- The One Question Mormons Hope You Don't Ask - Part 1
- The One Question Mormons Hope You Don't Ask - Part 2
- The One Question Mormons Hope You Don't Ask - Part 3
- The One Question Mormons Hope You Don't Ask - Part 4
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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.
Sunday, November 03, 2013
Friday, November 01, 2013
Two Jehovah's Witnessed came to my door yesterday. We talked for some time and during our conversation I asked the more experienced gentleman, whose name was Albert, to tell me why he decided to follow the teachings of the Watchtower. This is his response:
"I was raised Baptist. However, one day when two men came up to my door, they told me a lot of things that I had never heard before. They told me the truth. For example, they told me the truth about holidays. Today is Halloween and many of the different churches will celebrate this holiday that has its roots in paganism. It was a pagan holiday, started by pagans but Christians don't seem to mind. Even Christmas. People will say 'Oh, on Christmas we celebrate Jesus,' but Jesus wasn't born on December 25! We know that he wasn't because snow would have been on the ground in December, but the shepherds were out feeding their flocks."During this point in the conversation, I began to wonder why holidays would be the thing to cause one to change belief systems. It sounded trivial to me. But then Albert got to the crux of the problem:
"They also talked about things like the Trinity and how the Trinity isn't right. They told me things that I'd never heard before in all my time at church. Afterwards, I was confused and called my pastor. I told him what they said and asked about the holidays and the points they brought up. He asked me, 'Are those Jehovah's Witnesses? You just need to stay away from those guys. They aren't good for you. And he hung up. It was after that that I began to learn from the Witnesses because they would tell me the truth."This really saddened me. It wasn't the problems with the holidays that turned Albert away; it was his pastor's lack of response. Albert thought that his pastor either was trying to hide something from him or possibly that the pastor had no answer to his questions. But he didn't care about these issues that bothered Albert. He simply dismissed his meeting with the Witnesses and said, "Those guys are dangerous. Don't listen to them."
Albert's pastor should be ashamed of his counsel. Instead of protecting Albert from the wolves that cone in to devour the flock, the pastor's warning had the opposite effect and made Albert a Jehovah's Witness. That was in 1980, and Albert has spent the last forty years going door to door trying to pry others away from the faith.
I've heard several pastors tell their congregations not to engage with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons. They say don't confront atheists. They don't see any benefit of arguing with a person whose mind is made up. But, as Albert's story shows, this kind of response doesn't protect people from falling away. In fact, it may actually drive them towards a heretical belief since the Mormon or JW appear to want to engage in difficult questions about the Bible and faith.
Churches today need to become more serious in tackling the hard questions that both their congregants and their critics have. If Christianity is true, tough questions shouldn't scare us. Given the complexity of humanity and the transcendence of God, it also shouldn't surprise us that there will be some difficult issues we'll need to handle. But, we do a grave disservice to both the unbeliever and the Christian if we don't start working hard to find the best answers we can to the objections to the faith and incorporate them as part of a mature Christian life. In the Great Commission, Jesus commands his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19)." If we neglect the life of the mind, we are not fulfilling that call.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
I answered by asking a question of my own. "Why do property lines exist?" I asked him. "Why do we make sure that we mark the beginning and ending boundaries of our lands? The answer (as I'm sure most people know) is so there is no confusion or encroachment by others. Property lines define the beginning and the end of my land. As a landowner, it is important to know where that land starts and stops. I shouldn't assume land that isn't mine as much as another shouldn't assume to own land that I paid for. I also have to care for my land; it should be both nurtured and protected.
This idea of defining boundaries is also important when discussing religious beliefs. For example, not every religion could be considered theistic. Zen Buddhism is a faith that really doesn't believe in a God as such-- it is an atheistic faith. Other religions hold to differing beliefs about the nature of God, and still more about who Jesus is.
One of the ways Christianity has set up its defining lines is by the historic creeds of the church. The early church fathers knew that this would happen as they were warned by Paul who said that others may come and spread a gospel contrary to the true one. The apostle John also warned the Christians that there existed many pseudo-Christs (e.g. anti-Christs) even during his time. So it shouldn't be a surprise that the church when confronted with a heretical belief would work to make sure Christianity was properly defined. The Nicene Creed was created to be such a boundary point. It is a measuring line to tell what beliefs are necessary for one to be considered a Christian.
The Nicene Creed affirms that God is a single being made up of three persons, it affirms that Jesus was fully God and fully man, it upholds the virgin birth of Christ, and the atoning work of the crucifixion. But the Latter-Day Saints officially reject the Nicene Creed. Each of these doctrines, which are considered essential to the makeup of Christianity, is specifically contradicted in Mormon theology. God is not a single being, but three beings. Joseph Smith considered Jesus a normal man who was just exalted in the same way that every Mormon can be exalted. In Doctrine and Covenants he writes, "The difference between Jesus and other offspring of Elohim is one of degree not of kind." He also taught that Jesus was conceived naturally, from God the Father having physical relations with Mary.
So, in no essential category can a Mormon who holds to the doctrines of the Mormon church also claim to be a Christian without completely destroying the very definition of Christianity itself. This should not be surprise, given that Joseph Smith in his first vision has God labeled these very creeds as "abominations." Therefore, Mormonism by its own admission stands counter to the very beliefs that define what a Christian is.
This is a question that I think has confused many Mormons. They certainly see themselves as a Christian denomination and are quite confused at the hard lines being drawn by those who follow the historic Christian faith. Hopefully, my response to this student will bring a bit more clarity to others as well.
References Galatians 1:6-9
 1 John 2:18
 Doctrine and Covenants 93:21
 The History of Joseph Smith 1:19. See https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Image courtesy the More Good Foundation.
Two subjects one is supposed to avoid in casual conversation are religion and politics. Either of these topics has been known to divide friendships, create animosity, and cause general discord at social gatherings. So, it should be no wonder that the recent endorsement of presidential candidate Mitt Romney by Billy Graham would grab attention. In the evangelical community, the Graham/Romney link made headlines for a different reason. Billy Graham's organization removed some content on their web site where it defines Mormonism as a cult of Christianity. Given that Romney has been very public about his adherence to the teachings of the Mormon Church, does this change mean that Graham's organization is compromising a religious stance for political gain?
Ken Barun, the BGEA's chief of staff who was quoted in the Washington Post, confirmed that the organization removed the article labeling Mormonism a cult. However, he said it was to neuter misperceptions attached to the word that could be used improperly in a charged-up election. "Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign." OK—I can understand that in our "gotcha" media mindset, there are those both online and in the mainstream media that would seek to hoist the BGEA on its own petard, so to speak. I mean this wouldn't be the first time that a Christian organization was misrepresented by the secular press. But it does leave the question of whether the label of cult should be used for Mormonism unresolved.
Labels and LanguageThis situation brings up a point that I've been thinking much about lately. Whenever I speak with those in the general public, they are usually taken aback if they hear the word "cult" used in connection with the LDS. In fact, I've received a fairly hostile response to the charge and even lost a friend who felt that I was being excessively bigoted and narrow in calling Mormonism a cult. People may or may not have had a Mormon acquaintance, but they are pretty uniform in what they think the word cult means.
Part of the problem here is that language changes. I was recently listening to a lecture on how the Bible has been translated by Dr. Daniel Wallace and he pointed out how the 1950 Revised Standard Version became outdated within some thirty years due to our shifting meaning in language. For example, Psalm 50:9 has God declaring to Israel "I will accept no bull from your house." Now, the audience in1950 may understand this as a denial of a sacrifice, but the phrase means something very different to anyone today. Similarly, we never use the word "gay" in conversations with friends to mean happy or carefree, regardless of our position on homosexuality. Because the primary understanding of these words is now different, we must construct new sentences to help us get our idea across with as little misunderstanding as possible.
In our modern day, the word "cult" falls unfortunately under this rubric. Traditionally, we've used the word cult in two ways. It was primarily a theological definition to mark a group or teaching that claimed to hold to Christian beliefs, while diverging from them on essential doctrine. Rob Bowman's definition of a cult is "A religious group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining fervent commitment to heresy." The BGEA also had defined the word in this sense. The other way the word cult was understood was in a sociological sense, as a kind of fully devoted allegiance that may or may not be reasonable (think of a cult fad, or the cult of personality.) However, in the last thirty to forty years, several theological cults whose followers held an almost slavish devotion to the pronouncements of their leader were given much attention in the media. Over 900 people committed suicide following Jim Jones in the jungles of South America. In the 1993, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians' stand-off with the federal government was front page news. Add to that the Raelians and the Warren Jeffs' polygamy case and one can see why the word cult now paints a markedly different picture from the theological definition it originally held.
Definitional DistinctionsI grant that the word isn't communicating what I desire, but apologists and evangelists still have a problem here, and it is one the Mormon hierarchy themselves have created. In their advertising and in their proselytizing, Mormons continue to claim that they are a Christian faith. Past president Gordon Hinckley even stated "We are Christians in a very real sense"even though Mormon doctrine denies all of the essentials of historic Christianity from the nature of God to the result of the fall to the atonement and even how many divine beings exist! It is therefore vital for the faithful defender of the faith to draw a sharp distinction to these differences lest someone assume that Mormonism is a legitimate choice for those wishing to faithfully follow Christ and His teachings.
So, how do Christian apologists best define the distinctions between those belief systems that seek to claim Jesus as their own while holding to fundamentally different concepts on the essential nature of God, Jesus, salvation, man, and eternity? What word do we use to clearly separate the two? I've used the word cult in the past and while it clearly communicated the distinction to those who understand the differences already, the new connotation may burn more bridges than it builds. Are other labels adequate for the task? The word "heretical" is outdated. "Pseudo-Christians" or "faux-Christians" feel forced and awkward. Defining Mormonism as a "new religious movement" doesn't capture the concept that Mormons are claiming to be the true church started by Jesus.
The Need for a WordAnd that's the rub. As long as the LDS continue to claim that they are Christian and that their roots are grounded in the Bible as well as the book of Mormon, then they force the historic church to make a distinction; we just need a word to communicate the difference. The Greek word πλάνος (planao) captures the idea. We find the word in Matthew 24:24 when Jesus says "For false Christs and false prophets will arrive and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead (planao), if possible, even the elect." It means "to confuse' or "to lead astray" and can be used of religious seduction toward idolatry. Maybe we can trade on that concept. I think that if I'm in conversation with friends and I state that Mormonism is a seduction away from Christianity; that would go much further in communicating that there's a difference from Christianity while still showing the claims of Mormonism as being Christian. I think I'll give that a try. If you have other ideas, let me know them as well.
 Bowman, Robert M. "A Biblical Guide To Orthodoxy And Heresy" as quoted by Apologetics Index. http://www.apologeticsindex.org/c09.html#sociotheolo Accessed 10/22/2012.
 "Are Mormons Christians?" Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints web site. http://mormon.org/faq/mormon-christian. Accessed 10/22/2012.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
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
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."
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
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.
2.Joseph Smith’s papyri was rediscovered in 1967 and, now that we can translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, its plain to see this is true. http://www.mrm.org/book-of-abraham
3.See “Who Are the Lamanites?” at http://utlm.org/newsletters/no103.htm#DNA
Image courtesy Flickr user redjar.Typhoon at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Monday, July 19, 2010
We went back through Four Corners (which was closed when we had passed it the first time) hoping to stand in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico all at the same time. Alas, the Navajo Nation is doing construction on the monument so we could only walk around the fenced off circle. Still, I can now say I jogged across four states. Forrest Gump, look out!
Of course Utah has deep Mormon roots, from the names of towns and places (Mt. Carmel, Zion National Park) to the state highway signs which hold a beehive symbol. The state's population is 75% LDS, so I expect conversations to ensue. We check into our hotel (the clerk's name is Krishna!) and after a short swim, we all go out to dinner.
Even in popular culture, Mormonism and polygamy are intertwined. During dinner, my oldest asks a bit about this, allowing me to explain how Joseph Smith taught that polygamy was appropriate and himself took many wives, eleven of whom were already married to other men. One of the goals of polygamy was to produce as many children as possible to help increase the LDS population, but polygamy was illegal in the United States, so the Mormons practiced it secretly. However, it was an affront to the average citizen even then and this practice is primarily why the Mormons were driven out of Illinois.
Because Joseph Smith was killed while awaiting trial in Illinois, it was Brigham Young, the second LDS president, who lead the Mormons to the Utah territory, where they first began practicing polygamy openly. Although the U.S. government had been trying to stem these practices for some time, the Mormons continued them and saw them as a commanded by their faith. This continued until the Supreme Court ruled that the government had the right to seize all church assets and disincorporate the church because of their flagrant violation of the Edmunds-Tucker Act. In 1890, just after this ruling was handed down, LDS president Wilford Woodruf proclaimed a "revelation" form God disavowing further plural marriages within Mormonism.
In our discussion, I noted that modern day LDS become very uncomfortable when the practice of polygamy is brought up, usually saying that such things are far removed from what they believe now. However, apostle Richard Lyman claimed to have a plural marriage as recently as 1943! I also noted that many people splintered from the main Mormon Church once the proclamation was issued, spawning groups such as the FLDS and Warren Jeffs, who have recently been highlighted in the news.
A simple dinner was turned into a teachable moment as our family got to slow down and talk a little bit about what we were seeing around us. We also got to correct some misunderstandings and put a better focus on how beliefs will impact the way people live and how they understand right and wrong.
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