters like moral absolutes, the Trinity, the exclusive claims of Christianity and so much more.

Another amazing aspect of the trips is the ongoing witnessing opportunities the kids have. Students will continue conversations they started by e-mail after they return home. I've talked with kids who have continued to witness to those they've met for over a month afterward! The ministry opportunities are great.

This year, we are heading to Manti where thousands of Mormons come to witness the Manti Miracle Pageant, which reenacts the trek of Mormons for Missouri to Utah. We will be on the streets each night, talking with Mormons and asking them if they believe that joseph Smith was a prophet and why. Check back here as I provide daily update.

If you or your church is interested in participating in an Apologetics Missions Trip, just drop me a note at Missions@comereason.org and I'll be sure to get back to you. To support such trips, please click the donation button at the bottom of this post.For now, I will leave you with a letter I received from Skyler, a young girl who participated in our Dearborn trip last year. She writes:
Hey Lenny,

I thought you might find it interesting to hear an update on what positive outcomes have come from last year's trip to Dearborn. I have made good friends with two different Muslim girls whom I met there. I have an opportunity to go back to Dearborn next month with Ministry to Muslims. While I am there I am planning to hang out with my Muslim friends that I met there last year on our trip.

Aside from that, through the connection of some of the Christians we met in Dearborn I have made more connections to various ministries in the Arab world and have now received a brand new opportunity to go to Lebanon, which I am prayerfully pursuing. Please be encouraged in your ministry, and know that God is truly using it in mighty ways.

Last year's mission trip to Dearborn has completely changed my life in the most glorious of ways! I am praying that God will continue to use these trips to positively affect the Kingdom in many more ways.

Skyler

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Christian Must Believe There is One God

Yesterday, I began a series talking about what beliefs someone must hold to be considered a Christian. While there are many different Christian denominations that exist, there are certain beliefs that are essential which all Christian denominations hold. These core beliefs identify Christianity from all other faiths and I had said there that the Nicean Creed is a really good starting point for identifying just what are those essential beliefs.

The first section of the creed sets affirms a core concept of God that stems from the Jewish Old Testament. It reads:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
Right off the bat, Christianity is identified as a monotheistic faith. One God and no others. This is key to all subsequent understanding of God, especially when considering His attributes.

For God to be Almighty, there can only be one

God is first identified as "Almighty." Most people understand the word God to mean a being that is all powerful. But that also means that God must be a single being. For if God is almighty, then He can have no equal. As a contrast, some later versions of Zoroastianism held to a concept of two beings, one good and one evil, who were equally powerful and locked in a constant state of war.1 But you cannot claim that a god is all-powerful if that god cannot win a fight with his enemy! The fact that the war exists at all shows that the god has limited power; his power cannot govern his foe. The problem would of course get worse with multiple gods, limiting the power of one's god even more as the other gods multiplied.

So, in order for God to be Almighty God, He has to be a single being. This is a straightforward logical understanding of God. Christians believe in one Almighty God (Deut 6:4, john 17:3, 1 Tim 2:5). That means that faiths such as Mormonism are excluded from Christianity immediately. Mormonism holds that many beings can become just as God the Father is now2, making God something less than what the creed establishes.

Mormons also believe that God has progressed through time to become God.3 He wasn't always almighty but he is now. Such a statement is self-contradictory since there is some mechanism (the eternal progression law or function or whatever) that God cannot have dominion over. Instead, He must obey its precepts to become God himself. That again means that the God of Mormonism isn't Almighty.

All of reality depends on the One God

The next part of that first sentence declares that God is the maker of heaven and earth, whether those things are part of the natural world (seen) or the spiritual world (unseen). All of creation relies upon God for its existence. God didn't need to create the universe, but He chose to do so. This makes God completely without dependence and when He creates, He creates out of nothing (Gen. 1:3-29, Heb. 11:3, Acts 14:24-25, Rev. 4:11). But in the Mormon view of God, the universe is eternal and God simply reshapes and refines pre-existing materials.4 If this is so, then we again see that the god Mormonism affirms is not the God of Christianity. Therefore, we can quickly declare that Mormons fall outside the definition of Christian by their denial of these essential attributes of God.

References

1. Shapero, Hannah M.G. "Is Zoroastrianism really a dualistic religion?" Pyracantha web site.
http://www.pyracantha.com/Z/dualism.html 11/29/1995. Accessed: 4/15/2014.

2. Adams, Lisa Ramsey. "Eternal Progression." Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Eternal_Progression Accessed: 4/15/2014.

3 Robinson, Stephen E. "God the Father." Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Heavenly_Father Accessed: 4/15/2014.

4 Nielsen, F. Kent and Stephen D. Ricks. "Creation, Creation Accounts." Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Creation,_Creation_Accounts Accessed: 4/15/2014.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What Disqualifies Someone from Being a Christian?

Christianity is an evangelical faith. What I mean by that is that ever since its founding, Christians have tried to spread their faith through efforts at evangelism and conversion. From Jesus' command in Matthew 28:19 to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" to Paul's various missionary journeys to the proselytizing of all nations through the church's history, Christians have been called to share that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).


In past centuries, it was pretty easy to identify which people were Christians and which weren't. However, as sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons have appeared, differentiation has become more difficult. Recently, I was able to observe my friend Brett Kunkle pretend to be a Mormon elder in front of a group of nearly 800 Christians. In his Mormon persona, he said that many Christians would come up to him and other LDS and claim that they are not Christian. "So," he challenged, "can anyone provide me with a definition of a Christian?"

Several people in the audience tried. One said that it was trusting in Jesus for one's salvation. But the Mormon would say that he does trust in Jesus for his salvation. Another said it was believing in the God of the Bible. Kunkle again countered that Mormons do believe in the God of the Bible. The Bible is one of their four standard works. A few more tried to define God as being three in one, and Brett returned the volley by saying that the LDS church affirms that God is three in one, but it turns on what you mean by saying that God is three in one. Unfortunately, no one was equipped to provide a good definition of the Trinity nor did anyone spot Brett's LDS misrepresentation of the Trinity.

To me, this is tragic. Every Christian should know at least a basic working definition of what Christianity is. Imagine a biologist who has devoted his life to studying dogs. He has spent years in school earning a degree in veterinary medicine and biochemistry. He has years of research behind him, reading books and documentation on dogs and their inner workings. Dogs have been his life! Would you expect a person to be able to tell you how to identify an animal as a dog? Of course you would! And you wouldn't expect his to reply with a general description such as "a pet with four legs and a tail." That definition fails because it can apply to a mouse or a cat. In order for the definition of a dog to be functional, it would need to talk about things that are unique to dogs alone. They would need to be specific attributes, such as their sensitivity for scent, their specific shape, their teeth, and so on.

Similarly, Christians should be able to provide a working definition of what it means to be a Christian. It needs to be specific with identifiable attributes. In fact, the early Christian church was very concerned with this, as different groups kept appearing that claimed to be Christian. The early Church realized that the point of their uniqueness rests in two places: 1) in the proper understanding of God as one being comprised of three persons, including Jesus as the second person of the Trinity and 2) a trust in the work of Jesus alone in saving us from our sins.

The definition of Christianity became so important that the church even formulated a way to affirm that one holds to the foundational aspects of the faith. First shaped in 325 at the Council of Nicea, we know it today as the Nicean Creed. It basically reads:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.1
While there is some debate between Eastern Orthodox churches and those in the West as to whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or the Father and the Son, the Creed serves as a really good definition of the necessary beliefs one must hold to be considered a Christian. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons would deny that Jesus is "one in being with the Father" and that means they cannot be defined as Christians as we use the word.

I'll look more specifically at the details of the Creed in upcoming posts, but I hope that you will at least take away the idea that there is a good working definition of what Christianity looks like. It is a set of believes about God, Jesus, and the one true faith that forgives sins. Anything else is simply a counterfeit.

References

1. This version was translated by the English Language Liturgical Consultation and is used in many western English-speaking churches as well as the Roman Catholic Church. There are some subtle differences in other English versions, which may be found linked from the Wikipedia article "English Version of the Nicean Creed" at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_versions_of_the_Nicene_Creed

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.

Issues

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?

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The One Question Mormons Hope You Don't Ask


Talking with Mormon missionaries can feel daunting. They seem to know their scriptures and have all the answers. Do the LDS really worship the same God we do? Are they Christians? Here is a very special four part podcast series where I offer a key question that Mormons cannot answer. Listen to all four parts here:
Photo courtesy Saaby and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic License.
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