Joseph Smith Should be Held to a Higher Standard than Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David

We rightly expect more integrity and imitable behavior of church pastors and deacons today than was expected of prophets 3500 years ago.

We rightly expect better theology of our teachers today than we do the Early Church Fathers.

That said, if you claim to be a prophet or a teacher today, you are expected to not model the bad behavior of ancient prophets, or the fumbling theology of Early Church Fathers. We stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. We join in the life of a body that the Holy Spirit has been maturing for thousands of years.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)

We ought not hold Joseph Smith to a 21st century standard, but to a reasonable 19th century Christian standard. By giving Joseph Smith a free pass to secretly marry and sleep with teenagers behind Emma’s back, Mormons have rejected the millennia-long maturing work of the Holy Spirit on the body of Christ.

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Saving Mormonism: Divorcing Faith from Fact

The Salt Lake Tribune published an article earlier this month: “New Mormon mission: How to teach members the messy part of LDS history, theology.” Written by Peggy Fletcher Stack, the article looks at the need for the Mormon Church to shift its “simple” historical narrative to something that comports more with truth. She writes,

“These [simple] tales of Joseph Smith’s founding of the LDS Church have been repeated across the globe by generations of Latter-day Saints, as well as Mormon missionaries, eager to convert others to what they believe.

“Trouble is, the real history is much more nuanced, complicated, even contradictory…

© 1999 Institute for Religious Research

© 1999 Institute for Religious Research

“Now, prompted by the rise of social media, the availability of LDS documents, groundbreaking scholarship, widespread Internet sharing of little-known aspects of the faith’s past and a disturbing exodus of the formerly faithful, Mormonism is in the midst of a landmark effort to integrate new details about its founding — without losing the power of a simple narrative.

“Can it add layers of what some see as controversial information without scaring away new converts or longtime members whose devotion is built on the account as they’ve known it all their lives?”

I hope not. I would like to see Mormons and those investigating Mormonism recognize that the true history of Mormonism demonstrates that it is impossible for it to be what it claims to be; and therefore, it is unable to lead followers to eternal life.

However, a comment included in the Salt Lake Tribune article goes some distance to rob me of that hope:

“‘No religion I know of would want to turn its founding stories into history, at least as history is understood today in a scientific sense,’ says Kathleen Flake, who heads up Mormon studies at the University of Virginia. ‘Faith is not about fact; nor about fiction, for that matter. It’s certainly not a question of sophistication, at all, but of religious sense.’”

Dr. Flake wants to divorce faith from fact, and I think doubting Mormons will find comfort in following her lead. But faith divorced from fact is not really faith at all.

Christian apologetics ministry Stand to Reason addresses this issue in an article by Greg Koukl titled, “Faith and Facts.” In it, Mr. Koukl explains,

“I don’t like the word ‘faith.’ Not because faith isn’t valuable, but because it’s often deeply misunderstood. ‘Faith’ in this twisted sense is what you use when all reason is against you. It’s religious wishful thinking, in which one squeezes out spiritual hope by intense acts of sheer will. People of ‘faith’ believe the impossible. People of ‘faith’ believe that which is contrary to fact. People of ‘faith’ believe that which is contrary to evidence. People of ‘faith’ ignore reality…

“Some suggest we cannot find facts to support our faith, nor is it preferable to try. Faith is not the kind of thing that has anything to do with facts, they say. If we have evidence to prove what we believe, then that takes away from real faith.

“Somehow these people think that genuine faith is eviscerated by knowledge and evidence. We’ve made a virtue out of believing against the evidence, as if that’s what God has in mind for us. This is all wrong.”

Head in SandI’ve heard this same reasoning from many Mormons over they years. They tell me there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, for example, because then there would be no need for faith, and God wants us to have faith. As Mr. Koukl says, this is all wrong. What these Mormons are holding up as a virtuous faith does not resemble biblical faith. Mr. Koukl illustrates how the Bible defines faith:

“If we want to exercise biblical faith–Christian faith–then we ought first to find out how the Bible defines faith. The clearest definition comes from Hebrews 11:1. This verse says, ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Now, there’s something very important in these words. We see the word ‘hope,’ we see the word ‘assurance,’ and we see the word ‘conviction’–that is, confidence. Now, what gives us confidence?

“If you buy a lottery ticket, do you hope you’ll win the lottery? Yes, of course you do. Do you have any assurance you’ll win the lottery? Absolutely not. You have no way of knowing that your ticket is any better than the millions of other lottery tickets out there competing for the same pot.

“But what if you had x-ray vision, and you could see through the gray scratch-off coating on the lottery tickets you buy at the supermarket? You’d know if you had a $100, $200 or a $1,000 winner, wouldn’t you? In that case, would you merely hope you’d win? No, you’d have assurance, wouldn’t you? You’d have assurance of those things you previously only hoped for. It would be hope with conviction, not a mere hoped, but a hope buttressed by facts and evidence.

“That’s why the Christian faith cares about the evidence, friends. For the biblical Christian, the facts matter. You can’t have assurance for something you don’t know you’re going to get. You can only hope for it.

“This is why the resurrection of Jesus is so important. It gives assurance to the hope. Because of a Christian view of faith, Paul is able to say in 1 Corinthians 15 that when it comes to the resurrection, if we have only hope, but no assurance–if Jesus didn’t indeed rise from the dead in time/space history–then we are of most men to be pitied. That’s what he says: We are of most men to be pitied.

“This confidence Paul is talking about is not a confidence in a mere ‘faith’ resurrection, a mythical resurrection, a story-telling resurrection. Instead, it’s a belief in a real resurrection. If the real resurrection didn’t happen, then we’re in trouble.

“The Bible knows nothing of a bold leap-in-the-dark faith, a hope-against-hope faith, a faith with no evidence. Rather, if the evidence doesn’t correspond to the hope, then the faith is in vain, as even Paul has said.”

So I disagree with Dr. Flake. Biblical faith is about fact. Saving faith is based on fact. And so the facts surrounding Mormonism and the Mormon Church do matter to the question of whether this religion can lead its adherents to eternal life in the presence of God.

Mr. Koukl tells his readers that faith does not stop at the point of belief.

“So, faith is knowing, and that knowledge is based on evidence leading to confidence or conviction. But biblical faith is more than that. There’s another element. Faith is not just knowing. Faith is also acting. Biblical faith is a confidence so strong that it results in action. You’re willing to act based on that belief, that faith…

“Friends, Christianity is not denying reality. Some people think it is. I’m sympathetic to them because some Christians act as if faith is a kind of sanctified denial. But that isn’t what biblical Christianity is about. Biblical Christians don’t deny reality, they discover reality. And once they’ve discovered it, they act on what they’ve learned.”

My continuing hope is that Mormons will indeed discover reality and act on what they’ve learned. My hope is that they will abandon the empty promises of Mormonism for the sure and certain promises of Christ. And here’s why. Applying Mr. Koukl’s closing argument to Mormonism by substituting the word “Mormonism” where he had “Christianity,”

“if [Mormonism] is true, in the deepest sense of the word, then it must fit the facts of the real world. So, when we discover the facts of the real world, they can only support [Mormonism]– if [Mormonism] is true.”

Conversely, if the facts of the real world do not fit Mormonism, Mormonism is shown to be untrue. And for those who cling to this hope against hope by continuing to place their faith in a false religious system — for those who will not act on what they’ve learned — devastatingly, their faith is in vain.

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

The Virtue of Joseph Smith

Speaking at the general conference last October, Mormon Apostle Neil L. Andersen gave a talk simply titled “Joseph Smith.”  Toward the end of his message, Andersen said, “I give you my witness that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. He chose a holy man, a righteous man, to lead the Restoration of the fulness of His gospel. He chose Joseph Smith.” This phrase became the byline when his talk was reprinted in the conference edition of Ensign magazine (November 2014, pp. 28-31).

Speeches by LDS leaders on this subject are nothing new. Many leaders have glowingly spoken of their founding prophet, the one whom they believe was called by God to “restore” true Christianity. What I found interesting, however, is how Andersen utilized several logical fallacies to defend his premise.

Andersen said Smith’s work began with the “appearance of the Father and the Son” and that the reason his work is dismissed is because people “do not believe that heavenly beings speak to men on earth.” Those same detractors, he explained, also say it is impossible that “golden plates were delivered by an angel and translated by the power of God.” big_iconLet’s not forget that Smith’s claims are being dismissed by a growing number of Latter-day Saints who do believe heavenly beings speak to men on earth as well as presuppose that the gold plates were real. However, like many outsiders, once they learn all of the details surrounding these alleged events, they are compelled to conclude that they have the signs of fabrication. Andersen’s straw man argument is much too simplistic.

Andersen attacked the character of ex-Mormons whom he feels malign the prophet. In doing so, he invoked a statement by Apostle Neil Maxwell who, in a 1977 BYU devotional talk, said, “Some insist upon studying the Church only through the eyes of its defectors—like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus. Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed.” “Attacking the man,” or the ad hominem fallacy, fails to address the very real concerns many ex-Mormons (and others) have. This approach often is an attempt to shield the faithful from uncomfortable information. After all, why would anyone trust a person whose character is like Judas?

Andersen attempted to offset the many criticisms against Smith’s character by pointing to several contemporaries who testified to his virtue. This “appeal to the people” again fails to address the valid reasons many of Smith’s contemporaries felt he was not a virtuous, holy man.

Andersen also cited the “spreading of the restored gospel” as the “fruit” of Smith’s calling. But Islam is growing much faster than the LDS Church. Does this fact lend credence to the truth claims of Islam?

Andersen  also committed a genetic fallacy when he warned listeners that “Internet information does not have a ‘truth’ filter. Some information, no matter how convincing, is simply not true.” Technically, he is right. There is plenty of information on the web that is certainly questionable (remember, even Andersen’s talk can be found on the Internet!), but just because something is critical of Mormonism does not automatically means it is false. Truth claims must be judged on their merit, not by where the information originated.

The timing of Andersen’s talk is especially interesting. A few weeks after his message, the church released a Gospel Topics essay admitting how Smith had married as many as forty women, including ten with living husbands as well as another ten teenagers, one as young as fourteen. There is proof that Smith lied many times to his wife Emma about his polygamous affairs. This might be a good place to start if Smith’s credentials as a virtuous and holy man are to be honestly examined.

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32 – Gospel Principles Tithes And Offerings

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Mormon Church does not require “bloodletting”

Last week the Utah Senate voted to reinstate death by firing squad as one of the state’s options in carrying out a judiciously imposed penalty of capital punishment. The bill awaits the signature of Utah’s governor before it can become law.

As the bill is written, the firing squad alternative would be required if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Representative Paul Ray, who introduced the bill, said firing squad is “the most humane” option for capital punishment. This is a turn-around from the reasoning suggested in 2004 when Utah banned the use of firing squads. At that time, as Utah Governor Olene Walker prepared to sign the banning into law, her spokesperson said the Governor “thinks there could be some more humane ways, other than firing squad” to enforce capital punishment.

John D. Lee awaiting his execution by firing squad. Mountain Meadows, Utah, 1877.

John D. Lee awaiting his execution by firing squad.
Mountain Meadows, Utah, 1877.

Be that as it may, death by firing squad has had a long history in Utah, having been used in 40 of 50 formal executions between 1847 and 2004. Many people think the reason Utah has so long employed this method of execution is because so many Mormons believe there are some serious sins (crimes) that can only be expiated by the shedding of the sinner’s own blood; lethal injection will not accomplish this required blood-shedding. The Times article addressed the Mormon angle while employing a Q&A format:

“Is the use of firing squads tied to Utah’s founding by Mormons?

“There has been speculation that the practice was once tied to the Mormon principle of ‘blood atonement,’ which says certain sins are so serious that people must spill their blood to make amends. Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounces any connection between firing squads and blood atonement.

“‘Mormons disown that idea now,’ [Richard] Dieter said. ‘They say, “We do not require bloodletting.”'”

Though the Church does not require bloodletting, some Mormons believe that under certain circumstances it is the right thing to do. Famous Mormon forger Mark Hofmann was charged in 1986 with committing two murders (and other crimes). His father, Bill Hoffman, said that if Mark was guilty, he needed to die by firing squad. As told by author Robert Lindsay,

“’If Satan got hold of you, son, and you’ve committed these acts, you should confess and ask for the firing squad so you can be with us in the next life.’

“If Mark was guilty, his father said, he must admit his guilt and be executed so that the family could be reunited in the next world. In Utah, condemned criminals were given a choice of death by lethal injection or a firing squad. To atone, Mark would have to die before a firing squad.” (A Gathering of Saints, 217)

Where did Mormons get such an idea? It appears to have started with the religion’s founder, Joseph Smith:

“In debate, George A. Smith said imprisonment was better than hanging. I replied, I was opposed to hanging even if a man kill another, I will shoot him, or cut off his head, spill his blood on the ground, and let the smoke thereof ascend up to God; and if ever I ever have the privilege of making a law on that subject, I will have it so.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 5:296)

This teaching was carried on by subsequent Mormon Authorities throughout much of the history of the Church.

“There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world. I know, when you hear my brethren telling about cutting people off from the earth, that you consider it is strong doctrine; but it is to save them, not to destroy them.” (Brigham Young, September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:53)

“Brethren and sisters, we want you to repent and forsake your sins. And you who have committed sins that cannot be forgiven through baptism, let your blood be shed, and let the smoke ascend, that the incense thereof may come up before God as an atonement for your sins, and that the sinners in Zion may be afraid.” (Jedediah M. Grant, September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:51)

“Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation [copyright 1954] 1:135)

“But if, as seems to be the case, from the foregoing considerations, there are certain limitations to vicarious atonement, even to the vi- carious atonement of the Christ, then these ancient laws proclaiming that the life of the flesh is in the blood, and that ‘the blood maketh an atonement for the soul,’ make plain what is needful for the salvation of the soul where one’s sins place him beyond the reach of vicarious means of salvation—then it is the shedding of the sinners own blood that must here be referred to.” (B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [copyright 1957] 4:128-129)

“As a mode of capital punishment, hanging or execution on a gallows does not comply with the law of blood atonement, for the blood is not shed.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine [copyright 1958], 314. Italics in original)

The blood atonement doctrine believed by so many Mormons may not be “official” Church doctrine, yet the idea stubbornly persists, perhaps due to the equivocal nature of statements that have come from Church leadership. A University of Utah professor noted,

“Accordingly, the doctrine asserts that those who commit certain grievous sins such as murder and covenant-breaking place themselves beyond the atoning blood of Christ, and their only hope for salvation is to have their own blood shed as an atoning sacrifice. In his writings, Joseph Smith only hinted at the doctrine, Brigham Young successively denied and asserted it, Joseph F. Smith ardently defended it, and in more recent years, Hugh B. Brown repudiated it and Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie both have vigorously defended it in principle while staunchly denying that the Church has ever put it into actual practice, whereas most other General Authorities have prudently preferred to remain silent on the subject. It should be noted that the whole notion of blood atonement is so obviously linked to the Mormon literal mind-set that it does not seem to admit of a mitigated, symbolic interpretation and is either accepted or rejected outright, depending on one’s level of literalistic belief.” (“Quintessential Mormonism: Literal-Mindedness As a Way of Life,” Richard J. Cummings, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 15, No. 4 [Winter 1982], 93)

It is a sad truth that Mormons have not been clearly taught about the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ. According to the Bible, Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). And “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Jesus’ sacrifice is enough — enough for us all.

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31 – Gospel Principles – Honesty

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30 – Gospel Principles – Charity

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Mormon Leadership Not Appropriate at a Christian Event

StopIn a blog post on Monday (March 9, 2015) Jana Riess told readers about the recent cancellation of a Christian retreat at which Dr. Riess was scheduled to speak. The reason the retreat was cancelled: Christian church leaders deemed that, due to Dr. Riess’ Mormon faith, she is “not an ‘appropriate’ person to be a leader at a Christian event.”

Dr. Riess says God has called her to a ministry “to help build bridges between Mormonism and other Christian denominations.” She points out that she and her Protestant husband are raising their daughter as a Protestant, and that she speaks at Protestant churches and retreat centers “all the time.” She is deeply disappointed that the retreat’s Christian church leaders characterized her Mormon faith as “drastically different” from their own and that they failed to see how (in her estimation) “there’s far more that we share, resting on a mutual belief in the Savior, Jesus Christ.”

These Christian church leaders made an inconvenient call when they cancelled the retreat, but they were, in fact, fulfilling their sacred duty.

The Bible tells us that when God calls people to leadership positions within His church, He calls them to absolute fidelity to His truth. Pastors are to preach the truth and nothing but the truth. Elders are to assure the integrity of the doctrine being taught and protect God’s people from false teaching. Here’s a biblical rundown of what God requires from His church leaders:

“According to the New Testament, elders are responsible for the primary leadership and oversight of a church. The function and role of an elder is well summarized by Alexander Strauch in his book Biblical Eldership: ‘Elders lead the church [1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1-2], teach and preach the Word [1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9], protect the church from false teachers [Acts 20:17, 28-31], exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine [1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; Titus 1:9], visit the sick and pray [James 5:14; Acts 20:35], and judge doctrinal issues [Acts 15:16]. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church.’”

TruthMattersNoBackgroundDr. Riess seems to suggest that a mutual invocation of the name “Jesus Christ” trumps any “real theological differences between Mormons and evangelicals,” failing to recognize the real and deep theological differences inherent even in her simple assertion of a “mutual belief in the Savior, Jesus Christ.”

In truth, the Mormon “Jesus Christ” is not the biblical Jesus Christ. The Mormon “God” is not the biblical God. Theologically speaking, apart from terminology, there is virtually nothing Mormonism and biblical Christianity share. There are no “core similarities,” as Dr. Riess calls them; there are only superficial similarities. Any Christian leader who takes His God-given calling seriously will not fail to protect his flock from false teachers and unsound doctrine – both of which are intrinsic in Mormonism.

But what if Dr. Riess does not personally hold to the theological doctrines of Mormonism, embracing instead the biblical doctrine of God? If that were the case, should the Christian church leaders then consider her to be an appropriate person to be a leader at their Christian event? I would think not.

If anyone is unable to recognize the unbridgeable gap between Mormon theology and Christian theology; if anyone is unaware that God calls His people to absolute unwavering worship of and allegiance to Him alone; if anyone finds it immensely sad when Christian church leaders are “willing to sacrifice all the effort and expense they’ve put in to planning” an event in order to care for the spiritual well-being of God’s people – people whom they have been tasked by God to protect; such a person would not be an appropriate choice to be a leader at a Christian event regardless of that person’s religion.

I thank God for Christian leaders who follow God at any expense. May they be blessed for their obedience and loyalty to the One who called them to care for His people.

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30 – Gospel Principles – Word Of Wisdom

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27 & 28 – Gospel Principles – Work And Service

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