Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Book of Mormon, 1/18

Today, I am starting a series on the Book of Mormon that I've been putting off since last year. Every time I think about what I'm going to put in this series, I always come up with all kind of background information I want to give first. Sometimes the background information is more lengthy than what I plan to write about the Book of Mormon, which leads me to believe I need to cut back on it.

But I'm going to go ahead and give you the skinny. Since I figure Mormons are going to read this, and since Mormons always want to know why I'm interested in these subjects, I'll give you the skinny on that first. Last July, a good friend of mine (let's call her Kay to protect the innocent and prevent me from having to repeat 'my friend' all the time) wrote me a letter giving me a lengthy version of her testimony and how she became a Mormon. I had known her for about seven months without knowing she was a Mormon. So I became interested initially for that reason. As a result, I read the Book of Mormon, and I took notes as I went along. This series is going to be about those notes I took and what I think about the Book of Mormon.

After a while, my enthusiasm waned, and I never took my notes to blog. My enthusiasm has picked up recently, though, because Kay introduced me to another Mormon girl (let's call her Sierra) back in March. Sierra turned out to be quite fetching, and I took a shine to her, so naturally I became interested in the subject of Mormonism again. Sierra is the one who invited me to her church.

That's the background about me. Now for the background about the Book of Mormon. I figure since non-Mormons are also going to be reading this, and since some of them may not know much about Mormonism or what the Book of Mormon is, I ought to give the skinny on that as well.

Supposedly, the church of Jesus Christ disappeared from the earth entirely once all the original apostles were dead. God restored Christ's church in 1830 through the prophet, Joseph Smith. That's how the LDS Church was born. It's supposedly the only true church of Christ on earth.

Before that happened, Joseph Smith was visited by God himself as well as an angel who led him to a hill where Smith found some gold plates with ancient writing on it. The Book of Mormon was translated from those gold plates. It is a record of some ancient civilizations that lived in America who had migrated here from the middle east. Mormons consider the Book of Mormon to be scripture. It is, as it says on the cover, "another testament of Jesus Christ."

The Book of Mormon is important because it speaks to the credibility of Joseph Smith as a prophet. If the Book of Mormon is not a translation of an ancient American document, then Joseph Smith is a false prophet, and if Joseph Smith is a false prophet, then the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (as well as its many off-shoots) is not the true church of Christ restored by God through Joseph Smith.

Although I've read quite a bit since last July, I still consider myself a beginner. It turns out that when it comes to Mormonism, there's a whole lot to know. I've barely scratched the surface. So please think of these blog entries, not as well-researched essays, but as initial impressions.

Part 2

96 Comments:

At 6/01/2009 11:15 AM , Blogger McKinley said...

The Book of Mormon has always amazed me. From what we know about Joseph Smith, he basically had a third grade education and lived on a rural farm in 1830 with no formal training or access to sources. Also, the book was written in just two months. How does this book even exist?

By comparison, JRR Tolkien was an Oxford Professor and it took him decades to write Lord of the Rings and that book is hardly scripture.

It's interesting to think about. I have never once heard a critic of the Church really explain where the Book of Mormon came from. It doesn't make any sense. That has always been the best evidence for that it is a true record.

Just some thoughts, happy reading!

 
At 6/01/2009 1:17 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for stopping by, McKinley. I was hoping to get some Mormon feedback on this series. I just hope it doesn't make anybody angry and run them off. In upcoming parts, I do go into some of my reasons for doubting the BOM's authenticity.

I was just thinking yesterday about whether I could have written the BOM. I don't think I could've written it in a year. But then again, I have trouble just writing a story covering a few pages. It made me wonder how sure we can be that Joseph Smith wrote it in such a short amount of time (90 days is what I had heard). How strong is the evidence for that?

Yes, I have read that Joseph Smith had only three years of formal education. But I've also read that both of his parents were school teachers, so it doesn't seem unlikely to me that he received a bit of home schooling.

But I'm not sure education is even necessary to write a book like the BOM. After all, from what I understand, he dictated the book, and it was actually Oliver Cowdery who wrote it. I have no doubt that Joseph Smith was an unusually intelligent and creative person, which is more important than formal education.

Muhammad is said to have been uneducated, but he produced the Qu'ran, which Muslims will say is a self-evident miracle when you read it in Arabic. Shakespeare also wrote pretty good plays in short amounts of time. One of the most well-known counter-examples is Pearl Curran who wrote an incredible amount of poems and stories in a short amount of time by channeling the spirit of a dead girl.

Some people have claimed that Joseph Smith borrowed the BOM story from some other work of fiction. From my own reading, it's clear that he borrowed heavily from the Bible. If it's true that he also borrowed from some other work of fiction, it isn't hard to imagine that he could've written the BOM from a story already in his head and from bits of scripture he had memorized.

And I figure even if he did write it in two or three months, he could've had the story cooking in his head for many years before finally putting it to paper. From what I understand, his mother credited him with being quite the story teller even from an early age.

I don't think the BOM compares to Lord of the Rings in its depth or detail, and there are far more subplots and intricacies in the Lord of the Rings than there are in the BOM. The Lord of the Rings even has poetry and different languages and scripts that Tolkien invented.

I have never once heard a critic of the Church really explain where the Book of Mormon came from.

There's actually quite a number of theories about it. A quick google search turned up this page.

 
At 6/01/2009 5:57 PM , Blogger Paul said...

What I've seen regarding the associations with Solomon Spaulding's writings suggest a very credible connection.

I know that Mormons claim fraud and persecution in response to their early detractors, but it seem to me that there is just such a large amount of extant historical testimony against Smith and his followers to merely be written off as slander. After the first couple hundred times the charge of "liar" just seems more of an evasion than a credible reply. And if the "lies" manage to weave themselves into a plausible alternate story, then one must at least wonder.

 
At 6/01/2009 7:33 PM , Blogger Sam said...

You know, Paul, the difficulty in investigating the claims about Joseph Smith's shady past is that the literature on the subject is so overwhelming. It's hard to get to the bottom of things when there's so much to look at.

I was just reading, "Rendering Fiction: Translation, Pseudotranslation, and the Book of Mormon" by David J. Shepherd in The New Mormon Challenge ed. by Frank Beckwith, et al. He said:

In fact, not long after it was published, the claim was made that the actual source of the Book of Mormon was not Smith's ancient plates but a manuscript written in English years earlier by one Solomon Spaulding. This accusation, originally made by an excommunicated Mormon in 1833, was blunted considerably by the discovery of said manuscript and the revelation that its text, apart from some general similarities, bore little resemblance to the Book of Mormon. Although one of Smith's non-Mormon biographers, Fawn Brodie, acknoledged some similarities between the two, such as an ancient voyage from the Old World to the New and the attribution of earthen mounds in New York and Ohio to savage wars, it was her authoritative dismissal of the "Spaulding Theory" that dealt it its death blow. (p. 386)

It seems that these days, more people think the BOM relied on Ethan Smith's book, View of the Hebrews. It was published in 1823 and again in 1825 in the county next to the one Joseph Smith lived in, and it has far more parallels with the BOM than the Spaulding manuscript. I guess it's always possible that Smith was influenced by both works--one more than the other. Or maybe the parallels are superficial or can be explained in other ways. One of these days, I'd like to read View of the Hebrews for myself and see what I think.

I give some of my own impressions about the sources for the BOM in a later part to this series. Basically, I think Smith used the KJV (which David Shepherd also argued in the article I referenced above), popular ideas in the 19th century, reaction to theological controversies in the 19th century, and just his own imagination. Whether he relied on some work of fiction, I don't know.

 
At 6/01/2009 10:10 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Yeah Sam, you're right that it is deep and complicated. We should all push past the top layer on this. I do know about the loss of credibility that the Spalding manuscript suffered when it was presumably found. However, I have read much controversy surrounding this. For instance, that there were alleged to be more than one manuscript by Spalding (reportedly so even before the discover of the one). However, I would hesitate to press an argument that Beckwith, et al., deems to reject. Especially since there are ample, less problematic, alternative lines of argument that may be pursued regarding the BoM.

 
At 6/01/2009 10:14 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I'm not really even clear what the Spaulding manuscript is. Is it a book or something?

I found View of the Hebrews on Amazon!

 
At 6/01/2009 10:32 PM , Blogger Paul said...

From what I know, it was an unpublished fictional "romance" that predates the BoM. Some writing of Spalding (or Spaulding) was referenced by persons of Smith's day who made charges of fraud/plagiarism against the BoM.

The only thing we have extant relating to Spalding is a manuscript found and published many decades later. Even though that has some curious thematic similarities to the BoM, it is not so great as to say that Smith "stole" the BoM content from it.

To be honest, I hadn't even heard of the View of the Hebrews. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on that if you end up reading it.

 
At 6/01/2009 10:35 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Well, I think now that I'm finally done writing this long series on the Book of Mormon that I will start reading the Doctrine and Covenants, take notes on them, and maybe blog about them as well. That is, if I don't lose my enthusiasm by then.

 
At 6/01/2009 11:35 PM , Blogger The Blog of John said...

Hey Sam, I'm looking forward to reading your comments on the Book of Mormon. I have a copy but have never read it. I hope some members of the LDS church post comments. From my own studies on Mormonism, I know that most of the doctrinal differences are found in Doctrine and Covenants, which leads me to wonder what is so significant about the BOM. This book is very special to Mormons but I'm not sure why. Does it provide a general redemption story? Setting aside questions of historicity and Smith's writing style, is there much that is counter to Christianity?

The comments about the possible origins of the BOM are interesting but I've always been more curious about Smith's motivation for writing the book. (I'm skipping the step of actually proving the book to be a fraud and moving right along to asking why he would write a work of fiction and pass it off as God's truth.) Was he aware of his deception? If so, why go along with it for so long? A standard apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus is that the disciples would never go to their deaths for something they knew was a lie. Did Joseph Smith die knowing he could have just told the truth? Yes, I know the circumstances of his death are not the same as Jesus' disciples.

Is it possible that Smith was deluded into thinking the story of a great pre-Coloumbian civilization in America was true?

Keep up the good work, Sam.

 
At 6/02/2009 12:19 AM , Blogger Sam said...

John, I think the Mormons would be in a better position to answer your questions about the importance of the BOM than I am. If nobody chimes in for the next couple of days, I'll say what I think.

I don't think the "die for a lie" argument works in the case of Joseph Smith, though, because of the circumstances of his death. Telling the truth would not have saved him.

I have no idea what his motivation was. I could probably make some guesses, but it's not really something that matters much to me. I doubt he was deluded into believing the BOM, but anything is possible. In one of my upcoming posts, I talk about how some of the things in the BOM seem to be inconsistent with views Joseph Smith preached on in later years, which might be evidence that he did not really believe the BOM.

 
At 6/02/2009 12:46 PM , Blogger Paul said...

John made a point I intended to make too. The BoM doesn't really contain a lot of theological content. That is to be found in D&C and secondary works, like the Journal of Discourses.

For this reason, it seems odd that LDS members tend to evangelize by offering the BoM and invite prayer over it to see if it is true. It seems a rather peripheral doorway into the more radical core of their actual doctrines. I would think it more meaningful to be presented with the substance of Mormon teaching (their gospel) before being invited to pray over its veracity.

Even if the BoM happened to be true, I don't think the theological teachings of Smith and his followers are true of necessity. However, if the BoM is found to be fictional, then there is absolutely no reason to grant Smith any authority.

I hate to be cynical about the "die for a lie" issue, but it seems to me that religions like Islam and Mormonism do not neatly fit into this category. The Apostles of Jesus saw little in the way of power, wealth, or worldly gain, and they all died in a pacifistic manner. They did not even take the leadership role in their own local congregation! That was left to James, who was not even a believer from the beginning, and is a minor player in theological terms.

Both of these other religions (to name only two) are marked by leadership which possessed political (and even marshal) power and saw many worldly benefits from their prophetic roles. The sexual bounty enjoyed by both these leaders seems a bit too convenient, and is alone enough to fuel those in search of motivations.

BTW, here are some quotes I collected a few years back from LDS sources on various points of their theology:
http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=158339
I wonder which of these might now be discarded by the doctrine of abrogation.

 
At 6/02/2009 4:44 PM , Blogger Sam said...

There actually is a lot of theological content in the BOM. It's just that it isn't peculiar to Mormonism. There's nothing about eternal progression, eternal marriage, baptism for the dead, or anything like that in there. I don't think there is anything about preexistence either, but I could be wrong about that. A question I have (that I keep meaning to post on yahoo answers but keep forgetting) is what they mean by "the fullness of the gospel." Supposedly, they think the BOM contains the fullness of the gospel, which is how the BOM was instrumental in restoring the truth church. But it is my understanding (and it may be a misunderstanding) that part of the Mormon gospel includes eternal progression, exaltation, eternal marriage and all that. But there is none of that in the BOM. According to 1 Nephi 13:24-26, the Bible used to contain the fullness of the gospel until many parts were taken away by the abominable church that was formed after the apostles died. But the BOM doesn't really add much theology that isn't already in the Bible.

I think the real importance of the BOM to Mormons is that it establishes Joseph Smith as a true prophet, which lends legitimacy to the LDS Church being the true church of Christ. If there are any Mormons reading this, I wish you would chime in and share your thoughts with us about the significance of the BOM.

 
At 6/02/2009 4:46 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I just noticed that in the first paragraph of the introduction to the BOM, it says, "The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel."

 
At 6/02/2009 5:16 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I just posted the following question on Yahoo Answers:

Mormons: What is "the fullness of the gospel?"

The reason I ask is because I was under the impression that, based on 1 Nephi 13:24-28, the Bible no longer contains the fullness of the gospel since many things were taken away from it. And I was under the impression that Mormons believe Joseph Smith restored the true church and the fullness of the gospel by translating the Book of Mormon, which means the Book of Mormon DOES contain the fullness of the gospel. But I read the Book of Mormon and didn't find many things in it that I thought were part of the Mormon gospel, such as eternal marriage, exaltation, eternal progression, etc. So I figure that I'm just not really clear on what is meant by "the fullness of the gospel." What is the fullness of the gospel, where is it found in the BOM, and what truths of the gospel are in the BOM that are not in the Bible?


We'll see what they say, but in the meantime if there are any Mormons reading this, I'd also like to get your thoughts.

Maybe I should've just put this in a separate blog entry.

 
At 6/02/2009 6:44 PM , Blogger Paul said...

This is a very good observation and question, Sam.

By "no theological content" I guess I did mean distinctive Mormon theology.

 
At 6/03/2009 1:17 PM , Blogger Dave P. said...

The title page of the Book of Mormon refers to it as "another testament of Jesus Christ." It is not an instruction book on how to run a church, but is simply another witness to the divinity of the Savior.
A good analogy I've heard is that if you were to attach a sign to the wall using just one nail in the center, that sign could be rotated any which way, and therefore interpreted any which way. But put in another nail and the sign is fixed in one position, with fewer possible interpretations. The Book of Mormon is that second nail. Perhaps it's a simplistic analogy, but I think it works.

 
At 6/03/2009 1:55 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I think that is a good analogy, Dave. The way a lot of exegetes put it is that ambiguous passages should be interpreted in light of clearer passages. The overall assumption is that the scriptures do not contradict each other. Context dictates meaning--not just the immediate context, but the broader context of all the scriptures.

So I believe the whole Bible is full of nails. Passages in the new testament can shed light on passages in the old testament. And passages in one of Paul's letters can shed light on the meaning of passages in other letters by Paul. If the BOM is also the word of God, then I would agree that passages in one could shed light on the meaning of passages in the other.

 
At 6/03/2009 3:37 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Part 1

I am posting in response to your very nice request that members of the LDS Church (the abbreviation we prefer for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) comment on the questions that have arisen out of your exposure to the church and the Book of Mormon. It is a bit scary for a church member to comment on a non-member’s blog because so much of the internet is being used to vilify the church and its teachings. But you and your readers seem sincere, so here goes.

First I should point out that I am a very average member of the church. I am not a scholar in any sense of the word, and there are a number of members (and non-members) who are. So please accept my comments from that perspective.

I was introduced to the church in my early 20s by a friend – no hormones involved whatsoever. I served a two-year mission starting almost exactly a year after I joined the church and am still an active member of the church today, more than thirty years later. I am reasonably intelligent, reasonably well educated (two college degrees), a professional businessman, and entirely unremarkable.

Whew! I see what you mean about needing background in order to have context enough for your comments to make sense.

Those of us who believe the Book of Mormon is scripture do not believe it contains every bit of knowledge about everything, which some people would think “the fullness of the gospel” implies. We believe it is a literal translation of a series of texts transcribed by prophets over a period of hundreds of years. It contains messages directed to those people at that time, although much in the book can also be of benefit to people of our time. Without having lived in that time, we today have no idea what knowledge the people of that day took for granted. For instance, temples are mentioned in the Book of Mormon with almost no discussion of their purpose or importance. We must assume that such knowledge was common and widespread, and that prophets of those days did not feel the need to write it down.

What the Book of Mormon does contain, and most of us would consider this to be “the fullness of the gospel,” is the information each of us will need to complete our earthly lives in an honorable and appropriate manner. We need to obey God’s commandments, to the best we understand them, and participate in certain ordinances that serve as the entry into the life we desire. Those ordinances include faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. After starting on this path, we need to stay on it by continuing to be obedient and by participating in ongoing ordinances like partaking of the sacrament. The Book of Mormon contains everything necessary to understand these basic principles, and does so very clearly and concisely, so we consider it to have the fullness of the gospel. The bible contains the same information, but it is often unclear and even contradictory. A bible discussion around faith (Paul) versus works (James) can get even good friends in trouble.

 
At 6/03/2009 3:38 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Part 2

Members of the church see the Book of Mormon as serving two very important functions. 1) As noted on the title page, we believe it is another testament of Jesus Christ. The book, if true, adds itself as a witness to the events that Christians believe took place approximately two millennia ago and the importance of those events to all of humanity. 2) The Book of Mormon is the gateway into the latter-day version of Christ’s church. In this role, the book’s purpose is to provide background about Joseph Smith and the restoration, and the second witness referred to above. Finally, it provides its most important passages near the end of the book with a promise about how to find out if we can believe what we have read. It teaches us that we can have a very personal relationship with God, and that he will answer our questions if we are sincere and if we seek him out. We believe this personal answer to be true about any kind of sincere question posed by anyone, and that it is not limited to those who are members or investigators of the church.

Everyone who is a faithful and active member of the LDS church, and many who are not, have put this promise to the test and received a very spiritual answer to the questions of whether Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon true. Without a spiritual answer to these questions, individual members will never be able to function for long periods of time as the backbone of the religion. Once the answers to those two questions are received, and we undertake the necessary ordinances, we enable ourselves to receive all the blessings God has to offer us.

The writings contained in the bible were directed toward people from the beginning of humanity up through the period following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Book of Mormon was directed toward people who lived in the new world many centuries ago. We hold both of them to be scripture. The Doctrine and Covenants was directed to the very early members of the restored church, and we also hold it to be scripture. But we believe that there are a living prophet and living apostles alive today, and their words are directed to us who are alive right now. Twice a year, over five, two-hour sessions during what we refer to as General Conference, these leaders speak to us and provide us with the instruction that we believe God wants us to have today. So while the various scriptures are very important to us, and we read them often to remain close to God, we look to the living church leaders for actual direction on how we should live our lives right now.

I hope this at least partially answers the questions you have asked.

 
At 6/04/2009 3:04 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Yes it does, Curtis. Thank you very much for the time you put into that. I hope you don't mind a follow up question just for clarification. You said that the Bible contradicts itself (e.g. James vs Paul; faith vs. works). But then you said both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are scripture. What do you mean by "scripture"? The reason I ask is because most people consider "scripture," to be anything that is, as Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16, theopneustos--that is, God-breathed. Since you think the Bible contradicts itself, I'm wondering if you've got a different understanding of what "scripture" is.

One other question I have is whether there could be an LDS Church if there were no Book of Mormon. You said the Bible contains the same essential information, only it is less clear. But you also said that through prayer you can get an answer to any sincere question anybody has. You also said that you have prophets to give you direction. Couldn't you get sufficient clarity on the Bible by praying about it and consulting your prophets? If so, does the LDS Church really need the Book of Mormon?

The issue of the clarity of the Book of Mormon is going to come up in a future entry in this series. While reading it, there seemed to be two or three things in the Book of Mormon that I found to be inconsistent with what I took to be current Mormon doctrine, which leads me to believe that either the Book of Mormon is not clear or else I've got a misunderstanding about current Mormon doctrine. The issues I bring up I think are pretty major, too. I hope you will stick around for the rest of the series because I'd like to get your thoughts. You are quite pleasant and informative!

 
At 6/04/2009 9:41 AM , Blogger Curtis said...

Let me approach your questions one by one:

You said that the Bible contradicts itself (e.g. James vs Paul; faith vs. works). But then you said both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are scripture. What do you mean by "scripture"? The reason I ask is because most people consider "scripture," to be anything that is, as Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16, theopneustos--that is, God-breathed. Since you think the Bible contradicts itself, I'm wondering if you've got a different understanding of what "scripture" is.

Short answer – no I don’t. My position is not so much that the bible seems to contradict itself (I know, I did say that) but that those who read the bible interpret the same passages so differently. We LDS take the position that BOTH faith and works are necessary – faith because without Jesus’ intervention and atonement, not a single one of us could ever hope to be saved (Paul), and works because faith without works is dead (James). I don’t know your personal beliefs but I have met many people who believe the defining act is to declare Christ as your savior, and that nothing you do before or after that point can affect your salvation. We LDS believe that we were put here to learn and grow, and that we demonstrate that growth by self control and making good decisions. Good decisions in this case would mostly be centered around the things that Jesus taught during his ministry, which revolve around making the lives of our fellow humans better rather than worse.

Before other of your readers jump in on this topic, I will take a moment and point over to the elephant in the room. One of our thirteen articles of faith states that we believe in the bible as far as it is translated correctly, and that we believe in the Book of Mormon (no similar condition attached). We find the King James version of the bible to be most in line with what we believe God meant when he sent the various teachings to His prophets in days past, but we are not among those who think any version of the bible we have today is perfect. If you read the LDS version of the King James bible, you will find references to the Joseph Smith “translation.” While Joseph Smith didn’t claim to actually retranslate the bible, he did propose changes that he felt led to a more clear indication of what God meant. Obviously, others are free to hold that against us if they wish, and they often do.

One other question I have is whether there could be an LDS Church if there were no Book of Mormon. You said the Bible contains the same essential information, only it is less clear. But you also said that through prayer you can get an answer to any sincere question anybody has. You also said that you have prophets to give you direction. Couldn't you get sufficient clarity on the Bible by praying about it and consulting your prophets? If so, does the LDS Church really need the Book of Mormon?

This is an interesting philosophical question that I have no good answer for. I guess the short answer is that God could do anything the way He wanted to, so if He had chosen not to produce the records and have them translated, He could have done that. But perhaps a bad analogy would be if Judaism or Christianity would be any different if one of the books of the bible were missing. Take Job for instance, because there are those who believe it is more a story than a true account of a real person. Would the world and current religion be any different without that book? I don’t think so. But the book itself is quite beautiful and has some key teachings in it, so I’m glad we have it. I feel the same way about the Book of Mormon; God could easily have added the information missing from the bible by way of separate revelation, but I find the book itself very powerful and uplifting, so I’m glad we have it.

 
At 6/04/2009 9:47 AM , Blogger Curtis said...

While reading it, there seemed to be two or three things in the Book of Mormon that I found to be inconsistent with what I took to be current Mormon doctrine, which leads me to believe that either the Book of Mormon is not clear or else I've got a misunderstanding about current Mormon doctrine. The issues I bring up I think are pretty major, too. I hope you will stick around for the rest of the series because I'd like to get your thoughts. You are quite pleasant and informative!

As long as you and your readers are respectful, I see no problem in continuing to participate in this discussion. Contrary to what I so often read on the internet, we LDS do not have a problem with skepticism. In fact, anyone who is not skeptical of our religion at first might cause us concern. I will do my best to be equally respectful to your and your readers’ questions and comments.

I must point out that while intellectual discussions about religion are interesting, and can even be fun, our relationship with God is something that ultimately must be taken to a spiritual level, which is the only means by which God can communicate directly with us. The term we LDS use for this is “testimony.” So, the only real way to know if anything is true is to approach it on a spiritual level. If you are sincere in your quest, and if you are willing to commit to being obedient if God does communicate directly with you, then you will receive far more in the way of answers and understanding than mere study of various written or spoken thoughts.

 
At 6/04/2009 1:56 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Curtis,

I thank you too for taking the time to respond. My knowledge of Mormonism comes more from the source materials and older writings. It's good to get a sense of what modern LDS Church members personally have to say about it. Part of the frustration is the very fact that there sometimes seems to be a disconnect between the two, which I think comes from the fact that the living prophets and apostles are added to the mix and are so important.

For us "classical Christians," we have only the Scriptures to turn to as our sure guide. The giants of the faith and our own personal insights we know to be fallible and must be judged by some fixed point of departure.

The issue of clarity of the Bible is a complex one. The fact that the Bible is so large and packed with theology is bound to make it tough to wade into by its very nature. But that is true of any subject, and it is why we study the Bible so diligently. Light reading may yield the questions, but systematic hermeneutical studies are fruitful in providing answers.

The differences in interpretation have often been exaggerated. There is a marked difference between LDS theology and the theology of every flavor of mainline Christianity. Compared with LDS theology Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelicals, Pentacostals, and Calvinists are like kissing cousins at a family reunion bickering over the amount of sugar to add to the iced tea.

While we internally find certain issues, like the faith/works debate, to be important to us, it is as nothing compared to the many and profound issues which divide us from the LDS Church, and which had never even entered the minds of our diverse church leaders until the advent of Joseph Smith.

In our minds, there is perspicuity (clarity) in our Scriptures in more than enough essential matters. This is why Christians are typically so flabbergasted when they first hear a summary of the distinctive LDS doctrines: because it is like nothing they've ever caught even hints of in their study of the Bible.

It also makes us suspicious of LDS theology when we are aware of these distinctions on the one hand, but also hear Mormons give the nod to our Bible as "scripture" on the other hand. For this reason I would have to answer Sam that it would indeed be problematic for the LDS Church were it to be without its own distinctive Scriptures. Without them, Mormons would have nothing to appeal to for their departure from the mainline church other than there own subjective experiences of what God is presumably telling them to be true.

Unfortunately, I know liberal mainline Christians, Christian Scientists, Wiccans, and Eastern mystics who also have testimonies that take them far from biblical Christianity. And I myself feel a testimony that classical Christianity is true. It is a cruel deadlock that begs for some objectivity. And I would think that any subjective testimony that God would offer us should be expected to line up with the written testimony that He has already inspired. This fact leads me to believe that the most productive discussions we can have with others would tend to focus on those external things which are more quantifiable.

Before I knew much about Mormonism (forgive me if I use that word inappropriately) I was visited by some missionaries. Before they could launch into their presentation I interrupted and asked them this question: "Do you take the Bible to be inspired by God and able to lead me to salvation?" The answer was basically, "yes." I then expressed my reservations about the BoM and told them that I did not care to risk my salvation on another questionable book when the book that we both agreed upon was sufficient for the task.

 
At 6/04/2009 4:56 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I don’t know your personal beliefs but I have met many people who believe the defining act is to declare Christ as your savior, and that nothing you do before or after that point can affect your salvation.

My own view is that a person who is genuinely converted cannot go on sinning, as it says in 1 John 3:9. Your actions don't affect your salvation; rather, your salvation affects your actions. I talked about that a little in this blog.

but we are not among those who think any version of the bible we have today is perfect.

This is another subject that is going to come up in a future entry in this series. There were a couple of passages in the BOM that seemed to say not even the BOM is perfect. And after talking to a Mormon on another message board and some other Mormons on Yahoo Answers, I discovered that Mormons don't hold any scriptures to be inerrant. I'm not really sure how to reconcile that with 2 Timothy 3:16. That's why I'm asking these questions. I can see why you might qualify the Bible by saying, "as far as it is translated correctly," but in the case of the BOM, it seems like, given the way it was translated, that it is translated correctly.

As long as you and your readers are respectful, I see no problem in continuing to participate in this discussion.

Good. I just hope you won't interpret strong disagreement in some areas with disrespect. I can promise you that I mean no disrespect, but I can't promise you that I'm always successful at sounding respectful. I know that because I have unintentionally offended people in the past because of coming on too strong. I get overly excited sometimes, you see.

So, the only real way to know if anything is true is to approach it on a spiritual level.

I'm somewhat of an evidentialist, so I can't completely agree with you about that, but I've already written a whole series on Mormon epistemology, so I won't repeat all that here. :-)

 
At 6/04/2009 5:10 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Paul: For this reason I would have to answer Sam that it would indeed be problematic for the LDS Church were it to be without its own distinctive Scriptures. Without them, Mormons would have nothing to appeal to for their departure from the mainline church other than there own subjective experiences of what God is presumably telling them to be true.

Well, as you've pointed out before, the real differences are in the Doctrine and Covenants, not in the Book of Mormon. On the other hand, I got an email recently from a Mormon woman who told me one of the things that helped push her over the edge and become a Mormon was that she began to find scriptures in the KJV that confirmed doctrines that were peculiar to Mormonism.

(BTW, Curtis, if "Mormonism" is offensive, or if there's a better term we could use, I'd be happy to use if it you'd let us know what it is.)

Before they could launch into their presentation I interrupted and asked them this question: "Do you take the Bible to be inspired by God and able to lead me to salvation?" The answer was basically, "yes." I then expressed my reservations about the BoM and told them that I did not care to risk my salvation on another questionable book when the book that we both agreed upon was sufficient for the task.

Interesting. I've actually been planning to write a blog about something very similar. The blog was going to be, "What would Pascal say about becoming a Mormon?" I was going to apply Pascal's wager to a situation where a "classical Christian" was thinking about converting but wasn't sure whether it was true or not. I posted a question about it on Yahoo Answers, but it got deleted for some unknown reason.

 
At 6/05/2009 11:29 AM , Blogger Curtis said...

My own view is that a person who is genuinely converted cannot go on sinning, as it says in 1 John 3:9. Your actions don't affect your salvation; rather, your salvation affects your actions. I talked about that a little in this blog.

That’s a good way of thinking about it. We also believe, however, that Satan and his followers are real and that they will work to pull us away from our chosen path even after we have begun work toward our salvation. So it is necessary to remain vigilant, recognize that we are incapable of going the rest of our lives without sinning, although we should try to do so, and that we should repent of sins that we do commit. We believe that the ordinance of the sacrament is a renewing of the covenants we made at baptism, among which is a covenant to be obedient to God’s commandments.

There were a couple of passages in the BOM that seemed to say not even the BOM is perfect. And after talking to a Mormon on another message board and some other Mormons on Yahoo Answers, I discovered that Mormons don't hold any scriptures to be inerrant.

You have mentioned elsewhere in your blog that minor changes have been made to the Book of Mormon over time. And Book of Mormon prophets themselves said they had difficulty transcribing their experiences into written words, much like Old and New Testament prophets did. I’m not in any position to claim that the Book of Mormon is perfect, either in the original form or as it is now published. I have heard previous prophets refer to the English version of the book as [paraphrased] the most true or correct book ever published. Even that implies it is not perfect, but it is more perfect than the versions of the bible we currently have.

I just hope you won't interpret strong disagreement in some areas with disrespect. I can promise you that I mean no disrespect, but I can't promise you that I'm always successful at sounding respectful. I know that because I have unintentionally offended people in the past because of coming on too strong. I get overly excited sometimes.

Disagreement, even strong disagreement, is not disrespect. Holding that your position is “the gospel” and mine is not is not disrespect. Claiming that you will go to heaven and I will not is not disrespect, as long as you don’t forcefully recommend that I go in the opposite direction **smile**.

Telling me I’m stupid or that anyone who would believe what I believe is either brainwashed or [insert whatever word you want here] IS disrespectful. I don’t mind answering questions from my very limited perspective, as long as you and your readers recognize that I am just an average member and not in any position to provide official church response, but I won’t come here either to abuse or be abused.

I feel that I have been treated very respectfully so far.

BTW, Curtis, if "Mormonism" is offensive, or if there's a better term we could use, I'd be happy to use if it you'd let us know what it is.

I personally don’t find it offensive, and realize that I don’t have a better term. Latter-day Saintism (LDSism?) just doesn’t work for me **smile**. Members of our church refer to ourselves as just that, church members, or members for short. When we are in mixed groups or don’t know if we are addressing a fellow member, we use the LDS moniker, as in “are you LDS?”. But I honestly don’t have a problem with any version of the term Mormon. If I’m speaking to someone I know is not a member, I don’t say I’m LDS. I say I’m a Mormon, although I do try to take the opportunity to explain that is not the official name of the church if given a chance.

I do, however, strongly distinguish myself from members of offshoot groups, particularly those who exist primarily to perpetuate the practice of plural marriage. To my mind, people who belong to those organizations are completely different from me, so whatever term you choose to use to refer to me, please use a different term to refer to them.

 
At 6/05/2009 12:12 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Hey Curtis, you bring up something that I've been curious about.

There are various spin-off churches from Mormonism, such as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of LDS (Community of Christ), the Church of Christ - Temple Lot, and various "fundamentalist" groups. These each claim to be the true church by virtue of their leadership authority, fidelity to the original doctrines, or the apostasy of the mainline LDS Church.

As an outsider just looking at the founding documents and theology, it seems to me that some of these have legitimate grievances, since "mainstream" LDS leadership has departed from earlier teachings and practices over time. These other groups also have their prophets who claim to speak for God, but if the revelations are permitted to abrogate previous things, then how could you measure who has gone off track and who is really speaking for God? Personally, I prefer the "mainstream" LDS Church because it is closer these days to Christianity, but how could you know in principle whether you were actually part of a great apostasy?

 
At 6/05/2009 1:21 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Paul,

The answer you won’t like very much, but the real one from my personal perspective, goes back to the spiritual vs logical question. I became and remained a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of the testimony I gained of it. Spiritual experiences are available to everyone, and I had several of them before I joined the church. I knew that Jesus was my savior when presented with the option while attending my grandmother’s Baptist congregation, and I was baptized into that church. But I eventually realized I had significant difficulties in some of the things I was experiencing, particularly around the faith vs works discussion I mentioned previously.

I later joined the Disciples of Christ Church because they gave me permission to believe what I already believed. The problem I had with that church was that they provided the same courtesy to everyone else, and there were some pretty strange beliefs held by others in my congregation. But I liked the people in that church and stayed until I realized that experiences I would consider spiritual came few and far between. But they actually tried to be good and helpful people, unlike some of the people I went to the Baptist church with. That church was very comfortable for me.

[Sidebar – one of the few spiritual experiences I had in that church involved a youth conference where we used wine in the communion, and drank it from a large shared cup. Just thought I’d point that out because of the discussion elsewhere about how we primarily use water in the LDS church.]

The experiences I had gaining my testimony of the LDS church were substantially different in degree from my earlier spiritual experiences. I can’t explain it in words, but I went from someone questioning what I was hearing to someone who knew without a doubt that it was true, and recognized that I needed to change my life for the better, even though I wasn’t an evil person before. These many years later, experiences since that time have confirmed what I learned in the beginning, and my only regrets today revolve around weakness that I can’t seem to be perfect. Thankfully, Christ’s atonement extends to me as well as everyone else as long as I’m willing to repent of my wrongdoings.

Now, to apply some logic, if we assume the original church was never true, then none of the offshoots matter. If we assume the original church WAS true, there were people who sought to take over the church from within, or left it out of doctrinal differences from the first day it was formally established as a legal and spiritual institution. Logically, it seems like it would be easier for God to maintain at least a minimum base of faithful people in the established church for Him to correct and lead if they went astray, rather than for Him to trash the whole organization and bring up a new leader who attempts to derive authority from the original organization while outside of it.

If the early church was truly led by a prophet, then God was perfectly capable of keeping him from leading the larger group astray. God is also perfectly capable of changing practices when necessary for the church to survive and thrive without compromising eternal principles.

 
At 6/05/2009 3:52 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Curtis,

Thanks for sharing your background and experience. It is very common in the conversations I have with Mormons to see the discussion land at subjective assurances. Unfortunately, this only results in a stalemate for those like me who have equal assurance that I have settled in the right place.

My experience with the church started (approximately) where yours ended up before you went the LDS route. I was raised on a more vague and generous faith and only fully embraced orthodoxy after coming to understand what biblical Christianity actually was. Since that time I have certainly seen my share of good and bad churches, like the simple Baptist church of your grandmother. Unfortunately, there are church laity and even church leaders who suffer from some theological/moral failing or another.

I have seen some churches that are very eccentric and confused in their theology (often being more concerned with the non-essentials than the essentials), but this does not negate biblical Christianity. Even though Sam and I would probably have something to say against your grandmother's antinomian church, I predict that we would still have far more in common with it than with the LDS Church, even if it were true that we all held to the same view of faith & works. You see, it is far less of a heresy in our view to minimize the role of works than it is to say that we are of the same nature as the Father and Son and can aspire to deity.

I've heard many stories of people taking issue with the church of their youth and then jumping to something dramatically different because of it. For example, coming out of an unsettling charismatic congregation, a suffocating legalistic congregation, or out of a group full of hypocrisy and immorality.

However, I don't think it is warranted to take the shortcomings of one's local experiences and jump from there completely into atheism, liberal Christianity, or some other religion or cult. The most reasonable first response is to ask, "Is this really biblical Christianity, or does this church have issues?"

When you speak of faith with us here, you sound to me to be saying things more in line with classical Christianity, which teaches that we must cautiously walk the path between the dual heresies of legalism and antinomianism. There was cause to challenge your Baptist experience from within Christianity itself without merely looking to a more inclusive, liberal group.

For instance, the Puritan, Thomas Blake, had this to say about the issue:

"[Antinomians] always speak of those places which declare God’s grace to us, but not our duty to him ... the severing of the promise from the duty, so that Christ is heard only in a promise, not at all in a precept, when they hear that Christ will save; but are never told that they must repent. These are but delusions; promise-Preachers, and not duty-Preachers; grace-Preachers, and not repentance-Preachers."

(I chose this quote from a Puritan, because Puritan theology was some of the most Grace-focused of all.)

Since you say that your spiritual experiences are important truth indicators, and you say that you had them even while in roughly/vaguely "Christian" churches, then what is it that might tip the balance between finding a mature Christian congregation vs. moving entirely outside of Christianity and into Mormonism?

 
At 6/05/2009 4:58 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Since you say that your spiritual experiences are important truth indicators, and you say that you had them even while in roughly/vaguely "Christian" churches, then what is it that might tip the balance between finding a mature Christian congregation vs. moving entirely outside of Christianity and into Mormonism?

I liked your post, particularly the quote, and I was with you until the above final paragraph. I am entirely opposed to the concept that Mormons have "move[ed] entirely outside of Christianity." I consider myself as much a Christian as anyone else claiming that label, and my fellow Mormons feel likewise.

I believe the "Mormons are not Christians" tagline became widespread only recently, and more out of a desire to misrepresent what we believe to prevent non-Mormons unfamiliar with our doctrines from engaging in conversation with us rather than to clarify our beliefs to those not of our faith.

So, to respond to your paragraph above, I was not looking for a faith when I came upon Mormonism, let alone was I looking for a Christian congregation that was more or less mature than the ones I was familiar with. The concept would have been foreign to me. But once I found my church, to my mind at least, I joined the ultimate Christian organization, one I believe is led by Jesus Himself through a prophet alive on the earth today. So, if anything, I consider myself more of a Christian now than I did then.

Nothing in my remarks should be used to infer that I believe non-Mormons who claim to be Christians are not. I believe people should be free to believe what they want and to label themselves as they see fit.

 
At 6/05/2009 5:59 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Curtis,

It makes sense that you would think of yourself as a Christian, perhaps as a more authentic Christian than me. If you think the LDS Church more correctly captures the teaching of Jesus and His apostles than mainstream Christianity, then the LDS Church is, ipso facto, true Christianity and I am a part of the strayed sheep.

From everything I've read, what Smith was intending to do was to restore the true Church. Not just reform it like Luther, et al; restore it! This implies that there are two major factions here: the one which has gone apostate and the one which is the true church. Which one is which is a matter of dispute.

For this reason, I don't think it is warranted to say that you made a step closer to better Christianity, like moving from one theologically anemic church to a better one. I think it must be said that you stepped out of the apostate (or true) religion into another one. That is one big commitment that must be approached with much fear and trembling.

I've often seen the differences between classical Christianity and Mormonism downplayed amongst modern Mormons. Whether this is due to ignorance of the deeper distinctives of LDS theology or because some of them have actually been shed I do not know. However, it does seem apparent that the LDS Church was at least founded upon the principle that all the creeds of our churches are an abomination and that Smith founded the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.

If that is not so, then the very foundations of Mormonism are suspect. If it is so, then there must be some profound warrant for taking it as such. So far, you have only mentioned your quibble with one point of theology that you found poorly understood or practiced.

 
At 6/05/2009 6:52 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

I've often seen the differences between classical Christianity and Mormonism downplayed amongst modern Mormons. Whether this is due to ignorance of the deeper distinctives of LDS theology or because some of them have actually been shed I do not know. However, it does seem apparent that the LDS Church was at least founded upon the principle that all the creeds of our churches are an abomination and that Smith founded the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.

Abomination is much too strong a word. Yes, I believe that Joseph Smith restored the true church of Christ to the earth, but I do not believe that sincere practitioners of other religions are somehow less than me as children of God. Particularly as regards Christianity, there is much that is good and right in other churches, and especially among other people. One of our basic tenets of faith is that we believe others should be allowed to worship and believe as they choose, although we do believe that they might be better off if they followed our practices.

I would reserve terms like abomination for those who use religion to harm or kill others, or to justify evil acts. Our goal in this life should be to uplift others, and not to tear them down. That said, we have no spiritual proscription from defending ourselves if attacked.

So far, you have only mentioned your quibble with one point of theology that you found poorly understood or practiced.

You will probably get tired of me saying this. **smile** I am not LDS because of disagreements with others and their chosen religion. I did not line up all the things Mormons believed and compare them to all the things each other potential religion believed, and make a conscious choice between them. I prayed honestly and sincerely to know whether Joseph Smith was a prophet and whether the Book of Mormon was from God, and I got a very spiritual and definitive answer that they were. That left me with only one option moving forward, and that was to join the church and do my best to be a good Mormon, which I believe also makes me a good husband, friend and citizen.

You are free to think whatever you like about that. I do not require that others arrive at the same conclusion I have, although I honestly believe they will if they choose to try to find out for themselves if what I'm saying is true. I know that I am no more special than anyone else, and that if God is willing to answer my prayers, He will do it for anyone else who is sincere about wanting to find out.

 
At 6/06/2009 12:43 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Curtis, it sounds like we’re in agreement about what counts as disrespect and what doesn’t except that I’m okay with people thinking I’m going to hell as long as they don’t order me there.

Logically, it seems like it would be easier for God to maintain at least a minimum base of faithful people in the established church for Him to correct and lead if they went astray, rather than for Him to trash the whole organization and bring up a new leader who attempts to derive authority from the original organization while outside of it.

But isn’t it part of the LDS perspective that God did trash the whole organization back in the first century and bring up a new leader to start it back up again? I don’t know how these other offshoots look at it, but maybe they would say history has repeated itself. Maybe they think the LDS church apostatized just as the first century church did, and that it had to be restored with their own church. Or maybe they don’t think of themselves as having broken off from the church that Joseph Smith started, but rather than the LDS Church has broken off, and they are the true heirs. Maybe some day I’ll try to learn about some of these offshoots.

Abomination is much too strong a word.

It is the word Jesus used according to the official account of the first vision. It says:

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."

Like Paul, I get the impression that the LDS Church seems to have softened its views toward non-LDS Christians.

 
At 6/08/2009 2:50 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Curtis,

Abomination is much too strong a word.

As Sam points out, this is from your own founder. I chose my words carefully in that sentence. The phrase, "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" is from your scriptures as well.

Since the very truth of the Mormon religion hangs upon the credibility of Joseph Smith and his insistence that classical Christianity must be rejected, then if he is right my church is an abomination, since it follows the creeds of the churches in Smith's time and earliest Christianity. But if Smith was wrong, then he (or his ghostly visitor(s)) was preaching another gospel than that which Paul and the first Apostles preached, and is to be accursed. Sound like strong language? Indeed! But it is from the Bible.

I do not believe that sincere practitioners of other religions are somehow less than me as children of God.

And neither do I think other people are somehow less than me. We are all image-bearers of God and have equal intrinsic value. However, that says nothing about the truth of the religions to which they prescribe. Surely we must be able to say at least this much: where one religion contradictions another, that it is wrong at that point. And if one religion differs from the true one at points pertaining to matters of salvation, then the souls of the members of that errant religion are in peril.

In fact, your very comment contains a point of dispute between our religions. In Christian theology, we are not "children" of God, we are creations of God. The best we can hope for is to be adopted children of God through Christ. In Mormon theology, on the other hand, we actually ARE offspring of God, just like Jesus, Lucifer, and the angels. We are of the same nature as God and might hope to attain to similar godhood. This is a profound theological difference that drives so much of what divides our two religions. It's one reason I believe that it is a very big step indeed to move from even the fringe of Christianity to the LDS Church.

I prayed honestly and sincerely to know whether Joseph Smith was a prophet and whether the Book of Mormon was from God, and I got a very spiritual and definitive answer that they were.

But as I was exploring Christianity I prayed earnestly that God would guide me in truth and understanding. My journey took me somewhere different than yours. I'm not sure what you consider to be spiritual and definitive, but I might say the same about myself. In fact, I have heard of people getting outright angelic visitations who ended up somewhere different than the two of us. For this reason (and others), I am suspicious of what feelings I attribute to God even if they are "spiritual" in nature.

 
At 6/09/2009 6:21 PM , Blogger Tracy Hall Jr said...

Paul,

I suggest that if you wish to be respectful in discussions with Latter-day Saints, that you do not continue to imply that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not Christians.

If you wish to emphasize differences between your tradition and ours, please refer to yourself as a "creedal Christian" or a "traditional Christian."

Respectful: "The difference between traditional Christianity and Mormonism."

Not respectful: "The difference between Christianity and Mormonism."

By the covenant of baptism I have taken upon myself the name of Jesus Christ, and I renew that covenant every time I partake of the sacrament. Accordingly, I cannot regard as "respectful" any implication or declaration that I am not a Christian.

Tracy Hall Jr
hthalljr'gmail'com

 
At 6/09/2009 6:30 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Tracy, I can understand why you would take offense at such a notion. It seems to me, though, that since so many people don't think Mormons are Christians that it's a question we ought to address. We ought to talk and debate about it, present our reasons for and against, in hopes of hopefully coming to an agreement, or at least understanding each other better. But I don't see how it's possible for us to talk and debate about it if we're not allowed to say anything about it. What would you suggest?

 
At 6/09/2009 6:42 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Tracy,

Normally, I try to use a term like "classical Christian" for this very reason. You caught me using a short-hand. However, whether or not Mormonism is authentic Christianity is sort of the question under discussion. For my part, I can accept the premise that if your position is correct, then I am not a full and true Christian. Since we differ in matters of essentials, like exactly who or what this Jesus Christ is, then we surely can't both be Christian.

 
At 6/10/2009 2:05 AM , Blogger Tracy Hall Jr said...

Sam,

I think the best way to have respectful discourse about religion is to allow others to define their beliefs and to name themselves.

In my life I have seen the commonly-accepted names for several minority groups change out of respect for the wishes of those groups.

Since I self-identify as a Christian, and since I respect the right of others who do not share my faith to call themselves Christians, I believe it is disrespectful to use phrases or terms that insist that I am not a Christian. Yes, I am not a creedal, traditional, classical, Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or evangelical Christian. But I am a Christian.

Mormons actually have a similar difficulty. If the FLDS insist on calling themselves Mormons, I must respect that. However, when others confuse the practices of the FLDS with the LDS, I have the right to point out the differences.

Paul,

Thank you for acknowledging your use of "short hand." I myself find the argument about whether or not Latter-day Saints are Christians pointless, because it boils down to an appeal to authority, and ultimately we both appeal to Christ.

Others have defended our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ much more ably and eloquently than I, most notably and recently Elder Jeffery R. Holland, whom I sustain as a living apostle of Christ.

The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent

 
At 6/10/2009 2:41 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Tracy, I take it you think Jews are wrong to insist that Messianic Jews aren't really Jews?

Do you apply your principle of having the right to name yourself to anything or just to religion? For example, what if I were to call myself a black man, or maybe a black woman? Would you be obliged to call me a black woman just because that's what I call myself? I'm actually a white man by the ordinary meaning of those words.

It seems to me that if we have to go along with any meaning that anybody wants to pour into a word, then words effectively have no meaning. I mean what if I called myself a Christian on the basis that I believe there's a Flying Spaghetti Monster, that Bobby Henderson is the Messiah, and that there is no such thing as sin, and there is no resurrection? Would you be obliged to call me a Christian just because I call myself one?

I know that's an extreme example, but what I'm wondering is whether you draw the line anywhere.

I know of people who call themselves Christians for no other reason than that they agree with some of Jesus' moral teachings. But they deny that God is anything but a theological construct one superimposes on the universe, that Jesus is the Christ in anything other than a symbolic way, and that Jesus rose from the dead. Would you call them Christians just because that's what they call themselves?

 
At 6/10/2009 12:04 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

I think the problem I have with others trying to name us non-Christians is how arbitrary it all is. All Christian denominations have differences in beliefs, and some of those center around the nature of Christ.

To me, the fact that we all believe in a being who lived in that region of the world and taught the precepts contained in the bible and sacrificed Himself for all our sins gives all of us the right to call ourselves Christians if we so choose.

My particular beef with non-Mormon Christians trying to paint Mormons as non-Christians is that it clearly came began as an effort by church leaders unhappy with the growth of our denomination to be dishonest about what we believe in an effort to blunt our growth. Most people who learn what we believe have no problem with us calling ourselves Christians, even if they choose not to believe what we believe about the nature of Christ, and are quite surprised and sometimes even angry about what they were taught by their leaders.

 
At 6/10/2009 12:34 PM , Blogger Tracy Hall Jr said...

Sam: Tracy, I take it you think Jews are wrong to insist that Messianic Jews aren't really Jews?

That's a tough one, because I disapprove of the “wolf in sheep clothing” proselyting approach of evangelical Christians toward poorly-educated Jews. But yes, I think they are entitled to call themselves “Jews,” just as I think that others who call themselves Jews are entitled to educate us all about the “purity” of their “brand.”

Unsurprisingly, the more “orthodox” among traditional Jews, like the more “orthodox” among traditional Christians, also routinely deny their “brand” to others claiming membership in their tribe. In Israel the Orthodox wield great political power, denying the right of return to any “convert” who has not undergone “Orthodox” conversion.

And many of the same evangelical Christians who refuse to allow me to call myself a Christian deny the same privilege to Roman Catholics.

Yes, I admit to a pretty extreme position regarding the right of the individual to self-identify. I am confident that “truth in labeling” will be vigorously pursued by others claiming ownership of the “brand,” be it religious, racial, or (much to my disgust) some other type of “orientation.” But such marketing campaigns only create division and contention and do nothing to foster respect for others – or peace on earth.

When I participate in any survey or study (including the U.S. Census) that insists that I identify my race, I choose a random hyphenated race, such as African-Micronesian-Hispanic. As long as we insist that people must belong to a tribe we will be stuck with a tribal society.

If my three-year-old grandson insists that he is Luke Skywalker, that's fine with me, but he'd better watch out, because I'm Darth Vader.

 
At 6/10/2009 1:07 PM , Blogger Tracy Hall Jr said...

(Pretending to return to the subject of the Book of Mormon, while still commenting on branding and tribalism.)

You probably know that Latter-day Saints consider themselves to be members of the House of Israel, and that we learn of our tribal affiliation through our patriarchal blessing. However, members are encouraged to keep their blessings confidential. LDS membership records do not record our tribal affiliation, nor to they record our "race." Clearly the Church is sincere in its efforts to avoid divisive issues of tribe and race.

We LDS escape the wrath of rabbinical Jews (note the qualifier) on this issue by claiming only to be Israelites -- not Jews.

But if rabbinical Jews were to read the Book of Mormon carefully, they would find other reasons to take offense, because it teaches that the Jews were in a complete state of apostasy by the time of the Babylonian captivity (which occurred just after Lehi fled Jerusalem). I think rabbinical Jews would agree with the Book of Mormon that the northern tribes had been in total apostasy before the Assyrian captivity, but this tidbit might be news to them.

The Book of Mormon quotes from several prophets not found in the Hebrew canon, but who lived before Lehi, who prophesied explicitly that the Messiah would be the Son of God. Each of these was murdered for his testimony. Why are their writings not found in our Old Testament?

Traditional Christians who complain about Nephi's vision of the “great and abominable church” need to know that the Book of Mormon makes clear that “the church of the devil” was well established among the Jews many hundreds of years before the rise of the Church of Rome, and that the Jews were as guilty as others in suppressing many “plain and precious” teachings of the prophets from their canon of scripture.

Interestingly, independent scholar Margaret Barker, unaware (at the time) that the Book of Mormon taught that Christianity was the original religion of Judaism and that Lehi and his posterity worshiped Christ and called themselves Christians hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, has made it her life's work to try to reconstruct the theology of the first temple from traces remaining in the Jewish and Christian canons, from documents excluded from the canons, and from documents discovered since the Book of Mormon was published.

Her work, which she refers to as “temple theology” demonstrates rather convincingly that primitive Christianity did not arise in a vacuum, but that Jesus in fact restored the original religion of the first temple, which was based on his worship. She maintains that the second temple was missing not only sacred artifacts like the Ark of the Covenant and the Urim and Thummim, but was also missing the theology of the first temple, which in fact was polytheistic. In the first temple, Jews worshiped both God the Father (Elohim) and the Son of God (Jehovah).

She faults the Deuteronomists, who to modern Jews and Christians alike are the “heroes” that invented “monotheism,” with revising the original religion of the Jews in order to consolidate political power in the hands of the priestly class at the temple in Jerusalem.

But memories of the first temple persisted in Jewish culture and enabled the rapid rise of Christianity, which was not a new invention but rather was a restoration of primitive Judaism.

Margaret Barker

I consider monotheism to be highly overrated. I think the trinity was invented not only to rationalize Christianity with Greek philosophy, but also to address Jewish claims of Christian "polytheism." Ironically, in my view, Jewish "monotheism" itself was political rather than prophetic.

Obviously Latter-day Saints may offend both Jews and Christians in restoring the “polytheism” of both primitive Christianity and primitive Judaism.

 
At 6/10/2009 1:58 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Wow, Tracy, that is a lot to respond to. I think I'm just going to avoid the temptation to respond to some of it.

I vaguely remember the BOM teaching something resembling replacement theology, but no, I didn't know that Mormons considered themselves Israel, and I especially didn't know they even affiliated themselves with particular tribes. That is very interesting!

If the Jews were in a complete state of apostasy by the time of the Babylonian captivity, then why do Mormons accept the writings that came during the Babylonian exile and after as part of their canon?

Have you read Paul Owen's article, "Monotheism, Mormonism, and the New Testament Witness" in The New Mormon Challenge? Eight pages of that article are in response to Margaret Barker.

I can see why you might agree with Barker on a few things, but not even the LDS Church has the Ark of the Covenant, do they? Is the Urim and Thummim still in use? And the LDS church seems to subscribe to the same Hebrew canon as both Jews and protestants (with the possible exception of the Song of Solomon).

When I think about how many times the Old Testament uses the phrase, "YHWH our elohim," it's hard for me to swallow the notion that YHWH and elohim are two different gods, and that one refers to Jesus while the other refers to the father. There are verses such as Isaiah 45:5 and Deuteronomy 4:35 that explicitly refer to YHWH as elohim, saying there is no other. Of course Barker would claim that's because Deuteronomy was written near the time of the Babylonian captivity and reflects an inappropriate intrusion of monotheism into Judaism, and Isaiah 45 is part of Second Isaiah which was written during the exile, but I don't see how Mormons can use that argument since both Deuteronomy and Second Isaiah are part of the Mormon canon. And since the BOM quotes from Second Isaiah, and Lehi left Jerusalem before the third and final Babylonian exile, Mormons can't claim that Second Isaiah was written after that event.

I am glad that you are candid about the LDS rejection of classical monotheism, though. My friend, Kay, thought I was misrepresenting Mormonism when I brought this subject up. In fact, Mormons often accuse outsiders of misrepresenting the LDS church just because the Mormons themselves don't know what their church has taught on some issues.

 
At 6/10/2009 9:24 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Curtis,

Most people who learn what we believe have no problem with us calling ourselves Christians, even if they choose not to believe what we believe about the nature of Christ.

Two problems, though. I think most people do not really know much at all about Mormon theology. And most Mormons seem to take pains to downplay the distinctives, choosing to employ (without qualification) the same kind of lingo as mainstream Christianity.

Try beginning your conversation with the average evangelical by outlining the nature of God vs. Jesus vs. humans, and by explaining precisely what it means to be "children" of God. There is a reason such things are revealed much further down the road of evangelism.

 
At 6/10/2009 9:26 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Tracy,

To give you an idea of why your points are unconvincing, let me offer this thought.

Suppose I claim that Joseph Smith was really teaching that God was a robot constructed by an alien race, and that we were all just AI programs injected into the brains of cultured apes. Suppose I claimed that most of the support for this was to be found in documents that were lost or destroyed, but that God had dictated a book to me quoting some of this and restoring the true teachings of Smith. Suppose I then referenced a "Mormon" scholar who wrote things somewhat (though not directly) supportive of this thesis (so what if she floats to the left of orthodox Mormonism).

I would sympathize with your objections that this was too incredible to believe, and that it didn't fit the writings that we DO STILL have of Smith's, or that there is no reason to believe it without some evidence of said lost documents, or that some lonely fringe voice does not an evidence make, etc.

 
At 6/11/2009 1:26 AM , Blogger Tracy Hall Jr said...

(More in response to Paul, 6/09/2009 at 6:42 PM):
Since we differ in matters of essentials, like exactly who or what this Jesus Christ is, then we surely can't both be Christian.

By my definition of Christianity, we are both Christians. Why must you exclude me? I, and I believe many LDS, feel holy envy for many admirable aspects of evangelical Christianity, but it seems to me that all we get in return is "holy enmity" disguised as "speaking the truth in love" but actually constituting orders of submission.

 
At 6/11/2009 4:19 AM , Blogger Tracy Hall Jr said...

Sam (6/10/2009 1:58 PM): If the Jews were in a complete state of apostasy by the time of the Babylonian captivity, then why do Mormons accept the writings that came during the Babylonian exile and after as part of their canon?

Latter-day Saints point to many cycles of apostasy and restoration, and in my opinion, the minority of the Jews who did return to Jerusalem after the exile did participate in a partial restoration. Jesus and John (in Revelations) cite Daniel as inspired, and I believe that the post-exilic prophets were inspired, as as far as they are translated correctly. Jesus himself quoted two chapters of Malachi to the Nephites, stating that the Father had commanded him to give them these teachings, which were revealed long after Lehi left Jerusalem.

I believe that Joseph Smith had a broad view of “translation” as involving the entire process, from the prophet trying to express divine language in finite human language, to errors in copying, to intentional omissions of inconvenient writings, as well as to errors and imperfections in translating from one human language into another. I regret that his martyrdom cut short his “inspired translation” of the Bible.

Have you read Paul Owen's article, "Monotheism, Mormonism, and the New Testament Witness" in The New Mormon Challenge? Eight pages of that article are in response to Margaret Barker.

I won't buy the book, because I consider it to be anti-Mormon (it expends thousands of words to conclude that “Mormons aren't Christians.” The editors made only cosmetic changes in response to David L. Paulson's pre-publication objections while taking such egregious positions as retaining reference to the Ostling's slanted and error-filled “Mormon America” as the best "independent" reference on Mormonism and refusing Paulson's suggestion to include Talmadge's “Jesus the Christ” and “The Articles of Faith” as respected quasi-official representations of Latter-day Saint theology.

I have read as much of Owen's essay as Google Books offers, and I consider his treatment of Barker to be shallow and and his dismissal of Daniel Peterson's definitive study, Ye Are Gods: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind to be downright lazy.

(continued soon)

 
At 6/11/2009 4:29 AM , Blogger Tracy Hall Jr said...

(continued from above)

More to his discredit, Owens, while acknowledging in a footnote that he possibly oversimplifies the LDS view of monotheism, nevertheless devotes most of his effort to attacking this straw man. He favorably cites Larry Hurtado as portraying a smooth transition from Jewish monotheism to Christian trinitarianism while ignoring Hurtado's completely demolition of any portrayal, such as Owen attempts, of Jewish monotheism as a consistent, uniform theology throughout history. Hurtado also acknowledges Jewish recognition of the existence of other divine agents or even sons of God while restricting cultic worship to the Father alone -- a distinction more in keeping with Mormon monotheism -- which Owens completely ignores. Further, Hurtado insists that monotheism be self-defined by the worshiper and not be imposed by later creedal accretions:

“Definitions of monotheism must be formed on the basis of the beliefs and practices of those who describe themselves in monotheistic terms. This means that there will likely be varieties within and among monotheistic traditions and that it is inappropriate for historical purposes to impose one definition or to use one definition as a standard of "strict" or "pure" monotheism in a facile manner.” (Quoted by Bickmore: see below)

It seems that Hurtado, much to the chagrin of Owens, would possibly permit even Latter-day Saints to call themselves monotheists!

The LDS position on monotheism is eloquently stated by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

“We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.”

I agree fully with and highly recommend Barry R. Bickmore's response to Owens: Of Simplicity, Oversimplification, and Monotheism.

I also agree with Bickmore's statement of LDS Monotheism:

“In short, Mormonism includes any number of separate persons within the one God 'without acknowledging any breach of biblical monotheism.' As Levi Edgar Young wrote, 'Mormonism holds to the doctrine of God as given in the Old and New Testaments of the Jewish scriptures, namely: the monotheistic conception of the Deity, and the divinity of man.' While we believe in the existence of many separate beings who are correctly termed 'Gods,' in a very real sense they are all one.”

Bickmore is a long read, but if you haven't the time, do read his “Conclusions.”

(Hopefully more to follow, but I must first attend to some chores.)

 
At 6/11/2009 11:17 AM , Blogger Paul said...

Tracy,

By my definition of Christianity, we are both Christians. Why must you exclude me?

If your definition submits to that of your founder (and why be Mormon if it does not), then you must exclude me. To repeat quotes that have already been visited above, your own writings say these things:

[T]hose to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" (D&C 1:30)

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." (Joseph Smith's First Vision)

The idea that mainline Christianity has gone in the ditch and that the LDS Church is true and restored Christianity is the founding premise of Mormonism. Does this not imply that there is a great divide between us? If Smith was right, then I err in thinking myself a Christian. But if Smith was wrong, then you err. To blithely affirm that we are both Christians for the sake of polite conversation, or especially here where we are pointedly dialoging about our differences, is to denude the word "Christianity" of any meaningful definition.

It seems justified, and even important, if we believe our side to be in the right to evangelize the other and take pains to identify the differences and refute error where we find it. I do not begrudge it when I see it coming from the LDS camp. And if we mainline Christians are admonished in our Scripture (Titus 1:9) to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict, why begrudge us when we actually attempt to do so?

The really important question is, Who's right?

 
At 6/11/2009 12:17 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Tracy Hall, Jr. and Paul,

It would appear to this lurker the two of you are talking past each other. It would seem since each has different definitions of “Christian”—to argue whether a person qualifies would equally be different. It would help me out (if you could be so kind) if each could answer two (2) questions:

1. What is the definition of “Christian”?
2. What makes YOUR definition correct, and all others incorrect? In other words, what is the basis by which you maintain this MUST be the definition and the ONLY definition we must universally utilize?

 
At 6/11/2009 12:49 PM , Blogger Tracy Hall Jr said...

Thanks, DagoodS for your request for clarity.

My definition of a "Christian" is anyone who identifies himself or herself as such.

 
At 6/11/2009 1:50 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Tracy,

There was one point in my life where I would have called myself "Christian," but my beliefs were largely based on Eastern Mysticism. Are you saying that even then I was justified in calling myself "Christian"? Additionally, DagoodS is an atheist, but if he was fond of hanging around at churches and wanted to call himself "Christian," would that be okay too?

DagoodS,

Since I believe that this word means something specific, else it means nothing at all, then my job is the tougher of the two.

For the sake of my dialog here with LDS Church members, I am willing to lean toward the more generous side of how I might define this, which could include members of Protestant, Reformed, Charismatic, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches. This would be those who believe . . .

* That Scripture records actual, historical events, which include divine visitation and revelation of the One true God.
* That Jesus was the awaited Messiah.
* That He was the manifestation of God, as John says, "Was with God and Was God."
* That the death of Jesus on the cross was for the sake of our salvation, and explicitly accomplished that in God's economy.
* That faith and reliance upon that truth is the foundation upon which our salvation rests.
* That God actually managed to communicate his message without essential loss, in that Jesus was understood by His Apostles, and that they had authority and success in transmitting these things to the world.
* That the doctrinal formulations of the early church, like the Trinity, are important and accurate conclusions drawn from Scripture (that the "winners" got it right).

At the point where a group introduces the idea that Revelation or the historical record is insufficient, corrupted, or missing something essential, or that the atonement of Christ needs some extra embellishment, that is where terms like "sect" and "cult" begin to apply.

 
At 6/11/2009 2:20 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Ah…it would seem as suspected. You two were using different definitions. Hence, the debate “Am I (or Are You) a Christian?” would never have moved forward one millimeter, as you were both starting from different viewpoints.

I appreciate the answers you both gave to my first question, but…ahem…I can’t help noticing no response from either as to my second question—what makes your definition the correct one?

I often see, in theistic debates, two (or more) sides discussing without ever first defining. If you don’t agree on a definition…frankly the rest will only degrade to greater distance apart.

Rather than debate as to whether a person qualifies as a Christian—in my opinion the better discussion is to be had on what a “Christian” must be. Whose definition is more correct? Who better describes the reality of what “Christian” is?

Why, Tracy Hall, Jr., is the correct definition of Christian, “whoever self-identifies as such”? Why, Paul, does the correct definition of Christian require each point in your creed? Can you narrow it down? Must it include each one?

Take it to the next level. Defend why YOUR definition should be the one we use when we use the term “Christian”…not who qualifies.

 
At 6/11/2009 2:35 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Paul,

Wow. In your first six points you confirm the need and ability for God to communicate directly with mankind, and then in your final point you take that need and ability away, relying on early church leaders (even thought said leaders lived hundreds of years after Christ and saw the integration of many and significant pagan rituals into Christian religious practices) to try to interpret what God intended.

Your definition seems to be carefully crafted to include pretty much anyone who chooses to call themsleves Christian EXCEPT me and those who believe like I do.

 
At 6/11/2009 2:43 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for the links, Tracy. In the comment section of the previous blog, a visit to an LDS Church, Matthew said, "I think one of the problems that Mormons and Protestants have when they speak to each other is assuming the words they use have the same meaning," which I totally agreed with. I have long had the impression that while Mormons use much of the same terminology that conventional Christians use, they pour very different meanings into those words, and your recent contribution strengthens that impression. In fact, you seem to have an aversion to being tied down to any ordinary meaning of a word. Words like "monotheism" and "Christian" can mean anything we want them to mean. The only thing that bothers me about it is that unless you're clear about defining your terms, it can be awfully misleading to the rest of us when you explain your views by using those terms. That may be why there is so much confusion about Mormonism out there.

At the end of your last two responses to me you said, "more to follow." What I'm hoping you plan to say something about is what you make of the Deuteronomists. I can see why you would agree with the conclusions of Margaret Barker and others, but I don't see how you could buy into the arguments they use to get there. They seem to be arguing the Deuteronomists inappropriately introduced monotheism into Judaism, and their evidence consists of the literature that came out of the Deuteronomist movement--Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Second Isaiah, and Jeremiah. But all of those books remain in the Mormon canon. How would a consist Mormon argue that there ever was a Deuteronomist movement without undermining their own scriptures? It doesn't seem to be enough to say the Bible is the word of God as far as it is translated correctly and then to say Deuteronomy, 2nd Isaiah, etc. were translated incorrectly, since the writings in question are products of those who wished to introduced monotheism into Judaism. It seems to me that if you buy into Barker's arguments, you'd be implicitly admitting that books like Deuteronomy and Second Isaiah are monotheistic and that they are at odds with LDS theology.

 
At 6/11/2009 2:43 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Ah…it would seem as suspected. You two were using different definitions. . . . I can’t help noticing no response from either as to my second question—what makes your definition the correct one?

This discussion, to me, resembles ones I have seen where people in the US on the left and right attempt to identify only themselves as Americans.

As to the second question, obviously, each party believes his to be the correct one, but no amount of logic or discussion will win one party over to the other's way of thinking, or someone like yourself (outside the discussion) over to either side. Again, just like in politics. But it is sad, in religion or in politics, when definitions are used to first exclude, and then perhaps devalue, another.

 
At 6/11/2009 2:46 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I often see, in theistic debates, two (or more) sides discussing without ever first defining. If you don’t agree on a definition…frankly the rest will only degrade to greater distance apart.

Amen to that, Dagoods!

 
At 6/11/2009 2:54 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I don't totally agree with Dagoods' assessment of the interaction between Paul and Tracy, though. The point of the discussion is not to argue about who is a Christian and who is not. If it were, then I'd agree with Dagoods. I think the point of the discussion has been whether "Christian" has any particular definition or not, and whether we should be obliged to call somebody else a Christian even if their definition differs from our own. That's how I see it.

Tracy's argument, as I understand it, is that it's offensive to deny somebody a label just because your own definition excludes them. So to avoid offense, we should call other's Christians, not because they subscribe to our own defintion of "Christian," but simply because that's what they call themselves.

Paul's argument, as I understand it, is that if words have particular definitions, then they necessarily exclude anything outside of those definitions. Since Mormons and protestants have different definitions for "Christian," they ought both to think the other is not a Christian.

 
At 6/11/2009 2:57 PM , Blogger Sam said...

But it is sad, in religion or in politics, when definitions are used to first exclude, and then perhaps devalue, another.

That is sad, but the upside is that definitions keep us from blurring distinctions, and as Paul and Tracy would probably agree, there are some major distinctions between Mormonism and conventional Christianity.

 
At 6/11/2009 3:04 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

I would like to add a fresh voice to this discussion. I am LDS, born almost 61 years ago to an LDS family. I think I was born skeptical, and had to be convinced that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was “true” before I could believe it. At first, I remember thinking that it would be highly unlikely that I would be born into the “true” Church if it only had a few million members. I was also suspicious of having a “testimony” also. I knew my mom had had a good friend that was Catholic, so I asked her: “Didn’t she also feel like she had a ‘testimony’?” My mom said she did, but in spite of that assurance from her, I still felt that our church was true. I also was very skeptical about the Bible, and thought it rather impossible to believe such a book, if there were no continuation to the revelations of God. I do not claim to have a great deal of knowledge. I did not graduate from college. I only have an inquiring mind.

I also want to say that even though reading the Book of Mormon is very important in understanding what we believe, the very core of our beliefs is stated very well in the Articles of Faith: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/a_of_f/1 . This is what children are taught by the time they reach the age of 12, so everything else that we believe must rest on that foundation.

I also want to say more about the Book of Mormon in my next post.

 
At 6/11/2009 3:09 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

Of course, if the Book of Mormon is not true, the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is not true either. In any case, it testifies of Christ.

Some of my favorite passages where it testifies of Christ are: I Nephi chapter 10, particularly verse 4 “Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews—even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world.” After Nephi’s father Lehi, had seen those things in a vision, Nephi also wanted to behold those things, and his vision is recorded in chapter 11, which includes seeing a virgin, knowing her name was Mary and that she had a child identified as “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” Nephi saw that he would heal the sick, and many other things. verse 33 “And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.” Also, II Nephi 25:26 “And we talk of Christ we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of sins.” Also, Omni 1:26 recorded by Amaleki “And, now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.”

Also, the logic seems flawless to me in the points where the Bible and the Book of Mormon are discussed within the Book of Mormon: II Nephi chapter 29. The whole chapter gives context but I would particularly quote from verses 3-4, 8-9, “And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. 4 But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible, which they receive from them?… 8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. 9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever: and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.”

I think that a person who believes in Christ should rightly be called a Christian, and it is very misleading, at best, to say that Mormons are not Christians. You may profess to believe in Christ and I will not argue with you on that point, because your beliefs are something personal, that I would have no way of knowing except by what you say.

 
At 6/11/2009 3:24 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. 9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever: and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure.

That does seem to blur the distinction between the Jews and the gentiles--the covenant people of God and the rest of the nations. Fern, how do you understand Jesus when he said, "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22)?

I asked a question on Yahoo Answers about 2 Nephi 29:13, which says:

"And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews."

I was curious about those "words of the lost tribes" because it sounded like there were more scriptures out there than just the Bible and the Book of Mormon. All the Mormon said that, yes, there were more scriptures that we don't know about, and one of them even speculated that there were people all over the world who had prophets who wrote scripture.

 
At 6/11/2009 3:36 PM , Blogger Paul said...

I'm fast running out of time, folks, with my daughter's wedding on Saturday. Just have to be brief here and will probably need to drop from the conversation this afternoon.

DagoodS, you are right. I forgot to answer your second question in my rush. The fast answer is that the orthodox Christianity to which I would subscribe is what was passed down to us from Jesus. As I review the history, documents, and theological reflections, I see no compelling reason to think it has gone into the ditch. It is the Mormon's burden to prove that "many plain and precious things have been lost" and that the true church is in need of restoration.

 
At 6/11/2009 3:55 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Curtis,

In your first six points you confirm the need and ability for God to communicate directly with mankind, and then in your final point you take that need and ability away, relying on early church leaders

Of course we need a revelation from God to have any certain knowledge of heavenly things, else we are left with mere speculation. However, there is a difference between saying that we need such revelation, and to say that such revelation must always be streaming at us. Even the Jews admitted 400 years where no prophet spoke (just prior to the Messiah).

Additionally, that revelation gives us reason to believe that the most important thing of all has been accomplished, that our most important task is now to spread that good news, that there will be a period of delay before some new and marvelous thing will occur, that any change in this message is anathema, and that the most important work of the Spirit (who will speak to us) is to convict us of the truth of these things and lead us in righteousness.

Will I ask God for more when I have not yet fully appropriated the revelation that He has already given?

Even thought said leaders lived hundreds of years after Christ and saw the integration of many and significant pagan rituals into Christian religious practices

I don't care to argue about "pagan rituals," since it is meaningless to me. I do not hinge my faith on rituals, dates, and customs. I am speaking of theological propositions, and I ground them ultimately in the biblical manuscripts.

 
At 6/11/2009 9:59 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

Fern, how do you understand Jesus when he said, "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22)?

Sam, I am a big believer in understanding things from context. Here, I think verse 9 helps a lot: “Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” Jesus then talked with the woman a bit, beginning to convert her, then when he said “Salvation is of the Jews” he meant himself, being a Jew, was the author of Salvation. (See also Hebrews 5:9)

I was curious about those "words of the lost tribes" because it sounded like there were more scriptures out there than just the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

III Nephi was written at the time of Christ, and beginning with chapter 10, the account is given of Christ appearing to the Nephites after His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. In chapter 15, Jesus chose twelve disciples from among the Nephites and in talking to them He pretty much quotes John 10:16, explaining to the Nephites that they were the ones he was referring to. In III Nephi 22-23 He explains: “And thy understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching. 23 …the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice—that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost.” Jesus makes it clear that they are the ones to whom He was referring. In the following chapter [16] He goes on to say that there are still “other sheep” that He was commanded of the Father to visit. My understanding is that these people would be others of the “lost tribes of Israel” and the prophecy that their scriptures will be had by all of us, is yet to be fulfilled.

 
At 6/24/2009 3:39 PM , Blogger Angela said...

Sorry to be so late to the discussion, but I wanted to add a few thoughts. Forgive me for re-addressing a few things that are early in the discussion, but I'll do it briefly and then move on.

- On Spaulding, there was a very good post on Mormon Matters (an LDS-themed blog) that sheds some light on the issues with the theory: http://mormonmatters.org/2009/05/04/debunking-the-spaulding-theory/

- You mentioned the off-shoots of Mormonism in your original OP as believing in the Book of Mormon, but I wanted to clarify that the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) has a very liberal view of the BOM compared to the mainstream LDS church. Many CoC'ers view the BOM as "inspired" but not literal or historical.

- The concept of the church being the "only true and living" church refers specifically to ongoing revelation and scripture. Many stumble over the phrase "only true" and miss the point of "living." As Paul pointed out, perhaps this is like streaming video rather than a download of something recorded much earlier.

- As to the creeds being an abomination, Mormons view the "creeds" very narrowly to mean specific creeds (usually Nicene and Apostles creeds) that God objected to as inaccurate. This has sparked much debate among Mormons, at least in the blogging community. Are those specific creeds the problem or is it the act of creating a creed or having a creed (cutting off future revelation or changed interpretation) the issue?

Sam, I look forward to reading through the rest of your posts. Thanks for opening this discussion with your search.

 
At 6/24/2009 7:28 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Angela, thanks for your input. I wanted to ask you about one of your points.

- The concept of the church being the "only true and living" church refers specifically to ongoing revelation and scripture. Many stumble over the phrase "only true" and miss the point of "living." As Paul pointed out, perhaps this is like streaming video rather than a download of something recorded much earlier.

I think I can understand what you mean by "living," but what does "only true" mean? I guess I don't understand the distinction you're making between continuous streaming and being downloaded earlier. If there is a continuous stream of information coming from God, then whatever is streaming today, will be "downloaded earlier" by tomorrow. And if something is downloaded earlier, it's just as true as anything that is streaming today. In what sense is the LDS church the "only true" church?

I had a discussion with a Jehovah's Witness about this several years ago. As you probably know, they also claim to be the only true and Jesus-approved church. But they have changed their views over the years on at least a few issues, which educated JW's will admit. That means some of their views have been (and possibly could be) in error. So they were not completely true. At the same time, JW's do not think mainstream Christians are completely in error. They think we have at least some things right. So what's the real difference between JW's and ordinary Christians given that both have some things right and both have some things wrong? The JW I was talking to said there was a core of essential doctrines that JW's have right and have never changed their views about, and they are the only true church in the sense that they are the only church that affirms all of those core doctrines.

JW's also affirm something similar to what you describe as "living." They consider their organization to be the only channel of communication between God and man on earth.

- As to the creeds being an abomination, Mormons view the "creeds" very narrowly to mean specific creeds (usually Nicene and Apostles creeds) that God objected to as inaccurate. This has sparked much debate among Mormons, at least in the blogging community. Are those specific creeds the problem or is it the act of creating a creed or having a creed (cutting off future revelation or changed interpretation) the issue?

Historically, a "creed" is just a statement of beliefs, which is even consistent with the etymology of the word creed. All religions that are about anything have creeds, whether they call them creeds or not, and whether they formally list them, publish them, and lable them or not. Even the Unitarian Universalists, who claim explicitly to be a non-creedal religion, have creeds. They call them their "Principles and Purposes." If I were a Mormon, I'd probably side with those who thought the problem was the specific creeds the other churches subscribed to.

 
At 6/24/2009 8:13 PM , Blogger Angela said...

Sam - "I think I can understand what you mean by "living," but what does "only true" mean? . . .In what sense is the LDS church the "only true" church?"
Well, I'm going to give you a heterodox answer to that question. I'll suggest that maybe that means that it's the only one that is BOTH true AND living, not that it is the only one that's true. IOW, "living" is the qualifier in that sentence. Mormons believe that all religions (and I would add non-religious humanism as well) have truths. Joseph Smith elsewhere said that we must treasure up the truths of all faiths. Even at the most recent Gen Conf, some of the talks addressed the fact that Mormons should respect the good and truth of other faiths. To me (and I am not speaking for the church), the concept of a "living" dogma means that it is in a constant state of flux through spiritual reinterpretation (that we call personal revelation). Again, that points to the distaste for creedalism. It's just one way of looking at that expression, and for me it is more comfortable than implying that other religions are false or not good.

Funny you should mention the UU. Joseph Smith's father was a universalist, and there are certainly some universalist leanings in our theology.

 
At 6/24/2009 8:18 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Sam, you remind me of a question that I've never heard answered. Since many groups, like JW's, Christian Scientists, Muslims, and Mormons, all claim to have restored the truth through their own prophets and doctrines, then what methodologies or principles do Mormons (or any of these groups) use to identify which are the false prophets?

 
At 6/24/2009 8:23 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Angela, I think we may be having a miscommunication. You said your church is the "only one that is BOTH true AND living," and then you went on to explain what you mean by the "living" part, but I want to know what you mean by the "true" part--especially in light of the fact that you acknowledge truths in other religions. In what sense is the LDS Church the only one that's true, given that they all have some truths in them?

The unitarian church and the universalist church united in 1961 to become the unitarian universalist association. They have changed so much over the years that they would be unrecognizable to Joseph Smith if he were alive today. Most unitarian universalists today are neither unitarians nor universalists. I think they ought to just change their name.

 
At 6/24/2009 8:41 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Paul, I don't know about Muslims, but as far as Mormons go, I said something about that in part 5 of my series on Mormon epistemology.

The BOM gives one test to determine whether it is true, and Mormons apply that same test to other matters, such as whether somebody is a true prophet. Basically, you pray about it, and God will reveal it to you. But the BOM doesn't have any negative tests for prophets. The Bible has several negative tests for prophets, but not many positive tests.

I posted a similar question on Yahoo Answers a while back that went like this:

Mormons and Catholics have both explained the importance of authority in the subject of religion. For Mormons, it's their prophets, and for Catholics, it's the teaching magisterium of the church. They say that a lack of such authority is the reason for why there are so many divisions within protestantism. Protestants attempt to interpret the Bible on their own, and since there is no source of authority to say whose interpretation is right, there is quite a bit of diversity among protestants.

So this is my question. If we need a source of authority on religious matters, how do you go about figuring out which source of authority to listen to? How do we decide whether to listen to the Catholic church or Mormon prophets unless we are able to read the Bible on our own and discover in the process who is right? And if we're able to study the Bible, history, philosophy, or whatever independently of human sources of authority in order to determine who really has authority, then why do we NEED a human source of authority in addition to the knowledge we're able to gain from independent study?


I didn't get a single satisfactory answer. Thankfully none of them suggested that I consult their own source of authority on the matter, since that would've been a viciously circular line of reasoning. Instead, most gave me reasons and evidence supporting their claim to authority, which of course undermined their claim that we need an authority to arrive at such conclusions.

 
At 6/24/2009 8:55 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Angela,

You said: To me (and I am not speaking for the church), the concept of a "living" dogma means that it is in a constant state of flux through spiritual reinterpretation (that we call personal revelation).

I take the "living" part to be connected to the continued revelation through the leadership of the LDS Church. However, I can't reconcile this with your idea that LDS dogma is in a "constant state of flux." If the revelation being received is on par with the revelation received through the O.T. prophets and N.T. apostles, then shouldn't we expect more iron and less flux?

Perhaps the answer lies in your comment about there being universalist leanings in LDS theology. Since the "god" of universalism is far from the God of Israel and classical Christianity, then it is no surprise that revelations from that one should sound an indistinct note.

 
At 6/24/2009 8:59 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Sam,

Yes, I figured it was something related to subjectivity, and I have seen that much of an answer. Unfortunately, I think it is useless as a methodology, since I believe that members of all of these religions would say that they have a subjective witness that theirs is the truth.

 
At 6/24/2009 9:25 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Angela can correct me if I'm wrong, but I took "constant state of flux" to mean earlier revelation was being added to, not necessarily contradicted.

Angela can also correct me on this, but from what I understand, the LDS Church uses "salvation" in two different senses--resurrection and exaltation. They are universalists in terms of resurrection. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, all people will saved in the sense of being resurrected. But only those who perform the right ordinances will be saved in the sense of having the opportunity for exaltation in the afterlife.

 
At 6/24/2009 9:48 PM , Blogger Paul said...

"They are universalists in terms of resurrection. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, all people will saved in the sense of being resurrected."

In that sense, WE are universalists as well. As John 5:29 says, all will be resurrected, though some will face the judgment afterward.

"But only those who perform the right ordinances will be saved in the sense of having the opportunity for exaltation in the afterlife."

I've never really been clear on how it would go so bad for us law-abiding non-Mormons in the afterlife. I know they don't share our exact view of hell. Also, it seems to me if the big-ticket "salvation" issue is this "exaltation," and it is for those performing the right ordinances, then they do indeed hold to a works-based salvation (which Mormons I've dialoged with tend to deny).

 
At 6/24/2009 9:51 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Wow! 76 comments! That breaks my record of 75. Is this your record post?

 
At 6/24/2009 10:02 PM , Blogger Sam said...

In that sense, WE are universalists as well. As John 5:29 says, all will be resurrected, though some will face the judgment afterward.

Yeah, but "resurrection to eternal damnation" is hardly what you or I would call "salvation" in any sense. And I don't think Jesus died so that people could be raised to eternal judgment.

I've never really been clear on how it would go so bad for us law-abiding non-Mormons in the afterlife.

From what I understand, only upstanding Mormons who go through the ordinances can enter the Celestial kingdom and go on to exaltation. The rest of us will go to the Terrestrial kingdom (for fairly decent people) or the Telestial kingdom (for shady characters), and very few people at all go to hell. There must be salvation in some third sense, because you could say that the people who enter the Terestrial and Telestial kingdoms are at least being saved from hell. But I don't know for sure. Maybe Angela will chime in or I can ask on Yahoo Answers.

Also, it seems to me if the big-ticket "salvation" issue is this "exaltation," and it is for those performing the right ordinances, then they do indeed hold to a works-based salvation (which Mormons I've dialoged with tend to deny).

This is another example of how we use the same words, but we pour very different meanings into them. That's why you have to be clear on what you and they mean by "salvation" in any conversation. The BOM does say that we are saved by grace alone, which I will discuss in part 17 of this series. In terms of salvation=resurrection, it is certainly not based on any work on our part. It's entirely the work of Jesus.

 
At 6/24/2009 10:20 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Wow! 76 comments! That breaks my record of 75. Is this your record post?

By golly, it is a record! It beats my previous record of 67 on the epistemological and ontological assurance of salvation post.

 
At 6/25/2009 12:23 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Seems like Pascal's Wager could apply here. If I'm a good Christian, then what's the worst that would result in the Mormon eschatology?

 
At 6/25/2009 12:42 PM , Blogger Angela said...

Sorry for my delay in responding. Here are a few more thoughts on some of the points raised since I last swung by:

- The concept of "the only true & living." The standard Mormon answer would be that "only true" relates to authority (as you surmised). I posed the alternate interpretation that ALL are true (I would include Paul in this), but only those that are based in ongoing revelation are "living." The role of revelation gets tricky and subjective, I agree. One could also ask what is meant by "true." Does it mean free from error? Does it mean having a true direction (as in true north or a true course)? Does it mean containing all truth? The first and third are not possible for a human organization, and the second is something that all churches do to varying degrees, in our estimation.

- The idea of "living" meaning in a constant state of flux is probably just me using the wrong phrase. New revelation can, however, contradict prior revelation. From what I see, there are 3 categories of revelation: timebound (or temporary) instruction, clarifying revelation (of something that was confusing), and additive revelation (revealing something not known before). How to determine whether revelation is from God or man gets more subjective. We don't believe in infallible prophets. There's an old joke that goes: "Catholics are told that the pope is infallible, and none of them believe it. Mormons are told that their prophets are fallible, and none of them believe it." There are some in the church who feel it's best to just follow the prophet, but we've also been admonished to all use personal revelation through the gift of the Holy Ghost on a regular basis to determine what is right. There are further instructions on this in the Doctrine in Covenants (spoiler alert). Of course, they are also subjective. Each person experiences this kind of thing in their own way, whether Mormon or not. We do believe non-Mormons are able to receive personal revelation and inspiration from God as well.

- The meaning of salvation, and resurrection vs. exaltation. Yes, we do believe in universal resurrection as others do. But I would add that our view of the "kingdoms of glory" in store for all are pretty cushy compared to the digs offered at other faiths. The telestial kingdom (for adulterers & murderers) is said to be more glorious than the earth we live on now. Terrestial is roughly equivalent with the classical Christian view of Heaven - a state of glory and rest for those who have lived good lives, regardless of their religion. The celestial kingdom is viewed as being the highest of the three in that one can continue to progress and grow (not just rest); however, it is by no means expected that all Mormons will go there or that all non-Mormons will be excluded. While ordinances are considered required, they are available at a later time if not done during one's life. To me, this feels more similar to eastern religions that are focused on continuous spiritual evolution and enlightenment.

Hope that helps shed some light.

 
At 6/25/2009 1:32 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

Here, find the index to the Bible Dictionary and general explanation of content. And here is the link to the Topical_Guide which indexes our scriptures.

Some suggestions to look up are: Heaven, Hell, Calling and Election Sure, Salvation, and Exaltation.

From John chapter 3:
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be aborn bagain, he cannot csee the kingdom of God.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be aborn of bwater and of the cSpirit, he cannot denter into the kingdom of God.

To us, being “born of water” means Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins by one having authority to act in the name of God. Being “born of the Spirit” means to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by one who likewise has the authority to do so in God’s name. These are two ordinances needed to enter into the Celestial Kingdom, or the kingdom of God. See also: I_Corinthians_15:40-41 As I see it, it is impossible to accept Jesus as our Savior without accepting His ordinances.

When Christ was on the earth he set up His Church. He has a single voice as to what He wants His people to do, and I don’t think He recognizes multiple churches and multiple philosophies to be His. It is also unlikely that anyone has the authority from God to perform these ordinances unless it is someone who has been ordained to do so within the Church that Jesus recognizes as His, even “the only true and living church, upon the face of the whole earth with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.. .” See also: 1 Cor. 1: 13

 
At 6/25/2009 1:43 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

Sorry, I thought the links would copy over. I tried to do the following: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/contents and http://scriptures.lds.org/en/tg/contents The footnotes in the scripture from John 3, (a, b, and c) make "born" appear as "aborn", "again" as "bagin", and "see" as "csee". Similarly with a, b, c, and d, footnotes in verse 5. The whole reference was found under "born" in the Topical Guide.

 
At 6/25/2009 2:51 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

Sam, you said:
So this is my question. If we need a source of authority on religious matters, how do you go about figuring out which source of authority to listen to? How do we decide whether to listen to the Catholic church or Mormon prophets unless we are able to read the Bible on our own and discover in the process who is right? And if we're able to study the Bible, history, philosophy, or whatever independently of human sources of authority in order to determine who really has authority, then why do we NEED a human source of authority in addition to the knowledge we're able to gain from independent study?

http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/28/2#2 The whole section deals with what we believe concerning this. Note as background the heading to section 28 of the Doctrine and Covenants:

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet to Oliver Cowdery, at Fayette, New York, September 1830. HC 1: 109–111. Hiram Page, a member of the Church, had a certain stone, and professed to be receiving revelations by its aid concerning the upbuilding of Zion and the order of the Church. Several members had been deceived by these claims, and even Oliver Cowdery was wrongly influenced thereby. Just prior to an appointed conference, the Prophet inquired earnestly of the Lord concerning the matter, and this revelation followed.

2 But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
3 And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.
4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;
6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
7 For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.

11 And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;
12 For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.
13 For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.

Do not be afraid to pray and ask the Lord for the truth of things that pertain to His gospel. That really comes from the Bible: See James 1:5-6. God is able to make things unmistakably known unto the sincere seeker of truth. The feeling that comes in respect to this answer from God is often described as a “burning in the bosom” like that described in Luke 24:32 (read the whole chapter for context.) While it seems difficult to describe how this “feeling” is different from just an inner prejudice, or a whim of the mind, I think you can experience it when you say “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” because the Holy Ghost will testify of truth. See also John 15:26, I Cor. 2:10-11, and I Cor. 12:3.

 
At 6/25/2009 5:56 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Angela,

"How to determine whether revelation is from God or man gets more subjective. We don't believe in infallible prophets. . . . we've also been admonished to all use personal revelation through the gift of the Holy Ghost on a regular basis to determine what is right. . . . Each person experiences this kind of thing in their own way, whether Mormon or not."

This sounds like a real communication problem between God and His true and living church. It also sounds a lot like how the more liberal wing of mainline Christianity views revelation. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound at all like what Scripture long held regarding the fallibility of prophets, e.g., (Dt 18:22) "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken."

Fern RL sounds as though she (he?) might be more conservative than you. I wonder what she would say about the authority and reliability of the LDS leadership vs. personal "revelation."

"The telestial kingdom (for adulterers & murderers) is said to be more glorious than the earth we live on now. Terrestial is roughly equivalent with the classical Christian view of Heaven - a state of glory and rest for those who have lived good lives, regardless of their religion.
The celestial kingdom is viewed as being the highest of the three . . . While ordinances are considered required, they are available at a later time if not done during one's life."


This only reinforces my belief that it's all ultimately a work-based system, since one's placement in the lower levels is dependent upon how good one is, and at the upper level one needs to do (the works of) these "ordinances." That's fine if that's the theology, but I've heard Mormons vehemently deny that their religion is about anything other than the work of Christ and faith in that. I tend to think it's for the sake of uninformed mainline Christians to feel like it's only a small horizontal step over to the LDS Church.

When I see "heaven" described in such terms by Mormons it makes me wonder what the urgency is for evangelism and how they view the idea of being "saved," which Jesus most certainly spoke of. It seems to me like non-Mormons have very little to fear. And when I hear things about how one might even make progress after death, then it only increases my apathy toward insuring that I am in the right religion. I also can't reconcile this with the teachings of Jesus, who gave a very strong impression that the afterlife would be a binary affair.

 
At 6/25/2009 6:24 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Angela, I appreciate the clarifications, and I hope I didn’t exasperate you.

We don't believe in infallible prophets.

What about when they are prophesying? Do you think it’s possible to give false prophesies and still be a true prophet?

Do Mormons believe that the three kingdoms are actually three different places? Are they planets? Are any of these kingdoms on earth? Will people be able to interact with those who are in different kingdoms? Since there are three different kingdoms, will there be three different kings?

 
At 6/25/2009 6:30 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Fern, thank you for your explanations.

 
At 6/25/2009 7:30 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

For the record, I am female.

I understand Angela quite well, I think, and I don't think there is so much difference in our belief as in our methods of communication. I prefer to be concise and to the point wherever possible, and to rely heavily on the actual scripture than on my understanding of it, unless I feel it necessary to present both.

We may have to be reminded frequently that the Apostles and Prophets are HUMAN, but we also believe that the Lord will not allow them to lead us astray in regards to doctrinal elements of the church.

We believe that we are living in the final dispensation of the Gospel--"the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times" (see Ephesians 1:10) which is the last time the Gospel is to be on the earth with no more complete apostasy taking place, and therefore no further need for another Restoration of the Gospel. We believe Christ will soon come to reign personally on the earth.

If you doubt the meaning of the verses I mentioned before (I Cor. 15:40-41), you might also refer to John 14:2. It seems rather clear to me that Jesus did not merely refer to Heaven or Hell.

It is true, our religion is not fear-based. I do not know what your idea of "Heaven" is, but in literature in general it seems like the ordinary Christian view is bland enough to make our idea of the Terrestrial kingdom seem sure to impress them. It is entirely your choice if you want to be apathetic about it, but personally, I believe there is more to life than avoiding horrors. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. I believe that is true of other things. He gave us commandments which, in His infinite Wisdom and Love, would bring us the greatest happiness if we follow them.

The Celestial Kingdom is ruled over by God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

The Terrestrial Kingdom is ruled over by Jesus and the Holy Ghost.

The Telestial Kingdom is ruled over by the Holy Ghost.

 
At 6/26/2009 12:43 PM , Blogger Angela said...

Sam asked: "What about when they are prophesying? Do you think it’s possible to give false prophesies and still be a true prophet?" Joseph Smith specifically said that some revelations were correct (of God) and some were not. What he said is essentially the same as the Deuteronomy verse in comments above. There are two key checks against prophetic fallibility: 1) the church is really an oligarchy with 15 top leaders we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. While their opinions on some matters may differ, on doctrinal issues they operate under a principle of unanimity. 2) the personal revelation angle. We have many statements reinforcing the accountability of members to receive their own confirming personal revelation when in doubt rather than assuming leaders will never make a mistake. When leaders are speaking on matters of opinion rather than expounding doctrine, this is especially important to members.

Paul said: "This sounds like a real communication problem between God and His true and living church. It also sounds a lot like how the more liberal wing of mainline Christianity views revelation." It is a real communication problem for humans to be able to comprehend God. It's certainly not God's fault that humans have a limited perspective. My kids often misunderstand me as well, but as they grow older, their ability to understand increases. There are commonalities with mainline liberal protestantism, but it's got an authoritarian component lacking in the LMPs.

Paul said: "This only reinforces my belief that it's all ultimately a work-based system, since one's placement in the lower levels is dependent upon how good one is, and at the upper level one needs to do (the works of) these "ordinances."" That's an interesting observation. I think one of the disconnects for Mormons is the idea that "ordinances" are works. Plus, you can have all the ordinances and still go to the telestial kingdom because you didn't really accept Christ or you deliberately sought to harm others. To me, things like being kind to animals and helping old ladies cross the street are what is meant by "works," and most Mormons would say they are just an outward manifestation of one's discipleship. Jesus' atonement is what saves, not the followers' acts of discipleship. But if you accept the atonement you are going to follow Christ's example to the best of your ability.

The real differentiation between the 3 kingdoms is based more on levels of belief. But your belief drives your commitment, and your commitment is what forces you to act (or lack thereof to not act). The faith vs. works discussion is not something Mormons care that much about really. Evangelicals consider this a key point (that any discussion of man's works somehow lessens the atonement). I would say we just see works as an outward manifestation of our internal beliefs, but it's the atonement that saves, not the works. It's also difficult to assess someone's level of belief. It's much easier to assess their actions. (Matt 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.)

If you want a quick primer on the three "degrees of glory" (or kingdoms) you can read D&C 76 which is available at lds.org.

 
At 6/26/2009 5:12 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Fern,

Thanks for your response. There is much to agree with in your first two paragraphs. However, I have some big issues with the rest.

We believe that we are living in the final dispensation of the Gospel--"the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times" (see Ephesians 1:10)

We, too, believe we are in a special time, but this began with the coming of Christ and will end at His return. The difference seems to be that Mormon's believe that the Gospel was lost in the interim, apparently right out of the shoot if we compare the testimony of the early church to LDS theology. Unfortunately, your Ephesians reference says nothing about this issue. When read in context, it is simply referring to Jesus, His office, and the culmination of all things under His reign. Perhaps the Mormon view is true, but this passage certainly cannot be used to deduce it.

If you doubt the meaning of the verses I mentioned before (I Cor. 15:40-41), you might also refer to John 14:2. It seems rather clear to me that Jesus did not merely refer to Heaven or Hell.

You originally cited 1 Cor 15:40-41 in reference to ordinances, but these verses have nothing to do with that. Now you seem to cite them in reference to our discussion on our final destination(s). This is closer, but still not on target. Again, in context, this passage is part of Paul's discussion on the resurrection in general (and Christ's resurrection specifically), and he is especially here outlining the differences between our current bodies of flesh and corruption vs. our resurrection bodies.

John 14:2 is only slightly better, but can only be used by you if you first presume something not contained in the statement, "In my Father's house are many mansions." Since there is no detail provided one cannot make a case for what is in "the other mansions." But it doesn't even need to mean something like the elaborate multi-layered heaven of LDS theology. It could simply be that Christ is telling His apostles that there's plenty of room for all of those for which "[He] will come again and receive unto [Himself]."

It is no wonder that Mormon doctrine must contain the assertion that many plain an precious things have been lost from the Bible, since without the Mormon additives one would not have grounds for concluding the distinctive LDS doctrines.

It is true, our religion is not fear-based.

But if the final judgment and Hell are real, then there is certainly something to fear. Should we tell our children to look both ways when they cross the street just to be polite, or should we mention the traffic? And from my reading of Scripture, it couldn't be more clear that there is peril in God's economy. Shall I list for you the numerous verses that speak of Hell and judgment? Shall we engage in a discussion of how we are "saved" without some associated danger from which to be rescued?

I do not know what your idea of "Heaven" is, but in literature in general it seems like the ordinary Christian view is bland enough to make our idea of the Terrestrial kingdom seem sure to impress them.

My idea of heaven is not taken from "literature in general," but only from Scripture. I might speculate on what heaven could be like, but I am constrained by revelation. This same revelation, in 1Co 2:9, tells me that I cannot even imagine how glorious it will be: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." My desire to be reconciled with God is not merely for the sake of avoiding the final judgment.

 
At 6/30/2009 2:13 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

I don’t think Mormonism can be proven by the Bible, I give reference to the Bible merely to show that our beliefs are certainly not contrary to what the Bible teaches. (There is also a reference in 2 Cor. 12:2 to “the third heaven.”)

I have been LDS all my life, so I really was not sure what you believe in respect to Heaven, and literature and Hollywood have been my main sources of information, so, of course, I wanted to hear more directly from the source. We believe as you do:

"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."

It is part of what I call “non-fear-based.” We participate in preaching the gospel for the reason of how much good, and how great the blessing there is for loving Christ and keeping his commandments.

I liked your example about teaching a child to look both ways before crossing the street, but I wouldn’t have called that “fear-based” either. It reminds me of what Joseph Smith said regarding his influence over the Saints: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

If there is one principle of belief that sets us apart from other Christian religions, it is the principle of continuing revelation. If revelation had not been needed, Paul, Peter, and John would not have written the letters to the Saints at Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, and so forth.

Revelation from God requires a human mouthpiece—someone set apart with the holy calling of Apostle or Prophet. (see Eph. 4:11-13) Christ ordained 12 Apostles in His Church, and when Judas betrayed him, then killed himself, Matthias was chosen to replace him as an apostle. The apostles were generally hunted down and killed, but there were also others called as apostles, such as Paul. Eventually, the apostles were all killed or banished. In our belief that was the beginning of the apostasy spoken of in 2 Thes. 2:3, with a subsequent restoration, spoken of in Acts 3:19-21. By 200 AD the apostasy may have been virtually complete.

I still believe what I said before: There is no better witness of the Truth of God, than from God, Himself. You should know that the Bible teaches that we should pray, so why be reluctant to do so?

It seems that you think you could believe the truth of a prophet when you know that something he has prophesied has been fulfilled. So, I will tell you that Joseph Smith prophesied December 25, 1832 concerning the Civil War (D&C section 87)--that it would begin with the rebellion of South Carolina, that the Southern States would be divided against the Northern States and slaves would rise against their masters, etc.

 
At 7/01/2009 5:35 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Fern, most people in the early 1800's were predicting a civil war between the north and the south over the issue of slavery, so this is not a particularly compelling prophecy. Besides, this prophecy predicts that the civil war will engulf all nations and that it will culminate in the destruction of all nations. If anything, this prophecy seems to count against Joseph Smith, not for him.

 
At 7/01/2009 8:57 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Fern,

I don’t think Mormonism can be proven by the Bible, I give reference to the Bible merely to show that our beliefs are certainly not contrary to what the Bible teaches.

I understand, but I do think that many Mormon doctrines are indeed contradicted by Scripture — that is, if you do not first presuppose that it has been soiled by apostates and that it should be carefully and systematically handled.

There is also a reference in 2 Cor. 12:2 to "the third heaven."

This won't play either. The cosmology of the time (and we have shades of it now as well) was effectively this: the sky is one "level" of heaven, space was another, and the third was the abode of God. Paul was saying nothing more than that (he?) had visited that spiritual domain.

I have been LDS all my life . . . literature and Hollywood have been my main sources of information [about the mainstream Christian view of heaven].

I can appreciate your confusion then. I have almost never seen a decent presentation of actual Christian theology within Hollywood and the mainstream media. I would not be a Christian if that were a reflection of true Christianity.

It is part of what I call "non-fear-based." We participate in preaching the gospel for the reason of how much good, and how great the blessing there is for loving Christ and keeping his commandments.

Personally, I dislike the idea of a final judgment and eternal hell. I would much prefer to think that God would just herd all the baddies into some out of the way place and leave it at that. Unfortunately, my theology is held captive to the plain teaching of Scripture on this matter, and if there is a danger, then how can I in good conscience fail to warn people of it? In fact, it was not until I understood myself to be deserving of judgment and separation from a Holy Father that I finally understood the Gospel of God's grace in the substitutionary atonement of Christ. It was not the "Good News" until I first understood the bad news. It is all part of the same package.

If there is one principle of belief that sets us apart from other Christian religions, it is the principle of continuing revelation.

Actually, almost every sect and cult of Christianity believes something similar — liberal Christians perhaps more than any other. Most often, they believe the revelation continues within each individual. As the United Church of Christ likes to say, "God is still speaking." Interestingly, the continuing revelation always manages to supersede the prior revelation (in Scripture) and often contradicts it.

You'll forgive me if I exercise some cautious suspicion, especially when the revelation that we already have (and all supposedly use as the starting point) warns that false doctrine will come and that we should not believe another Gospel, even if it comes from an angel from heaven!

continued...

 
At 7/01/2009 8:58 PM , Blogger Paul said...

If revelation had not been needed, Paul, Peter, and John would not have written the letters to the Saints at Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, and so forth.

First, it should be noted that the Apostles were a special group who were first-hand students of Jesus, and were commissioned with authority by Jesus, and to whom Jesus sent the Spirit. Whatever one's view of inerrancy and inspiration, the worst musings of these fellows is more worthy to be named "revelation" than anything else produced by future generations.

Second, we already know that there have been periods when God did not send prophets into the world. One of the most noteworthy was the 4 centuries before the coming of the Messiah. Hebrews 1 begins by saying that in times past God spoke to us through prophets, but now in these last days spoke through the Son. Since Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of the law and the prophets, then further revelation in the prior sense is anti-climactic. In fact, when Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit, He said the purpose would be to convict people of their sins and testify to Himself.

What need of new revelation when the world is still wrestling with the greatest revelation that God has purposed to send?

In our belief that was the beginning of the apostasy spoken of in 2 Thes. 2:3, with a subsequent restoration, spoken of in Acts 3:19-21. By 200 AD the apostasy may have been virtually complete.

What I can't get over is that in the view of the LDS Church (for Muslims and other groups as well) this apostasy occurred right after the coming of Jesus, but somehow the mere human prophet centuries later managed to get the message across without his followers apostatizing. Why is it reasonable to think that a mere man could do what the God-man could not do? I would also like to know what the evidence is for a falling away from the message of Jesus and His apostles. My reading of history shows a pretty smooth connection to the modern church.

You say that Second Thessalonians 2 mentions this apostasy that occurred in the first century. Since this passage talks about a "man of lawlessness," who was to exalt himself above every god and seat himself in the temple as a god, then I must ask who it was that did this thing. Remember, since you reference this passage as indicative of an apostasy that resulting in the mainstream church, the person you pick must be a church leader (and not someone secular like Nero).

Your Acts reference is weak support for a "restoration," like Smith's. This passage is clearly speaking of Jesus and the restoration due at His return! I think you are right to say that Mormonism cannot be proven by the Bible. However, just as the coming of Jesus can be found in the O.T., I would indeed think that Mormonism would be foreshadowed in Scripture. So far, I have not seen any passages that actually, upon inspection, play to the Mormon cause.

I still believe what I said before: There is no better witness of the Truth of God, than from God, Himself. You should know that the Bible teaches that we should pray, so why be reluctant to do so?

Certainly it teaches that we should pray, but nowhere does it suggest that we should petition God for a witness to the truth of a different gospel! Why not pray that Scientology is true, or Islam? Some prayers surely are not honoring to God.

continued...

 
At 7/01/2009 8:59 PM , Blogger Paul said...

It seems that you think you could believe the truth of a prophet when you know that something he has prophesied has been fulfilled. So, I will tell you that Joseph Smith prophesied December 25, 1832 concerning the Civil War (D&C section 87)--that it would begin with the rebellion of South Carolina, that the Southern States would be divided against the Northern States and slaves would rise against their masters, etc.

Without even going into the details of this issue I will first comment that this "prophecy" sounds more like an accurate forecast based on simple observation of the current political climate. It's not as though he predicted it centuries before the event, and S.C. was already in the process of causing political trouble at the very time of the prophecy! It's certainly nothing like the unexpected prophecies that can be found in Scripture, like Jesus saying that the temple would be absolutely destroyed (Why should the temple be destroyed? Wasn't there peace, and wasn't it the Roman-appointed king who had just rebuilt it, after all?).

But further, if we look at the prophecy in full we see some very extreme predictions that actually did not come to pass. I don't believe that all nations were plunged into war, famine, plagues, earthquakes, etc. and that they all came to a "full end."

Even if this were an entirely accurate prediction, Scripture tells us that signs and wonders can come even from false prophets. We have to look at all the prophecies and the teachings of a prophet to see if they stand up to scrutiny. Unfortunately, Smith's prophecies are not very convincing.

 
At 7/14/2009 12:27 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

Sorry I am a little slow to respond, but here it is, in more parts than one.

I have no desire whatsoever to argue. I will just say, that to me the prophecy was fulfilled, or is still in the process of being fulfilled. Even if some people guessed that it would start in South Carolina, and knew the true issue was slavery and not the tariff of 1832, as those in South Carolina may have wanted people to believe at the time, they did, in fact, attempt to get aid from Great Britain, France, Holland and Belgium. The other southern states did not need to join with South Carolina, but they did. Since that time, there have been numerous wars in many nations, or affecting all nations as World War I, and II and wars continue. If you don’t count pandemics of influenza, particularly the killer flu outbreak of 1918, or the swine flu outbreak now as plagues, perhaps AIDS counts.

 
At 7/14/2009 12:45 PM , Blogger Fern RL said...

Paul said
“You'll forgive me if I exercise some cautious suspicion, especially when the revelation that we already have (and all supposedly use as the starting point) warns that false doctrine will come and that we should not believe another Gospel, even if it comes from an angel from heaven!”

I don’t mind at all that you exercise cautious suspicion; didn’t I say I am by nature very skeptical myself?

I think the warning that we should not believe another Gospel, even if it comes from an angel from heaven, is good. And Paul already in verse 6 told the Galatians that they had been lead away unto another gospel. If they were so soon lead away, why do you wonder that Latter-day Saints believe the whole church fell into apostasy in the first few centuries AD? Why did the great Reformers even seek to reform the Catholic Church if it had not greatly departed from the gospel preached in its simplicity by the Apostles?

Paul said:
First, it should be noted that the Apostles were a special group who were first-hand students of Jesus, and were commissioned with authority by Jesus, and to whom Jesus sent the Spirit. Whatever one's view of inerrancy and inspiration, the worst musings of these fellows is more worthy to be named "revelation" than anything else produced by future generations.

The Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, was a first-hand student of Jesus only through a post-resurrection visitation from Him, having been converted after first persecuting the saints. The apostles were indeed all commissioned with authority by Jesus, and Paul made it abundantly clear in Galatians 1:11-12 that the gospel he was preaching was not any human “musings,” best or worst, but “by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Apostles were men, and not special at all by virtue of who they were, but because of their calling and their willingness to adhere to the word of the Lord and receive of His Spirit unto revelation.

I am not saying that God was incapable of keeping His true gospel on the earth from the time of Christ, and is more capable now. It is just that it was apparently His will to have the apostles write letters to the Saints when they started to go astray, and it was apparently not His will to keep wicked people from killing off the apostles before they could appoint successors.

But in all ways God has a plan which could never be thwarted. Naturally, if an “angel from heaven” were to preach a false gospel, he should not be believed. But what of “the everlasting gospel” as spoken of in Revelation 14:6-7? Did that not foretell the Restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ?

So how can you really know the truth? It comes back to prayer. I would not ask you to believe me, any more than I would necessarily believe your interpretations of the Bible. There is really only One Source that is perfectly reliable. And there is really only one reason not to “ask of God”—because you don’t realize you lack wisdom. Who presumes to have any level of intelligence or wisdom that rivals that of our Creator? If we are truly as wise as it is possible for mere mortals to be, it is because we seek and obtain that wisdom from our Savior.

Joseph Smith was a humble and a simple boy of 14 when he went into the woods to be alone to pray vocally. He had faith that God would let him know the answer to his question: Which church should he join? He had no expectation of the vision that followed or that he should be the instrument in God’s hand to restore the true Church of Jesus Christ. He made mistakes along the way and was chastised for them. I know he was humble because he did not seek to cover up the chastisements but recorded them faithfully. He learned from his mistakes, though, and became very strong in doing what the Lord wanted him to do after that.

 

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