Reachout's response to BYU Claim

BYU Takes up Cudgels!

In a colourful e-mail to the offices of Reachout Trust Dan Peterson, of Brigham Young University (BYU) has jumped to the defence of fellow professor Robert Millet who is quoted inTruthRestored-4, an article in which we suggest that Joseph Smith rivals Jesus in importance in Mormon theology. Below is the communication in full:

Date: 29 July 1998 18:26
Subject: Allow US to Explain

Mr. Harris:

I just now received a note that I am passing on to you.

In your communication to us and on your web site, you make much of a statement from the Ensign written by Robert Millet, which you say supports your dishonest claim that Latter-day Saints hold Joseph Smith to be as important as Jesus Christ. In introducing the statement from Professor Millet and your own misleading commentary on it, you say – We allow his followers to explain what they think of him.

Smugly confident that your abuse of Dr. Millets remark cannot or will not be challenged, you attempt to warn off Latter-day Saints who dare to dissent from your caricature of their faith: -You may of course,- you write, – not wish to believe what Robert Millet is saying about Joseph Smith, although he was published in the Ensign. We did not . . .misrepresent what Robert Millet wrote. –

Really? Let us, as you say, -allow [Joseph Smiths] followers to explain what they think of him -:

“Dear Dan:

“I remember writing the piece for the ENSIGN that you sent to me. Obviously I never intended anyone to suppose that I meant that Joseph Smith’s blood was shed for the remission of sins, or that Latter-day Saints esteem Brother Joseph to be other than a prophet-leader, the head of the final dispensation. Moses stood in a mediational role with ancient Israel, not in the sense that he was their Savior or Redeemer, but rather in the sense that God had called him as a covenant spokesman, someone to speak to the people on his behalf. So it was with Joseph Smith. He was a man, a mortal man, but a man called and empowered of God. We do not worship Joseph Smith, but we do admire him, love him, and deeply appreciate him for what God made known through him and for the fact that he sealed his testimony of the Savior with his own blood. That blood was not shed to ransom or redeem anyone, for that power is found only in the precious blood of Christ. Joseph Smith’s blood reminds us of the price that must occasionally be paid by the Lord’s chosen servants to declare the truth.” I hope these brief comments help to clarify our position toward Joseph Smith.

“Robert L. Millet”

So here you have Robert Millet, one of the specific victims of your slander, expressly denying that Joseph Smith is equal to Jesus Christ. You cannot quibble with me about my interpretation of Professor Millet’s remarks, for it is not mine; he has given it to you himself.

If you are serious about “allowing Joseph Smith’s followers to explain what they think of him, You will remove your unethical misrepresentation of Dr. Millet from your web page. You will drop it from your argument to us, from your vain endeavor to justify your deceptive accusation against the Latter-day Saints.

Indeed, if you are serious about “allowing Joseph Smith’s followers to explain what they think of him, you will no longer claim that they believe him to be equal to Jesus Christ. You have no evidence to support that malicious charge. You have no justification for persisting in it. You are engaging in character assassination. Stop it. Repent now.

Sincerely,

Daniel Peterson

I wish to make some general comments on the letter before dealing with its content. It is a sad fact that Mormons suffer from a blinding persecution complex. It is just fine, it seems, for them to visit the homes of our neighbours and caricature Christians and the Christian Church as apostate, wrong, abominable, those who give only lip service, deniers of God, Bible corrupters and followers of men (Joseph Smith-History 1:19; third missionary discussion). But just let a Christian challenge Mormonism’s spurious claims, bogus history and inflated view of itself and its prophets and a thousand Mormons are down your throat before you can say righteous indignation.

In twenty-five years, fourteen as a Mormon, I have read a good deal of so-called anti-Mormon literature. I have found some less than honest and fair and some more than a little offensive, but I have never read anything as offensive, reactionary and childish as the name-calling that is the stock-in-trade of the average Mormon responding to critics. Professor Peterson’s letter is not untypical. His language is strong indeed, accusing us of malice, misrepresentation, deception, dishonesty, abuse and slander (actually I believe he should have said libel. Slander refers to the spoken word, libel the written). In my experience, when your opponent in debate descends to name-calling it usually means he has nothing better to say and has lost the argument.

We are happy, of course, to be able publish Professor Millet’s response. Nor are we so mean-spirited as to insist on not believing that his intention, as elaborated upon in his response, was never to say that Joseph Smith was equal to Jesus. Sadly we cannot leave it there. A Christian reading his article would still be hard-pressed, I believe, to confidently come to the conclusion that, as Professor Millet put it:

We do not worship Joseph Smith, but we do admire him, love him, and deeply appreciate him for what God made known through him and for the fact that he sealed his testimony of the Savior with his own blood.

Let us look at what he is saying now and compare it with what is recorded in the Ensign article, June 1994, p.22.

Now

“Joseph Smith’s blood reminds us of the price that must occasionally be paid by the Lord’s chosen servants to declare the truth.” In a dissembling fashion Professor Millet seems to be saying that Joseph’s blood was shed simply to seal his testimony. This, however, seems suspiciously like back-pedalling on his part for, whatever his intentions, it is not what he wrote in 1994.

Then

“The life of Joseph Smith was in some degree patterned after that of his Master, Jesus Christ. That pattern holds true even when extended to its tragic conclusion. Like his Master, Joseph Smith also shed his blood in order that the final testament, the reestablishment of the new covenant, might be in full effect (see Heb.9:16).”

As I have already explained, Hebrews 9:16 is a reference to the death of Jesus releasing to his beneficiaries (all who believe – Rom.10:9) “the promised eternal inheritance” (v15), thus making him “the mediator of the new covenant” (v15). Mormon theology teaches that such benefits were lost in apostasy (a complete falling away from the truth) before the end of the second century and that a restoration was necessary. Professor Millet appears to be saying that it was necessary that there had to be a shedding of blood once more in order to re-establish that which was once lost, thus making Joseph the mediator of the restored covenant. This comparison is extravagant, to say the least, even for someone whose blood was shed to seal his testimony. For such a one surely the heroes of Hebrews 11:32-40 would have been a more appropriate comparison than Hebrews 9:16. For here are the equals in scripture of those who die in order to seal their testimony of God.

However, Professor Millet compares Joseph, not with saints of previous ages martyred for their testimony, but with Jesus. Did Jesus, then, simply die to “seal his testimony”, as Professor Millet is now saying Joseph did? Not at all! Taken in context, verse 16 of Hebrews 9 is speaking not of testimony but of testament (Mormons use the KJV which uses this word). Here the word means will, as in last will and testament, (NIV, Jerusalem Bible, RSV), and the passage is speaking of an inheritance following the death of one who made a will. In this case it is an eternal inheritance, freedom from sins (v15).

Professor Millet does not seem to be confusing testimony and testament because he does clearly use the word covenant in the correct context. I cannot see how he could have been ignorant, therefore, of the parallel he was drawing in comparing Joseph with Jesus. The key phrase is “in order that”. He declared that Joseph “…shed his blood in order that the final testament (not testimony or witness but testament, covenant or will), the reestablishment of the new covenant (or will), might be in full effect”. He then makes clear reference to Hebrews 9:16. Joseph’s blood, then, does not simply seal his testimony but rather releases new covenant blessing. I simply cannot get “shed his blood to seal his testimony” from “shed his blood in order that the final testament (or covenant) might be in full effect (see Heb.9:16)”. Whatever his intention he is declaring that Joseph’s death had the effect of releasing covenant blessing as did the blood of Jesus. This is not a matter of theology but of plain English.

In light of the above, I have tried to understand Professor Millet’s latest assertion that Joseph’s death simply sealed his testimony. The only way this could be so is if he is reading Heb.9:16 out of context. In the KJV it reads: “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” Perhaps he is making this verse stand alone and interpreting it as, where there is a testimony then the testifier must seal it with his death. If this is the case this is poor exegesis, indeed it is not exegesis (reading the meaning of the text) but eisegesis (reading a meaning into the text).

Furthermore, if this is the case he certainly should have known better, for the Mormon reference Bible has a footnote for this verse that clearly shows testament to mean covenant and not testimony. We cannot get away, I am afraid, from the phrase “shed his blood in order that the final testament (or covenant) might be in full effect (see Heb.9:16)”. And whilst we are willing to believe Professor Millet guilty of no more than poor exegesis nevertheless his original article must be seen against the background of what Joseph and his successors have said about the first Mormon prophet.

Mormons would have us believe that Joseph succeeded where Jesus failed. I quote again the words of Joseph himself:

I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. (History of the Church vol.6, pp.408-9)

No man, not even Jesus, has done what Joseph has done, this is the claim, not since the days of Adam. Think about that for a moment. It is breathtaking enough that any man should boast of whatever he presumes that he has achieved in the service of the living God. I am reminded of the words of Paul, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” 2Cor.10:17. But here is a man who boasts of doing better than the Lord, “Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did it”.

It should be remembered that it is against the background of such astounding boasts that Professor Millet’s remarks are being interpreted. I remind you of what Brigham Young said of Joseph:

Well now, examine the character of the Savior, and examine the characters of those who have written the Old and New Testaments; and then compare them with the character of Joseph Smith, the founder of this work – the man whom God called and to whom he gave the keys of Priesthood, and through whom he has established his Church and kingdom for the last time, and you will find that his character stands as fair as any man’s mentioned in the Bible. (Journal of Discourses, vol.14.p.203)

A character as fair as any man mentioned in the Bible? Even Jesus? In light of such pronouncements it is not at all difficult to interpret Professor Millet’s words as I have done.

No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day the priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are. (Journal of Discourses, vol.7, p.289)

 

This effectively has Joseph presiding over everything for the past two thousand years and however much longer it is before Jesus comes back. It puts a whole new slant on the text that reads the Father…has entrusted all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father (John 5:22-23). Perhaps it should continue and the Son has entrusted all judgement to Joseph, that all may honour Joseph as they honour the Son. Maybe this is a piece of missing scripture! Quick! Where’s my Joseph Smith Translation? Forgive me, I am being facetious. But I do wish Mormons would wake up to the implications of what they are saying. I also wish they would say what they mean and mean what they say. “That is your interpretation”, they say when you point out to them what is plainly on the page and plainly against all that scripture has to say on the subject. Worse, they say it in an accusatory tone suggesting that you are deliberately misinterpreting or misunderstanding. Such an approach is familiar to all that have honestly tried to share their faith with a Mormon.

I ask Professors Millet and Peterson four very simple questions:

1. Do you believe that Joseph, in any way, achieved more than Jesus did?

2. Do you believe that Joseph’s character equals that of Jesus?

3. Who is your judge Joseph or Jesus?

4. Did Joseph’s shed blood simply seal his testimony, or did it have the effect of releasing new covenant blessing? And if the former will you repent of implying the latter in the Ensign?

Finally I bear you my testimony that there is but one God, eternal, unchangeable, and that Jesus is who the Bible says he is, Emmanuel, God with us. That all men, Joseph included will stand before this righteous God and judge and give an account of all they have claimed and done, even in his name. At that time no amount of tithing, temple work, faithful church attendance or sacrifice will count. Only by throwing ourselves on his mercy, and relying on the blood of His Son shed for sinners at Calvary, can we be saved and counted “worthy”. Only those who have built with silver and gold, who have declared, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness” will enter the celestial kingdom of God. All who have built with the wood and straw of good works and righteous acts, depended upon vain genealogies and secret rites, and sought to “earn” blessings by attempting to keep the laws upon which they are “predicated”, will swiftly know the folly of their ways. Not for them a lower “degree of glory”, or lesser “reward”. For those who truly know him will be with him while those who reject him will be rejected of him and spend eternity with their father, the devil. I say these things in true earnest, with a sincere heart, understanding the grave nature of the issues we are addressing, and in the name of the one true God and his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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