Here we will look at the third Mormon missionary discussion. During the second discussion the investigator will have been challenged to commit to baptism. From this point every discussion will lead to this, and similar, challenges.
If an investigator has been asking the right questions then it is reasonable to insist on satisfactory answers. But these questions will be seen as ‘obstacles’ to commitment:
“If the investigators have not yet committed themselves to be baptized (sic) or have not yet attended Church meetings, these commitments must be among your major objectives for this discussion. Identify anything that might be holding the investigators back. Make plans for helping them overcome any obstacles.” (Instructions to Missionaries)
Obstacles and questions are often dealt with by declaring that, “We can avoid error, know the truth, and be strengthened in righteous living by becoming members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” This is a common strategy among the cults, suggesting that once you become a member all will become clear, i.e. blind commitment will be rewarded with clearer conviction. As in so many instances, they have the cart before the horse.
In Acts 2 (esp. vv 37-41. cf. Romans 10:14-15; Ephesians 1:13) we see that ‘telling’ the gospel and the work of the Spirit bring conviction, and conviction brings commitment. It is reasonable to hold out for answers from someone who has come claiming to have more answers than anyone else.
Discussion 3: The Restoration
With the death of the apostles God’s authority was taken from the earth in the ‘Apostasy’; It was ‘Restored’ through Joseph Smith who established ‘The True Church’; discuss Church membership. Commitment, attend a sacrament meeting.
The object of this discussion is to establish the idea that “Divine truth does not come from human sources. It comes from God, who reveals the truth through apostles and prophets.”
The Mormon will reason that God’s truth is eternal and unchanging. That the ideas of men are limited and only God can reveal fully his plan for us. When Christ established his church he called apostles and prophets to be channels of God’s truth. To these he gave authority to teach his gospel and this authority is called priesthood. After his death Jesus led his church by revelation through his apostles and prophets and in this way the truth was taught clearly and without confusion. From Ephesians 2:19-20 they will reason that the church is built on a foundation of apostles and prophets.
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)
In discussion one we saw that Mormons believe God speaks through special witnesses who reveal God’s plan through Scripture which the people then read and obey. We also discussed Joseph Smith’s vision and how we deal with Mormon claims that God appeared to Joseph.
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 of the Church
The official name of the Mormon Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They point to the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, or St. So-and-So’s Church in the town and say that they do not bear the Saviour’s name. The Mormon will reason that Christ’s Church should bear Christ’s name as their Church does.
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.
Mormons believe that the priesthood lost in apostasy was restored through Joseph Smith. They believe in two levels of priesthood, the Aaronic Priesthood, restored by John the Baptist, and the Melchizedek Priesthood, restored by Peter James and John. Having this priesthood makes the Mormon Church the only church on earth with authority to act and speak for God.
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).
In Exodus 19:6 Israel is called “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. The Christian might reason that this idea is developed in the New Testament in relation to the church. 1 Peter 2:4-5 speaks of believers as being “like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood offering a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Peter goes on to say,
“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.