Mormon apostle David Bednar speaking at the October 2020 General Conference
Elder David Bednar

Mormonism has no ‘trained ministry.’ I will explain the scare quotes momentarily when I look closer at ‘trained ministry.’ Indeed, they boast of having a lay ministry of unpaid volunteers. Certainly at local level this is the case. Bishops, stake presidents, and the teams around them are all volunteers holding down day jobs.

The top leadership of the church, comprising about 90 people, are full time and get paid what we might call a stipend. There is much controversy over the amount, but the MormonLeaks website published some firm figures in recent years. You can read some more here.

These top leaders have no seminary, or Bible school training. While it is not a trained ministry, they will have served as volunteers for many years while holding down a job. When the call comes to join the ranks of the General Authorities they simply quit their job and serve full time. They don’t go to a ministry school, theirs is not in any way a ‘trained ministry.’ They simply bring with them their experience as volunteers and their, often not inconsiderable, professional qualifications from the world.

They will, of course, come with the experience of helping manage a local ward, or stake. They will bring with them their experience teaching in the church, the sort of experience a Christian brings having taught Sunday School, youth, small groups, or having been a lay preacher.

This goes some way to explaining the innumerable manuals volunteer leaders must follow in their role. Every challenge is met with the question, ‘what is church policy?’ Every answer comes from a carefully correlated policy statement that dictates everything that happens, from the local classroom to conference addresses. Theologically, spiritually, pastorally there is barely more than a competence about these men.

The Temple Ceremony Mocked ‘Trained Ministry.’

In the pre-1990 temple ceremony, there was a section of film in which a Christian minister is mocked for having been ‘trained for the ministry.’ This is a transcript of that section, with which I am very familiar. Adam, now outside the Garden, is praying:

LUCIFER: I hear you. What is it you want?

ADAM: Who are you?

LUCIFER: I am the god of this world.

ADAM: You, the god of this world?

LUCIFER: Yes. What do you want?

ADAM: I am looking for messengers.

LUCIFER: Oh, you want someone to preach to you. You want religion, do you? I will have preachers here presently.

[A preacher enters. He wears a dog collar, is obsequious, anaemic, ineffectual and is in the employ of Lucifer. Imagine a vicar in an Ealing Studios comedy]

LUCIFER: Good morning, sir!

PREACHER: Good morning! A fine congregation!

LUCIFER: Yes, they are a very good people. They are concerned about religion. Are you a preacher?


LUCIFER: Have you been to college and received training for the ministry? (in earlier versions still, he is asked if he has also been taught a lot of dead languages. The contempt for trained Christian ministers drips from every word)

PREACHER: Certainly! A man cannot preach unless he has been trained for the ministry.

LUCIFER: Do you preach the orthodox religion?

PREACHER: Yes, that is what I preach.

LUCIFER: If you will preach your orthodox religion to these people and convert them, I will pay you well.

PREACHER: I will do my best.

You can see where they are going with this. This trained minister teaches everything that Mormonism criticises, rejects, and mocks in establishing itself as ‘the only true church.’

1. The preacher looks ineffectual

2. He brings ‘religion.’

3. he has been ‘trained for the ministry.’

4. He preaches ‘the orthodox religion.’

5. He is in the pay of Lucifer

All these Mormonism has come to sweep aside with their restoration of the Christian Church. Note the mocking of trained ministry, and payment for services rendered. I have seen this film so many times, believe me when I tell you this preacher is compromised, a representation of what Joseph Smith wrote in his history:

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (JS History.1:19)

This is typical of new movements, sects, and cults. They have no established credibility, so they trash the credibility of others, identify themselves as much by what they are not as by what they are. The outcome can be devastating. People’s lives may depend on sound counselling, but they find themselves in the hands of untrained amateurs who believe they don’t need training because they have a hotline to God.

When a Jehovah’s Witness has questions, who do they have to turn to for answers? Probably a window cleaner. When my wife and I had our crisis as Mormons we found ourselves sharing our big questions with a lift engineer. There is, of course, nothing wrong and much that is right about volunteers, and our lift engineer was a great guy. That, however, is besides the point.

One trained minister I know put it like this, ‘There is a way of handling Scripture and of dealing with people that comes only from training.’ My many years of experience sees me agreeing with him. Untrained counsellors can do untold damage as they come to the limit of their abilities and fall back on ‘by the book’ counselling.

When it comes to guiding people in making important faith and life choices volunteers really need to know their limitations. At Reachout we strive to build a network of people, trained and otherwise, who can do what we can’t, and this works well for us.

General Conference

The 2020 semi-annual conference was different this year of the pandemic. As in April, this was a virtual conference held in a smaller, main floor venue in the Church office building. This October conference brought home again the dangers and pitfalls in not having a trained ministry. Add to this the fact Mormonism doesn’t have a Saviour so much as a system, doesn’t follow the example of Peter the fisherman so much as Peter Drucker the business guru, and you begin to see it.

Nothing better illustrates this than the talk by Mormon apostle David Bednar, who began by explaining:

For more than two decades before my call to full-time Church service, I worked as a university teacher and administrator. My primary responsibility as a teacher was to help students learn how to learn for themselves. And a vital element of my work was creating, grading, and providing feedback about student performance on tests.’

His theme was ‘tests in the school of mortality’ designed to prove our worthiness to return to God, according to the convoluted Mormon Plan of Salvation. He effectively talked us through the spiritual knowledge about, understanding of, and devotion to our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan of happiness and our capacity to seek for the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement.’

He goes on to say, ‘the scriptures provide a perfect framework for organizing and preparing our lives and homes both temporally and spiritually.’

And so it was we got a talk from a university teacher and administrator on how to study to pass our exams. The Bible is considered a manual, and these full-time volunteers are telling us how to work the manuals.

I know Mormons won’t see it this way but Elder Bednar, a thoroughly decent man I am sure, speaks and sounds like a university administrator in both tone and content. Jeffery R Holland, another educator, comes with a similar theme and tone, promising reward in exchange for application. Has anyone noticed Dallin H Oaks speaks and sounds like a jurist and lawyer setting out his case?

Quentin L Cook made a quasi-political speech, reflecting his pro bono work and non-profit leanings in his career as a corporate attorney. His talk is intelligent and well-crafted and describes the Utopia of Mormonism that might be achieved. He might have been running for public office. As he references the essential touchstones of ‘the constitution and related documents,’ and confirms American exceptionalism, he invites us into the sunlit uplands described in his talk.

Ronald A Rasband, who started his secular career as a sales representative, explained the costs and benefits of having a temple recommend. As he checked off the benefits of church membership and temple ‘worthiness,’ and ‘costs’ of faithfulness and sacrifice, I imagined Mormons around the world determining to ‘lengthen their stride,’ and make that decision so he could close the sale.

Self-Help Religion

We were being read to from carefully arranged tele-prompters, with no real sense of connection. Some precepts might be good, but without life, the immanence of God (or even the speaker), we are not drawn in, just left with a list to work through. We were invited into a self-help religion, offered some good advice, thoughtful epithets, but where is the hope and the strength to overcome?

With no training, each brings their own experience as volunteers. Look in the Bible and you won’t find Jesus talking about carpentry, or Luke using medical illustrations. Peter ‘trained for the ministry’ with Jesus for three years. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t speak or sound like a fisherman. Paul only references his previous life as a Pharisee in order to distance himself from it.

As an aside, I am sometimes asked if the people at the top know it isn’t true. Some might, but most probably not. Mormonism is not run by the people at the top, the church runs itself via programmes, policies, manuals, and expediency. The same is true, I believe, for most cults that have passed through the three stages of inspired founder, strong-willed organiser, and capable managers. It is in that third phase the Mormon Church finds itself.

The Mormon canon is closed, in spite of protestations to the contrary. The Mormon God no longer speaks through Mormon leaders, no longer thunders. The organisation is established, all that is needed is careful and conventional management of established orthodoxy.

As a former Mormon, I can see how Elder Bednar’s talk might go down well among the faithful. As a Christian believer of almost 35 years, I see how they have played it safe, crafted talks around church policy, and brought their skills from the world to deliver them. If you’re wondering what would happen if a speaker strays from strict church policy, consider the case ofRonald E Poleman.

Poleman’s original October 1984 conference address was heavily rewritten then re-recorded for public consumption. It might be asked, if leaders are volunteers, if policy is correlated to within an inch of its life, and if every decision comes from a manual, what need is there of apostles and prophets?

Blessings Predicated on Laws

It is so tempting to be impressed by the talks’ practical applications but this is light years away from biblical Christianity. Like Catholicism, Mormonism posits a store of blessings made available through the atonement, accessed only by strict obedience to the plan:

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 that law upon which it is predicated.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21)

If you really want a certain blessing, you’d better find out what the laws are that govern that blessing and then work on becoming obedient to those laws.” Elder, now president Russell M. Nelson “The Mission and Ministry of the Savior: A Discussion with Elder Russell M. Nelson,” Ensign, June 2005, 19.

Compare this with Paul’s words in Ephesians:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ-by grace have you been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ (Eph.2:1-9)

This text is packed with rich mercy, great love, saving grace, the scandalously generous gift of kindness, and all to lost sinners, not to those who managed to keep the law on which the blessing is predicated. In Mormonism application is everything, in Christianity grace is all. The message of Mormonism is that we should work and strive to reach and attain, the message of Christianity is that we should trust in Christ’s finished work.

Works and the Christian

Christians believe in good works, apply themselves to obedience, let’s make that clear. You would need to be wilfully blind to not see this. If you don’t quite understand it, you won’t get a better explanation than this from Tyndale:

For in the faith which we have in Christ and in God’s promises find we mercy, life, favour and peace. In the law we find death, damnation, and wrath…The law when it commands that you shall not lust, gives you no power so to do, but damns you, because you cannot do so…If you will therefore be at peace with God, and love him, you must turn to the promises of God, to the gospel, which is called by Paul…the ministrations of righteousness (2 Cor.3:9) and of the Spirit.

For faith brings pardon and forgiveness freely purchased by Christ’s blood, and brings also the Spirit; the Spirit looses the bonds of the devil, and sets us at liberty. For, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,’ says Paul…that is to say, there the heart is free and has power to love the will of God; and there the heart mourns that he cannot love enough. Now is the consent of the heart unto the law of God eternal life…’ (The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, read more here)

As Luther wonderfully discovered, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ (Ro.116-17)

The world doesn’t need managers, life-coaches, strategists, jurists, administrators, or a management strategy to address its greatest problem. The world needs capable preachers and teachers who will bring us the clear word of God from the Bible. Only when we have that will we truly understand faith. Only when we have faith will we have both the heart desire and the Spirit’s power to work out what God has already put in us, to work out our salvation before the God who saves to the uttermost (Philippians 2:12)