Mormonism is Not Orthodox Christianity

Many Christian apologists who answer Mormon doctrine do so on the basis of looking deep into their lesser known beliefs and pointing out that there is some wild stuff going on there. For example, Joseph Smith taught that Methuselah and Abraham used the urim and the thummim as magical telescopes to discover the star Kolob, which is said to be the star nearest to the throne of Elohim. That’s pretty wild stuff right there. But such criticisms are not a solid argument against Mormonism, anymore than arguing that most Flat Earth nutters claim to be Christians.

There are, however, blatant statements in the public instruments of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which defy biblical orthodoxy. Here I will consider just a small part of what is posted on their main proselytization site, mormon.org. None of this is hidden. It is all posted on their website in plain view. When a Mormon says that he/she is a Christian, you should have reason for pause. The beliefs represented here are at odds – great odds – with the Scriptures themselves. They are reliant not upon the Bible but upon additional “revelations” given exclusively to the Mormons.

I will content myself to address two main areas here. First, the nature of God and man that the Mormons adhere to makes a mockery of the Bible. Second, I will address the Book of Mormon, which is the basis for almost all of the misunderstandings concerning the nature of God and man. The headings provided are the headings on mormon.org.

Home > Beliefs > Godhead

Like him [God] we are divine in our nature and purpose…We are all God’s spirit children.

Like us, Jesus was created in the image of God, the Father, and They both have perfected bodies of flesh and bone.

One of the core tenets of the Mormon religion is that God is and always has been a physical being. To be specific, the creator is Elohim. One of his spiritual children was Yahweh, who eventually came to earth as Jesus to progress to true divinity (Gospel Doctrine, 70). Jesus had to progress to this fulness of deity through the resurrection (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:33).

Understand that the Mormons believe that Jesus enacted the progression as the firstborn of Elohim, but this progression is available to all true believers, since they are also the spiritual children of God. Jesus was simply a volunteer to put the plan into effect (The Mortal Messiah, 1:48-49).

When the Mormons speak about God, they are speaking about Jesus and only Jesus. Joseph Smith made this plain. “The Father has never dealt with man directly and personally since the fall, and he has never appeared except to introduce and bear record of the Son.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:27). They disavow any knowledge of Elohim – this distant god – because Yahweh/Jesus is the god of this world.

Home > Beliefs > The Creation and the Fall

Like Adam and Eve, we left paradise to seek progression, and we can return the same way they did.

Mormons believe that human beings are eternal beings who existed before their birth on earth (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29) in a spiritual body. The purpose of coming to earth and taking on physical form is to be transformed into gods. “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” (Doctine and Covenants 77:2)

Adam was the spiritual child of the creator god, specifically he was the archangel Michael. He came to earth, was perfected and then returned to god. This was all part of a plan which God had laid out before his chosen beings (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 209, 511). In other words, in our pre-existing, spiritual state, God summoned all of us together, made a plan for how we could progress to becoming gods; and then set about enacting that plan through our lives on earth.

Home > Beliefs > Book of Mormon

Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon is an ancient record of God’s teachings to His people.

This statement is an obfuscation. The only witness to the Book of Mormon is the copies of the Book of Mormon made available after Joseph Smith “discovered” it and dictated a translation, beginning in 1829. NO ancient versions of the Book of Mormon, even the originals Joseph Smith supposedly translated exist. The only evidence to the existence of this “ancient” book is the testimony of three men – Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer. All three men broke later broke with the Mormons. The only authorities that recite their testimonies are, of course, the Mormons.

This is a very different situation from the Bible. The Qumran caves contained 1st and 2nd century BCE copies of much of the Old Testament, and references to every book except Esther. Fragments of the New Testament dating to within a generation of the events described in it have been found and catalogued. There are literally thousands of manuscripts of the ancient books of the Bible, all of which have been studied in-depth by scholars of every conceivable creed. It is, without a doubt, the most studied book in the world.

The audacity to claim ancient origins for something like the Book of Mormon with absolutely no verifiable provenance and no extant ancient copies is a bold statement, which the mormon.org site makes without offering a shred of evidence.

The Book of Mormon is a fundamental part of Jesus Christ’s restored Church on the earth today. [emphasis mine]

The Mormons are a radical restoration movement, something that was quite prominent in the 19th century. These movements claimed that the true church had been lost, and Christianity as it existed was in error. Their leaders, such as Joseph Smith, were therefore given a special revelation to restore the true faith. In Smith’s case, this includes restoring the priesthood of Melchizedek, temple worship, and some rather idiosyncratic beliefs.

Their additional revelation is necessary to support their claims because there is no way to draw their faith or practices from the Bible alone. We are therefore forced to either accept that the Book of Mormon has the authority by which Smith has “restored” the church, or we can reject it. There is no empirical evidence for the acceptance of the Book of Mormon or the restoration, while the Bible’s historicity and continued use is undeniable.

Home > Beliefs > Bible

The Holy Bible is a book of scripture that tells of the Lord’s interactions with His people over the course of 4,000 years. [emphasis mine]

There is a subtly bait-and-switch that occurs in the language of the discussion of the Bible. The website is careful to refer to the Bible as a book of scripture, but then to also refer to all of God’s scripture and they also point out that the Bible serves only as “powerful precedent” for the Restoration of the Church.” What is being done here is simple. The site appears to be talking about the Bible, but it is actually talking about “the four standard works” which contain the full revelation to the church (Doctrine of the Gospel Student Manual, 4-5). These standard works are the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. These three latter documents are the official interpretation of the first.

The Mormons believe that the Bible was altered by the Church. They refer to the period between the death of the apostles and the restoration under Joseph Smith as “the long night of apostasy.” (Doctrine of the Gospel Student Manual, 59) They even hold that Jesus’s work was only a restoration of the true Church (Mormon Doctrine, 133). The corruptions included the addition of philosophy, additions and alterations to the rites of the church and unauthorized changes in organization (Jesus the Christ, 748-749).

The Mormons believe that anyone claiming to follow the Bible but rejecting Mormonism is an apostate. Only their restored Church is valid. The true keys to salvation were given solely to Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants, 110:16, 5:10, 28:2-7); and he has selectively sent the leaders of the Mormon Church to further Smith’s mission (Doctrine and Covenants 138:53-56).

Make no mistake about it. Mormonism rejects all forms of Christianity except their own on the basis of their additional revelation. They reject any church but their own. “Once or twice in a thousand years a new door is opened through which all men must enter if they are to gain peace in this life and be inheritors of eternal life in the realms ahead.” (Bruce R. McConkie in Conference Report, October 1975).

Conclusion

I have not taken the time to reiterate the orthodox Christian view on these matters; but any moderately well-versed Christian will tell you that the teachings on God and Jesus are contradictory to orthodoxy. Likewise, the statements which undermine the authority of the Scriptures should resonate as major errors if you know anything about the orthodox view of the Scriptures.

Reading these statements, all of which come from publicly available sources generated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints themselves, how could anyone say that Mormonism is just another brand of Christianity? At its very core, Mormonism denies two fundamental tenets of orthodoxy: the eternal, triune nature of God and the inspiration of Scripture.

Even if there were no other issues with Mormonism (and there are plenty), these two disagreements set Mormonism outside of the flow of orthodox Christianity.

Don’t get me wrong. Mormons are free to believe whatever they wish. We must respect their right of individual determination and practice of faith; but when Mormons attempt to present their faith as if it is Christianity, they are either ignorant of their own religious leaders’ teachings or blatantly lying. Mormonism simply is not compatible with orthodox Christianity on a fundamental, doctrinal level. Pretending that it is would be folly.

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Reading the Exodus and Wanderings

Reading the Exodus and Wanderings

While our congregation is reading through Exous, Leviticus and Numbers, I thought I would add some daily notes of things that caught my imagination.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:17)

What is so important about a name?

In the Egyptian worldview, your name was not just a label. It was a significant part of who you were. This is a difficult concept for us to embrace because names do not have nearly the same significance to us.

In 1323 BCE, the young pharaoh Tut-Ankh-Amon died, possibly bludgeoned to death by assassins. His successors, Ay and Horemheb, spent their years of rule eradicating both his name and his father’s name from every monument and inscription in Egypt. Tut-Ankh-Amon’s father had been the great heretic pharaoh Ankh-Aten, who had abandoned the millennia old religion of Egypt in favor of the worship of the sun disk, Aten.

In the Egyptian view, the best way to destroy this heresy was to remove any mention of the names of those who followed it. Their names were struck from the king lists. Their monuments were either torn down or edited. Everything about their names was destroyed.

Most importantly, their tombs were buried under tons of rubble. This was fortunate for Howard Carter, the archaeologist who ultimately discovered Tut-Ankh-Amon’s tomb in the early 20th century, but unfortunate for poor Tut-Ankh-Amon who, as far as the Egyptians were concerned, was left floating in the nether without completing his journey to the afterlife.

You see, in the Egyptian worldview, the final stage of passing through the afterlife requires your name. People in the world of the living must know your name. If they do not, you will not move on. You will be lost forever. The world of the living and the afterlife are inextricably connected.

When Moses asked God for his name, he was not making an excuse. An unnamed God had no power to the Egyptians.

And what a name God gives to Moses – I AM. This is a name of absolutes. It implies that he exists whether you know his name or not. God gives the ultimate name.

This was not lost on the Egyptians or the Sons of Israel. It had a weight and power that we cannot imagine. That is why Pharaoh laughs. It is a laughter of fear. God puts his existence up against all the Egyptians know and believe.

God wins.

Abusing History in Bible Teaching

Abusing History in Bible Teaching

As a student of history and the Bible, I often find myself telling people to learn the background and context of things before making definitive statements.

As of late, however, I am discovering that the only thing more dangerous than ignorance of historical context is the abuse of incomplete knowledge of history. People who develop a thesis based on partial or unverifiable evidence can develop some very erroneous and even dangerous thoughts about the Bible and its message.

Be cautious about making definitive statements because you read some interesting historical anecdote or perused a website. Verifying your evidence and your conclusions is part of the responsibility of any competent Bible teacher.

By all means, learn all you can. Don’t be afraid of the backdrop of the Scriptures, but make sure you don’t go off half cocked because some idea caught your fancy. More poor doctrine has been born from incomplete context than probably any other single factor.

Vestigial Theology

coffeeHave you ever gotten to the bottom of a cup of coffee and taken that last swig only to encounter a mouthful of coffee grounds? Is there anything more surprising than expecting a beverage in your mouth and discovering what essentially amounts to bitter-tasting dirt?

Those of us who came out of established (and sometimes dogmatic) movements within Christianity have a problem others do not have. We often have these little bits and pieces of beliefs floating around in our cup of faith (and that metaphor is now exhausted).

These fragments of belief are often disconnected from most of our faith – little bits of eschatology (beliefs about the end times, heaven and hell) or soteriology (how someone is saved).

When you are asked about a matter you have not considered in some time, your first instinct should be to ask, “How does this fit with everything else we see in Scripture?”

When I first wrote the question above it said, “How does this fit with everything else I believe?” It was ironic that I had to filter that question, and I realized I made two mistakes.

First, our interpretation of these fragmentary, vestigial bits and pieces of our faith should not be based on an individual decision. This is not about what I believe but about what the community, the Church sees. The Scriptures are not for our private interpretation (2 Peter 1:21). They are held in stewardship by the Church. Therefore, we should be discussing our faith – both doctrine and practice. Led by the Spirit, we should be engaging in dialogue. That’s how doctrine is sorted out.

Second, this should not be about what I believe but what Scripture says. While my beliefs might be important in our modern world, they should be suborned to the Scriptures’ truth. What matters is not what I believe, but what the Bible says.

I find that when I am asking this question, it is useful to journal the dialogue. I write down my questions, what I think it is that I am supposed to believe, the interactions I have with others, and anything else that might be pertinent. I often read a lot – Scripture, the church fathers, and even commentaries (sometimes).

We should strive to bring our beliefs into submission to God’s Word. As we find these vestigial bits and pieces floating around, we should deal with them – or rather, we should conform our thinking to that of the Bible.

Tom Wright on Framing the Debate on Homosexuality

Once again, Tom Wright brings wisdom and reason to a hot topic. Toward the end, he addresses the Enlightenment arrogance of those who say, “We know more about homosexuality” or “We have evolved from the ignorance of the ancient world”. While Wright does not come down on one side or the other in this video, he brings up a lot of points that people refuse to consider in this debate (or rather argument). Chief among the issues worth considering is Wright’s point about differentiation in creation.

Tom Wright on the Resurrection

That the disciple of Jesus taught his resurrection was a revolutionary concept. Here is Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham and one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our day, explaining why the resurrection must be true.

“The only way you can explain why christianity began and why it took the very precise shape it was is – let’s say cautiously first – they really did believe he was bodily raised from the dead…the only way you can explain the rise of the early Christian belief that Jesus was raised is if there really was an empty tomb, and  they really did meet jesus alive again in a transformed body.”

A Theology of Violence

In the United States, violence is something that used to happen to someone else. It was something reserved for urban areas and gangsters or third world countries and oppressive regimes. But in the midst of the suburban American dream, violence was something you observed on television or in the newspaper.

All of that has changed in recent years. Violence has come home.

There has been a lot of bizarre news in the United States in 2012, and all of it has been violent. During the summer there were two – TWO! – strange stories of cannibalistic violence with people actually attacking and eating others. At the opening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, an insane man loaded all the weapons he could find and just started blasting away in a theater, killing a dozen people and injuring another eighty-five.

The past week has seen two very violent mass shootings in two suburban settings not usually associated with violence. In Happy Valley, Oregon, a lone gunman walked into a shopping mall and with apparent abandon, started blasting away at holiday shoppers. Then yesterday in Connecticut, a twenty year old man shot his mother and then went to the school where she worked and mercilessly killed her kindergarten students – her kindergarten students. Both shooters then turned their weapons on themselves.

The scope of these tragedies cannot be overstated. It simply boggles the mind that someone would be so messed up that slaughtering children seemed like an appropriate response to – well, anything.

A lot of people have been asking where this impulse of violence is coming from, and they have been coming up with all kinds of answers. Perhaps it comes from not having strict enough gun laws, or perhaps it comes from banning the Ten Commandments in schools. Perhaps it is a sign of the end times, or perhaps it is because of violent video games.

No one seems to be taking any time to consider what the Scriptures have to say about man’s violent nature.

Let’s consider for a moment just how violent human beings are.

It certainly is nothing new.

In Genesis 2, God creates man. In Genesis 3, man sins. In Genesis 4, man begins to murder his brother. In Genesis 6, we read these words:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
Genesis 6:11-12 (ESV)

Mankind fills any situation with violence, and the more of us there are, the more potentially violent we become. This is something that the author of this part of the Genesis narrative knew over 6,000 years ago at the beginning of human recorded history.

Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies.
        He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.
Psalm 7:14-16 (ESV)

Violence is part of our sinfulness. It is multiplied and magnified in the “wicked man” but the potential exists among all of us. We need to understand that violence is part of the human experience – a natural consequence of the sin nature that lies within all of us.

And what does God say to all of this? The words he gave to the prophet Jonah echo his desire for mankind to lay down his violent nature:

Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Jonah 3:8 (ESV)

Jonah was speaking to the Assyrians in Nineveh in the 8th century BCE. This was a culture that used violence to good effect. They were renowned for cruelty and destruction. And yet, God points out to Jonah that there are at least 120,000 children in the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). Judgment would have come on these children as well as their parents, and why? Because of their violence?

One of the promises God gives to David (around 1000 BCE) about the kingdom of Israel is that “violent men will waste them no more.” (1 Chronicles 17:9)

The reality is that violence is simply a matter of our existence here on earth. It is part of life. It has been a part of life for a long time.

We Americans seem to view violence from a distance, believing that somehow we have bettered human nature and have overcome the innate violence of our nature. Sometimes it seems like we have the underlying belief that we are better than those “other” people who are so violent.

Christians tend to think we have done this through moral law codes and sermons. Humanists think we accomplish it through just “being” better people.

But the reality is that we are not any different from Cain who killed his brother in an envious rage. We are no better than the Assyrians. We are still violent, and violence will continue to happen. Human beings don’t evolve and improve. We’re still just as sinful as Cain was.

A world without violence is an illusion. We can clean up the streets and pay more police officers, but we cannot get rid of the violence that resides in the heart of sinful man.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates our need for a Savior, for someone to take our violence upon himself. Christ’s crucifixion was a cruel, awful death; and yet it was a death invented by man to be inflicted upon man. What better way to illustrate how our violent and sinful natures torment the heart of God? What better way to show us the violent grace we receive through Christ?

Does Christ remove the violence of the world? His own words indicate that persecution and violence will continue until his return (Matthew 24:6).

If there is a theology of violence, it is that violence will always be present in sinful man.

If there is an answer to our violence, it is Christ.

No laws will change that. Teachers can’t change it. We cannot improve ourselves enough to eradicate the darkness of the sinful condition.

So, what to do?

We must answer violence with compassion, war with peace. The Church must be the peaceful rocks of truth that the waves of destruction crash upon and we must continue to love.

We must not be a marching army, determined to conquer the violence of man’s heart. Instead, we must become the heart of society – the clear voice of the gospel in the midst of voices of chaos, rage, guilt, fear and pain. To be the body of Christ is to be the peacemakers.

We must do this although the strength to do it is not present in our own spirits. We must rely upon the Spirit of God, upon the direction of our grieving Creator who wishes to see His creation reconciled. It is not enough to mourn injustice or to lament violence. We must become the agents of His peace, in whatever ways we can.

Violence will not cease as long as their are sinful human beings.

So, grace must not cease. The Church must never cease to be Christ’s peace and grace.