Commandment-keeping and God’s Grace

ThrowbackThurs

It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on September 26, 2006.

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My October, 2006 edition of Ensign just arrived. I wish more of my Christian friends who think Mormonism is abandoning its heretical past would take closer notice of what the LDS Church is still teaching; for instance, in an article titled “Plain and Precious Truths Restored.” On page 53, Clyde Williams, BYU assistant professor of Ancient Scripture, emphasizes the importance of commandment-keeping if a person hopes to achieve God’s grace.

Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy (1857-1933) explained how the unconditional nature of the Atonement in regard to Adam’s transgression and its conditional nature regarding men’s personal sins is a doctrine “peculiar to ‘Mormonism’…and is derived almost wholly from the teachings of the Book of Mormon. In that distinction the beauty and glory of the Atonement, the balanced claims of justice and mercy shine forth as no where else, even in holy writ, — much less in the uninspired writings of men. It may be regarded as the ‘Mormon’ contribution to views of the Atonement of Christ, for it is to be found no where else except in Mormon literature.” The perfect relationship between the atoning grace of Christ and the obedient efforts of mankind is powerfully stated by Nephi: “We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). Furthermore, we are invited to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” When we deny ourselves “of all ungodliness,” then and only “then is his grace sufficient” for us (Moroni 10:32).

Think about it. Then and only then is his grace sufficient for us. There is nothing really new here that I haven’t heard before. Robert Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie said virtually the same thing when they also coupled 2 Nephi 25:23 with Moroni 10:32. They wrote, “Indeed, it is only after a person has so performed a lifetime of works and faithfulness — only after he has come to deny himself of all ungodliness and every worldly lust — that the grace of God, that spiritual increment of power, is efficacious” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon 1:295).

My question is, do these men really think they have “denied themselves of all ungodliness and every worldly lust”? If not, it seems clear by their own admission that the grace of God is not efficacious in their lives. If they think they have denied themselves of all ungodliness and every worldly lust, then I think they need to re-read 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Posted in Book of Mormon, Grace, Salvation, Worthiness | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Theosis: “The Mormon view is altogether different.”

LostFoundThis has been going on for far too long. BYU Professor Robert Millet, as part of his continuing apologetic for the Mormon doctrine of exaltation (i.e., faithful Mormons becoming Gods), perseveres in asserting that this doctrine did not originate with Mormonism, but was taught by the early (Christian) church fathers. Dr. Millet said as much in the 1998 book, Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues. He said it at a 1998 Church Educational System Fireside (as reported by Richard and Joan Ostling in The Power and the Promise: Mormon America, 312), and more recently, he said it as a guest lecturer at Fuller Theological Seminary. According to Mormon blogger Jana Riess who attended the class at Fuller, Dr. Millet

“was willing to be vulnerable and admit it outright when he didn’t know something – a humility which, when we’re talking about the speculative frontiers of Mormon theology, is a pretty important quality. ‘I don’t know what to do with that’ was what Bob said in all honesty about the first half of the uncanonized Lorenzo Snow couplet that ‘As man is; God once was.’ Mormons don’t focus on that, and we’re not at all sure we believe it.

“The second half, however – ‘As God is, man may become’ – is still alive and well in Mormon belief, and Bob showed how the idea of theosis or deification has roots in orthodox (and Orthodox, big O) Christian theology, quoting heavyweight Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, Athanasius, and Augustine.”

Dr. Millet is not the only Mormon to make this assertion, of course. Mormon author Stephen Robinson has suggested it in at least a couple of his books; Mormon apologist Daniel Peterson called Joseph Smith’s restoration of this “authentically ancient Judeo-Christian doctrine” a miracle; the Mormon Church notes the teachings of the patristic fathers in its 2014 essay “Becoming Like God”; and rank and file Mormons comfortably repeat the claim that the Mormon doctrine of exaltation is believed by Orthodox Christians (for example, one commenter on another blog discussing Mormonism noted, “you have taken an idea that each Mormon will get his own planet, yes it was said by an authority of the Church. But no one counts that particular statement as a full explanation of our understanding of Theosis. As you well know Orthodox Christians have a similar understanding of that of Latter day Saints.”).

trinity-1170x380In fact, while some (Christian) church fathers spoke of believers’ “deification,” the doctrine they spoke of (theosis) does not parallel the Mormon doctrine of exaltation.

By way of explanation, Orthodox Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, Bishop of Diokleia, said:

“It is clear to me that C.S. Lewis understands the doctrine of theosis in essentially the same way as the Orthodox Church does; indeed, he probably derived his viewpoint from reading such Greek Fathers as Athanasius. On the other hand, the Mormon view is altogether different from what Lewis and the Orthodox Church believe.

“Orthodox theology emphasizes that there is a clear distinction — in the current phraseology ‘an ontological gap’ — between God the Creator and the creation which He has made. This ‘gap’ is bridged by divine love, supremely through the Incarnation, but it is not abolished. The distinction between the Uncreated and the created still remains. The Incarnation is a unique event.

“‘Deification,’ on the Orthodox understanding, is to be interpreted in terms of the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. Human beings share by God’s mercy in His energies but not in His essence, either in the present age or in the age to come. That is to say, in theosis the saints participate in the grace, power, and glory of God, but they never become God by essence.” (Quoted in Ostling, 311)

Christian theologian Rob Bowman wrote a 5-part blog series exploring the problems inherent in the claim that the Mormon doctrine of exaltation is a restoration of an early Christian doctrine as taught by the patristic fathers. He concluded,

“Joseph Smith’s doctrine of exaltation was not in any meaningful sense a restoration of a lost doctrine of theosis. The doctrine of theosis was never lost, and the doctrine of deification taught by the church fathers was radically different from the doctrine Joseph Smith taught. Joseph taught that God was once a mortal man who became exalted to Godhood, and that we can do the same thing and become Gods of the same nature and powers as our God. The church fathers taught that God is the only uncreated, eternal Being, existing eternally and unchangeably as God, and that he created human beings to become ‘gods’ in the sense that they may be adopted as his children and receive immortality as the gift of his grace.”

It’s very disappointing that the Mormon Church and its representatives continue to mislead people with faulty assertions regarding the Christian doctrines related to the nature of God. It’s disappointing, but sadly, not at all surprising.

For more information on the important doctrine of theosis and continuing unsupportable Mormon claims, see:

Godhood and Theosis by Bill McKeever
Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) by Rob Bowman
Orthodox Wiki: Theosis

Posted in Christianity, Early Christianity, Lorenzo Snow, Nature of Man, Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

You have 90 seconds – describe Mormonism

In June (2015) Deseret News posted a light-hearted article recounting journalist Jerry Johnston’s encounter with a street poet. The poet sits on the sidewalk with a sign that says, “Pick a topic, get a poem.” For a donation of any amount, the poet will spend 90 seconds of his life writing a custom-made poem for his benefactor.

Antoine Berard, street poet. Photo by Carla Coulson.

Antoine Berard, street poet. Photo by Carla Coulson.

Mr. Johnston asked for a poem about Mormons. The resulting verse talked about devotion, dedication, faith and communion. Mr. Johnston described the prose:

“The poem seemed a tad self-conscious and had a hint of pandering about it. And I’m sure with a rewrite, he’d clean up a couple of the clunky lines. But hey, the dude tried to speak the truth.

“And in this day and age, getting a slice of truth for $5 — even truth tossed off by a resourceful, out-of-work liberal arts graduate — has the feel of a real bargain.”

I thought it might be fun for us to take up Mr. Johnston’s challenge to the street poet. While the article was titled, “You have 90 seconds – describe the Mormons,” here on Mormon Coffee let’s change it up a bit: You have 90 seconds – describe Mormonism.

I undertake this challenge to describe Mormonism all the time (although I take considerably longer than 90 seconds to do it!). So today I’m bowing out and giving the greater Mormon Coffee community the floor. You can write poetry if you’d like, but if you are more comfortable with a different form of communication, go for it. The goal is for you to share “a slice of truth” in describing Mormonism.

And this will be an even better bargain than Mr. Johnston got from the street poet because, with regard to the Christian commenters at Mormon Coffee, not only do they endeavor to speak truth completely free of charge, but the truth they speak has the incredible potential to set people free.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
-John 8:32

Posted in Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Indefensible Book of Mormon

Book of MormonEvangelical professor and author Philip Jenkins, in addition to teaching and authoring books, blogs at The Anxious Bench. He has published an interesting series of articles over the past few months that examine the Book of Mormon as a historical text. The series began when he used the Book of Mormon as an illustration of previous posts discussing “fringe and mainstream ideas in scholarship.” In his May 17 blog he wrote,

“If I look at the Book of Mormon as a historical text, as opposed to a spiritual document, it is simply not factually correct in any particular. In some controversial exchanges, I have been surprised to find how many clearly educated and literate Mormons think that the work can be defended as a work of history and archaeology. It can’t. The reason mainstream historians and scholars do not point out that fact more often is either that they are unaware of the book’s claims, or that they simply see no need to waste time on something so blatantly fictitious. This really is not debatable.

“Let me begin with a basic principle of using evidence. I have no obligation to disprove the Book of Mormon, or indeed any religious text, because logically, nobody can prove a negative. I do not need to pick through the book and highlight every anachronism or error, sparking trench warfare with apologists who have built up elaborate defenses against every charge and cavil. Rather, it is up to anyone who believes in that Book to justify its authenticity, by producing positive arguments in its favor. If you are basing statements on the evidence of mystical gold plates that are not available for scholarly examination because they were taken up to Heaven, then you are making utterly extraordinary claims that demand extraordinary evidence. I am open to the concept of miracle, but the burden of proof clearly rests with the person making the claims.”

In subsequent posts Dr. Jenkins covers a lot of ground, addressing such things as:

  • “Does the Book [of Mormon] contain a statement or idea about the New World that Joseph Smith could not have known at the time, but which has subsequently been validated by archaeological or historical research?” (No.)
  • Will the fact that “the Book of Mormon does not contain literal historical truth” impact the growth of the Mormon Church? (No.)
  • “What about Nahom” as a “verifiable Book of Mormon site”? (It’s not.)
  • Is there “genetic evidence” to support the Book of Mormon’s “claims to literal historicity”? (No.)
  • “Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon?” (No.)
  • “Without such positive, objective, verifiable evidence” are there any “grounds to support or advocate the historicity of the Book of Mormon other than religious faith”? (No.)
  • Though Mormons “can’t produce a word of concrete evidence for the Book of Mormon,” isn’t it true that “the same issues apply to the Bible as well”? (No.)

Dr. Jenkins provides detailed and sound reasoning for the positions he affirms, making his series of articles well worth the time it takes to read them.

Much of the series has been driven by challenges coming from Mormon apologists. I must admit that I have not read these opposing Mormon blogs (even though Dr. Jenkins urges readers to do so), but I have read Daniel Peterson’s related “Defending the Faith” column that appeared in Deseret News on July 16, “Book of Mormon apologetics and scholarship.” Here Dr. Peterson seemingly replies to Dr. Jenkins though he doesn’t name him, instead citing unidentified “critics of the Book of Mormon” who

“demand its advocates provide the strongest single piece of archaeological evidence — or that they name, say, the top three pieces of such evidence. That, in the judgment of those critics, should prove its historical authenticity to an unbiased observer.”

It could be that Dr. Peterson has other critics in mind, but given the fact that he published his column immediately following Dr. Jenkins’ repeated requests for “one single piece of credible evidence that might confirm the Book of Mormon’s account of the New World,” it seems reasonable to frame Dr. Peterson’s column in that context. And if we do that, some interesting things emerge.

BOM HistoryIn his first paragraph, Dr. Peterson addresses his apologetic to a critic’s demand for evidence that “proves” the Book of Mormon’s “historical authenticity to an unbiased observer.” He broadens the nature of that “demand” in the following paragraph when he suggests Book of Mormon advocates are asked to prove the antiquity of the book “beyond a reasonable doubt, to the satisfaction of everyone.” This, of course, is not at all what Dr. Jenkins has asked for. Reiterating what he has requested over the course of his blog series, Dr. Jenkins wrote on July 12,

“…if you want to claim truth for a single word of the Book of Mormon, then prove it. Don’t try and prove the whole thing, obviously, that’s an impossible task. But go ahead and give me one piece of credible evidence that at some point before Columbus, the New World was home to some people, who were derived from the Middle East, who were either Semitic or Semitic-derived. Show me one piece of evidence (not rooted in religious faith) for the existence of such ethnicities, nations, cultures or languages in the New World.

“Particularly, show me one piece of worthwhile evidence for this thing about them keeping up some form of Israelite religion…

“…let me set the bar really low. Don’t bother trying to track down an individual or a name or a specific place, just show me anything suggesting the mere existence of that Middle Eastern linked community in the New World. For just one village, one family, one group.”

This seems like a reasonable request given the historical claims made by the Book of Mormon (and Mormon apologists), but Dr. Peterson doesn’t think so. He says Mormons aren’t about that. Instead, they are

“patiently engaged in amassing a cumulative case that will show the Book of Mormon congruent with what mainstream scholarship is disclosing about the ancient Near Eastern environment from which the Jaredites, Lehites and Mulekites are said to have emerged and about the pre-Columbian American environment in which they lived out their histories.

“…But no single piece of evidence is, or is likely to be, decisive by itself. Nor will three or five or 10 such pieces likely ‘prove’ the Book of Mormon true, overcoming all resistance.”

So now, rather than asking for one piece of physical evidence that suggests the mere existence of “that Middle Eastern linked community in the New World,” Dr. Peterson claims critics want proof for the Book of Mormon that will satisfy “an unbiased observer,” “beyond a reasonable doubt, to the satisfaction of everyone,” that will “overcome all resistance.” In fact, what Dr. Peterson is saying (in a round about way) is that no piece of credible physical evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon exists. Which is exactly what Dr. Jenkins has been arguing.

Dr. Peterson goes on to unwittingly agree with Dr. Jenkins on another point when he argues that Mormons have “nonarchaeological evidence for taking seriously [the Book of Mormon’s] claim to antiquity.” For this, Dr. Peterson cites the claims the book makes for itself (“That, in itself, doesn’t prove that it actually was, but it certainly provides a reason to consider the idea.”); statements from “seemingly sane, honest, reliable witnesses” that “attest to the existence of purportedly ancient golden plates” (“They were produced by somebody.”); and the “characteristics of the book” that “seem to place its creation beyond the capacity of any 19th century person who’s been plausibly suggested as its author.” Dr. Peterson cannot provide any archeological evidence, so he falls back on “nonarchaeological evidence,” which has its root in his religious faith. Dr. Peterson’s argument supports Dr. Jenkins’ stated position:

“The Book is a product of religious faith, and must be received on the basis of religious faith. It has nothing to do with scholarship.”

The Bible and the Book of MormonDr. Jenkins has found that Mormons don’t want to accept his conclusion, so they argue the point with all sorts of diversions. To Dr. Peterson’s credit, he did not use one rhetorical tactic that Dr. Jenkins has faced from other Mormon apologists. Dr. Jenkins explains this tactic:

“…he can’t produce a word of concrete evidence for the Book of Mormon, but (he claims) the same issues apply to the Bible as well! Christian claims depend just as much on faith as does the Book of Mormon! This has the rhetorical bonus of trying to divert the discussion from the Book of Mormon, where his views are completely untenable and indefensible, and off to the Bible, where the real, serious literature is immense. This art of diversion and obfuscation is a principal goal of ‘Ancient Book of Mormon Studies’ if not its chief raison d’etre.

“Let me explain why his Biblical analogy is wholly bogus.”

Dr. Jenkins goes on in this blog post to present fact after fact that supports the historicity of the Bible (you really should read it). He demonstrates that the Mormon apologetic analogy is “Night and day, black and white, apples and oranges.”

Some Mormons think God designed true religion as something that needs to be embraced in the absence of evidence — because the presence of evidence removes the need for faith. But Jesus Himself modeled the value of physical evidence when He presented His followers with “many proofs” of His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Christians do have faith; Christians also have evidences that support and inform their faith. The two are not mutually exclusive; God designed them to work together. But in Mormonism, faith and evidence are very often hostile to one another. Evidence (or the lack thereof) speaks against the Book of Mormon, not for it. Truly, the Book of Mormon as a historical text is indefensible.

Posted in Book of Mormon | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Matthew for Mormons

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Posted in Bible, Christianity, Jesus Christ | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Mormonism hurts.

The topic of the Mormon Church and race has been in the news again this summer. The June anniversary of the Church’s 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban passed mostly unnoticed, but a week and a half later, when the Church announced plans to index the records of 4 million freed slaves, people started talking.

Between these two events, on June 16th, Thinker of Thoughts (at the Thoughts on Things and Stuff blog) posted an article highlighting a 1967 letter written to President David O. McKay by a black LDS member (David Gillispie).

African BoyI have often thought of the Mormon priesthood ban in terms of the temple – black Mormons were barred from receiving the ordinances of salvation and thereby destined, according to Mormonism, to an endless life of servitude in Mormonism’s celestial kingdom (if righteous enough to achieve even that). But when I read the David Gillispie letter, I came to understand that I had pretty much missed the breadth and the depth of the anguish Mormons suffered due to the priesthood ban.

At Mormon Coffee we talk often about how LDS doctrine hurts people spiritually as it pushes them away from the one true God and their only hope that is offered in Christ. But Mormonism hurts people where they live as well. The burdens that Mormonism places on members are heavy; it is heartbreaking to see the Mormon people worn out from wrestling with the yoke they must wear.

Read David Gillispie’s letter, my friends, and weep for the people who are deceived by Mormonism. Jesus offers them rest – a light burden and an easy yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). Pray that they will set their burdens down and turn to Him.

Ogden, Utah
June 4, 1967

Dear Beloved, President McKay:

I too, have been born of goodly parents and have been taught to love The Lord and to live as He wants us to. I Have spent many wonderful and happy hours attending Sunday School, Primary and other church activities with my friends. There we have been taught of the love of Christ for little Children and those who love The Lord. I remember what great joy and happiness filled me when I reached my eighth year and was taken into the waters of baptism. I remember talking with some of my friends, that day, as we waited for it to happen. Some of them expressed fear at the thought of being held under the water, yet I had no such feeling because, I could remember so strongly the teachings of my mother and sister Wilson, my Primary teacher. They had taught me that Jesus loved me and I knew that if Jesus loved me there was nothing to fear in this whole, wide, wonderful world as long as I loved Him in return.

After my baptism, I remember, I was so happy I thought I heard angels singing. Then, the even more wonderful feeling that came to me as I sat and felt Bishops Jensen’s hands on my head as he confirmed me a member of the church and promised me the gift of the Holy Ghost, if I would do what was right in the sight of God. The years that followed have been wonderful and happy ones as I have felt myself grow in the Gospel under the wise teaching of my parents and others.

As I now look back and recall how quick the time passed and I was twelve years old, this age is a mile stone in the life of most Mormon Boys. It is an age when a whole new life begins to open up. I soon passed my twelth year of life, I saw my friends receiving the Aaronic Priesthood and become active in their Deacon’s Quorum, but for some reason I was not there with these friends with whom I had enjoyed Primary so much. They were able to learn their new duties in the Church by passing the Sacrament, the emblems of Christ’s suffering on the Cross of Crucifixion for me, yet, I couldn’t join my friends in this. They were able to bring the Fast Offerings of the faithful members to the Bishop, this I could not do. They were having quorum parties with their advisor, but I couldn’t join with them. I could still go to Sunday School and MIA where I joined the Boy Scout Troop and there had the association of my friends.

I saw my friends advancing through the quorums of the Priesthood, learning more ways of service Although I was in Sunday School and advancing through the ranks of scouting, I often felt left out because they had the brotherhood of the Priesthood. As I grew older I sometimes sensed a feeling of distance on the part of these, my friends, who had been so dear to me in my earlier years.

As the years passed I found myself attending fewer Sunday Schools and MIA meetings . Soon I was nineteen and I saw my life long friends being prepared to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood as well as preparing to go an missions for the Church. I sensed disappointment as I realized I could not be a missionary  and carry the wonderful knowledge of Christ to others who don’t know Him as I had learned to know Him in my childhood.

As these my friends left to serve The Lord as missionaries, I lost my last real ties with the Church and I began drifting away, I seemed to have the feeling that I had reached a spiritual ‘dead end’.

I continued my education in college, where I made many new friends. I tried to be active in Institute even as I had been in Seminary, but it all seemed so different. I guess it was because those childhood friends were no longer with me. I found myself associating more and more with young people who did not have the same ideals as my Mormon heritage had given to me. But, at least, there was no gulf between us because I didn’t hold the priesthood, since they didn’t either. As much as I seemed to enjoy these new found friends, life with them was lacking something. It just wasn’t like it used to be when I was active in church.

One day, quite by chance, I met Lisa, a wonderful girl and we seemed to have so much in common. As we got better acquainted we found that both of us had been taught much the same when it came to an understanding of the love of Christ and of His great sacrifice made to open the way whereby we can come back into his presence. The months passed and my heart filled with happiness and thanksgiving for having found such a wonderful girl as Lisa. We began to make plans for our marriage. Some of those old friends who had by now returned from their missions and completed a couple of quarters of college work, were also making plans for marriage . But, what different plans they were. Oh, to be sure, we had Bishop Thomas perform our ceremony, but my old friends were taking their brides to the Temple, were dressed in the robes of the Holy Priesthood they were sealed for all time and eternity, by the power and authority of God. Bishop Thomas, by the power invested in him under the laws of the State of Utah married us for ‘until death do you part’. Why the difference? I knew because I had been taught that the Temple Sealing is reserved for holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and that I did not have.

As my old friends continued to return, Lisa and I renewed old friendships and soon we attended church more frequently. I saw these old friends bearing their testimonies and relating the wonderful experiences of their missions. Their personalities glowed with fine qualities of leadership and I saw them being called to positions in the ward and the stake. On the other hand my spiritual progress seemed slow. At times I seemed to be at a stand still. Lacking the priesthood made it impossible for me to be called to serve in any responsibility of leadership in the Church. Because I was an Eagle Scout I did have an assignment with the Scouts in MIA which brought me great joy.

The day approached when my wonderful and faithful wife, Lisa, gave birth to our first child. After the birth of our son she became very ill. The Elders were called in. They administered to her, while all I could do was stand at the foot of the bed and watch and pray. Because of our faith, the mercy of God and the power of the priesthood, of these friends, exercised in her behalf, she was healed and soon took her place in our home again. She has been the type of mother to our children as mine was to me, teaching them to pray and trust in the Lord.

The day arrived when our first born son, David, was to receive his name and a father’s blessing. What a dark cloud seemed to hang over me as I realized I could not give him that blessing because, this too is reserved for the Priesthood holder. Our wonderful Ward Teacher, brother Drayton, carried our son to the front of the chapel. In the circle were friends holding my son, and a life long friend giving him a Father’s blessing by proxie. I was denied the privilege that some fathers have had since the dawn of creation, because I lacked the Holy Priesthood. I could sense, written upon my face, a feeling of sadness and yes, for the first time, some bitterness.

With the passing of time a second child, a beautiful girl, was given to us. She was a lovely child and because of her beauty and cheerful nature many were the friends who sought her companionship as she grew. Little did we realize the short life she was to share with us and others. At the age of six she was suddenly taken from us. A cold chill coursed down my spine as one day my wife said: “We will not be able to raise our little Jill in the here-after as will the Randall family who lost their daughter last year.” They were sealed in the Temple and their children were sealed to them. Since our marrige will disolve when we die, we’ll not have need for children and our family life.

Nearly eight years have elapsed since our son was born. He is now ready for baptism. He has been faithful in his attendance at Sunday School and Primary and I seem in him a reflection of my own happy childhood, I contemplate and wonder about his future, will it be like mine has been? I find myself praying that he will not lack the blessings of the Priesthood as I have. Again, as it has so many times in the past; my friends will substitute for me In the baptism  and confirmation of my son, again I will stand on the outside.

Now, I feel developing within me a spirit of bitterness the likes of which I have never felt before. I find myself on my knees, again and again, asking God to free my soul of this canker. But it persists. I see others who have recently been baptized into the Church, and after a few short weeks receive the Priesthood. Now we have ‘Project Temple’ organized in our stake and I see men with whom I have worked and associated for years being given special lessons and consessions. Men who have been indifferent to the Church; men who have had their nasty little jokes about the Word of Wisdom, about Tithing and many of the things that have meant so much to me. Men who had received the Priesthood in their youth but who denied it’s power and through their own ignorance had damned themselves far more than I who had not received the Priesthood. Men, who though they held the Melchizedek Priesthood had thought so little of the women they loved that they denied them the blessings of a Temple Sealing. Yes, and some who had scoffed so much at the Church that they were married by a justice of the peace. Now, I see these men suddenly so swept up in a wave of religious revival that after twelve short weeks of special lessons are to be given the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood and take their wives and children to the Temple where they will be endowed and sealed. This, in spite of my faithfulness, I am denied.

I begin to wonder of the justice of such things and as I wonder the realization strikes me like ten thousand bolts of lightning. I see myself a man, a child of God, one who knows of the great love and mercy of God; one who knows of the great redemptive powers of Jesus Christ, one who knows of the tremendous power embodied in the Holy Priesthood of God. Yes, one who knows that without the Holy Priesthood there can be no Church, nor can man reach perfection, eternal life and Celestial Exaltation.

As these truths dawn on me, even as they have many times before, I find myself shocked out of this nightmarish day dream with the realization that it is not mearly a bad dream, but it is the truth. I realize more fully than ever before that as things stand now, I cannot receive the Holy Priesthood nor can my son for we are black, and the blood of Caine courses through and contaminates our mortal bodies. One question stands foremost in my mind, is this the will of God or the will of man?

Sincerely yours,
David Gillispie

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Mormon History, Priesthood | Tagged , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

The Transfiguration of Brigham Young

ThrowbackThurs

It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on August 8, 2011.

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When Joseph Smith died in June of 1844, the Mormon Church faced a succession crisis. Mormon historian Richard S. Van Wagoner explained,

“Despite frequent kidnaping and assassination attempts, Joseph Smith established no firm policies regarding presidential succession in the event of his death. The resulting confusion threw the prophetic transition into turmoil. He simply had not expected to die at thirty-eight. Never given to full disclosure to any man or woman, the prophet’s public and private statements between 1834-44 suggested at least eight different methods for succession, each pointing to different successors with some claims to validity.” (“The Making of a Mormon Myth: The 1844 Transfiguration of Brigham Young,” Dialog, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter 1995, 4, pdf)

Many people vied for the office of President of the Church left vacant at Smith’s death. The two main contenders, however, were Sidney Rigdon (First Counselor in the First Presidency) and Brigham Young (President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Church members were divided and argued over the identity of Smith’s successor. A special meeting was called in Nauvoo for August 8, 1844 to decide who would lead the floundering church. Sidney Rigdon spoke and made a case for his ascension to the office of President. Then Brigham Young spoke in behalf of The Twelve. It was then that the miracle occurred.

“If Joseph had risen from the dead and again spoken in their hearing, the effect could not have been more startling than it was to many present at that meeting, it was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard, but it seemed in the eyes of the people as if it were the very person of Joseph which stood before them. A more wonderful and miraculous event than was wrought that day in the presence of that congregation, we never heard of. The Lord gave His people a testimony that left no room for doubt as to who was the man chosen to lead them. They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy. There had been gloom, and in some hearts, probably, doubt and uncertainty, but now it was plain to all that here was the man upon whom the Lord had bestowed the necessary authority to act in their midst in Joseph’s stead. On that occasion Brigham Young seemed to be transformed, and a change such as that we read of in the scriptures as happening to the Prophet Elisha, when Elijah was translated in his presence, seemed to have taken place with him. The mantle of the Prophet Joseph had been left for Brigham. … The people said one to another: ‘The spirit of Joseph rests on Brigham’: they knew that he was the man chosen to lead them and they honored him accordingly.” (George Q. Cannon, circa 1864, quoted in Van Wagoner, 14-15)

Except that they didn’t.

As Mr. Van Wagoner points out, on August 8, 1844 the Latter-day Saints chose a group of men, not one man, to lead the church when they voted in favor of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles as their leading authority. Brigham Young was not sustained as the President of the Church until December 1847, and this was not without opposition and argument. The historical facts actually suggest that Brigham Young was not chosen to lead the church that day, for one week later, on August 15, the Twelve published an epistle that said,

“You are now without a prophet present with you in the flesh to guide you. … Let no man presume for a moment that [Joseph Smith’s] place will be filled by another; for, remember he stands in his own place, and always will.” (Times and Seasons 5 (15 Aug. 1844): 618, quoted in Van Wagoner, 14)

Furthermore, history also suggests that there was no transfiguration on August 8 to guide the people toward God’s will in the matter. According to Mr. Van Wagoner, “no known contemporary record supports a supernatural occurrence” at either the morning or afternoon August 8 meetings, but there are plenty of accounts from later years that mention Brigham Young’s transfiguration.

“The earliest detailed accounts of a purported transfiguration did not begin to surface until long after the Saints were settled in the Great Basin. The fact that no account was included in ‘Joseph Smith’s History,’ completed in August 1856, or in The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, completed before his 1857 death, suggests that the myth was not fully developed by this period. The first public reference to a ‘transfiguration’ may have been a 19 July 1857 statement by Albert Carrington before a huge gathering of Saints that ‘he could not tell [Brigham Young] from Joseph Smith’ when Young ‘was speaking in the stand in Nauvoo’ during the 8 August 1844 convocation…

“Retrospective retellings of a ‘transfiguration,’ in a variety of forms, can be found in dozens of sources, yet no two seem to agree on precise details.” (16-17)

Some who later claimed to have witnessed the transfiguration were not actually in Nauvoo on August 8, 1844. John D. Lee said he saw and heard a strong resemblance in Brigham Young to Joseph Smith “at that time,” but he did not arrive in Nauvoo until August 20. In 1869 Orson Hyde, an apostle of the Mormon Church, described the famous August 8 meeting and his participation in it. He said,

“We went among the congregation…he [Brigham] spoke, and his words went through me like electricity…This is my testimony; it was not only the voice of Joseph, but there were the features, the gestures and even the stature of Joseph before us in the person of Brigham.” (Journal of Discourse 13:181)

Mr. Hyde’s testimony is astonishing – because he was not in Nauvoo on August 8, but rather arrived in the city five days later.

One contemporary account of the transfiguration of Brigham Young was found in the diary of Mormon George Laub, thought to have been written in 1846. Mr. Van Wagoner explains, “This small tan-colored leather diary, which has misled many scholars, has now been determined to be a copy of the original by Laub himself, with additions.” The original diary has also been discovered, and it contains no reference to Brigham Young’s transfiguration.

Mr. Van Wagoner sums up,

“Apostles Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and Wilford Woodruff, all of whom made 8 August 1844 entries in their diaries, make no reference to an epiphany. Such an event, had it truly transpired, would have stood at the apogee of world history, a physical metamorphosis unsurpassed except for the transfiguration and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet neither the Times and Seasons nor the Nauvoo Neighbor, local newspapers owned by the church, mention such a wonder. Neither do the 1844 and 1845 accounts of Jedediah Grant and Orson Hyde, specifically written to refute Sidney Rigdon’s robust challenge to the Quorum of Twelve’s succession claims.” (22)

The transfiguration of Brigham Young is but another Mormon myth used to undergird the validity of a church that has no solid foundation. Mormons, consider the words of Seventy B.H. Roberts:

“…since these things are myth and our Church has permitted them to be perpetuated … might not the other fundamentals to the actual story of the Church, the things in which it had its origin, might they not all be lies and nothing but lies.” (quoted in Van Wagoner, 24)

Posted in Brigham Young, Mormon Leaders | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Mormon Church-Approved Outreach

LDS MissionariesMormon missionaries have been responding to the Broadway show, “The Book of Mormon,” all across the country. The Fresno Bee recently explained that Mormon missionaries stand outside of the theatre before and/or after the show to answer people’s questions and hand out copies of the actual Book of Mormon.

This news story stood out to me because of the flack I’ve taken over the years for doing a similar thing outside of various Mormon venues; that is, being available before and/or after Mormon pageants to answer people’s questions and hand out literature. Many Mormons have told me I should not be there. They say it’s disrespectful and ruins their family outings. They often say, “We wouldn’t do that to you!”

But Mormon missionaries are engaging in a similar outreach approach, and LDS Church leadership whole-heartedly approves it!

Certainly there are some differences between what I do at a Christian outreach and what the Mormon missionaries are doing, but the basic idea is the same. So with that in mind, I’ve rewritten some portions of the Fresno Bee article to reflect how it would read if the journalist was writing about a typical Christian outreach at a Mormon venue. (I’ve chosen the annual Christian outreach in Nauvoo, Illinois for my example.)

Anyone planning to attend the [City of Joseph Pageant] in [Nauvoo] next week…should be prepared to see missionaries, real ones, as they approach the [pageant grounds].

They won’t be picketing, just politely offering information about what [the LDS] religion is really about…

Since the [City of Joseph pageant] opened in [Nauvoo]… the [Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center] has encouraged its [missionaries] to conduct themselves with “dignity and thoughtfulness” in their response to the show…

[Steve Dealy], who presides over the [Visitors Center], home base for [outreach] missionaries from around the world, said a number of missionaries will be handing out copies of [The Nauvoo Times] outside the [pageant grounds].

1July08[Christian] missionaries have done the same in many other cities where [LDS pageants have] toured. Based on their experiences, [the director] expects to give away between [4,000 and 5,000] copies…

“We don’t want to harass anybody. We just want to be available.”

…a public affairs assistant for the [ministry] in Nauvoo, said of the [pageant]: “We’re not really saying we’re against it. We are just saying, ‘Hey, if you want to know the true story of [Mormonism], we’d love to tell you that.’”

“Of course, [the pageant] isn’t reality,” [a Christian might say] of the musical, “and it’s the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously — if they leave [the pageant] believing that Mormons really are [biblical Christians].”

While the [Christian ministry] isn’t “opposed” to the musical,… “we would like the truth to be known about what these guys (Mormon missionaries) … really [want you to believe].”

I’ve never read a traditional media story that reports so positively on Christian outreaches at Mormon events. But if such a news story were written as above, it would be true. Even so, Mormons might not see it that way, perhaps objecting that the Mormon missionaries are merely providing a positive response, via their scripture, to a show that mocks their faith; while Christian missionaries are distributing negative literature that criticizes the Mormon Church.*

Well, without getting too far into this anticipated objection, I’ll just say that LDS pageants (and temples) mock my faith, and the Book of Mormon (that is handed out by LDS missionaries) criticizes my beliefs. There is no difference of substance between the Mormon outreach and the Christian outreach here.

Yet there is a difference worth mentioning. The Broadway musical aims only to entertain audiences. It is a musical parody that never pretends to be anything else: it makes no truth claims. But Mormon pageants and temple open houses aim to gain converts to Mormonism — proselytizing is a prime element of each event. In addition, Mormonism makes many truth claims; and these declared “truths” have the potential to negatively impact a person through all eternity.

Free Speech at MantiBecause the stakes are so high, Christians often stand outside Mormon events, engaging in evangelism with a commitment to be “kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting…opponents with gentleness.” We hope and pray that by doing this, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

Christians have been doing this for decades, patiently enduring accusations and denunciations from Mormons and their friends. Now, at long last, we have LDS leadership’s tacit approval of our outreach approach. I hope this means we can now move past the common Mormon objections to our outreach presence, and instead talk about what really matters.

*Just to be clear, the literature I’ve handed out during these Christian outreaches has certainly discussed Mormon doctrines and history, but it also explains my own, biblical faith. The format of this literature is very often a compare-and-contrast approach.)

Posted in Christianity, Friendship, Interaction, and Evangelism, LDS Church, Mormon Missionaries | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates

mormon-goldplates1Joseph Smith, the first Mormon Prophet, claimed he was divinely guided to a set of gold plates that were buried near his home in the state of New York. After taking possession of these plates, according to the official LDS account, Joseph translated the ancient writing they contained, which resulted in the Book of Mormon.

Using eyewitness accounts in the video below, researcher Dan Vogel takes a look at the story of Joseph Smith bringing the gold plates home from where they were buried in the Hill Cumorah. Mr. Vogel’s telling of the story begins with Joseph’s employment as a money-digger in 1826, and continues through December of 1827 when Joseph and his wife Emma fled town with the gold plates secreted in a barrel of beans.

In examining these few months of Mormon Church history, Mr. Vogel notes discrepancies and suggests some alternate explanations for certain claims made in the Mormon Church’s official narrative.

As I watched this 46-minute video, I couldn’t help but think that a Mormon’s reaction to the information might be, “Those darn plates!” If Joseph Smith had merely claimed a vision or revelation, the story would be much less problematic for Mormons to maintain (of course, the Book of Mormon itself would still be fraught with problems).

But because Joseph Smith brought tangible evidence into the mix in the form of the alleged gold plates, as well as his detailed efforts to gain and keep possession of them, many objective facts exist by which to measure the veracity of his story. From the weight and material of the plates, to the “spectacles” found with the plates, to Joseph’s injury fighting off attackers, to the efforts of evil men trying to steal Joseph’s treasure, Mr. Vogel presents various historical voices that fill out and go beyond the carefully crafted official Mormon narrative. These eyewitness accounts serve to contextualize and expand the viewer’s understanding of events comprising the birth of Mormonism, but they also tend to elicit troublesome questions for thinkers. Those darn plates!

“Joseph Smith claimed he translated the Book of Mormon from anciently engraved gold plates, which he took from a stone box in the side of a hill near his home in Manchester, New York. Claiming that he was forbidden by God to show them to anyone, Smith kept the plates carefully wrapped in a cloth or concealed in a wooden box. Believers accept this as God’s way of requiring faith, whereas skeptics suspect Smith constructed a set of plates that couldn’t pass visual inspection. This is the story of Joseph Smith’s bringing the plates home in September 1827.”

Posted in Book of Mormon, Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Mormon History | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The temple: The carrot for Mormon obedience

Over the past few years I have noticed a correlation between the content given in LDS Church magazines and the assigned readings in the church manual series Teachings of Presidents of the Church. Although it is brought up regularly in church talks and publications, the topic of the temple has been made into the prevailing theme in July 2015.

220px-Madrid_templeTwo chapters each month are covered in the current “Presidents of the Church” series; in July, chapter 13 (“Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord”) and chapter 14 (“Marriage and Family: Ordained of God”) were assigned from the Ezra Taft Benson manual. The temple was also featured in July’s official church magazines: the Ensign (several articles were used, including one discussing the preparation to enter a temple), New Era (helping “youth prepare for temple ordinances”), and Friend (helping “your children learn about and prepare for the temple” and “to go inside someday”).

Each of the above publications stressed the necessity of “being worthy” to attend the temple. For example, Seventy Kent F. Richards writes on page 18 of the Ensign article, “In order to receive the Spirit, you must enter the temple clean and pure, free from any unforgiven transgression.” By signing a temple recommend card, the patron is “witnessing [his/her] worthiness before the Lord.” In a “key point” section, it says that “in the temple you receive ordinances essential to your salvation. You must enter the temple clean and pure, free from any unforgiven transgression.”

In chapter 13 of Benson’s manual, this same theme is prevalent. (MRM provides reviews of each chapter of this manual.) The carrot to temple work? Benson is quoted on page 171 as saying, “If a couple are (sic) true to their covenants, they are entitled to the blessing of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. These covenants today can only be entered into by going to the House of the Lord.” And then “… it is in the temples that we obtain God’s greatest blessings pertaining to eternal life. Temples are really the gateways to heaven.”

On the next page, he said, “We will not be able to dwell in the company of celestial beings unless we are pure and holy… No member of the Church can be perfected without the ordinances of the temple.” The chapter concludes with this: “Let us make the temple a sacred home away from our eternal home.”

I find it interesting how many people recently have pointed to Dieter F. Utchtdorf’s talk in last April’s conference (“The Gift of Grace”) as somehow lining up with Evangelical Christianity. It does not. (Find a written review of this talk as well as links to Viewpoint on Mormonism podcasts here.) And if a Latter-day Saint doubts my view, then ask him/her why everyone saved by grace shouldn’t be allowed to enter Mormon temples!

CarrotStickThere is a list of requirements. First, baptism and confirmation are surely required before a convert can start planning a trip to a temple. Then, “as you increase your spiritual maturing, you will desire to prepare for and enter the temple. There you will receive ordinances and make covenants, which are necessary steps to draw closer to your Heavenly Father… You enter the temple and make covenants because you will exist eternally and want to be with your Heavenly Father and your family…” (Ensign, July 2015, p. 18). To be able to get into the temple, a Mormon needs to “keep standards, and…worthily carry a limited-use temple recommend. Church programs will help you, but your preparation is personal; you are developing your worthiness, your testimony, your conversion.” Notice how the word “your” was emphasized in that quote. It is based on “you” and how well “you” tithe, abstain from alcohol and hot drinks, and keep the other prerequisites.

When it comes to the LDS temple, consider what LDS leaders have emphasized. For one, they say that there was a great apostasy, which supposedly eliminated God’s authority throughout the world. Everything the church does is supposed to rest on the need for a “restoration.” If this is the case, then there should be a clear connection between the Jerusalem temple and the more than 140 LDS temples. Yet there is not.

Consider, for example, that the biblical temple was a place where the blood sacrifices of animals took place by priests commissioned by God for the temporary forgiveness of sins. (It was temporary because people would again sin.) Hebrews chapter 10 explains how Christ’s sacrifice once for all eliminated the need for a physical temple; this is the only reason why Christians throughout the past 2000 years have not tried to reinstitute a physical temple of any kind. Because of what Christ did (verse 10 reads, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”), it has always been accepted that a temple of any kind is not needed.

However, Mormonism has returned the need for temple work while setting up regulations that ancient Jews and Christians never accepted, including learning tokens and new names, performing baptisms for the dead, marrying for “time and eternity,” getting sealed to relatives, and other rites never practiced by the Levitical priests or, for that matter, anyone associated with the temple. Rather, blood sacrificial work was performed daily, the main purpose of the temple!

Richards writes on page 18, “To be worthy does not mean you are perfect yet. It means that your heart is right, that you are living the commandments, and that you desire to be better each day.” A Mormon might find consolation that he or she doesn’t have to be “perfect yet” in order to enter a temple. And perhaps the LDS believer feels as long as his/her “heart is right” and he/she “desire(s) to be better each day,” everything is fine.

Heavy LoadBut the middle requirement is the kicker: the Mormon must live the commandments. Repentance can only go so far. D&C 58:43 plainly lays it out: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” And D&C 1:32 adds, “Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.” As I told one Mormon recently who almost appeared to be bragging at how often he repented, “Perhaps you need to quit repenting so much and just do what you’re commanded.”

In Mormonism, exaltation can only be gained through continual obedience. It is in the temple where a Mormon regularly makes promises that can never be fulfilled. The attitude fostered in Mormonism flies in the face of Jesus’s parable in Luke 18 concerning the Publican and the Pharisee:

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

According to Christianity, nobody needs the temple. Rather, everyone needs a relationship with Jesus. This can take place in humility, realizing that forgiveness of sins is available for the asking (see Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10). Only when a person accepts the Gospel message and the Jesus described in the Bible is it even possible to receive the free gift of salvation. Our efforts will just never cut it.

Posted in Mormon Temple | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments