On their website the Mormon Church invites people to seriously consider 4 Things Everyone Should Know About the Book of Mormon. They introduce these four things with the familiar claim:
‘The Book of Mormon is an ancient record that teaches about Jesus. The men, women, and families in the Book of Mormon struggled with life’s challenges, just like we do. We can see ourselves in their stories, and be inspired to be better and help others like Jesus did. Here are four things you should know about this sacred book.’
I remember my first encounter with the Book of Mormon. Looking back I realise it was novelty and mystery that drew me in; it’s often the case. Think of those countless numbers drawn into the occult, drawn towards mysticism, pantheism, gnosticism because it’s intriguing.
There are many claims, historical as well as contemporary, to new scripture, fresh insights, revelations. So many have been to the top of the mountain, out in the desert, or to the secret room and come back with stories of encounters with God, angels, or ascended beings.
The prophet of Islam famously claimed to have encountered an angel in a cave who recited to him the text of the Quran.
Gabriele Wittek founded Universal Life on her claims to revelation, visions of her dead mother, a guardian angel and, ultimately, Jesus Christ. In her book This is my Word, she claims to bring ‘The Christ-Revelation which the world does not know,’ a collection of passages from the gospels, additional ‘scriptures,’ and substantial supplements and ‘explanations,’ of Christ’s meaning.
Closer to home, of course, we have the Passion Translation of the Bible, based on the claims of Brian Simmons to have been called by revelation to produce a translation fit for our times. Simmons makes fantastic claims of visits to heaven, visions in his bedroom (think Joseph Smith).
What all these, and many more, have in common is a raft of unsubstantiated, untestable, and ‘trust me I’m a prophet’ claims. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, ‘God had put eternity in our hearts,’ a sense that there is more than what we we see, that life continues beyond our present existence. He goes on to say, …yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.’
There is in mankind a legitimate desire to reach out for eternity, as well as a limit placed by God on what we can find out and know of his ways and purposes. The answer Ecclesiastes gives is, ‘I perceived there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live.’ Ecclesiastes 3:11,12
The words of the wise are like goads, and like the nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making any books there is no end, and much study is weariness to the flesh
The end of the matter; ll has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.’ Ecclesiastes 11:11-14
Yet here comes an army of people, through the ages, going beyond the sayings of the wise, the established Scripture, on the flimsiest, untestable foundation of claims to angels, visions, and visits to heaven.
There is no reason to believe these claims for the Book of Mormon, no evidence of its claim to be historical, much less Scripture. We are simply invited to pray about it and depend on our feelings. Nowhere in the established Scripture, the Bible, are we challenged to do this.
1) The Book of Mormon is a Work of Scripture?
‘Just like God spoke to Moses and Noah in the Bible, He also instructed His prophets in the Americas to keep a record of His teachings and laws.’
Why the Americas? We understand why the Middle East. From Abraham, through Isaac, Jacob/Israel, to Jesus we see the purposes of God unfolding. It was from Jerusalem the disciples were charged to ‘go to the ends of the earth’ as Christ’s witnesses. It was in the regions of Judea and Samaria this great work was to begin, Acts 1:8.
Of course, we come back to the intriguing possibility that there might be more prophets, further revelation, prophetic fulfilment of which we are yet to learn. However, while the Bible has witnesses of many kinds, including those who witnessed Christ’s ministry, death, burial and resurrection, archaeology in abundance, and the existence of the same people group and culture to this day, the Book of Mormon operates in a Mormon echo chamber, with no substantiating evidence and no prophetic or narrative link to established Scripture.
Point one continues:
‘In the Bible, the Apostle Paul taught, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). When God teaches an important principle, He sends another source to confirm it. The Book of Mormon and the Bible are witnesses of each other. As many people today drift from God and religion, having more than one witness of God’s words can help us stay on track (see 2 Nephi 29:7–8).’
Where does the Bible indicate a second and third witness is missing? We already have two main witnesses – the Old Testament and the New Testament. The old anticipates the New, while the New fulfils and interprets the Old. In these we have sixty-six books, thirty-nine in the Old and twenty-seven in the New. John writes:
‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ John 19:30,31
He doesn’t anticipate the Book of Mormon, but believes what has come to the church is sufficient for us to believe Jesus is the Christ.
2) The Book of Mormon is True?
‘Millions all over the world have read it in their own language. They asked in prayer if it was the word of God. They got an answer—“Yes!” The Book of Mormon promises that if you ask God if it’s true, He will tell you.’
There is a supernatural element to the Christian faith. I am not a Christian simply on an intellectual level, I have a relationship with the living Christ through the witness of the Holy Spirit. John Wesley seemed to have an intellectual faith that left him uncertain of his standing before God. He confessed his despair to Peter Böhler, a Moravian friend, who urged him to preach faith until you have faith. You can read the story here.
Wesley experienced what he described as ‘a heart strangely warmed’ on hearing the preaching of the Word, an assurance that his sins were forgiven. Assurance is a gift of God and not a conclusion drawn by man.
Joseph Smith joined the Methodists for a time in 1828 and here perhaps is the origin of the invitation to ‘feel’ the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, a copy of the strangely warmed heart experience of Wesley and Methodism.
Note, however, that the witness of the Spirit is not a witness to a book, nor does the Bible anywhere invite us to pray about the truthfulness of Scripture. The Spirit witnessed to Wesley, as he does to all believers, an assurance of saving faith as he responded to Scripture preached. The authenticity of Scripture is tied up with history, culture, and evidences outside our feelings, evidences completely absent in the case of the Book of Mormon.
3) The Book of Mormon Will Change your Life?
‘A modern-day Apostle, Marion G. Romney, promised that when we read the Book of Mormon, “the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope, and charity —the pure love of Christ—will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness.”
So if you follow its teachings, the Book of Mormon will be a guidebook on how to live a life filled with peace and happiness. And when was the last time you heard someone say, “I could do with a lot less peace and happiness in my life?”
Here is the claim of every false prophet and teacher; follow me and you will gain secret access, greater insight, better living, and abounding love, peace, joy, and happiness. The trouble here is this is the very opposite of what the Bible promises Christ’s followers. The Bible will change your life alright but:
‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.’ John 15:18
‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33
‘We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.’ 2 Cor.4:8,9
‘Time will not allow me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,quenched the raging fire, and escaped the edge of the sword; who gained strength from weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight.
Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused their release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Still others endured mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were put to death by the sword. They went around in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, oppressed, and mistreated.The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and hid in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. God had planned something better for us, so that together with us they would be made perfect.’ Hebrews 11:32-39
In this life, it seems, rewards for faithfulness include battles fought, threats escaped, violence endured, homes abandoned, and martyrdom. The Bible doesn’t present itself as a manual for the good life, but wisdom for the life worth living, and a cause worth dying for. In the midst of this Jesus offers this invitation:
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ Mt.11:28,29
4) It’s Free?
‘If you want a Book of Mormon, you can have one at no cost. Local representatives will get a book to you, no matter where you live. They would be happy to show you a couple of their favorite stories.’
One of my wife’s favourite stories tells of how she filled in a form from a magazine and sent away for a copy of the Book of Mormon. As she relates, ‘I didn’t know it would come with two missionaries attached.’ She was 16 years old, her parents sat in on their visits, and the family joined the Mormon Church. There are, indeed, benefits in being involved in Mormonism, but truth, salvation, and the assurance Wesley experienced are not among them.
Of course the book is free. It comes attached to two young, disarming, often American ‘missionaries’ ready to relate the story of Joseph Smith, his gold plates, and a sanitised history of Mormonism.
They won’t tell you about the early scandals, the changes in the historical narrative, the total absence of evidence for their claims, the prophetic failings, the effectual closing of the Mormon canon, the significant changes in doctrine and practice, not least in the secret temple ceremonies.
They won’t tell you every generation is introduced to and joins a different Mormon Church. They won’t tell you because they don’t know themselves. These things you find out from sources outside the official Mormon channels.