I pick John Piper to make it personal for me and some other evangelicals. He is not by any stretch of the imagination the pope of Protestantism, but he is my living hero. I even named my only begotten son after him. If he were to begin teaching that the practice of homosexuality was morally praiseworthy I would be crushed. But I have the freedom as a Christian to swiftly discard any wrong teachings of his in a heartbeat.
This is why I disagree that an attack on institutional Mormonism for any modern or historic problem can conceivably apply to Protestantism in the same way: we have vastly different views of church government, leadership, and authority. I do not believe that I have an inspired apolostic leadership, nor do I have a hierarchy to which I am bound. We evangelicals are more decentralized, and have no system of inspired (and I use that word in the strong sense) leadership-succession.
An ideological attack on the past actions and words of Roman popes matters more than attacks on any Protestant figure. I can discard the teaching of a Protestant on a whim. But Catholics in principle have more invested in the historic reliability of their succession of authority figures. So a Protestant preacher and Catholic pope could make the same exact theological error, but it should in principle have more impact on the system of Romanism than on Protestantism. This is even more the case when it comes to a Mormon president, because Mormonism says that its president is a bona fide prophet in the thickest sense.
Wanting modern prophets and apostles or Popes with inherent authority but without any increased standard of accountability and responsibility is downright shallow. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
For all the smack-talk about Protestants being in a denominational anarchy and disorganized mess, we have the benefit of not having to account for any historic leadership to which we do not put ourselves under. So while you could conceivably hold me accountable for sticking around my local church while my local pastor was doing or saying horrible things, or you could accuse a Presbyterian sticking around too long under a bad presbytery, etc., you can’t accuse me of being immoral for refusing to take responsibility for a Protestant like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Ted Haggard, etc., let alone any dead guy.
The best real example I can think of is historic racism. I was previously accused of ideologically attacking the Mormon Church for not making an institutional apology for the kind of theology that undergirded the pre-1978 priesthood ban. After all, wasn’t Mormonism’s racism largely a continuation of what was Protestant racism? I responded:
There is no question in my mind over whether the seeds of Mormonism’s institutional racism were planted by Protestants. Racism is only the beginning of the list of the embarrassing sins of my religious ancestors. There are worse skeletons than racism in our closet. Furthermore, you and I both come from the same rotten mom and dad, Adam and Eve. The nice thing about sola scriptura (a belief some Mormons seem to retreat to when forced to deal with things like Adam-God) is that I can discard the teachings of historic Jews and Christians when they don’t reflect (explicitly or by inference) a historical-grammatical reading of the Old or New Testament. My leaders have no more access to God than I do, and I am not bound to any one religious hierarchy. God has promised that his people are securely in his hand, but he has not promised that religious leaders who are professing Christians will never lead people astray.
Mormons, on the other hand, have been given the promise that their leaders will never lead others astray. When Mormonism touts what it calls “continuing revelation”, living prophets, living apostles, and a modern stream of prophetic counsel, it ups the ante. I can, and I do right now, unequivocally denounce and condemn what Luther said about the Jews. But Mormonism’s leaders haven’t demonstrated a willingness to stand up and unequivocally and explicitly denounce and condemn what it (”it” being the institution with various institutional channels of communication and control) has promoted, perpetuated, enforced, and acquiesced to.
Just in case this isn’t clear, let me make it crystal clear. If John Piper taught tomorrow that Jesus was the spirit-brother of Satan, that we had to merit eternal life, and that one should have no certain position on whether God the Father was once a foul sinner in a past mortal probation, I would probably cry but then pronounce that he is anathema/accursed/hell-bound. As Paul said,
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
So even if Thomas Monson, or John Piper, or Pope Benedict XVI teaches a false gospel, let him go to hell. Turn your back on him and go where the Spirit is. And of this you can be sure: where the true gospel is not believed, the Spirit is not indwelling.
- “Never Lead Us Astray.” And Dissonance (a Mormon approach to the problem of their leaders teaching false doctrine)
- Continuing revelation (MormonWiki.org; a messy list of relevant quotes by Mormons)
A classic example of false teaching by a Mormon prophet is Adam-God. On this one Mormon writes:
“It’s now standard practice to teach that Adam and Heavenly Father are separate beings, but there was a time when that assertion contradicted what the President of the Church was teaching. Brigham Young taught that acceptance or rejection of the Adam-God doctrine ‘will either seal the damnation or salvation of [men]’ (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, April 9, 1852). Men like Orson Pratt were vocal in their opposition to the doctrine, and Brigham Young responded that it would “destroy him if he does not repent & turn from his evil ways” (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, March 11, 1856). Yet, in a matter of decades, the Church had abandoned the doctrine… So what are we to do if we find our conscience in opposition to what the present authorities are teaching about some issue? Force ourselves to accept something with which we disagree? I don’t think that’s the way to go. I mean, can we safely assume that, in another 25, 50, or 100 years, General Authorities will still be teaching the same thing? If Church history is any indication, then the answer is no. Today’s heresies might be tomorrow’s doctrines. As for myself, I’ll stick with my own intuition, spiritual experiences, and conscience.” (>>)
If you want to engage in constructive conversation on this whole issue, folks, don’t resort to the red herring of “prophets aren’t perfect, they’re human”, etc. That’s an inadequate way of approaching the problem. Some helpful questions to answer would be:
- Do you believe your inspired leadership is expected to be more doctrinally reliable than the common laymen? How should they be held accountable to this?
- How bad can the false doctrine of an inspired leader get before he is objectively disqualified from being a true prophet or apostle? Some Mormons seem to believe there are no limits.