Thanksgiving Thoughts

Giving thanks to God for He is good.
Happy Thanksgiving.

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A Scriptural Twin Study: Nature versus Nurture

A guest post by Mike Turnlund.

One of the enduring issues in the science of psychology is nature versus nurture. Is a person’s behavior, at least in part, motivated by the person’s nature, that is, genetic factors; or by nurture, that is, environmental factors?

To answer this question, psychologists have employed twin studies. Here identical twins that are separated at birth and raised in different environments are examined and their similarities and differences compared. This is a logical process as one factor is controlled (genes, in that identical twins share the same genotype), but the other factor is not (environment). Any apparent differences in the personalities and other developmental traits of these long separated twins could logically be attributed to environmental factors.

Bible-PenPerhaps a twin study is just what the scholars ordered to better understand Mormon reticence toward unconditional acceptance of the Bible as God’s revealed word. While the LDS Church is quick to trumpet their belief in the Bible as God’s word and its inclusion into their own canon, specifically the King James Version, doubts remain. Even their own doctrines muddy the water as demonstrated in the eighth verse of their Articles of Faith, which states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” That’s the catch: “as far as it is translated correctly.”

In Mormon thought and teachings the Bible cannot stand on its own; its teachings must be interpreted through the lens of the LDS church, or “guided by the spirit” in church parlance. The Mormon Church teaches that the Bible became corrupted during that indeterminable time of the Great Apostasy, the great falling away of the post-Apostolic church into heresy. As it reads in 1 Nephi 13:26, 28 in the Book of Mormon,

“And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away… that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.”

That is, the “great and abominable church” removed from the Bible “many plain and precious things.” And this concern with the Biblical text is more than simply the removal of “plain and precious things.” Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie teaches that there are a great many other problems as the “Bible abounds in errors and mistranslations” (The Bible, A Sealed Book – supplement, A Symposium on the New Testament, 1984). Even more, that these errors and mistranslations exist in both the Old and New Testaments (ibid.).

So what are these “errors and mistranslations,” and what “plain and precious” things have been removed? And that is the problem: no one seems to know. As far as this author can determine there are no concise LDS writings that identify these errors. That is in and of itself seriously suspect, as the Mormon Church cannot discern its own canon. Even more, the logic of refuting the integrity of the Bible without demonstrating (even knowing) how is a negative proof and a logical fallacy. But that is a topic for a later discussion.

Still, is there a way to determine what changes might have occurred during the time of the Great Apostasy? Sure, a twin study. Take two identical twins (who share the same genes), but who were separated and raised apart. Any differences between them would surely be caused by environmental factors. And the twins I have in mind are the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament.

AncientScrollThe Jews of Jesus’ day and the early Christian Church shared the same scriptures. Of course, in time the writings that came out of that first century Christian experience would become normalized into a second canon and would be called the New Testament. Judaism continued with the scriptures it had and down a road from which the early Christian believers would later diverge. And the church was born. And the two monotheist groups, though sharing origins, would become quite different in theology, in doctrine, and in practice.

When a preliminary comparison of the two texts is begun, obvious differences quickly become apparent. The Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) and the Old Testament often arrange the books in different order and the Christian version separates many of specific books in the Tanakh into two parts, e.g. Chronicles, Samuel, Kings, etc. But when we compensate for this and finally conduct a verse-by-verse comparison of the two texts we discover…nothing. Really, nothing. The texts are the same – a few minor word changes here and there, but barely enough to add up to a fraction of a fraction. For the fact that these two versions spent the past two millennia in different environments attests to the singular determination of both religious groups toward maintaining the integrity of their texts.

What about the New Testament? Can a twin study be conducted with this uniquely Christian text? Yes, definitively. But that, too, would require an additional article. Instead, let’s return to our original narrative: why the lack of trust of the Bible by the LDS Church? This discomfort of the LDS Church is not based in facts, as demonstrated above, but simply by Mormon convention. By casting suspicion on the Scriptures of the “other” Christian sects – Catholics and Protestants – the LDS Church both increases its sense of distinction (the “Restored Church”) and its authority over its adherents. Evidently only the leaders of the LDS Church somehow know authoritatively that the Bible has become corrupted over the course of many hundreds of years. But since they cannot demonstrate how this is, Mormons are going to have to take that on faith.

Visit Mike’s blog, A Post-National Christian, or reach him at [email protected]

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Beware of false prophets.

In this short video (4:45) Ritch Sandford provides a solid overview of what the Bible says about false prophets.

At the end of the video Mr. Sandford cites Matthew 7:15-16 where Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets…You will recognize them by their fruits.”

In 1999 Mormon apostle M. Russell Ballard also cautioned, “beware of false prophets and teachers.” He listed several fruits of false prophets and teachers that will allow people to recognize them for what they are. One such fruit was that false prophets might attempt to

“redefine the nature of the Godhead, and they…arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to his children but merely the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural bias. They argue, therefore, that the scriptures require new interpretation and that they are uniquely qualified to offer that interpretation.” (“Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” Ensign, November 1999)

This sounds a lot like the origins of Mormonism. Indeed, Joseph Smith fares badly when his prophetic fruits are examined.

As Mr. Sandford said in his video, “Mormons…have a God-given commandment from Jesus to search out the truth of Joseph Smith.” He notes that the Bible makes it clear that all of us “will be held accountable for holding all of our spiritual leaders to God’s standard.” May we all have the courage to do so.

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Mormon Leaders, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The Great and Abominable Church

Dallin H. OaksIn the March, 2015 edition of Ensign magazine, Mormon apostle Dallin Oaks discusses the topics of atheism, moral relativism, secular humanism and the “great and abominable church.” The article, titled, “Stand as Witnesses of God,” was a devotional address he gave in February of 2014.

On page 30 he likens atheism to the teachings of Book of Mormon character Korihor who, according to Alma 30:6, 12, was called an “anti-Christ.” Korihor taught that only what can be seen is to be believed, that belief in the forgiveness of sins is the product of a “frenzied mind,” and “whatever a man did was no crime.”
According to Oaks, “Book of Mormon prophecies describe the ‘great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil’ (1 Nephi 14:17).” But because “this ‘church’ is prophesied to have ‘dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people’ (1 Nephi 14:11), this great and abominable church must be something far more pervasive and widespread than a single ‘church,’ as we understand that term today.”

Though often used in a religious context, this label also applies to the secular world. In the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, instructors are told to “emphasize that the great and abominable church is a symbol of apostasy in all its forms. It is a representation of false doctrine, false worship, and irreligious attitudes. It does not represent any specific church in the world today” (1999, p. 18).

CrossSkyIn his Ensign article, Oaks refers to 1 Nephi 14:10 and notes that “Nephi was told by revelation that there were only ‘two churches’: ‘the church of the Lamb of God’ and ‘the church of the devil’ (1 Nephi 14:10; see also 13:4–6).” His definition of the church of the devil is not much different from that of his predecessor, Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie (1915-1985). In his book, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, McConkie said the church of the devil is “communism; it is Islam; it is Buddhism; it is modern Christianity in all its parts. It is Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, and Italy under Mussolini. It is the man of sin speaking in churches, orating in legislative halls, and commanding the armies of men” (pp. 54-55).

Though definitions like this are pretty much understood by members of the LDS Church, still, when the subject of “the great apostasy” comes up in conversation, it is not uncommon for them to try and soften the blow by insisting that “all churches have some truth.” This, however, does not erase the fact that, officially, Mormons view their church as the only true church (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30) and all others as being false.
In an essay titled “ ‘Watch and Remember’: The New Testament and the Great Apostasy,” BYU professor Kent P. Jackson put it more succinctly when he said, “whoever does not belong to ‘the church of the Lamb of God’ belongs to ‘the church of the devil,’ as Nephi announced, then all systems of worship outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be classified as “the church of the devil” by Nephi’s definition” (By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 1:87).

In light of these comments, what are we evangelicals to think when Mormons insist they are Christians “just like” us?

This article is reprinted from the July—August 2015 issue of Mormonism Researched.

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This is a Test: Joseph Smith and Deuteronomy 13

Joshua and MosesIt had been a long forty years of wandering in the wilderness. God’s people Israel were finally nearing their Promised Land. Moses’ life was drawing to a close and the people were about to enter a new way of life under the untried leadership of Joshua. They needed to be prepared for what lay ahead. So God, in His loving mercy, commanded Moses to give His people important instructions regarding their continued faithfulness once they found themselves on the other side of the Jordan River. These instructions today are found in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.

This biblical book makes known many important truths God delivered to Israel through Moses. However, for the purposes of this article we shall look at only two.

In Deuteronomy 6:4 God gave His people a concise confession of their faith: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” This passage speaks of the uniqueness of the LORD (Yahweh) and asserts that He alone is God (Elohim). This strong monotheistic confession was a call for God’s people to stay true to Him as they lived among polytheistic pagans, for He instructed: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

But God recognized the temptations the pagan worshipers would bring to the children of Israel. Therefore, He warned His people to have nothing to do with idolatry. In Deuteronomy 13:1-3 God said,

“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying ‘Let us go after other gods’–which you have not known–‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The words from the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) were echoed here as God prepared His people for the temptations brought by false prophets. The Israelites were not to be deceived by miraculous signs or fulfilled prophecy; these things were not the standard by which to ultimately judge the dreamer of dreams. Instead, a theological analysis was to be applied: Who was the God the prophet advanced? Was He the one God the people had always known? Or was he a new and different god?

This was a test.

God said He allowed false prophets and temptations toward idolatry in order to test His people, that it would be shown whether they truly loved Him. Those who did were to respond in this way: “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4-5; emphasis added). God demanded total fidelity and would accept nothing less.

Let’s fast forward to April 6th, 1844.

On a hill overlooking the Mississippi River thousands of people sat listening to their prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., deliver a sermon at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Due to its content being prompted by the death of a Mormon man named King Follett, this address would later be known as the King Follett Discourse.* The Prophet’s stated purpose for this particular sermon was to teach the congregation to “understand and be fully acquainted with the mind, purposes, and decrees of the great Eloheim,” that is, God the Father. After assuring his listeners that he would speak only as inspired by the Holy Spirit, Joseph Smith launched into a theologically jam-packed sermon on the nature of God.

joseph-smithJoseph said,

“…it is necessary that we should understand the character and being of God, and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the vail, so that you may see.”

Hold it.

What was Joseph Smith saying? His listeners had “imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity.” Why would they have believed such a thing? Perhaps they had read it in the Bible. Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

Joseph continued his teaching:

“These are incomprehensible ideas to some; but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God…he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did…”

Was this the God Joseph Smith’s audience had always known? No, for this prophet said he would refute their long-held ideas about God.

The Prophet further explained:

“Here then is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you,–namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one…”

What’s this? Our God is one of many? He used to be a man but learned to be a God by going from one small degree to another? How does this compare with the revelation of God in the Bible–the God we have always known?

Isaiah 44:6: “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel,…I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.”

Malachi 3:6: “For I am the LORD, I do not change…”

How about the true confession of faith given by God in Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!”

Continuing his teaching, Joseph Smith asserted:

“In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it. When we begin to learn in this way, we begin to learn the only true God and what kind of being we have got to worship.”

We now know what kind of being Joseph Smith encouraged us to worship, but what has God previously revealed? “Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are my witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:8)

In his King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith did exactly what God warned against in Deuteronomy 13. He essentially said, “Let us go after other gods–which you have not known–and let us serve them.”

What should have been the response of the audience to this heretical teaching? God commanded: “…you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams…”

Unfortunately, most of Joseph Smith’s followers in 1844 did listen to the words of that prophet. Joseph praised them, saying,

“This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know you believe them.”

God allowed Joseph Smith to speak those words for a purpose; and He continues to allow false prophets a voice today, “…for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

It is a great responsibility Almighty God has placed upon us, to know Him, the only true God, and love Him with all our hearts. But He has not left us helpless and floundering, to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. He has provided the means for us to spot false prophets and false doctrine, and commands us to use the tools He has given us.

False prophets test the depth of our love for God, but Deuteronomy also gives us a test to measure those claiming to come in the name of the LORD. In the case of Joseph Smith and his King Follett Discourse, the answer is clear. The fruit of this prophet is heresy.

May all who truly love God respond as He has commanded: “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.”


* All quotes from the King Follett Discourse can be found in any of the following sources where the text is fully recorded: History of the Church 6:320-317; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 342-362; Journal of Discourses 6:1-11; Millennial Star 23:245-280.

This article originally appeared in A Word in Season, Fall 2000.

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, Early Mormonism, General Conference, God the Father, Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse, LDS Church, Mormon History, Mormon Leaders, Nature of God, Nature of Man, Nauvoo, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Mormonism’s Restoration Revokes Changes Wrought by Christ

JesusCleansingTempleChristian theologian John Piper wrote about “How Christ Fulfilled and Ended the Old Testament Regime.” Dr. Piper noted, “with the coming of Christ virtually everything has changed.” He listed five specific elements found in the Old Testament that the coming of Christ changed. Interestingly, the “Restoration” — that is, Mormonism — reinstituted many of the things that were transformed at Christ’s coming.

Number 1 on Dr. Piper’s list:

The blood sacrifices ceased because Christ fulfilled all that they were pointing toward. He was the final, unrepeatable sacrifice for sins. Hebrews 9:12: “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

Mormonism has not officially reinstituted blood sacrifices. However, some Mormon leaders have taught that Christ’s blood was not sufficient to atone for some sins; therefore, the sinner will have to atone with his or her own blood.

“Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are com­mitted, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:135)

Number 2 on Dr. Piper’s list:

The priesthood that stood between worshipper and God has ceased. Hebrews 7:23-24: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.”

Mormonism functions through the institution of priesthood authority. Though very different from the Old Testament priesthood, the Mormon priesthood is believed by Latter-day Saints to be the power and authority to act for God on earth in matters of salvation. According to Mormonism, this priesthood is necessary for people to have access to a relationship with God via baptism, washings, anointings, endowments, etc.

“No man has authority from God to administer to the children of men the ordinances of life and salvation [except] by the power of the Holy Priesthood. The power of that Priesthood is with the Latter-day Saints.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 2004, p. 39. Brackets in original)

“The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God, through which He created the heavens and the earth and by which He governs the same. It is used to redeem and eventually exalt His children. As given in mortality, the priesthood is the power and authority to act in God’s name. By and through it, one is autho­rized to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances and govern in the Church.” (“Priesthood Authority,” Church News, November 10, 2007, 16)

Number 3 on Dr. Piper’s list:

The physical temple has ceased to be the geographic center of worship. Now Christ himself is the center of worship. He is the “place,” the “tent,” and the “temple” where we meet God. Therefore Christianity has not [sic] geographic center, no Mecca, no Jerusalem. John 4:21-23: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. …But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’” John 2:19-21: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. …He was speaking about the temple of his body.” Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

PA_History_St.GeorgeTemple_AV090602_lsb001alt_290Mormonism centers itself in what is called “temple worship.” Mormon temples are believed to be the place where Mormons meet God and where they make covenants with God that they believe are necessary for eternal life.

“Let us truly be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. …Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience. …All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God’s presence without them.” (Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, February 1995)

“…temples are the most sacred place on earth-a place where earth and heaven meet and where we feel close to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ” (“Why Latter-day Saints Build Temples”)

Number 4 on Dr. Piper’s list:

The food laws that set Israel apart from the nations have been fulfilled and ended in Christ. Mark 7:18-19: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him . . . (Thus he declared all foods clean).’”

Mormonism requires observance of a “commandment” called the Word of Wisdom. This rule calls for abstinence from things such as tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and tea. To imbibe in things prohibited in the Word of Wisdom is considered a sin and can cost a Mormon his or her place in the celestial kingdom.

“SALVATION AND A CUP OF TEA. You cannot neglect little things. ‘Oh, a cup of tea is such a little thing. It is so little; surely it doesn’t amount to much; surely the Lord will forgive me if I drink a cup of tea. Yes, he will forgive you, because he is going to forgive every man who repents; but, my brethren, if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand in the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received a fulness of glory?” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:16).

Number 5 on Dr. Piper’s list:

The establishment of civil law on the basis of an ethnically rooted people, who are ruled directly by God, has ceased. The people of God are no longer a unified political body or an ethnic group or a nation-state, but are exiles and sojourners among all ethnic groups and all states. Therefore, God’s will for states is not taken directly from the Old Testament theocratic order, but should now be reestablished from place to place and from time to time by means that correspond to God’s sovereign rule over all peoples, and that correspond to the fact that genuine obedience, rooted as it is in faith in Christ, cannot be coerced by law. The state is therefore grounded in God, but not expressive of God’s immediate rule. Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.”

Joseph Smith with SwordToday Mormonism does not overtly attempt to hold theocratic rule over all people (although some residents of Utah might disagree with me, but Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, took steps to establish a theocracy, which was continued by Brigham Young.

“In the Nauvoo church paper, Smith said in 1844, ‘I go emphatically, virtuously, and humanely, for a THEODEMOCRACY, where God and the people hold the power to conduct the affairs of men in righteousness.’ Eight years later, [Lieutenant John W.] Gunnison said, ‘They call their system of government, a “Theo-Democracy;” and that, in a civil capacity, they stand as the Israelites of old under Moses.’” (Bigler and Bagley, The Mormon Rebellion, 21)

“The Prophet established a confidential Council of Fifty, or ‘Ytfif,’ comprised of both Mormons and non-Mormons, to help attend to temporal matters, including the eventual development of a one-world government, in harmony with preparatory plans for the second advent of the Saviour.” (John J. Stewart, Joseph Smith The Mormon Prophet, 204)

As Dr. Piper noted, Christ “unleashed these massive changes in the world.” They are wonderful and glorious! They demonstrate the absolute fulfillment of the law in Christ. They tore down barriers and opened the gates of Heaven. They set God’s people free. But Mormonism has discounted this finished work of Christ, re-erecting barriers and re-instituting an Old Testament-type of religious system that relies on covenant-keeping (laws and ordinances) for developing personal righteousness – the basis for earning eternal life.

God has provided something much better.

“The law was kept perfectly by Christ. And all its penalties against God’s sinful people were poured out on Christ. Therefore, the law is now manifestly not the path to righteousness, Christ is. The ultimate goal of the law is that we would look to Christ, not law-keeping, for our righteousness.” (John Piper, “How Christ Fulfilled and Ended the Old Testament Regime”)

May God’s amazing provision in Christ never be rejected.

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
-Romans 10:4

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I looked out the window and what did I see?

SwitzerlandTwo months ago I had the amazing opportunity to visit Switzerland. What an inspiring display of God’s creativity! Deep blue water, soaring snow-topped peaks, brilliant green-carpeted valleys…and, of course, happy cows everywhere.

One morning I watched out the window of our tour bus as we headed away from the incredibly beautiful village of Interlaken. As we were leaving the freeway and beginning our ascent to go up and over the mountain, my fellow travelers were just finishing up a discussion about Gypsies. When the bus rounded a curve we came upon a group of teenaged kids at the side of that mountain road. They looked a bit like Gypsies, pushing and pulling their earthly goods heaped into two-wheeled carts. Everyone gawked at them as the bus drove slowly by, while our guide made sure we knew that these were, in fact, not Gypsies. Shaking her head, she kept incredulously repeating, “I don’t know what that is!”

But I knew. It was a group of Mormon kids doing a handcart trek, their handcarts piled high with clothing and camping gear. Right there in the middle of the Swiss Alps unenthusiastic, dazed-looking kids were reenacting the American Mormon Handcart Experience in the gathering summer heat.

These Swiss kids apparently know all about the historic Mormon handcart pioneers and their trials. But I wonder if they know much about other important aspects of American Mormon history. Do they know about Joseph Smith’s occult involvement? Do they know about his failed copyright revelation (and other failed prophecies)? I wonder if they know that Joseph Smith married eleven women who had additional living husbands? I wonder if they know about Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings or his commitment to the blood atonement doctrine. Do they know about the Mountain Meadows Massacre that transpired under Brigham Young’s watch? Do they know about Mormonism’s third president John Taylor’s graphic denunciations against Christianity? Or Wilford Woodruff’s “lying for the Lord”?

I wonder. If these Swiss kids knew about these other Mormon historical events, would they consider reenacting them as well?

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Mormonism’s View: The Bible we have today “is rather incomplete.”

Mormonism has always held to the position that the Bible we have today has been corrupted. In 1st Nephi 13 the Book of Mormon talks about the “many plain and precious things taken away from the book”; that is, the book identified in the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual as the Bible (see page 18).

AncientBooksOn the website, under the heading “Lost books,” readers are told,

“The so-called lost books of the Bible are those documents that are mentioned in the Bible in such a way that it is evident they were considered authentic and valuable but that are not found in the Bible today…

“The foregoing items attest to the fact that our present Bible does not contain all of the word of the Lord that He gave to His people in former times and remind us that the Bible, in its present form, is rather incomplete.”

When the Mormon teaching of a corrupted and incomplete Bible is combined with the general LDS vilification of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, what results is a criticism often heard promoted by members of the Mormon Church – that Constantine and/or the early church Councils decided which books they wanted in the Bible, and which they didn’t, and formed the canon accordingly.

Council of NiceaIn response to a Newsweek article on the Bible that appeared in the December 23, 2014 issue, Christian theologian Brian Mattson wrote, “The Great Missing Canon Question.” While not addressing Mormonism and its faulty view of the Bible directly, the article still discusses issues important to Mormonism – and Mormons. Dr. Mattson writes,

“Kurt Eichenwald, in his ridiculous hit piece on the Bible in last month’s Newsweek, repeats the claim that Constantine ‘ultimately influenced’ which books made it into the New Testament.

“There are lots of problems with this mythical telling of church history, not the least of which is that the Council of Nicaea never even addressed the question of what books ‘belong’ in the New Testament, much less dictated it. Oops.

“There’s an even stronger historical indicator, however, that by the time Constantine reigned the books of the New Testament were near universally understood.”

Dr. Mattson lays out his case for a long-settled canon being in place well before Constantine came on the scene, based on Constantine’s interaction with early church historian Eusebius.

“In 331 Constantine wrote a letter to Eusebius of Caesarea asking him to prepare 50 Bibles for use in Rome’s churches…

“It apparently never occurred to the Emperor to instruct Eusebius what books to include in the Bibles. And it never occurred to Eusebius to even ask. There is only one plausible interpretation of these deafening silences: the status of the Christian canon was implicitly understood. Can you imagine a world in which there is hot controversy over the number of books in the New Testament, receiving a request from the Emperor of the known world for copies of the Bible, and not clarifying what he wanted in them? Neither can I.”

Eusebius prepared the Bibles for Constantine and did not lose his head. Dr. Mattson concludes:

“Thus, the great canon controversy, far from being authoritatively ‘settled’ in the fourth century by Constantine, wasn’t by then even controversial at all.”

Posted in Bible, Early Christianity, Misconceptions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Yahweh needs no Asherah

Yahweh needs no Asherah.

He says to none, “You complete me.”

He needs no partner.

He needs no permission.

He needs no counsel.

He needs no counterpart.

He needs no complement.

He creates, not by sexual union or cooperation, but by the effortless, self-sufficient, raw power of his word. “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” (Isaiah 44:24)

He says, “Let there be” (Genesis 1), and there is.

“He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3)

He creates, not by conflict with supernatural forces, but with uncontested authority, “hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) — ready to act and completely sovereign.

Before him kings become as wild animals, and grind their teeth, and concede, “none can stay his hand.” (Daniel 4:35)

“My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:10)

Cut down your Asherah poles. Burn them in the fire of repentance.

The Lord God does not need a wife.

Posted in God the Father, Marriage and Singlehood, Nature of God | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Mormonism and Blood Sacrifice

A local TV station in Indianapolis ran a story earlier this month (16 October 2015) headlined, “Suspect harrassing Mormon Church elder allegedly had goal of blood sacrifice.” Journalist Derrik Thomas explained,

“A prominent local attorney, who is an elder in the Mormon Church, has been harassed, and fears for his safety and the safety of his family.

“The suspect accused of harassing Elder Paul Sinclair is a former member of the Mormon Church…

“In court documents, a witness told detectives that one goal [suspect Lee] Baker had was to kill an elder on temple grounds as a blood sacrifice.”

Lee-Kathy-BakerLast July Lee Baker was engaged in Christian outreach during the Indianapolis Indiana Mormon temple open house. It was during the outreach that he met and spoke with Paul Sinclair, as well as many other Latter-day Saints.
I don’t know Lee Baker well, but I have met him, and his wife Kathy, and I have observed him engaging in evangelism on the streets of Manti. I have heard his testimony of being brought out of Mormonism to new life in Christ. I have witnessed his expressions of love for the lost Mormon people. Nothing I have ever observed would suggest that this accusation against Mr. Baker has any foundation in truth.

But what, then? I haven’t seen the court documents to which the news story referred, which means the information I have is merely hearsay. Nevertheless, I’ve been pondering this sensational accusation against Lee Baker and wondering where it could have come from. I have a few ideas.

The setting was a Mormon temple. Mr. Baker was there as a Christian evangelist. Is it possible that Lee was misunderstood as he was explaining the differences between the purpose of a Mormon temple vs. the purpose of the biblical temple? Unlike Mormon temples, the Old Testament temple was a place of sacrifice, often involving the blood of animals. Animals were continually killed on temple grounds as provisional atonement for the sins of the people. It could perhaps be said, then, that the purpose of the biblical temple was to kill animals as a blood sacrifice. Could Mr. Baker’s explanation of the biblical temple have been terribly misunderstood?

Perhaps it was an explanation of Mormon temple rituals that led Mr. Baker’s accuser to form such a strange idea of what Lee said. Before 1990 Mormons who participated in the LDS temple Endowment ceremony pantomimed graphic penalties of throat slitting, having their hearts torn out, and disembowelment; they agreed to be killed by these gruesome methods if they ever revealed the secrets of the temple. Perhaps Mr. Baker’s explanation of what he was required to do when he went through the temple as a Mormon was so shocking that his words were misinterpreted.

It could be that Mr. Baker was misunderstood as he discussed the doctrine of blood atonement as taught by early Mormon Church leaders. This doctrine states

“But man may commit certain grievous sins — according to his light and knowledge — that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved, he must make sacrifice of his own life to atone — so far as in his power lies — for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:134)

As earlier Mormon Church leaders put it,

“There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins…” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:53)

“I could refer you to plenty of instances where men have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance (in the last resurrection there will be) if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground as a smoking incense to the Almighty…This is loving our neighbor as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:220)

“But if the Government of God on earth, and Eternal Priesthood, with the sanction of High Heaven, in the midst of all his people, has passed sentence on certain sins when they appear in a person, has not the people of God a right to carry out that part of his law as well as any other portion of it? It is their right to baptize a sinner to save him, and it is also their right to kill a sinner to save him, when he commits those crimes that can only be atoned for by shedding his blood…We would not kill a man, of course, unless we killed him to save him.” (Jedediah Grant, Deseret News, July 27, 1854, 2)

“…if they are covenant breakers we need a place designated, where we can shed their blood… Brethren and sisters, we want you to repent and forsake your sins. And you who have committed sins that cannot be forgiven through baptism, let your blood be shed, and let the smoke ascend, that the incense thereof may come up before God as an atonement for your sins, and that the sinners in Zion may be afraid.” (Jedediah Grant, Journal of Discourses 4:50-51)

ShedBloodBecause Mr. Baker left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormonism brands him a “covenant breaker.” Based of the teachings of early Mormon leaders, if anyone should fear being killed as a blood sacrifice on Mormon temple grounds, it would be Mr. Baker, not the people he is trying reach with the Gospel of Christ. Nevertheless, it’s possible that someone hearing Mr. Baker explain the early Mormon doctrine of blood atonement could have misunderstood.

Maybe Mr. Baker was merely retelling the story of Jesse Hartly. As told by Mr. Hartley’s widow:

“I married Jesse Hartly, knowing he was a ‘Gentile’ in fact, but he passed for a Mormon, but that made no difference with me, although I was a Mormon, because he was a noble man, and sought only the right. By being my husband, he was brought into closer contact with the members of the Church, and was thus soon enabled to learn many things about us, and about the Heads of the Church, that he did not approve, and of which I was ignorant, although I had been brought up among the Saints; and which, if known among the Gentiles, would have greatly damaged us. I do not understand all he discovered, or all he did; but they found he had written against the Church, and he was cut off, and the Prophet required as an atonement for his sins, that he should lay down his life. That he should be sacrificed in the endowment rooms; where human sacrifices are sometimes made in this way. This I never knew until my husband told me, but it is true. They kill those there who have committed sins too great to be atoned for in any other way. The Prophet says, if they submit to this he can save them; otherwise they are lost. Oh! that is horrible. But my husband refused to be sacrificed, and so set out alone for the United States: thinking there might be at least a hope of success. I told him when he left me, and left his child, that he would be killed, and so he was. William Hickman and another Danite, shot him in the canyons; and I have often since been obliged to cook for this man, when he passed this way, knowing all the while, he had killed my husband. My child soon followed after its father, and I hope to die also; for why should I live? They have brought me here [to Green River], where I wish to remain, rather than to return to Salt Lake where the murderers of my husband curse the earth, and roll in affluence unpunished.” (as told to Mary Ettie V. Smith, Mormonism: its rise, progress, and present condition, 310-311)

This is a story of an apostate Mormon elder who was killed on temple grounds (the Endowment House) as a blood sacrifice. It’s quite easy to imagine that a Mormon could hear this story and misconstrue the whole thing.

The sensational accusation against Lee Baker has more foundation in Mormonism than in evangelical Christianity. What I know about Mr. Baker is that he longs to see Mormons come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And he knows that Jesus is the One who has already made the only sacrifice that can save sinners (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10).

Posted in Early Mormonism, Mormon History, Mormon Temple | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments