“It is the voice of a god, not of a man”

How early Mormon leader Joseph Fielding and other Mormons responded to the King Follett discourse (April 7, 1844):

“I never felt more delighted with his discourse than at this time. They said at his oration, it is the voice of a god not of a man.” (Journal of Joseph Fielding, quoted in “The King Follett Discourse: Joseph Smith’s Greatest Sermon in Historical Perspective”)

How the people of Tyre and Sidon responded to the oration of Herod:

“On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’ Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:21-23)

Joseph Smith died 81 days later, June 27, 1844.

Idolatry never wins in the end. “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24)

Note: The LDS manual “Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual“ awkwardly makes favorable use of Acts 12:20-23 to describe how the saints were “profoundly moved” by the King Follett discourse.

George Q. Cannon also spoke of Smith at the KFD:

“The Prophet seemed to rise above the world. It was as if the light of heaven already encircled his physical being… Those who hear the sermon may never forget its power. Those who read it today think it was an exhibition of superhuman power and eloquence.” (quoted here, also see here)

Posted in Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse, Mormon History | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Testing Joseph Smith’s Integrity

Joseph Smith by grindael

Joseph Smith
by grindael

Brigham Young University professor Daniel Peterson recently wrote an article for the Deseret News presenting evidence for the exemplary personal character of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith. In “Defending the Faith: 2 legal tests of Joseph Smith’s integrity” Dr. Peterson discusses Joseph Smith’s three-year responsibility toward the Lawrence sisters and their sizable estate as legal guardian. Dr. Peterson explains:

“Edward Lawrence, a Canadian convert to Mormonism, died at the end of 1839, leaving behind six minor children and a pregnant wife. Joseph agreed to serve as the guardian of the Lawrence estate, but critics have sought to portray his behavior in this role as exploitative, or at least negligent. Now, however, probate documents and court records related to the Lawrence family have been located, and [LDS researcher Gordon] Madsen’s article carefully examines those materials. They permit Joseph’s involvement to be investigated step by step.

“Contrary to the negative picture cultivated by critics, Madsen argues that ‘the record shows that he performed his duty honorably. He did not claim compensation for service as guardian, and he made no claim for boarding Maria and Sarah; he was more generous in expenditures for and to the children and to (those who cared for Maria and Sarah’s siblings) than the law required.’ Moreover, he took all the steps that he could in order, when appropriate, to transfer guardianship of the children to John Taylor.”

Dr. Peterson asserts,

“Time after time, the criticisms aimed at Joseph cannot withstand examination. In many cases, they actually turn into affirmations of his solid decency and integrity.”

As usual, there is more to this chapter in the Prophet’s life than Dr. Peterson chose to discuss in his short article. Allow me to fill in some of the missing pieces, provided by LDS author Todd Compton from his landmark book, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith.

Sarah (14) and Maria (17) Lawrence became orphans under the law when their father died, even though their mother, Margaret, was still alive. In June of 1841 Joseph Smith stepped forward to become the legal guardian (as required by law) for the family. By early 1842 Margaret had remarried to Josiah Butterfield, a Mormon man in good standing with the Church. For the next year Josiah and Margaret worked unsuccessfully to regain guardianship of the estate and the girls. History of the Church records that in March of 1843 “Josiah Butterfield came to [Joseph’s] house and insulted [Joseph] so outrageously that [Joseph] kicked him out of the house, across the yard, and into the street.”

Almera Johnson v4

Images of the Restoration

In late spring of 1843 Joseph married both Sarah and Maria, bringing his number of wives to 24. Apparently Joseph’s legal wife, Emma, knew about his marriages to the Lawrence sisters, but she did not know about his earlier marriages to the Partridge sisters (Emily and Eliza). So when Emma demonstrated, via her willingness to accept the Lawrence sisters, that she had become more agreeable to plural marriage, Joseph took the opportunity to marry the Partridge sisters again – this time with Emma’s consent.

Joseph married another nine women over the following few months; he stopped taking new wives in November 1843. In the spring of 1844 disaffected Mormon William Law, a longtime friend of the Lawrences, filed a lawsuit against Joseph Smith for adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence — making Joseph’s secret marriages to the Lawrence sisters public knowledge. As noted by Todd Compton,

“In response [to the lawsuit], Smith flatly denied polygamy in a speech delivered on May 26: ‘What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.’” (History of the Church 6:411)

The public pressure mounted and, as Dr. Peterson notes, Joseph Smith took steps to transfer guardianship of the Lawrence estate to John Taylor. But the transfer never actually happened (in fact, just three weeks before Joseph was killed, an Illinois justice of the peace notarized a certificate stating Joseph was the guardian of the Lawrences).

After Joseph’s death on June 27, 1844, the Lawrence sisters tried to get what remained of their inheritance from the Smith estate, but they had no success. All of Joseph’s property (with which the Lawrence estate had been comingled as allowed by law) was in the name of his legal wife, Emma, and she was not willing (or maybe not able) to pay back the funds.

In the end, perhaps feeling a measure of responsibility, William Law used his own funds to pay the Lawrence sisters the money Joseph Smith rightly owed them.

Does this episode from Joseph Smith’s life demonstrate his “solid decency and integrity” as Dr. Peterson would have us believe? When the dust settles around this affair, the Prophet’s handling of the funds from the Lawrence estate may have been done within the bounds of the law. Joseph may have been generous in his distribution of Edward Lawrence’s money for Edward’s children’s care. But Joseph Smith added the young Lawrence sisters to his entourage of illegal wives; he lied to his wife, Emma; he physically assaulted Josiah Butterfield in an argument about the Lawrence estate; he lied to his followers (and the world); and he heartlessly denied 33 women who had sacrificed much to become his plural wives — in order to save his own skin. Is all of this to be overlooked because Joseph did not submit a claim demanding to be paid for the “boarding” of his plural wives?

After examining the facts, when it comes to integrity, Joseph Smith fails the test.

Posted in Early Mormonism, Mormon History, Nauvoo, Polygamy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Mormon Missionaries Do Not Teach the Gospel

The Mormon-themed Meridian Magazine posted an article last week titled, “Baptized Too Soon?” In it, author Joni Hilton confessed her proclivity toward blaming the missionaries when new Mormon converts fall away, wondering if

“…the missionaries were too hasty, and scheduled a baptism before the investigator really understood the gospel. Do they even have a testimony of Joseph Smith? Have they actually prayed about whether the Book of Mormon is true? Do they know what they’re committing to?” (Emphasis in the original.)

mormon-baptismBut upon further reflection, Mrs. Hilton noted that, “Nobody comes out of the waters of baptism a complete gospel scholar—everyone will continue to learn and add to their testimony.” Mrs. Hilton decided she needed to repent of her poor judgment in questioning the missionaries’ techniques.

Leading to her change of heart were a couple of statements from LDS leaders. One was this from Howard W. Hunter, the 14th President of the Mormon Church:

“Missionaries don’t teach the gospel; they cry repentance and instill in the people enough faith to have the desire to be baptized. At that moment, they are turned over to Christ, then, the Church teaches them. There are not many in the Church that understand this. They think that the missionaries haven’t spent enough time and haven’t taught them the gospel. Now, the missionaries aren’t to do that! We have six discussions. We take them that far, and that does not cover all the gospel, but then the Church spends the rest of this person’s life teaching them the gospel. We do the same thing with our eight-year-old children. No one in this Church should ever be heard to say, ‘The missionaries baptized this person before they were ready!’” (Quoted in the Meridian Magazine article without a source attribution. Bold in the original.)

The other statement was from an LDS apostle:

“The stressing of the Gospel lessons right at first, before the purpose and intent of the missionaries’ presence, can lead to confusion. Their initial reaction is the result of the Spirit testifying to them and where this is manifest baptism should be accomplished as quickly as possible, otherwise the Holy Ghost will leave them. Let me reiterate this: If you have people who receive the spirit but you don’t baptize them, they will lose the spirit. This is why you should baptize them as quickly as possible.” (Apostle Alvin R. Dyer, “The Challenging and Testifying Missionary.” Mrs. Hilton’s quote is somewhat different from the text I found in the complete talk posted online. I have here quoted from the complete transcript rather than as quoted by Joni Hilton.)

WatchFaceThus, Mormon missionaries are not supposed to spend time teaching investigators the gospel. Rather, missionaries must strike while the iron is hot — get investigators baptized as soon as they indicate that they think the missionaries are servants of God (as explained in Elder Dyer’s talk). Converts don’t need to know the doctrinal content of the Restored Gospel or the unique doctrines of the Mormon Church. They don’t need to know the God Mormonism serves or the (different) Jesus it proclaims. They need only be convinced that Mormonism – whatever it is – is probably true. They are to be quickly baptized (before they can think too much about it and “lose the Spirit”), and then spend the rest of their lives (as Mrs. Hilton suggested) filling in the blanks.

Please understand that Mormons believe these investigators are receiving a testimony of the Spirit that Mormonism is true, hence the acceleration to immediate baptism. But both the Old and New Testaments encourage a very different approach to a Mormon missionary challenge than that suggested by these LDS Authorities. God tells us in the book of Proverbs,

“It is a snare to say rashly, ‘It is holy,’ and to reflect only after making vows.” (Proverbs 20:25)

It is a snare – a trap. We avoid this trap when we take our cue from the ancient Bereans:

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)

This is important. God warns over and over again that we must be careful, discerning, questioning, watchful. Because “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

I pray it will not be you.

Echoing the Apostle John I implore you,

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

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

Upcoming Symposiums

Posted in Viewpoint on Mormonism | Tagged | Comments Off

The definition of doctrine

July 21014 EnsignIt’s only a short article located in the early pages of the July 2014 Ensign magazine, which is the official monthly organ of the LDS Church. But I believe this piece, titled “We Teach by the Power of the Holy Ghost” and found under the unattributed column “What We Believe,” is consistent with what is taught at every general conference.

Before I tell you what this article said, let me provide some background. In recent years, renegade LDS apologists have been claiming in a postmodern fashion that, through personal revelation, individuals can determine correct doctrine. A case in point is Michael R. Ash, who wrote a 2008 book titled Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt published by an LDS apologetics group. In an apparent attempt to ignore certain statements made by LDS teachers over the years, Ash explains how Mormonism does not have “infallible” leaders. In fact, he even says there are times they may teach false doctrine. In his mind, the responsibility to determine truth from error is relegated to individual Latter-day Saints.

On page 20, he writes, “If we obtain our own personal testimonies, and live so that we can receive personal communication from the Father and the confirming testimony from the Holy Spirit, we will not be led astray.” He continued on page 22, “Just because a prophet has the keys to the priesthood and the authority to receive revelations from God for the direction of the church, doesn’t mean that every word spoken by a prophet is infallible, inspired, or factually accurate.”

Then Ash writes the following paragraph in an attempt to explain how a Latter-day Saint can receive doctrine:

“What, then, is official doctrine and what is opinion? Official doctrine will be announced as revelation and the body of the Church will sustain it (D&C 26:2, 1-7:27-31). Likewise, we can know if leaders speak the will of God when we, ourselves, are ‘moved by the Holy Ghost’ (D&C 68:3-4). The onus is upon us to determine when they speak for the Lord. If we rely solely on the revelations of the prophets, without seeking our own personal confirming revelations, we tend to tacitly accept their revelations as infallible.”

On page 24, he adds, “There is more to being a member of Christ’s church than just marching in step. Our goal should be to receive our own revelations and to become united with Christ.”

Ash’s statements raise several important questions. First of all, how can a Mormon know that his personal revelation comes from the Holy Spirit? I’m guessing those who hold such a position would defer to the standard “burning in the bosom” mantra. Good feelings apparently rule the day. The only way to determine if these good feelings come from the Spirit appears to be a matter of opinion.

Second, doesn’t Ash’s view mean the individual Mormon who realizes the error of a General Authority’s message must be living a more righteous life than his/her leader? Imagine if this particular Mormon felt confident that the time is now right for plural marriage to be restored, regardless of the fact that no LDS leader has recently taught this. If this “faithful” Latter-day Saint decided to go ahead and marry two or more women, who is Ash to say that such a practice is wrong? To refute this person’s belief, Ash will be required to say that his fellow Latter-day Saint is wrong. In essence, every Latter-day Saint becomes his own prophet. The confusion such a possible scenario brings to this religion is immense.

Finally, isn’t the purpose of God providing latter-day prophets so that they will guide His people through these perilous times?  If the leadership can’t be trusted, why are they needed in the first place? Ash’s view encourages Mormons to refute the teachings of general authorities by coming up with contradictory personal revelation.

Regardless of Ash’s personal opinion, I have never heard LDS leaders speak in such a way. I believe the July 2014 Ensign magazine is a nail in Ash’s doctrinal coffin. The heart of the article discusses “four principles for effective teaching,” including “love those you teach,” “teach by the Spirit,” and “invite diligent learning.” But the final principle is devastating to Ash’s positon. It reads:

“Teach the doctrine. Approved curriculum materials from the Church, such as scriptures, general conference talks, and manuals, contain doctrine—eternal truths from God.”

Jeffrey R. HollandLet’s take a closer look at this sentence. The way to understand truth, according to the LDS Church’s own magazine, is using “approved curriculum materials.” What are those materials? This is, we’re told, the standard works, general conference talks, and official church manuals. Let’s suppose Ash’s view is correct. If so, here is the perfect opportunity for the LDS Church to state that “if any particular doctrine doesn’t suit your fancy and you have a valid testimony and live righteously, then counter this teaching and merely disregard what the leaders have said.” No such statement can be found. Does Mormonism allow the possibility for a Mormon to disregard any teaching just because the person may feel it’s not ordained by God? Ask Kate Kelly, who was recently excommunicated from the church because she honestly believed that God wants women to hold the priesthood.

And finally, notice the definition of “doctrine”: “eternal truths from God.” Eternal? Listen carefully.  Doctrine in Mormonism is not open for individual or peer review. When the Brethren speak, it’s a done deal.

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, Prophets | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

A Simple Correlation: The Apostle Paul and Mormon General Conference

LDS_office_buildingAs defined at Wikipedia, the Mormon Church’s priesthood correlation program is “a program designed to provide a systematic approach to maintain consistency in its ordinances, doctrines, organizations, meetings, materials, and other programs and activities.” The Church began its correlation efforts in the early 1960s, to bring all aspects of the Church under one large umbrella (so to speak). A few months ago Doug Gibson at The Political Surf noted the effect that correlation has had on Mormon Sunday School lessons. He wrote,

In a concise but detailed 7-page chapter in “The New Testament: The Acts and the Epistles,[”] by Russel B. Swenson, Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1955, here is one paragraph, not unlike the others in its attention to details. It reads:

Paul’s answers to the above charges were swift and vigorous. Nowhere does he appear more in anger, not even in Galatians. He does not take time to answer them with a reasoned detailed argument. With sharp biting retorts, ironical sarcasm, bold assertions, which he admits border on extravagant boasting, and an extremely fervent faith in his authority as an apostle, he takes a decisive and resolute stand. Though he admits he does not have a polished rhetoric in speech, he claims he has knowledge. And finally, he is so angered and hurt by the many false charges and attacks against his record and authority that he is led to state specifically what he has suffered for the sake of the gospel. He had been inclined to be too modest and had been ignored and insulted as an insignificant person. Therefore, he felt constrained to enumerate his sacrifices for the gospel, not on account of any personal vanity, but in order to validate his authority and preaching as divinely commissioned. What he tells about himself is of priceless value as history because most of it had been neglected by Luke in his writings of Acts.” [See 2 Corinthians 11]

Now, let’s move 58 years into the future and get an LDS Gospel Doctrine Sunday School summary — for teachers — of Second Corinthians today. At LDS.org, it reads:

Explain that the book of 2 Corinthians contains prophetic counsel that applies in our day. Paul’s teachings in this letter are similar to the teachings we often hear in general conference. Elder Eyring observed, “When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention [on them]” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 32; or Ensign, May 1997, 25). Encourage class members to receive the counsel in this lesson and ‘hold it close.‘”

new-testament-gospel-doctrine-teacher-manualThe correlated manual Mr. Gibson spoke of is the New Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (specifically, Lesson 35: “Be Ye Reconciled to God”). The copyright date on this manual is 2002, but it is the current manual used today (and was last used throughout the entire Church in 2011 Sunday School classes).

Mr. Gibson complained that the correlated Sunday School lessons are “bland” and remind him of the dumbed-down “simple stupid” lessons he taught to investigators while he was on his mission 31 years ago. This may be true, but to me, the post-correlation changes in this lesson are much more than merely bland and basic. The whole emphasis of the lesson has changed.

In the example Mr. Gibson cited from 1955, the lesson focused on the biblical text: how the apostle Paul responded to false apostles — his anger, his rhetoric, his faith, his sacrifices, his authority, and the calling on his life from God; and how Paul’s actions and words fit into a larger biblical context.

The correlated manual Mr. Gibson cited, on the other hand, does not appear to try to help students understand the details and context of God’s Word at all. Rather, its focus is on validating Mormonism.

The newer manual uses 2 Corinthians and the apostle Paul to direct the student toward the Mormon Church’s General Conference and latter-day apostles, without much consideration of what Paul actually says in his second letter to the Corinthians and why he says it. Of course, there is more to the lesson than what’s cited here, but nothing in that lesson even comes close to an exposition of the biblical text. It is indeed “bland” and “basic”; it also misses some very significant aspects of Paul’s teachings.

For example, the correlated manual skips over 2 Corinthians 11:1-21 entirely. Students don’t look at Paul’s warning against accepting another Jesus, a different spirit, or a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). They’re not directed to Paul’s description of false apostles, deceitful workers who fraudulently transform themselves into apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13). The lesson never discusses Paul’s caution that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light and that the devil’s servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

How unfortunate. This is such important counsel for Mormons (and everyone else) to understand. Wouldn’t you agree?

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, Mormon Leaders, Mormon Scripture | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Outreach at the Ogden Temple

Posted in Viewpoint on Mormonism | Tagged | 3 Comments

“The Law Is Not of Faith”

There is a difference between seeking justification* before God by faith or by the law. Some think we must combine the two, relying both on faith and individual works of obedience. Is this what God requires? Galatians 3 has the answer.

enoughFor all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.  (Galatians 3:10-14)

Believing Versus Doing
From Tabletalk, June 2013

Faith that invests itself wholly and completely in God and His promises alone is the only faith that pleases the Lord. When, in the seventh century BC, Habakkuk could not understand how God could use the evil Babylonians to chastise His people, when it seemed from a human perspective that the Lord’s purposes for Israel had failed and that His faithful servants would not be vindicated, God responded that those He regards as righteous live by faith (Hab. 2:4). That is, those who are righteous in His sight continue trusting Him and do not rely on what they can see from a human perspective or what they can do to vindicate their own righteousness. Dr. R.C. Sproul explains: “Anybody can believe in God. What it means to be a Christian is to trust him when he speaks, which does not require a leap of faith or a crucifixion of the intellect. It requires a crucifixion of pride, because no one is more trustworthy than God” ([Commentary on] Romans, p. 35).

Note Dr. Sproul’s key point that God-pleasing faith means crucifying our pride. This is another way of saying, as Paul does in [Galatians 3:10-14], that we give up trying to attain our own righteousness before the Lord. The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is ours by faith alone, for it is God’s gift to His people, the result of His saving acts that fulfill His promises to redeem His elect (Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 4:1-5; 5:12-21). To say that the righteous live by faith does not mean only that God’s people believe in Him but also that those whom the Lord declares to be righteous trust in Him alone. The essence of such faith is believing God in contrast to doing works of obedience. Galatians 3:10-14 contrasts these ways of establishing our relationship with the Father. No one can be declared righteous before God by obeying His law, for the law demands perfect obedience for our justification – our right standing before Him – and no sinner can obey God perfectly. Hoping even a little in our good works of obedience puts us under the Lord’s curse (vv. 10, 12). Our only hope is to trust Christ alone. In so doing, we are redeemed by His death from God’s curse for breaking His law, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to our account, making our standing before the Lord all of grace (vv. 11, 13-14).

Attempting to earn our right standing before God is the stance of pride, the arrogant assertion that our sin-tainted good works can meet His perfect standard. It is not the stance of faith, which rests wholly in Christ alone for His righteousness.

Coram Deo

We can say with certainty that the one temptation that all people have in common is the temptation to believe we can make ourselves right with God, that our efforts, even when done with His help, are good enough; rather, we are to be perfect (Matt. 5:48). That means that only Christ’s perfect righteousness can suffice to put us in a right relationship with the Father. We must trust in Him and Him alone.

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: [email protected] Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

*Justification: “a forensic (legal) term related to the idea of acquittal, justification refers to the divine act whereby God makes humans, who are sinful and therefore worthy of condemnation, acceptable before a God who is holy and righteous.” (Grenz, Guretzika & Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms)

Posted in Christianity, Forgiveness, Salvation | Tagged , , , | 110 Comments

Monson’s Wishful Thinking?

ThomasMonsonIn his First Presidency message in the June, 2014 issue of Ensign magazine titled, “Hastening the Work,” Mormon President Thomas S. Monson spoke of the “accelerated rate” at which the Church of Jesus Christ is growing. Monson writes:

“Do you realize that the restored Church was 98 years old before it had 100 stakes? But less than 30 years later, the Church had organized its second 100 stakes. And only eight years after that the Church had more than 300 stakes. Today we are more than 3,000 stakes strong. Why is the growth taking place at an accelerated rate? Is it because we are better known? Is it because we have lovely chapels?”

Monson went on to say that “the reason the Church is growing today is that the Lord indicated it would in the Doctrine and Covenants. He said, ‘behold, I will hasten my work in its time.’”

First of all, an increase in numbers does not necessarily mean a movement, or church, or organization, has received divine approval. While it is expected that the LDS Church will increase in numbers, the percentage of that growth has slipped substantially over the past several years. In fact, it appears that the dramatic growth that Mormons have often boasted about, is now a thing of the past.

In our book Answering Mormons’ Questions, Eric and I discuss this by citing a statement by Brigham Young University professor Daniel C. Peterson. He acknowledged this downturn in recent years, writing,

“Today, we have been allotted tools for sharing the gospel of which [Book of Mormon prophet] Alma could never have dreamed. But we may have become complacent. Don’t we send out full-time missionaries? Isn’t that enough? Aren’t we ‘the fastest growing religion’? Actually, we’re not. Church growth has been falling for many years, and our current rate of missionary success is the lowest it’s been for decades. The harvest is great, but the laborers are still too few” (“The Internet Aids Missionary Effort,” Mormon Times, April 7, 2011).

While I certainly agree with Dr. Peterson that church growth has been falling for many years (convert baptisms peaked way back in 1990), I don’t personally attribute this phenomenon with complacency or even a lack of laborers. LDS leaders are firmly aware that people are leaving the LDS Church in record numbers, and they have implemented a number of  new programs to improve this situation. For example, the leadership has encouraged members to be more active in social media and many have responded to the call. However, attempts to defend the faith in this arena can be very risky since it allows people to respond to some of the bad arguments Mormons post on Facebook or blog sites.

Consider also that the LDS Church substantially increased its number of full-time missionaries when it lowered the eligible age for service among males to 18 and females to 19. In an April 26, 2014 Salt Lake Tribune article titled, “Mormon conversions lag behind huge missionary growth,” Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote,

“The stats are staggering. In the year and a half since the LDS Church lowered the minimum age for full-time missionary service, the Utah-based faith has seen its proselytizing force swell from 58,500 to more than 83,000. That’s a 42 percent leap. The number of convert baptisms last year grew to 282,945, up from 272,330 in 2012. That’s an increase of — less than 4 percent.”

That 4 percent increase doesn’t seem that encouraging when you consider that 12 years ago, 283,138 people converted to Mormonism. In 2002 the missionary force totaled 36,196.

Numerous suggestions have been offered as to why the LDS church has been struggling. The secularization of the western world is certainly a plausible explanation. However, I maintain that as many more people have the opportunity to seriously examine the history and doctrinal claims of  the LDS church, Mormonism will find fewer people interested in what it offers. To put this in marketing terms, potential “customers” who have become “product savvy” are finding Mormonism to be an inferior product. It only makes sense that the free flow of information on the Internet will continue to shrink Mormonism’s potential “customer base.”

The Mormon church is between a rock and a hard place.  It can no longer hide or ignore its past so it is forced to explain the dubious behavior of its founder and the myriad of contradicting teachings among its leadership. In recent months it has been trying to meet this challenge via a series of “Gospel Topic” essays posted on lds.org, but when you have a bad product, how will this new transparency help when it appears that the LDS church is now admitting that its critics were telling the truth all along?

While we are extremely pleased that efforts to expose the error of Mormonism are having a positive effect, this is only phase one in trying to reach the millions of people who are still members of the LDS church. Phase two can, and often is, much more difficult as we attempt to convince disaffected members that the truth claims of Jesus are still worth considering, despite the fact that they were deceived by Joseph Smith.

Even if the LDS church collapsed tomorrow, our missionary efforts will be far from over as we will find ourselves much more engaged in convincing those who erroneously believed the oft-quoted claim that, “if the LDS church isn’t true, nothing is.”

This article is reprinted from the July-August 2014 issue of Mormonism Researched.

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Missionaries | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

“Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests…”

Mormonism’s founding prophet Joseph Smith taught that “Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests” altered the ancient biblical text (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 327). Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, looks at this idea and the state of the biblical text we have today.

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Joseph Smith | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments