In this artcle we will finish looking at discussion 1 of the missionary discussions and move on to discussion 2. The scriptures and texts we quote are a selection of the key texts that might be used in a discussion. We finished last time with a look at the ‘First Vision,’ in which Mormons claim Joseph Smith was commissioned to restore the gospel by God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. We saw how Mormons believe that God chooses special witnesses, prophets, who teach people directly and by writing sacred books called scripture. Here the Mormon will show that Joseph “brought forth additional scriptures” in the form of “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”
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 Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon, we are told, “contains the writings of ancient prophets.” It tells the story of Lehi and his family who leave Jerusalem around 600B.C. and end up in America. There they establish a great civilisation with, inevitably, many prophets. The Book of Mormon is claimed to be a collection of the writings of these prophets and is named after one of them. We are told that “These prophets knew about the plan of salvation and the mission of the Saviour,” that Jesus appeared to these people after his resurrection, taught them his gospel, and formed his church among them.
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).
If Your Brother Sins Against You
The Christian might reason that in 2 Corinthians 13:1 Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 19:15 which deals with crimes and offences. It declares “One witness is not enough to convict a man…A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (See also 17:6 and Matt.18: 16). The intention of Paul’s letter, as well as his imminent visit, was to settle disputes in the Corinthian Church. Paul is laying down the same criteria for settling these ‘matters.’ If “two or three witnesses” were needed to establish the truth of the gospel we have the testimonies of apostles, gospel writers, the Old and New Testaments, which themselves comprise sixty six books by dozens of writers of whose work Jesus declared, “These are the scriptures that testify about me” John 5:39 c.f. Luke 24:26-27. Christians begin with many witnesses Hebrews 12:1 so a ‘second’ one is redundant.
Sticks and Sheep
Ezekiel 37:15-19, the Christian might reason, is clearly explained by God himself in vv. 18-22. The two sticks are two kingdoms which will become one again under one king, just as the two sticks are joined in the prophet’s hands in v 17. Numbers 17:1 clearly shows that the sticks represented authority or headship, as a sceptre might for a king. The Lord is saying that where there were two kingdoms under two heads there would be one kingdom under one head.
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 Holy Ghost: A Witness of the Truth
Having been introduced to the Book of Mormon the investigator is challenged to pray about it. John 14:26;16:13 & 1 Corinthians 2:9-14 speak of the Spirit “guiding us into all truth,” and tell us that “no-one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Quoting these the Mormon will try to establish a pattern for revealing truth i.e., “God has promised that the Holy Ghost (Spirit) will let you know that the Book of Mormon is true.”
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)
The whole purpose of the Mormon plan of salvation leads directly from the idea that God has a physical body and that we are literally his children. The goal is to become like God. “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.”
Salvation from Physical Death (Resurrection)
The Mormon will reason from Ecclesiastes 12:7 that “Although our spirits continue to live, our physical bodies die. We cannot overcome this first obstacle of physical death by ourselves.” From Alma 11:42-45 (BOM) they will show that “The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form… Now, this restoration shall come to all [and] every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works.” They will link this with 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,” and Philippians 3:20-21 “Jesus Christ… will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” This Mormons call ‘Salvation from Physical Death’ and teach that “Resurrection is a free gift to each of us, regardless of whether we have done good or evil in this life.”
Salvation from Sin (Exaltation)
The Mormon will reason from John 3:16-17 & 1 John 1:7 that “God sent his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to overcome the obstacle of sin,” and “The blood of Jesus Christ…purifies us from all sin.” In the Mormon scheme “We are forgiven when we accept Christ, repent, and follow his commands. In this way, we are cleansed of our sins. We can become worthy to return to the presence of God.” Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the Mormon will reason refers to a shortfall. Jesus pays the penalty for our sins but “Jesus did not eliminate our personal responsibility. We must take certain steps to show that we accept him and that we will follow his commandments.” These steps are called ‘the first principles and ordinances of the gospel.’ These first steps are, Faith; Repentance; Baptism; (receiving) The Gift of the Holy Ghost; Obedience to “the laws and ordinances of the gospel.”
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.
First Principles and Ordinances
The first principles and ordinances of the Mormon Church are:
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.