Three reasons why our inheritance in Christ does not imply equality with Jesus or a future of being rightly worshipped by others

1. Since our inheritance in Christ is infinite and immeasurable, it will take eternity to appropriate and enjoy. Ephesians 2:7 implies eternal progression: “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ever-increasingly beholding the kindness of Jesus.

2. Since our inheritance is received, we may never rightly boast in ourselves. To us it can be said, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) But of God alone it can be said, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” (Romans 11:36)

3. Since our inheritance is that of being conformed to another, we cannot rightly claim to be the original, the prototype, or the “firstborn.” “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29) The sons are conformed to the image of the Son. Why? “That in everything he might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1:18)

Posted in Jesus Christ, Nature of Man | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

An Existential Crisis?

A guest post by Mike Turnlund.

Being a non-Mormon and an outsider to the LDS faith has not kept me from studying the Latter-day Saint system of belief. I am not a seeker, as I already know Jesus Christ – the Jesus Christ of the Bible, not of the Book of Mormon. There is a difference. The reason I study (perhaps research is a better word) the Mormon religion and its scriptures is because I want to better understand their religious paradigm. As I work with many Mormons and live in an area that is heavily populated by them, it behooves me to “understand their world” if I am to reach them for the real Jesus.

So for the past couple years I’ve been trying to self-educate myself on all things Mormon. This includes perusing Internet sites of all persuasions (especially apologetics), reading the Mormon canon, reading extra-canonical Mormon writings, and visiting personally with Mormons. Here are my observations.

CommunityFirst, what I’ve discovered – and what surprised me – is that ultimately the LDS religion is not about truth; it’s about community. Mormons will, on occasion, engage me in discussions about their faith and how it contrasts with orthodox historical Christianity, but rarely at a meaningful level. They typically don’t seem to be interested in doing so. Not even their missionaries. Yes, the missionaries will discuss this or that, and even spar with me to a certain point, but none of this seems to be of the defining essence of their faith. Instead every conversation always seems to come back around to, or end in, an invitation to visit their stake house. I have been invited to countless Sunday services, potlucks, special meetings, and so forth. In a nutshell “come meet some really nice people and maybe you will want to become part of our family, because we really care about you” and that sort of thing.

And you know what? They do. They really do care. And perhaps this is what makes their religion so attractive to so many folks. Indeed I think that this is what makes the Mormon religion so attractive to Mormons. In a fashion, this ability to generate a genuine caring community of mutual support and concern legitimizes the faith in its members own eyes. It surely does in the larger community. I rarely hear people, especially those that would not know the difference between a Baptist and a Mormon, speak ill of Mormons. Instead I frequently hear things about how nice Mormons are, how they have such good families, and that they look out for one another. Mormons have undoubtedly been successful at selling their brand, in part because they have found that in a sense community sells. They are true believers in community – religious beliefs sometimes become secondary and, while proselytizing, are often not even part of the sales pitch.*

Second, I’ve learned that, at the end of the day, truth does matter. For many people, community, while important, will never trump truth. One can push it aside for a while, but inevitably truth will rear its head again and again and require attention. Subsequently I’ve observed that all is not well in the Church of Latter-day Saints. There is a quiet hush-hush dissention in the ranks and I would not be surprised if we are witnessing the early tremors of an existential earthquake.

It appears to me that the Mormon Church has painted itself into a rhetorical corner in regards to three doctrinal issues; issues that are logically and intellectually untenable and which no amount of “faith” will fix. These three are:

• The Book of Abraham
• The Book of Mormon as a historical record
The Bible and its integrity as a sacred text

Perhaps there are more. But while it might not matter that I, as an outsider of the Mormon faith, struggle to get my mind around these doctrinal positions, it does matter that rank-and-file Mormons do. And they do, in apparently increasing numbers.

walking awayI will not list the recent examples of high-ranking life-long multigenerational Mormons that have lost faith in their church and left. Nor will I explore how church rolls greatly exaggerate membership, nor how young Mormons, especially men, are independently ascertaining facts about the church and voting with their feet. These are all well documented and a brief Internet search will quickly locate the pertinent information. But let’s see how these three doctrinal issues cannot be successfully resolved status quo ante. Indeed, the Church can now only rely on appeals to faith or to logical fallacies.

First issue: the Book of Abraham – even Mormon scholars admit that this canon text is nothing more than an Egyptian funeral text. Nothing sacred here! This fact is obvious to anyone who cares to examine the issue with sober honesty. Recognizing that they cannot defend against the obvious the Church will insist that it is Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the text that is divine, not the text itself. In other words, if a defense cannot be made in an appeal to reason, it will be made in an appeal to faith – a non-thinking, non-critical type of faith. Indeed, the Church’s published analysis on the historicity of the Book of Abraham is a fabulous effort in obfuscation!

Unfortunately for the LDS Church, the simple fact that the Book of Abraham exists in the Mormon canon is a significant reason many current Mormons begin to question their faith.

Second issue: the Book of Mormon as a historical record. Again, this one does not need any elaboration – this is thoroughly documented. Even average Mormons recognize the inconsistencies between what the Book of Mormon teaches as historical fact and the historical realities. For the simple fact that even Mormon researchers have practically thrown in the towel trying to find any archaeological evidence of the ancient empires, let alone the cattle, sheep, horses, goats, elephants, pigs, steel and bronze tools, and wheat that the Book of Mormon attests as existing in pre-Columbian North America. Add to this the problem of the lack of genetic or linguistic evidence that connect existing Native Americans populations with the ancient Jews, their alleged forebears. Again, these discrepancies have proven to be enduring stumbling blocks to an increasing number of Mormons, young and old. Backed into a corner, Mormon apologists appeal to either ludicrous evidence as proof of the historicity of the Book of Mormon or, typically, appeal to faith.

BibleCorrectedThird issue: the integrity of the Bible as God’s word. The Bible seems to be a conundrum for the LDS Church. This is demonstrated in the oxymoronic eighth Article of Faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” It is God’s word, but it requires the lens of the Church to understand it. It is not safe on its own. After all, other LDS scriptures complain that “many plain and precious things” have been removed from the Bible. And church prophets have uttered their own criticisms of the Bible. Unfortunately, the LDS Church doesn’t know what, when, where, or why anything has been either added or removed. They just know it.

While this last issue may not drive Mormons from the faith, as do the two other issues described above, it definitely undermines Mormon confidence in the Bible. Typically Mormons are trained to distrust the Bible, as well as Bible-believing Christians, so that if and when they do leave the Mormon faith they tend to not cross-shop Christian churches. Atheism or agnosticism is the more probable post-Mormon outcome.

In the end I am encouraged and discouraged at the same time. It appears to me that truth is finally winning the battle with Mormons who wrestle with the incongruities of their faith. In this information age we live in, there are few hiding places. Even the deepest secrets of the Mormon Church are seeing the light of day. This is good. Truth is liberating Mormons from the bondage of false teachings. On the other hand, too often when Mormons abandon the Jesus of their LDS faith, they also abandon the chance to come to know the authentic Jesus. And it is this true Jesus that will truly set them free (John 8:31-32).

* Perhaps this foremost concern with community (and inclusion into that community) can explain why many Mormons responded with such energy toward their church with its newly clarified position on homosexual families. The recent ruling to even exclude the children of gay couples from church baptism and membership is a last straw for many otherwise conforming Mormons. This step is too exclusionary. It keeps others from enjoying and embracing that essential character of Mormonism: community. If the religion is first about community and only second about truth, this fits my argument above.

Visit Mike’s blog, A Post-National Christian, or reach him at [email protected]

Posted in Bible, Book of Abraham, Book of Mormon, D&C and Pearl of Great Price, LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Mormon Scripture, Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

The God of Isaiah vs. Gods of Mormonism

Isaiah 55:8-9 reads:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Here are some reasons why, in the context of the book, I don’t think we should interpret this to mean that God got to where he is by progression or advancement, or that he is among others who are becoming the same kind of being (omnipotent, omniscient beings big-G Gods who are worshiped by their own spirit children):

  • In 14:4-21 (13-14 in particular), one who says in his heart, “I will make myself like the Most High”, is condemned as pompous and arrogant (14:11).*
  • He created the heavens and earth without any help or collaboration. “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” (Isaiah 44:24, cf. 40:22, 45:12)
  • He never learned from another: “Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (40:14).
  • “His understanding is unsearchable.” (40:28) Like a stopwatch ticking up to infinity, we can progress forever but never arrive at the wisdom he has always had.
  • He doesn’t have a divine genealogy (chronologically speaking): “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” (43:10)
  • He is the first and the last: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” (44:6)
  • He doesn’t know of any other like himself: “Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (44:8)
  • None is alike or equal to him: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” (40:18) “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.” (40:25) “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?” (46:5)
  • There is none like him: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” (46:9)
  • His glory is uniquely his, and is not shared with any other: “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (48:11)

I don’t see reason to lessen these statements with the limiting qualifier, “for this planet”, or, “for his particular spirit children”, etc. Isaiah seems to be at pains to show that the Most High is literally the Most High, supreme over both “the heavens and earth”, which is an ancient way of saying “evvvvverything.” Isaiah 55:8-9 seems to be continuing the idea that God is entirely a different kind of being than us.

* There is a neat contrast here with Isaiah 14: Satan & Babylon are (or will be) humiliated in hell for their arrogance, but Jesus, who was already equal with the Father (John 17:5), always the Most High, made himself “lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9), and is “exalted… above every name” (Philippians 2:9). As Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Gospel is…

Pastor Matt Chandler explains the Gospel — and why it’s such good news.

Posted in Christianity, Gospel, Jesus Christ, Nature of God, Nature of Man, Salvation | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Of First Importance in Mormon Proselytizing

1952MissionaryGuideIn the early-1950s the Mormon Church taught its missionaries a particular method for effective proselytizing. The book, A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel was published and distributed by the LDS Church as detailed instruction for missionaries. I was recently reading Lesson 1, “The Godhead,” and was struck by how the Mormon Church’s missionary approach has changed over the years. In 1955 the first missionary lesson focused on two very specific points: God the Father has a body of flesh and bones plus spirit; and the investigator’s church (and all “churches of the world”) teach a false concept of God.

Eight years later the Mormon Church revised its systematic missionary approach and published A Uniform System for Teaching Investigators (1961). Then came The Uniform System for Teaching Families (1973) and Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel (1986). Finally, in 2004 the current missionary guide, Preach My Gospel, became the standard approach.

Though I’ve not read them all, it’s my understanding that all of the LDS missionary presentations eventually provide the same set of doctrinal points; they’re just presented in a different order and with different emphases. As I already pointed out, the first lesson of the 1952 approach focuses almost entirely on God having a body and the Mormon assertion that all non-Mormon churches are teaching a false concept of God. Unlike the first lessons from later missionary guides, this lesson doesn’t even mention the Book of Mormon, Christ’s ministry, the atonement, or the plan of salvation.

In the first lesson (discussion) from the 1986 approach, the Mormon doctrine of God having a body of flesh and bones isn’t taught at all. The concept is introduced in the second lesson as if it were established fact. Also missing from the first lesson in this missionary guide is the idea that other churches are wrong. The first lesson mentions Joseph Smith’s confusion about religion, and that various churches in 1820 seemed to have “great differences” in their teachings, but it’s not until the third lesson that investigators learn that God the Father and Jesus Christ “told Joseph not to join any of the churches because the churches were teaching incorrect doctrines” (3-8).

Preach-My-GospelIn the first lesson of the 2004 Preach My Gospel manual, the Mormon doctrine that God the Father has a body of flesh and bones is again front and center (though it is absent from the corresponding pamphlet intended as a study guide for missionaries to leave with investigators following the first lesson). Apostasy, restoration, and the Book of Mormon also figure prominently in this presentation. In the 1952 lesson investigators learn that all churches are wrong, but the 2004 lesson goes a step beyond this when it also declares, “all their creeds were an abomination” (37).

The 1952 presentation concludes with an invitation to attend the Mormon Church on the following Sunday, read some literature the missionaries provide, and “get on your knees this evening and pray to the God of whom we have spoken, not to a mystic spirit, but to our Father in Heaven” asking to know the truth of the things the missionaries taught (60).

The 1986 lesson concludes by asking for a commitment from the investigator to “pray and ask our Heavenly Father whether the Book of Mormon is true and whether Joseph Smith was a prophet of God” (1-19), as well as an invitation to consider baptism, and a commitment to meet with the missionaries again.

The 2004 manual concludes the first lesson suggesting that the investigator ask God “to know that the message of the Book of Mormon is true…Knowing that the Book of Mormon is true leads to a knowledge that Joseph Smith was called as a prophet and that the gospel was restored through him” (39). Missionaries are told to issue an invitation for baptism (40), while investigators are also asked to attend church with the missionaries on the following Sunday, set a time for the missionaries’ next teaching visit, and commit to keep any commandments the missionaries have taught them (41).

While all of these first lessons from the various Mormon missionary presentations differ in which doctrines they teach, one thing is pretty consistent across all three: they all include the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

CrossSkyThe Mormon approach to proselytizing is considerably different from Christian evangelism. Generally speaking, Christian missionaries immediately point people to Jesus. Of first importance of the gospel message is that Jesus died for our sins, just as the Scripture says; He was buried, and raised on the third day, just as the Scripture says; then He appeared to many, confirming beyond any doubt that He had risen from the dead and was fully able to fulfill His promise to reconcile His people to Holy God.

Mormon proselytizing (as presented in these three missionary guides) seems to focus on the Restoration (i.e., Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church) as being of first importance. While they all mention Jesus and present Him to varying degrees (the 2004 presentation being the most extensive), the most important thing Mormon missionaries want people to understand is that there has been a “restoration of truth, authority, scripture, sacred ordinances, and the true Church organization from God through the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Missionary Preparation Student Manual, 72-80). Preach My Gospel explains,

“Investigators must understand that a universal apostasy occurred following the death of Jesus Christ and His Apostles. If there had been no apostasy, there would have been no need of a Restoration…Your purpose is to help them understand the need for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (36)

As for me, I think I’ll stick with the apostle Paul and his instructions for evangelism.

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

Posted in Friendship, Interaction, and Evangelism, LDS Church, Mormon Missionaries | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Giving thanks to God for He is good.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted in Christianity | Tagged | 4 Comments

A Scriptural Twin Study: Nature versus Nurture

A guest post by Mike Turnlund.

One of the enduring issues in the science of psychology is nature versus nurture. Is a person’s behavior, at least in part, motivated by the person’s nature, that is, genetic factors; or by nurture, that is, environmental factors?

To answer this question, psychologists have employed twin studies. Here identical twins that are separated at birth and raised in different environments are examined and their similarities and differences compared. This is a logical process as one factor is controlled (genes, in that identical twins share the same genotype), but the other factor is not (environment). Any apparent differences in the personalities and other developmental traits of these long separated twins could logically be attributed to environmental factors.

Bible-PenPerhaps a twin study is just what the scholars ordered to better understand Mormon reticence toward unconditional acceptance of the Bible as God’s revealed word. While the LDS Church is quick to trumpet their belief in the Bible as God’s word and its inclusion into their own canon, specifically the King James Version, doubts remain. Even their own doctrines muddy the water as demonstrated in the eighth verse of their Articles of Faith, which states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” That’s the catch: “as far as it is translated correctly.”

In Mormon thought and teachings the Bible cannot stand on its own; its teachings must be interpreted through the lens of the LDS church, or “guided by the spirit” in church parlance. The Mormon Church teaches that the Bible became corrupted during that indeterminable time of the Great Apostasy, the great falling away of the post-Apostolic church into heresy. As it reads in 1 Nephi 13:26, 28 in the Book of Mormon,

“And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away… that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.”

That is, the “great and abominable church” removed from the Bible “many plain and precious things.” And this concern with the Biblical text is more than simply the removal of “plain and precious things.” Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie teaches that there are a great many other problems as the “Bible abounds in errors and mistranslations” (The Bible, A Sealed Book – supplement, A Symposium on the New Testament, 1984). Even more, that these errors and mistranslations exist in both the Old and New Testaments (ibid.).

So what are these “errors and mistranslations,” and what “plain and precious” things have been removed? And that is the problem: no one seems to know. As far as this author can determine there are no concise LDS writings that identify these errors. That is in and of itself seriously suspect, as the Mormon Church cannot discern its own canon. Even more, the logic of refuting the integrity of the Bible without demonstrating (even knowing) how is a negative proof and a logical fallacy. But that is a topic for a later discussion.

Still, is there a way to determine what changes might have occurred during the time of the Great Apostasy? Sure, a twin study. Take two identical twins (who share the same genes), but who were separated and raised apart. Any differences between them would surely be caused by environmental factors. And the twins I have in mind are the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament.

AncientScrollThe Jews of Jesus’ day and the early Christian Church shared the same scriptures. Of course, in time the writings that came out of that first century Christian experience would become normalized into a second canon and would be called the New Testament. Judaism continued with the scriptures it had and down a road from which the early Christian believers would later diverge. And the church was born. And the two monotheist groups, though sharing origins, would become quite different in theology, in doctrine, and in practice.

When a preliminary comparison of the two texts is begun, obvious differences quickly become apparent. The Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) and the Old Testament often arrange the books in different order and the Christian version separates many of specific books in the Tanakh into two parts, e.g. Chronicles, Samuel, Kings, etc. But when we compensate for this and finally conduct a verse-by-verse comparison of the two texts we discover…nothing. Really, nothing. The texts are the same – a few minor word changes here and there, but barely enough to add up to a fraction of a fraction. For the fact that these two versions spent the past two millennia in different environments attests to the singular determination of both religious groups toward maintaining the integrity of their texts.

What about the New Testament? Can a twin study be conducted with this uniquely Christian text? Yes, definitively. But that, too, would require an additional article. Instead, let’s return to our original narrative: why the lack of trust of the Bible by the LDS Church? This discomfort of the LDS Church is not based in facts, as demonstrated above, but simply by Mormon convention. By casting suspicion on the Scriptures of the “other” Christian sects – Catholics and Protestants – the LDS Church both increases its sense of distinction (the “Restored Church”) and its authority over its adherents. Evidently only the leaders of the LDS Church somehow know authoritatively that the Bible has become corrupted over the course of many hundreds of years. But since they cannot demonstrate how this is, Mormons are going to have to take that on faith.

Visit Mike’s blog, A Post-National Christian, or reach him at [email protected]

Posted in Bible, Early Christianity | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

Beware of false prophets.

In this short video (4:45) Ritch Sandford provides a solid overview of what the Bible says about false prophets.

At the end of the video Mr. Sandford cites Matthew 7:15-16 where Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets…You will recognize them by their fruits.”

In 1999 Mormon apostle M. Russell Ballard also cautioned, “beware of false prophets and teachers.” He listed several fruits of false prophets and teachers that will allow people to recognize them for what they are. One such fruit was that false prophets might attempt to

“redefine the nature of the Godhead, and they…arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to his children but merely the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural bias. They argue, therefore, that the scriptures require new interpretation and that they are uniquely qualified to offer that interpretation.” (“Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” Ensign, November 1999)

This sounds a lot like the origins of Mormonism. Indeed, Joseph Smith fares badly when his prophetic fruits are examined.

As Mr. Sandford said in his video, “Mormons…have a God-given commandment from Jesus to search out the truth of Joseph Smith.” He notes that the Bible makes it clear that all of us “will be held accountable for holding all of our spiritual leaders to God’s standard.” May we all have the courage to do so.

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Mormon Leaders, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The Great and Abominable Church

Dallin H. OaksIn the March, 2015 edition of Ensign magazine, Mormon apostle Dallin Oaks discusses the topics of atheism, moral relativism, secular humanism and the “great and abominable church.” The article, titled, “Stand as Witnesses of God,” was a devotional address he gave in February of 2014.

On page 30 he likens atheism to the teachings of Book of Mormon character Korihor who, according to Alma 30:6, 12, was called an “anti-Christ.” Korihor taught that only what can be seen is to be believed, that belief in the forgiveness of sins is the product of a “frenzied mind,” and “whatever a man did was no crime.”
According to Oaks, “Book of Mormon prophecies describe the ‘great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil’ (1 Nephi 14:17).” But because “this ‘church’ is prophesied to have ‘dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people’ (1 Nephi 14:11), this great and abominable church must be something far more pervasive and widespread than a single ‘church,’ as we understand that term today.”

Though often used in a religious context, this label also applies to the secular world. In the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, instructors are told to “emphasize that the great and abominable church is a symbol of apostasy in all its forms. It is a representation of false doctrine, false worship, and irreligious attitudes. It does not represent any specific church in the world today” (1999, p. 18).

CrossSkyIn his Ensign article, Oaks refers to 1 Nephi 14:10 and notes that “Nephi was told by revelation that there were only ‘two churches’: ‘the church of the Lamb of God’ and ‘the church of the devil’ (1 Nephi 14:10; see also 13:4–6).” His definition of the church of the devil is not much different from that of his predecessor, Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie (1915-1985). In his book, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, McConkie said the church of the devil is “communism; it is Islam; it is Buddhism; it is modern Christianity in all its parts. It is Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, and Italy under Mussolini. It is the man of sin speaking in churches, orating in legislative halls, and commanding the armies of men” (pp. 54-55).

Though definitions like this are pretty much understood by members of the LDS Church, still, when the subject of “the great apostasy” comes up in conversation, it is not uncommon for them to try and soften the blow by insisting that “all churches have some truth.” This, however, does not erase the fact that, officially, Mormons view their church as the only true church (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30) and all others as being false.
In an essay titled “ ‘Watch and Remember’: The New Testament and the Great Apostasy,” BYU professor Kent P. Jackson put it more succinctly when he said, “whoever does not belong to ‘the church of the Lamb of God’ belongs to ‘the church of the devil,’ as Nephi announced, then all systems of worship outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be classified as “the church of the devil” by Nephi’s definition” (By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 1:87).

In light of these comments, what are we evangelicals to think when Mormons insist they are Christians “just like” us?

This article is reprinted from the July—August 2015 issue of Mormonism Researched.

Posted in Book of Mormon, Christianity, Great Apostasy, LDS Church | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

This is a Test: Joseph Smith and Deuteronomy 13

Joshua and MosesIt had been a long forty years of wandering in the wilderness. God’s people Israel were finally nearing their Promised Land. Moses’ life was drawing to a close and the people were about to enter a new way of life under the untried leadership of Joshua. They needed to be prepared for what lay ahead. So God, in His loving mercy, commanded Moses to give His people important instructions regarding their continued faithfulness once they found themselves on the other side of the Jordan River. These instructions today are found in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.

This biblical book makes known many important truths God delivered to Israel through Moses. However, for the purposes of this article we shall look at only two.

In Deuteronomy 6:4 God gave His people a concise confession of their faith: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” This passage speaks of the uniqueness of the LORD (Yahweh) and asserts that He alone is God (Elohim). This strong monotheistic confession was a call for God’s people to stay true to Him as they lived among polytheistic pagans, for He instructed: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

But God recognized the temptations the pagan worshipers would bring to the children of Israel. Therefore, He warned His people to have nothing to do with idolatry. In Deuteronomy 13:1-3 God said,

“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying ‘Let us go after other gods’–which you have not known–‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The words from the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) were echoed here as God prepared His people for the temptations brought by false prophets. The Israelites were not to be deceived by miraculous signs or fulfilled prophecy; these things were not the standard by which to ultimately judge the dreamer of dreams. Instead, a theological analysis was to be applied: Who was the God the prophet advanced? Was He the one God the people had always known? Or was he a new and different god?

This was a test.

God said He allowed false prophets and temptations toward idolatry in order to test His people, that it would be shown whether they truly loved Him. Those who did were to respond in this way: “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4-5; emphasis added). God demanded total fidelity and would accept nothing less.

Let’s fast forward to April 6th, 1844.

On a hill overlooking the Mississippi River thousands of people sat listening to their prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., deliver a sermon at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Due to its content being prompted by the death of a Mormon man named King Follett, this address would later be known as the King Follett Discourse.* The Prophet’s stated purpose for this particular sermon was to teach the congregation to “understand and be fully acquainted with the mind, purposes, and decrees of the great Eloheim,” that is, God the Father. After assuring his listeners that he would speak only as inspired by the Holy Spirit, Joseph Smith launched into a theologically jam-packed sermon on the nature of God.

joseph-smithJoseph said,

“…it is necessary that we should understand the character and being of God, and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the vail, so that you may see.”

Hold it.

What was Joseph Smith saying? His listeners had “imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity.” Why would they have believed such a thing? Perhaps they had read it in the Bible. Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

Joseph continued his teaching:

“These are incomprehensible ideas to some; but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God…he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did…”

Was this the God Joseph Smith’s audience had always known? No, for this prophet said he would refute their long-held ideas about God.

The Prophet further explained:

“Here then is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you,–namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one…”

What’s this? Our God is one of many? He used to be a man but learned to be a God by going from one small degree to another? How does this compare with the revelation of God in the Bible–the God we have always known?

Isaiah 44:6: “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel,…I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.”

Malachi 3:6: “For I am the LORD, I do not change…”

How about the true confession of faith given by God in Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!”

Continuing his teaching, Joseph Smith asserted:

“In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it. When we begin to learn in this way, we begin to learn the only true God and what kind of being we have got to worship.”

We now know what kind of being Joseph Smith encouraged us to worship, but what has God previously revealed? “Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are my witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:8)

In his King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith did exactly what God warned against in Deuteronomy 13. He essentially said, “Let us go after other gods–which you have not known–and let us serve them.”

What should have been the response of the audience to this heretical teaching? God commanded: “…you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams…”

Unfortunately, most of Joseph Smith’s followers in 1844 did listen to the words of that prophet. Joseph praised them, saying,

“This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know you believe them.”

God allowed Joseph Smith to speak those words for a purpose; and He continues to allow false prophets a voice today, “…for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

It is a great responsibility Almighty God has placed upon us, to know Him, the only true God, and love Him with all our hearts. But He has not left us helpless and floundering, to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. He has provided the means for us to spot false prophets and false doctrine, and commands us to use the tools He has given us.

False prophets test the depth of our love for God, but Deuteronomy also gives us a test to measure those claiming to come in the name of the LORD. In the case of Joseph Smith and his King Follett Discourse, the answer is clear. The fruit of this prophet is heresy.

May all who truly love God respond as He has commanded: “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.”

Amen.

* All quotes from the King Follett Discourse can be found in any of the following sources where the text is fully recorded: History of the Church 6:320-317; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 342-362; Journal of Discourses 6:1-11; Millennial Star 23:245-280.

This article originally appeared in A Word in Season, Fall 2000.

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, Early Mormonism, General Conference, God the Father, Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse, LDS Church, Mormon History, Mormon Leaders, Nature of God, Nature of Man, Nauvoo, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments