Much is said in these days about religious intolerance, but we do not believe disagreeing with each other is intolerance but rather following a desire to ensure that we do have the truth and our future is secure.
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The Plan of our Heavenly Father – in which the investigator is introduced to the idea of prophets who reveal God’s plan; Joseph Smith; Restoration; the Book of Mormon; The Holy Ghost and Moroni’s promise. (Commitment, read and pray about the Book of Mormon)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ – LDS teaching on Faith; Repentance; Baptism; The Gift of the Holy Ghost; Obedience. (Commitment, set a date for baptism)
The Restoration – Apostasy; Restoration; TheTrue Church; Church Membership. (Commitment, Attend a Sacrament [Communion, Eucharist, Lord’s table] Meeting)
Eternal Progression – The Mormon Plan of Salvation covering Pre-mortal Existence and Eternal Progression; Work for the Dead; the idea of the Eternal Family; Chastity and the Word of Wisdom. (Commitment, Live the law of chastity and live the Word of Wisdom)
Living a Christ-like Life – Keeping the Commandments; the idea that Sacrifice brings Blessing; Fasting; Tithing and Giving. (Commitment, Pay Tithing)
Membership in the Kingdom – Christ’s part in God’s plan; Exaltation through Christ and His Church; The 3-fold Mission of the Mormon Church, Perfecting the Saints; Proclaiming the Gospel; Redeeming the Dead; Enduring to the End. (Commitment, Be an active member of the Church and help fulfil its mission)
“Your goal is to help investigators become converted by the Spirit…To do this you must help them feel and recognise the influence of the Spirit. As they feel the Spirit, you will be able to help them make and keep the commitments that lead to conversion and baptism.”
First you prepare the investigators to feel and recognise the Spirit. When they feel the Spirit, invite them to make a specific commitment.
“… help them feel you are interested in their good. As they feel greater trust in you, they will feel greater confidence in what you teach them…building a relationship of trust must be a constant concern.
“When you use the scriptures in your teaching…Help the investigators understand the context and meaning of [them]. Use them to promote spiritual feelings, not to prove a point.”
Great emphasis is placed on the promises of Mormon scripture that truth is confirmed through feelings. First through Moroni’s promise:
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” – Moroni 10:4, (emphasis added)
And also through other “restoration” texts, including these words uttered by Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdrey:
“But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause your bosom to burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupour (sic) of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” – D&C 9:9, (emphasis added)
Making your investigator feel good about your visits, your character, your sincerity, becomes paramount, and statements like “I wouldn’t have come 3,000 miles to share this with you today if I didn’t really believe it was true” are designed to impress the investigator with a sense of sincerity and authenticity. In the last issue we pointed out that they believe their testimony is spiritually powerful, and will bear their testimony when they are in a corner or when they feel it is an appropriate moment, e.g. to testify to key points in the Mormon story, or if an investigator shows signs of warming to their message. At these times they might challenge the investigator to express their own feelings by asking “Do you feel the Spirit too?” Remember the instruction to missionaries:
“First you prepare the investigators to feel and recognise the Spirit. When they feel the Spirit, invite them to make a specific commitment. “
This is clearly illustrated in a February 1998 sermon given by Mormon Apostle, Boyd K Packer. Speaking to young Mormons of those who criticise the Mormon Church he states:
“Never feel inadequate and unsettled because you cannot explain them [Mormon doctrines] to the satisfaction of all who might enquire of you. Do not be ill at ease or uncomfortable because you can give little more than your conviction.” – Ensign, April 1998.
Ending the address with the inevitable testimony he urges his listeners to do the same and ignore the mountain of evidence that militates against the Mormon faith. He suggests that perhaps someone will be impressed by the sincerity of the testifying Mormon and come to the same conviction, not by the weight of evidence but by the force of sincerity.
When an investigator meets the commitment of the third discussion, i.e. to attend a Sacrament meeting, it will often be a fast and testimony meeting to which they will be invited. Much of this meeting is taken up with members giving testimony to their faith, just as the missionaries have done in the home, thus reinforcing both the message and the method of confirming it, i.e. through feelings. On these occasions the typical testimony will confirm that Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Book of Mormon is true, the Mormon Church is the only true church, and is led by a living prophet today. Although personal stories inevitably vary these elements are almost invariably in there and again confirm the message of the missionaries.
Testimony, then, is a key element of Mormon belief and teaching and if we are to challenge the Mormon message we must answer the question, where is doctrine to be found? How do we know that what we believe is consonant with the faith once for all delivered?
It is certainly true that “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God,” and those who understand what God has freely given us only have that understanding because they have received the Spirit, who is from God (1 Cor.2:11-12). It is “God who said, ‘let the light shine out of darkness,’ [who] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Christ.” We cannot know, then, unless God in his mercy shows us. But how does he show us? The writer to the Hebrews declares:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?
This salvation which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Heb.2:1-4)
Here we have four key proofs confirming the message of God to men. 1. The words of Jesus; 2. The confirming reports of his close followers [see the qualifications for an apostle in Acts 1:21-22]; 3. The testimony of God himself by a demonstration of divine power; 4. The witness of the Spirit working in people’s lives. We are solemnly cautioned that to ignore such great salvation is to risk punishment, and urged to pay careful attention to such testimony.
Christians are prone to emphasise one of these proofs over the others, as witnessed in the rallying cry of some of Sola Scriptura, and, on the other hand, in the current emphasis in the church on signs and miracles. There is always this danger and we should recognise that without the working of the Spirit in our lives the Bible becomes just another book, Jesus just another Saint, miracles just an interesting phenomenon. However, with only our feelings to go on we could end up anywhere, and this ministry is solemn witness to the fact that many do. What if my heart disagrees with the other proofs? What if Jesus has said it, his disciples confirmed it, and yet we don’t ‘feel’ it is right? Surely it seems reasonable to expect that none of these ‘proofs’ given by God will contradict each other. Indeed the personal inspiration so cherished of Mormons, if it is from God, will serve to confirm all other testimonies God has given. Experience has taught us that the Mormon testimony is often at odds with what God has already revealed demonstrating that Mormon teaching seeks not to supplement, as they would have us believe, but to supplant God’s revelation in his Son, in Scripture and in the working of his Spirit. The tragic consequence of such a wholly subjective testimony is illustrated in the words of one of our correspondents:
“My testimony is unlikely to be knocked by any evidence you present. I don’t say that to be closed minded, arrogant or complacent, but because the kind of evidence you present is not relevant to my testimony. As you know, the LDS Church stands or falls on the doctrine of personal revelation.”
This person was very sincere and honest in his correspondence and, no doubt, felt that his sincerity carried the force of testimony we have already discussed. In emphasising personal revelation he discounted all other proofs graciously provided by God. The evidence we presented, and which he declared irrelevant, was the testimony of scripture. How can that be not relevant to a believer’s testimony? The attitude seems to be, “I don’t care what scripture says, I know in my heart…” But this is not God’s way. His way is, “I know in my heart and his word and works confirm it.”
John tells us that our hearts alone are not reliable for they can condemn us. “But God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:20). He tells us that when our hearts do condemn us we can set them at rest in God’s presence by confirming that we belong to the truth (v.19). How do we confirm that we belong to the truth when we can’t look to our hearts for this confirmation? We confirm the truth by 1. Heeding the message we heard from the beginning (1 John 1:1-5; 2:7; 3:11); 2. Having in us the testimony of Jesus (4:2); 3. By the power of the Spirit (3:24); and 4. By the outworking and evidence of these things in our lives (2:14). All God’s proofs work together to confirm the truth.
Does God answer prayer? Of course he does. Does he answer by means of feelings? Yes! Can we rely on God’s answers? Yes. Can we rely alone on our feelings? No! John has already said that our hearts can condemn us and that we should not rely on them alone to confirm that we are in the truth. What does he mean by that? In 1 John 5:13 he writes:
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
“But John, I don’t feel as if I have eternal life!”
“You have it. However you may feel.”
“But John, I don’t feel worthy of eternal life.”
“You are not worthy of eternal life. It is a gift from God (Rom. 6:23). It doesn’t matter how you feel. You see your heart can deceive you, but God is greater than your heart and has confirmed his truth, the message of grace, in many ways, all of which tell you that you who believe have eternal life.”
“How can I be sure if my heart tells me otherwise?”
You have my word on it (1 John 1:1-4); You have the word of Jesus on it (John 5:24); You have the evidence of your changed life (1 John 2:5); and you have the confirming activity of God (Heb. 2:4).
“…that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (Matt.18:16)
“Do not spend too much time on the first two principles, especially if the investigators basically agree with what you present. Leave enough time to discuss the truths that are unique to the restored gospel. After the discussion, the investigator’s strongest impressions should be of the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith. Through them we gained our understanding of God and his plan” (emphasis added).
The commitment for this discussion is to “Read the Book of Mormon and pray to know that it is true”, and “Pray to know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God.” Following all subsequent discussions the investigator is encouraged to pray about, and report their impressions of The Book of Mormon; Joseph Smith; The Mormon Church, its members and its practices. Even in the last discussion which majors on the role of Jesus in the Mormon gospel plan, the prayers are about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and “the truths that are unique to the restored gospel.”
Discussion 1: The Plan of our Heavenly Father – in which the investigator is introduced to the idea of prophets who reveal God’s plan; Joseph Smith; Restoration; the Book of Mormon; The Holy Ghost and Moroni’s promise. (Commitment, read and pray about the Book of Mormon)
The Mormon will reason that in Genesis 32:30: Jacob declares “I saw God face to face.” Also in Exodus 33:11 we read “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”
The Christian might reason from Scripture that in Exodus 33:20 God declares that “you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live.” So what is the Bible talking about when it refers to men seeing God “face to face?” In Numbers 12:6-8 we read:
“When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles.”
When prophets hear from God it is in visions and dreams. There may be some mystery and the prophet may not always fully understand at the time the nature and purpose of the message. Not so with Moses with whom God speaks “face to face,” or directly, “clearly and not in riddles.” The term “face to face” is an indication of the special relationship Moses had with God.
The Mormon will further reason from Genesis 1:26-27 that God has a body by saying that if we are made “in the image of God,” and we have bodies, then he must have a body. They will further reason that the Bible speaks of God’s physical attributes such as his eyes (Psalm 139:16); his hand and arm (Psalm 44:3); his mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3).
The Christian might reason from Scripture that in John 4:24 Jesus declared “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The resurrected Jesus said that “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” Luke 24:39. If God is spirit and a spirit does not have a body then what does Genesis 1:26-27 mean? In Ephesians 4:24 we read of the purpose of our redemption “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
To be made in the image of God, then, is to enjoy his “communicable attributes,” i.e. his character and personality, righteousness, holiness, wisdom, justice, love. To strengthen their argument, the missionaries will reason from Matthew 5:48 that we are to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In the correct context this is not, as they claim, a call to achieve godlike perfection, but to achieve right-thinking in our attitude to others, i.e. “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Impartial love, a Godlike attribute imputed to man, making man to be in the image of God.
The Christian might reason that references to God’s eyes, mouth, hand and arm, etc. describe not God’s body but the activity of God, his eyes ever watchful; his arm, ever reaching out to save; his mouth, communicating with us. We can point out Psalm 91:4 “he will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Of course the Mormon will readily understand that God does not have wings and that the Bible is speaking metaphorically. This is true of every such reference.
The Mormon will reason, in his attempt to establish the manlike nature of God, that “we are the children of God” Romans 8:16, meaning that we are literally his offspring Acts 17:24-29, and that he is our “Father in heaven” Matthew 5:48. Of course this forms the basis of the Mormon Plan of Salvation, i.e. “We are the children of our Father in Heaven. We are created in his image. Because he is the Father of all people, we are brothers and sisters” and “God has a plan” for his children.
The Christian might reason from Scripture that Malachi 2:10 clearly links creation and the fatherhood of God “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?” God is the father of humanity in the sense that he created humanity. Acts 17:24-26 speaks of God “giving all men life and breath” teaching that “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” The statement that “we are his offspring” is clearly set in the context of creation. Romans 8:16 is again dealt with properly in context for in verse 15 we read “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption. And by him we cry Abba, Father.”
In Acts, then, we have a reference to God as our Creator/Father, while in Romans we have a reference to God as our Father by adoption, through faith in the saving work of his Son and the leading of the Spirit. The Matthew 5:48 reference takes on a wholly different meaning as we consider our creation and subsequent adoption into God’s family, i.e. “even as your Father (who made you and adopted you into his family) is perfect.”
You have seen that while we started with man being made in the image of God the Mormons have quickly taken us to a god who is in the image of man. They start with reference to a Supreme Being but end up worshipping a Superior Being, i.e. an exalted man.
The Mormon will reason that Jesus was “slain for the sins of the world” 1 Nephi 11:32-33 (Book of Mormon). They believe that the benefit to us is that he will “loose the bands of death” Alma 7:12 (Book of Mormon). “Through his sacrifice and resurrection we can overcome the effects of sin and all men will live again after mortal death.” In other words, Jesus’ role in the plan is to make it possible for all men to be resurrected.
Our role in the plan is to follow Jesus’ example, “By his perfect example and his teachings, Jesus showed us how to fulfil this plan.” Again from the Book of Mormon they teach that Christ will “save all men if they will hearken unto his voice” 2 Nephi 9:21-24. From the Bible they will quote John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command” and they will reason, “if we have faith to do what Jesus Christ taught, we will find peace in this life. Also, we can become more like him and like our Heavenly Father. We can return to live with them after this life.” When we look at Discussion 2 we will look in detail at how Mormons teach salvation. Now we want to look at this concept of ‘The Plan of Salvation’.
Whilst Mormons teach that “the central figure in the plan of salvation is Jesus Christ,” the fact is that the plan is what is central to the Mormon gospel. It is by faithfully following the plan that Mormons are saved. And whilst Mormons quote John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me,” they believe that “By his perfect example and his teachings, Jesus showed us how to fulfil this plan,” and that the plan will work for us only “if we have faith to do what Jesus Christ taught.” In other words, to a Christian Jesus is the way, while to a Mormon Jesus shows the way; to a Christian Jesus is God’s plan, to a Mormon he is central to the plan. In Mormonism John 14:6 might be more accurately stated “The plan is the way, and no-one comes to the Father except through following it.” This no better illustrated than in the next principle.
Note the plan is bigger than the Saviour and remember that, although “the central figure in the plan of salvation is Jesus Christ,” nevertheless in the instructions for the first discussion the Mormon missionary is told that “the focus of this discussion should be the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Here the ground work is laid for introducing Joseph Smith.
The Mormon will reason that God’s pattern for revealing the plan is to “choose righteous men as his witnesses [who] learn from firsthand experience the truth about the plan and the mission of Jesus in that plan. These men are called prophets and apostles.” To confirm this they will quote Amos 3:7 “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” These apostles and prophets have authority to act for God (we will look at authority in discussion 3) and teach people directly and by writing sacred books called scripture. These truths are heard and read by people and truth is confirmed by the Holy Ghost (Spirit). They then obey, thus following the plan.
The Mormon will reason that this pattern is followed throughout the Bible.
Exodus 20:3-22 – God gave Moses the Ten Commandments which Moses gave to the people.
John 15:16; Mark 16:15-20 – Jesus chose apostles and commanded them to be witnesses.
The Christian might reason that Amos 3:7, taken in context, does not support the Mormon argument since Amos was prophesying disaster for the northern kingdom of Israel, and the revelation of God’s plan through a prophet was to act as a warning. To support their claim to act as did Amos, the Mormon prophets would have to give similar warnings and prophesy accurately imminent events, disastrous or otherwise. Mormon prophets clearly do no such thing.
The Christian might further reason that the qualifications for an apostle are clearly described in Acts 1:21-22 and all subsequent claims to being ‘one of the twelve’, as Mormons teach, are invalid.
Finally the Christian might reason that Hebrews 1:1-3 speaks of prophets as those through whom God spoke “in the past,” and goes on to say that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things”. Mormon prophets are a step backwards in ‘God’s plan’ and Mormon apostles do not qualify since they have not “been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken from us.”
We have already looked at the issue of prophets and apostles, and we will look more closely at ‘Restoration’ claims in discussion 3. Let’s look at James 1:5 in its context.
The Mormon will reason that James 1:5 is a formula for answering our questions regarding ‘the truth’. For Joseph it was a key to knowing which church to join. Mormons today encourage investigators to ask the same question, promising that as God answered Joseph so he will answer you.
The Christian might reason that James 1:5 is not a formula for finding truth but for gaining wisdom.
James 1:1 shows that this letter was written to Christians who already knew the truth.
James 1:2-17 The context of verse 5 is encouragement in suffering. The wisdom of James 1:5 is for the benefit of Christians, enabling them to face suffering “with pure joy”.
James 3:13-18 Here, James defines the wisdom he is writing about and contrasts it with the wisdom of the world. The issue is one of character. A worldly character, full of bitterness and selfish ambition, ill equips us to deal with the trials of life.
Peacemakers, on the other hand, are equipped with the wisdom of heaven and are able to face their trials patiently. James is writing of the practical application of heavenly wisdom to the trials of everyday life. Wisdom that is gained through prayer and application. When Mormons tell us that James 1:5 is how to find the truth the Christian needs to show that it is about wisdom, which is the application of the truth we already have (James 1:1).
A close study of passages such as this can open up for the Mormon a depth of truth and understanding that is not found in the superficial message of the missionary discussions.
How does God reveal truth?
Hebrews 1:2 – “In these last days God has spoken to us through his Son”
Romans 15:4 – The Scriptures were written to give us hope
John 20:31 – and that we may believe in Christ
Isaiah 8:20 – Every message should be checked out against Scripture (Acts 17:11)
Hebrews 2:3-4 – “This salvation, (1) which was first announced by the Lord, (2) was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (3) God also testifies to it by signs, wonders and various miracles (4) and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
There is a great responsibility to “pay more careful attention…to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding…how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3)
The Book of Mormon is written in King James English, very much in the style of the Old Testament. Indeed much of it is lifted wholesale from the Bible. There is much that can be said about the Book of Mormon and more information is available from Reachout. Here we will look at it in the context of the missionary discussions and the claims missionaries will make for it.
The Mormon will reason that the Book of Mormon is a companion volume to the Bible for “the convincing of the Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the Christ” (BOM, Title Page). They will argue that “Every matter must be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses” 2 Corinthians 13:1. One witness is the Bible, the other the Book of Mormon, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” They might use the analogy of a door which, if hung on one hinge would be unsafe, but hung on two hinges the door becomes more stable. Like a second hinge a second witness firmly establishes the truth.
Ezekiel 37:15-19 is said to prove that the Bible speaks of the Book of Mormon. The two sticks in this passage are written upon and, therefore, are seen as records. Mormons understand this to mean the Bible and the Book of Mormon. This is linked to a Book of Mormon text, 2 Nephi 3:11-12 (BOM) which ‘prophesies’ the coming of Joseph Smith who will “bring forth my word unto the seeds of thy loins…and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins (BOM) and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah (Bible) shall grow together…”In John 10:14-16 Jesus speaks of “other sheep that are not of this pen. I must bring them also.” Mormons reason that the Book of Mormon is a record of these other sheep and show that Jesus visited them (in America) after his resurrection 3 Nephi 15:16-24 (BOM). This is reasonable, they argue, because “the Lord brings forth his word to all the children of men” 2 Nephi 29:6-9 (BOM).
John 10:14-16 speaks of those outside Judaism, the Gentiles, and prefigures the worldwide church. ‘This fold’ is the lost sheep of Israel to whom Jesus was sent Matthew 15:24 (Matt.10: 6), but after his resurrection he sent his disciples “to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” fulfilling the Lord’s words in Isaiah 56:
“And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him…these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer…The Sovereign Lord declares – he who gathers the exiles of Israel: ‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered'”(vv.6-8).
The New Testament outworking of this promise is found in Acts 10& 11 where God tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” ch.10: 15 and where, in Cornelius’ house, Peter sees that “God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” ch.11:18.
The Mormon will reason that since the Holy Spirit teaches truth he will testify to the truthfulness of their message. “The Holy Ghost will help you know that Joseph Smith was called by God to be a witness of Christ. Once you know these things, you can know that the other things we have been discussing are true.” This thought is crucial in the teaching process i.e., if the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith was a prophet then everything that follows must also be true – no matter how strange or unbiblical it seems. This is the bedrock of the Mormon testimony.
Moroni 10:3-5 (BOM) is known as Moroni’s promise and “explains how you can know through the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true” by reading it, thinking about it, and praying about it. The investigator is encouraged to compare “the truths in the book of Mormon with those in the Bible,” and promised that “through the power of the Holy Ghost, your Father in Heaven will help you know that this message is true.” Restoration texts might be shared such as Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 6:23 “Did I not speak peace to your mind?” D&C 8:1-3 “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost” and D&C 9:8-9 “If it is right I will cause that your bosom will burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right.”
Here the Mormon will bear testimony, sharing his own feelings about the message and his own experience of the promise. And although “the truths of the Book of Mormon” are said to be compared with those of the Bible the very fact that they are presented as ‘truths’ implies that no critical comparison is necessary. There is no free discussion and the missionaries have to ask the questions given them and discuss them in the way prescribed by the Mormon Church. The investigator will be encouraged to expect confirmation to come from the Spirit in a preternatural way, i.e. by feelings, and there is an invitation to “pray and ask our Heavenly Father whether the Book of Mormon is true and whether Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” If it feels right then it must be true.
The Christian might reason that, while the Mormon speaks of comparing the truths in the Book of Mormon with those in the Bible in reality no such comparison is made. Isaiah 8:20, however, sends believers “to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” In Acts 17:11 the Bereans “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” We have already examined the Scriptures and shown that so-called biblical references to the Book of Mormon being a companion volume to the Bible are no such thing. We have also seen that the ‘other sheep’ are the Gentiles and not the people of the Book of Mormon. Isn’t it presumptuous to pray about claims that God’s word has shown us are unfounded? Finally, the Spirit will lead us into all truth by testifying about Jesus John 15:26. Why, then, are we praying about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and not Jesus and the Bible?
Discussion 2: The Gospel of Jesus Christ - LDS teaching on Faith; Repentance; Baptism; The Gift of the Holy Ghost; Obedience (commitment, set a date for baptism)
“Two major obstacles stand in the way of our becoming like our Heavenly Father.” The first of these is that our bodies are imperfect and mortal, as opposed to our Father’s body, which is perfect and immortal. Because of this we will die. “Sin is the second obstacle to our becoming more like our Father in Heaven.” According to the plan of salvation, each of us leaves the presence of God to come to earth. Here we learn to distinguish between good and evil and, hopefully, choose the good. During this learning process we do some things that are against the will of God, and this is sin. “During our life here on earth, all of us commit sin. Sin leads to unhappiness in this life. But more important, sin makes us unclean spiritually. No unclean thing can dwell with God” 1 Nephi 10:21 (BOM). Mormons call this separation from God spiritual death. “As with physical death, we cannot overcome this obstacle by ourselves.”
This joint effort by Jesus and the sinner is sometimes illustrated with the metaphor of sin putting us in a pit, the atonement of Christ having the effect of lowering a ladder into the pit, with our obedience to God representing our taking the steps to climb the ladder out of the pit.
Faith: “Means to firmly believe that [Christ] is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.” Using James 2:16-17 the Mormon will reason that “Faith without works is dead,” that “When we have faith in Christ…we do all that he asks us to do. We follow the example of his perfect life…” “All men are commanded to have perfect faith in Christ or they cannot be saved” 2 Nephi 9:23 (BOM), thus “by works is faith made perfect.”
Repentance: Means “We feel sorrow for our sins and ask God to forgive us. We do all we can to correct the problems our action may have caused. If we sincerely repent, we turn away from our sins and do them no more. We no longer have any desire to commit the sins.” Pointing out that repentance is something we do throughout our lives the Mormon will reason that “We need to begin in earnest the process of making ourselves more like Jesus Christ.”
Baptism: Using John 3:1-8 & Acts 2:38 the Mormon will reason that a) “We must be baptised to become members of the Church of Jesus Christ and to enter the kingdom of heaven,” b) “It represents the end of our old life and the beginning of a new life as a disciple of Christ” c) “Through baptism we enter a covenant with God. We promise to accept Christ, become his followers, and keep his commandments to the end. Our Heavenly Father promises that our sins will be forgiven if we keep our part of the covenant.”
The Gift of the Holy Ghost: John 3:1-8 The Mormon will reason that we must be born of the Spirit. “The Holy Ghost testifies of Christ and helps us recognise truth. He provides strength and helps us do what is right. He comforts us during times of trial.” He is also said to have “a sanctifying, cleansing effect upon us.” But you can only “enjoy the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost as long as you are worthy of it.”
The terminology is Christian and there is truth here – but mixed with liberal portions of error. The Christian might reason that God does not have a physical body. The Bible clearly teaches that “God is Spirit” John 4:24. While Mormons teach that as His children we are imperfect versions of God, who is an exalted Man, the Bible teaches “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” 1 Samuel 15:29. While we are to become like God ‘made in his image’ we will never be godlike, i.e. gods ourselves. God says of Himself “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” Isaiah 45:4, and “Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me” Isaiah 43:10.
The Christian might reason further that, while all people will be resurrected 1 Corinthians 15:22, resurrection cannot be called salvation because salvation comes only to those who believe Ephesians 2:8. All are resurrected but it is faith which determines whether we are resurrected to life (salvation) Revelation 20:6 or to condemnation Revelation 20:15.
The Christian might reason that sin is not simply ‘doing things that are against the will of God’ but describes our very nature, our ‘inner parts’ Psalm 51:5-6. Paul explains that before God saved us “we were by nature objects of wrath”. That we gratified “the cravings of our sinful nature” Ephesians 2:3. While the Mormon scheme has men and women striving to fill the credit side of their lives in order to outweigh the debit, thus making themselves “worthy,” the Bible describes us as “dead in transgressions and sins”, i.e. outside of Christ there is no credit side. We are sinful by nature and not by inclination thus “by nature objects of wrath…without God and without hope in the world” Ephesians 2.
The Christian might reason that the solution to this dire problem is not simply help and strength from God to “follow Christ’s example”; not a strengthening of resolve or a redoubling of effort to “keep our part of the covenant”, or to stop sinning and start obeying. God’s solution is described clearly in Scripture:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast.” Ephesians 2:4-9
Note that it is God who made us alive; God who raised us up and seated us with Christ; God who saves us, not because we have proved worthy, but as a gift.
In verse 10 we see that, as a result of God’s grace, now “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. This is where works fits in, i.e. the Bible teaches the essential place of works in God’s plan of salvation James 2:16-17, but it teaches the obedience of the saved and not the salvation of the obedient. Part of that work of obedience is a lifestyle of repentance and a lifetime of submitting to God as he completes his work in us who are his workmanship (the Greek for workmanship here has the connotation of “a work of art”, i.e. we are God’s masterpiece, see footnote NIV Study Bible). Mormons teach that “We need to begin in earnest the process of making ourselves more like Jesus Christ”, but the Bible declares that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”, 2 Corinthians 3:18. It is not, then, what we do but what God does in us.
The Mormon covenant with their God is a bargain in which by keeping certain laws and promises they merit reward, e.g. baptism fits them for church membership. It also marks the entering into this covenant. The Christian might reason that God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” Psalm 103:10. The new covenant established by Jesus is a covenant of faith, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” Galatians 3:26. We enter this covenant by faith “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…” Ephesians 1:13-14. “This is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people” Hebrews 8:10. With God’s law written on their heart the Christian might reason that it is God who fits them for the kingdom and that obedience does not establish their worthiness to enter but characterises their citizenship. Repentance and baptism then becomes an act of obedience by one already saved. Works are what characterise the daily walk of the redeemed.
People rejected these apostles and prophets and killed them. The Lord took the priesthood from the earth and so there was no longer a church led by revelation and authority. Men came to rely on human wisdom to understand scripture and, in the process, many plain and simple truths were lost. This resulted in disagreement and confusion as men taught their own ideas as truth.
This is called the Apostasy (N.B. from the Greek apostosia, the abandoning of truth). This apostasy they will prove from a list of mostly New Testament passages, notably;
Matthew 24:9-11 “False prophets shall rise, and deceive many”
Acts 20:29-31 “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples”
2 Timothy 4:3-4 “They will not endure sound doctrine”
2 Thessalonians 2:3 “For that day (of the Lord’s return) shall not come, except there come a falling away first”.
Of course they will also appeal to the testimony of history that shows disagreement and confusion among the churches.
The Christian might reason that a foundation is laid once and then the building rises. If the foundational apostles and prophets are to have successors does that mean that Christ, the cornerstone, the key of that foundation is to have a successor? It is the Spirit, not apostles and prophets, who would continue to lead his followers into all truth (John 16:13).
In the early church that same Spirit was poured out on all that believed (Acts 2 &10). It is noteworthy that when Paul, in Acts 19, arrived at Ephesus and found some disciples there he did not ask them whether they had received their teaching from an “official” source but whether they had received the Spirit. It is the Spirit who taught the disciples and helped them remember everything (John 14:26), which was faithfully recorded in Scripture.
That “Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). The church is marked by the life of the Spirit in true believers gathered around God’s Word and seeking God’s will, not the presence of apostles and prophets who are foundational, not developmental.
The Christian might reason from the promise of Jesus that “the gates of Hades will not overcome [the church]” (Matthew 16:18); whichever way the church is organised it is always people, and not buildings or institutions. This living body consists of those who are alive to Christ, those who have died in Christ, and those who are yet to be born and believe in Christ. This is what might be termed the catholic, or universal, church and it is this church that would endure as it looks forward to that city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10-16).
The Lord Jesus did warn His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33). Down through the centuries the body of believers has experienced much trouble. As the church grew some turned away from the faith (1 Timothy 1:6-7; Galatians 1:6-9). Christians had been warned of this by the Apostle Paul, “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:20-31).
The Apostle Peter warned that many would follow after false prophets and bring the way of truth into disrepute (2 Peter 2:1-3). However Jesus, in John’s gospel, went on to say, “But take heart! I have overcome the world”. He promised that he had overcome the world – therefore neither the world, nor even hell, would overcome the church -and that “the gospel of the kingdom (which His coming established) will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14).
Thus the agenda for the church, “until He comes” is set. It is noteworthy that in all the references Mormons use to ‘prove’ apostasy none speaks of a complete falling away from truth. Here are the verses listed in the discussions:
Matt 24:9-11 “False prophets shall arise, and deceive many” (many and not all)
Acts 20:29-31 “Of your own selves shall men arise…to draw away disciples” (not all disciples)
1 Tim.4:13 “In the latter times some shall depart from the truth” (Some not all)
2 Tim.3:1-7 “In the last days men [will have a] form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (Men not all men)
2 Tim.4:3-4 “They will not endure sound doctrine” (They, not ‘they all’)
2 Peter 2:1-2 “There shall be false teachers among you” (implying wheat and tares Matt.13:25)
2 Thess. 2:3 “For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first” (not a complete falling away)
We have seen how God’s special witnesses, apostles and prophets, were killed and God’s authority, priesthood, was taken from the earth. How do Mormons explain the enduring nature of the Christian faith down through the ages? They teach that “The people understood many Christian principles that helped them lead good lives. But they also misunderstood some basic and vital truths because these truths had been lost centuries before”.
Mormons see this as a fulfilment of Amos 8:11-12, which predicts a time when there would be a famine of God’s word. To put things right, and to restore these truths, God appeared to Joseph Smith and re-established his method of proclaiming truth through apostles and prophets. Here we will look at what Mormons claim was restored through their founding prophet.
The first ‘proof’ of Joseph’s Divine call was his translation of the Book of Mormon. Prophets, you will remember, produce Scripture. Further proof is seen in a book of ‘modern-day scripture’ called the Doctrine and Covenants and in another called the Pearl of Great Price.
It is taught that “These books of scripture show us that God continues to give revelation to guide his children”. We dealt with the Book of Mormon in discussion 1. But let’s look further at the claim of continuing revelation. Mormons popularly believe that a living prophet who receives revelation for the church on a daily basis leads them. It is good at this point to enter into a dialogue something like the following:
Christian: You believe in living prophets?
Mormon: Yes we do.
Christian: What is the name of your current prophet?
Mormon: Gordon B Hinckley is our prophet.
Christian: Tell me, which of his revelations most inspires you?
This is a question he cannot answer since their current prophet has not published any prophecies or revelations. Although they give the impression that God adds prophecy upon prophecy through his special messengers the canon of Mormon scripture is effectively closed.
The Doctrine and Covenants ends in the 19th century, aside from section 138 which is purported to have been received in 1918 by Joseph F Smith, sixth church president. The previous revelation in chronology is dated January 1847. When challenged about this the Mormon might reason that revelation continues to be received and is made known via conference talks, sermons, and published announcements. But whenever these are quoted to show the errors and contradictions of Mormon teaching the Mormon will insist that the only authoritative source is the closed cannon of the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Book of Mormon and the Bible. It is a dilemma for any Mormon who wishes to assert his belief that the heavens aren’t closed but who does not wish to be called upon to give an explanation for difficult statements made by Mormon leaders.
Often these statements become ‘just his opinion’, which, the Christian might reason, takes us and them into the realm of speculation which, in turn, defeats the object of modern revelation, i.e. avoiding misunderstandings and speculations by following the guidance of special witnesses.
The Christian might remind the Mormon that God has spoken through his Son in a way that fulfils prophecy (Hebrews 1:2), and that Scripture reports faithfully what he said and did (1 John 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-7). While Mormons teach that some of God’s word has been lost and needs restoring the Lord declared that his word would not pass away (Matthew 24:35). Far from being a dead letter that needs replacing with modern revelation, God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). This is because the Spirit oversees the reading, teaching, and transmitting of Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and was written to give us hope (Romans 15:4) and an entry into a living knowledge of Christ (John 20:31). Finally, to take away from it, or add to it, is a serious offence with terrible consequences (Revelation 22:19; Proverbs 30:6).
Restoration, they claim, has brought back the correct name for the Church. The Christian might reason that New Testament Churches were named after the towns in which they were established, i.e. the Corinthian Church, the Church at Ephesus, or the Church in Rome. This is no different to being called Twickenham Christian Fellowship, or Parklands Evangelical Church. In both cases they are still Christian Churches and, being Christian Churches they bear the name of Christ.
The same might be said of Churches named for people who have inspired them, i.e. St Paul or St Peter. Others are named for biblical places and events that reflect their character or the thoughts of their founders, i.e. Bethesda, meaning house of mercy, or Elim meaning strong trees, an Old Testament place where Israel camped, and known for its fountains of water. All, whatever their epithet, are Christian.
The Mormon will reason that “all necessary gospel ordinances are performed by the power of these two priesthoods”. From baptism, through prayers and blessings, to ordinations and beyond, the priesthood of Mormonism exclusively authenticates a work of God. All other churches act, they believe, on presumed authority.
The Christian might reason that the priesthood of Aaron pertained to sacrifices in the temple in the desert and, later, in Jerusalem. These sacrifices were simply a “shadow” or picture of the sacrifice of God’s Son, whose death, burial and resurrection made redundant the priesthood of Aaron (Hebrews 10:1-3).
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. …Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.”(10:5-6)
The sacrifices of the high priests were not pleasing to God because they were temporal and temporary. They had to be repeated as a reminder of sins but were unable to take away sins. (10:1-3) So Jesus as a high priest called of God offered a sacrifice that was sufficient. Having done so “He sets aside the first to establish the second” (10:9). What is the first he sets aside? It is the priesthood of Aaron. It is made redundant at the cross because:
“Day after day every high priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.” (10:11-14).
What is the second for which the first is set aside? The priesthood of Jesus who is, “…a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek”. (5:6). That word “forever” is very significant.
The nature of the Aaronic Priesthood is temporal. While the whole tribe of Levites had responsibilities in the tabernacle one family was set apart for special service, the family of Aaron. These were the priests. And while a whole family were priests only one man served as high priest. There was only ever one high priest at a time. Sacrifices had to be offered “again and again” by the high priest who died and had to be replaced.
The nature of the Melchizedek priesthood is eternal. It is named after Melchizedek for this reason. Unlike the priests of Israel Melchizedek has no recorded genealogy, making him “timeless” and a “type” of Jesus, and like Melchizedek Jesus remains a priest forever. (7:3) His priesthood was not passed on.
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them (7:24-25).
This idea of a “permanent” priesthood is important. The Greek is aparabatos and carries the meaning of final, unchangeable, untransferable. The one consistent idea is expressed variously as, “an unchangeable priesthood” (KJV); “a priesthood that needs no successor” (Phillips); “he holds his priesthood permanently” (RSV); “But Jesus lives on forever, and his work as priest does not pass on to someone else” (TEV).
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (v.9).
The Concise Dictionary of Christian Tradition points out that the New Testament uses “priest” only in the plural to describe Christians, further pointing out that a Christian is not a priest individually but only in so far as he is a member of the people of God. The church is the body of Christ and so it is that as a body we are priests to God.
“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;” – Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3:22-25
This, in a nutshell, is what the Mormons call “the Plan of Salvation”, or “the eternal plan of happiness”. Although,
“We lived with him as spirits before we were born…we were unlike our Heavenly Father in some ways. For example, he had progressed beyond us spiritually. We did not have physical bodies, as he does… [he] wanted us to become like him. To make this possible, he prepared a plan that would allow us to come to earth. We accepted the plan of our Father and rejoiced in the blessings it would offer to us.” (Fourth missionary discussion)
In Mormon thinking this life becomes a time of testing. The Book of Mormon declares, “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.” (Alma 42:4). A time when men are to “Work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12).
In the previous life, they teach, we were spirit beings; here we receive a physical body like God’s. We are also free to choose between good and evil. This “free agency” is a key idea in Mormon thinking.
“As we come to know good from evil and choose the good, we become like our Father in Heaven.”
But we have no memory of our pre-mortal life and so “our choices must be based on faith”. Our condition in the next life depends very much on the choices we make in this one. “As we learn to obey and act in god-like ways we become more like God.”
“… our spirits leave our physical bodies…In the resurrection, our spirits are reunited with our bodies in an immortal condition. We will be judged, by the Lord, according to our faithfulness in following the course he has laid out for us. If we have followed that course, we will return to our Father to dwell with him in celestial glory…Some people will not have been faithful in following the commandments of God. They will not have exercised faith in Christ, repented of their sins, obeyed his commandments, and received the necessary ordinances. They will not have qualified for a fullness of glory under the plan of our Father. They will receive a degree of glory, but theirs will be a lesser degree.” (Fourth missionary discussion)
The opening of Genesis declares, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. It is made clear here that, while God has always been (Psalm 90:2), everything else was created (Jeremiah 10:16) and had a beginning, which the Bible places “In the beginning”. Before the beginning there was only God. The Christian might reason that man is the climax of God’s creative activity, created in God’s own image. (Genesis 1:26-27). How can this be true if man already existed, already in God’s image, but with some developing to do? Surely that would mean that God didn’t create man but simply brought a pre-existing godlike person into the world from somewhere else? If God created “everything” in the beginning what could have pre-existed except God?
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.345).
The Mormon God is a changeable God, a God who “progresses”, and one who was not always completely godlike. If he progressed and we in turn are to progress to be like him he is clearly our exemplar in these things. It is the same process for both God and man. If we seem to labour this point it is because this teaching is difficult for a Mormon to deal with honestly. In their effort to be “orthodox” they will gladly talk about God being eternal, unchangeable, etc. But this is clearly not the case. A famous Mormon couplet declares, “As man is God once was, as God is man may become”. The Christian might reason that the God of the Bible is eternally God. “From everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). He is called “the Eternal God” (Genesis 21:33; Deut.33:27). The psalmist declares, “Your throne was established long ago; you are from eternity” (Psalm 93:2). This is not a God who has progressed but one who is constant in his nature and character.
Quoting Philippians 2:12 “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Mormons reason that we are “to work toward becoming like our Heavenly Father and to prepare to return to him.” The current Mormon prophet often states, “We aim to make bad men good, and good men better”. This echoes the belief that we strive to progress to a higher state. As we learn to choose good over evil, “as we learn to obey and act in godlike ways we become more like God.”
The Christian might reason that we are not gods in embryo with a few problems to iron out, some growing to do, and an inclination to sin. We are sinful by nature, “by nature objects of wrath…without God and without hope in the world” (Ephesians 2: 1-13). The Bible tells us that we are “dead in our transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We do not need to make bad men good and good men better. Rather we need to make dead men live! God’s solution is not a plan of happiness which, if followed, will lead us to be gods, but a plan of rescue which will raise the dead and save the lost (Ephesians 2:4-5).
“But God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9)
Again we have previously noted that it is God who made us alive; God who raised us up and seated us with Christ; God who saved us, not because we have followed the plan and proved worthy, but because he is rich in mercy and generous in his kindness. To work out our salvation is not to earn it but to express it in spiritual growth and development. It’s like learning a new language. When we have mastered it the language is ours. To work it out in our lives is to use it in order to become better accustomed, more eloquent and expressive. Paul is urging us to express what we have gained and grow in it “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”.
“Is this a charter for sinning?” the Mormon might ask, or as Paul wrote, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15). “By no means!” is Paul’s reply. The Christian might reason that as a result of God’s grace, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). “We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is not a mighty effort of man but a sovereign work of God, not what we make of ourselves but what God makes of us.
In Romans 5 Paul describes a miraculous transaction in which, just as we inherited sin from Adam so, through faith, we inherit righteousness from Christ the new Adam. We are born “in Adam” but are born again “in Christ”. “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19). In the old Adam we are “slaves to sin” but in the new Adam “slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6). “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew (Jeremiah?) he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn of many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! … Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-2)
Since “We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18) the life of the Christian is not one of sinless perfection. It is characterised by repentance, righteousness and a following after God, as well as an assurance of eternal life with God (1 John 5:13).
In light of their understanding of “God’s great plan of happiness” Mormons busy themselves with a raft of duties and observances to the extent that they have been said to “out-Hebrew the Hebrews” in their law making/keeping. This discussion seems a pivotal point in the series. The remainder of this discussion, as well as the final two discussions, deal with the duties and commitments the prospective Mormon must take up in order to be a faithful church member. In the next issue we will look at these duties.
Discussion 5: Living a Christ-like Life - Keeping the Commandments; the idea that Sacrifice brings Blessing; Fasting; Tithing and Giving. (Commitment, Pay Tithing)
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
Mormons truly believe and strive to live these principles and the investigator will be encouraged to “Reconcile yourself to the will of God” (2 Nephi 10:23 BOM), taught that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt.25:40), and encouraged to realise that ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to the other’ (John 13:34-35). These sentiments are admirable but they should be understood in the context of the Mormon plan of salvation and eternal progression. To a Mormon, Christian service is a proving process. A time when the Lord “will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in [his] covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me” (D&C 98:14-15).
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21).
This is a religion of merit in which works are seen as a condition for winning God’s favour and a means of maintaining that favour. By works Mormons prove their worthiness, and by works they “progress” to greater rewards. In this discussion missionaries will cover fasting, prayer, tithing etc., all in this context.
“Fasting can be a powerful way of gaining a testimony.”
“[Fast] days will provide great spiritual experiences for you.”
“Tithing is a test of our faith. As we obey this commandment, the Lord promises to bless us both spiritually and temporally (physically).”
They are instructed to “Find out whether [the investigators] feel that fast offering would bring blessings into their lives”. And, “Whether they recognise that great blessings come from obeying [the] law [of tithing]”. All this leads to the idea that we can merit reward on the basis of strict justice, i.e. God becomes obliged to bless us, even obliged to allow us to live in his presence when we prove worthy. This is a reworking of fifth century Pelagianism. Pelagius taught that we are not saved by anything Christ has done but by following the example of Christ.
Rev.20:12-15 indicates that at the judgement bar of God there are two groups (1) those whose names are written in the book of life and (2) those whose names are not. There are two destinations (1) the New Jerusalem (21:1-3) and (2) the lake of fire (20:14-15). Whatever else might be said it is clear that the saved are all in one place and it is the dwelling place of God.
If we begin as unrighteous (Ro.3:9-18), dead in our transgressions (Eph.2:1) and enemies of God (Ro.5:10) there is nothing in us to merit the reward. If “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph.2:4) there still is no merit in us “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (vv 8-9). If in our new state “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (v 10), then the work that subsequently flows from a convert’s life is a reflection of the work of God in that life. It is supplied and equipped by God (2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) and accompanied by the promise that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
As God’s grace operates on us and “justifies the wicked” (Romans 4:4) there is a sense in which we co-operate with him in achieving growth in our new lives. However, in Luke 17:10 Jesus declared, “when you have done everything you were told to do, [you] should say, ‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'” If God then chooses to treat us as sons and not servants, what have we “proved”, as Mormons would have it, except that God is good?
In describing the new order John wrote, “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev.21:3b-4). It cannot be a meritorious kingdom, wherein some are more favoured than others, for we are saved into it by God’s initiative, and there can be no envy or jealousy or regret in heaven, which is, itself, our reward and our goal. Encouraging those who suffer for the gospel Peter wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).
There are several ways in which the Bible describes rewards. One is reward, not as wages for work, but as God’s generous favour to all who respond to the call. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt.20:1-16) those who worked one hour were treated as equal to those who “have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the sun” (v.12).
Another is reward, not as due recompense, but as the enduring nature of what we have built. In 1 Cor.3: 6-9 we read, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. For we are God’s fellow-workers”. Paul goes on to explain that it is the materials with which one builds that will be judged. Some were building according to the world’s wisdom (vv 18-20), hence their “boasting about men” (v21). Paul warns them to build on the foundation already laid by him, which is Christ Jesus (v11).
The superstructure is evaluated to see if it conforms to the original foundation. In the context of the chapter, this is a reference to the building of the church. Those builders should realise that, in being true to Christ, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God”.
This is reward, not as merit, but as outcome, or fruit. In the illustration of the vine and the branches (John 15) Jesus spoke of those who remain in him as bearing “fruit that will last”. James also wrote about “the wisdom that comes from heaven [which] is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18). This is not what Jesus gives us as due recompense but what we inherit in terms of family likeness as we become more like him (Ephesians 4:24; Ro.8:28-30). Using Paul’s illustration of Abraham in Romans 4 we can see the correct order of grace and works, judgement and reward.
“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness…. We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:1-11).
Because he trusted God righteousness was credited to Abraham before he had kept any law or rendered any service (vv18-22). His subsequent obedience was the work of a man who already had his reward because God promised and Abraham believed (v11 c.f. Galatians 3:17). God made a promise, Abraham believed God, God blessed Abraham, and Abraham obeyed God. Compare this with the Mormon formula we have already looked at from D&C 130:20-21 above. God gives a law, Mormons obey God’s law, God sees their obedience, and blesses them.
One problem is that we see this process in component parts, i.e. what God does and what I do. But God sees it as one whole process and when he judges he doesn’t simply look at what we have done, the outward appearance, but where we stand in relation to his promises, at the heart. Out of the heart that believes God will come the works that, no matter how humanly inadequate, will please God. In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul gives the same order when he writes “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound to every good work” (v8). So far as the acceptability of that work is concerned Paul has already said, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (8:12). The heart that believes God stands clothed in God’s righteousness and the works it produces only serve to demonstrate the trustworthiness of God’s promises. When James declares that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20) he is describing the inevitable wholeness and continuity of faith and works in the lives of true believers. Not the testing of faith by works but the outcome of faith in works that in turn authenticate the faith that saves.
What are the implications of this for Mormons? Throughout these discussions there is a growing emphasis on what we must do to be worthy of God’s blessing. When we left the Mormon Church our bishop failed to address the issues that concerned us. These were the issues that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 3 i.e. are we building with the right materials and on the right foundation? He spoke only of our failure in duty. We were encouraged to be more generous, more faithful, more sacrificial and devoted, all of which is sound advice in the right context. However, in trusting that doing enough of the right things will resolve any issue, he was building a temple of works on a foundation of duty and not a temple of faith on the foundation of Christ. Paul’s teaching, that getting the foundation right and building with material God provides will bring enduring rewards/fruits, is the assurance of every true Christian that when Jesus comes to “give to everyone according to what he has done” it is a sure promise and not an uncertain hope. This is the hope that is missing from the Mormon message and, as admirable as Mormon principles and practices may be, without this hope there is no hope at all.
Discussion 6: Membership in the Kingdom - Christ's part in God's plan; Exaltation through Christ and His Church; The 3-fold Mission of the Mormon Church, Perfecting the Saints; Proclaiming the Gospel; Redeeming the Dead; Enduring to the End. (Commitment, Be an active member of the Church and help fulfil its mission)
“We come unto the Father and receive eternal life through Christ. The Church of Christ is organized to help the Saints perfect themselves, proclaim the gospel, and redeem the dead. The Church helps all the children of our Heavenly Father to enter the strait and narrow path to eternal life. The main principles of this discussion are:
Jesus Christ is our Creator, Redeemer, Saviour, and Judge.
Exaltation comes through Christ. His Church helps us progress towards perfection.
The Church and its members have a responsibility for perfecting the Saints.
The Church and its members have a responsibility for proclaiming the gospel.
The Church and its members have a responsibility for redeeming the dead.
We can follow the strait and narrow path to perfection.”
While there is an appearance of orthodoxy in statements like “We come unto the Father and receive eternal life through Christ”, the inevitable conclusion is that Mormonism is not about Christ but about Mormonism. In every discussion there has been a demotion of Jesus and a promotion of the Mormon Church. Missionaries are instructed from the outset that “the focus of this discussion should be the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith”.
We have learned that, while Mormons teach that “the central figure in the plan of salvation is Jesus Christ”, the fact is that the Mormon plan is what is central to the Mormon gospel. And while Mormons quote John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me”, they believe that “By his perfect example and his teachings, Jesus showed us how to fulfil this plan”, and that the plan will work for us only “if we have faith to do what Jesus Christ taught”. In other words, to a Christian Jesus is the way, while to a Mormon Jesus shows the way; to a Christian Jesus is God’s plan, to a Mormon he is central to the plan. In Mormonism John 14:6 might be more accurately stated “The plan is the way, and no-one comes to the Father except through following it”.
Using 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 and Philippians 3:20-21, Mormons reason that “Salvation is equivalent to resurrection and is a free gift to each of us, regardless of whether we have done good or evil in this life”. They believe that, beyond that, we are to strive to be worthy to return to God. But, while all people will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:22), resurrection cannot be called salvation because salvation comes only to those who believe (Ephesians 2:8). All are resurrected but it is faith which determines whether we are resurrected to life (salvation) (Revelation 20:6) or to condemnation (Revelation 20:15).
Mormons teach that as His children we are imperfect versions of God, who is an exalted Man, but the Bible teaches “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” 1 Samuel 15:29. The goal of Mormonism is to become gods. But while we are to become like God “made in his image” we will never be godlike, i.e. gods ourselves. God says of Himself “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” Isaiah 45:4, and “Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me” Isaiah 43:10.
Mormons teach that, after people rejected the apostles and prophets and killed them, the Lord took the priesthood from the earth and so there was no longer a church led by revelation and authority. Mormonism, they claim, is a restoration of truth and authority. But we have learned that, once the foundation of apostles, and Christ, the cornerstone, was laid there was no need for other foundation. Further, it is the Spirit, not apostles and prophets, who would continue to lead his followers into all truth (John 16:13). The Spirit inspired scripture, which is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). The church is marked by the life of the Spirit in true believers gathered around God’s Word and seeking God’s will, not the presence of apostles and prophets who are foundational, not developmental.
Mormons believe that we had a pre-mortal existence with God and that “Our life on this earth has a purpose. It is to provide opportunities for us to work toward becoming like our Heavenly Father and to prepare to return to him.” But the opening of Genesis declares, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. So, while God has always been (Psalm 90:2), everything else was created (Jeremiah 10:16) and had a beginning, which the Bible places “In the beginning”.
The Mormon covenant with their God is a bargain in which by keeping certain laws and promises they merit reward. By following the Mormon gospel, keeping the Mormon health law, going to the Mormon temple, working to “save the dead”, and giving to the Mormon cause, they hope to attain exaltation in God’s kingdom as gods. But we have seen that God doesn’t bargain before he blesses. He blesses out of his goodness and we serve him out of that blessing. May he bless our Mormon friends with insight and revelation as we witness to the truth. May they know His blessing, not because they are worthy, but because He is good, and because He loves them.