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)

  BACK TO TOP

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.

BACK TO TOP

Curriculum-2012-collage-580

Collage of official Mormon Church 2012 Sunday Curriculum

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

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“I will never, ever use official Mormon Church sources like church manuals, LdS Scripture, or the official church website. It’s all just spin doctored, faith promoting propaganda!”

Why It’s Weak:
One of the hardest things for many Christians in Mormon Studies seems to be the ability to view things from the Latter-day Saint point of view. However, for your arguments to be truly effective you have to be willing to leave your side of the divide and stand next to the guy who disagrees with you so you can see things through his eyes.

For example, while Christianity is a religion drenched in and driven by an adherence to orthodoxy defined by 2,000-years of systematic theology, Mormonism – a young religion by comparison – is a “cafeteria religion.” By this I mean that the LdS Church gives it’s members a smorgasbord of doctrine and theology to choose from and then doesn’t seem to get too upset when they take what they want and leave the rest. One reason for this is that in Mormonism orthopraxy carries more weigh than orthodoxy. As one Mormon Studies scholar observed:

Mormonism lacks a solid, systematic theology by which a serious scholar could pinpoint beliefs. Those of you who have been in many debates with Mormons no doubt have run into this frustration. How many times has a Mormon claimed something you thought to be a central piece of Mormon theology to not be ‘official doctrine’? It’s happened to me often, even when I pull that doctrine in question right out of officially published manuals used to teach Sunday school. Ultimately this confusion stems from the fact that the LDS leadership is uneducated in religion or philosophy, generally, and therefore avoids clarifying rather important doctrines, leaving individual Mormons interested in the topic to their own devices.[1]

Due to this phenomenon, what Mormons believe in practice may or may not be aligned with they’re supposed to believe according to the LdS Church. This can be frustrating and baffling for someone coming from the historical Christian perspective. Talk to ten Mormons and you may find ten different belief systems. Very often in dialog with a particular Mormon you might even find that belief system shifting based on the ebb and flow of the arguments and evidence that’s being presented. Never-the-less as the same Mormon Studies scholar notes:

A young Mormon woman bearing her testimony

A young Mormon woman bearing her testimony

Here’s the problem though, Mormonism is very interested in orthodoxy, at least as much as orthopraxy. Go to any fast and testimony meeting and one thing you’ll hear from almost all participants who speak is something akin to “I know this church is true, I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, I know that Jesus is the Christ,” and so on. “I know” is rather strong phrasing of a statement of Mormon orthodoxy. Or, how about meet with some Mormon missionaries and allow them to run through the standard missionary discussions. One of the first things they will do is teach you how to ‘recognize the witness of the Spirit’ which consists of associating good feelings with statements that they argue are true. From the very beginning the potential convert is encouraged to form an orthodoxy grounded in an epistemology consisting of the formula “good feelings about things which authorities claim to be true= witness of the Spirit of the truthfulness of the said claims”. In order to be baptized, you have to agree to a set of belief claims, not just promises to obey the Word of Wisdom, the law of chastity and the law of tithing. Likewise, to go through the temple the Mormon must affirm core doctrines which in practice constitute a sort of Mormon creed. I argue the only reason this isn’t systematized, is as I said before, due to the Mormon aversion to theological learning, but that doesn’t mean that Mormonism isn’t a religion obsessed with orthodoxy. It surely is. It’s just a sloppy theology, which does have the affect of allowing the few to take their belief system in unique directions but remain Mormons in good standing.[2]

So the question is, “How does one cut through the non-systematized theology of the typical Mormon so meaningful discussion can ensue?” And the answer, to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi is, “Use the manuals Christian, use the manuals.”

1) Yes, it’s spin doctored, faith promoting propaganda…
I will affirm, validate, and agree with at least a portion the second part of this weak argument: LdS Church manuals and the church website are indeed spin doctored propaganda. Some examples: 

  • The “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young” manual (circa 1997) only mentions his first two monogamous legal wives (he remarried after being widowed), never mentions his illegal plural wives (fifty-three that we know of), and never uses the word “polygamy”, “plural wives”, or any derivation thereof anywhere therein. Further, the biggest scandal of his presidency, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, is never mentioned despite it’s profound historical and social significance.[3]
  • In a similar manner the “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith” manual (circa 2011) limits the subject of plural marriage in the introductory notes to the teacher. Throughout the rest of the manual only his marriage to Emma Hale Smith is mentioned and polygamy is conveniently (and as explained in the introduction, deliberately) avoided. Consider for example, this: Although their marriage would be tested by the deaths of children, financial difficulties, and Joseph’s frequent absences from home in fulfillment of his duties, Joseph and Emma always loved one another deeply.”[4] The biggest test of their marriage was, no doubt, Joseph Smith’s polygamy yet it isn’t mentioned at all.[5]
  • The front cover of the “Church History In The Fullness of Times” manual

    Finally, the manual, “Church History in the Fulness of Times” (circa 2014) is a cornucopia of skewed, white washed, historical revisionism. For example, the section entitled, “Missouri Persecutions and Expulsion”[6] goes into great detail about the atrocities and horrors inflicted on Mormons by their Missouri neighbors but fails to mentions the atrocities and horrors inflicted on the Missourians by Mormons during the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri.[7] And the section on the the Kirtland Safety Society[8] absolves Joseph Smith of all culpability concluding with this “masterpiece” of spin doctored white washing:

Joseph Smith’s losses from the failure of the company were greater than anyone else’s. While seeking to achieve success with the bank and, at the same time, to purchase land in Kirtland and goods for his store, he accumulated debts amounting to approximately one hundred thousand dollars. Although he had assets in land and goods that were of greater value in some respects than his debts, he was unable to immediately transform these assets into a form that could be used to pay his creditors. The Prophet endured seventeen lawsuits during 1837 in Geauga County for debts involving claims of more than thirty thousand dollars. Unfortunately, few people correctly understood the causes of their economic difficulties. Many Saints spoke against the Prophet and accused him of being responsible for all of their problems.[9]

To compare and contrast, consider this account from the neutral source, Wikipedia:

Regardless of the reasons for the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company’s (KSSABC) failure, much of the blame was laid upon Smith. Half of The Quorum of Twelve Apostles accused Smith of improprieties in the banking scandal, and LDS Apostle Heber C. Kimball later said that the bank’s failure was so shattering that afterwards “there were not twenty persons on earth that would declare that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” Woodruff records that Smith had an alleged revelation on the topic, but declined to share it, saying only that “if we would give heed to the commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well.” Then Woodruff expresses his own hopes that the KSSABC will “become the greatest of all institutions on EARTH.”

A Two Dollar Bill from Joseph Smith's Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Bank

A Two Dollar Bill from the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Bank
(click to zoom)

On January 12, 1838, faced with a warrant for his arrest on a charge of illegal banking, Smith fled with Rigdon to Clay County, Missouri just ahead of an armed group out to capture and hold Smith for trial. Smith and Rigdon were both acquainted with not only conflict and violent mobbing they experienced together in Pennsylvania and New York, but with fleeing from the law. According to Smith, they left “to escape mob violence, which was about to burst upon us under the color of legal process to cover the hellish designs of our enemies.” Brigham Young left Kirtland for Missouri weeks earlier on December 22 to avoid the dissidents who were angry with Young and threatened him because of his persistent public defense of Smith’s innocence. Most of those who remained committed to the church moved to join the main body of the LDS in Missouri.[10]

2) …but it’s official spin doctored, faith promoting propaganda.
But despite any deficiencies, the fact remains that these official church resources define what the Mormon should believe. They are as close to systematized theology as one is going to get in Mormonism. For example, the next time a Mormon tells you that the Lorenzo Snow couplet (“As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”) no longer has any meaningful or relevant place in Mormon doctrine or theology, you can say: “Then why does page 83 of the official LdS Church manual, ‘Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow’ contain the couplet and go on to say this: ‘Because we have divinity within us, we can become like our Father in Heaven’? Why don’t you believe what your church says you should believe?”[11]

Or the next time a Latter-day Saint tells you that in Mormonism salvation is by grace alone you can say, “Then why in the official Church Education System ‘Book of Mormon Student Study Guide’ on page 53 does it say: ‘We are saved by the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We must, however, come unto Christ on His terms in order to obtain all the blessings that He freely offers us. We come unto Christ by doing “all we can do” to remember Him, keep our covenants with Him, and obey His commandments.’[12]

Further, my Mormon friend, LdS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks said this in the May 1998, Ensign magazine on page 55:

‘And what is ‘all we can do’? It surely includes repentance (see Alma 24:11) and baptism, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end. Moroni pleaded, ‘Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ’ (Moroni. 10:32).’[13]

jellytoawall

While defining Mormon doctrine may be like nailing Jello to a wall…

How is it ‘grace alone’ if covenant keeping, self denial, and obedience to commandments are requirements or prerequisites? And, by the way, why is it that you don’t believe what your church says you should believe?”

See how this works? While defining Mormon doctrine may be like nailing Jello to a wall at least official LdS Church sources provide a mold that the Jello is supposed to stay in. And if determining what individual Mormons may believe may be like herding cats but at least working with official LdS Church sources give you a net and cat carrier to work with.

3) Stay on safe ground
A common problem that everyone in Mormon Studies struggles with is the issue of exactly what official Mormon Doctrine is. As Mormon Researcher Aaron Shafovaloff notes:

Christians who attempt to engage in meaningful dialog with their Mormon friends are often frustrated by the way teachings and beliefs can be obfuscated and downplayed. When a question is posed by a Christian they are many times told that a particular teaching “is not official.” Behind this are the assumptions that Mormonism is immune to any fatal criticism if it involves anything outside the scope of officiality, and that evangelical engagement should be limited to that which is binding upon Mormon members.

One problem with this is that the Mormon Church has no binding and official position on what constitutes a binding and official position. Mormon leaders and thinkers have proposed a variety of approaches to defining what constitutes official doctrine, not one being settled upon. (bolding added)[14]

This led Mormon Critic, Keith Walker of Evidence Ministries, to make this poignant but humorous statement about the absurdity of the conundrum and how Mormons abuse it:

So while it appears that Mormonism from the First President to the Ward Janitor both is blessed and cursed with the need for a plausible deniability escape hatch, it seems incredulous to argue that current, correlated, officially vetted and published church materials don’t establish a standard of belief that good Mormons are beholden to. As Mormon Apostle Carlos Asay explained in General Conference:

“Church publications (the Ensign, the New Era, the Friend, and the International Magazines) are referred to as the voices of the Church and the official line of communication from the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve to the members of the Church. Each month a First Presidency message appears in the Ensign. Home teachers are expected to discuss this article with all assigned families. Quite obviously, the curriculum would become stagnant and lose its relevance if we failed to hear the voices of living prophets. One of the most significant of all Church publications is the conference edition of the Ensign magazine. This important issue carries the current written messages of the Brethren conveying the mind and will of the Lord.”[15]

And the importance of staying faithful to church manuals and not deviating from them is emphasized again, again, and again on the official church website. For example, consider this excerpt of a General Conference address from Mormon Apostle M. Russell Ballard

Teachers would be well advised to study carefully the scriptures and their manuals before reaching out for supplemental materials. Far too many teachers seem to stray from the approved curriculum materials without fully reviewing them. If teachers feel a need to use some good supplemental resources beyond the scriptures and manuals in presenting a lesson, they should first consider the use of the Church magazines.

Teachers can stay on safe ground when they use the standard works, the approved manuals, and the writings of the General Authorities.[16]

… as well as this Church Educational System video to seminary teachers: The Importance of the Seminary and Institute Curriculum.

So, to paraphrase Elder Ballard, Mormon Critics can stay on safe ground when they use the standard works, the approved manuals, and the writings of the General Authorities.

Summary and Conclusion
My observation in dialoging with Mormons over a number of years is that when they’re confronted with hard or uncomfortable evidence they start looking for an escape hatch to wiggle out of. Using official LdS Church resources won’t eliminate this but it reduces their options. Further, there’s great power in asking Mormons why they don’t believe what they’re supposed to. After all, if it’s in their standard works and approved manuals, they’re supposed to believe it are they not? I mean aren’t you, dear Christian, supposed to believe what’s in your church’s scripture and church approved manuals? And if the answer is, “No!” then I would ask you the same question that I would ask a Latter-day Saint: “Then why are you in a church whose beliefs you don’t share?”

Finally, I would ask to consider this: If you scroll through this article, including the footnotes, you may notice something – the majority of my sources and arguments in this article were derived from what? Answer: Official LdS Church materials. And I would suggest that if you found them persuasive, even though you’re not beholden to them, how much more so will your Mormon friend, who is?

Use the manuals Christian, use the manuals!

NOTES
[1] Nebula0, “Orthodoxy vs Orthopraxy”, About Mormonism website

[2] Ibid, Nebula0

[3] LdS Church, “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young”, LdS Church website

[4] LdS Church, “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith” (Kindle Locations 480-482). Kindle Edition. The statement about why polygamy was deliberately avoided in this manual can be found at Kindle Location 204 in the Kindle Edition where it says:

“This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day. For example, this book does not discuss such topics as the Prophet’s teachings regarding the law of consecration as applied to stewardship of property. The Lord withdrew this law from the Church because the Saints were not prepared to live it (see D& C 119, section heading). This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime. Over the next several decades, under the direction of the Church Presidents who succeeded Joseph Smith, a significant number of Church members entered into plural marriages. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which discontinued plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1 ). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practices plural marriage.” (bolding added for emphasis)

The above statement can also be found on the LdS Church website by clicking on this link.

[5] There’s ample evidence of the conflict and turmoil that polygamy created in Joseph and Emma Smith’s marriage but probably none more dramatic than this famous incident:

“A door opposite opened and dainty, little, dark-haired Eliza R. Snow (she was “heavy with child”) came out . . . Joseph then walked on to the stairway, where he tenderly kissed Eliza, and then came on down stairs toward Brother Rich. Just as he reached the bottom step, there was a commotion on the stairway, and both Joseph and Brother Rich turned quickly to see Eliza come tumbling down the stairs. Emma had pushed her, in a fit of rage and jealousy; she stood at the top of the stairs, glowering, her countenance a picture of hell. Joseph quickly picked up the little lady, and with her in his arms, he turned and looked up at Emma, who then burst into tears and ran to her room. Joseph carried the hurt and bruised Eliza up the stairs and to her room. ‘Her hip was injured and that is why she always afterward favored that leg,’ said Charles C. Rich. ‘She lost the unborn babe.’”
(Maureen U. Beecher, Linda K. Newell, and Valeen T. Avery, “Emma, Eliza, and the Stairs: An Investigation”, BYU Studies 22 (Winter 1982), pp.86-94)

[6] LdS Church, “Church History in the Fulness of Times” (Kindle Location 6012). Kindle Edition. You can also click on this link to see the referenced content on the LdS Church website.

[7] Consider, for example, this incident:

“The [non-Mormon] Gentiles, who numbered but 36 men, were completely routed and driven from the field in a few minutes. They fought bravely and effectively, but could not withstand the sudden and impetuous attack which was made upon them, and Capt. Bogart led them off in the direction of Elkhorn, but finally fell back to the southern part of the county. The Mormons did not pursue, owing chiefly to the fall of their leader, whose death had a demoralizing effect upon them, chiefly because they had deemed him invincible, as he had repeatedly declared that he could not be killed.

In this engagement the Mormons lost Capt. Patton and two men named Patrick O’Banion and Gideon Carter killed, and James Holbrook and another man wounded. In the dark the latter fought by mistake, and cut up one another with their corn knives, or ” swords,” as they called them, very severely. Capt. Bogart’s Gentiles lost Moses Rowland killed and Thos. H. Loyd, Edwin Odell, James Lockard, Martin Dunnaway, Samuel Tarwater, and Wyatt Craven wounded.

Two Mormons attacked Tarwater with corn knives and nearly cut him to pieces. He received a terrible gash in the skull, through which his brain was plainly visible, one terrible blow across the face severed the jaw bone and destroyed all the upper teeth, and there was an ugly gash made in his neck. He kept his bed six months and his wounds considerably affected his speech and his memory, Mr. Tarwater is yet alive, and resides near Orrick, Ray county. Since 1840 he has drawn a pension from the State of Missouri of $100 per year, for the wounds and disability he received in the Crooked river fight. Wyatt Craven lives near Crab Orchard, Ray county. He was taken prisoner early in the fight, and the Mormons started with him to Far West, but after traveling some distance they released him and told him to go home. He started off and was walking away pretty briskly, when Parley P. Pratt, a very prominent and noted Mormon and one of the ” Twelve Apostles,” laid his gun against a tree, took deliberate aim, fired and shot him down. Then, believing he was dead, the Mormons went off and left him.”
(Ora Merle Hawk Pease, “History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri”, pp.130-131)

And as Mormon researcher Bill McKeever notes regarding the Mormon white washing of the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri:

“When speaking of Mormon persecution, the tragedy at Haun’s Mill is rarely overlooked. The film spoke of a Mormon who was “hacked to death by a corn-cutter.” The brevity of this episode in the film fails to mention that the atrocities at Haun’s Mill stemmed in part from an incident a week earlier at what has come to be called “the Battle of Crooked River.” Former Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn explained on page 100 of his book, A Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power:

“A generally unacknowledged dimension of both the extermination order and the Haun’s Mill massacre, however, is that they resulted from Mormon actions in the Battle of Crooked River. Knowingly or not, Mormons had attacked state troops, and this had a cascade effect… upon receiving news of the injuries and death of state troops at Crooked River, Governor Boggs immediately drafted his extermination order on 27 October 1838 because the Mormons ‘have made war upon the people of this state.’ Worse, the killing of one Missourian and mutilation of another while he was defenseless at Crooked River led to the mad-dog revenge by Missourians in the slaughter at Haun’s Mill” (Origins of Power, p.100)

The mutilated Missourian was Samuel Tarwater who was left for dead by the fleeing state militia. Quinn noted how enraged Mormons mutilated the unconscious Tarwater “with their swords, striking him lengthwise in the mouth, cutting off his under teeth, and breaking his lower jaw; cutting off his cheeks…and leaving him [for] dead” (p.99). Tarwater survived to press charges.”
(“Part One of ‘The Mormons’ on PBS” reviewed by Bill McKeever. Mormonism Research Ministry website)

[8] Op cit, “Church History in the Fulness of Times” (Kindle Location 5402). You can also click on this link to see the referenced content on the LdS Church website.

[9] Ibid, (Kindle Locations 5436-5443). You can also click on this link to see the referenced content on the LdS Church website.

[10] Wikipedia, “Kirtland Safety Society”, “Response in the LDS community”; Also see “Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company” on the MormonThink.com website for a good collection of citations from non-neutral sources. There’s just no denying that the example citation from the church manual is spin doctored, white washed, revisionism. Joseph Smith, along with his First Counselor Sidney Rigdon, legitimately bore a heavy fiduciary burden for the failure of the bank.

[11] LdS Church, “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow”, “Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful” p.83, LdS Church website

[12] LdS Church, “Book of Mormon Student Study Guide”, “2 Nephi 25: ‘Believe in Christ'”, p.53, LdS Church website

[13] Dallin H. Oaks, “Have You Been Saved?” Ensign, May 1998, p. 55, LdS Church website

[14] Aaron Shafovaloff, “Mormonism, Officiality, and Plausible Deniability”, Mormon Research Ministry website

[15] Carlos Asay, “‘For the Perfecting of the Saints’: A Look at Church Curriculum”, Ensign, Jan. 1986, p.17, LdS Church website

[16] M. Russell Ballard, “Teaching—No Greater Call”, April 1983 LDS General Conference, LdS Church website

RECOMMENDED READING
Mormon Doctrine: What’s Official, And What Isn’t?, by Donald L. Ashton. Mr. Ashton is a member of StayLDS.com which is a, “We don’t believe anymore but still stay LDS,” New Order Mormon style group. I would have loved to cite several times from this fascinating article but the author has tightened up the use rights to the point of making that impractical. Apparently he doesn’t want it to get into the hands of all those nasty Mormon critics out there – and for good reason, there’s a lot to work with here if you’re a critic!

In the end this article expends a lot of time and effort to essentially say, “There is no official Mormon doctrine. The truth is what you make it.” (These are my words not the author’s) In other words, it advocates a form of relativist post modernism. Never-the-less, it still contains some good lists of official LdS Church sources and quotes from Mormon leaders on the subject of what constitutes official Mormon doctrine and what doesn’t. If nothing else, this article defines the problem well even if it’s solution is “squishy” and, at least to this author’s way of thinking, unsatisfying.

“What is Official Doctrine?”, by Stephen E. Robinson and Joseph Fielding Smith. BYU Professor (cum Mormon Apologist) Stephen Robinson’s glowing treatise in support of the kind of circular logic and appeal to authority fallacies that were noted in the main article above. If nothing else this article is worth reading to see the lengths that Mormons will go to protect their “Not official!” escape hatch.

My favorite line is this wonder of circular logic: “the only valid judgments of whether or not LDS doctrine is Christian must be based on the official doctrines of the Church, interpreted as the Latter-day Saints interpret them.” In other words, outside objective evidence is irrelevant to Mormonism’s closed system – a phenomenon I wrote about in my article, “The Problem of the Mormon Tank (Revisited)”. Robinson also tacks on an excerpt from Joseph Fielding Smith’s, “Answers to Gospel Questions”, that proves that Mormon Prophets can be just as irrational, circular, and fallacious as BYU Professors.

“Approaching Mormon Doctrine”, LDS Newsroom. An official LdS Church source that explicitly states that feelings alone aren’t a sufficient means of discerning truth. I use this one a lot with Mormons who insist that the “witness of the Spirit” alone is sufficient for discerning truth and that objective evidence is irrelevant:

“Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.” (bolding added for emphasis)

“Should one limit consideration of ‘Mormonism’ to what minimalists deem ‘official’ and ‘binding’?”, by Aaron Shafovaloff. This article offers some thoughts on why Mormon “not official” objections shouldn’t be allowed to stop or limit discussion.

“Mormon Belief: The Doctrine of the LDS Church”, by Robert Bowman Jr. Provides a short, succinct of core Latter-day Saint beliefs with citations from official LdS Church sources.

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 by Fred W. Anson
A funny thing happened on the way to this blog when I wrote it back in August 2011. I was actually planning to publish – and was working on – brand new, original material when several of the Mormon Expression Podcast and Blog discussion boards “lit up” with interesting dialog. I feel that that the content of this previously published article is relevant to several of them. So with no further adieu – and with a nod, a wink, and a grin to Eric’s blog (from back then) – I offer for your consideration, “The Problem of The Mormon Tank (Revisited)”.

Artist's depiction of the crew in a Sherman Tank.

Artist’s depiction of the crew in a Sherman Tank.

Here’s the problem
If you’re in an Army Tank and pull out a compass the needle will point toward magnetic north. However, the compass is only validated if when you get outside that Tank and it’s still pointing in the exact same direction.Then, it’s only truly validated if it’s compared to yet another “known good” compass while outside the tank and they both point in the same direction. That is, the one point of internal reference and two points of external reference are all calibrated. The reason for this is simple: The magnetic field created by the iron armor of the Tank interferes with the compass’s operating integrity. You could consult a thousand compasses inside the Tank, and still get the same compromised and errant result every time.

A Stanley Pocket Compass and a map. You will notice that the compass is pointing true magnetic North and will always do so anywhere on earth regardless of the level of the user’s faith, diligence, or the orientation of the map. The only exception is if it’s ability to integrate itself with true North is compromised or blocked by an magnetic field other than the earth’s.

A million compasses?
14-million?
A billion?
Same result time after time.

Thus it’s only when one eliminates the corrupting influence of the Tank that the compass will give a proper and accurate reading. However, even then one must validate the integrity of the compass itself by validating it against a compass that is known to have full integrity – that is, you have confirmed that the dynamic guidance system for the internal system (the compass) is fully integrated with fixed external reality (the earth’s magnetic field).

Validating An Internal System
Thus an internal system is only validated if the trustworthiness of it’s operation has been established – that is, it is consistent and calibrated against a set of objective, dispassionate, unchanging, absolute external standards. A system that’s not tested and that’s only internally consistent with and calibrated against itself is prone to corruption and, therefore, is not trustworthy.

Short version: Internal evidence that hasn’t been validated against external evidence can’t be completely trusted!

And practically speaking, this is important stuff because if you’re trying to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco with the corrupted compass readings inside the Tank you just might end up in the Nevada Desert instead!

An artist’s recreation of the “Liahona” – the Book of Mormon ‘compass’ that only worked “according to the faith and diligence” (1 Nephi 16:28) with which the user heeded its direction.

The Mormon Tank
Mormonism is like a tank – the “compass” may appear to be “true” while you’re inside – after all it “feels right” and everything seems to nicely integrated, correlated, unified, logical, rational  and “working” – but all the while the Mormon Tank is corrupting the end result. It’s not only not externally integrated with true “north” – it hasn’t really been established that the “compass” itself is working properly!

Which, of course, is why it seems to me that the LdS Church Leadership instructs and directs members to ignore external, objective evidence. For to do so is like taking a compass outside of a tank and discovering that the the tank was skewing how both the compass reported “truth” and, thus, how you discerned “truth” while you were hunkered down inside it.

And I think that’s why my experience has been that that when one attempts to calibrate the internal Mormon system against external reality it simply does not validate.

(As originally published on the Mormon Expression Blogs website on August 13, 2011) 

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Newburgh Seminary College

Was Christ born “in Bethlehem” or “at Jerusalem”? And does it matter?

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

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“The entire Book of Mormon was discredited just as soon as it said that Christ was born in Jerusalem.”

Why It’s Weak:
This argument is a molehill not a mountain. This is a valid contradiction with the Bible, however, on it’s own, it discredits this verse but not the entire Book of Mormon.

1) This molehill was turned into a mountain by Mormon Apologists
This argument arises from the fact that Alma 7:10 in the Book of Mormon says:

And behold, he [Christ] shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.

The first Christian Mormon critic I know of that used this argument was Alexander Campbell who in his 1831 review of the Book of Mormon polemically observed:

But he is better skilled in the controversies in New York than in the geography or history of Judea. He makes John baptise in the village of Bethabara, (page 22) and says Jesus was born in Jerusalem, p. 240. Great must be the faith of the Mormonites in this new Bible!!![1]

And, of course, he has a point since the Bible states plainly, not once, not twice, but eight times that Christ was born in Bethlehem. This is a clear contradiction with the Bible. And since Mormon critics are of the opinion that the Book of Mormon is just a piece of contrived 19th Century historical fiction, as far as we’re concerned, it’s the kind of thing that one would expect were that the case. There are no just surprises here!

However, Mormon Apologists just can’t seem to leave it alone. As Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever notes:

It is obvious that this is a very sensitive issue with these [Apologist] Mormons. According to them, Alma was referring to the surrounding area of Jerusalem and not the city itself. They insist that Alma was a real person, so to credit him with saying that Christ would someday be born in Jerusalem and not in Bethlehem would be a serious faux pas. To say otherwise casts doubt upon the historicity of Mormonism’s sacred Book of Mormon.

We do not hide the fact that we do not believe the Book of Mormon is an ancient text. Because we believe Alma is a fictitious character, we naturally wouldn’t credit him with such a gaffe. We are not implying that Joseph Smith was ignorant as to where Jesus was born. Instead, we believe that this was a simple slip of the pen. Joseph Smith may have mistaken the better-known Jerusalem for the lesser Bethlehem.[2]

And if one suspends disbelieve and presumes that Alma the Younger was in fact a historical figure, such a gaffe is still really no big deal – people get excited and misspeak like this all the time. For example, do you remember the last time that Grandma and Grandpa retold the same story and spent half the time correcting each other’s bad memory rather than actually telling the story? I rest my case.

After all, if the Book of Mormon is true history then Alma would certainly would have known the location of the Messiah’s birthplace wouldn’t he? That’s because the Book of Mormon tells us that he had the plates of brass (see Alma 37) which is said to have contained the Biblical record up until the time of Jeremiah’s prophesies. If that was the case, then Alma would have had Micah’s prophecy, since Micah prophesied more than a hundred years before Lehi left Jerusalem. And that prophesy states clearly:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2, bold italics added for emphasis)[3]

A slip of the pen, in a work of fiction? An over zealous speaker with a bad memory? No big deal right? Well, according to Mormon Apologists, no – this is a big deal!

View of Bethlehem from South Jerusalem. Bethlehem is only 6-miles away.
(click to zoom)

2) What’s 6-miles between friends?
So, rather than simply acknowledging that this is a contradiction with the Bible, Mormon Apologists go to great lengths to convince the world that the word “Jerusalem” in Alma 7:10 really means, “the land of Jerusalem”. This argument is based on the fact that Bethlehem is a suburb of Jerusalem that’s only 6-miles away. OK, I can kind of see that. I was born in Anaheim, California which is a suburb of Los Angeles. Therefore, for those who are unfamiliar with the city (which includes a Major League Baseball team and an itsy bitsy amusement park called “Disneyland”) I tell them that I’m from the Los Angeles area. However, in actual fact, downtown Los Angeles is 24-miles from where I was born. And if anyone pressed me (which hasn’t happened yet) I would simply say, “Well, to be precise I was born in Anaheim which is where Disneyland is, where Angel Stadium is, and where the Los Angeles Angels play baseball.” In other words, I would clarify and things tighten up a bit. I just don’t think that this, in and of itself, is a big deal. Do you?

Thus, Mormon Apologists argue:

Google Earth satellite photo of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (click to zoom)

Google Earth satellite photo of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (click to zoom)

The town of Bethlehem is in the “land of Jerusalem.” In fact, Bethlehem is only 5 miles south of Jerusalem: definitely “in the land,” especially from the perspective of Alma, a continent away. Even locals considered Hebron, twenty five miles from Bethlehem, to be in the “land of Jerusalem. This is, in reality, another literary evidence for the Book of Mormon. While a forger would likely overlook this detail and include Bethlehem as the commonly-understood birthplace of Jesus, the ancient authors of the Book of Mormon use an authentic term to describe the Savior’s birthplace—thereby providing another point of authenticity for the Book of Mormon.[4]

But the problem passage doesn’t use the term “land of Jerusalem” it says, “at Jerusalem”:

Dr. Peterson argues, “The most reliable way to determine what a given phrase means in the Book of Mormon, therefore, is to look at the Book of Mormon” ([FARMS] Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5:73). This is a reasonable point. The problem is that Peterson and his colleagues ignore this guidance and instead go to great lengths to defend a phrase that is not included in the text. While much has been written to defend the notion that Jesus was born in the land of Jerusalem, the fact of the matter is that this phrase is not used in this passage. We repeat, the phrase land of Jerusalem is not used in Alma 7:10.[5]

Furthermore, the other eighteen times the term “at Jerusalem” is used in the Book of Mormon it always means “in the city of Jerusalem”.  Thus, as Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson very correctly observe, “if a phrase is used 19 times, and in 18 of those times it can be demonstrated that it means the actual city of Jerusalem, it is both inconsistent and tenuous to interpret Alma 7:10 otherwise.”[6]

3) Straining at gnats, swallowing Camels…
On the Mormon side of the divide the problem is that Mormon Apologists make this a hill to die on. Why? So Joseph Smith had a slip of the pen when he was writing the Book of Mormon – so what? So Alma had a memory lapse or simply misquoted Micah 5:2 in his prophetic zeal – so what? By straining at this “gnat” of a problem Mormon Apologists are merely bringing attention to the “camel” of their over the top apologetic tactics. Why not just acknowledge the contradiction and move on to more pressing Book of Mormon issues?

On the Christian side of the divide the problem is that some critics overstate their case in exaggerating the importance of this contradiction. While it’s true that the Mormon apologetic on this point is strained and inconsistent, it’s not completely unreasonable. And while this contradiction most certainly discredits this verse it’s a stretch to say that it discredits the entire Book of Mormon. Rather, the overall case that discredits the Book of Mormon is a culmination of contradictions, problems, and issues not just a single contradiction, problem, or issue.

Further, standing on the Mormon side of the divide I don’t see Christians abandoning the entire Bible and calling it “discredited” over just a single Biblical contradiction. I don’t see Protestants denouncing Catholic and Orthodox Bibles as fully discredited simply because they contain the Apocrypha. Nor do I hear Catholics and Orthodox Christians denouncing us because our Bibles don’t. Why then do some Christians expect Mormons to abandon the entire Book of Mormon based on solely one problem text?

4) …and showing obvious bias
I think that the underlying problem here is many Christians seem to employ a double standard when it comes to Mormonism. These Christians tend to judge all things Mormons much harsher than they do all things Christian. After all, the Bible isn’t without contradictions too. Here’s an example:

Matthew 27:5 (NKJV)
Then he [Judas Iscariot] threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Acts 1:18 (NKJV)
Now this man [Judas Iscariot] purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

Even if we harmonize this as the hanging rope breaking and Judas’ entrails gushing out after his corpse hit the ground, the fact remains, that when taken at face value this is a contradiction. Should Christians declare the entire Bible discredited because of it? Even Atheist critics and Muslims[7] don’t suggest such a response because it’s so “over the top”. Yet, many Christians would demand exactly that of Mormons over Alma 7:10. To me, such a demand on Mormons reveals an extreme bias on the part of some Christians and the type of unjust, uncharitable treatment that can drive Mormons deeper into the LdS Church if they stay, or right past Christianity and straight into atheism if they leave. This need not be, there is a better way.

The Stronger Arguments:
While it’s clear that while Alma 7:10 used in isolation isn’t a strong argument, it can be used as part of one or more stronger arguments. Let’s look at them.

First Suggested Strong Argument: “Alma 7:10 is just one of many pebbles breaking the shelf.” 
Most ExMormons tell us that there wasn’t just one thing that convinced them that the truth claims of the LdS Church don’t add up, it was a culmination of a lot of little things. They say it’s like a bunch of pebbles being tucked away on a shelf in a deep, dark corner – that is until the shelf finally collapses under the weight of them all. That said, here’s a sampling of some other pebbles[8] to add to the pile in addition to the Alma 7:10 Jerusalem pebble:

"Scriptures" by Grant Heaton

“Scriptures” by Grant Heaton
(click to zoom)

Book of Mormon: The Book of Mormon people built temples in the Americas and performed sacrifices. (Alma 16:13)
Bible: Jerusalem was explicitly chosen by God as the one and only place for the one and only temple and the only legitimate place for sacrifices. (1 Kings 8:44-48Deut. 12:5-6)

Book of Mormon: The priesthood did not need to be Levitical. The Book of Mormon people were from the tribes of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:16-17) or Manasseh (Alma 10:3) not Levi. Nephi, who consecrated the first priests, was from the tribe of Joseph (2 Nephi 5:26) as were they.
Bible: The priesthood could only be through the lineage of Aaron, a Levite. (Numbers 3:9-10)

Book of Mormon: At Christ’s crucifixion, there was three days of darkness. (Helaman 14:27)
Bible: At Christ’s crucifixion, there were three hours of darkness. (Luke 23:44)

Book of Mormon: At the tower of Babel the Jaredites had a separate language which was spared the confusion of languages. (Ether 1:34-35)
Bible: At the tower of Babel there was one language, which was then confused by God. (Genesis 11:1)

Book of Mormon: The Gospel, the Church, and Christianity existed prior to Christ’s incarnation. (2 Nephi 26:12)
Bible: The Gospel, the Church, and Christianity were proclaimed during Christ’s ministry and came to exist after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. (Matthew 16:18)

Book of Mormon: One son of King Zedekiah escaped destruction and came to the Americas. (Helaman 6:108:21)
Bible: All of King Zedekiah’s sons were killed. (Jeremiah 39:6)

Book of Mormon: The Book of Mormon people people received the gift of the Holy Ghost as early as 545 BC (2 Nephi 31:12-13)
Bible: The Holy Ghost was bestowed on the Christians at the time of Pentecost in 1 AD. (Luke 24:49Acts 2:1-4)

Second Suggested Strong Argument: “Why are those Jews acting like goyim?”
“Goyim” is the Hebrew word for “nations” that in Jewish vernacular has come to mean “gentiles”. The Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient record of Jews who left the Middle East around 600 BC. However, these alleged Jews don’t act like 7th Century BC Jews, they act like 19th Century AD Protestant Christians. As Alexander Campbell notes in his review of the Book of Mormon:

[Joseph] Smith makes Nephi express every truth found in the writings of the Apostles concerning the calling and blessing of the Gentiles, and even quotes the 11th chapter of Romans, and many other passages before he had a son grown in the wilderness able to aim an arrow at a deer. Paul says these things were secrets and unknown until his time; but Smith makes Nephi say the same things 600 years before Paul was converted! One of the two is a false prophet. Mormonites, take your choice!

This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in N. York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies – infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to. How much more benevolent and intelligent this American Apostle, than were the holy twelve, and Paul to assist them!!! He prophesied of all these topics, and of the apostacy, and infallibly decided, by his authority, every question. How easy to prophecy of the past or of the present time!!

He represents the christian institution as practised among his Israelites before Jesus was born. And his Jews are called christians while keeping the law of Moses, the holy sabbath, and worshipping in their temple at their altars, and by their high priests.[9]

Further, as Mormon Studies Scholar Luke P. Wilson notes:

The most common biblical terms used to describe the Old Testament priesthood, temple and appointed feasts, are entirely missing from the Book of Mormon. Here are 10 examples of such biblical terms with their frequencies, that never appear once in the Book of Mormon:

  • “laver” (13 times in Bible)
  • “incense” (121 times in Bible)
  • “ark of the covenant” (48 times in Bible)
  • “sons of Aaron” (97 times in Bible)
  • “mercy seat” (23 in Bible)
  • “day of atonement” (21 times in Bible)
  • “feast of tabernacles” (17 times in Bible)
  • “passover” (59 times in Bible)
  • “house of the LORD” (627 in Bible)
  • “Aaron” – this name appears 48 times in the Book of Mormon, but never in reference to the biblical Aaron or the Aaronic priesthood.[10]

Finally, and not insignificantly, as one Mormon Researcher has observed:

2 Nephi 25:24 says, “we keep the law of Moses”. During the time this was written (about 559–545 B.C.) the Nephites were claiming to be orthodox Jews. Having the law of Moses, they would have said the shema (Duet 6:4) and they would have followed the Mosaic law strictly. In fact, the phrase “we keep the law of Moses” appears in the Book of Mormon four times (2 Nephi 25:242 Nephi 5:10Jacob 4:5, and 1 Nephi 17:22), it is a recurring theme throughout the book.

According to Mormon dogma Nephi and Lehi followed the Mosaic law without error. Yet even after all they allegedly knew concerning God and His law why did they still break his commandments? There’s just no excuse for this if the Book of Mormon is true. Further, why are the Nephites blessed by God despite their disobedience of His law, while at the same time God is calling down judgment on the Jews in Israeli for violating it? This makes no sense!

Further, the Nephites were from the northern kingdom (the tribe of Manasseh), so they would have known their heritage. They would have surely known the story of Jeroboam and all he did to put Israel into such a state of apostasy that it merited the Assryian exile of 722 BC. The orthodoxy and legitimacy of these Book of Mormon Jews needs to be seriously questioned![11]

Simply put, shouldn’t a book written about Jews, by Jews, for Jews be . . . well . . Jewish? Shouldn’t such a book accurately reflect Jewish history, values, attitudes, and customs? Well the Book of Mormon ain’t Jewish folks – it’s goy through and through!

Summary and Conclusion:
These arguments are just a small sample of the vast array of better, stronger arguments to choose from. Simply put, the Book of Mormon discredits itself in so many other, better, more persuasive ways that the begging question is this: Why use this weak argument at all? It’s a molehill not a mountain.

"Jesus Christ visits the Americas" by John Scott. It doesn't get much more Jewish than this does it folks? Especially the "Jewish" Temple in the background.

It doesn’t get much more Jewish than this does it – especially the “Jewish” Temple in the background.
(click to zoom)

NOTES
[1] Alexander Campbell, “Delusions: An analysis of the book of Mormon with an examination of its internal and external evidences, and a refutation of its pretenses to divine authority”, The Millennial Harbinger, February 7, 1831

[2] Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, “Was Jesus born ‘at Jerusalem’?”, Mormonism Research Ministry website

[3] And, I should add that Micah 5:2 not only says “Bethlehem” clearly but redundantly.  “Ephratah” is the ancient name for Bethlehem. A variant of the name first appears in the Bible in Genesis 35:

“Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor.” (Genesis 35:16, NKJV)

“So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).  And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.” (Genesis 35:19-20, NKJV) 

This is also reiterated elsewhere in the Bible (click here).

[4] Uncredited, “Question: Why does the Book of Mormon say that Jesus would be born ‘at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers’ when the Bible states that he was born in Bethlehem?”, FAIRMormon website

[5] Op cit, McKeever and Johnson

[6] Ibid, McKeever and Johnson

[7] For example, please consider these critiques:
Atheist Critic: Uncredited, “Discrepancies in the Bible: The Death of Judas Iscariot”
Muslim Critic: Abdullah Smith, “The Death of Judas”

[8] This list was taken mainly from the website of Main Street Church of Brigham City, “Scripture Reference: Bible & Book of Mormon Contradictions”. Other recommended resources:

Sandra Tanner, “Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions”
Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”

[9] Op cit, Campbell

[10] Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”, Institute for Religious Research (IRR) website

[11] Adapted from a Facebook comment made by Brian Roberts on December 19, 2014 in the B.C.  &  L.D.S.  (Biblical Christians and Latter Day Saints) discussion group.  Mr. Roberts has also written extensively on the theme of Book of Mormon inconsistencies on his “Sinners and Saints” website.

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Samaritan Woman at the Well

“Jesus Teaches a Samaritan Woman” The Mormon Channel video (LDS Church, circa 2012). Click to watch.

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

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon! I won’t stoop to the level of heretics – after all, Jesus and the Apostles never did!”

Why It’s Weak:
This stance is impossible to defend since Jesus and the Apostles did learn other cultures and related to them where they were in order to reach them with the gospel – and this included heretics.

Meet the Samaritans
Who does this sound like?

  • They’re heretics yet they claim that they are the only true and living church.
  • They claim that all other churches are apostate.
  • The founding of their religion was strongly opposed, criticized and denounced by the established church at that time.
  • Many members claim to be from the House of Joseph – descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
  • They have a a view of God that differs from the larger mainstream orthodox church’s view.
  • They believe in pre-existence.
  • They claim that the current church’s scripture is corrupt – deliberately infused with an apostate agenda. That is, it’s truth intermingled with the vain philosophies of men not God.
  • They claim to be the sole possessors of the original, pure and uncorrupted Bible – a bible which discards books in the established church’s canon, and that is very different on key points of doctrine relative to that canon.
  • They have additional sacred texts which, while not formally canonized, maintain a quasi-canonical status.
  • Critics claim that portions of their theology is syncretistic, incorporating outside cultures and religions.
  • They have their own priesthood system.
  • They have a temple system that deviates strongly from the Levitical system given in the bible.
  • They claim that their temple, rather than the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, is the correct place set apart by God for special ceremonies and worship.
  • Outside critics and scholars throughout history have disputed the veracity and historicity claims of their scripture as well as their origin story.

They, of course, are the Samaritans of Christ’s day – who did you think I was talking about? But joking aside, it’s not hard to see how much the Samaritanism of Christ’s day parallels today’s Mormonism.[1] Thus whenever I hear someone rhetorically ask, “I wonder how Christ would have engaged Mormonism had it been around in His day?” I say, “We already know!”

Scene of the meeting of Christ with the Samaritan woman at the well from a fresco in the side wall of the refectory in the Monastery Ambramowickiego, Przypusta, Poland

That said, here’s a short debriefing on the Samatarians:

The Samaritans occupied the country formerly belonging to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The capital of the country was Samaria, formerly a large and splendid city. When the ten tribes were carried away into captivity to Assyria, the king of Assyria sent people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim to inhabit Samaria (2 Kings 17:24;Ezra 4:2-11). These foreigners intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in and around Samaria. These “Samaritans” at first worshipped the idols of their own nations, but being troubled with lions, they supposed it was because they had not honored the God of that territory. A Jewish priest was therefore sent to them from Assyria to instruct them in the Jewish religion. They were instructed from the books of Moses, but still retained many of their idolatrous customs. The Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry (2 Kings 17:26-28). Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were generally considered “half-breeds” and were universally despised by the Jews.[2]

And in addition to these racial and theological issues, the Jews had plenty of other good reasons to stay in hardhearted, ignorant, bigotry toward the Samaritans:

1. The Jews, after their return from Babylon, began rebuilding their temple. While Nehemiah was engaged in building the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans vigorously attempted to halt the undertaking (Nehemiah 6:1-14).

2. The Samaritans built a temple for themselves on “Mount Gerizim,” which the Samaritans insisted was designated by Moses as the place where the nation should worship. Sanballat, the leader of the Samaritans, established his son-in-law, Manasses, as high priest. The idolatrous religion of the Samaritans thus became perpetuated.

3. Samaria became a place of refuge for all the outlaws of Judea (Joshua 20:7;21:21). The Samaritans willingly received Jewish criminals and refugees from justice. The violators of the Jewish laws, and those who had been excommunicated, found safety for themselves in Samaria, greatly increasing the hatred which existed between the two nations.

4. The Samaritans received only the five books of Moses and rejected the writings of the prophets and all the Jewish traditions.[3]

"The Woman at the Well" by Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886-1957), Museo Nacional de Arte

“The Woman at the Well” by Diego Rivera
(Mexican, 1886-1957)

To see how deeply seated the Jewish animosity, prejudice, and bigotry was toward the Samaritans, we need look no further than Christ’s “before Abraham was, I AM” debate with the Jews (John 8:37-59).  The Jews felt that they can do no worse than fling a “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” insult at Jesus.  And as Jewish convert to Christianity Alfred Edersheim notes, the Jewish view of the Samaritans continued to degrade in the ensuing years:

Later authorities [such as Rabbi Jehuda the Holy a 3rd Century Rabbi] again reproach them [the Samaritans] with falsification of the Pentateuch, charge them with worshipping a dove, and even when, on further inquiry, they absolve them from this accusation, ascribe their excessive veneration for Mount Gerizim to the circumstance that they worshipped the idols which Jacob had buried under the oak at Shechem. To the same hatred, caused by national persecution, we must impute such expressions as that he, whose hospitality receives a foreigner, has himself to blame if his children have to go into captivity.

The expression, ‘the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans,’  finds its exact counterpart in this: ‘May I never set eyes on a Samaritan;’ or else, ‘May I never be thrown into company with him!’ A Rabbi in Cæsarea explains, as the cause of these changes of opinion, that formerly the Samaritans had been observant of the Law, which they no longer were; a statement repeated in another form to the effect, that their observance of it lasted as long as they were in their own cities. Matters proceeded so far, that they were entirely excluded from fellowship. The extreme limit of this direction, if, indeed, the statement applies to the Samaritans, is marked by the declaration, that to partake of their bread was like eating swine’s flesh. This is further improved upon in a later Rabbinic work, which gives a detailed story of how the Samaritans had conspired against Ezra and Nehemiah, and the ban been laid upon them, so that now not only was all intercourse with them forbidden, but their bread declared like swine’s flesh; proselytes were not to be received from them; nor would they have part in the Resurrection of the dead.[4]

Got the picture yet or should I keep going?  And I’m sure that if you  and I compared “war stories” we could find plenty of similar reasons to find fault with Mormons. And the same thing is true on their side of the divide – many Mormons have no love lost toward critics and give as good as they get.  It didn’t take too many steps into Mormon Studies before I realized that it’s a land where animosity and acrimony rule the day – every day!  It’s Israel and Samaria all over again.

Passing through…
Christ certainly wasn’t unaware of the intense Jewish animosity and bigotry toward the Samaritans. He knew his Samaritan history well and was well versed in the Jewish cultural norms that one was to engage in in regard to the Samaritans.  This is reflected in the gospels where it states, “But he had to pass through Samaria.” (John 4:4 bolding added) As Kenneth Boa notes:

Now there were other ways in which one could go. You could take the coast or more often Jews would bypass Samaria by going into Perea or perhaps going all the way through Jericho and up along the Jordan River on the extreme west, just next to the river and then cutting across bypassing the whole province of Samaria. The most direct and quickest route would be to go through Samaria. Typically Jews would avoid it because of the hostility that was there.[5]

"Woman at the Well" by Rick Griffin (American, 1944-1981)

“Woman at the Well” by Rick Griffin
(American, 1944-1981)

So Christ had options, He could have avoided Samaria entirely – after all that’s what was expected.  And by doing so He would have reinforced the bitter animosity of the Jews – which included His own disciples toward the Samaritans.  After all, if the Samaritans wanted the truth that He carried they could always come to him, right?  It’s not like it was any secret where He was! Yet the bible tells us that He had to pass through Samaria. And I think that Dr. Boa has it right in his continuing commentary on this story:

He [Christ] went there [Samaria] because it was the shortest route and also there are appointments that take place. God has divine appointments. He didn’t necessarily leave Judea with any fixed intention of ministering in Samaria, He just planned to pass through but the Spirit will always blow wherever He wishes. True messengers of God are never subject to fixed programs and to prejudices.[6]

The key thing here is that, prejudices aside, Christ went to the Samaritans, He didn’t wait for them to come to Him. Yes, He went to them just like when He “passed through” to save us:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8, NKJV) 

… speakin’ the lingo…
Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well reveals how well He understood Samaritanism. His words to the woman masterfully target and address key Samartian dogmas and doctrines. In other words, He spoke her lingo:

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”
(John 4:19-21, NET Bible)

"Jesus and the Samaritan Woman" Unknown Japanese Artist

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman” Unknown Japanese Artist

The key point of division between the Jews and Samaritans was where the proper place for temple worship was located. The Samaritans asserted that Mount Gerizim was the original Holy Place of Israel from the time that Joshua conquered Israel and the ten tribes originally settled the land.

According to the Bible, the story of Mount Gerizim takes us back to the story of the time when Moses ordered Joshua to take the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the mountains by Shechem and place half of the tribes, six in number, on the top of Mount Gerizim (Mount of the Blessing), and the other half in Mount Ebal (Mount of the Curse). The two mountains were used to symbolize the significance of the commandments and serve as a warning to whoever disobeyed them. The quasi-canonical Samaritan Chronicle Adler (aka “New Chronicle”, aka “Book of Joshua”) summarizes the Samaritan position as follows:

And the children of Israel in his [Joshua’s] days divided into three groups. One did according to the abominations of the Gentiles and served other Gods; another followed [Jewish Priest] Eli the son of Yafni, although many of them turned away from him after he had revealed his intentions; and a third remained with the [Samaritan] High Priest Uzzi ben Bukki, the chosen place, Mount Gerizim Bethel, in the holy city of Shechem.[7]

Therefore, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, according to the Samaritans, was an illegitimate temple sitting on an illegitimate place of worship. To all this Christ tells the woman (paraphrasing), “This is a non-issue, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”  Then He goes on to explain:

You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
(John 4:22-24, NET Bible)

In other words, He tells her directly that Samaritanism doesn’t have the truth and doesn’t save: “You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews.” (bolding added)  But He then goes on to reinforce and validates a key tenet of Samaritanism: The spiritual, non-corporeal nature of God, “God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  To Samaritan ears this would sound like validation of their view of God and would resonate deeply.  As  James A. Montgomery explains:

“[In Samaritan Theology] God’s essence is pure spirit. Contrary to much Old Testament phraseology, and especially to apocalyptic Judaism, which located God in the highest, — the third or seventh heaven, — the Samaritan generally can find no local place for him. This spiritual notion receives noble expression in a verse published by Gesenius: “The abode which I shall have is the place of thy power; no ocean is there, nor sea [cf. Rev. 21,1], nor the very heavens themselves.” In his relation to creation, God ” fills the world.” Most particularly does the Samaritan theology dwell upon the incorporeality and impassibility of God, surpassing Judaism in this respect. The earliest evidence of this tendency is the Samaritan Pentateuch with its Targum, which latter exceeds even the Jewish Targumists in the avoidance of original anthropomorphisms.”[8]

Of course this extreme incorporeality of God is just as imbalanced, in error, and unbiblical as Mormonism’s extreme corporeality of God is. Hence, Christ ends with “and truth” because that’s where He’s about to lead this woman now that He’s confronted her error.

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”
(John 4:25-26, NET Bible)

"Jesus and the Samaritan Woman" Unknown African

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman” Unknown African artist

So there stands God incarnate – that is, God in corporeal form – before this woman.[9] The irony is stunning.  Even more stunning is the fact that the first person that Jesus explicitly tells that He is the Messiah is not only a Gentile,  but a hated Samaritan Gentile to boot!  And, even worse, not just a hated Samaritan Gentile, but a lowly, looked down upon, outcast Samaritan Gentile woman! Further he, again, validates Samaritan doctrine – in this case, their Messiah doctrine.  Now to fully understand the Samartian mindset on the Messiah first requires an understanding of the central figure in Samaritan theology , that is, Moses:

In the Samaritan sect Moses takes a place parallel to that enjoyed by Mohammed in Islam : ” Moses is the Prophet of God,” and there is none other like him. But the Samaritan doctrine even surpasses Islam in reverence for its prophet. For while Muslim orthodoxy thinks of the Arabian prophet with rational soberness, the Samaritan advances the great Lawgiver to a position where he becomes an object of faith. He is rather like the Christ of Christianity, one whose origin is often held to be mysterious, who now lives to make intercession for his brethren, who will appear effectually for the saints at the last day; the Messiah himself will be but an inferior replica of that absolute Prophet…

Moreover the doctrine approaches that of a real pre-existence; he is ” the man in whom the Spirit of God was established since creation; the eyes of God were upon him with the generations of the days and years.” Further, the connection between the pre-existent state and that in the flesh was mediated by a species of metempsychosis, the sacred germ of divine light being transmitted through his forbears until it fully incarnated itself in the prophet.[10]

Sound familiar? Specifically, doesn’t this sound a bit like the veneration that Mormonism gives to Joseph Smith? Consider this:

“It was decreed in the councils of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that [Joseph Smith] should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people and receive the fullness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. [Joseph Smith] was foreordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.”
(Brigham Young, Deseret News, Oct. 26, 1859, p. 266) 

He Qi -SamaritanWomanAtTheWell

“Samaritan Woman at the Well” by He Qi
(Chinese, 20th/21st Century)

So ironically, with both Mormonism and Samaritanism a human prophet must be displaced so that the Messiah can assume His proper place.

A prophet after the manner of Moses (Dt. 18) was what the Samaritans desired in their Messiah; this notion accordingly limited the Samaritan ideas. He was to be a Revealer of hidden or lost truths like the one the Samaritan woman had in mind, and inasmuch as there could be no greater prophet than Moses nor one equal to him, the Messiah is an entirely inferior personage. Accordingly, in contrast with the developed Jewish doctrine of the Messiah, such as was abroad since the Danielic prophecy of the Son of Man, the Samaritan Messiah never attains the character of a divine personality. He always remains human and the thought concerning him moves in a prosaic plane.[11]

And, like the Jews, the Samaritans were expecting the advent of the latter days to coincide with the appearance of the Messiah:

It is thus the chief function of the Taeb [the Samaritan term for the Messiah meaning “He who returns” or” He who restores”] to introduce the Millennium, which, as our Midrash proceeds to relate, is to be disturbed by the grand final conflict between God and the forces of evil. Here we have the replica of the Jewish and Christian notions of Gog and Magog and of Antichrist. The happy condition above described shall last for many days. But at last God’s wrath will wax hot against the Gentiles, for the earth will again corrupt itself, as in the days of the Flood. Then will come the Day of Vengeance, the Great Day, accompanied with cosmic cataclysms…

Thus [4th Century CE Samaritan theologian] Marka makes the advent of the Messiah a time of woe to the Gentiles, and regards his coming as contemporaneous with the resurrection. We also note in correspondence with the assertion of Jn. 4, 42 concerning the Samaritan expectation of the Taeb as the Saviour of the world, that an Epistle teaches that all peoples will make submission to the Prophet of the Last Days and believe in him.[12]

So Christ has quite a job here doesn’t He?  Not only does He have to overcome misplaced priorities and over (one might even say “extreme”) adulation of Moses, He also has to deal with the same type of wrong headed Messiah dogma and eschatology[13] that his own Jewish disciples are burdened with.  And what is His solution to this sticky wicket? Answer: Relationship.

Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” So they left the town and began coming to him.

Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the report of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they began asking him to stay with them. He stayed there two days, and because of his word many more believed. They said to the woman, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world.”
(John 4:28-30; 39-42, NET Bible, bolding added) 

"Woman at the Well ii" by Hyatt Moore (American)

“Woman at the Well ii” by Hyatt Moore
(American, 20th/21st Century)

The bible doesn’t tell us exactly what happened in those two days but something profound did: Christ went from prophet, to Messiah, to Savior of the world. Now, I would speculate that this was much as it is when one has a house guest for a few days –  one gets to know them well enough to know what they’re really all about.  So, I suspect, this was how it was for the Samaritans with Christ. I’ve seen a lot of bad theology and doctrine get dealt with without a word by good relationship, and I suspect that was the case here. Spend enough time with Jesus and things change – this is a recurring pattern in the gospels.

… and breaking bad
My observation is that for many modern Christians given a choice, between taking or leaving Mormons they would be just fine with the latter – it’s Christ’s disciples all over again:

Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman. However, no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?”
(John 4:27, NET Bible)

Actually, we should give them credit for holding back for given the period’s bigotry against Samaritans in general and Samaritan women in particular:

Jews do not use (utensils) with Samaritans. This was built into a regulation in A.D. 65 or 66: “The daughters of the Samaritans are (deemed unclean as) menstruants from their cradle” (Mishnah, Nidd. 4:1); in other words, they are all regarded as ceremonially unclean.[14]

And Jewish attitudes toward even their own women weren’t much better:

The rabbis regarded women as inferior to men in every way. A very ancient prayer (still found in the Jewish prayer book) runs, “Blessed art thou, Ο Lord . . . who hast not made me a woman.” The corresponding prayer for a woman was “Blessed art thou, Ο Lord, who hast fashioned me according to thy will.”[15]

"St. Photine" Russian Icon

“St. Photine” Russian Icon

But here was Jesus breaking bad[16] and turning all this on it’s ear: He’s talking to a woman, in public – and a Samaritan woman no less!  And here He is asking to drink water from her well – which would require sharing the same drawing and drinking utensils with this morally compromised outcast.  This outcast who is so despised by her own people that she has to draw water mid-day – when it was so hot that all the “good and normal” people stayed safely sheltered away.

Yet by passing through this dreaded land and seeking out this sinful misfit Christ found a harvest and a feast where others could only scrape together a road side snack on the highway named, “anywhere but here”:

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” So the disciples began to say to one another, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. Don’t you say, ‘There are four more months and then comes the harvest?’ I tell you, look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest! The one who reaps receives pay and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps can rejoice together. For in this instance the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
(John 4:31-38, NET Bible) 

As Leon Morris notes:

S.D. Gordon has a suggestive comment : “The disciples had just been down to the town — they who knew the Master much longer and better. They brought back some loaves. That was all. The woman went down; she brought back some men” (The Sychar Revival [London, n.d.], p. 25).

[John] Calvin sees a hint “at how much more careful men’s minds are for earthly things than for heavenly. For they are so consumed with looking for harvest that they carefully count up the months and days. But it is surprising how lazy they are in reaping the wheat of heaven.”[17]

Suffice to say our prejudice and bigotry can blind us to what really matters can’t it? And if that woman at the well thing wasn’t enough of a throw down on smug, self-righteous, religious bigotry Jesus also had to go and introduce us to this guy:

"Le bon Samaritain" by Aimé Morot (French, 1850-1913)

“Le bon Samaritain” by Aimé Morot
(French, 1850-1913)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.’ Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
(Luke 10:25-37, NET Bible)

So not only did Jesus understand Samaritan culture, speak like a Samaritan, and “break bad” by very deliberately, and intentionally invading Samaritan space (and taking other good Jewish boys with Him too) with the gospel, He actually chose to challenge the bigotry of His day by holding one of these cultists up an example of Christian mercy, charity, integrity, and compassion! Were He alive today would He challenge us in the same way by telling the story as “The Good Mormon”?  One can only wonder.[18]

Christ’s Rx for Bigotry: The Samaritans
In summary, it’s been my observation that the weak argument being addressed in this article tends to be rooted in at least one of the following four things: 1) Ignorance, 2) Hardheartedness, 3) Bigotry, 4) Amnesia regarding the universal inclusiveness of Christ’s gospel.  In the gospels Christ kept prescribing the same thing over and over whenever He found any or all of those four bullies loitering: The Samaritans. As Church Historian Phillip Schapp notes:

"The Samaritan Woman at the Well" Annibale Carracci (Italian, 1560-1609)

“The Samaritan Woman at the Well” by Annibale Carracci
(Italian, 1560-1609)

For three years he mingled freely with his countrymen . Occasionally he met and healed Gentiles also, who were numerous in Galilee; he praised their faith the like of which he had not found in Israel, and prophesied that many shall come from the east and the west and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. He conversed with a woman of Samaria, to the surprise of his disciples, on the sublimest theme, and rebuked the national prejudice of the Jews by holding up a good Samaritan as a model for imitation

It is the Gospel of universal humanity. It breathes the genuine spirit of charity, liberty, equality, which emanate from the Saviour of mankind, but are so often counterfeited by his great antagonist, the devil. It touches the tenderest chords of human sympathy. It delights in recording Christ’s love and compassion for the sick, the lowly, the despised, even the harlot and the prodigal. It mentions the beatitudes pronounced on the poor and the hungry, his invitation to the maimed, the halt, and the blind, his prayer on the cross for pardon of the wicked murderers, his promise to the dying robber. It rebukes the spirit of bigotry and intolerance of the Jews against Samaritans, in the parable of the good Samaritan. It reminds the Sons of Thunder when they were about to call fire from heaven upon a Samaritan village that He came not to destroy but to save. (bolding added)[19]

And I would also add to the list that in response to the aforementioned, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jewish insult, He didn’t disassociate or distance Himself from identifying with the Samaritans in His response (“I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.” see John 8:48&49) Rather, that part of the insult was simply ignored. 

We also see this same anti-bigotry prescription applied to Peter’s prejudice toward the Gentiles (see Acts 10) when God says to him, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!” (Acts 10:15).  And we see Christ’s Samaritan evangelistic approach applied by Paul with the Greeks on Mars Hill (see Acts 17:16-34) when he proclaimed, “what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands.” (Acts 17:23&24).  We even see Phillip returning to Samaria (see Acts 8:4-25), reapplying Christ’s methods and starting such an overwhelming revival that Peter and John had to help him bring in this second Samaritan harvest.

The Stronger Arguments:
(Well, no so much arguments as strategies and tactics and a general change of attitude in this case)
Brothers and sisters, the fields are white. In Mormonism we have one of the largest mission fields on earth literally sitting in our own backyards just like the Jews did with the Samaritans.  And in my opinion, it all too often it gets ignored (which is bad), napalmed, (which is worse), or catered to (which is a disaster and an embarrassment) by Christians depending their level of indifference, animosity, or ignorance. The template that Christ gave us with the “Mormons” of His day, offers us a balanced and biblical “higher calling” for evangelizing the Mormons of ours.  Let’s take a good look at that template.

Pass through…
Just as Christ made a conscious decision to enter Samaritan space shouldn’t we too enter Mormon space?  However, before doing so I recommend becoming familiar with the basics of Mormon culture.  Thankfully, a Pastor in Utah, Ross Anderson (who just so happens to be a former Mormon) has provided us with a wonderful resource:  A short little 144-page book on Latter-day Saint culture entitled, “Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor” that can easily be read in a couple of hours. Here’s an excerpt:

mormon-church-meeting21

A Mormon Fast and Testimony meeting in Africa.

On the first Sunday of each month, [the normal weekly] Sacrament Meeting takes a different twist. This Sunday is set aside as a day of fasting and prayer. Members typically go without two meals and donate the money they would have spent on food to the Church to help the poor . Sacrament Meeting becomes “Fast and Testimony Meeting.” On this Sunday , babies are blessed and newly baptized members are confirmed. In place of the regular Sacrament Meeting talks, members bear their testimonies. One at a time, they spontaneously go to the podium to give thanks for personal blessings, talk about faith-promoting experiences, and affirm their confidence in the truth of Mormon claims.

Members declare that they know the LDS Church is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that the current Church president is a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, or similar affirmations about the core principles of the Restoration. These monthly testimonies reinforce the speaker’s identification with the history and beliefs of the group while bolstering the confidence of those listening. Often testimony bearing is an emotional experience, accompanied by faltering voice and tears.

While Fast and Testimony Meeting can be a moving experience, Sacrament Meeting in general lacks the sense of transcendence that most traditional Christians associate with worship. In the biblical Christian worldview, God is infinitely above and distinct from his creation, but the LDS worldview collapses the distance between God and human beings. One LDS scholar, commenting on the implications for artists of a God who is the same kind of being as us, writes: If God is shorn of ineffability and transcendence , or is construed in human terms, how does one find the reverential awe that moves one to true worshipfulness? If Jesus is our “big brother,” how can he be our Lord and God? Reverence before the Almighty must be freshly conceptualized in such a reconfigured heaven and earth. But the dilemmas for the artist are especially vexing: in a universe devoid of transcendence and sacred distance (at least as conventionally constructed), how can wonder flourish?[20]

And I would recommend that you also read Mr. Anderson’s other excellent little book (only 116-pages this time) “Understanding the Book of Mormon” which will give you a quick overview of that book and a bit more insight into the Mormon mind and culture. That way  if you decide to a meeting at the local Mormon Church you’ll have at some basic knowledge of that book and it’s role in Mormonism.

And, yes, you read that last paragraph correctly, if we are truly going to pass through Mormonism like Christ passed through Samaria it is incumbent on us to go just as He went.  After all, if Christ could sit on the edge of a well and talk to Samaritan woman I think that we can somehow manage to stand by the water fountain in a Mormon Ward building and chat with Mormons can’t we?

In fact, I would recommend that if you’ve never been to a Mormon Church service before that you jump right into the deep end and attend an aforementioned Fast & Testimony meeting.  Not only will you come away with a better understanding of Mormonism you’ll also be inoculated against two things: 1) Ever wanting to join the Mormon Church because F&T’s (to use Mormon slang for them) are probably one of the boring things you’ll ever experience in this or any other lifetime – they even make the uptight Nazarene church that I grew up in seem lively, and; 2) Ever wondering if Mormonism is a cult or not.  All it will take for the latter is one of these:

In my opinion, until one has attended a Mormon Chapel service I don’t think it’s possible to fully grasp Mormon culture.  In fact, if you can, I would recommend that you also attend a Mormon Sunday School class (by the way, they’re usually not boring), a regular (that is non-Fast and Testimony) Chapel meeting, and watch at least one General Conference Address (which you can do after reading this article by clicking here). Do all that and you’ll have a rather nice immersion into Latter-day Saint church culture.

…speak the lingo…
To paraphrase from George Bernard Shaw,  just as Israel and Samaria were two countries separated by a common language, so too are Christianity and Mormonism.  As Sandra Tanner explains:

Whenever an evangelical Christian and a Latter-day Saint engage in a doctrinal discussion they encounter the problem of terminology. LDS leaders use the standard  vocabulary of Christianity but with radically different definitions. A Christian should never take for granted that his/her LDS friend understands common Christian terms in the biblical way.[21]

For example, and to cite from Ms. Tanner’s article, let’s consider the differences between how Jesus Christ is defined in both Latter-day Saint and Christian theology:

LDS: He is literally our elder brother, born to Heavenly Parents in the pre-existence. Jesus, Lucifer, angels and humans are all the same species and are brothers and sisters.

Christian: Jesus is fully God, not a subordinate deity. He eternally exists as God and is our creator.

Folks, this is not the same Christ![22] And like Christ, whose understanding was so great that He was both strategic and tactical in how He deconstructed and corrected the errors in Samaritan theology,  a good understanding of the “language differences” between the two groups are essential so we can do the same.

16402_10152868918113115_616651833807347885_nHowever, a word of warning: I’ve seen Christians overdo it on on this point too. Notice how in His conversation with the woman at the well Christ didn’t insist on correcting her bad theology into the minutiae right then and there.  Rather, He seemed to be content to leave things “loose” in order to build a common foundation for relationship.  This is typical with Mormons too – all too often you have to leave some loose ends dangling with the hope that you’ve planted enough seeds that they’ve yield fruit later.  It can take Mormons years, even decades, and multiple contacts with different Christians over that time frame to transition out of Mormonism since the personal price they pay they pay for leaving can be so high.

So a big part of “passing through” and “speaking the lingo” means being empathetic to the fact that for many Mormons the price for leaving can include divorce, being shunned by friends and family members, loss of income, loss of employment, feeling lost and alienated in the new non-Mormon culture that they’re suddenly thrust out into, and a whole host of other issues. As former BYU Professor Arza Evans‘ classic white paper  “Families Held Hostage” explains:

A man or a woman who comes to the conclusion that Mormonism is based upon deception and who then decides to leave the LDS Church must also be willing to give up his or her family. It may turn out that the doubter is able to persuade some family members to change their minds about Mormonism, but the odds are against this happening. Instead, a person usually learns that family members have been so thoroughly indoctrinated that their highest loyalty is to the Church, not to a husband, wife, son, daughter, or even to the truth. And a Church member who associates or sympathizes with an “apostate” risks failing his or her temple worthiness interview. (This is one of the questions.)[23]

This leads to the phenomenon known as “Shadow Mormonism” – members of the LdS Church who secretly no longer believe that all of it is true but are held hostage to Mormonism due to family, social, and vocational ties. Here’s how one such Mormon described his plight:

To those of you on the outside reading this, I beg you, please do not forget us. Please remember the hundreds of thousands of unique, special, beautiful individuals that are currently serving life sentences in the prison of Mormonism. Please do not cease to pray; to whatever God you serve, for our deliverance. Some of us have no hope for redemption or liberation. For the greater good, we willingly sacrifice our souls upon the altar of conformity and orthodoxy. Our pain is real. Our sentence is absolute…

To those of you on the outside, I thank you. I thank you for your courage. I thank you for your wisdom and insight. I thank you for your compassion and understanding. I thank you for your stories. I thank you for showing me the truth and allowing me to bask in its warmth, even if for a small moment. I love you all. I hope that truth will ultimately prevail. I hope that you and I will live to see it.[24]

… and break bad.
Perhaps I’m wrong but it seems to me that the woman at the well might have also felt like a hostage to Samaritanism. She was clearly an outcast or she wouldn’t have been drawing water in the heat of the day. And her multiple “marriages” seem to be a misguided attempt to fill some kind of existential void to me. But where could she go? She was trapped.

So when I read that Shadow Mormon plea I think of the “Mormons at the well” who must be suffering in like manner. I think of all the true believing Mormons who think that by oppressing and keeping them captive that they’re serving God.  I think of the blindness of those all those Mormons – believing and unbelieving – who are in sinking sand but don’t know it because they can’t see it. And I think of how they’re too often treated by well meaning but misguided Christians.

"Woman at the Well" Sieger Köder (German Catholic Priest, 1925-)

“Woman at the Well” by Sieger Köder
(German Catholic Priest, 1925-)

Sadly, the most common form of engagement by many Christians with Mormons – especially those new to Mormon Studies – tends to be one of three things: 1) Mormon bashing; 2) Soapboxing, and; 3) Placating. Bashing doesn’t require much of an explanation, just visit any internet page where Mormons and Christians are dialoging and you’ll both groups gleefully punching each other in the nose – all in the name God and with the love of Christ of course! You’ll also see both groups getting up on their soapboxes and spewing the dogma of their respective group in their native tongue.  There they’ll be Christians spewing Christianese, Mormons spewing Mormonese while those in their group smile and nod – and while those in the other group either glare angrily at such insensitive folly, or look bemused at the blizzard of meaningless words whizzing over their heads and splatting unproductively against the wall behind them.

But the most damaging of them all are the placators who “mangle Mormonese” (that is take everything at face value without realizing that while the words are the same, the underlying meaning is different) and then smile and gleefully declare, “Well whaddya know! You guys are pretty much just like us!”  Richard Mouw comes to mind here.

Christ’s  “Samaritan Template” offers us a better way: Break out of the unbiblical social conventions of Evangelical Christianity and be different if that’s what it takes to reach Mormons with the gospel.  In other words, “break bad!”  Now be forewarned that this may get you in trouble with Christians who misunderstand what you’re doing – and some Mormons may like it even less.

I’m speaking from experience. Occasionally Christians who first encounter me online think that I’m Mormon because I speak Mormonese and I don’t bash. And some Mormons think the same thing.  Further, I break bad whenever I tug at the sleeve of Christian soapboxers and say (in effect), “You do realize that they’re not ‘getting’ a single word you’re saying, right? Have you ever thought about learning their culture and learning their native tongue first?” Finally, I have the even more annoying habit of standing between Christians who are bashing Mormons and their targets and saying, “Why are you hitting that blind man?”  (by the way, sometimes they’ll just hit you instead when you do this). And, yes, I’ve learned how to recognize all these behaviors because, to my shame, I’ve done all these things in abundance – and on bad days I still do.

"Christ and Woman at the Well" Byzatine Icon

“Christ and Woman at the Well” Byzatine Icon

It is to such zealotry that Heavenly Father (through the Apostle Paul) says:

“God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth, enabling them to escape the Devil’s trap, where they are caught and held captive, forced to run his errands.”
(2 Timothy 2:24-26, The Message)

And the Holy Spirit (through the Apostle Peter) says:

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)

Thus, it is to all the well meaning but misguided zealots like myself that the Master beckons saying, “Follow Me! If you speak the lingo, know the culture, and if will ‘break bad’ by humbling yourself as I, did then come with Me – there are some Latter-day Saint captives waiting to be freed.”

Summary and Conclusion:
Clearly the weak argument presented at the beginning of this article is unbiblical. We do need to understand Mormon culture. We do need to speak their language. And if we’re to have the mind of Christ hadn’t we must be willing to get out of the Christian ghetto and walk into “Zion” as boldly as Christ walked into Samaria – or more pointedly as He was willing to humble Himself for a planet full of sinners that included you and I.

Shouldn’t we have the good sense to understand their culture and language well enough to preach the gospel in a way that really, really reaches them rather than just doing things make us feel good about ourselves but doesn’t bear fruit? Shouldn’t we go against the social conventions and biases of our own culture if they’re getting the way of reaching the lost that God loves so much with the gospel? Shouldn’t we model ourselves after the Apostle who said so well:

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
(1 Corinthians 9:20-23, The Message, bolding added)

What I hope to see is revival in “Zion” due to an occupying army of Christians who speak the native tongue and love Mormons enough to move with comfort and ease within their culture while still keeping their bearings in Christ.  I long to see the captives in “Zion” set free – and I hope that you do too. After all, Christ has already showed us how to do it – it all started at a well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henryk_Siemiradzki

“Christ and the Samaritan Woman” (1890) by Henryk Siemiradzkizki (Polish, 1843-1902)

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”
– Mother Teresa

NOTES
[1] Some rhetorical liberties were taken here. For example, the use of the term “church” to describe pre-Christian era Samaritanism is presentist spin. As is true with most “parallel-mania” type comparisons, reality is far more complex and nuanced than the cryptic shorthand version given here. This is a big, complex topic so I would refer the interested reader to the following bibliography (from most relevant to least) from which this list derived:

Uncredited, “Differences Between Samaritan-Israelites and  Jews  of their Religious Beliefs”, TheSamaritans.com website
(compares modern Samaritanism and Judaism)

James A. Montgomery, “The Samaritans the earliest Jewish sect their history, theology, and literature”, The J.C. Winston Co.1907, pp.204-251

Wikipedia, “Eli (biblical figure)”, Samaritan Sources section

Wikipedia, “Samaritans”

Samaritan Sacred Texts (web portal page)

“Who were the Samaritans?” Gotquestions.org web article

Abraham Tal, “The Emergence of the Samaritan Community” (Lecture given at Mandelbaum House, August 2001)

J.E.H. Thomson, D.D., “The Samaritans (Being the Alexander Robertson Lectures , delivered before the University of Glasgow in 1916)”

Jacob, Son of Aaron High Priest of the Samaritans, “The Messianic Hope of the Samaritans”

John R. Sampey, D.D., “The Samaritans”

Stefan Schorch, “The Origin of the Samaritan Community” (2005)

[2] Uncredited, “Who were the Samaritans?” Gotquestions.org web article

[3] Op cit, Gotquestions.org

[4] Alfred Edersheim, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”In Judæa and through Samaria – a Sketch of Samaritan History and Theology – Jews and Samaritans chapter

[5] Kenneth Boa, “Studies in the Book of John: John – Chapter 4″

[6] Ibid

[7] As cited in The Keepers, An Introduction to the History and Culture of the Samaritans, by Robert T. Anderson and Terry Giles, Hendrickson Publishing, 2002, p.12.  An online English translation of  the “Samaritan Chronicles” (aka the “Book of Joshua”) can also be found here.

[8] James A. Montgomery, “The Samaritans the earliest Jewish sect their history, theology, and literature”, The J.C. Winston Co., (1907), pp.210-211

[9] Here’s a quick explanation of this phenomenon from Wikipedia:

Christianity takes exception to a strict adherence to belief in God’s incorporeality when it comes to the Incarnation. According to traditional Christianity, in the Incarnation, the second member of the Trinity… became infleshed (the Latin meaning of incarnatus) and thus, in a sense, came to be “with body.” While this pivotal claim about the union of God and man at the heart of Christianity marks a dramatic departure from a radical transcendent theology of God according to which any such union is metaphysically impossible, it does not commit Christians to denying God’s immateriality. In traditional Christianity, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son (apart from the Incarnation) are clearly understood as lacking material structure and composition.
(Wikipedia article on “Incorporeality” bolding added)

[10] Op Cit, James A. Montgomery, pp.225-226, 228

[11] Ibid, pp.244-245

[12] Ibid, pp. 249,250

[13] New Testament scholar Leon Morris notes:

There is no reason for thinking that Samaritan ideas of the Messiah were with out nationalistic aspects. But the Taheb was primarily a teacher, a restorer of true worship, a priest. Macdonald says, “no king was looked for and no royal prerogatives” (The Theology of the Samaritans, p. 362). Clearly to accept the title “Messiah” in Samaritan surroundings in a discussion with a woman about worship was a very different matter from accepting the title among Jews.
Leon Morris, “The Gospel According to John” (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)” (Kindle Locations 6770-6773). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[14] Ibid, Kindle Locations 6621-6623

[15] Ibid, Kindle Locations 6791-6793

[16] “Breaking bad” comes from the American Southwest slang phrase “to break bad,” meaning to challenge conventions, to defy authority and to skirt the edges of the law. Example: “What, you just decided to break bad one day?”
(source: Urban Dictionary)

[17] Op Cit, Leon Morris, Kindle Locations 6808-6810 and 6837-6840

[18] I understand well those who might take umbrage to the idea that Christ might tell the parable of “The Good Mormon” were He to tell it today.  Despite the similarities, there are some substantial differences as well.  For example, unlike modern Mormonism, the Samaritans didn’t insist in trumpeting and promoting their charities and other good works every chance they get. Further, I doubt (though I don’t know with certainty) that they used charity as a means of coercion like the LdS Church has throughout it’s history has.  I thought that we summarized both of these points well in The 95 LDS Theses (circa 2013) when we said:

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]

33. It [the LDS Church] has a double standard for treating non-members with charitable benevolence (as a means of proselytizing and public relations) while exacting, high, often unattainable standards that members must meet to receive the same levels of attention, aid, and assistance.

So while my rhetorical stance in this article may have put too positive a spin on Mormonism on this point I’m not naive – I really do realize how complex the issues here really are.

[19] Philip Schaff, “History Of The Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes In One)” (Kindle Locations 2248-2267 and 9332-9338).  . Kindle Edition.

[20] Ross Anderson, “Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor: A Quick Christian Guide for Relating to Latter-day Saints” (Kindle Locations 626-643)

[21] Sandra Tanner, “Terminology Differences”

[22] For an even more granular analysis of the differences between the Mormon and Biblical Jesus see, “Mormonism and Jesus Christ” by Rob Bowman.

[23] Arza Evans, “Families Held Hostage”, p.2; Mr. Evans has a unique insider’s view as he’s one of the best connected ExMormons that I know of.  As Richard Packham explains in the introduction for this article that he has on his website, “Mr. Evans is a retired college professor who grew up thoroughly indoctrinated with Mormonism. He went on a full-time mission for the Mormon church, served in several bishoprics, and was also a temple worker. About age forty he began some serious research into early Mormon history that led to traumatic but liberating changes in his life. His article (written 2004).”  This biography fails to mention that Mr. Evan’s father was the President of the Temple System for the LdS Church during the 1970’s and part of the 1980’s and that Mormon General Authorities, and Presidents were, and in some cases still are, family friends and neighbors of Mr. Evans.

[24] Enigma, “The Death of Reason and Freedom”

This article is dedicated to my dear friend Martin Jacobs without whom I never would seen any connection between the Samaritans and the Mormons. Thank you mate! 

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