The Lorenzo Snow couplet’s subordination & dependence dilemma for Mormons

Given both halves of the Lorenzo Snow couplet:

“As man now is, God once was.
As God now is, man may be.”

(a) If we will forever be dependent on and subordinate to our God, then it stands to reason that God himself remains dependent on and subordinate to his own God (our Heavenly Grandfather).

(b) If God is no longer dependent on and subordinate to his own God, then it stands to reason that we can someday become Gods who are independent of, and no longer subordinate to, our own God.

Yet the theistic conscience wants to affirm that both:

(c) God is independent of, and not subordinate to, any other Gods.

(d) We will forever remain dependent on, and subordinate to, our God.

With Biblical Christianity, (c) and (d) are compatible. With traditional Mormonism, they are incompatible.

Posted in God the Father, Lorenzo Snow, Nature of God | Tagged , , , | 44 Comments

A Remarkable Prophecy About Joseph Smith?

PoGPIn Joseph Smith’s official History (found canonized in the Mormon book of scripture Pearl of Great Price), the Prophet relates a prophecy delivered to him by the angel Moroni:

“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:33)

During last April’s General Conference, Seventy Lawrence Corbridge referred to this as an “amazing prophecy” (Ensign, May 2014, 104). Indeed, Latter-day Saints attach great significance to this passage from their scriptures, believing the declaration to be a remarkable, unassailable prophecy that is evidence of Joseph Smith’s calling from God. Consider the words of another Mormon Seventy, Cecil O. Samuelson (then president of BYU), presented in a 2005 devotional address:

“Even before the Church was organized, it became clear that Joseph Smith was no ordinary young man. Although born into modest means and circumstances, he was quickly identified as someone special. The First Vision was an unexpected occurrence that not only changed his life forever but also changed the history of the world. His initial interview with the angel Moroni, occurring while he was just 17 years old, taught him that his life and work would not be usual by any measure.

‘He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people’ (Joseph Smith—History 1:33).

“That is an amazing prophecy for any 17-year-old. Think of the statistical improbability of the assertion that his ‘name should be had for good and evil’ around the world. Yet the name Joseph Smith is becoming widely known among virtually all of the nations of the earth.” (“Stand by My Servant Joseph,” Ensign, February 2013)

In 1823, when Joseph was 17 years old, this declaration about the young man’s future widespread notoriety would indeed sound rather dubious. But Joseph Smith’s historical account wasn’t written when he was 17 years old; it was written in 1838 – when he was 32 years old. And by that time he was not an unknown teenager living in his parents’ home. By the time this account was written, Joseph Smith’s name was quite well-known—among his friends and among his many foes.

6-moroni_bedroomAccording to Joseph, this prophecy was given to him during a trinity of nighttime angelic visitations that transpired in his bedroom on September 21, 1823. Other pre-1838 historic accounts of Moroni’s visits do not mention the prophecy at all, save one – a lengthy account written by Oliver Cowdery, fact-checked by Joseph Smith, and published in the Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate in serial form from October 1834 to October 1835.

In Cowdery’s account of the angelic visits to Joseph Smith, the angel told Joseph that God was about to do “a marvelous work and a wonder” through him. The angel said,

“Wherever the sound shall go it shall cause the ears of men to tingle, and wherever it shall be proclaimed, the pure in heart shall rejoice, while those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him, will seek its overthrow, and the destruction of those by whose hands it is carried. Therefore, marvel not if your name is made a derision, and had as a by-word among such, if you are the instrument in bringing it, by the gift of God, to the knowledge of the people.” (Letter IV, Messenger and Advocate, February 1835, 79-80)

This account of the heavenly communication differs from Joseph’s 1838 account. There is no prophecy involving Joseph; there is no mention of Joseph’s name being had for good and evil; there is no suggestion of a world-wide scope of antagonists. Instead, Moroni tells Joseph not to be surprised (“marvel not”) if he is mocked and cited as a notorious person (“derision and by-word”) among those who seek the destruction of God’s [Mormon] messengers. This, of course, was not a new idea. Nearly two thousand years before this Jesus warned His people that they would be “hated by all nations” because of their commitment to Christ (Matthew 24:9).

Later in Cowdery’s account he comes closer to the prophecy as related in 1838, but still doesn’t quite get there. This divine message is delivered on a different date, in a different location, and in a different context, while the message itself differs in wording and scope. Cowdery writes of Joseph Smith actually finding the plates the day after the thrice-repeated nighttime angelic visits (September 22, 1823). As Joseph knelt beside “the repository” of the plates, a heavenly messenger told him,

“All this is shown, the good and the evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness, that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one… Your name shall be known among the nations, for the work which the Lord will perform by your hands shall cause the righteous to rejoice and the wicked to rage: with the one it shall be had in honor, and with the other in reproach; yet, with these it shall be a terror because of the great and marvelous work which shall follow the coming forth of this fulness of the gospel.” (Letter VIII, Messenger and Advocate, October 1835, 198-199)

Joseph Smith, Kirtland Oh, 1836 by grindael

Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple
by grindael

This is the earliest account I’ve seen that mentions a prediction that Joseph Smith would have fame among both followers and detractors. But even in 1835 (when this narrative was published), all of this was already a done deal.

Some pre-1835 historical context:

  • Mormon missionaries were actively proselytizing in the United States and Canadaas early as 1830.
  • Newspapers all over the country began reporting on Joseph Smith and the Mormons beginning in 1830 (see Uncle Dale’s Readings in Early Mormon History).
  • Ezra Booth’s nine letters written to denounce and expose Mormonism were published in the Ohio Star beginning in November 1831.
  • Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered by a group of angry men in Ohio in 1832.
  • Violent conflict between the Mormon and non-Mormon citizens of Jackson County, Missouri in 1833 led Joseph Smith to raise an army of 200 men in the spring of 1834, who then marched to Missouri to attempt to aid the Mormons there.
  • In August 1834 Joseph Smith complained that people believed him to be a “Tyrant,! Pope!! King!!! Usurper!!!!” (Joseph Smith quoted in Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 269)
  • E.D. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed had been in circulation since October 1834. The book contained an unflattering history of the Mormon “delusion” and dozens of people’s sworn testimonies against Joseph Smith and Mormonism.
  • Joseph Smith had 4,372 faithful followers by the end of 1834.

Joseph Smith’s name was well-known in “the nations” of at least the United States and Canada. Some people in each nation believed him to be a good prophet who spoke for God; some believed him to be an evil imposter. His followers honored his name; his critics held his name in derision.

It is no great feat to state the beginning from the vantage point of the end, nor to write a “prophecy” after it has been fulfilled. The “amazing prophecy” that Joseph Smith’s name would be had for good and evil among the nations was not so remarkable after all.

Posted in D&C and Pearl of Great Price, Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Mormon History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

James Talmage: Almost Charged With Apostasy for Writing That The Holy Ghost was a Person

Excerpted from James P. Harris’ forward to The Articles of Faith (First Edition):

AOFAnother theme that occupied Talmage’s attention was related to the Holy Ghost. Talmage wrote:

Met with Theological Class Committee and [First] Presidency in lecture work. The subject of “The Holy Ghost” formed the topic. Pres. [George Q.] Cannon in commenting on the ambiguity existing in our printed works concerning the nature or character of the Holy Ghost expressed his opinion that the Holy Ghost was in reality a person, in the image of the other members of the Godhead,—a man in form and figure: and that what we often speak of as the Holy Ghost is in reality but the power or influence of the Spirit. However the Presidency deemed it wise to say as little as possible on this or other disputed subjects.20

Talmage mentioned the issue again on 13 January 1899:

One of the questions referred to the First Presidency by the Committee was as to the advisability of reprinting the lecture entitled “The Holy Ghost” which appeared in the “Juvenile Instructor” soon after its delivery in the theology class of the Church University. I remember that considerable discussion attended the reading of the lecture before the former committee prior to its delivery … The question hung upon the expediency and wisdom of expressing views as definite as those presented in the lecture regarding the personality of the Holy Ghost when marked ambiguity and differences of opinion appeared in the published writings of our Church authorities on the subject. The lecture was approved as it appeared in the “Instructor.” I have incorporated it in the prospective book in practically an unaltered form. President [Lorenzo] Snow took the article under advisement today. In conversation Pres. Geo. Q. Cannon supported the view of the distinct personality of the Holy Ghost and stated that he had [here the word "actually" is crossed out] heard the voice of the third member of the Godhead, actually talking to him.

Finally, on 16 January 1899, Talmage recorded that “President [Lorenzo] Snow announced his unqualified approval of the lecture on the ‘Holy Ghost'; and directed its insertion.”

Not recorded in Talmage’s journal is the level of anxiety this issue aroused. When he was subpoenaed in 1905 to testify before the U. S. Senate committee investigating Utah senator Reed Smoot’s position as an apostle in the LDS church, Talmage was asked whether a charge of apostasy had been levied against him during the writing of The Articles of Faith. He replied, “No charge was actually made, though I was notified I would be so charged. But as one of the church officials had already expressed as holding the views set forth by myself in that work, and he being very much larger game, he was singled out first, and as the proceedings against him ended in a disappointing way, I was never brought to trial.”22 It was never clarified who the “very much larger game” was or what the exact charges were. However, judging from Talmage’s remarks on 13 January 1899, the Holy Ghost lecture may have been what elicited the charge of apostasy against him.

Posted in LDS Church | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Joseph Smith wasn’t arrogant or boastful?

In a Deseret News article titled “Defending the Faith: Joseph Smith wasn’t arrogant or boastful” (9/4/14), Mormon BYU Professor Daniel Peterson addressed a common criticism used against Joseph Smith:


“Some critics like to use a quotation attributed to Joseph Smith as a weapon against him:

“‘I have more to boast of,’ he’s reported to have said, ‘than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. … Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet’ (“History of the Church,” 6:408-409).

“The comment seems arrogant, lacking the humility appropriate to a prophet or even an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Dr. Peterson brought up four points that he believes people should keep in mind when evaluating Joseph Smith’s statement:

  1. Context: “Joseph was applying a passage from the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 11-12) to his own perilous situation. The idea of ‘boasting’ wasn’t Joseph’s; it was Paul’s.”
  2. Interpretation: “Joseph seems actually to be praising his followers’ faithfulness, not himself.”
  3. Transmission: “Joseph didn’t write the quotation; it was reconstructed after his death. Thus, it almost certainly doesn’t represent his precise words.”
  4. Joseph’s Character: “Joseph’s authenticated personal statements plainly reveal him to have been a humble and sincere man, struggling to do the will of God as he understood it — and this particular statement should be placed in the context of his overall life and behavior.”

Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson have explored all four points of Dr. Peterson’s approach in a three-part Viewpoint on Mormonism broadcast series that aired September 30, October 1, and October 2. Here on Mormon Coffee I want to look at just one point, that of context.

rembrandt-elderly-apostle-paulDr. Peterson attributes Joseph Smith’s idea to boast in his own accomplishments to the biblical apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11, which Joseph read to the Mormon congregation before delivering his sermon, Paul engaged in reluctant boasting in order to compare his apostolic credentials with false apostles who were beguiling the Corinthian church with another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel.

“Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.”
(2 Corinthians 11:18-23)

Paul went on to clarify:

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness…

“…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 11:30, 12:7-10)

Finally, Paul explained that he was not boasting for his own reputation or glory, but for the good of the church and the glory of God:

“Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.” (2 Corinthians 12:19)

According to Dr. Peterson, Joseph got the idea to boast from Paul’s exhortation when Paul called the Corinthian Christians to recognize and resist false apostles and their false teachings. If Joseph got the idea from Paul, he nevertheless did not apply his boasting in the same way. Compare Joseph sermon with Paul’s epistle.

Joseph ‘s discourse was his response to “the dissenters at Nauvoo.” These dissenters had accused Joseph of immoral and criminal conduct. So on that Sunday morning in May 1844, Joseph began with a declaration of the purpose of the remarks that would follow:

“My object is to let you know that I am right here on the spot where I intend to stay. I, like Paul, have been in perils, and oftener than anyone in this generation. CrowingRoosterAs Paul boasted, I have suffered more than Paul did. I should be like a fish out of water, if I were out of persecutions. Perhaps my brethren think it requires all this to keep me humble. The Lord has constituted me so curiously that I glory in persecution. I am not nearly so humble as if I were not persecuted. If oppression will make a wise man mad, much more a fool. If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster: I shall always beat them. When facts are proved, truth and innocence will prevail at last. My enemies are no philosophers: they think that when they have my spoke under, they will keep me down; but for the fools, I will hold on and fly over them.” (All quotes of Joseph Smith’s sermon are from History of the Church 6:408-412.)

Joseph continued.

“God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil—all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. You know my daily walk and conversation. I am in the bosom of a virtuous and good people. How I do love to hear the wolves howl! When they can get rid of me, the devil will also go. For the last three years I have a record of all my acts and proceedings, for I have kept several good, faithful, and efficient clerks in constant employ: they have accompanied me everywhere, and carefully kept my history, and they have written down what I have done, where I have been, and what I have said; therefore my enemies cannot charge me with any day, time, or place, but what I have written testimony to prove my actions; and my enemies cannot prove anything against me.”

The remainder of Joseph’s preaching during this church service addressed specific individuals and specific accusations made against him, focusing on his innocence.

“I never arrested Mr. Simpson…I never made an affidavit…I did not swear to it…I never built on another man’s ground…I never told the old Catholic that he was a fallen true prophet…I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can…What a thing for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” [Note: A this time Joseph Smith had at least 30 wives.]

Finally, Joseph explained,

“I have said this to let my friends know that I am right.”

In his final remarks Joseph tells his congregation of his tenderness toward them and his desire that they have a “virtuous leader”; and then defends himself one last time as he insists that he has not taken their money unjustly.

Was Joseph’s boasting like the boasting of the apostle Paul?

In Paul’s epistle, Paul boasted reluctantly. He felt – and said – that in doing so he was speaking as a fool; but He did it for the sake of the Gospel and his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. He explained that the only boasting he wanted to do was to boast in his weaknesses, because his weakness proclaimed the strength and glory of God.

Joseph Smith, on the other hand, was happy to “get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster” and proclaim, “I shall always beat them.” He taunted his critics and claimed that he gloried in persecution. He said that he had suffered more than the apostle Paul, and had more to boast of than Paul, John, or Peter — and even Jesus Himself. Joseph boasted for his own sake, to convince his friends that he was right.

I agree with Dr. Peterson — I think it is important to consider the context when evaluating Joseph Smith’s boasting. And doing so leads me to disagree with Dr. Peterson. At least in this case, Joseph Smith was indeed arrogant and boastful.

Posted in Joseph Smith, Mormon History, Nauvoo | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The most difficult book

miracle-of-forgivenessI recently discovered a new witnessing tactic. Don’t get me wrong, quoting from Spencer W. Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness has been used by Christian apologists for quite some time. But instead of just quoting this book, I decided to try to give it away, which has proven to be a very powerful tactic.

Let me back up for a second to provide a little background to this book, which remains very popular and is still sold at Deseret Book. Written by the 12th president of the LDS Church when he was an apostle, it teaches (among other things):

  • Mankind has the ability to perfect himself and become an omniscient and omnipotent God (p. 2).
  • No one can repent on a cross, in prison, or in custody (p. 167).
  • Forgiveness is cancelled on reversion to sin (p. 169).
  • Discontinuance of sin must be permanent (p. 176).
  • Keeping God’s commandments brings forgiveness (p. 201).
  • Salvation by grace alone was originated by Satan (p. 206).
  • Only by living all of the commandments can a Mormon be sure he or she is forgiven (p. 208).
  • Personal perfection is an achievable goal (p. 209).
  • The time to become perfect is now, in this mortality (p. 210).
  • Forgiveness could take “centuries” and is granted based on a Mormon’s humility, sincerity, works, and attitudes (p. 325).
  • The repentance which merits forgiveness requires the transgressor to reach the point where the very desire or urge to sin is “cleared out of his life” (pp. 354-355).

Attaining “forgiveness” according to Mormonism requires plenty of effort on one’s part. Those who say that Kimball’s book is no longer authoritative because the author is deceased should understand that Apostle Richard G. Scott called this a “masterly work” in a 2004 General Conference message in his encouragement to have his listeners to “study” it. Seventy Bruce H. Hafen claimed the book “reviews many sins of both commission and omission. And while forgiveness is a miracle, it is not won without penitent and strenuous effort” (Liahona, April 1997, p. 41).

Recently Randy Sweet and I collected more than a dozen used copies of Kimball’s book and decided to try a new strategy while witnessing outside the Ogden Temple open house. We put together a tract and placed a copy in each book. As dozens of temple guests walked by, I offered it to everyone, saying, “Free copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness, a book by 12th president Spencer W. Kimball. We believe every Latter-day Saint should read this book, so if you don’t have a copy, we’ll give it to you free of charge.”

In my mind, I thought a dozen copies would only last only three or four hours. After all, who could resist a complimentary copy of a $20 book? All I asked is that the person 1) didn’t already own a copy; 2 was willing to read the book; 3) would agree to email me after reading it.

We learned plenty during the first day of our experiment. First of all, offering a free LDS book that most Mormons recognize threw many for a loop. While some smirked, others had a look of disbelief, apparently wondering why I was giving away their book.

In fact, here are the unofficial results of the reaction to my spiel:

  • 70%: Responded by completely ignoring me and the offer. These folks acted as if I didn’t exist, walking by without saying a word. Many of them heard what I said, though there was typically little reaction.
  • 20%: Responded by saying “No thank you” to my offer.
  • 10%: Responded by saying (to the effect) “Thanks, I have it” or “I’ve already read it.”

The third response was perfect. In fact, a number of these folks who said they had already read it told me so in a rather proud manner. Several even boasted that they had 2 or 3 copies, to which I jokingly responded, “Wow, and you read all of them?”

My follow-up question to those who had read it was obvious: “So are you accomplishing everything that Spencer W. Kimball said you should do?” This was the show stopper. Again, here are the unofficial responses to my question:

  • 50%: Ignored what I had asked, they just kept on walking away. Randy’s plea was, “What happened to ‘every member a missionary’?”
  • 30%: “No, I’m not…but I’m trying.” Isn’t it amazing how many think that doing one’s best is what Kimball taught should be done? I responded that Kimball did not allow for such a possibility on page 164. Under the section “Trying is not sufficient,” Kimball wrote, “Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. . . . To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can.” If there was time, I explained that Kimball did not allow for such an excuse because a person is either keeping or not keeping the commandments. Like being pregnant, there is no in-between position. To “try” is nothing more than an admission of failure. Some Mormons reacted with shock that we were able to quote the book so easily, while others were visibly frustrated. Few had pertinent comebacks to offer.
  • 20%: Yes, I am.” This was a higher number than I expected. While some were sarcastic, others were not. One elderly gentleman confidently told me he was doing it “103%.” I quickly asked his wife who was walking next to him if this were true. She only smiled, then kept walking and offered no rebuttal. Her answer was obvious.

Bottom line, nobody can do what Kimball says must be done to attain forgiveness. Several told me that I just need to keep reading the book to the end because Kimball explains the “miracle” part of forgiveness. My response? “Here’s the book, show me the page numbers to prove your point.” Nobody ever came back to explain the very difficult passages found throughout the book.

This has proven to be a great tactic. After offering the book to literally thousands of Latter-day Saints over a twelve-day period, I gave away just over forty copies. While many Latter-day Saints walking by may have already owned it, I think that there were others whose pride would not allow them to accept a gift of a Mormon book from someone who does not belong to their church.

Let me close with a note written by “Gayla” to “Sharon” found on the inside front cover of one of our copies that we intended to give away, as I think her words are telling. Dated 3/19/76, the note reads, “I know you’ve wanted this book—I just hope you don’t need it! What are friends for if not to provide inspiration and encouragement to their peer friends so that’s why I’m in your life—if you’re tired of me you’d better get inspired and encouraged. Thanks for being my friend & remember if you need me after reading this, forget it!”

Posted in Forgiveness, Friendship, Interaction, and Evangelism, Repentance, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , | 28 Comments

When is a Mormon prophet speaking as a prophet? Nobody knows for sure.

QuestionMormon author Jana Riess continues to receive criticism for her public disagreement with certain statements from Mormon prophets and apostles. In analyzing this criticism on her blog, Dr. Riess recently asked, “When is a Mormon prophet speaking as a prophet? What does it mean to ‘follow the prophet’ in Mormonism?”

Lamenting the fact that some Mormons erroneously “accept on faith that every word that comes from the mouth of an apostle or prophet in a church setting is perfect and immutable truth,” Dr. Riess goes on to express her gratitude for these Church leaders and confirms that she does sustain them in their callings. She writes,

“That does not mean, however, that they cannot be wrong. They are culturally conditioned human beings, just as I am; they are influenced by their time and place in history, just as we all are. Prophets are inspired at times to give great counsel, but they are not infallible…”

She asks, “…how do we know they are speaking because they are moved by the Holy Ghost, and not simply because they are expressing their cultural views…?” Her answer: “Maybe we know because we have a moment of testimony ourselves, a stirring in our own heart that communicates the holiness of what has been said.”

Dr. Riess seems to be suggesting that Mormon prophets and apostles can be wrong about what they think the Holy Ghost is telling them (and is directing them to pass on to the members of the Church via their Church callings), while individual members don’t experience such ambiguity and will correctly understand what the Holy Ghost is telling them via personal testimony.

Think about this for a minute. If this is true, what is the reason for latter-day prophets and apostles? If a Mormon’s personal testimony is more trustworthy than the pronouncements of Mormon prophets and apostles, wouldn’t it be best to cut out the unstable middle-men and stick with one’s own personal revelation?

Dr. Riess’ idea is a highly tenuous one. She gives LDS prophets and apostles a pass because they are culturally conditioned human beings who are influenced by their time and place in history; thus, they are subject to mistaking their cultural views for divine inspiration. Yet, as she has pointed out, so is she. How can she be sure that her personal testimony is not the natural outcome of her own conditioning that she unfortunately mistakes for divine inspiration?

Dr. Riess does not address this question, but she does attempt to provide a solution to the is-he-speaking-as-a-prophet-or-not question for times when a personal testimony is not forthcoming. In those instances, she says, “we lean on the received tradition through scripture and the words of other leaders.” Dr. Riess quotes LDS Apostle Todd Christofferson:

“The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’: and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest.”

This begs the question. On what basis does Dr. Riess accept Mr. Christofferson’s counsel as true? He is “a culturally conditioned human being.” He is “not infallible.” He could be wrong. And so could “the body of the [Church] members,” as has been demonstrated all throughout the Mormon Church’s history.

Consider Joseph Smith’s failed Kirtland Bank revelation, Brigham Young’s Adam-God doctrine, John Taylor’s declarations about the never-ending doctrine of plural marriage, and the not-so-long-ago-abandoned racial discrimination that permeated the teachings of multiple Mormon prophets and apostles. The testimony of “the body of the members” in each of these cases (and others) was that these teachings were inspired by God — that the prophets and apostles were, in fact, “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” to say these things. At least, this is what Church members believed for a long time. And in the case of the Mormon teachings on the inferiority of the black race, Church members believed it (and acted on it) for more than a century! Yet “in due time” it was determined that many Church leaders had been merely “voicing their [personal] views” while mistaking them for divine counsel; so the Mormon Church changed course.

Now Mormons cross their fingers and hope that the leaders who jettisoned previously affirmed (official) LDS doctrines did so as moved upon by the Holy Ghost. But if not, in due time that knowledge will be made manifest.

Or not.

Think about this for a minute. If Dr. Riess is correct, this whole premise taught by Apostle Christofferson, instead of being great, inspired counsel, may be just the product of a fallible man mistaking his culturally-driven views for the voice of God.

If even Mormon prophets and apostles can’t tell whether they are being moved upon by the Holy Ghost, what hope is there that a rank-and-file Mormon will be able to discern the real source of his or her own “testimony”?

The biblical view of a true prophet of God is one that does not allow for these kinds of mistakes. A true prophet of God will not give his own views or popular opinion in place of God’s words (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). That, according to God, is reserved for false prophets (Jeremiah 23:25-32).

I encourage you, friends, to think about this for a minute.


Posted in Authority and Doctrine, LDS Church, Mormon Leaders, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

The Dedication of Louie B. Felt

In December of 1866, three months after they first met, 26-year-old Joseph H. Felt and 16-year-old Sarah Louisa (Louie) Bouton were married in Salt Lake City. Louie became the first Primary general president in the Mormon Church, serving in that capacity for 45 years. She is featured in an article found in the July 2014 Ensign magazine.

Louie B. FeltThe article praises Louie’s sacrifices, dedication, and life’s work with children in the Church. Though childless herself, according to the article, she “found fulfillment in loving, teaching, and serving others’ children.” Louie B. Felt sounds like remarkable woman. But she was dedicated to more than just children.

After nearly 10 years of childless marriage, Louie sat her husband down and suggested that he take a plural wife – a young woman from her ward that Louie cared deeply about, Alma Elizabeth (Lizzie) Mineer. It was Louie’s hope that Lizzie and Joseph would have the children she longed for, so on August 23, 1875 35-year-old Joseph wed the beautiful 20-year-old Swedish girl that Louisa loved. Lizzie and Joseph had 6 children together. Louie called Lizzie to serve with her in the Primary General Presidency as Louie’s First Counselor, where Lizzie served for six years. When Lizzie’s oldest daughter died in 1916, Louie took in her four children and raised them to adulthood. One biography I read said that Lizzie was at Louie’s side when Louie died in 1928. Louie and Lizzie were very close throughout their entire lives. But Lizzie isn’t mentioned in the Ensign article.

About six years after bringing Lizzie into her home as a sister wife in 1875, Louie again prevailed upon her husband to marry another of Louie’s young friends. In March of 1881 Elizabeth Liddell from Northumberland, England became the third wife of forty-one-year-old Joseph Felt, two days after her 20th birthday. Joseph and Elizabeth became the parents of 7 children.

Louie encouraged her husband to live The Principle of plural marriage, enduring hardship because of it. When the government began clamping down on polygamy, Louie’s family had to split up and flee their home, spending months in exile. And twice Louie was compelled to leave Utah Territory altogether to avoid having to testify against her husband.

maskPredictably, the Ensign left all of this out of its biographical article on Louie B. Felt.

Polygamy is controversial, but it is a defining element in the history of Mormonism. Everybody knows this (or they should). Mormon women like Louie sacrificed so very much in order to live the dictates of their religion. It seems a great disservice to their memories, to their sacrifices, and to their dedication, to sweep their true “family life” under the rug so that Mormonism can present a prettier face to the world — a face that continues to hide behind a fabricated mask.

Posted in Early Mormonism, LDS Church, Mormon History, Polygamy | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

What is Mormonism?

Last week it was discovered that when Google search engine users typed, “What is Mormonism?” into the search box, the answer provided was this:

“Mormonism is a religion that denies the deity of Jesus Christ. In this religion, He is demoted to being a mere mortal, a true offspring of Elohim and an equal to Lucifer, another of Elohim’s offspring. According to the Mormon doctrine: ‘Every man who reigns in celestial glory is a god to his dominions.’ “

As you can imagine, Mormons were unhappy about this and felt the answer was a misrepresentation of Mormon doctrine. So Latter-day Saints lobbied for a more accurate answer to the question. Their campaign resulted in a significant change. As reported by Deseret News, the new Google result for “What is Mormonism?” became:

“The doctrines and practices of the Mormon church based on the Book of Mormon.”

GoogleDefinitionAs far as I know, Mormons are not protesting this answer – even though it is no more accurate than the initial one quoted above. The problem with the new and improved answer is that the doctrines and practices of the Mormon Church are not based on the Book of Mormon.

For example, take a look at the Mormon Church’s teachings on the nature of God:

  • Mormonism says that there was a time when God the Father was not God, but was a mortal man moving toward godhood.
  • Mormonism says God the Father, in His current exalted state, has a body of flesh and bone.
  • Mormonism says that the God we human beings know is not the only God; He is one of many true Gods (but the only one we need to deal with).
  • Mormonism says that God the Father is the literal offspring of another God (who was the offspring of yet another God, etc.).

Book of MormonNone of these foundational LDS teachings on the nature of God is found in the Book of Mormon. In fact, the Book of Mormon teaches that God has always been God, that God is a spirit being, and that there is only one true God. Mormonism’s doctrines on God are not based on the Book of Mormon.

What about Mormonism’s “practices”? Consider these basic practices that are very important within the Mormon Church:

None of these basic LDS practices are found in the Book of Mormon – the book is silent on all of these things. Many of Mormonism’s key practices, therefore, are not based on the Book of Mormon.

So to say Mormonism is “The doctrines and practices of the Mormon church based on the Book of Mormon” is incorrect. But Mormonism is a complex system, difficult to define in a sentence or two. On MRM’s A-Z webpage we avoid defining Mormonism and stick with merely identifying it: The religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course, we devote most of the rest of the website to providing defining details of what comprises this religion.

Yet I believe there is value in giving interested people a short, accurate, defining answer to the question, “What is Mormonism?” But it’s much easier said than done. I tried, and though my definition is short and accurate, I’m not convinced it couldn’t be better:

Mormonism: A pseudo-Christian religion founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 and continually modified by successive Mormon leaders. Asserting that the Bible was corrupted and all of Christianity apostatized following the deaths of the biblical apostles, Mormonism’s teachings deviate significantly from the central doctrines of biblical Christianity.

There’s probably not one accurate definition that would make everyone happy, but why don’t you give it a shot? What short, defining answer to “What is Mormonism?” would make you happy?

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, Baptism for the Dead, Book of Mormon, God the Father, Great Apostasy, LDS Church, Misconceptions, Mormon Temple, Nature of God | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Member Inactivity in the Mormon Church

On Tuesday (23 September 2014) the blog nearing kolob took a look at recent Mormon missionary reports regarding localized Church inactivity. What follows is a summary of nearing kolob’s research findings (that they gleaned unscientifically from reading Mormon missionary blog posts).

  • South America Northwest area: Out of 1,800,000 members, 1,000,000 do not go to church.
  • Germany: After two stake presidents left the Church, 90% of the ward in Dortmund is inactive.
  • Santo Domingo West Mission, cities of Ocoa and Parra: Members are refusing callings, six former branch presidents have gone inactive, and the small 350-member branch of Parra is “basically all inactive.”
  • Arizona, Scottsdale: 75% of the reporting missionary’s ward is inactive.
  • West Virginia: Most of the wards and branches are comprised of inactive members.
  • Colombia, Cali: Most of the ward leaders are inactive.
  • Belgium/Netherlands: 75% of the reporting missionary’s ward is inactive.
  • Argentina, Mendoza: 60.8% of the ward is inactive.
  • Canada, Montreal: Most of the reporting missionary’s ward is inactive or borderline inactive.
  • Michigan, Detroit: The reporting missionary’s ward had only 30 people at a Sunday service because “the rest of the ward is inactive.”
  • Spain, Malaga: 70% of the reporting missionary’s ward is inactive.
  • Philippines, Quezon City: The reporting missionary suggests (exaggerates?) that 95% of her ward is inactive.
  • Philippines, Cebu: The majority of the ward is inactive.
  • Texas, Seagoville: An “enormous portion” of the reporting missionary’s ward is inactive.

Harvest timeWhile this information is likely troubling to LDS leaders, and perhaps encouraging to critics of Mormonism, it does not prove or disprove anything about the truthfulness of the religion. What it does tell us is that a significant number of Mormons are dissatisfied with their faith.

Friends, people who leave Mormonism for a life without Christ are no better off in the eternal scheme of things than people who remain LDS and follow a “different Jesus.” These inactivity reports are a poignant reminder that, as Christians, we do not seek merely to lead people away from Mormonism. We are called to a much greater purpose. Our hope and deepest longing is to walk with those who are spiritually lost, helping them along that rough but glorious pathway to new life in Christ. The great scope of Mormon inactivity does not reduce the size of our mission field one bit. Let us keep our shoulders to the plow until the field is ripe and ready to harvest.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone,
able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.
God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,
and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil,
after being captured by him to do his will.”
(2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Missionaries | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

President Monson’s Views Don’t Represent the Mormon Church?

I’ve often said that while the Mormon church claims to be the only church on the face of the earth that has the authority to speak for God, no one within it seems to speak with any authority.

Monson Prophets VoiceI received a phone call from my friend Russ East who drew my attention to a book titled A Prophet’s Voice: Messages from Thomas S. Monson. This book was published in 2012 by Deseret Book, a company owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course, Thomas S. Monson is the current prophet, seer, and revelator of the LDS Church. When his predecessor, Gordon B. Hinckley died, Monson was set apart as the church’s president on February 3, 2008.

Monson has spent much of his life as an employee of the LDS Church. His biography in the 2012 LDS Church Almanac says “for the 22 years prior to being set apart as 16th president of the Church on February 3, 2008, President Monson served as counselor to three presidents: second counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, and President Howard W. Hunter and, for 13 years, first counselor to President Gordon B. Hinckley.” Considering all the years that Monson has served in leadership positions, you would think that he should be familiar with the doctrines and history of the organization he currently leads. But apparently the church-owned Deseret Book does not want you to assume that. On the copyright page of A Prophet’s Voice is a standard disclaimer that reads, “The views expressed herein are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Church or Deseret Book.” You can read the disclaimer for yourself here.

The views expressed “do not necessarily represent the position of the Church”? I can expect such a disclaimer on something written by a Mormon missionary or, for that matter a BYU professor, but Thomas Monson? It might be argued that some of the material in the book was said when Monson was a mere apostle; in the course of my 40 years of talking with Mormons, I have heard some say that only the living prophets can be trusted with absolute certainty. But wait a minute, wasn’t Paul a mere apostle when he wrote Romans, Ephesians, or Galatians? If the LDS Church is, as it claims, a restoration of New Testament Christianity, why wouldn’t an LDS apostle’s words carry the same weight as a New Testament apostle?

Many of the talks included in Monson’s book were given in general conference. Regarding such messages, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Monson’s Second Counselor, said, “Listen to general conference with an ear willing to hear the voice of God through his latter-day prophets” (“Why do we need prophets?” Ensign, March 2012, p.5). If that was the case, there certainly seems to be no need for such a disclaimer for this section of the book.

Mormons insist that their leadership carries the same authority as prophets and apostles of the past. However, Amulek, a prophet mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Alma 11:22), said, “I shall say nothing which is contrary to the Spirit of the Lord.”

Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith stated, “When did I ever teach anything wrong from this stand? When was I ever confounded? I want to triumph in Israel before I depart hence and am no more seen. I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.368).

Four years before his death, Brigham Young declared, “If there is an elder here, or any member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who can bring up the first idea, the first sentence that I have delivered to the people as counsel that is wrong, I really wish they would do it; but they cannot do it, for the simple reason that I have never given counsel that is wrong; this is the reason” (August 31, 1873, Journal of Discourses 16:161).

I find it curious that no modern Mormon prophet makes such claims for himself. Instead, there always seems to be this odor of plausible deniability. It would have been helpful if the editors at Deseret Book supplied the portions of Monson’s comments that do not represent the position of the LDS church. But then, how could they unless the editors possess an authority higher than Monson’s? You see, in Mormonism there is no higher mortal authority than the church president (at least officially). No member in the LDS Church has the authority to correct the living prophet. Joseph Smith claimed, “I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.21).

So why the disclaimer? If God really desires a mortal prophet to guide the people, why undermine his authority with such a statement? If his words are to be taken with caution, Mormons should not be upset when we do.

Hear Eric Johnson and Bill McKeever discuss this topic on Viewpoint on Mormonism (2-part broadcast, aired September 22 and 23, 2014).

This article is reprinted from the September-October 2014 issue of Mormonism Researched.

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, Mormon Leaders | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments