OLGH-Holy-Spirit-Stained-Glass-001-crop

“The Fire of God”, Artist and location unknown

by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Shawn McCraney is a former Mormon who identifies himself as a born-again Christian but who denies the doctrine of the Trinity. He has a weekly TV broadcast called Heart of the Matter that airs from Salt Lake City. On the programs that aired April 22 and 29, 2014, he laid out several objections to the Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit as a person. This article originated as a response to McCraney sent to him the day following the first of those broadcasts by email (to which he has so far not responded).

McCraney’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
In his TV lecture, McCraney compared God’s eternal nature of being God, his Logos (Word), and his Pneuma(Spirit) to man’s being body, soul, and spirit. Such an analogy is clearly monarchian: it characterizes God as a single person with three aspects of his being. (Monarchianism, also known as modalism, is the heresy that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely three modes or manifestations of a solitary divine Being.) According to McCraney, before the Fall, those three aspects were really difficult to distinguish from one another (even for God?), and likewise man’s three aspects were so fully integrated as one that they could hardly be distinguished. Before the Fall, there was no Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When man fell, God, in order to save us, divided or splintered himself into three, becoming Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (apparently not right away, since on McCraney’s view there was no Son until the Incarnation). In this new, sharp threeness God acted to redeem us in order to restore us to full integration as body-soul-spirit beings in the new birth. All of this sounds very much like monarchianism, but then McCraney threw in the comment that God, his Logos, and his Pneuma had relationships with each other before creation, though what those were McCraney said he doesn’t know. As he has done every time I have heard him, McCraney contradicted himself. God, the Logos, and the Pneuma cannot have relationships with one another if they are simply different aspects of the one God, like a man’s body, soul, and spirit.

Now, the above doctrine was problematic enough, but at least in some of what McCraney said one could optimistically hope that he viewed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as genuinely distinct, as each someone in relationship with the other two, and therefore as largely orthodox in substance even if he rejects orthodox theological terms. At one point in that broadcast he even referred to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as “three persons,” though only after creation, not before it. However, in his most recent lecture he moved even further away from orthodox, biblical doctrine. The Holy Spirit, he claimed, is simply God’s power or presence, an “it,” just a way of describing God expressing his presence or power. He claimed this to be true in both the Old and New Testaments. Sadly, there is no way this can be salvaged as anything but heretical.

Shawn McCraney on the April 22, 2014 Heart of the Matter broadcast referenced in this article.

The Holy Spirit is the Power of God
McCraney asserted, “The Holy Spirit is the power, the dunamis, of God. Scripture talks about it being the power of God.” Yes, Scripture does talk about the Holy Spirit as the power of God. It also calls God “the power of God” (Luke 22:69) and refers to Christ as “the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Does that make God or Christ impersonal? Of course not. This is a bad argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Pneuma (“Spirit”) Is Neuter
McCraney also argued—and this was his main point—that pneuma is neuter and that the Greek New Testament uses neuter pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit. On this basis, McCraney concluded that the Holy Spirit is not a person, because “it’s an it.” Well, if pneuma is neuter and if neuter means “it’s an it,” as he claimed, then McCraney has just proved that God is an it! After all, Jesus said, “God is pneuma” (John 4:24). Notice that this is the second argument he used against the personhood of the Holy Spirit that, if applied consistently, would disprove the personhood of God as well.

McCraney also argued that if translators had simply used impersonal pronouns to translate the neuter pronouns referring to the Spirit (it, its, itself, etc.), “the case for the personality of the Holy Spirit, the person, would largely disappear from Christian belief.” That is true only of the most superficial popular way that contemporary English-speaking Christians try to defend the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The KJV often used neuter pronouns when the Greek pronoun was neuter, and the KJV translators and earliest readers were all Trinitarians. They had no trouble seeing the person of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

Oddly, McCraney went on immediately to answer his own argument, though he didn’t seem to realize he had done so. He pointed out that languages like Greek commonly assign masculine or feminine gender to nouns that do not denote persons, such as la bicicleta (“the bicycle”) in Spanish. This was apparently his rebuttal to the observation that “Comforter” is masculine in Greek (paraklētos). There’s a problem with that rebuttal, as I will explain below. But his point about nouns having gender is a good observation, but one he did not take far enough. It is also the case that languages can assign “neuter” gender to nouns denoting persons. In German, das Mädchen means “the maiden, the girl,” and obviously denotes a person, yet it is neuter in grammatical form. Similarly, the Greek paidion is grammatically neuter, but it denotes “child,” again referring to a person. Jesus is called a paidion eleven times in the New Testament (Matt. 2:8, 9, 11, 13 [2x], 14, 20 [2x]; Luke 2:17, 27, 40), all in reference to the period of several years after his birth. Matthew uses the neuter pronoun auto (which has nothing to do with cars!) in reference to “the child” Jesus: “Rise, take the child [paidion] and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matt. 2:13 ESV). Here the ESV uses “him” to translate the Greek pronoun auto (as does the KJV also). Luke uses the same pronoun auto in reference to Jesus as paidion twice (Luke 2:28, 40). Translators use masculine pronouns in English to represent neuter pronouns in Greek if the antecedent of the pronoun refers to a person. It’s as simple as that. The argument that neuter nouns or pronouns prove that the Holy Spirit is not a person is another bad argument.

Shawn McCraney on the April 29, 2014 Heart of the Matter broadcast referenced in this article.

“Holy Spirit” versus “the Holy Spirit”
A third argument McCraney presented was an objection to the use of the definite article “the” in English translations with the title “Holy Spirit.” He asserted that the article is “often added by translators, leading the reader to think that ‘the Holy Spirit’ is referring to a separate person.” Well, there are many places where the Greek has the article in front of the words for “Holy Spirit,” such as Matthew 28:19 (tou hagiou pneumatos), Mark 3:29 (to pneuma to hagion),  John 14:26 (to pneuma to hagion), and quite a few others. (The words tou and to are both forms of the Greek article.) I assume McCraney would agree that the Greek writers of these books were not misleading readers by using the article.

The fact is that Greek uses the article in a different way than English does. We normally use the article in front of what we call titles (the Father, the Messiah, the Lord, the king) but not in front of what we call proper names (Jesus, Peter, Shawn, Rob). Greek doesn’t work that way. Proper names and titles in Greek can occur with or without the article; usage is quite complicated and sometimes little more than a matter of style. The expression “in Christ” in Paul usually does not have the article (en Christō), but of course this doesn’t mean that Christ is something other than a person. And sometimes Paul writes “in the Christ” (en tō Christō), but English versions nearly always omit the article (1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 1:10, 12, 20).

“Holy Spirit” versus “holy spirit”
McCraney made a big deal of the fact that “Holy Spirit” is never capitalized in the Greek. Apparently, he thinks this is some startling revelation that overturns conventional belief about the Holy Spirit as a person.

The fact is that ancient Greek manuscripts did not “capitalize” anything. It is true that “Holy Spirit” in the Greek manuscripts was not “capitalized.” Neither was “God,” “Christ,” “Jesus,” or “Father.” For that matter, neither was “Peter,” “Paul,” or “Mary” (sorry, couldn’t resist). Ancient Greek manuscripts were written with all block letters, and later a cursive form developed that used what we call lower-case letters. But in biblical times, there was no upper-case and lower-case lettering system.

Of all of McCraney’s arguments against the personhood of the Holy Spirit, this is the worst. It is so bad that it is embarrassing. If ever an example was needed of the value of a basic education in biblical studies for pastors, this is it.

Explaining the “Difficult Verses”
McCraney suggested that it is only “a few comparative difficult verses in the Gospel of John” that seem to refer to the Holy Spirit as a person, and he stated somewhat disparagingly that “those verses are used over and over again to prove that the Spirit is a person.” Later he suggested these could be explained away as personifications, like wisdom in the poetic passage in Proverbs 8. But Jesus was not speaking in poetry in John 14-16, and the same things that Jesus says about the Spirit in John 14-16 are said about Jesus himself by the same author. For example, the noun paraklētos clearly refers to a person, and Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “anotherparaklētos” (John 14:16), meaning another besides himself. In his epistle, John—the same author as the Gospel of John, of course—refers explicitly to Jesus Christ as our paraklētos (1 John 2:1). Paraklētos is not a noun that just happens to be masculine but that normally refers to something impersonal, like la bicicleta (“the bicycle”) happens to be feminine. Paraklētos is a personal noun, denoting someone who provides support, assistance, counsel, agency, mediation, or the like. If McCraney wished to claim that the noun doesn’t refer to the Spirit as a person, this would be something he would need to show exegetically from the context, which he has not done.

Moreover, the case for the personhood of the Holy Spirit does not depend on John 14-16 alone. His personhood can be shown from many other parts of the New Testament, especially the Book of Acts. But John 14-16 is in the Bible and must be taken seriously, not shoehorned into a doctrinal system derived from the superficial observation that the Old Testament doesn’t advance a specific doctrine of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Such an approach denies God the right to unfold his self-revelation in history and in Scripture progressively, as though God should have front-loaded Genesis 1 with a systematic theological exposition.

Is Jesus the Holy Spirit?
McCraney pointed out that Christ and the Spirit are both called Parakletos; both are said to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26, 34), and both are said to have been given to us by God. How these things prove that the Holy Spirit is not a person, I don’t know. If anything they might seem to prove that the Holy Spirit is Jesus. (They don’t. For example, John 14:16 calls the Holy Spirit “another Parakletos,” making it clear that the Holy Spirit is not Jesus but is someone like him.) But McCraney doesn’t (usually) make that claim. At one point, though, McCraney cited 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 and concluded that it means that Jesus is the Spirit. If so, then, by McCraney’s own reasoning, either Jesus is not a person or the Holy Spirit is a person.

Conclusion
Many of McCraney’s arguments against the personhood of the Holy Spirit, if applied consistently, would also “disprove” that God the Father is a person, or that Christ is a person. All of his objections to the orthodox doctrine are based on misunderstandings, some of them egregious.

The tragedy is that these errors could easily have been avoided, if McCraney would have listened to sound teachers and studied these things carefully before publicly teaching on matters he doesn’t understand.

Pentecost CORRECTED

“Pentecost”, Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ Kansas City, MO. Artist unknown.

About the Author
Robert M. Bowman Jr. is the Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research. He has been with IRR since 2008. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman earned the M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, did doctoral studies in Christian Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at South African Theological Seminary. He is the author of roughly 60 articles (e.g., in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Review of Biblical Literature, Christian Research Journal, Moody Monthly, Pastoral Renewal,Mission Frontiers, and Journal of Evangelism and Missions) and 13 books pertaining to apologetics, religion, and biblical theology, including two winners of the Gold Medallion Award, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (1997) and Faith Has Its Reasons (2001; 2d ed., 2006). His most recent books are Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (co-authored with Ed Komoszewski, 2007), which received numerous endorsements from such scholars as Ravi Zacharias and Richard Bauckham, and What Mormons Believe (2012).

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.

a_logo© 2015 Institute for Religious Research. All rights reserved

This article was originally published on the Institute for Religious Research website. It is republished here with the express written permission of the author. This article is part of a larger series entitled “Bad Arguments against the Personhood of the Holy Spirit” which we encourage the reader to also consider upon completion of this article.

BACK TO TOP

Lies
An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“There’s nothing in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”

Why It’s Weak:
As stated a number of times throughout this series, exaggeration erodes credibility and overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. This is an example of both: The fact of the matter is that there is some good and some truth in Mormonism despite the preponderance of errors and lies. This is just as pioneering cult researcher and lecturer Walter Martin said so well:

Within the theological structure of the cults there is considerable truth, all of which, it might be added, is drawn from biblical sources, but so diluted with human error as to be more deadly than complete falsehood.[1]

And as Bible teacher Don Basham noted, “All cults are at least 10% truth and 90% lie. If they didn’t contain some truth then no one would believe the lies – no one would join them.”[2] And I would add, based on my own experience in a cult, that if they didn’t meet some kind of a need no one would stay. So it shouldn’t surprise us to find some truth and some good in all cults – and the Mormon Church is no exception. Therefore, acknowledging what’s true and what’s good – without underestimating or discounting what isn’t – is simply a matter of common sense. And giving credit where credit is due is a matter of integrity.

1) Point One: There is some truth in the Mormon Church
Focusing exclusively on Christology, here’s what the Mormon Church gets right:

Warner Sallman,

Warner Sallman, “The Head of Christ”
(circa 1941)

  1. They believe that Jesus preexisted in Heaven before becoming a man.
  2. They believe that Jesus is Jehovah, the God of Israel.
  3. They believe that we are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus.
  4. They believe that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father.
  5. They believe that Jesus was the Messiah, lived a sinless life, and did the miracles reported in the Gospels
  6. They believe that Jesus suffered and died on a cross.
  7. They believe that Jesus rose physically, bodily from the grave.
  8. They believe that Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven.
  9. They believe that Jesus will return physically to the earth.[3]

2) Point Two: It’s not all wrong
It tends to get downplayed in the heat of battle but in the area of values, morality, and social issues, the Mormon Church is spot on in a number of areas. Mormon Researcher Eric Johnson, an Evangelical Christian who is generally critical of Mormonism, has gone so far as to identify ten areas (in David Letterman countdown fashion) that the LdS Church excels at and that he believes we can learn from:

10. Dedication to the heritage and the faith.
From a young age, Mormon children are taught about their heritage and the struggles that the early LDS pioneers faced when it came to living their faith. On the other hand, most of us Bible-believing Christians have very little knowledge of our history, including the conflicts and persecutions of the early Christian church. As a result, we do not benefit from the examples of our own past…

9. Overall morality.
While Mormons struggle with sin just like everyone else, they are generally well known for keeping a high moral codes and abstaining from a secular lifestyle. Faithful members are not to partake in drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Remaining chaste, personal modesty, and being honest (along with the other commandments) are important virtues in the LDS lifestyle…

8. Politics and religion mix.
The Mormon Church is willing to put its money where its mouth is when political issues warrant a moral response. Certainly not every member may like the conservative stance that the LDS Church takes. But it is admirable how the Church is willing to support those things it strongly believes in…

7. Organization in its leadership.
The LDS Church is a well-oiled machine when it comes to organization, from the top down to the bottom…

6. Positive peer pressure towards missions.
Many Mormon young people look with anticipation for the day when they can leave on a church mission… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Christian young person were encouraged to spend two years of his or her life on the mission field? Perhaps many more career missionaries would be a result if short-term missions became a Christian priority…

5. Respecting Sundays as sacred.
Sundays in the Mormon Church are treated as a quiet day, a time to reflect and be with the family after attending the morning service at the local ward. Recreational and sporting activities as well as retail excursions are discouraged… We should not forget that the day of rest was created for the benefit of man…

4. Religious education for the youth.
The LDS Church is very concerned about educating its young people in the ways of its faith… Later, when the college years come and the young adult is challenged in his faith, he will have some possible answers to help him remain faithful to his religion…

3. Helping to supply the needs of the membership.
Mormons are known for being generous, even going out of their way to help their fellow members…

2. Preventing members from falling through the cracks.
When a Mormon fails to attend the services of his designated local ward for several weeks, he is sure to be missed… While I am not suggesting that Christian churches should become legalistic nags in order to force its membership to attend meetings and volunteer for projects, perhaps the general idea of following up on those who all of a sudden are no longer there would fulfill the shepherd role that the church is supposed to have…

1. The importance of families.
And the number-one thing we can learn from the Mormons is (drum roll, please) the priority the Mormon Church places on family life. Certainly many Christian families are very successful. Yet few churches emphasize the importance of the family like the Mormons do; they even set aside every Monday evening for Family Home Evenings to play games, talk, do devotions, etc…[4]

And Mr. Johnson isn’t alone, Christian Commentator Nick Asolas has developed his own list:

The Church Office Building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church Office Building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

1. Public Relations
If Christianity had a PR firm, it should have been fired decades ago. The fact that we don’t is so painfully obvious that preaching against our past failures has almost replaced the Gospel itself…

2. Staffing Issues
In the average Christian church, the largest budget section is the salary of the staff. We have managed to take a couple curious verses in the New Testament and turn them into a mandate for creating medium-sized corporations complete with corporate perks and parking spaces. I am not going to make a case against paid staff in this post, but it is possible…

3. Engaging the Community
I think this is because as church leaders, we know what we need to do (talk to our neighbors, etc) but we don’t know how to do it. The Mormons are great at this. Granted, their strategy is simple and hasn’t changed for decades, but they have conditioned their community now to know who they are and what they are about based on looks alone…

4. Social Media
The LDS Church is excellent at talking with people across their social media sites. There are several Facebook pages for the different sections and interests and multiple Twitter feeds users can follow for church news, devotions etc. The official LDS Facebook page is updated daily with videos, polls and conversations and has almost half a million users…

5. Unity
This is the biggest and most important. While there are varying sects of the LDS religion, for the most part, they are one unified body that offers a consistent experience across all regions and wards. The statement of faith for all communities is the exact same and there is no competition among branches…[5]

Now I have been extremely critical of Greg Stier the president and founder of “Dare 2 Share” in the past for his uncritical and discernment impaired “Mormon Envy” of Mormon youth programs[6] but I will acknowledge that in pointing to the finer aspects of those programs he made some good points, including this one:

We need to push our teens. We need to turn them into active activists. We need to build consistent opportunities for service, outreach and training. We need to equip them to share their faith and then go with them, leading the way. After all, we are youth leaders.[7]

And Methodist minister and youth ministry expert Kenda Creasy Dean agrees. In her book “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” she devotes the entire third chapter (entitled “Mormon Envy: Sociological Tools for a Consequential Faith”) to deconstructing and analyzing the Mormon youth enculturation process. In the end she concludes:

By intentionally reinforcing the significance of Mormonism’s particular God-story, by immersing young people in a community of belonging, by preparing them for a vocation and by modeling a forward-looking hope, Mormons intentionally and consistently create the conditions for consequential faith—so much so that Mormon teenagers are more likely than teenagers from any other group to fall in the category of young people the NSYR [National Studies of Youth and Religion] called highly devoted.[8]

In addition to everything that been said above, I would add my own “Mormon Envy” item to the list: Community. It was hinted at in the lists above but I would like to state it plainly: The LdS Church does a great job of creating a faith-based community of belonging that meets members social needs. Further, Mormon culture includes an element that’s missing from far too many of our churches: Good clean, fun. To be exact, they have fun for fun’s sake and nothing else.

When I was a kid I used to secretly hope that my parents would convert to Mormonism because the social events at the Ward Halls of Mormon friends and family members were always so darn fun! My Mormon cousins did Boy Scouting and they regularly had awesome, memory building, family outings. On the other hand my dreary, church meeting addicted, Nazarene parents seemed to think that fun was a sin and boredom a virtue. Their church’s idea of “fun” in my mind was, “Hey, I’ve got it! Let’s have another revival/potluck/prayer/testimony meeting!” Now you boring old religious people might love those things but they’re not exactly a good memory building, family bonding, experience if you’re a kid who’s still undecided about this whole Christianity thing – sorry folks, but there it is!

Even today, decades later, I have to ask: Why are so many of our churches so darn boring? Why can’t we just have some good clean fun every once in a while? Why can’t we just get together and have a good time? Why does everything have to be some form of religious utilitarianism?  I’m sorry fellow mainstream Biblical Christians but on the community thing, in comparison to the Mormon Church, we’re losing badly. This is an area where we can do a lot better in my opinion. I mean, come on, in the Old Testament God commanded the Jews to have seven festivals per year.[9] Yes, that’s right He commanded them! And since God seems to love a party shouldn’t we, His covenant people, love them too?

In fact, I’ve found that the rich community of Mormonism is the one thing that will keep members in the LdS Church long after they stopped believing in Joseph Smith, Mormon doctrine, or even God. Mormon culture is so rich and need fulfilling that it can be hard to leave when you’ve decided that its beliefs are hooey. If we did better in this area we would probably see far more Mormons leave the LdS Church and far less transition into atheism when they do.

The bottom line is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t get everything wrong and they get quite a few things right. In fact, in terms of operations, maintaining a family first philosophy, very intentionally and deliberately engaging the surrounding cultural, creating a community of purpose and belonging, and caring for their membership they do some things better than many mainstream Christian churches do.

3) Point Three: It’s not all lies
Well now, okay, okay, okay, yes, there is a lot of deceit that goes on in the LdS Church! I’ve said it, I feel better now. Most egregious of all is how it chronically, even habitually, lies to its own members. Never-the-less, as stated above, since it still contains at least 10% truth, there is some truth in Mormonism.

Further, Mormon Leaders don’t lie all the time.  And official church literature doesn’t lie all the time – but when you do lie they do “go big!” So the problem that I have with the “it’s nothing but a pack of lies!” portion of the weak argument isn’t that it’s not more true than false but that it’s hyperbole.

The Stronger Arguments:
Building a stronger argument in this area involves two things: 1) Not engaging in over-the-top hyperbolic rhetoric, and; 2) Presenting your argument in a way that’s fair and balanced rather than obviously biased.

First Suggested Strong Argument: Present a balanced rather than biased argument 
To illustrate how one does this, let’s consider the list of things that Mormonism gets right in the Christology that was presented above. Rather than arguing that, “There’s nothing in Mormon Christology that’s true!” (which is so extreme that it’s like announcing, “I’m biased, my mind is closed, and I’m unwilling to consider the full body of evidence!”) a more balanced argument would look something like this:

Unknown Artist,

Unknown Artist, “Mormon Corporate Jesus”

“Well the LdS Church does get some things right in it’s Christology – including the two most important things, His divinity and His bodily resurrection from the dead. However, it also gets far more wrong, specifically: 

  1. Jesus is one of billions of spirits who preexisted in Heaven before becoming human.
  2. Jesus is one of three Gods ruling the universe (among other Gods that also exist).
  3. We are never supposed to pray directly to Jesus.
  4. God is Jesus’ “literal” father in the flesh—compromising the truth that Mary was a virgin.
  5. Some of Jesus’ statements must be revised according to Joseph Smith’s revelations.
  6. Jesus accomplished the Atonement primarily in the garden of Gethsemane.
  7. Jesus by his resurrection assures immortality in some heavenly kingdom for virtually everyone.
  8. Jesus returned to the earth to preach to the Nephites and start a separate church for them.
  9. Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith, condemned all existing churches, and restored the true church.[10]

Unfortunately, due to what it gets wrong, the Mormon Jesus isn’t the Christ of the bible – he is the type of ‘another Jesus’ that Paul warned us against in 2 Corinthians 11:4.”

Second Suggested Strong Argument: Present both sides of the coin
Closely aligned with the first strong argument is simply giving both sides of the coin. For example, even though the last section presented only the positive side of the coin, an argument regarding the both sides of the LdS Church’s Mormon Missionary program coin might look like this:

“Christian Youth Ministry experts like Greg Stier and Kenda Creasy Dean have praised your missionary program. Even Eric Johnson, who’s a critic of the Mormon Church, has said that it creates ‘positive peer pressure’ within your youth groups and culture. However, it has a dark side too, specifically: 

  1. BandaidMissionaryBadgeIt has created a culture whereby fear of their family’s reaction puts pressure on disenchanted LDS Missionaries to continue with their missions whether they want to or not. [click here for supporting evidence]
  2. LDS Church Missionary training and policies employ Mind Control techniques and tactics.
  3. The LDS Church focuses on the needs and interests of the institution over the needs and interests of the members. For example, on January 29, 2013, the LDS Church announced that the Benemerito De Las Americas private school in Mexico would be closed and converted into a Missionary Training Center leaving its more than 2,000 LDS students to the mercy of the vastly inferior Mexican public education system.[11]

So while I and other Christians applaud the good impact that your missionary programs have on Mormon young people, at the same time we often wonder if they and others get hurt more often than they get helped by it. After all, isn’t 18-years old awfully young to be taking on a role in life that requires some degree of maturity and life experience? Sometimes I wonder if the price for being a Mormon Missionary is simply too high.”

Another example might go like this:

“One thing that I love about the LdS Church is how it does such a great job of creating a faith-based community of belonging that meets member social needs. As kid I loved how you all know how to have good clean fun for fun’s sake and nothing else. I mean, for goodness sake, even after they’ve left Ex-Mormons still try to find ways to stay engage in Mormon Culture – that says something!

However, what seems to be missing from LdS community is real authenticity and vulnerability. The community relations are social but not intimate. The perfectionist expectations create a culture of “looking good” – where you don’t admit that you aren’t measuring up or that you are  struggling in some way. As former Mormon composer J.A.C. Redford once said, “You get a casserole if you’re sick, but not if you’re doubting.” To be sure, evangelical churches can suffer from the same problem, but from what I’ve seen in the LdS Church it’s both extreme and chronic. Candidly, I think if I’d had to deal with my drug and alcohol addictions as a Mormon I’d still secretly be drunk and using! Have you ever thought about any of this?”

And you can trust me when I say this: They probably have. I know this because I’ve had Mormons talk to me about this when we were in private and they feel safe enough to open up. They can’t talk about this stuff to insiders but they will to outsiders that they feel safe with.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: “So what?”
Now I would imagine that some Mormons reading this article might be tempted to point to the positive things that have been said in this article and crow, “This only proves that we are indeed the only true and living Church!” This isn’t speculation, Mormon are prone to use the good works and positive aspects of their institution as proof of its veracity. How many times have we heard a Latter-day Saint say, “Just inspect the fruit – it’s good!” as evidence of the truthfulness of Mormonism? However, as thesis #70 of the 95 LDS Theses points out:

70. It [the LdS Church] publicly (and loudly) trumpets its philanthropic work, when compared to other churches its per capita outlay is less than what smaller, less wealthy, less organized religious organizations spend: “A study co-written by Cragun and recently published in Free Inquiry estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.”
(Caroline Winter, “How The Mormons Make Money”, Business Week; July 18, 2012)
[click here for supplemental evidence]

In the end, this argument proves nothing – it’s just a bad argument. There are a lot of groups that not only do good works but do far more of it than the LdS Church both per capita and in total. To cite one example, let’s talk about WalMart which in 2012 gave 1.7% of its pre-tax profits to charity.[12] Does that make WalMart the only true and living store?

Further, there are many other groups getting similar positive results from their members and in their communities. And this isn’t limited to religious groups, we could point to groups like the Red Cross, the United Way, the Shriners, the Kiwanis, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other institutions that give and do far more than the LdS Church does. And in terms of religious groups the Roman Catholic Church absolutely buries the LdS Church in terms of giving, good works – and some would add, demonstrably positive outcomes – with its membership. So I guess the Roman Catholic Church is really the only true and living church, right?

LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City which was sold off to Intermountain Healthcare. The Mormon Church now owns no hospitals.

LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City, which was sold off to Intermountain Healthcare in 1975. The Mormon Church now owns no hospitals. period.

Finally, whenever, a Mormon uses this argument with me I always ask this question: “Where are the Mormon Church owned hospitals and orphanages?” Between where I live and work (a 51-mile stretch) there are seven Catholic hospitals and several Catholic orphanages. And I haven’t even added in the hospitals and orphanages that are owned by Protestant churches in the same area. So how many Mormon equivalents are there? Answer: Zero.  The LdS Church doesn’t even have any church owned hospitals – it sold them all off years ago.[13] And while the Mormon Church offers adoption as part of its family services portfolio it doesn’t own a single orphanage and has even outsourced its adoption agency.[14] In this area the LdS Church is conspicuous in its absence. Thus, its “good works” bravado is most certainly more heat than light – while it may sound good at first, it simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Finally, always remember the Golden Rule of Apologetics
The Golden Rule of Apologetics is:[15]

Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated

All too often I see Christians engaging in the exact opposite of this, in something that apologists call “Scorched Earth Tactics”. This is a tactic whereby one is determined to win the debate no matter what the cost. It’s like dropping napalm or salting the ground after each advance so nothing can grow in your wake. The end result is that all too often you win the debate but lose your debating opponent – forever.

This is a formula for failure since it can take Mormon years, even decades to shake off the mind control of the LdS Church, to unsnap psychologically, and to start considering the body of evidence through clear eyes rather than Mormon sunglasses. And then there are typically several years more after that before they transition out due to family, professional, and cultural entanglements. Therefore, it’s always best to strive to maintain a good relationship even if you’re at loggerheads as debating opponents. Think long, not short term, and always, always, always consider how to maintain the relationship without compromising your message or yourself.

That sounds so easy doesn’t it? It’s not. It can be so hard to keep one’s passions, ego, and pride in check when engaging Mormons. And if you really like the person it can be hard not to soften your message to maintain the relationship.  It’s a balancing act. Which is why we so desperately need the mind of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us rather than our fallen human nature. So for those moments when you feel your adrenaline beginning to pump, your palms beginning to sweat, and your eyes beginning to bulge I would encourage you to remember (or better yet, memorize) what God has said to us through His word:

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
(2 Timothy 2:25 NIV) 

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
(Colossians 4:6 NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
(1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

For as my wiser older sister once said so well, “The church is a mess and always has been. If it wasn’t for Jesus none of us would be Christians!” And that’s the best news of all – nothing depends entirely on you or me!

Summary and Conclusion:
Again, exaggeration erodes credibility and overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. The weak argument as presented here is an example of both.  As I have shown here there is some good and some truth in Mormonism despite the mountain of lies and errors in the LdS Church.  There is not only no shame in giving credit where credit is due, but doing so builds credibility. And not only do fair, full arguments demonstrate integrity, they also build trust so that honest relationships can form.  And above all they demonstrate that you’re committed to the truth above all else.

Do these things and your arguments will always be strong and have impact. It’s all about balance.

balanceTruth without love is too hard. Love without truth is too soft
— Jim Spencer, Idaho Pastor and former Mormon

NOTES
[1] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults”, p.24

[2] Don Basham, “Spiritual Warfare”, lecture at Santa Ana High School 1980, taken from author’s personal notes from the event.

[3] Adapted from Rob Bowman, “The Mormon View of Jesus Christ”, Institute for Religious Research website.  I would encourage the reader to read this article in its entirety as it also discusses in full detail how Mormon Christology is both right and wrong in each of these areas.

[4] Abridged from Eric Johnson, “10 Things Christians Can Learn from the Mormons”, Mormon Research Ministry website. Again, I would encourage the reader to read this article in its entirety as it also discusses the LdS Church’s imbalances and flaws in regard to each of these items.

[5] Abridged from Nick Asolas, “5 Things We Need to Learn from the Mormon Church”, Shrink The Church website.

[6] See “An Open Letter to Greg Stier”

[7] Greg Stier, “Why Mormons Do Better Youth Ministry Than We Do”, Christian Post website.

[8] Kenda Creasy Dean, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” (p. 50, Kindle position 881). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] See “What are the different Jewish festivals in the Bible?”, GotQuestions.org website

[10] Op cit, Rob Bowman.

[11] These three points were taken from “The 95 LDS Theses”.  They are  theses #30, #75  and #2 respectively.

[12] Sarah Frostenson and Megan O’Neil, “10 Companies That Gave the Most Cash in 2013″, The Chronicles of Philanthropy website.

[13] See the “Hospitals” article in the “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism”. BYU Harold B. Lee Library website.

[14] From the LdS Church’s “Adoption Services” website:

Current Services Offered by LDS Family Services
We have made changes to the way we provide services to single expectant parents and prospective adoptive families. As of August 1, 2014, we no longer function as a full-service adoption agency and instead outsource most adoption functions. However, we continue to provide consultation for adoptive couples, screening and registration on an adoption matching website, and counseling for single expectant parents.
(retrieved January 7, 2015)

[15] For a more thorough analysis and explanation of “The Golden Rule of Apologetics” see Kenneth R. Samples‘ seven part series on the subject which starts here, “The Golden Rule of Apologetics Part 1″.

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President Uchtdorf delivering “The Gift of Grace” during General Conference, Sunday morning, April 5th, 2015

by Bobby Gilpin
There has been a lot of interest and excitement that has arisen on the back of a talk given on Sunday Morning by Dieter. F. Uchtdorf, second counselor to the first presidency. His talk focused on the subject of grace. This is a key issue that often comes up in Evangelical/LDS dialogue, and I thought I would jump right in with some thoughts on this.

I am going to assume people reading this have seen or heard the talk, if not I really recommend that you watch it before proceeding further:

(or if you prefer, the official transcript can be read here,  or just the audio heard here)

I think if I listened to this talk without much of a background knowledge of Mormonism I probably would not bat too much of an eyelid at this, in a lot of ways it sounds like a basic good talk on grace. I guess inevitably then I am going to have some bias, however I hope that bias is reasonable based on my past knowledge of Mormonism.

Firstly at 3:43 Uchtdorf says this about grace

The grace of God, the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now, into exalted beings of truth and light…

This is an immediate difference between the LDS and I would say the Biblical view of grace. I see the Biblical view as being that grace is the unmerited favour of God, placed upon us by faith. Instead Uchtdorf calls it the means by which we become something better, this from my understanding is the general LDS view on grace. We see this quote from an article on Grace on LDS.org.

No one can return to the presence of God without divine grace. Through the Atonement, we all can be forgiven of our sins; we can become clean before God. To receive this enabling power, we must obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives.

Really this means that grace is what makes you do good enough, in order that you might gain or earn exaltation, this is a contradiction in terms if you are seeking to show that it’s not by works, as this is really how you become able to do the works, thus the works are still necessary.

The website GotQuestions.org says:

the word translated “grace” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word charis, which means “favor, blessing, or kindness. We can all extend grace to others; but when the word grace is used in connection with God, it takes on a more powerful meaning. Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves. It is His benevolence to the undeserving.

True Biblical grace is the merit of God imputed to you, when you put your trust in Him, you become righteous by virtue of His saving work in you. Which absolutely should produce a changed life, resulting in good works. Without this there is no way of knowing that someone truly has accepted Christ. However Uchtdorf is putting the cart before the horse here, saying that grace is all about making you perform, in order that you might receive eternal blessings.

This is further reinforced at 9:11 when he says:

His grace helps us become our best selves. (bold added)

This reminds me of a story that Thomas Monson told in the 2012 Priesthood session, he says this about a missionary who was asked why he was so successful.

Brother Tanner asked him what was different about his approach—why he had such phenomenal success when others didn’t. The young man said that he attempted to baptize every person whom he met. He said that if he knocked on the door and saw a man smoking a cigar and dressed in old clothes and seemingly uninterested in anything—particularly religion—the missionary would picture in his own mind what that man would look like under a different set of circumstances. In his mind he would look at him as clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt and white trousers. And the missionary could see himself leading that man into the waters of baptism. He said, “When I look at someone that way, I have the capacity to bear my testimony to him in a way that can touch his heart.”

This missionary looked at someone’s outward and focused on that, I think this is the essence of Mormonism, working to make people behave better outwardly, while leaving people lost inwardly.

In the Bible we see this in Romans 4:5

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness

Yet Joseph Smith’s “inspired” translation for this verse says:

But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

All of a sudden, God does not justify the ungodly. Because in Mormonism people need to make themselves Godly (with the help of grace), in order that they might become acceptable to God, As Alma 11:37 in the book of Mormon says: he cannot save them in their sins.

This is what Uchtdorf is really saying here, but he is dressing it up in a way that many uninformed evangelicals and LDS members alike will love.

At around 15:50 during the talk, Uchtdorf talks about how people have so often misunderstood 2 Nephi 25:23 saying how its not really saying we have to do all that we can, this is a misinterpretation.

In October 2010 Dallin Oaks said this:

Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).

And Oaks was simply echoing Jorge F.  Zeballos who, a year earlier, said:

Salvation and eternal life would not be possible if it were not for the Atonement, brought about by our Savior, to whom we owe everything. But in order for these supreme blessings to be effective in our lives, we should first do our part, ‘for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’

And Thomas Monson in “An Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1988, p.53 agreed:

It is the celestial glory which we seek. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is a forever family in which we want membership. Such blessings must be earned. (bold added)

As did Lowell L. Bennion in “Introduction to the Gospel” (1955; LDS sunday school material), chapter 20, “The Way of Salvation”:

We believe in individual merit as a means of gaining salvation

The reason people have been “misinterpreting” this for so long, is that their Leaders have consistently been teaching it that way throughout Mormon history.

A Mormon Church Temple Recommend

A Mormon Church Temple Recommend

To finish off, I think if the Mormon church really wants to prove to the world that they believe we do not become acceptable to God by our works, and its all of the merit of Christ, they need to ditch Temple recommend interviews, letting everyone in who professes Christ. They need to get rid of tithing settlement meetings where people have to show they have given a full 10% of their income, instead just telling people to give according to their conscience. Also get rid of Sunday dress codes, as we come to God as we are.

Also what about removing the “Requirements For Exaltation” part of the Gospel Principles manual that lists all of the things people need to do in order to be exalted.

They need to show by their actions as well as their words that this is a grace filled movement, otherwise they are simply saying that Jesus is full of grace, but the LDS church wants its piece of you.

About the Author
Bobby Gilpin is the founder and director of U.K. Partnerships for Christ which seeks to educate Christians about the beliefs and difficulties within Mormonism both biblically and historically, and seeks to engage with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) with respectful discussion but also seeking to challenge them lovingly with the biblical gospel.

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(this article was originally published on the U.K. Partnerships website, “Mormonism Investigated UK” on April 7, 2015. It has been lightly edited and republished here with the permission of the author) 

Vintage-Harley-Davidson-Jersey-Shirt-6_EDITED

“Like the motorcycle company before them, the LDS Church is at risk of disappearing”

by Carl Wimmer
According to a February 2011 Business Insider article, in 1985 Harley Davidson was “at risk of disappearing from the highway.”[1] Its quality was terrible, the company was almost bankrupt, and product was not selling. Fast forward thirty years, and Harley-Davidson is the envy of every motorcycle enthusiast, even those who have never ridden a motorbike, wear Harley brand clothing. What happened? Only one of the most successful rebrands in the history of free-capitalism, that’s what happened!

Harley knew they had lost some customers, in fact they knew they had lost many customers, so they improved quality, changed their mission, brought in Richard F. Teerlink as CEO, and the company grew. It is likely that many old-time customers who had lost trust in the company never went back, but Harley-Davidson’s vision was on the future, not necessarily on the attrition they had faced.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “the Mormons,” is going through similar circumstances in the 21st century as Harley-Davidson did in the 1980’s. In 2012, in what can only be described as a rare candid moment, LDS Historian Marlin K. Jensen admitted that, “more members are falling away today than any time in the past 175 years.”[2]   The article also stated that it is likely the number of active LDS members world-wide is as low as 5 million members.  Furthermore, a Reuters article in 2012 stated that census data from foreign countries showed that the retention rate for LDS converts is as low as 25%.[3]

Like the motorcycle company before them, the LDS Church is at risk of disappearing from the “religious highway,” and in similar fashion, they have embarked on an aggressive rebranding of the religion. As with any company facing a re-brand, the LDS church seems willing to accept a certain level of attrition from its older members, in order to rebrand for the future generation.

Over the last 18-months the LDS church has released a series of “essays” which are meant to clear up doctrinal questions for those members who run into difficult issues. The church has tackled such topics as the multiple and varied first-vision accounts of Joseph Smith, blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, the book of Abraham, becoming like God, and others. Furthermore, in a recent LDS conference talk, Dieter F. Uchtdorf who is in the first presidency of the church admitted that church leaders have “made mistakes.”

Bruce R. McConkie was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The LdS Church from 1972 until his death

Bruce R. McConkie was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The LdS Church from 1972 until his death

Each of these essays, as well as the talks given in conference are a part of the great LDS rebrand. And by the time it is done, the church that your parents and anyone over 30-years-old grew up in will be a thing of the re-written past. Allow me to lay out the argument for the rebranding and see for yourself.

1958 marked the pinnacle of what some would call the “McConkie era.” This was when Bruce R. McConkie, a member of the LDS church leadership, published his epic book, Mormon Doctrine. This book was vastly popular with the church members as it laid out in black-and-white the doctrine of the LDS church. Mormon Doctrine derided the idea of being saved by grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ, made it abundantly clear that black people were less valiant in the pre-existence and were, therefore, cursed with a dark-skin, it also clearly made known the prophetic decree which kept blacks from holding the priesthood and going to the temple.

The book was changed and revised several times, and in 2010 Deseret Book halted sale and publication of Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, citing “low sales,” but the fact was that this book, had to disappear into the annuls of church history in order to pave the way for the future LDS model.

Rebranding a fallible Prophet
In October of 2013, Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the LDS Church First-presidency said, “To be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.”[4]

This revelation should have rocked the LDS world, because prior to this admission, the members of the church were taught that the Prophet was completely infallible when it came to leading the church, and if he wasn’t God would take him out! Compare what President Uchtdorf said with these quotes which I, and everyone else of my generation, grew up to believe and accept:

“Keep your eye on the prophet, for the Lord will never permit His prophet to lead this church astray.”
– Prophet Ezra Taft Benson, (Conference Report, Oct. 1966, pg. 123)

“It is the Lord who is directing this Church.  You don’t need to worry very much about Gordon Hinckley.  The Lord is directing this work, and He won’t let me or anyone else lead it astray.”
– Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, (Fireside in Crawley, England, Aug. 26, 1995)

Ezra Taft Benson, Thirteenth LDS President

Ezra Taft Benson, Thirteenth LDS President (1985–1994)

“I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds.  Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.”
– Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, (Conference Report, April 1972, pg. 99)

“I testify in the name of Israel’s God that he will not suffer the head of the church, whom he has chosen to stand at the head, to transgress his law and apostatize; the moment he should take a course that would in time lead to it, God would take him away.”
-Prophet Joseph F. Smith, (Journal of Discourses 24:187-194; June 21, 1883)

Even the LDS Church’s own Doctrine and Covenants 1:38 says in part, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” So why the shift in October of 2013? Because two months later, the LDS Church would re-write history…

Blacks and the Mormon Church
In December of 2013 the LDS Church released their essay on the history of the church in regards to black people entitled “Race and the Priesthood”. Prior to this date, the doctrine of the church was that black people were less valiant in the “pre-existence” and therefore received the “curse of Cain,” a skin of blackness.

General authority Bruce R. McConkie said:

“Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them…. Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned.”[5]

The Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said:

There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we come here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.[6]

Any LDS adult who is honest will tell you that they had always been taught that the ban on blacks was a judgment from God, and that the church was carrying on God’s prophecy. The Mormon Prophet John Taylor took it even further by identifying blacks as being representatives of Satan:

And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham’s wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God…”[7]

President David O. McKay said the real reason for “denying the priesthood to Negroes,” “dates back to our pre-existent life.”[8]

In 1978 the LDS Church under the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, changed the policy on blacks and the priesthood. This was considered revelation by God, and President Kimball said:

I offered the final prayer and told the Lord if it wasn’t right, if He didn’t want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it the rest of my life, and I’d fight the world against it if that’s what He wanted. We had this special prayer circle, then I knew the time had come.
– President Spencer W. Kimball, Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, p. 19

In the aforementioned Race and Priesthood essay the finger is pointed directly at President Brigham Young alluding to the fact that he was caught up in the anti-black culture of the day. They are quick to point out that the ban did not start with Joseph Smith, and that it was not prophecy but merely cultural.

President Joseph Fielding Smith disagrees when he said in 1963 “It is not the authorities of the Church who have placed a restriction on him [the black man] regarding the holding of the Priesthood. It was not the Prophet Joseph Smith…. It was the Lord!”[9]

Brigham Young, Second LDS Church President

Brigham Young, Second LDS Church President (1847–1877)

If it is true that Brigham Young started the ban due to racist, cultural feelings, you must ask yourself how it is that a church which is supposedly lead by a living Prophet, Seer and Revelator, was deceived by the racist opinions of Brigham Young for more than 130 years and through 11 of 15 Presidencies.

Every LDS President from Brigham Young until Spencer W. Kimball upheld the ban, which means that every black person who lived during this time (11 of the 15 church presidents) were denied temple marriage, temple endowments, priesthood, and by extension exaltation into the Celestial Kingdom, all because they were apparently fooled by the racist Brigham Young. What does this say about their ability to actually prophecy for themselves? What does it say about their ability to lead the church? But it gets worse.

The essay says “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse.” This is great until you realize that by saying this, the Church is now disavowing portions of the Book of Mormon and The Book of Abraham!  In speaking of the Lamanites, 2 Nephi 5:21 says “And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

The essay goes on to say, “ (We disavow the idea) that it (black skin) reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else.” Obviously this is in direct contradiction to every Prophet listed above. Who is right?

This issue has caused several active LDS members to begin to question their church, many of them have contacted us as they go through their crisis of faith. Many are leaving the church, but as with any rebrand, these are considered collateral damage in order to save the younger generation of members and hopefully save the church. Will it work?

Only time will tell…

“the LDS church seems willing to accept a certain level of attrition … in order to rebrand for the future generation”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carl Wimmer is a former member of the Utah House of Representatives. He resigned from Utah’s legislature in 2012 to run for the United States House of Representatives.  Wimmer was born in 1975 in Salt Lake, Utah. He was raised in Herriman, Utah. He attended Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training and Salt Lake Community College, and is currently working towards his B.A. In Religious studies at Liberty University. (source Wikipedia)

NOTES
[1] Judith Aquino, “The 10 most successful rebranding campaigns ever”, Business Insider, 2011, Accessed July, 2014, www.businessinsider.com

[2] Brian Carlson, “Number of faithful Mormons rapidly declining”, ABC 4 News Utah, 2012, Accessed via YouTube, July, 2014.

[3] Peter Henderson and Kristian Cooke, “Special report: Mormonism besieged by modern age”, Reuters, 2012, Accessed, July, 2014, www.reuters.com

[4] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Uchtdorf urges questioning Mormons to return”, Salt Lake Tribune, 2013, Accessed July, 2014, www.sltrib.com

[5] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-saints, 1958), 477.

[6] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, (Salt Lake City, UT: Book Craft Publishers, 1992), 61.

[7] John Taylor, Journal of Discourses Vol 22, (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-saints), 304.

[8] Prophet David O. McKay, as quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, Part 2, p. 19; online at http://www.mrm.org

[9] John J. Stewart, The Glory of Mormonism, (Washington, DC: Mercury Publishing Company,1963), 154.

blog header(this article was originally published on the author’s “An American Dream Revealed” website, on Thursday, September 4, 2014. It is republished here with permission.)

McCraney-ismby Jason Wallace
Many former Mormons have escaped the institution, but not the mindset of Mormonism. All their lives, they have been fed stories of how bad other churches are. Protestant pastors have been caricatured at the Mormon Miracle Pageant and in endless stories they have heard from their youth. After years of being told all other churches are wrong, many LDS simply add Mormonism to the list of false churches and embrace atheism. They abandon the claims of the LDS church to truth, but they blindly accept all its criticisms of the Bible and other churches as true. They breathe out contempt for Christianity with the old fervor of Brigham Young and Parley Pratt.

Though the vast majority of those who abandon Mormonism try to convince themselves there is no God, some recognize that they cannot escape His reality. They see the foolishness of an atheism that pretends to find meaning and value in a world devoid of purpose. They instead read the Bible and see an explanation for the world before them. Man is capable of greatness and perversity – – Bach and Hitler, DaVinci and Stalin. They discover that the world was created good, but it has been corrupted through sin.

In that same Bible, they find the one who has come to undo the Fall of man and reconcile sinful men to a holy God – – Jesus Christ. They hear His words and recognize their truth. The problem is that all too often, they do not recognize that they still carry with them the prejudices that were inculcated in them from youth. They view the Bible, Jesus, and His church through “Mormon glasses.” It is into this confusion that Shawn McCraney has stepped. He has been the instrument of helping many people see the errors of Mormonism, but in its place he is teaching a Jesus who plays to these prejudices, but is not the Jesus of the Bible.

Shawn McCraney

Shawn McCraney

Shawn McCraney is a passionate and charismatic man. These traits led to him being thrust into public ministry with very little experience. He has publicly stated that he had only attended five Evangelical worship services in his life before being offered an Evangelical television ministry. He had never even been baptized outside the Mormon church. Evangelicalism’s fascination with “star converts” pushed Shawn into the spotlight without proper preparation. His denunciations of Mormonism and promotion of a vague “personal relationship” with Jesus was considered orthodox enough for his promoters.

Over time, Shawn’s theology has become more clear and more developed. He claims all churches are wrong and all their creeds are “heinous.” He claims that the church has been blinded by “the physical” for 1800 years, but now he is helping usher in a new “spiritual” understanding of Christianity. He denounces churches as trying to insert themselves between the believer and God, and denounces pastors as motivated by pride and greed, while being blinded to the Spirit by their “scholarship.”

Despite Shawn’s rejection of many of the trappings of Mormonism, he has kept much of what made it popular in its founding. The early LDS made people feel pious in their contempt of educated pastors. Instead of “theology,” the LDS claimed to offer direct, personal experiences of God. Christianity was presented as a dark chaos of conflicting opinions. Something new was needed that would unite everyone. The Bible was appealed to, but was subject to what they considered the direct witness of the Spirit. This allowed them to ignore what they wanted from the Bible, while using it to attack their critics. In place of “doctrines of men,” the Mormons offered a vague, personal spirituality and a community that did not make the traditional demands upon them. Over time, Mormonism’s demands became much higher, but they were not so high in the beginning.

Many former LDS have a great personal loyalty to Shawn, because he is the one who opened their eyes to the errors of Mormonism. He offers them acceptance and community when they have lost both from the LDS. This loyalty leads them to ignore the hypocrisy of Shawn denouncing others in the harshest terms, but then playing the victim when someone responds. No one was trying to force Shawn to use the term “Trinity.” He took it upon himself to go on television and denounce the doctrine as “heinous” and “garbage.” He claimed it was rooted in “polytheistic paganism.” When I responded by saying that Shawn was teaching “grave error,” Shawn claimed I would kill him if I could and I would burn him at the stake. None of this was true. Rather than admitting that he had attacked the concept of the Trinity, Shawn tried to claim the whole issue was over “the use of an unbiblical term.” Just as the LDS claim never to attack anyone, many of Shawn’s followers see any response to his charges as “attacking Shawn.”

Shawn McCraney on the set of his Heart of the Matter television show.

Shawn McCraney on the set of his Heart of the Matter television show.

I named this review “McCraney-ism” because Shawn seeks to dismiss everyone who has gone before him as holding to an “-ism” or being an “-ist.” He, on the other hand, rejects all labels. This allows him to savage others’ beliefs, but then claim he is only attacking the “-ism.” When someone challenges his public teachings, he claims they are attacking “his person.” The reality is that Shawn is promoting a system of doctrine, an “-ism,” as much as anyone else.

Shawn has repeatedly tried to hang the label of Calvinist on me. I hold to the doctrines of grace held by Calvin, Luther, and all the Protestant reformers, but I have been hesitant to embrace what Shawn has described as “Calvinism.” He said of the doctrine that he has “not seen a bigger pile of garbage since the King Follett Discourse.” He says “Mormons and Biblical Christians” are united in their rejection of Calvinism’s “insane doctrine.”

I have heard many followers of Shawn say they don’t agree with Shawn on some things, but they aren’t worried because he tells them not to trust him, but check out the Bible for themselves. This sounds good, until you recognize that Shawn mocks and ridicules every pastor who says he’s teaching error. Though he may allow latitude in individual beliefs, he cannot tolerate any public disagreement with him. Critics are accused of “character assassination.” The subtle pressure in such a community is to conform. Would a false teacher invite someone to test them from the Bible? Most have; Brigham Young said in 1873, “I say to the whole world, receive the truth, no matter who presents it to you. Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test” (Journal of Discourses 16:46).

Shawn dismisses everyone else’s interpretation of the Bible as the “doctrines of men,” while he is just “sharing” what he sees. This plays to the prejudices of former Mormons and others who feel burned by “traditional” churches, but it is misleading. In a recent episode, Shawn asked, “. . . who do I think I am that I could actually spit in the wind of 1800 years plus of religious tradition and biblical scholars and learned men and women and suggest that they have been misled in the way they have applied the Bible to doing Christian life? I don’t know who I am when it comes to this. I might be crazy. I might be a fool. I might be inspired. I’m not sure. But I can say this is how it comes together for me. This is how when I sit down and read it, this is what speaks to me, and I’m going to be true to that. If I’m crazy, discover that and don’t listen to me, If I’m wrong in spots, you can call me out on it and go on and love me, or you can choose to fight it. But just understand I pray to God that it’s from Him and not Satan, who gives me the perspectives, and sometimes I don’t know . . .” This is disarming on the surface, but if heaven and hell are at stake, would he still be teaching others if he wasn’t convinced what he was saying was true? Shawn claims he’s “wrong 90% of the time,” but that doesn’t stop him from denouncing what the Bible teaches and demonizing churches and pastors. It also doesn’t stop him from demonizing the attempts of his critics to specify those errors.

CAMPUS member Jed on his soapbox.

“Do you love me?” Shawnite Jed stirring the post at the February 3rd, 2015 debate between Jason Wallace and Shawn McCraney.

Shawn claims all his critics care about is doctrine, but he cares about love and people. When I appeared on Heart of the Matter, one of his group asked “how many of you here love me,” I didn’t raise my hand. Since the immediate context was Shawn asking if I counted him as a Christian brother, I understood the question in that context and did not raise my hand since I did not really know the man. This was immediately interpreted in the worst possible light and Shawn later claimed that I choose not to love people. He says he thinks it’s unbiblical, but he “respects” my right to do so. I have tried to make clear that I love my neighbors and even my enemies, but I do not love them in the same way I love those of the household of faith. Love is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling for all people everywhere. I show love even to those who mock everything I stand for, including Shawn. I tried to correct him privately over 7 years ago. I have prayed for him for years. I have repeatedly tried to respond fairly and in love to Shawn’s denunciations. I have tried to speak the truth in love, but all that some of his group can see is hate when any criticisms are offered. Their own hatred of their critics seems to escape them.

What makes others’ interpretation of the Bible better than Shawn’s? The Bible is not unclear, and Shawn stands against the united witness of nearly 2,000 years of Christians on basic issues. Many of these Christians, unlike Shawn, could read the Bible in its original languages. These Christians also allow the Bible to interpret the Bible; they don’t impose a meaning on the texts that allows them to ignore passages that contradict them. They don’t let their conception of the love of God trump clear teachings about the wrath of God. Shawn seems to realize the Bible does not really support some of his new teachings, so he is attacking the inerrancy of the Bible as “crazy.” He is pitting the subjective testimony of the Spirit in you against the objective witness in the Bible. For those who recognized that a burning in their bosom was no assurance of truth, this should be troubling. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures and cannot contradict them.

Rob Bowman lecturing on the February 25, 2014 Heart of the Matter broadcast

Theologian  Rob Bowman flew to Utah at his own expense in an attempt to help Shawn McCraney turn from the heresy he was starting to teach in early 2014.

Why does all this matter? First, Shawn is presenting a different Jesus. He has stated that the Lake of Fire is in the presence of Jesus, so unless Jesus has some sadistic pleasure in torturing people, sinners must be ultimately reconciled to Him. He ignores that in Revelation 14, those who receive the Mark of the Beast are tormented “in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” Shawn says he will not follow a God who creates people He knows are going to an eternal Hell. Since this is the only God seen in Scripture by Calvinists, Arminians, Catholics, Orthodox, and practically everyone in church history, this should be seen as a problem. Shawn has taken the truth that God is love and used it to undermine anything that does not fit his idea of love.

The Jesus that Shawn presents is also a failure. His Holy Spirit apparently failed to lead the church into truth until now. His Second Coming in 70 A.D. (according to Shawn) failed to end the curse or to crush the head of the serpent. Shawn leaves open a “third coming,” but says there’s nothing about it in the Bible. Shawn’s Jesus also fails to resurrect our physical bodies, which makes Acts 17 and 1 Corinthians 15 nonsensical.

Second, Shawn is giving false assurance to unbelievers. He tells them if they have a “personal relationship” with Jesus they’re right with Him, and if they’re wrong, Hell is only temporary. Jesus does offer us a personal relationship, but He also warns us of those who draw near to Him with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. Shawn does not answer the warnings in 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5 of those who profess faith but exhibit sins that show their hearts are unchanged. Jesus indwells His people. They are not free from sin in this life, but there are sins from which they are freed. Shawn uses James 2:10 to dismiss the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5. All sins are worthy of Hell, but there are sins, such as the continued practice of homosexuality, that demonstrate someone has been given over by God to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:24).

Shawn McCraney and Utah Pastor, Jason Wallace at Inquisition 2014.

Shawn McCraney and Utah Pastor, Jason Wallace at Inquisition 2014.

Finally, Shawn is robbing Christians of the means God has appointed for their edification. There are churches out there that are no better than the Mormon church, but that does not mean there are none who tremble at God’s Word. As Joseph Smith before him, Shawn tends to paint all churches with the same brush to confuse and frustrate people, so that he can offer an alternative. He plays on the divisions to make people give up on the idea of finding a true church. The irony is that most of these divisions are the work of others like him.

We need more than the community Shawn offers. Shawn says no one can tell someone else they are in sin, because if we’re going to talk righteousness, “you damn well better be righteous.” This is not what Jesus commanded. He established a visible church and said if a professing Christian would not hear it, they were to treated as “a heathen and a tax collector.” This does not mean they are hated, but that they are prayed for and called to repentance. Our Lord, through the Apostle Paul, commands his church to judge a man who married his father’s wife and not to eat with him as a brother in Christ. This was an expression of love that Shawn rejects, and it led to his repentance and restoration.

Many former Mormons tend to view any accountability in the context of how they have been abused. Biblical elders are commanded not to lord themselves over the congregation; they are to be the servants of all. They are warned they will have to give account to God (Hebrews 13:17) for having kept watch over His people.

The Apostle Paul called out Hymenaeus, Alexander the Coppersmith, and a host of others by name for their errors. Shawn is presenting a different Jesus and a different gospel. My plea to you is to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and search the Scriptures for yourself. Brigham Young made the invitation, because he knew most people wouldn’t really test what he was telling them. I plead with you to read the Bible for yourself.

It is not enough to be against Mormonism. It is not enough to substitute new lies for old. It is not enough to claim a personal relationship with Jesus while refusing to do the most basic things he tells us. In the pages of God’s Word, you will find the truths rejected by Joseph Smith and Shawn McCraney, but embraced by countless saints who sealed their faith with their blood. You will find a Jesus far more glorious, and a gospel far more awesome. You will find the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

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About the Author
Jason Wallace is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Magna, Utah. He is also the host of “The Ancient Paths” television program.

(This article was originally published on the GospelUtah.org website. It has been republished here with their permission)

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"Each and every one of you who place their trust in Christ is a Priest..."

“Each and every one of you who place their trust in Christ is a Priest…”

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“There is no priesthood anymore.”

Why It’s Weak:
This argument is weak because it’s untrue. The Bible tells us that anyone who places their trust in Christ and receives His free gift of eternal life by faith through grace is a member of the Royal Priesthood.

1) What’s in a word?
Let’s start at the beginning: What exactly is meant by the biblical word, “priesthood?” Bible commentator, Wayne Jackson explains:

A priest, in effect, is a mediator who stands between God and man. He offers sacrifice to God on behalf of man and administers other worship obligations that people feel unworthy to offer personally. The nearest thing to a definition found in the Scriptures is probably Hebrews 5:1.

“For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.”[1]

And William Smith explains how and why a priesthood is required:

The idea of a priesthood connects itself in all its forms, pure or corrupted, with the consciousness, more or less distinct of sin. Men feel that they have broken a law . The power above them is holier than they are, and they dare not approach it. They crave for the intervention of some one of whom they can think as likely to be more acceptable than themselves. He must offer up their prayers, thanksgivings, sacrifices. He becomes their representative in “things pertaining unto God.” He may become also (though this does not always follow) the representative of God to man.[2]

In a sense, after the fall, without a priest to mediate between God and man and offer sacrifices there was no forgiveness of sins and thus no reconciliation with God.  Thus immediately after the fall of man we see mankind offering sacrifices to God (see Genesis 4:2-6) and assuming a priestly role.  Matthew George Easton offers this quick summation and overview of the priesthood in his well known Bible dictionary:

Gustave Dore', "Cain and Abel Offering Their Sacrifices" (19th Century)

Paul Gustave Dore’, “Cain and Abel Offering Their Sacrifices” (19th Century)
(click to zoom)

At first every man was his own priest, and presented his own sacrifices before God. Afterwards that office devolved on the head of the family, as in the cases of Noah (Gen. 8:20), Abraham (12:7; 13:4), Isaac (26:25), Jacob (31:54), and Job (Job 1:5).

The name first occurs as applied to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18). Under the Levitical arrangements the office of the priesthood was limited to the tribe of Levi, and to only one family of that tribe, the family of Aaron. Certain laws respecting the qualifications of priests are given in Lev. 21:16-23. There are ordinances also regarding the priests’ dress (Ex. 28:40-43) and the manner of their consecration to the office (29:1-37).

Their duties were manifold (Ex. 27:20, 21; 29:38-44; Lev. 6:12; 10:11; 24:8; Num. 10:1-10; Deut. 17:8-13; 33:10; Mal. 2:7). They represented the people before God, and offered the various sacrifices prescribed in the law.

The whole priestly system of the Jews was typical. It was a shadow of which the body is Christ. The priests all prefigured the great Priest who offered “one sacrifice for sins” “once for all” (Heb. 10:10, 12). There is now no human priesthood. (See Epistle to the Hebrews throughout.)[3]

2) Sorry Mr. Easton, but no! 
On that last point Mr. Easton, who was most likely over reacting to Catholic priesthood claims, is both correct and incorrect: The Bible is clear that there is a priesthood however, it’s neither the Melchizedek or the Aaronic priesthood. After all, the Levitical system of sacerdotalism that formed the basis for the Aaronic priesthood was fulfilled by Christ’s atonement, and the Melchizedek priesthood only contains one member, Jesus Christ.[4] Never the less, there are priests in what the Apostle Peter refers to as the “Royal Priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV):

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (bolding added) 

And it is this priesthood of kings that the Apostle John refers to in Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:10 (NKJV):

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (bolding added) 

You [the Lamb of God] were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.
(bolding added)

Thus Martin Luther very correctly asserted that our calling as royal priests is divine and not a matter of human ordination:

As for the unction by a pope or a bishop, tonsure, ordination, consecration, clothes differing from those of laymen–all this may make a hypocrite or an anointed puppet, but never a Christian, or a spiritual man. Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: “Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9); and in the book of Revelation: “and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests.” (Rev. 5:10) (bolding added)[5]

According to Luther and the Bible, these are all priests.

According to Luther and the Bible, these Christians are all priests.

How if they were compelled to admit that we all, so many as have been baptized, are equally priests? We are so in fact, and it is only a ministry which has been entrusted to them, and that with our consent. They would then know that they have no right to exercise command over us, except so far as we voluntarily allow of it. Thus it is said: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9.) Thus all we who are Christians are priests; (bolding added)[6]

Thus as Presbyterian Pastor Brett Swanson notes well of the little girl admiring the statues of Martin Luther in this article’s main photograph:

Each and every one of you who place their trust in Christ is a Priest, a Minister. When that little girl from our photo gets a little older and begins to understand God’s transformative love and the grace that sustains her, she too will be called into the Priesthood of All Believers, her baptism her ordination, and her first church will be the world around her, depending on her to spread the hope that comes in Christ’s love to the next generation. That is what Priests do. They live faithfully today, and invest in what God is doing for tomorrow.[7]

So is there a priesthood today? The biblical answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” However, it is no longer physical, it’s spiritual, and it’s no long sacerdotal – that is, except for the sacrifice of praise and offering of thanksgiving (see Hebrews 13:15) that we bring. As British Pastor David H.J. Gay notes well:

It is in the new covenant that God through Christ has formed his people into a priesthood for the very purpose of satisfying his demand and desire for true spiritual worship from true spiritual worshippers (John 4: 23-24). In Christ, he has established a body of priests who truly worship him in spirit, and offer true spiritual sacrifices… It is we – believers under the new covenant – it is we who are the true people of God, the true Israel, who truly and spiritually worship God! In short, the newest believer approaches God with greater glory than Aaron himself ever did.[8]

But perhaps, in the end, no one summed up the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers better, succintly, and beautifully than John Newton in his well known hymn:

Fra Angelico, "The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs" (circa 1423-24)

Fra Angelico, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (circa 1423-24)

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.
’Tis his love his people raises,
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, his solemn praises
Each for a thank-offering brings.
— John Newton,
“Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken”

The Stronger Arguments:
If this article has seemed like a theology lesson to you so far, you would be right. I believe that this weak argument comes out of two things: First, a lack of a fully formed theology of the priesthood of all believers,[9] and; Second, an over reaction to Latter-day Saint priesthood dogma.

First Suggested Strong Argument: This ain’t about authority!
At core of Latter-day Saint priesthood doctrine is the issue of authority – as in Mormon priesthood holders have it and no one else does. On one official church website they explicitly state:

Artist's depiction of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood.

Artist’s depiction of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood.

The priesthood is the authority to act in God’s name. The same priesthood authority that existed in the original Church established by Jesus Christ exists in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. The Church is directed and led through this authority.

All male members of the Church who are prepared receive the priesthood in order to help lead the Church and serve Heavenly Father’s children. A man with the priesthood might serve in some of the following ways:

  • Leading congregations of the Church
  • Performing the ordinances of the Church, such as baptism
  • Blessing those who are sick

God expects those who hold this sacred priesthood authority to follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve with love, gentleness, and kindness.[10]

But such an assertion is only true if that authority comes directly from God himself. On this matter, Wayne Jackson comes right to the point:

The Mormon priesthood dogma has no authority higher than that of Joseph Smith, Jr., who claims to have “restored” the ancient order of priests on May 15, 1829. The error in this is all too obvious to anyone with a more-than-minimum acquaintance with the New Testament.

First of all, the Melchizedek priesthood was to belong to Christ, and to none other, until the end of time. The writer of Hebrews says concerning Jesus that: “. . . he, because he abides for ever, has his priesthood unchangable” (7:24). The key word is “unchangable” (aparabatos), which suggests that the Lord’s priesthood is imperishable. Some suggest that the meaning of the Greek term is simply “permanent, unchangable” (F.W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 97), which, of itself, would eliminate the Mormon idea. But even more to the point is the proposed meaning “non-transferable” (C. Spiqu, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994, 1.143-44). That would specifically deny that it could pass to other persons.

Second, the Aaronic priesthood cannot be operative today because it was an integral part of the law of Moses, which law was abolished by Christ (Eph. 2:15), being, in a manner of speaking, nailed to his cross (Col. 2:14). Moreover, the verb rendered “hath taken away” in this latter passage is a perfect tense form, which argues for the permanent abolition of that law. There is no biblical indication that the law was to be, or ever will be, restored. Too, one could not restore the Aaronic priesthood without “of necessity” resurrecting the entire Mosaic law (Heb. 7:12).[11]

In other words there is no authority backing LdS Priesthood claims – biblically, they’re just wrong. Therefore, the entire system rests on Joseph Smith’s say-so that he received a divine mandate that somehow over rode biblical authority when he and Oliver Cowdery received first the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, and then the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John. And Smith’s claims in this regard are problematic.

Second Suggested Strong Argument: Now Mr. Smith about that Priesthood thing…
According to the canonized history of Mormonism Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood on May 15, 1829 and the Melchizedek Priesthood shortly thereafter on some unknown date:

Contemporary painting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood

Contemporary painting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood

The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood, with its authority to baptize, on 15 May 1829. The Melchizedek Priesthood was restored next, bringing to earth all the power and authority necessary to organize and direct the Church of Jesus Christ and to perform additional saving priesthood ordinances. While the Prophet and his associate, Oliver, did not record the date that they received the Melchizedek Priesthood, historical records and the testimony of witnesses indicate that it occurred between the day after the Aaronic Priesthood restoration and 28 May 1829. Both the scriptures and the testimony of contemporaries attest that the brethren on whom the Lord had bestowed the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood—the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery—acted in the authority of those keys as they organized the Church on 6 April 1830.[12]

However, the historical record discredits these claims as this MormonThink.com summary explains:

Researchers who have closely examined the D&C and primary source accounts found that the official narrative of priesthood restoration contains numerous gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictions. Scholars also raise important questions that expose potential weaknesses in Smith and Cowdery’s story of their miraculous ordinations. For example, if Joseph and Oliver had experienced events as remarkable and life-altering as divine visitations by John the Baptist and three of Christ’s apostles, why would they not tell others? These miraculous ordinations were not publicly revealed or documented until five years after they supposedly occurred. Moreover, if the restoration of the priesthood is a fundamental tenet of the LDS Church, why was this revelation excluded from the Book of Commandments when it was originally published in 1833, only revealed in the revised and re-named Doctrine and Covenants in 1835?[13]

The specific problems in the story of the Restoration of the Priesthood:

  • Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery failed to testify to the members nor record anything about the appearances of “John the Baptist” and “Peter, James, and John” in any publications prior to 1834 (five years after the events purportedly took place)—nor did they teach that men ordained to offices in the church were receiving “priesthood authority”.
  • Nobody in or out of the church knows the exact date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and Oliver Cowdery was inconsistent in describing which heavenly being(s) had come to confer that authority.
  • Joseph Smith and other early members stated that the first conferral of the Melchizedek priesthood happened in June 1831 in Ohio at a conference of Elders, and that Joseph himself was ordained to the high priesthood by church elder Lyman Wight at that time.
  • Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 D&C [Doctrine & Covenants], adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John AS IF those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelations, which they weren’t. The Book of Commandments, which later became the D&C says nothing about these appearances.[14]

Simply put, if Joseph Smith’s Priesthood Restoration didn’t occur as he claimed, then the Mormon Priesthood is a hollow shell of nothing – it’s a sham and a fraud.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: In Judeo-Christianity the authority to act in God’s name has never been derived from the priesthood – any priesthood. Step back to the start of this article and reread the priesthood definitions. In the Bible the Priesthood is an office, a function, and a duty. And any authority that came with the office was limited strictly to performing those very specific functions and duties. Throughout the biblical narrative “the authority to act in God’s name” came directly from God and His call on your life irrespective of your office, status or position in life. Anyone who was called was authorized – it was that simple.

Artist's speculative depiction of Jesus Christ acting as High Priest in heaven

Artist’s speculative depiction of Jesus Christ acting as High Priest in heaven

Consider, for example, the man Jesus Christ. It was impossible for Him to have “Priesthood Authority” because he wasn’t a priest.  Christ was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi and, therefore, immediately disqualified from the Aaronic priesthood.  Further, the book of Hebrews is clear that the resurrected Christ became our High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek through His atonement:

Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Hebrew 7:11-17; 9:11-15 (NKJV)  

So according to Latter-day Saint priesthood doctrine Jesus Christ was acting without authority during His ministry and incarnation since He wasn’t a priesthood holder. Further, we could also talk about Paul who was from tribe of Benjamin (Acts 13:21Romans 11:1, Philippians 3:5) and the 12 disciples (with the possible exception of Matthew who may have been a Levite) and their lack of priesthood authority. Suffice to say, according to Latter-day Saint priesthood dogma none of them had the the authority to act in God’s name, to lead congregations, to perform ordinances such as baptism, to bless those who are sick, etc., etc., etc.  Yet in stark contrast to that dogma, the Bible is filled from cover-to-cover with men and women who had the required authority to act in God’s name simply by virtue of the fact that God had called them. For example consider, the prophet Isaiah who, like Christ, was from the tribe of Judah:

Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s “Isaiah” (from the Sistine Chapel Ceiling)

I [Isaiah] heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”
Isaiah 6:8-10 (NKJV) 

Simply put our authority to act in God’s name comes from His call on our lives as the chosen elect of God. Therefore, the so-called “priesthood authority” that He gives came upon us when each and every one of us when we placed our trust in Christ and received His free gift of eternal life by faith through grace. We are the royal and legitimate priests of God through Christ, His atoning work, His call on our lives and nothing else.

Summary and Conclusion:
Sandra Tanner summed up the whole problem of the LdS priesthood claims nicely when she wrote:

LDS teach that Joseph Smith had to have the priesthood before he could establish the Church. But the Bible says nothing about apostles, bishops, deacons, or any other New Testament office holding either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood. Why did Joseph Smith need it if Mormonism is a restoration of the New Testament church? The Bible does not teach that the church or priesthood will be lost or restored.[15]

And Hal Hougey very correctly points us to the true biblical model observing:

In 2 Kings 22 we find Israel in apostasy. One day an apostate priest found the Law of the Lord where it had been lost and forgotten in the temple. It was read to the people and obeyed. Thus, a restoration was brought about. It did not require a visitation by angels to restore authority.

A restoration can be brought about today in the same way by reading and obeying the teachings of Christ and his apostles as taught in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God; when it teaches something we have authority from God to obey it without having to receive authority from angels or men. If you learn you should be honest, do you have to go to some church official for the authority to be honest? Certainly not. Likewise, when the Lord in His word teaches us to be baptized and to baptize others, we have the authority to do so, from the word itself.[16]

And the folks at the Got Questions? website summarize our priesthood as Christians nicely when they say:

In summary, believers are called “kings and priests” and a “royal priesthood” as a reflection of their privileged status as heirs to the kingdom of the Almighty God and of the Lamb. Because of this privileged closeness with God, no other earthly mediator is necessary. Second, believers are called priests because salvation is not merely “fire insurance,” escape from hell. Rather, believers are called by God to serve Him by offering up spiritual sacrifices, i.e., being a people zealous for good works. As priests of the living God, we are all to give praise to the One who has given us the great gift of His Son’s sacrifice on our behalf, and in response, to share this wonderful grace with others.[17]

So the next time a Mormon asks you where you get your authority simply say, “Through my calling into the Royal Priesthood through the atonement of Jesus Christ by faith through grace and nothing more – the Bible tells me so!”

1-peter-29_4837_1024x768_EDITED

NOTES
[1] Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”

[2] William Smith, “Smith’s Bible Bible Dictionary” as contained in the  “Bible Dictionary Collection – Deluxe Study Edition” (Kindle Locations 41259-41263) Kindle Edition

[3] Matthew Easton, “Easton’s Bible Bible Dictionary” as contained in the  “Bible Dictionary Collection – Deluxe Study Edition”  (Kindle Locations 19182-19205) Kindle Edition

[4] This statement follows the teaching of John Calvin and others that the Melchizedek figure in Genesis 14:18-20 is a Christophany (an Old Testament physical manifestation of Christ). This follows logically when the text interpreted in light of Hebrews 7:1-3 which says:

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
(NKJV)  

Thus since only one human meets (or has ever met) that criteria it’s fair to conclude that the Genesis 14 Melchizedek is in fact Jesus Christ. This is just one of several valid interpretations. However, it’s clear that at the very least Melchizedek is a type of Christ.  As the GotQuestions.org website summarizes well:

Are Melchizedek and Jesus the same person? A case can be made either way. At the very least, Melchizedek is a type of Christ, prefiguring the Lord’s ministry. But it is also possible that Abraham, after his weary battle, met and gave honor to the Lord Jesus Himself.
(Uncredited, “Who was Melchizedek?” GotQuestions.org website)

[5] Martin Luther, “The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate” (Kindle Locations 108-112) Kindle Edition.

[6] Martin Luther, “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (Kindle Locations 1458-1461) Kindle Edition.

[7] Brett Swanson, “The Priesthood of All Believers”

[8] David H.J.Gay, “The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance?” (Kindle Locations 2024-2032) Kindle Edition.

[9] A condition that I would be a fool to think I could remedy with this short article.  Please see the suggested reading section at the end if you’re interested in developing a more fully formed theology of the priesthood of all believers.

[10] Uncredited, “What is the priesthood?” Mormon.org website (an official LdS Church website)

[11] Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”

[12] Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods” official LdS Church website.

[13] Uncredited, “Priesthood Restoration” MormonThink.com website.

[14] Uncredited, “Priesthood Restoration, Problem Summary” MormonThink.com website.

[15] Sandra Tanner, “Mormon Claims Answered”, Chapter Six, “Priesthood”

[16] Hal Hougey, “Latter-day Saint: Where do you get your authority?”

[17] Got Questions? website, “Is the priesthood of all believers biblical?”

SUGGESTED RESOURCES:
I was surprised at the dearth of resources regarding the biblical doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers when I started to research this article. It’s clearly a subject that the modern Christian Church is neglecting. So to save the reader some time and effort, and to preserve the good resources that I found, I offer this bibliography.

Suggested resources on the Priesthood of All Believers:
David H.J.Gay, “The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance?”
This is the most exhaustive treatise on the subject that I found. The author is as ponderous and verbose as a 19th Century preacher but leaves no doubt that his arguments are substantive and fully grounded in scripture.
[click here for the Kindle Edition] [click here for the FREE audio Edition]

Wikipedia, “Universal Priesthood”
This is the one you’ll want if you want the short, cryptic treatment of the subject. A good historical overview but that’s about all.

Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”
This is the best short summary of the subject that I’ve found. It’s also useful in that it addresses the issue of how Catholics and Latter-day Saints have corrupted the biblical priesthood system.

Got Questions? website, “Is the priesthood of all believers biblical?”
Another good, short primer that limits itself to biblical text. If you’re looking for the short, concise biblical case for the Priesthood of all believers this is the article you’re looking for. 

August Van Ryn, “Every Believer a Priest”
A longer primer on the subject from the biblical text. 

Art Lindsley, Ph.D., “The Priesthood of All Believers”
So you’re OK with the concept of priesthood, but are unclear about the practical application of the concept? This is the article for you. 

Suggested resources on the LdS Priesthood:
While there’s a dearth of good resources on Priesthood on the Christian side, there’s a glut on the Mormon side. Here’s are some of the better resources among many that I found in preparing this article that didn’t make it into the main article:

John Farkas, “Fabricating The Mormon Priesthood: By God Or By Man?”
A detailed deconstruction of Joseph Smith’s priesthood claims relative to the historical record and Mormon scripture.

Lane Thuet, “Priesthood Restored or Retrofit?”
An excellent lecture on the issues and problems surrounding Mormon Priesthood claims. 

Rob Bowman, “Mormon Priesthood Offices and the Bible”
A point-by-point comparison of the Latter-day Saint Priesthood system versus the biblical system. 

Rob Bowman, “Mormon Priesthood: Do Mormons Alone Have the Power?”
An in depth analysis of Latter-day Saint Priesthood authority claims. 

Grant Palmer, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”, Priesthood Restoration – Chapter 7
Chapter Seven of Mr. Palmer’s classic book gives us a objective “deep dive” into what the historical record tells us about Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s claims regarding a restored priesthood.

Unknown Artist, "The Great Cloud of Witnesses" (20th Century)

Unknown Artist, “The Great Cloud of Witnesses” (20th Century)

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Mark Prizant, the moderator (who is supposed to maintain neutral during debate proceedings) gives a supportive hug to Shawn McCraney’s wife immediately after she had ripped into Jason Wallace during the February 3, 2015 debate

The debate moderator (who is supposed to maintain neutral during the proceedings), gives a supportive hug to Shawn McCraney’s wife immediately after she has ripped into Jason Wallace during the February 3, 2015 debate.

by Fred W. Anson

“Listening to Shawn McCraney it’s hard to even recognize any more any meaningful element of Christian truth left in his theology. It’s just sad to watch. It really is.”
James White, February 5th, 2015 [1]

“Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off.
Titus 3:10-11 (The Message)

Parts one and  four of this series provide a timeline of Shawn McCraney’s descent from biblical orthodoxy into heresy. Parts  two  and three provide brief summaries of the issues in a Q&A format. Such summaries are necessary because the issues are complex and the vast amount of information contained in the timelines can be overwhelming. So with that brief introduction, let’s consider some of the more common questions that have arisen recently regarding Shawn McCraney, his teachings, and McCraneyism in general.

Q: Is Shawn McCraney teaching that Jesus returned in 70AD? 
A: Yes.
Starting on August 5th, 2014 in “Episode 406: Has Jesus Returned? – Part 1″ Mr. McCraney taught a thirteen part series in which he took position that Christ’s second coming occurred in 70AD via a “spiritual” return. This is known as “Full Preterism”.

A brief overview of Full Preterism  is as follows;

Preterism denies the future prophetic quality of the book of Revelation. The preterist movement essentially teaches that all the end-times prophecies of the New Testament were fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans attacked and destroyed Jerusalem. Preterism teaches that every event normally associated with the end times—Christ’s second coming, the tribulation, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment—has already happened. (In the case of the final judgment, it still in the process of being fulfilled.) Jesus’ return to earth was a “spiritual” return, not a physical one.[2]

Now, please consider these excerpts from what Mr. McCraney taught during this series:

At this we have to ask if all the prophesy of the Old Testament have been fulfilled? In Luke 21:22 Jesus, in describing the end of Jerusalem says: “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”

If all was fulfilled, then we can say that prophesies of the restitution of all things were fulfilled too. And since Jesus would return when the restitution of all things would occur we can say that His return was at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
(Episode 417: Has Jesus Returned? – Part 12, from the official HOTM transcription)

(click to zoom)

(click to zoom)

I would suggest in 70 AD, when Jesus returned in the clouds with judgment that at this time all who were in the prison part of hell stood before the Great White Throne of God to determine if their names were written in the Lamb’s book of Life, and those whose names were not included were cast into the lake of fire.

That was the state of all who died before Christ and went to the prison part of sheol.

As an aside, I would suggest that with everything being wrapped up with the house of Israel in 70 AD – including God dealing with those in prison, that now all people individually process through a similar system after life.

Believers go straight to paradise by His grace through faith. And those who die without faith go to hell (for a period of time) they are released and judged by the Lamb’s book of life and some escape experiencing the Lake of Fire but others do not, and again, this all occurs on a case by case basis.
(Episode 416: Has Jesus Returned? – Part 11, from the official HOTM transcription)

And there is no doubt that Shawn McCraney is teaching Full Preterism, he acknowledged it publicly at the end of the series:

So there it is – my estimation of when the Bible says Jesus would return.

Thirteen segments. I want to thank all the brave preterist’s who have endured countless attacks and dismissals for their work in this area.

These people include my brothers Don Preston, Glenn Hill, all who contribute to the preterist archives online, my dear brother Mark Payzant, the support of my wife and family who too have had to challenge many of their long held notions to clearly see the forest for the trees.
(Episode 418: Has Jesus Returned? – Part 13, from the official HOTM transcription)

Q: Is Shawn McCraney teaching that hell isn’t eternal and that those who are unbelievers in this life can be reconciled to God after death? 
A: Yes.
Immediately following the series on Full Preterism, starting on November 11, 2014 with “Episode 419: Eternal Punishment – Part 1″ Mr. McCraney taught a six part series in which he taught what he is calling “Total Reconciliation”.

Here are some key excerpts from these shows:

The idea that once a person dies the hope, and chance, the ability to change is lost and that people are forever relegated to an eternity of punishment has never made sense to me relative to how the Bible describes God and the love that He is.

As a human Dad, a weak evil father of three daughters, I comprehend punishment and discipline, I understand allowing troubled children to run their course and to leave them to their own devices. I get letting my children make a mess of things in order to let them learn and turn and grow and change.

But the idea of ever turning from a child completely is totally foreign to my thinking. And if I am able and/or willing (by God’s grace) to forgive and receive all people no matter what they have said or done or believes wouldn’t God almighty be infinitely more willing and capable?
(Episode 423: Eternal Punishment – Part 4, from the official HOTM transcription)

Rogier_van_der_Weyden_-_The_Last_Judgment_Polyptych_-_WGA25625

Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464), “The Last Judgment”, Polyptych (click to zoom)

Could it be that reprobate believers, at death, enter the smelly bottomless pit as a means to purge or teach or help them reflect upon their lives? To wonder of their fate? To cause them to cry out to Jesus as I’m sure Jonah cried out to God to be delivered out of the belly of the great fish?

And can we imagine the joy such failed believers would experience after coming out of the pit and then standing before the great white throne to hear that their name HAS, in fact, always been included in the Lamb’s book of life?

I cannot figure out any other reason for who has been in hell to have their name written in the Lamb’s book of life other than they had at one time truly believed on the Lamb . . . unless unbelievers names who call out to Jesus while in hell are added to the Lambs book of life – which in the end support my argument for Total Reconciliation even more.

In either case I would suggest that we are witnessing God reconciling people after this life by having some who have experienced hell being saved from the Lake of Fire.
(Episode 424: Eternal Punishment – Part 5, from the official HOTM transcription)

Q: OK, so what’s the big deal? Neither of these seem so bad to me.  
A: Both Universalism and Full Preterism contradict the bible and can lead to other error.
Universalism is heretical if it teaches that that there’s another way to be saved other than by faith and trust in Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross. To be clear this isn’t what Shawn McCraney isn’t teaching but it has been asserted by some that the form of universalism that he’s teaching is leaning precariously close to such a stance.

Universalism is deterministic. If salvation is universal and automatic, then ultimately there is no free will. Your eternity is “determined” whether you like it or not. (It’s no accident that Eastern religions that teach there is no hell, also teach that there is no free will.) Thus, universalism violates individual free will. C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ And those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” If hell is for those who choose it, then by saving everyone God violates our free will. And, there are many other problems with universalism as former pastor and Christian author Mike Duran notes:

  • Universalism is not Just.  If evil is not judged, then how is Justice served? If someone does not want to go to heaven, is it just to make them? Do Satan, Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa deserve the same future? Or do Universalists deny Justice?
  • Universalism violates individual free will. C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ And those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” If hell is for those who choose it, then by saving everyone God violates our free will.
  • Universalism soft pedals, reinterprets, and/or denies the basic teachings of Jesus about hell. Jesus spoke about hell more than any other figure in the Bible. Example: “…so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 12:40-42 NIV). Or, “Then he (the Son of Man) will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matt. 25:41 NIV). And many other verses.
  • Universalism soft pedals, reinterprets, and/or denies the basic teachings of Scripture about hell. Debate usually targets words and concepts employed in Hebrew and in Greek. Nevertheless, the New Testament is adamant about a Final Judgment where “the dead were judged according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:12) and some are thrown into a “lake of fire” where “they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (vs. 10).  (See The Importance of Hell by Tim Keller for a good summary of these last two points.)
  • Universalism eliminates the need to accept Christ. Even though Jesus cited the need for people to believe in Him, if everyone gets saved, why bother? Universalists ultimately believe there is no need for a person to follow Christ. Even blasphemy cannot damn someone, so why bow to the Nazarene?
  • Universalism is deterministic. If salvation is universal and automatic, then ultimately there is no free will. Your eternity is “determined” whether you like it or not. (It’s no accident that Eastern religions that teach there is no hell, also teach that there is no free will.)
  • Universalism distorts the love of God. Love without justice is not true love, it is permissiveness. Peter Kreeft writes, “Hell is due more to love than justice. Love created free persons who could choose hell… The fires of hell are made of the love of God.”
  • Universalism strips the Gospel of its power. If everyone goes to heaven, exactly what is the Good News of the Gospel and why do people need it? Better News (at least from the Universalist’s perspective) is that you don’t need the Good News to be saved.
  • Universalism can give someone a false sense of security. If you’re going to be saved no matter what, there is no need for accountability, repentance, faith, or moral effort of any sort. You are eternally untouchable and have nothing to fear. Love wins, so why worry?
  • Universalism can have eternal, irreversible ramifications for its adherents if it is not true. Similar to Pascal’s Wager, I am better off living as if Universalism WAS NOT true and being proved wrong, than living as if Universalism WAS true, and being proved wrong. In the first count I will still be saved, in the second count I will not.
  • Universalism leads to religious and moral indifference. If everyone gets saved no matter how they act, then why act morally, why perform good deeds, why strive to be just or compassionate? The Universalist’s motto could be, “Do what thou wilt.”
  • Universalism undermines the uniqueness of Christianity. If everyone goes to heaven, then the road is NOT narrow, like Christ taught (Matt. 7:13-14). Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Scientologists, Satanists, even Atheists, will all be saved. So what compelling reason is there for Christianity?
  • Universalism eliminates the need for evangelism. If everyone goes to heaven, then Christians should apologize to the world and bring all our missionaries home. What is the purpose of turning someone from paganism, mysticism, satanism, or cannibalism, if love wins?[3]
Universalism

“Universalism” by David Duarte (click to zoom)

And, no, the irony of an ExMormon teaching that the dead can get a second chance after they’ve died hasn’t been lost on many of Shawn’s critics. Some have even joked on social media that he’ll be teaching proxy baptism for the dead next. As discussed in last year’s “Dear Michelle” article, Mr. McCraney’s theology is looking more and more like nothing more than a recycled form of Mormonism.

And Full Preterism has been weighed in the balance of Christian History and found wanting as well:

The problems with [full] preterism are many. For one thing, God’s covenant with Israel is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:33–36), and there will be a future restoration of Israel (Isaiah 11:12). The apostle Paul warned against those who, like Hymenaeus and Philetus, teach falsely “that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:17–18). And Jesus’ mention of  “this generation” should be taken to mean the generation that is alive to see the beginning of the events described in Matthew 24.

Eschatology is a complex subject, and the Bible’s use of apocalyptic imagery to relate many prophecies has led to a variety of interpretations of end-time events. There is room for some disagreement within Christianity regarding these things. However, full preterism has some serious flaws in that it denies the physical reality of Christ’s second coming and downplays the dreadful nature of the tribulation by restricting that event to the fall of Jerusalem.[4]

Q: You said that those teachings “can lead to other error”. What do you mean?  
A: The Full Preterist tendency to hyper-spiritualize things, I believe, has lead Shawn McCraney into the heresy of gnosticism.
To anyone who has watched Mr. McCraney on Heart of the Matter lately this will sound familiar:

Gnosticism is based on a mystical, intuitive, subjective, inward, emotional approach to truth which is not new at all. It is very old, going back in some form to the Garden of Eden, where Satan questioned God and the words He spoke and convinced Adam and Eve to reject them and accept a lie. He does the same thing today as he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He still calls God and the Bible into question and catches in his web those who are either naïve and scripturally uninformed or who are seeking some personal revelation to make them feel special, unique, and superior to others. (bolding added for emphasis) [5]

Now, consider that in light of this excerpt from Mr. McCraney’s recent teachings:

God primarily related to the Nation of Israel, and then through the promised Messiah, and then His chosen apostles physically and that once Jesus came [in 70AD] and heaped judgment on Jerusalem  (while saving the Church in that day) that God now relates to the world spiritually.

In other words, today Christ’s kingdom is spiritual and it is known and perceived by the Spirit – and not the things of the flesh.

When viewed in this manner we begin to see how the baptisms that John the baptist performed were so utterly inferior to the baptism of the Spirit (and of fire that Jesus would bring) that it caused the baptist to admit that he wasn’t worthy to even tie the man’s shoes.

The Bible, pure and simple, is a history of this physical economy but sprinkled through the New Testament narrative are passages that directly speak to this ultimate end of the Kingdom of God living and abiding in the heart of the individual and not in brick and mortar edifices under flesh and blood authority.
(Episode 430: The Bible – Part 3, from the official HOTM transcription. Bolding in original, brackets added for context clarification)

And if the reader has any lingering doubt that Mr. McCraney is teaching pure, unadulterated gnosticism, I would refer them to the series on the Bible starting with the January 13th, 2015 “Episode 428: The Bible – Part 1″ broadcast. Just compare what he’s teaching in that series with the description above and see if they match.

Q: Aren’t Christians supposed to love everyone? So why are critics criticizing Jed (who is a member of Shawn’s church) for asking Pastor Jason Wallace if he loved him?  
A: Because it was clearly an agenda driven, pot stirring setup.
This event occurred @1:28:41 in the February 3rd, 2015 debate between Pastor Jason Wallace and Shawn McCraney. Before proceeding please watch it for yourself by clicking here.

First, there’s nothing new here
As both the moderator Mark Payzant and Shawn McCraney stated well before he took the mic, Jed is trouble. He is a known pot stirrer, instigator, and provocateur. Further, both the question and the behavior was inappropriate given the setting and context. This was a formal debate not a soapbox for Jed the Shawnite to advance his personal agenda before a worldwide audience on. You will notice, for example, how Jed first rallied public opinion via show of hands demagoguery and then turned on Jason whipping those sympathetic to his agenda into a frenzy. In other words, Jed got exactly what he wanted.

If any further evidence of a personal agenda is needed, please consider the fact that he didn’t also ask the moderator Mark Payzant why he didn’t raise his hand or if he also loved him. After all, like Jason Wallace, Mr. Payzant didn’t raise his hand to any of Jed’s questions. This type of biased, agenda driven manipulative grandstanding is typical for Jed – he has a long history of engaging in it. For example, in the February 20, 2014 “Inquisition 2014″ (@1:41:56) you find him stirring the pot in a similar fashion:

And going back even further, on January 29, 2014 he called into Jason Wallace’s Ancient Paths TV Show[6] and presented a idyllic picture of the group of “Christian Anarchists” that he belongs to.  That group is, of course, Shawn McCraney’s pseudo Church, cum Bible Study cum Christian Club, cum “whatever”, known as “CAMPUS” (Christian Anarchists Meeting to Prayerfully Understand Scripture). This call was in response to Jason Wallace’s previous public challenges regarding Shawn McCraney’s lack of accountability as a pastor and bible teacher.

Simply put, there’s a pattern with Jed’s public behavior and that pattern goes something like this:

“Fools have no interest in understanding;
they only want to air their own opinions.”
— Proverbs 18:2 (NLT)

CAMPUS member Jed on his soapbox and stirring the pot at the February 3, 2015 debate.

CAMPUS member Jed on his soapbox and stirring the pot at the February 3, 2015 debate. (click to view video)

Second, Jed’s question was overly simplistic
Let’s define what the bible means by “love”: When boiled down and condensed, the biblical definition is essentially, “Putting the interests of another person before your own”. This is most clearly stated in this passage:

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
— John 15:13 (NKJV)

But it can also be seen throughout the New Testament – like in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (NKJV) for example:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Further, in the original Greek that the New Testament is written in there are four kinds of love:

  • Storge – familial love (the love of a parent towards offspring or between siblings)
  • Phileo – love between friends (platonic love)
  • Eros – erotic, romantic love (sexual passion)
  • Agape – divine, unconditional love (the love of God for man and of man for God)

fourLoves

And, yes, from the human perspective, the first three require a knowledge of the person in order to love them. The fourth, “agape” does not. The Greek word for love of in 1 Corinthians 13 is “agape”. To illustrate the contrast between the various kinds of love further, there’s an interesting use of two of the Greek words for love in John 21:15-17 (NKJV) that goes like this:

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agape) Me more than these?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.”

He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agape) Me?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.”

He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (phileo) Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love (phileo) Me?”

And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.
(Greek words added in parentheses)

Christ was willing to accept what Peter was willing to give because it was sincere and not hypocritical. Yet Jed and the rest of the Shawnites in the room were demanding something of Jason Wallace that even Christ didn’t demand of His own chief Apostle.

Further, please consider this bible verse: “I loved Jacob and hated Esau.” (Malachi 1:2-3, The Message) The person speaking is God. What kind of “Christian” are we to make of Him? After all, aren’t Christians supposed to love everyone? If Esau had been asking the question to God instead of Jed to Jason and gotten the response that God gives in Malachi would the Shawnites have jumped on God the way that they jumped on Jason?

So Mr. Wallace spoke biblically when he said (@1:32:00), “Do I have a general love for Christians? Yes. But when the question is asked, ‘Do you love me?’ And I don’t even know the person (I’ve talked to Jed for a total of maybe 3-4 minutes in my life) I’m supposed to feel guilty if I don’t have the same love for someone I don’t know as someone I do know?” And Cassidy McCraney, spoke naively when she demanded (@1:32:52), “What do you need to know in order to say that you love him?”

Does Jason Wallace have Jed’s best interests at heart? Yes, I believe he does or he wouldn’t have taken the time and effort to show up at Shawn’s studio and debate him. And what he did was warn Jed and the other Shawnites in attendance and watching worldwide via the internet that they’re following a false teacher and that they’re in a cult. So, yes, in that sense he showed that he loves Jed by his actions. However, does he have “phileo” love for Jed? No, I doubt it because, as he said, he hardly knows him.

Shawnite Jed soapboxing and stirring the pot at Inquisition 2014.

Shawnite Jed soapboxing and stirring the pot at Inquisition 2014. (click to view video)

Therefore, Jason Wallace’s behavior and answer was fully congruent with how Christ said Christians are to practice “agape” love with those that they may not have “storge” or “phileo” love for:[7]

But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
Luke 6:32-35 (NKJV)

The most unloving thing that Jason Wallace (or any of the critics of Shawn McCraney and McCraneyism) could do would be to let Shawn and his followers continue in heresy and error and say nothing. It’s no different than the love that Christians show Mormons by speaking up against the errors of Joseph Smith and Mormonism.

In my opinion
That’s Jason Wallace, now I’ll speak for myself. Yes, I love Jed with “agape” love in that I have his best interests at heart. This is true of everyone – Christian and non-Christian alike. However, no I don’t have “phileo” love for Jed. First, I don’t know him personally. Second, from what I’ve seen of Jed he’s a hard to (“phileo”) love loose cannon on the deck that fits the description of Titus 3:10 to a “T”:

“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.”
Titus 3:10 (NIV)

If the folks at CAMPUS really loved Jed, in my opinion, they would confront him about his public behavior rather than praising him for it. They would challenge him to stop his childish and immature pot stirring – like calling Jason Wallace’s show and picking fights and grandstanding in front of the cameras. In my opinion, if they truly loved Jed they would have talked to him immediately his public antics at first Inquisition 2014 and then again after the recent debate show. And if he didn’t listen then the second half of Titus 3:10 would apply. But no, instead, they continue to give him a soapbox and then praise him when he engages in socially inappropriate – even downright embarrassing – public behavior.

So in the end, and in my opinion, Exhibit A for how little love Shawn and the folks at CAMPUS really have for fellow Christians is Jed. If they truly loved him they would care enough to confront him and challenge him to grow and mature.

In the Bible’s opinion
Biblical support for this “care enough to confront” model can be found in 1 Corinthians where Paul reprimands the Corinthian church for failing to judge, confront, and disciple a sexually immoral person. 1 Corinthians 5 (after Paul reprimands them in some pretty harsh terms) ends like this:

“Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”
— 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NKJV)

Was that harsh? Yes, I think that by today’s standards and the spirit of the age today many would say, “Yes!” However was in the person’s best long term interests wasn’t it? For we see in 2 Corinthians 2:4-8 (NKJV) that the person had repented and was in the process of being restored:

For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.

But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

So tell me, was Paul unloving here? Was he a “hater” for reprimanding the leadership in the Corinthian church and pressing them to confront the man who was ensnared in sin – or for demanding that they intervene in a public embarrassment for the Corinthian church? What about Christ who said this in Matthew 18:15-17 (NKJV):

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Again for emphasis: “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Essentially Christ is saying that the person should be treated like an unregenerate sinner who’s not a Christian. Is that harsh? However, such treatment is in the person’s best long term interests isn’t it? So tell me, was Christ teaching something that’s unloving? Was He telling His disciples to be “haters”? And I can keep going, this is just a sampling of what the bible says about church discipline and order. Simply put what Shawn McCraney is teaching and what CAMPUS is practicing simply isn’t biblical.

Further, I can speak from experience about how this is supposed to work since I am a recovered alcoholic, drug addict, and the beneficiary of godly church government who cared enough to confront. I am clean and sober today because fellow Christians (including several church leaders) loved me enough to confront me about my addictions. Would it have been more “loving” for them to leave me in self deceit and sin? Would they have been loving me if they’d let me continue to abuse the bible to justify my sinful behavior? Would it have been “agape” to let me drink and smoke myself into an early grave? Would it have been “agape” to let me continue to spew insane rationalizations (some of which were public) as to why I was doing nothing wrong and they were the problem?

The answer is no. That wouldn’t have been “agape” at all!  Thankfully I had Christian brothers and sisters who loved me enough to confront me with the truth so I could get “unstuck” and move higher up and higher into God and His Kingdom.

I just wish Jed did.

“St. Paul Preaching to the Jews in the Synagogue at Damascus,” from Scenes from the Life of St. Paul (mosaic), Byzantine School, 12th century. Duomo, Monreale, Sicily, Italy)

“St. Paul Preaching to the Jews in the Synagogue at Damascus,” from Scenes from the Life of St. Paul (mosaic), Byzantine School, 12th century. Duomo, Monreale, Sicily, Italy (click to zoom)

NOTES
[1] James White, “Radio Free Geneva” broadcast, February 5, 2015 (@04:50-15:27)

[2] “What is the preterist view of the end times?” GotQuestions.com website. Bracketed note added for context clarification.

[3] Mike Duran, “13 Problems with Universalism”, deCompose.com website

[4] Op cit, “What is the preterist view of the end times?”

[5] “What is Christian Gnosticism”, GotQuestions.com website

[6]  Jason Wallace, “The Ancient Paths – The Importance of the Visible Church”; currently not internet posted

[7] The Greek word used throughout Luke 6:32-35 for “love” is “agapate” a derivative of “agape” that means “to love”. (see Strong’s Greek 25)

NOTE: if you have a question about Shawn McCraney’s slide into heresy that wasn’t answered here, please look through parts two  and three of this series, it’s very possible that it may be answered there.

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