A Response to Richard Mouw

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by Robert M. Bowman Jr.
The May 2016 issue of the Christian periodical First Things (appearing online in April) includes an article Richard Mouw, President Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary, entitled “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.” As I will document here, the Institute for Religious Research figures largely in Mouw’s article even though he never mentions IRR (or me) by name. As the spokesman for IRR in past efforts by our organization to dialogue with and respond to Professor Mouw, I have a special interest in Mouw’s article and a direct responsibility to offer this response.

The focus of Mouw’s article is on the question of whether Mormonism is still committed to the view of God represented by Lorenzo Snow’s couplet, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” Mouw’s main claim is that the LDS Church is quietly moving away from the notion that God was a mortal man who became exalted to Godhood in a process open to us as well. Mouw recognizes that this doctrine is incompatible with Christianity but insists that Mormons are doing what they can to retire this false doctrine.

If only it were so.

In this article I will be critically reviewing Mouw’s article, correcting the historical record, explaining the issues, summarizing the evidence as it pertains to those issues, and responding to Mouw’s arguments.

MouwInterview

Richard J. Mouw

Richard Mouw: Dialogue with Mormons but Not with Their Evangelical Critics
Mouw begins by giving a brief recitation of the history of the Snow couplet. Joseph Smith’s father had told Snow that he would become “as great as God,” an idea that Snow felt he came to grasp four years later, leading to his formulation of the couplet. He reports that Parley Pratt “not long after that” affirmed that “God, angels and men are all of one species” and that Joseph Smith taught that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man.” (The order here is a little misleading: Snow composed his couplet in 1840, Joseph Smith delivered the sermon quoted in 1844, and Pratt published his book making the quoted statement in 1855.) Mouw admits that this view “denies an essential Jewish and Christian teaching,” namely that God is ontologically unique, a fundamentally different kind of being than humans, and that we will never become the same kind of being as God.

Yet Mouw argues that this doctrine, which he admits was taught by Joseph Smith as well as by Snow and Pratt, need not divide evangelicals and Mormons, because Mormons are at least in the process of abandoning it. As I shall explain, Mouw’s argument blithely ignores facts that have been presented to him and that flatly disprove his claim.

Mouw recounts the history of this controversy as follows:

I’ve been involved for a long time in an Evangelical-Mormon dialogue. When that dialogue began fifteen years ago, we were told by the Mormon participants that the Lorenzo Snow couplet has no canonical status in Mormon theology. I reported that assessment in print, arguing that the apparent denial of any ontological difference between God and man in the Snow couplet need not prevent Evangelical-Mormon dialogue.

Right away, Evangelical “countercult” groups responded in a sharply critical way. One issued a “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries,” stating that “the evidence is voluminous that the LDS Church has been continuously teaching the doctrine of eternal progression, as it is commonly known, represented by the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet from 1844 right up to the present.” An extensive critique appeared in an essay by Ronald V. Huggins, published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was; As God Now Is, Man May Be’; ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw.”

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle (2004)

This account is rather misleading. Mouw’s original statement denying that the Snow couplet had no canonical status in LDS theology was made in an email in late 2004, following his controversial remarks at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on November 14, 2004. On that occasion, Mouw accused his evangelical brethren of “bearing false witness” against Mormons in the way they characterized Mormon doctrine. In a subsequent email responding to challenges to his criticism, Mouw asserted that evangelicals in countercult ministry had misrepresented Mormonism as teaching “that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God is now.” Mouw claimed that this idea had “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine.” Huggins responded in the article Mouw mentions, which appeared in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.1 That periodical, of course, is not published by a “countercult” group, but by the premier academic society of evangelical scholars. Huggins himself was at the time a professor at Salt Lake Theological Seminary and had published two articles on the Book of Mormon in the academic periodicalDialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.2 Referring to Huggins in the context of a general swipe at evangelical “countercult” groups comes across as an attempt to broad-brush all evangelical criticism of Mouw as unscholarly. It also ignores the fact that many evangelicals engaged in so-called countercult work care about scholarship and that many evangelical scholars are supportive of countercult ministry. For example, Huggins himself has been a member of the board of our organization, the Institute for Religious Research, since before Mouw’s appearance at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

In an attempt to frame the controversy as one stoked by “countercult” groups, Mouw claims that after his publicly asserting that the idea of man becoming gods just like God is now is not a part of present-day LDS doctrine, “Right away, Evangelical ‘countercult’ groups responded in a sharply critical way.” He then cites the “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries.” However, that Statement was issued in April 2013, more than eight years after Mouw’s comment about Mormon doctrine (and more than six years after Huggins’s article). That is hardly “right away.”

Perhaps this is a good place to point out that Mouw made his critical remarks about the evangelical countercult movement without having engaged anyone in that movement in the kind of friendly dialogue he has pursued with Mormon scholars. He made no effort to explain to the evangelicals he criticized what he thought they were doing wrong. Between 2004 and the present he has not pursued such dialogue and has not welcomed overtures from those evangelicals who have expressed a desire to have such dialogue with him.

Talking With The Mormons Front Cover

“Talking with Mormons” by Richard J. Mouw (2012)

The Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries3 was prompted not by Mouw’s email in 2004 but by his very public campaign in 2012 and early 2013 to promote the notion that Mormonism was moving away from the doctrine of God and man as the same species. In 2012 Mouw published a book entitled Talking with Mormons that criticized the way most evangelicals have viewed Mormonism. That same year and in early 2013 he made some public appearances with LDS scholar Robert Millet in which the two of them discussed some of the subjects addressed in Mouw’s book. In effect, the book and appearances were a public relations campaign to argue that evangelicals should view Mormonism in a more positive way religiously and theologically. In both the book and his public appearances, Mouw expanded on his claim that evangelical “countercult” organizations were misrepresenting Mormon doctrine, especially with regard to the issue of the nature of God.

In early 2013, the Institute for Religious Research reached out to Mouw and attempted to pursue dialogue with him about his critical stance toward countercult ministry. On February 14 of that year I sent to Mouw on behalf of IRR a three-page letter along with a 36-page documentation packet that had been specially prepared to address the comments he had made regarding the LDS doctrine of God and man. Perhaps I might mention that I am a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (1981), where Mouw later served as president, and I had met with Mouw in his office at Fuller and discussed Mormonism with him in about 2001. After receiving no response to my letter, I sent Mouw a follow-up letter on March 14, which was answered by an email to me from Mouw on April 9. Mouw declined our invitation to dialogue, complaining about a number of things he thought we had said about him. After I responded with an email explaining that we had made none of the statements to which he took offense, Mouw wrote back and admitted that he had indeed confused us with someone else. However, he still chose not to engage us in dialogue or even to respond to the documentation we had provided him.

In the wake of Mouw’s unwillingness to participate in dialogue with evangelicals on the subject of Mormonism whose views he had been criticizing for years, we had a lengthy discussion on the matter at the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions conference in April 2013. EMNR is a consortium of evangelical organizations and researchers who are committed to supporting Christians in mission to people in a variety of new religious movements, including Mormonism. On April 12, 2013, EMNR issued a statement (which I drafted) responding to Mouw. After explaining briefly why we disagreed with Mouw’s comments about Mormonism, the statement concluded as follows:

"Talking Mormon Doctrine" edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet (circa 2015)

“Talking Mormon Doctrine” edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet (2015)

Evangelical Ministries to New Religions applauds Dr. Mouw for his salutary call for Christian civility and his thoughtful engagement in dialogue with Mormon scholars and leaders. At the same time, EMNR respectfully yet strongly disagrees with Dr. Mouw’s generalizations about evangelicals misrepresenting Mormon beliefs and practices, and specifically with his own misrepresentation of the standard LDS doctrine of eternal progression as “folk Mormonism” having no official or functioning place in Mormon belief today. We invite Dr. Mouw to engage evangelical ministries to Mormons in general, and those of us who are part of EMNR in particular, in the same kind of civil dialogue he has rightly championed between evangelicals and Mormons. Furthermore, we encourage Latter-day Saints to engage a wider circle of evangelicals in open and candid dialogue.

Mouw has never taken us up on this invitation.

Ironically, Mouw continues to claim, as he did in his 2012 book, that unnamed evangelical critics of Mormonism disagree with him because they are closed in principle to engaging Mormons in respectful dialogue. Here is how he put it in his book:

Again, there are many evangelicals who are convinced that those of us on the evangelical side who are involved in these dialogues have been duped by the Mormons. Worse than that, they’re convinced that by engaging in friendly—and hopeful—dialogue with representatives of Mormonism, we’re hurting the cause of the gospel…. Promoting the idea of friendly dialogue with Mormons isn’t a popular thing to do.4

In his recent article in First Things, Mouw again criticizes unnamed evangelicals who think dialogue with Mormons is impossible:

At stake in this dispute is a choice between two approaches to Mormon teachings and practice. One is skeptical and presumes that Mormonism is a ­deeply heretical form of Christianity, so much so that dialogue is impossible. The other is more trusting and is willing to entertain the possibility that Mormonism has the resources for theological self-criticism and self-correction, and that dialogue might help in this process.

I do not know of a single evangelical in “countercult” ministry who thinks that dialogue with Mormons is a bad idea, let alone that it is impossible. Indeed, every such evangelical I know seeks opportunities to engage Mormons in dialogue. It seems here that Mouw is using the term “dialogue” as code for something else. Note that Mouw’s comment implies that he disagrees about Mormonism being “deeply heretical.” This implication is confirmed by the title of his article, “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.”

President George W. Bush (right) meets with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during his visit to Salt Lake City. Seated clockwise are: the late Gordon B. Hinckley, President; Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor (obscured); James E. Faust, Second Counselor (obscured), and F. Michael Watson, Executive Secretary.

President George W. Bush (right) meets with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a visit to Salt Lake City in 2008. Seated clockwise are: the late Gordon B. Hinckley, President; Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor (obscured); James E. Faust, Second Counselor (obscured), and F. Michael Watson, Executive Secretary.

The Real Issue: What Do Mormons Actually Teach?
Here’s what is really “at stake in this dispute.” It is a choice between accepting what official LDS Church publications and its leading theologians actually teach their members or accepting what Richard Mouw says he thinks is happening based on his conversations with his “Mormon friends” despite the public record of LDS Church teaching.5 Mouw gives lip service to the importance of considering what the LDS Church teaches its own members when he writes, “The test for me is not what Mormons say to me, but what they say to each other.”6 However, he doesn’t actually show that this is the basis on which he has formed his theological judgments about Mormonism. Instead, he repeatedly appeals to the assurances of his Mormon friends, as in the following telling comment:

Mormonism is often portrayed as a self-deification program—and not without some legitimacy, given the popularity of the Lorenzo Snow couplet: “What Man now is, God once was; what God now is, Man may become.” My Mormon friends are quick to point out, however, that this couplet has no official canonical status—indeed, Gordon Hinckley famously told Time magazine that he had no idea what it means to say “As God is, man may become.”7

With all due respect, what Mouw’s Mormon friends told him carries no authority as far as defining what has official or canonical status in Mormonism. Gordon Hinckley’s statement to Time magazine also does not pass what Mouw himself says is the test, which is what Mormons say to each other—not what they say to the secular media.

Yet there is more to the story with regard to Hinckley’s supposed denial of the doctrine. As we explain in a separate article,8 Hinckley did not disavow any understanding of the Snow couplet. We will summarize the issue briefly here. In Hinckley’s 1997 interview, he was asked, “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?” Here is what he said:

I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.9

In saying that he didn’t “know a lot about it,” Hinckley was admitting implicitly that he did know something about it, while at the same time saying that Mormonism doesn’t provide much in the way of details about God the Father’s life before he became a God. Thus, Hinckley was not suggesting that the doctrine expressed in the Snow couplet was not part of Mormon doctrine. It may not be something the LDS Church emphasized, but it is still part of their belief system.

In his recent First Things article, Mouw interprets Hinckley’s remarks as “signaling a decision on the part of the Mormon leadership to downplay the Snow couplet within the corpus of Mormon teachings about the deity,” suggesting that they are “interested in joining the broad Jewish and Christian consensus that God is ontologically different from man—or at least that Mormons today don’t want to directly contradict that consensus.” Since Hinckley’s comment to Time was made in 1997, we have had nearly twenty years to see if the LDS Church actually has pivoted away from its earlier doctrine. The record of the past twenty years demonstrably contradicts Mouw’s interpretation. Some of the evidence comes from sources surprisingly close to Mouw himself.

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet

Robert Millet: God Was Once a Mortal Being
If Gordon Hinckley was signaling in 1997 that the LDS Church was moving away from the doctrine that God was once a man as taught by Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow, Mouw’s LDS friend Robert Millet did not get the message. The very next year Millet and Noel Reynolds, another BYU scholar, published a short book addressing “10 basic issues” including number 6, “What do Latter-day Saints mean when they say that God was once a man?” After quoting approvingly both the King Follett Discourse and the Snow couplet, Millet and Reynolds wrote:

That God was once a mortal being is in no way inconsistent with the fact that he now has all power and all knowledge and possesses every virtue, grace, and godly attribute. He acquired perfection through long periods of growth, development, and progression, “by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation,” as Joseph Smith explained…. Not much has been revealed about this concept beyond the fact that God was once a man and that over a long period of time he gained the knowledge, power, and divine attributes necessary to know all things and have all power…. These doctrines are not clearly stated in the Bible. Mormons believe, however, that this knowledge was once had among the ancients and that it has been restored through modern prophets.10

This is not the only place where Millet has affirmed the doctrine of the King Follett Discourse and the Snow couplet. In his 2005 book A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Millet offered the following comments for the benefit primarily of evangelical readers:

The tougher issue for many Christians to deal with is the accompanying doctrine set forth in the King Follett Sermon and the Lorenzo Snow coupletnamely, that God was once a man. Latter-day scriptures state unequivocally that God is a man, a Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57) who possesses a body of flesh and bones (D&C 130:22). These concepts are clearly a part of the doctrinal restoration. We teach that man is not of a lower order or different species than God. This, of course, makes many of our Christian friends extremely nervous (if not angry), for it appears to them that we are lowering God in the scheme of things and thus attempting to bridge the Creator/creature chasm.11

Mouw definitely knew about this statement from Millet, because Mouw wrote a foreword and afterword to the book! Moreover, in his afterword Mouw acknowledged that Mormonism teaches that we human beings are of the same species as God:

At the heart of our continuing disagreements, I am convinced, are very basic worldview issues. Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and the creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable “being” gap. God is the “Wholly Other”—eternal and self-sufficient—who is in a realm of existence that is radically distinct from the creation that was brought into being out of nothing by God’s sovereign decree. On this view of things, to confuse the Creator’s being with anything in his creation is to commit the sin of idolatry. Mormons, on the other hand, talk about God and humans as belonging to the same “species.” Inevitably, then, the differences are described, not in terms of an unbridgeable gap of being, but in the language of “more” and “less.”12

Mouw and Millet were obviously working on this book in 2004 (if not before) in order for it to be published in 2005. This means that at the time Mouw spoke at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in November 2004 and shortly thereafter sent out an email claiming that the doctrine epitomized in Snow’s couplet had “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine,” Mouw knew that in fact that doctrine was “clearly a part of the doctrinal restoration,” as Millet put it in his book. Less than a year after Mouw had denied that the doctrine had any functioning place in current Mormon doctrine, a book appeared clearly affirming that very doctrine as part of the Mormon doctrinal restoration, with a foreword and afterword by Mouw himself. Mouw’s own statement that in Mormon belief God and humans are members of the same species clearly presupposes the doctrine that God was once a mortal man like us who then became a God and that we as his children can do the same.

"Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow" official LDS Church manual (circa 2012)

“Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow” official LDS Church manual (2012)

God Was Once a Man: It’s Still Being Taught
The doctrine of eternal progression—that God the Father was once a mortal man, that he became a God, and that we can become Gods like him—has continued to be taught by Mormons right up to the present. In his May 2016 article in First Things, Mouw devotes several paragraphs to explaining why the inclusion of the Snow couplet in the 2012 curriculum manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, part of a series of manuals on the past presidents of the LDS Church, was not necessarily endorsing the first half of the couplet. According to Mouw, the discussion of the couplet in the manual focuses entirely on the second half, neither affirming nor denying the first half. Mouw’s analysis of this particular manual’s treatment of the Snow couplet has some weaknesses, but the bigger point to be made is that this is only one of many publications of the past twelve years in which the LDS Church has reaffirmed the validity of the Snow couplet, the King Follett Discourse, and the traditional LDS doctrine of eternal progression. As I pointed out to Mouw in my first letter to him in 2012:

The 2004 manual Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings Religion 370, 471, and 475 stated that “there are approved and inspired writings that are not in the standard works” that “also are true and should be used along with the scripturesthemselves,” among the five most important of which it says are “the ‘King Follett Sermon’ and the ‘Sermon in the Grove.’” At least eight teaching manuals currently available on LDS.org teach the King Follett Discourse, the Lorenzo Snow couplet, or (in most cases) both, including six manuals published since 2003.13

For example, the LDS curriculum manual Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual (2011), which is still on the official LDS website, states:

What we know about God is limited to what he has chosen to tell us through his prophets. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s first vision in 1820 (see Joseph Smith—History 1:11–20) and the famous King Follett discourse given shortly before Joseph’s martyrdom in 1844 (see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 343–62) are significant doctrinal teachings on the nature of God. From the beginning of his ministry until its end, the Prophet shared his increasing understanding of his Heavenly Father…. In the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith declared that the first principle of the gospel consists of knowing the character of God. Joseph taught that God “was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself” (Teachings, p. 346…).14

In 2014, the LDS Church posted a “Gospel Topics” article on its website with the title “Becoming Like God.” Here is some of what that article stated:

What kind of a being is God?” he asked. Human beings needed to know, he argued, because “if men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” In that phrase, the Prophet collapsed the gulf that centuries of confusion had created between God and humanity. Human nature was at its core divine. God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him…. Since that sermon, known as the King Follett discourse, the doctrine that humans can progress to exaltation and godliness has been taught within the Church. Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” Little has been revealed about the first half of this couplet, and consequently little is taught. When asked about this topic, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told a reporter in 1997, “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” When asked about the belief in humans’ divine potential, President Hinckley responded, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.15

The above statement provides a convenient basis for a review of the main points that have been made here:

  • The LDS Church continues to cite approvingly both the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet. Mouw’s claim that the Snow couplet or the idea it expresses has “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine” is still false.
  • Joseph Smith is credited with having “collapsed the gulf…between God and humanity” found in traditional (orthodox) Christian theology. The statement here, in attributing that “gulf” to “centuries of confusion,” obviously is approving of and affirming Joseph’s teaching that collapsed that gulf.
  • The LDS Church affirms here that human nature is divine; this is another way of saying that God and humans are the same kind or species of being, albeit at very different stages of development.
  • Hinckley’s point that not much is known about God’s life before becoming God is affirmed. To say that little has been revealed or is taught about this doctrine is not to deny that the doctrine exists. The LDS Church is still committed to teaching that God was once a man like us and became exalted to Godhood, even though it has little more to say about the matter than that.
  • The LDS Church also affirms strongly the doctrine of eternal progression, which includes the idea that human beings can become like God in his essential attributes. God is an exalted man, and we who are mortals can likewise become exalted like him. This doctrine clearly goes outside the boundaries of orthodox theology, according to which redeemed human beings will become like God morally (perfect in love, holiness, etc.) and become immortal but will not become ontologically the same kind of being as God.

Toward the end of his First Things article, Mouw writes:

My own sense is that many in the LDS community, including several of its leaders, recognize that the first half of the Snow couplet, the statement about God having been like man, is incompatible with what they genuinely want to sing about: spiritual reliance on the all-sufficient Savior. They also see that it works against the spiritual outlook they want to nurture in new generations of Mormons. Evangelicals may wish for an explicit denial by the LDS leadership of the first half of the couplet. But it is important to recognize that another option—to be sure, a less stabilizing one theologically—is simply to ignore that first half and focus on the second and potentially more orthodox half in what is affirmed and taught in Mormonism.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

Up to now, what Mouw says is his “sense” conflicts with the direct statements made by the LDS Church’s leaders, curriculum manuals, and official website statements. The LDS Church continues to affirm the validity and truth of the first half of the Snow couplet even while acknowledging that it does not have anything to offer in the way of elaboration or details as to what God the Father’s life was like or what he did prior to attaining Godhood. The problem here is not merely that the LDS Church has yet to repudiate or explicitly deny the first half of the couplet. The problem is that it continues to affirm its validity, as well as the validity of Joseph Smith’s teaching along the same lines in the King Follett Discourse.

Thus, there is simply no basis for thinking that Mormonism is “approaching orthodoxy.” There has been no significant theological change on the controversial issue at hand. At the very time that Richard Mouw began asserting (in 2004) that the idea of God as a former mortal man had no functioning place in contemporary Mormon doctrine, he was working with Mormon theologian Robert Millet getting his book published by a Christian publisher (Eerdmans), and even writing a foreword and afterword to it, that flatly contradicted Mouw’s claim.

Mouw’s claim about the Snow couplet and eternal progression was refuted by Ronald Huggins in his excellent 2006 article. In the ten years that have passed since that time, Mouw has not rebutted Huggins or offered anything along the lines of a scholarly treatment of the subject. Meanwhile, throughout those ten years the LDS Church has repeatedly reaffirmed their belief in the theology set forth in the King Follett Discourse and epitomized in Lorenzo Snow’s couplet. Except for the 2012 manual on Lorenzo Snow, Mouw has yet to comment on any of the documentary evidence that contradicts his claim.

Forced to choose between accepting Mouw’s assurance that the sense he gets from his Mormon friends is that they would like to abandon the doctrine that God was once a man like us or accepting what the LDS Church’s leaders and theologians (including some of Mouw’s friends!) say is their position on the subject, the only reasonable course is to accept what the Mormons themselves say. Mouw may have his reasons for taking the position he does, and he may sincerely think he is doing the right thing. Regardless, the truth is that Mormon doctrine still stands opposed to the orthodox Christian belief that God is ontologically unique and radically different from his creation. Genuine dialogue between evangelicals and Mormons must begin by coming to terms with what each other actually believes.

Richard J. Mouw

Richard J. Mouw

NOTES
1. Ronald V. Huggins, “Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was; As God Now Is, Man May Be’; ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49/3 (Sept. 2006): 549-68.
2. Ronald V. Huggins, “Did the Author of 3 Nephi Know the Gospel of Matthew?” Dialogue 30 (1997): 137-48; “‘Without a Cause’ and ‘Ships of Tarshish’: A Possible Contemporary Source for Two Unexplained Readings from Joseph Smith.” Dialogue 36 (2003): 157-79.
3. The statement is available on IRR’s website: see “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries,” Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, 13 April 2013.
4. Richard J. Mouw, Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 41.
5. Mouw’s book Talking with Mormons makes references to his Mormon “friends” over twenty times. By contrast, he cites Joseph Smith only twice and has only one or two other references to authoritative LDS sources.
6. Mouw, Talking with Mormons, 41.
7. Ibid., 55.
8. Robert M. Bowman Jr., “Gordon Hinckley, Richard Mouw, and Eternal Progression” (IRR, 2016).
9. This is the full answer in the unedited transcript provided to IRR by the interviewer for Time, Richard N. Ostling, and quoted in Luke P. Wilson and Joel B. Groat, “Dodging and Dissembling Prophet?” (IRR, 1997). See David Van Biema, “Kingdom Come: Salt Lake City was just for starters,” Time, 4 Aug. 1997.10. Robert L. Millet and Noel B. Reynolds, Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University—FARMS, 1998), chapter 6, emphasis added.
11. Robert L. Millet, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 144, emphasis added.
12. Richard J. Mouw, “Afterword,” in ibid., 182, emphasis added.
13. Letter from Robert M. Bowman Jr. to Richard J. Mouw, 14 Feb. 2013.
14.Chapter 3: God the Eternal Father,” in Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual (2011), 7–8.
15.Becoming Like God” (LDS.org, 2014).

The Los Angeles, California LDS Church Temple at Sunset

The Los Angeles, California LDS Church Temple at Sunset

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

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

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

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.
(source: “Who We Are: The People of IRR and What We Are All About”

This article was originally published on the Institute for Religious Research (IRR) website. It is republished here with the kind permission of the author.

by Fred W. Anson
Even though I haven’t seen or heard hide nor hair of it for a while now, at one point Floyd Weston’s “17 Points of the True Church” was once all the rage among Mormons. They would proudly present it as demonstrable proof of an obvious miracle that validated and confirmed the veracity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with this story you can hear it directly from Mr. Weston in the video link that I’ve provided above. Or, for those who prefer the short version, here’s the synopsis from a Mormon friendly source:

The “17 points of the true church” is a story often heard in sacrament meeting talks. The story goes like this: Five friends attending college hear Albert Einstein speak. Einstein gives his belief in God. The five friends return to their dorm and begin to map out what the “true” church of God would have to include. Eventually the friends come up with 17 points of the true church. They all separate. World War II happens. Years later they all meet up (one had died in the war). The four had gone off to find the “true” church based on their research. All four had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.1

However, the body of evidence suggests that it never happened at all.

Einstein at Cal Tech.

Einstein at Cal Tech.

Hearing Albert Einstein Speak at Cal Tech
It is a fact that Albert Einstein was at Cal Tech in the 1930’s. As the school’s website explains:

Einstein was a visiting professor at Caltech for three winter terms only—1931, 1932, and 1933. When Einstein decided to settle in the United States permanently, he accepted an appointment at Princeton University.2

However, according to his obituary, Floyd Elmer Weston was born May 21, 1921 which means that he would have been between 10-12 years old when he was a student there. Further, there’s also no record of Einstein speaking at Cal Tech after leaving the school for his commission at Princeton. Further, since Einstein’s health was failing after the war, a cross country trip from Princeton to Cal Tech (which most likely would have been via train) in the post war 1940’s to mid 1950’s (he died in 1955) for an undocumented speaking engagement is highly improbable.3

Further, there’s this email from 1998:

A convert in our ward fifteen or twenty years ago, Dick Lockett, read Weston’s story of the 17 Points and recognized that Weston claimed to have been a student at Cal Tech at the same time he was there. But several small points didn’t match his own recollection of a few events Weston mentioned. Key among them was Weston’s recounting of Einstein’s visit to Cal Tech. Einstein did come to Cal Tech but several years before Weston and he were students there. Dick began to probe the story further. He found that Weston was indeed a student at Cal Tech during the years he attended and thus could not have heard Einstein speak.4

No Collaborating Witnesses
Another problem with Weston’s story is the lack of collaborating witnesses. Continuing from the same source:

…in his story Weston only identified one of the people in the “study group” with first and last names. The rest are only identified by first names. Dick found the one identifiable member of the study group in the alumni records and made contact. They guy [had] never heard of Weston, was not LDS, and certainly was not part of any study group.5

And Holy Fetch notes:

Here is what we know to be true about this story. It was first told by Floyd Weston. He claims that he was one of the four college students. He attended Cal Tech and Albert Einstein did speak there (although some claim that Weston was a student several years after the Einstein visit). Floyd Weston never denied the story and died still claiming the story to be true. The life event was even mentioned in his obituary.

Floyd Weston’s account of the story is the only historical proof we have of this story. None of the other three people involved in the story have ever come forward to back up the story.6

Floyd Weston (1921-2005)

Floyd Weston (1921-2005)

Did Weston Recant?
However, it’s possible that Holy Fetch is incorrect in its assertion that, “Floyd Weston never denied the story and died still claiming the story to be true.” as the aforementioned email notes:

Shortly after this, Weston was invited to speak at a fireside in our stake. When Dick heard this, he told the stake president what he had found. When Weston arrived, he was asked to meet with the SP who confronted him with Dick’s findings. Weston confessed that he had made up the story and was sent packing. This happened in San Jose South stake.

While I have some sympathies about how difficult it must be to untangle a web of deception (I’m sure he still gets phone calls begging him to come and tell the story one more time), I think it is irresponsible to deliver this talk as he did to a recent group of new mission presidents, at church firesides, and to continue to sell his tape.7

The Internal Confirmation Bias Speaks for Itself
But the most compelling argument against Weston’s “17 Points” is that it’s clearly a case of confirmation bias. Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as follows:

Confirmation bias… is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities… People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.8

A simpler, more vernacular way to define it is, “You only count the hits and ignore the misses for your predetermined, favored position.” Got it? So, once again for those who missed those 17-points here they are again:

  1. Christ organized the Church (Eph 4:11-14)
  2. The true church must bear the name of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:23)
  3. The true church must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets (Eph 2:19-20)
  4. The true church must have the same organization as Christ’s Church (Eph 4:11-14)
  5. The true church must claim divine authority (Heb 5:4-10)
  6. The true church must have no paid ministry (1 Cor 9:16-18; Acts 20:33-34; John 10:11-13)
  7. The true church must baptize by immersion (Matt 3:13-16)
  8. The true church must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:14-17)
  9. The true church must practice divine healing (Mark 3:14-15)
  10. The true church must teach that God and Jesus are separate and distinct individuals (John 17:11; 20:17)
  11. The true church must teach that God and Jesus have bodies of flesh and bone (Luke 23:36-39; Acts 1:9-11; Heb 1:1-3)
  12. The officers must be called by God (Heb 4:4; Ex 28:1; 40:13-16)
  13. The true church must claim revelation from God (Amos 3:7)
  14. The true church must be a missionary church (Matt 28:19-20)
  15. The true church must be a restored church (Acts 3:19-20)
  16. The true church must practice baptism for the dead (1Cor 15:16&29)
  17. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt 7:20)
035af376-31c8-50be-97d9-f10bd8a94785.image

The solar-powered, eco-friendly LdS Church meeting house in Farmington, Utah.

Now without going any further, doesn’t that list look like a Mormon just took the distinctives and dogmas of the Mormon Church and then generated a list based on them? For example, do you know of any church other than the LdS Church that practices baptism for the dead? Or that claims to have no paid ministry? Or that teaches God the Father has a body of flesh and bones? These are clear and unique Mormon distinctives. In addition, Floyd Weston blatantly misrepresents other churches, their doctrines, their culture and their theology in his address. In fact, his depiction of those churches is more reflective of the type of ignorance driven caricatures, prejudice, and bigotry that non-Mormons still hear from Mormons rather than what one actually finds in those churches. One could easily conclude that he never visited those churches at all.

Further, if you’ve look at the proof texts that Weston provides for each of these points, in many cases, the point is only supported by the biblical text if one engages in Mormon-style eisegesis – that is, inserting words and meanings into the text that the author never intended based on preconceptions. Stated plainly, I question the idea that a non-Mormon approaching the text cold would be inclined to come to the corresponding conclusion that’s found in that particular point. LdS Church indoctrination is clearly at play here.

For example, he cites (Heb 5:4-10) in support of “The true church must claim divine authority” which is the classic text that Mormons eisegete into the text to support their dogma of the restoration of Priesthood Authority. Ditto for point 16 (“The true church must practice baptism for the dead.”) which ignores the fact the language of 1 Cor 15:29 which refers to “they” (third person) rather than “we” (second person), or “I” (first person) – a clear indication that neither Paul or the Corinthian Christians were engaging in the practice. Further, in the full context of the chapter, it’s clear that “they” refers to those who deny the resurrection not those who don’t.

Suffice to say, the “fingerprints” of confirmation bias are all over Weston’s points. In fact, all a knowledgeable person need do is listen to his address to hear it first hand. Mr. Weston’s overtly biased presentation is both self-incriminating and self-discrediting. This fact wasn’t lost on former Mormon Richard Packham who, using the Weston template, developed his own “20 Points of the True Church”:

THE TWENTY POINTS OF THE TRUE CHURCH

Teachings of the True Church:
1. There will be no physical, visible coming of the Kingdom of God (John 18:36, Luke 17:21).
2. The celebration of the Lord’s supper includes bread, wine (Matt 26:26-29) and the washing of each other’s feet (John 13:4-15).
3. Marriage and divorce are frowned upon (1 Cor 7, Matt 19:9, Mark 10:2-12).
4. The Jewish Temple ritual will be observed (Acts 2:46).
5. The Church takes priority over family (Luke 14:26, 12:51-53, Matt 10:21).
6. Women must cover the head while praying (1 Cor 11:5-10).
7. Eunuchs will have special respect in the Church (Matt 19:12).
8. Only two commandments: Love God and love thy neighbor (Matt 22:36-40).

Members of the True Church can be recognized by the following:
9. They hold all things in common ownership (Acts 2:44-45).
10. They do not sin (1 John 3:6-9).
11. They can drink poison without harm (Mark 16:18).
12. They do not strike back if you strike them (Matt 5:39).
13. If you ask to borrow anything from them, you do not have to return it (Luke 6:30).
14. They never have to hire movers or earthmoving equipment, or use UPS; they can literally move anything by the power of God (Matt 17:20, 21:21, Mark 11:23).
15. They have no retirement plans, savings account, or food supplies stored away (Matt 6:25-34). And no possessions (Matt 19:16-21, Mark 16:21, Luke 18:22).
16. They never pray in public (Matt 6:5-8).
17. They are like sheep or children (Matt 19:14, 18:3-4, Mark 10:15, John 10:2-27, Heb 13:20).
18. They do not go to a doctor when ill, but heal each other with prayer (James 5:13-15, Mark 16:18).
19. Their children are not rebellious; they kill them if they are (Matt 15:3-9).
20. They do not die (John 8:51, 11:25-26).9

So who’s to say that Packham’s list is any less valid than Weston’s? After all, they both claim to have biblical support for their claims, right? And since Packham is an atheist he doesn’t have a denominational or sectarian axe to grind or agenda to push. So who wins?

a2d0cdf015326399bf9e02bd4bf7e88d

Further, Mormon researcher Bill McKeever has deconstructed and analyzed Weston’s 17-Points in detail. In doing so he has done a superb job of exposing not only the aforementioned confirmation bias but logical fallacy, after logical fallacy as well:

1. Christ Organized the Church.
This argument is purely subjective as most organizations claiming to be Christian feel Christ organized their church. This would include the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and others that deny sound biblical doctrine. People make the Church. Because Christ’s Church is made up of many individuals who have trusted in Christ totally for their salvation, it would be erroneous to view any particular building, organization, or denomination as the “true church.”

2. The true church must bear the name of Christ.
If Mormons wish to use this argument, they must answer as to why their own church was called merely “The Church of the Latter-day Saints” from 1834-1838. By their reasoning their own church must have been in apostasy for at least four years. Those who belonged to the early Christian church were known more by their geographic location rather than an “organizational” name. In I Thessalonians 1:1 Paul addresses “The church of the Thessalonians.” Are we to assume that Paul was addressing a false church?

3. The true church must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets.
The true church has as its foundation Jesus Christ. He is the Chief cornerstone and/or foundation. I Corinthians 3:11 reads, “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Deuteronomy 18:15 makes it clear that Jesus Christ Himself is “the Prophet” who guides His Church today. (See also John 5:46; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-23.)

4. The true church must have the same organization as Christ’s church.
If the LDS Church follows Eph 4:11-14, why is the order of authority reversed? Paul says first in line come the apostles, next the prophets. Mormonism reverses this order. If Mormonism emulates the structure of the early church, where in the Bible is there any mention of multiple high priests, Relief Society presidents, Second Quorum of the Seventies, stake presidencies, ward bishoprics, etc.? Where are the Mormon’s pastors, and evangelists?

5. The true church must claim divine authority.
Again, this is purely subjective. Any organization can claim to be authoritative. Bible-believing Christians claim the authority of God’s Word, the Bible, not the words of mere men who contradict it.

6. The true church must have no paid ministry.
Mormons who believe their leaders are not paid are very misinformed. All the General Authorities in Salt Lake City receive remuneration for their services to the church and from the church. If they don’t believe it, they should call the LDS Church headquarters and ask. A paid ministry is not unbiblical. The entire Old Testament speaks of a paid ministry as well as I Corinthians chapter 9.

7. The true church must baptize by immersion.
If baptism (a work) was necessary in order for a person to be saved, this could be a debatable subject. However, Ephesians 2:8,9 clearly states that we are saved by grace through faith, not works such as baptism. Baptism is merely an outside sign of an inner work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s life. Believers should be baptized as a testimony of their faith in Christ; however, baptism does not save.

8. The true church must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
Many Christian churches do practice this. The Bible shows, however, that at times the Holy Ghost (Spirit) was received of men without mention of hands being laid on them. (See Acts 4:31; 10:44; 11:15.)

9. The true church must practice divine healing.
Again, many Christian churches do practice this and do get results.

10. The true church must teach that God and Jesus Christ are separate and distinct individuals.
The Christian church holds that Jesus Christ and God the Father are separate personages. Joseph Smith strayed from the truth when he said they were separate Gods. This conflicts with many passages such as Deut. 6:4 and Isaiah 43:10, just to name a few.

11. The true church must teach that God and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone.
Mormons believe this only to substantiate Joseph Smith’s so-called first vision. John 4:24 claims God is a spirit (lit. God is Spirit). Even Smith at one time taught God the Father was a personage of spirit (See Lectures on Faith, Lecture Fifth). He changed his mind later on.

12. The officers must be called of God.
Another subjective point. All cultists believe they are called of God.

13. The true church must claim revelation from God.
Again, a subjective point. All cultists claim revelation from God.

14. The true church must be a missionary church.
Any Christian church that wants to see souls saved is a missionary church whether that mission field is across the ocean or across the back fence. The Mormon church holds no exclusive rights to missionary activity.

15. The true church must be a restored church.
You can’t restore something that wasn’t lost. Jesus Himself said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). History proves this.

16. The true church must practice baptism for the dead.
The Christian church never condoned baptism for the dead. Paul excludes himself from such a practice when he uses a third person pronoun rather than first person (“Why do they baptize for the dead …”) (See Hebrews 9:27 and Alma 34:34,35 for that matter.)

17. By their fruits ye shall know them.
This expression is taken from Matthew 7:20, which ironically deals with judging false prophets, not churches. In examining the fruits of Joseph Smith, we find that he indeed was a false prophet. He introduced a foreign view of God, a false plan of salvation, and inaccurate predictions about future events. If we must use this verse to examine the fruits of Mormonism, we must have an answer as to why the Mormon Church must constantly reverse its position on matters that should never change (Alma 41:8). Why do their leaders contradict past leaders? Why did they change the Book of Mormon so many times when it was supposedly translated “by the gift and power of God the first time”? Why did they change their temple ceremony in 1990 when Smith claimed it came by direct revelation? And doesn’t it seem suspicious that many of the changes in the ceremony were things Christians (and Mormons) had been criticizing for years? Did God mess up or did Joseph Smith (or was it their current leaders)?10

And to further expand on Mr. McKeever’s critique of Point Six, LdS scripture actually demands a paid clergy in not one but two different places:

And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop, for the good of the poor, and for other purposes, as before mentioned;

Or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services, either a stewardship or otherwise, as may be thought best or decided by the counselors and bishop.

And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.
(Doctrine & Covenants 42:71-73)

Behold, I say unto you, that it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.
(Doctrine & Covenants 75:24)

So the modern Mormon Church’s assertion that a paid clergy is a sign of an apostate and/or untrue church blatantly contradicts what it also claims is part of God’s revealed commandments to His only true, living, and restored church. I believe the word for this is “hypocrisy.”

One can only wonder why Floyd Weston conveniently ignored these rather glaring incongruities in his analysis. The only logical explanation that is that he was not only just counting the “hits” but ignoring the “misses.” So in the end, its clear that Floyd Weston’s “17 Points of the True Church” appears to be nothing more than the type of confirmation bias driven, thought stopping, information and emotional controlling circular logic that Mormon culture produces in spades – and what’s remarkable about any of that?11

ta_us_sta_0087_xgaplus

A Comparable Evangelical Case Study
Further, when a public figure is caught fabricating inspiring falsehoods people tend to hold them accountable for it after they’re exposed. For example, let’s consider the case of Evangelical comedian Mike Warnke who got caught in a web of lies back in the 1990’s:

In 1991, Cornerstone magazine launched an investigation into Warnke’s life and testimony. The previous year, Cornerstone had debunked Lauren Stratford‘s story that had been recounted in Satan’s Underground. Stratford claimed her deep involvement in Satanism led her to partake in a ritual in which her own child was sacrificed. After the exposé showed Stratford’s alleged child had never existed, Cornerstone journalists Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott investigated Warnke and his life.

The Cornerstone investigation spanned from interviews with over 100 of Warnke’s personal friends and acquaintances to his ministry’s tax receipts. The investigation revealed a number of inaccuracies and evidence of fraud and deceit in Warnke’s accounts. During the course of Cornerstone’s investigation, pictures of Warnke taken during the time he was alleged to be a Satanist priest were discovered. Rather than showing an emaciated drug-addict sporting long fingernails and waist-length hair, the pictures showed Warnke as a typical ‘square’ of the mid-1960s. The investigation also revealed Warnke’s claims that he and Charles Manson had attended a Satanic ritual to be false; Manson was in federal prison at the time, having no known ties to Satanic churches.

The investigation further uncovered that before joining the Navy, Warnke had been involved with the college Christian ministry Campus Crusade for Christ. The investigation also revealed the unflattering circumstances surrounding Warnke’s multiple marriages, affairs, and divorces. Most critically, however, the investigation showed how Warnke could not have done the many things he claimed to have taken part in throughout the nine months he claimed to be a Satanist – including his claims to be a drug-addicted dealer or a Satanic high priest.

Warnke sent a response to Cornerstone, published in July, insisting he told the truth, stating:

‘I stand by my testimony of being delivered and set free by the power of Jesus Christ after being a Satanic high priest exactly as published in my book, The Satan Seller…. some information was purposefully changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals and to prevent readers from using the book as a guide for occultism and Satanic purposes. But, as we stated in the front of the book, ‘The events are absolutely as described.”’

Despite these assertions, Warnke did not provide the name of a single Satanist but used invectives against ex-wife Carolyn. In the ensuing months, Warnke conceded parts of the allegations, telling Christianity Today that there had been only 13 members of his coven, not 1,500 as originally claimed, and that of those 13, the whereabouts of five were unknown to him, while the other eight had since died.12

The reaction from the Evangelical community to this deceit and attempt at manipulative damage control was quick and impacting:

Public response was varied but was nevertheless overwhelmingly against Warnke. Initially, Word Records stated that they would stand by their artist. However, further investigations by local Kentucky reporters at the Lexington Herald-Leader revealed that Warnke’s ministry had engaged in financial misdeeds and that “Mike, his ex-wife Rose, and her brother Neale [Hall] received a total of $809,680 in salary at a time when the ministry newsletter claimed donations were down and more funds were needed.” One week later, Word Records dropped Warnke from its label. Finally, on September 30, 1992, fewer than 100 days after the investigation was made public, Warnke Ministries closed its doors.13

moab_lds_church

This historic Moab LdS Church was constructed of adobe in 1884. It was built nine years after the establishment of Moab in 1880. Angus Stocks supervised the laying of the foundation and adobes. Within a few years of original construction an addition was made to the rear of the building. The church was used by the Moab Ward until 1925, when a new church was built and this church deeded to the Grand County School District.

The Mormon Response
Yet remarkably, despite all the evidence discrediting Weston’s 17-Points, the reaction been in Mormon Culture has been quite different to what we saw from Evangelicals in response to Warnke’s faith promoting yarn spinning and denials. Here’s a sampling of Mormon responses:

“I sat in a meeting where Brother Weston himself told that story. I have no reason to question Brother Weston’s veracity.”14

“Floyd Weston told me himself in 1983 that it really happend,[sic] five friends studied four joined (one died). Now about the 17 points that’s just interpretation of those scriptures. I once saw a 42 point one that was more detailed. But according to brother Weston and I have no reason to doubt him. Its true. According to Brother Weston’s son he never denied it to his family either. Please stop trying to make Brother Weston out to be a Paul H Dunn.”15

“I wanted to let you know that I just talked to one of Brother Weston’s relatives. He said that whether these claims are true or false… this 17 points of the true church has been effective & instrumental in helping people join the church and that Satan will do anything to diffuse that.

I highly recommend that you redirect this discussion before it causes Satan to have more power & influence on Jesus Christ’s people.”16

One will, of course, notice that no verifiable evidence is presented to support these claims of Weston’s vindication – once again it’s all “just take my word for it” and “I know a guy who knows a guy” second and third hand feel good hearsay.

Even the Mormon Apologists at FAIRMormon seem to be unable or unwilling to openly acknowledge Weston’s deceit and denounce the 17-Points as a contrived, faith promoting lie. Yet at the same time time they still seem to be posturing for a rapid retreat and slowly backing away from it:

It makes little difference for the Church if Weston made up his story, since the truth or falsity of Weston’s personal history has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the restored gospel. Additionally, the “17 Points” may be used by certain individual members of the Church, but they have not been used in any official Church publications or adopted by the Church in any other way. The claims of the restored gospel stand independent of Weston’s list.17

Even more amusingly FAIRMormon attempts to woodshed critics of The 17-Points by incorrectly asserting that articles like this are some kind of indirect attack on the Mormon Church via ad-hominem attacks on Floyd Weston:

What this has to do with the validity of Weston’s “17 Points” is not entirely clear, but it seems that the critic is attempting to discredit Weston’s list (and, by implication, the Church) by discrediting Weston himself. This would be a form of the ad hominem fallacy… This confirms the perspective that the hostile reports targeted against Weston suffer from significant bias.18

Oh irony here! Critics are accused by FAIRMormon of engaging in argument “to the man” (the English translation of ad-hominem from the Latin) rather than “to the man’s evidence, arguments, logic, and reason” when those critics are doing nothing more than challenging Weston’s evidence, arguments, logic, and reason. Even more remarkably these charges come right on the tail of FAIRMormon acknowledging that Weston’s 17-Points are indeed rooted and grounded in confirmation bias:

The assumptions underlying the “17 points” are highly dependent upon a worldview widely assumed by Utah Mormons, but which rarely reflects the situation of those who are not members of the LDS Church: the idea that there is “one true church” and that people will accept the LDS faith once they are logically convinced that it “matches” the New Testament Church in salient ways. In reality, these concepts are totally foreign to the worldview of most non-Mormons and depend a great deal on the assumptions which one brings to such an analysis.

“17 Points” is thus a resource that may be interesting to Latter-day Saints in examining the scriptural basis for certain features of the modern Church, but it is one that has relatively little value or relevance to the missionary effort unless the non-member already shares many aspects of the LDS world-view.19

With “logic” and “consistency” like this who needs enemies – FAIRMormon seems to be doing just fine shooting itself in the foot, that is after that foot has been inserted into its mouth first. Say what you will about Evangelical Christianity but you won’t find its apologists defending a member of its tribe who’s been caught in a faith promoting lie. If you doubt me, just read the Warnke case above again and consider that at no time did you have Evangelicals claim that Mike Warnke was being “ad-hominemed” by critics in an agenda driven attempt to indirectly discredit Evangelicalism. In fact, Warnke’s harshest critics, not to mention the folks who exposed his deceit to begin with, were fellow Evangelicals.

Conclusion
At the end of it all, the body of evidence points to fact that the story of Floyd Weston’s “17-Points of the True Church” is a complete fabrication. So the fact that Mormons continue to defend it and use it as evidence in their discussions with outsiders raises some serious questions about the value of truth and integrity in Mormon Culture. As Richard Packham said well in response to one Mormon’s argument that, “whether these claims are true or false… this 17 points of the true church has been effective & instrumental in helping people join the church and that Satan will do anything to diffuse that”: 20

“Does this mean, then, that, according to this Mormon, the truth is a tool of Satan?”

Kinda makes you wonder folks don’t it? Kinda makes you wonder…

OvidChurch01

A former LdS Church building, now privately owned. Peter Jensen was the first branch president in Ovid, Utah in 1873. He later became the first Bishop of this church.

NOTES
1 “Is the “17 Points of the True Church” a true story”, Holy Fetch website.
2 “Fast Facts About Cal Tech History”, Cal Tech website.
3 See “Chronology of Einstein’s life”, Albert Einstein in the World Wide Web website. Also see Princeton University’s article on Einstein here.
4 Anonymous archived email, Wed, 28 Oct 1998 23:46:03 Pacific Time, Richard Packham website.
5 Ibid.
6 Op Cit, Holy Fetch. Underlining added for emphasis.
7 Op Cit, Anonymous email. By the way, one can still buy an audio copy of Weston’s 17-Point at Deseret Book. Or if you prefer the printed tact version, ditto.
8 Wikipedia article on Confirmation Bias.
9 Richard Packham, “The 17 Points of the True Church”.
10 Bill McKeever, ‘Examining the “17 Points of the True Church”‘
11 Also see Fred Anson, “A Short Course In Confirmation Bias” for another infamous example of this.
12 Wikipedia article on Mike Warnke, “Investigation and debunking“.
13 Ibid, “Aftermath”.
14 Mormon Discussion and Dialogue Board, post by ERayR, 4 Mar 2009.
15 Mormon Discussion and Dialogue Board, post by Anijen, 3 Mar 2009.
16 Fri, 30 Oct 1998 09:35:44 Pacific Time, Richard Packham website.
17 “Criticism of Mormonism/Criticism of “17 Points of the True Church”‘, FAIRMormon website.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Op Cit, Packham, “The 17 Points of the True Church”.

Church-at-Sunrise

Also Recommended: 
In November 2011 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson discussed, deconstructed, and evaluated The 17-Points of the True Church on their Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast. You can listen to these podcasts via the following links: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 

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SLC Temple and Milan Cathedral

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and Il Duomo Roman Catholic Cathedral in Milan.

by R. M. Sivulka
Introduction
For me as a committed Protestant, this subject of Catholicism’s theology on the gospel, justification, and works is quite complicated. I’m not going to answer all the questions here, because I’m just not competent enough to do so, and I’d rather be spending my time in other areas I feel more important to my ministry. So please offer me some grace even if you disagree with my conclusions. If you want more competent authorities on the matter, I offer three sources: 1) Norm Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie’s “Roman Catholics and Evangelicals”, 2) Ken Samples, “Is the Catholic Church Christian?” and “Is Catholicism a Cult?,” and 3) Francis Beckwith’s “Return to Rome”. (The latter is written by a former top evangelical apologist and a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, who went back to his Catholic roots). I do think it’s important to note from Ken Samples above “that the majority of evangelical Protestant theologians and scholars who are knowledgeable concerning Catholicism would be perplexed to hear Catholicism classified simply as a ‘non-Christian religion’ or an ‘anti-Christian cult’” (“Is the Catholic Church Christian?”). This could not be the case if these scholars understood Catholicism to be in fact teaching a false gospel.

Catholicism and Mormonism
I still don’t find Catholicism identical to what LDS teach on the matter at hand, viz., that one is only made right with God only after doing all one can do (i.e., personal perfection). There is no initial justification for LDS, and as the late LDS President Spencer W. Kimball taught,

“Trying is [n]ot [s]ufficient [n]or is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. To try with a weakness of attitude and effort is to assure failure in the face of Satan’s strong counteracting efforts. What is needed is resolute action.

…This connection between effort and the repentance which attracts the Lord’s forgiveness is often not understood.

…[Concerning the woman caught in adultery,] [t]here seems to be no evidence of forgiveness. His command to her was, ‘Go and sin no more.’ He was directing the sinful woman to go her way, abandon her evil life, commit no more sin, transform her life. He ways saying, Go, woman, and start your repentance; and he was indicating to her the beginning step – to abandon her transgressions.

…[W]hen she had done these things the forgiveness of the Savior could overshadow her and claim her and give her peace.

…The Lord cannot save men in their sins but only from their sins, and that only when they have shown true repentance.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Miracle of Forgiveness, 164-6)

Furthermore, in LDS categories, Christ didn’t even die for all sins since some sins are not forgivable (e.g., killing and subsequent offenses of adultery in D&C 42, and also LDS leaders’ past teaching on one’s own blood atonement for certain grievous sins). This is certainly all something Catholicism would doctrinally disagree.

Catholicism and Protestantism
The subject turns on the role of works in Catholic theology. Do those works invalidate the true gospel making it a false gospel or is the true gospel simply packaged in a way that’s confusing to the hearer? There’s a real important difference here.

It reminds me of the Positive Confession speakers’ claim that we are begotten gods. Walter Martin made the controversial claim that these guys are still Christians. (Martin also, by the way, held that Catholicism wasn’t a cult or heretical even though he certainly had problems with it.) Robert Bowman in his article on various views of deification says that the Positive Confession view isn’t easily classified. These Positive Confession speakers clearly affirm monotheism, and yet they speak in such a convoluted way.

For the average individuals untrained in theology, even cases of orthodox Christian deification are such that they conclude advocates of such a position must be polytheists and outside the Christian doctrine of monotheism. Yet, whether it is Positive Confession speakers or orthodox theologians who teach deification, all steadfastly affirm monotheism and adamantly decry polytheism. Yes, we have problems understanding what they are talking about since prima facie it seems so contradictory. However, it’s not really fair to be so dismissive of these people given the parameters they’ve already clearly articulated. In situations like this, if we have a hard time really understanding what’s being taught, then it’s better to use the principle of charity and give the benefit of the doubt to such people until we come to see how there really is no contradiction in their minds. And this seems especially true when most evangelical Protestant theologians and scholars hold Catholicism to be classified as genuinely “Christian.”

There’s a fundamental problem with the Protestant mind when it comes to thinking in the Catholic categories of justification. Catholics conflate the clear distinction that Protestants have made between justification and sanctification. The Council of Trent put it this way:

“[J]ustification itself, which is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend, that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting” (Council of Trent, “On Justification”, Chapter VII)

Catholics teach a difference between initial justification and justification that ought to follow throughout one’s life. The former is what Protestants typically mean by “justification.” The other justification for Catholics is a matter of staying justified by works.

The Most Reverend Bishop John Charles Wester of the Salt Lake City Diocese of the Catholic Church speaks to students at the LDS Institute of Religion and at the Alumni House on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah Tuesday Sept. 18, 2012. (August Miller, UVU Marketing)

The Most Reverend Bishop John Charles Wester of the Salt Lake City Diocese of the Catholic Church speaks to students at the LDS Institute of Religion and at the Alumni House on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah Tuesday Sept. 18, 2012. (August Miller, UVU Marketing)

Now if a Protestant objects that this latter type of justification is not about works, then they would not simply be objecting to Catholicism, but to many other branches of Protestantism as well. The objecting Protestant (typically one of a more Reformed bent) would also have to conclude that these other branches of Protestantism are outside of Christianity and preaching a false gospel. That’s a pretty hard pill to swallow. These other branches of Protestantism affirm that performing works of righteousness may be freely abdicated after our conversion, and thus, one’s salvation may be lost. I disagree with this position and hold to the eternal security of the believer, but that’s beside the point. They are all Christians who affirm the true gospel that our salvation on behalf of all our sins is ultimately given as a gift from God through the sacrifice of His Son.

The Council of Trent in “On Justfication”, Chapter IX is clear that none of us can be absolutely certain that any of us have received the forgiveness of sins. After all, Paul did say to test ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). As a result, Chapter X of the same section talks about being further justified by one’s “faith co-operating with good works.” One of the arguments given here is James 2:24: “Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” So continued justification is just as biblical as what the Protestants mean by “sanctification.” Then in Chapter XI of that same section it goes on to talk about how Jesus taught that if we love Him, then we keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15). Earlier Jesus ties belief with obedience when He says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:36). John is clear in his epistle that we know that we love Jesus if we keep His commands, and if we say we love Him and don’t keep His commands, then we’re liars (1 Jn. 2:3-4). Hence, “the necessity” of keeping His commands.

There’s nothing that a Protestant should disagree with here per se. Of course and again, a certain type of more Reformed Protestant may object to an understanding of this necessity of keeping the commands implying a losing of one’s initial justification if the commands aren’t followed, but as Trent stated the issue above, it’s all biblical and every Protestant should uphold that.

At this point a Protestant may object by saying that Catholics are still teaching a false gospel, since the initial justification is dependent on baptismal regeneration whether that be for an adult or an infant, and belief is certainly ruled out for the latter. However, again one would have to exclude various Protestant denominations that hold to the same means of initial justification. Again, a pretty hard pill to swallow. Certainly the nature of belief is up for debate here and is a secondary issue to the nature of the gospel itself, viz., that Christ paid for all our sins, He resurrected, and invites sinners to currently live in His kingdom by learning to live life as He would live (cf. Mat. 4:23 and 1 Cor. 15:1-5). Such debates on the nature of belief have to do with how individual beliefs arise in a context of community. Nonetheless, there is no passage of scripture that explicitly says that not getting the right answer here lands one in hell.

Anathema
Speaking of hell, the final issue I’ll address concerns the issue of “anathema” the Catholic Church has offered from the Council of Trent in reaction to Protestantism. Canon 30, for example, says, “If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.” Is this the gospel and does this entail that those who reject this are cursed of God and not saved being that they are outside the Church of Christ?

Even if that is what is meant by anathema, this is no reason to hold that this entails a false gospel. Believers who have received the grace of justification may still have to be punished by God for their own transgressions, because “whom the Lord loves, He also chastens” (Heb. 12:6). David had imputed righteousness apart from works (Rom. 4:4-8), but the Lord still chastened him in taking his son who was the product of adultery. Whether the Lord metes out punishment in this life or the next prior to entering paradise, what real difference does it make? Even though I take it that the Bible never says anything about a temporary punishment for believers after this life, that doesn’t entail such could not be the case. To conclude this would be based on an argument from silence, and that’s fallacious.

Regardless of this point, it’s been argued that the literal meaning of anathema is not what is to be understood from the judgment of a Church council. There was no intention of a permanent damnation to hell. The Lonely Pilgrim notes, “When the councils pronounced holders of a doctrine anathema, it marked a formal excommunication from the Church: nothing more and nothing less.” He argues that if there was a connotation of permanent damnation, then the missionary efforts to Protestants by the Jesuits wouldn’t make much sense. Further, he argues that if there is a problem here, it’s specifically for those who rebel against the judgments of their church. There is no general relevancy to all Protestants today. He says, “You can’t very well be excommunicated from something you were never formally a part of.”

Now even if the The Lonely Pilgrim is wrong on all this, I don’t see why a group of believers being hyper-exclusionary of one’s judgments marks them as “false Christians” or “heretics,” who teach a false gospel and land them in hell anyway. I don’t see the chapter and verse on that either, and again, we can easily think of other Protestant Christian groups who act in this way.

rob_sivulka_mugAbout the Author
R.M. Sivulka is the president of Courageous Christians United which is an outreach to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims. Mr. Sivulka reside in West Jordan, UT with his wife Tara, and daughters.

Originally published January 19, 2016 on the Courageous Christians United website. Reprinted with permission. 

Pope Francis and Henry B. Eyring First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At a 2014 Vatican Summit of religious leaders on marriage.

Pope Francis and Henry B. Eyring First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At a 2014 Vatican Summit of religious leaders on marriage.

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An Appeal to Never Mormon and Ex-Mormon Christians
Preaching

“Billy Sunday Preaching” by George Bellows (c.1915)

by Fred W. Anson and Jackie Davidson
Q: What’s the quickest way to drive a transitioning Mormon into atheism?
A: Christian infighting, dogmatism, and sectarianism.
This isn’t theory, Atheist Ex-Mormon discussion boards are filled with stories about former members of the LdS Church who gave up on Christianity on their way out of the Mormon Church when the Christians that they encountered were just as fanatically sectarian and absolutist as the Mormons that they knew were. Their conclusion? “They’re just two sides of the same fanatical coin.”

The Core Problem
It’s always good to remember what most Mormons think, and the LdS Church teaches: That all Christian churches other than theirs are a big ball of confusion. Consider this from the official LdS Church website:

During the Great Apostasy, people were without divine direction from living prophets. Many churches were established, but they did not have priesthood power to lead people to the true knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
(Official LdS Church website, “Apostasy”

This is a core doctrine in Mormonism. Public bickering on non-essential Christian doctrines in front of those who have ever been indoctrinated into Mormonism just validates and reinforces this stereotype and prejudice. And it doesn’t matter if that Mormon indoctrination took place last month or last century, the presumption of apostate corruption lingers on. So what does that have to do with Latter-day Saints becoming atheists due to Christian infighting, dogmatism, and sectarianism? Read on.

It Started On Facebook
Back in early 2015 we started an internet recovery group for Ex-Mormons who were trying to navigate the often difficult road into mainstream Christianity. We did this because we saw a crying need for such a group. At the time, while there were tons of  Atheist Ex-Mormon Internet support groups, they all seemed to lacked a positive sense of direction. As a result they had deteriorated into a quagmire of complaints, bitterness and anger. From what we could tell, the only shared value in the groups was a hatred of theism in general and the LdS Church in particular. In some cases there were some who had been out for years, even decades, but had become so eaten up by bitterness that they had become downright mean and nasty –  especially to Ex-Mormon Christians who wandered into their groups. We were sure that we could give these poor battered souls a safe and secure place to heal while they transitioned into mainstream Christianity. So we did.

Billy Sunday

However, it didn’t take very long for the Administrators of our group  to quickly became hyper-sensitive to sectarian infighting between mature Christians in the group. We were stunned at the incredible damage that it was having on those who were either new to the process or who still had wounds healing. The very people that we were trying to help were leaving the group because they were so confused and turned off by these well meaning but unbelievably insensitive and – it must be said – self absorbed, self interested, agenda driven, sectarian Christians. Every time Christians started dogmatically bickered over a non-essential doctrine we would lose a few more. It became quickly apparent that we couldn’t tolerate this behavior from our tribe and would have to take whatever action was required to eliminate it – up to and including a permanent ban on chronic violators.

The result was some of the most embarrassing drama queening that I’ve ever seen on the Internet – and that was on just giving simple warnings to these folks! It got so bad that at times we thought that some of those that got tossed or banned were going to petition their Pope, Patriarch, or Pastor to call us to Church councils so we could be properly anathematized. We were called and accused of some of the most unbelievable things imaginable. It was stunning. To hear some of these Christians tell it, you would think that the Devil and his minions (rather than a bunch of fellow believers and brother and sisters in Christ) were running this quiet little cyberspace community and damning all of its souls to hell!

You’re Kidding Right?
Now to  be fair, coming from mainstream Christian culture ourselves we understand that they were just doing what comes naturally. After all, after two thousand or so years of rough and tumble in house debate about every bit of doctrinal or theological minutiae imaginable – we’re used to this type of “hard ball” collegial exchange. We love it! We relish and luxuriate in it like a Parisian at a free cheese and wine tasting. So what’s the big deal, right?

The problem is that Mormonism is as much a culture as it is a religion – in some ways more so. Further, we mainstream Christians also, usually unknowingly, have a religion that’s heavily infused with our own cultural distinctives. One of them is a casual, easy going, even enthusiastic attitude about debate, discussion, and disagreement that’s generally missing in Mormon culture. As Utah Pastor and Ex-Mormon Ross Anderson explains:

The distinctives of Mormon culture and church life make it very challenging for former Latter-day Saints to become fully integrated into a Christian church. Like immigrants leaving their homeland behind to come to a new world, they must negotiate a confusing journey into a new cultural setting. To establish a new identity with a new church body, the ex-Mormon must develop a new worldview, new roots, new stories, new assumptions, new perspectives, new values and new symbols. On a practical level, he or she must adapt to a myriad of perplexing new customs and practices in the life of the local church.
(Ross Anderson, “Jesus Without Joseph: Following Christ After Leaving Mormonism”, Introduction) 

And a big part of the “country” that Ex-Mormons are immigrating from puts a high value on conflict avoidance. As Michael J. Stevens, a Latter-day Saint researcher and Professor of organizational behavior at Weber State University notes:

I often observe that mainstream LDS Church members along the Wasatch Front have a difficult time confronting any form of disagreement, even when they are clearly uncomfortable or unhappy with what’s being discussed or decided. It’s as if they were conflating all forms of disagreement or conflict with contention. This would be consistent with an overly simplistic reading of 3 Nephi 11:29:

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

If all conflict is viewed as the functional equivalent of having the “spirit of contention,” what options are left to a person who disagrees, or sees things differently, or who has goals and interests different from the rest of the community? How can one raise objections or question and challenge others, or raise unpleasant topics, if doing so is tantamount to being in league with Beelzebub? If one’s view of all conflict is that it must be avoided so as to avoid contention, then there is no direct, healthy, constructive strategy available for resolving conflicts and disagreements.
(Michael J. Stevens, “Passive-aggression among the Latter-day Saints”, Sunstone magazine, April 12, 2013) 

Therefore, Christians that insensitively engage in overtly aggressive dogmatism on secondary or non-essential doctrines are unknowingly and needlessly “culture shocking” an immigrant who’s not equipped to emotionally process or intellectually understand the tank of “evil contention” that they’ve suddenly been dropped into. It doesn’t just make them uncomfortable, it freaks them out – I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again.

Are You Sure You’re Talking to the Right People?
Now if you’re a long term, full transitioned Ex-Mormon you may be wondering, “Why are you including us in this rant? Never Mormon Christians seems logical because they may not be able to empathize with transitioning Mormons having never been one. But I, on the other hand, was a transitioning Mormon back in the day – I get it!”

Unfortunately, our experience tells us that while long term Ex-Mormons may think that they “get it” in a lot of cases they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be tender, hurting, bleeding, broken, bitter, angry and confused after being leaving the Mormon Church. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be an immigrant right off the boat.

In fact, we were shocked in the early days of our board to find out that some long term transitioned Ex-Mormons had the least amount of empathy for transitioning Mormons – they were our first, biggest problem group! And, nope, I’m not making this up – it’s all true folks.

So my dear Christians friends, if you really, really, really want to turn your transitioning Ex-Mormon friends into atheists, just keep it up! Fight, bicker, and spat over the smallest bits of theological and doctrinal lint you can find. Better yet, make sure you get incensed and indignant whenever an Arminian challenges your Calvinism, or an Ammillenialist questions your Rapturism. Swing those “convictions” like a sword, and never mind the collateral damage – as you watch the transitioning Mormons that you bump into while you’re tussling, fall into the nearest atheist pit.

Billy Sunday preaching 2- Internet ArchiveThe Solution
The solution is actually pretty simple:

  1. Maintain unity on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.
  2. Extend liberty and grace on non-essential doctrines.

Or put another way:

“In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity.”
(17th century Theologian Rupertus Meldenius)

In terms of what determines what the essential doctrines of the Christian faith are, theologian Matt Slick, explains:

The Bible itself reveals those doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith. They are 1) the Deity of Christ, 2) Salvation by Grace, 3) Resurrection of Christ, 4) the gospel, and 5) monotheism. These are the doctrines the Bible says are necessary. Though there are many other important doctrines, these five are the ones that are declared by Scripture to be essential.
(Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website)

Again, the essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith are as follows:

1) The Deity of Jesus Christ.
2) Salvation by grace.
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) The gospel of Jesus Christ, and
5) Monotheism.

A sampling of the non-essentials is as follows:

  • Eschatology (how and when the end times will unfold, the rapture, the millenium, the role of Israel today, etc.)
  • Earth Age (young v. old earth creationism, etc.)
  • Bible translation preferences (King James v. modern translations, word-for-word v. thought-for-thought, etc.)
  • Ecclesiology (church government models, the roles of clergy and laity, are Apostles and Prophets for today, etc.)
  • Soteriological Systems (Arminianism v. Calvinism, etc.)
  • Demonology (can a Christian have a demon or not, teachings on various kinds of spiritual warfare, etc.)
  • Sacrament practices (wine v. grape juice, leavened v. unleavened bread, who can administer, etc.)
  • Modes of baptism (sprinkling v. full immersion, infant baptism, etc.)
  • Worship styles (liturgical v. contemporary, hymns v. choruses, choirs, drums v. organs, etc.)
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues v. no tongues, cessationism v. continuationism, etc.)
  • Worship observances (Sabbatarianism v. Sunday worship, observance of special holy days, tithing, etc.)
  • Food and drink (consumption of alcohol v. abstinence, kosher v. non-kosher food, etc.)
  • Various do’s and don’ts (tobacco consumption, playing cards, dancing, makeup, “acceptable” dress, movies, etc.)
  • Etc., etc., etc. This is far from an exhaustive or comprehensive list of Christian non-essentials – it seems endless at times!

Billy SundayHow You Say it Matters
So when you’re in the presence of transitioning Ex-Mormons on the non-essentials of the faith qualify your words. In other words, use terms like, “In my opinion”, “Speaking as a Presbyterian/Methodist/Episcopalian/etc. we believe”, “From my perspective”, “As I see it in the Bible”, etc.

Further, on the non-essentials of the faith do not use absolutisms such as: “The Bible says”; “The truth is”; “Reality is”; “All orthodox Christians believe”, etc. Further, responding, “that’s not Biblical”, while perfectly fine in Christianese, will usually cause a visceral reaction because in Mormonese it means, “Take that back or I’ll beat you up with scripture!”

Additionally, words such as cult, brainwashing, deception, etc. should never be used. Even though the transitioning Mormon has come out of the LdS Church and come to Christ, these are “hot button fightin’ words.” To them, “cult” really is a four letter word. You might as well have said, “Yo’ Momma!” Want to see a person transitioning out of Mormonism flee your support group at full speed and never look back? Just use the “c-word” friend.

Finally, on the essentials of the Christian faith, absolutisms are perfectly acceptable – even encouraged. For example, if a Christian couldn’t sincerely say the following, I would have serious doubts if they’re a Christian at all: “The truth, in reality is, that the Bible says – and all orthodox Christians believe – that Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried in a rich man’s grave, and rose from the dead on the third day.”

Next, allow others to disagree with you. Extend charity to them even if, in your mind, they’re dead wrong.

And finally, if you still feel like you absolutely, positively must straighten the other person out after that you have the following options:

a) Private Message the person via email, the Facebook messaging system, etc. Or better yet, set up a telephone call or a face to face meeting. Who knows, you may end up with a friend if you do this.

b) Take the discussion to one of the many, many, many good theological discussion and debate groups on Facebook and the Internet.

Overall the biggest guideline is this:

If what you’re about to say won’t help an Ex-Mormon who’s transitioning into Biblical Christianity, then don’t say it in their presence. And, stated plainly brothers and sisters, Christian infighting never helps transitioning Ex-Mormons.

Or put another way: “Curb your dogma”

Billy Sunday preaching 3- Internet ArchiveYeah, we get it. We really, really do! 
In closing, please understand that the authors most certainly realize that just because something isn’t essential doesn’t make it unimportant. However, we have found that we Protestants are far too quick to try to turn non-essentials into essentials and then fight to the death over them. For example, is eschatology really worth dying on a hill over? After all and in the end, isn’t God going to do what God is going to do regardless of what you or I think, feel, and are convinced from scripture is going to happen? As Francis Schaeffer said so well all those many years ago:

“Among many of the youth, prophecy, rather than being a part of a larger whole of theology, has become the integration point of whatever theology they have. Eschatology has been blown out of proportion. Concentration on the second coming of Christ is falsely made an excuse for not accepting Christian responsibility for reformation in the church and in society. I hold very definite views on eschatology, but eschatology is not the integration point of my theology.”
(Francis A. Schaeffer V, “The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian view of Spirituality”, “The New Super Spirituality”, c.1972, pp.395-396)

Regardless of what non-essential doctrine that you and the authors may hold to, many Transitioning Ex-Mormons simply aren’t ready for the kind of theological nuance and rough and tumble discussions that established Christians feel so comfortable moving through and around in. So brother or sister in Christ, whatever it is, if it ain’t in the list of essential doctrines of the Christian Faith then please let it go – hold it in your hand loosely!

Again, Remember the Immigrants
Also, please remember that transitioning Ex-Mormons are like immigrants, they may not know our culture or speak our language. As a result some of their questions may come across as naive, ignorant, abrasive, even rude. And they most certainly aren’t going to speak the “Christianese” that you and I so take for granted that we don’t even realize that we speak it any more. They may also be projecting their inner pain, anger, bitterness, and frustration into the question without realizing it – we all do this from time to time, don’t we? Ex-Mormon Janis Hutchinson in her book, “Out of the Cults and Into the Church” quotes from a former cultist describing how painful this “migration” process can be:

Even now, I sometimes defend the cult! When I give our pastor and his wife a trying time, I say to myself, Myra, you’re completely hopeless. You’re not going to make it in this church! “When I become dogmatic and headstrong, I get angry with myself – especially when I know the pastor and his wife are only trying to help. Much more of this, I keep saying , and I doubt I’ll survive. But I suppose those working with me probably wonder if they’ll survive! I’m sure they must be disgusted with me. If they are, I think it’s because they just expect too much too soon.
(Janis Hutchinson, “Out of the Cults and Into the Church”, Kindle Locations 459-465)

So when you encounter such a question, comment, post, push back, or whatever from a transitioning Ex-Mormon we would ask you to take a deep breath, pray for wisdom and guidance, calm down and then respond in an even, non-threatening tone. In other words, be kind, gracious, and understanding rather than reactionary.

Finally, we know that you probably already know these Bible verses but we want to bring them to your attention again:

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

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

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

And, as always, may God guide our conversation as we try with love, humility, and the fear of the Lord to aid our transitioning Ex-Mormons friends in their journey out of Mormonism and into mainstream Biblical Christianity.

Walt Kelly

Q: How did the Mormon land the Atheist pit?
A: He was bumped while two Christians were bickering over non-essentials.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES
For further clarification on the essentials and non-essentials of the Christian faith we recommend the following resources:

Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website.

While Mr. Slick’s article is an excellent short vernacular primer, C. Michael Patton’s “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell” article is the better resource for those seeking a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the subject.

Finally for those who find Mr. Slick’s outline format a bit too cryptic and Mr. Patton’s article too long should consider this short but insightful “What are the essentials of the Christian faith?” article on the “Got Questions?” website instead.

“A Bruised Reed” by R.C. Sproul (click link to watch streaming video)
This sermon by offers a fantastic perspective on finding that oh so elusive balance between truth, love, integrity, and tolerance. Christian brothers and sisters you I both appeal to you to and challenge you to listen to this amazing sermon. Here’s the description from the Ligonier website:

We don’t have to look beyond our own churches to see Christians fighting amongst themselves over all kinds of issues. What is the proper way to respond to Christian brothers and sisters when we are in disagreement with them? Should we treat everyone in the church the same? In this message entitled “A Bruised Reed,” Dr. Sproul teaches us about the judgement of charity as we seek to maintain peace and unity within the church.

The authors are thankful for Wikipedia Commons and Internet Archive for the images of 20th early Century evangelist Billy Sunday preaching that appear throughout the first part of this article.

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A caution to transitioning Ex-Mormon Christians
MormonProtest1

“If your true motivation is not simply hatred of Mormonism… then our plea is simple.”

by Jason Wallace, Pastor, Christ Presbyterian Church, Magna, Utah
Former Mormons recognize that religion doesn’t make someone a Christian. Mormonism may say nice things about Jesus, produce a great deal of sincerity, emotion, and activity, but it is a fraud. Mormons may quote the Bible, but they are selective in their use of it, touting what fits their personal preferences, while ignoring the parts that contradict them.

What many former Mormons don’t seem to recognize is that, in leaving Mormonism, many have embraced a faith that is simply another counterfeit of Biblical Christianity. Their religion may also produce great sincerity, emotion, and activity, but it is often just as selective in its use of the Bible. The gospel gets reduced to Ephesians 2:8-9 and a “personal relationship” with Jesus, that is divorced from the rest of the Bible. Like the Mormons, they bitterly resent anyone pointing them to the parts of the Bible that don’t fit their system and demonize those who challenge them to test their religion from God’s Word.

If your true motivation is not simply hatred of Mormonism, but a real love of Jesus Christ and the truth, then our plea is simple – – hear Jesus and His apostles. Jesus said,

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
— Matthew 7:21-23, KJV

Many Mormons claim that James 2 contradicts Paul in Ephesians 2. They see Paul teaching a “cheap grace” of faith without works. Rather than correcting the Mormon’s view of Ephesians 2, many former Mormons have embraced it and simply ignore what James said.

True conversion involves more than forgiveness of sins; it also involves being given a new heart and the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:36). We are not saved by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9), but the new birth manifests itself in new life (Romans 6) and in good works (Ephesians 2:10). We are not saved by our works, but they are the fruit of the Spirit within converted Christians.

Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount that many will go to the day of judgment, trusting in their religion and thinking they are right with Jesus, only to discover their religion was a fraud with which they not only fooled others, but also themselves. The Apostle Paul warns,

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
— 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, KJV

"True conversion involves more than forgiveness of sins; it also involves being given a new heart ..."

“True conversion involves more than forgiveness of sins; it also involves being given a new heart …”

Many former Mormons love to quote Paul saying we are no longer under law, but under grace. They use this passage as a club to bludgeon anyone who points out the totality of what Paul said. Jesus said that He never knew those who call Him Lord, but practice iniquity. Just as someone can say they love God and hate their brother (1 John 2:9), people can say they love God and practice iniquity, but both are lies. The Apostle John writes,

“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.”
— 1 John 2:3-5, KJV

Over and over, Jesus makes clear that the new birth involves more than mouthing the words to a prayer.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
— Matthew 6:14-15, KJV

“But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
— Matthew 10:33-39, KJV

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
— Matthew 18:15-17, KJV

Mormons can weep as they relate the burning in their bosom and other spiritual experiences, but the Bible shows that they are deceived and worshiping a false god and proclaiming a false gospel. Anti-Mormons can gush as they relate their spiritual experiences, but unless they line up with God’s Word, they are just another fraud.

Having been burned with the legalism and organizational oppression of Mormonism, many former Mormons have embraced a cheap grace that requires them to hear no church anywhere. They do not have to seek reconciliation with other believers (Matthew 18:15-17), and they submit to no elders (Hebrews 13:17).

“Many former Mormons have embraced a cheap grace that requires them to hear no church anywhere.”
Exhibit A: Ex-Mormon Shawn McCraney’s “Christian Anarchist” teachings.

These are not optional matters. Believers in the first century were baptized into a visible church, with real elders (Titus 1). It can be hard to overcome past abuse, but we are not given the option. Jesus asks,

“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”
— Luke 6:46, KJV

If you refuse to hear the church, Christians are commanded to treat you as an unbeliever; we are to pray for you and be kind to you, but we are to call you to repentance and true faith. Those who pick and choose what they like from the Bible are not Christians. The Apostle John said,

“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:”
— 1 John 1:6, KJV

You may have left Mormonism, with its tithing, temples, and rules, but unless you embrace the Biblical gospel, you’ve simply repackaged the same false gospel in a more palatable form. There is a gospel that involves more than mouthing the words to a prayer and living like the world. It is not a gospel of grace plus works, but a grace that transforms – – the Biblical gospel of a real new birth, with a new heart and the giving of the Holy Spirit. We call you to the gospel in which Jesus nails not only our sinful record, but our stony heart and poisonous life to the cross – – a gospel in which we have his perfect record, loving heart, and Holy Spirit given to sinners like us.

When King Josiah heard the Word of God that had been neglected, he rent his clothes and repented (2 Kings 22). The answer to Phariseeism is not becoming a Saducee, but a Christian. Is the real problem with Mormonism its idolatry or just how it treated you? Will you substitute the Jesus of Joseph Smith with the real Jesus of the Bible, or just a counterfeit of your own imagination? Will you come to Jesus on His terms, or will you hear on the day of judgment, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity”?

The-Lone-Ranger_EDITED

“Will you substitute the Jesus of Joseph Smith with the real Jesus of the Bible, or just a counterfeit of your own imagination?”

BACK TO TOP

church_sign-wideby Fred W. Anson
Since I’m known in most circles for my strong Reformed theological stance, a lot of people are surprised to discover that I’m also full blown, tongues speaking non-cessationist Charismatic.

There’s a reason for that: I’m embarrassed. Yes folks, I’m embarrassed by so much of the insanity that goes on among my Charismatic/Pentecostal Brethren these days that I find myself wanting to distance myself from a movement that I once was proudly part of. If anyone has any doubts about why, just pick the latest copy of Charisma Magazine skip the editorial content (which is generally written by sane, reasonable people), and read the ads (which in many cases seem to written by people who are neither).1 If that doesn’t convince you, just flip to the Trinity Broadcasting Network (aka “TBN”) on your television and try to last for more than about 15-minutes – them folks is all nuts from what I can tell!

Yes, the lack of biblical theological, sound doctrine, discernment, and good old common sense that some of today’s Pentecostals and Charismatics engage in is embarrassing folks, truly embarrassing – and I’m saying this as someone who’s part of the tribe! The term that we thinking Charismatics use for these lunatic fringe nutballs is “Charismaniacs” – and trust me, they have legitimately earned the title! In fact, a few have even go so far off the rails that they openly embrace – and even promote – Mormon error. Let’s look at a couple of these.

Paul Richardson and Lynn Ridenhour

Advertisement for a joint Paul Richardson, Lynn Ridenhour seminar. (click to zoom)

The Errors of Paul Richardson
In previous articles2 Beggar’s Bread readers were introduced to Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, an allegedly ordained Baptist Minister who has a testimony of Joseph Smith as prophet due to being introduced to the Book of Mormon by one of his Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS)/Community of Christ neighbors in Missouri. Dr. Ridenhour merited his own article because he’s the most notorious personality in this regard. In fact, it was through Lynn Ridenhour’s Facebook page that I discovered Dr. Paul Richardson, of whom he wrote:

MEET A DEAR FRIEND. Meet Dr. Paul Richardson, Pentecostal minister who loves and preaches out of the Book of Mormon. A few years back we hosted a Book of Mormon seminar in Independence. Two protestant preachers—a Baptist and a Pentecostal—preaching out of the Book of Mormon. I remember the night. The place was packed! We had an LDS Bishop there, missionaries were there. RLDS brothers and sisters were there. A Catholic priest came.

I consider Dr. Paul and his lovely wife, Faye, the dearest of friends. What a John the Baptist they are! Forerunners ahead of their time—spreading the good news of the restoration gospel and the message of the precious Book of Mormon throughout the southern states of this nation. Dr. Richardson publishes his monthly newspaper and mails it out to Pentecostals, mostly pastors all over southern United States. He also gives away free “Record of the Nephites,” as he calls the Book of Mormon.

Dr. Richardson is the chancellor of Spirit of Truth Institute, a Bible School. His school has ordained over 430 Pentecostal ministers. What a friend!3

Now it should probably be noted here that Dr. Ridenour actually transitioned from being a cessationist Baptist to continuationist Pentecostal during the Charismatic Renewal of the 1970’s. So if you attended that seminar what you really got, despite Lynn Ridenhour’s spin doctored rhetoric, was not one, but two Pentecostals who have fallen into Mormon error. And Dr. Ridenhour isn’t joking about any of the stuff he said about Paul Richardson, let’s consider some “gems” from his website:

El Greco, "The Pentecost"

“The Pentecost” by El Greco

OUR DISTINCTIVE STAND
We accept the Book of Mormon, which we also refer to as “The Record of the Nephites” or “The Nephite Record.” Why? Because …

  • It is a companion to and comparable to the traditional 66 books of our Holy Bible, as Sacred Writ
  • It is obviously inspired of God and from heaven.
  • It is in harmony with our Holy Bible, confirms and supports fundamental Christian teachings and is another powerful witness unto our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • It is a fascinating true account of ancient Israelites who migrated by ship to America about 600 B.C.
  • This authentic account was dug up, supernaturally translated by the power of the Holy Ghost, and first printed in 1830. Sadly, the Utah “Mormons” have made many little alterations in their version of it, but we still have copies that conform to the original manuscript.
  • It authoritatively corrects a number of old false teachings that have plagued the Church for generations.
  • It is theologically sound, full of spiritual light, and very edifying to the soul.
  • It is the first installment of much more extra-Biblical Revelation prophesied to come forth in this end time.4

And how does Paul Richardson support his claims that the Book of Mormon is an “authentic account”, “obviously inspired of God and from heaven”, and a “true account”? Archaeology? Science perhaps? Cross referencing the historic records? Evaluating the linguistics of the Book of Mormon relative to Native American linguistics maybe? Theological consensus perhaps?

Of course not! Rather, given the fact that it’s been soundly discredited archaeologically, scientifically, historically, linguistically, theologically, and just about every other way, he just does it the same way that all true believing Mormons do: He elevates his feelings and experience above all else. He simply ignores the fact that not only isn’t there a scrap of evidence to validate the Book of Mormon, there’s a mountain of evidence that discredits it. Here’s an example of the type of feellings driven, Mormon style, mental gymnastics that he engages in:

SOMEONE HAD TO WRITE THE BOOK OF MORMON
—It did not just drop down out of Heaven. There are only three possible origins: 1. God, 2. Man, or 3. the devil.

Joseph Smith, Jr. did not write the Book of Mormon. He only translated it. Then soon afterward his life became such a lie that the Book he translated was stigmatized causing the Christian church to rejected [sic] it.

What does the Book of Mormon do for me?
• Well, it inspires me to pray and to be loving and kind.
• It convicts me of any selfishness, fleshly disposition or worldly attitudes.
• It builds up my faith and gives me courage to trust the Lord.
• It puts me in a Heavenly frame of mind and kindles a strong desire in me to walk with God and to live holy for Him.

Each time you lay the Book of Mormon down and walk away, it feels just like you had a real good church service. Reading the Book of Mormon does all the same things for me as reading the Holy Bible does.5

But the fact of the matter is that objective evidence simply can’t be ignored. And if that evidence contradicts your emotional decision it still has to be dealt with somehow. Given that, consider how arbitrary and inconsistent he is in accepting the divine calling of Joseph Smith as inspired translator of the Book of Mormon while simultaneously throwing him under the bus as a fallen prophet:

Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and a great Seer.

His gift was utterly supernatural!

He had an amazing gift from God to translate the ancient Nephite Record. His great contribution was incomparable, for which we are very grateful.

But not long after he translated the Book of Mormon, he clearly became deceived and misguided and no one should follow either his personal example or his false teachings, which clashed with both the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon.

I prefer to follow the pure Word of God!6

Wiggin-Pentecost-smaller

“Pentecost” by Mark Wiggin

This is pretzel logic at it’s finest! This is like saying that Mohammed was a divinely inspired moralist when he received the Koran but lost the anointing when he started slaughtering infidels. Or that L. Ron Hubbard was an expert in human psychology when he wrote Dianetics but suddenly became a manipulative hack after it fell off the bestseller list. Neither narrative is true: The moral character of neither man changed before or after the these works were published, they remained the same. Likewise, the historical record demonstrates that Joseph Smith was a con-man and a shyster before, during, and after the creation of the Book of Mormon. In all cases, the only thing that really changed was the amount of power and influence that these men were able to consolidate to themselves as a result of the publication of their defining work. And once they had that power consolidation protecting them, their true nature manifested itself.

So apparently in Richardson’s mind the rationale goes something like this: “So what if Joseph Smith didn’t live a life that produced good fruit (per Matt 7:15-20)? So what if the rotten fruit he produced has resulted in a plethora of abusive Mind Control Cults that have followed him in engaging in the practice of polygamy? So what if he taught that the God of the Bible is just an exalted man who is just one of an infinite number of such gods throughout the cosmos (in violation of Deut 13:1-11)? So what if Joseph Smith destroyed fortunes and families through failed prophecies (in violation of Deut 18:18-22)? Brother, his book sure makes me feel like I’m in a really good church meeting when I read it, so it must be of God, right?”

Clearly Dr. Paul Richardson is failing to plumb line any of his beliefs against the absolute and objective standard of the Bible. I can say this emphatically because while the Book of Mormon is an interesting example of 19th Century American Protestant Restorationism, it simply isn’t fully “in harmony with our Holy Bible”. As Donna Morley noted in her analysis of similar claims by Lynn Ridenhour:

Here’s what Alma 13:13 actually says:

“And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.”
(Alma 13:13, RLDS, bolding added)

Further, here’s something else Alma says in chapter 13:

“Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish.”
(Alma 13:10, RLDS, bolding added)

In the above, Alma stated that the high priests escaped damnation only by working righteousness. The righteousness is credited as “their righteousness.” This isn’t the unconditional grace that’s taught in the Bible this is conditional grace where one must perform good works in order to merit grace rather than it being a unilateral gift of unmerited favor and mercy from God Himself!

True Christianity isn’t based upon our righteousness. The prophet Isaiah says that our righteousness is as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB). Because we don’t have righteousness of our own, true followers of Christ are given His righteousness:

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”
(Romans 3:22, NASB)

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB)7

pentecost 2

“Pentecost 2” by William Grosvenor Congdon (1912-1998)

The Book of Mormon also contradicts with biblical theology on other key points as well. For example, it’s view of the Godhead is modalistic8 and it rejects salvation by grace alone through faith alone (that is unconditional grace) for Roman Catholic style conditional grace ( that is, salvation by grace plus works):

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
(2 Nephi 25:23 LDS bolding added for emphasis)

This is in direct contradiction with the Bible:

“For it is by faith you are saved through faith, not that of yourselves it is the gift of God”
(Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB bolding added for emphasis)

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
(Romans 11:6, NASB)

So it’s clear that Dr. Paul Richardson is in very grave error. He isn’t following the “pure Word of God” at all. I would respectfully suggest that he reconsider his feelings regarding the Book of Mormon in light of what the pure Word of God actually says regarding using feelings as the ultimate means of discerning truth:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
(Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)

“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.”
(Proverbs 28:26, KJV)

Dr. Paul Richardson pitches the “Record of the Nephites” without explicitly stating that it’s the Book of Mormon.

The Errors of Cal Fullerton
While he’s not well known, probably the most interesting of the Charismatics who have been snared by the spirit of Mormonism is Cal Fullerton. Unlike Lynn Ridenhour and Paul Richardson, his justification for his stance isn’t quite as eye rollingly, face palmingly, ham fistedly inane, absurdist, and irrational. Rather, like non-Charismatic LdS Church advocates Richard J. Mouw and Roger E. Olson, he has been seduced into an odd form of theological liberalism and eyes wide shut ecumenicalism that’s rooted in feelings and experiences trumping both biblical orthodoxy and reality. One need go no further than the home page of his website to see this:

“Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) Christian?” This question and others about Christianity in the Mormon Church are reverberating worldwide.

The answers given are usually polarizing. Those who say no are primarily evangelical Christians. Those who say yes are primarily Mormons . . . but not all of them.

Respected evangelical leaders such as Joel Osteen have said yes.

The president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Richard Mouw, who has been recognized as an important voice among reform-oriented evangelicals, confessed that evangelicals have spread lies about LDS beliefs…

In order to do this completely and most effectively, there must be unity among us. Jesus prayed, “I have given them [my disciples] the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. . . . May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (John 17:22-23 NIV).9

"Icon-Pentecost" by Phiddipus

“Icon-Pentecost” by Phiddipus

So there you have it, an Evangelical Scholar whose work in Mormon Studies has been discredited and denounced by recognized and respected Evangelical Mormon Studies Scholars (Richard J. Mouw)10 and an ear tickling heretic (Joel Osteen)!11 I mean if these guys say it’s true, then it must be – right? I mean, with “evangelical leaders” like this who needs wolves, we have them right in the flock!

But, wait it gets, even better: Though it’s rarely mentioned in public, Cal Fullerton also bases his stance regarding the LdS Church on a prophecy from an errant Charismatic prophetess. Here’s how he relayed this incident on a Mormon/Evangelical discussion board:

I heard the prophecy (not a dream or vision) by the prophetess long after the Word of God—printed & living—revealed to me God’s perspective on the LDS.

Incidentally, the prophetess fell short of saying the LDS is Christian and should be accepted into the Christian fold. Rather, she rebuked the church of Christ for pointing fingers at Mormons. At one point she yelled, “THROW DOWN YOUR STONES!” I liked it so much that I asked permission to use her prophecy in something I was writing. She denied permission, which is why, for the sake of integrity, I’m not mentioning her name now. (She is well known and highly respected among charismatics.)12

And there you have it – classic Charismaniac error. When push comes to shove, Biblical absolutes get shoved to the side and are subordinated to feelings and experiences. This theme can be found again, again, and again on Mr. Fullerton’s website. Again one need go no further than his home page:

Helen [Cal Fullerton’s wife] and I are not taking this stand because we have another opinion– opinions are already too easy to find–it’s because the Spirit of the living God has revealed it to us. Have you ever noticed that virtually all non-Mormons who say the Mormon Church isn’t Christian, don’t say that God told them so? The reason is He didn’t!13

So it came as no surprise to me when Mr. Fullerton offered the same, “Pray about it my friend” defense of the Mormon Church in the aforementioned online discussion that one would expect from a Mormon. Here was my response:

[Your challenge that I pray about the Mormon Church] deserves special, detailed attention. With this statement you have demonstrated WHY some Charismatics/Pentecostals and nearly all Latter-day Saints fall into error.

Cal, I don’t HAVE to pray about whether Mormonism is Christian anymore than I have to pray about whether I should lie, cheat, steal, or commit adultery. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to told to pray about Biblical absolutes.

Rather, for a true Christian the Bible is his/her absolute authority – not feelings, not experiences, not relationships, and not . . . whatever. And in this case Joseph Smith failed to pass every Biblical test for a true prophet and he passed every test for a false one:

1) Deceiving God’s covenant people into following another God. (Deu 13:1-11)
2) Giving future predictions that failed to come to pass. (Deu 18:18-22)
3) A life that produces bad fruit. (Mat 7:15-20)
4) Denying that Jesus Christ was God eternal incarnated in human flesh. (1 John 4:1-3)

In addition we can add:
5) Use of Occult practices like scrying and Shamanism.
6) Incorporating Freemasonry into the LDS Temple ceremonies.
(Freemasonry is rooted in Kabbalah which is occultic)

As I’m sure you know occult practices are soundly condemned throughout both the Old and New Testament so I won’t bore you and the other readers with a list of proof texts on this. In regard to Joseph Smith’s involvement with these practices here’s a good write up by former Mormon, Janis Hutchinson that ends with this closing statement: “No individual, knowing the truth about the Mormon Church’s occult background, could possibly follow Joseph Smith as a prophet or embrace his teachings.”
http://www.janishutchinson.com/joeoccult.html

So no Cal, there’s no need to pray about whether Mormonism is Christian anymore than I need to pray to determine if Branch Davidianism, Christian Spiritualism, Freemasonry, or Scientology are. Sure there are good, moral, admirable people in each of these religions but that doesn’t make them Christian any more than it makes their founders true prophets of the God of the Bible.

And, I must say it, suggesting that I – or any other Christian for that matter – disregard Biblical absolutes and pray about whether the false religion started and based on the teachings of the false prophet Joseph Smith simply demonstrates how flawed, errant, and unbiblical your theology has become.14

At this point, I’m not quite sure what to add in regard in regard the Errors of Cal Fullerton. One need only parse through his website to see error, after error, after error.

"Pentecost" (Unknown Artist)

“Pentecost” (Unknown Artist)

Good Theology? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Good Theology!
Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richards, and Cal Fullerton represent the Charismaniac extremism that John MacArthur and his supporters pointed to with glee in their “Strange Fire” book and conferences in indicting Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement as a fountainhead of error. They’re easy targets since, unlike many Charismatics, they seem to lack any real theological depth. For example, consider this “gem” from Cal Fullerton:

It has been said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is not a Christian organization because Mormonism denies one or more of the “essential” doctrines of the gospel. To determine if that statement is correct, we need to have a good grasp of what actually is essential. To correctly classify the LDS we need to be sure which doctrines of the Holy Bible are absolutely mandatory in order for someone to become a Christian and enter heaven. Roughly seventy percent of Mormon teachings agree with evangelical teachings. But that does not prove that the LDS is a Christian denomination. The tenets and members have to agree with the Bible’s essentials.

I have assembled these essentials into four.

Essential Number 1: Believe God Rewards…
Essential Number 2: Repent to Faith in Jesus…
Essential Number 3: Receive Jesus (the Holy Spirit) Into Your Heart (Be Born Again)…
Essential Number 4: Believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ…

According to the Bible, if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the four essentials I’ve listed above, we must classify it as a Christian denomination instead of an unchristian cult. That is because God has plainly promised that if you do the essential requirements I have outlined, he will accept you into his eternal family.

Back when I thought the Mormon Church wasn’t Christian, I didn’t pay much attention to whether each of their doctrines had to do with a mandatory requirement for entering heaven. That was one of the reasons I made a tragic mistake of judgment.15

I can hear the sound of palms hitting faces throughout cyberspace as those grounded in historic, biblical theology read that “masterpiece”. I know of no credible theologian who would accept that list as fundamentally sound criteria for soteriology, let alone mainstream Christian orthodoxy! He apparently has no clue that the Essential Doctrines of the Christian faith have recognized throughout Christian Church History as the following:16

"Pentecost 4" William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 - 1998)

“Pentecost 4” by William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 – 1998) (click to zoom)

The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith
1) The Deity of Jesus Christ.
2) Salvation by Grace.
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) The gospel of Jesus Christ, and
5) Monotheism.

In the end Cal Fullerton only demonstrates his own ignorance and destroys his own case by doing a Mormon style “redefining the terms to fit the predetermined conclusion”. In fact, Mormonism doesn’t even get through the Judeo-Christian gate because of it’s rejection of monotheism in favor of henotheistic polytheism.

Likewise, as pointed out in a previous article, Lynn Ridenhour can’t even properly articulate the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity held by mainstream Christianity without speaking heretically. And he then one ups that heresy by concluding that Joseph Smith’s blasphemous tri-theistic view of the godhead is correct.17 Finally, as noted previously, Paul Richardson seems quite happy with the modalistic version of the Trinity presented in the Book of Mormon, as well as its denial of salvation by grace alone. Folks, if you’re looking for theological depth from these three, look elsewhere! The aforementioned John MacArthur could well have been writing specifically about them when he said:

We ought to begin with the Word of God, allowing a proper interpretation of the text to govern our experiences. A true work of the Spirit thrives on sound doctrine. It promotes biblical truth; it does not dismiss it or see it as a threat. Once experience is allowed to be the litmus test for truth, subjectivism becomes dominant and neither doctrine nor practice is defined by the divine standard of Scripture.

Charismatics downplay doctrine for the same reason they demean the Bible: they think any concern for timeless, objective truth stifles the work of the Spirit. They envision the Spirit’s ministry as something wholly free-flowing, infinitely pliable— so subjective as to defy definition. Creeds, confessions of faith, and systematic theology are seen as narrow, confining, not elastic enough for the Spirit to work within. Acknowledging this tendency within charismatic circles, one author wrote, “A college student once warned me of the ‘dangerous doctrine of demons’— his description of systematic theology. ‘The Lord has given us the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture,’ he explained. ‘Teaching doctrine is Satan’s attempt to use our minds to understand the Bible rather than relying on the Holy Spirit.” (William E. Brown, “Making Sense of Your Faith”, Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1989, p.55)

That is a shocking statement. In reality, the only thing good theology stifles is error, which is why sound doctrine is the single greatest antidote to charismatic deviations. Remember, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 16: 13). Any work of His will elevate biblical truth and sound doctrine in the hearts and minds of His people.18

Pentecostal Charismaniacs: Mormons Gone Bad
But now it should be apparent that these men are more Mormon than Christian in their epistemology. This should come as no surprise since as noted in prior articles19 Mormonism was a byproduct of the same 19th Century American Restorationist Pentecostalism that birthed today’s modern Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. That epistemology, in a nutshell, can be described thusly: Feelings, faith, facts – in that order. As Lutheran Pastor, Don Matzat (who has past involvement with the Charismatic Movement) observed well:

There is nothing wrong with Christians desiring feelings, emotions, and experience. In fact, the lack of any experience is in itself an experience. The lack of feeling is a feeling. The lack of emotion is an emotion. Any cursory reading of the New Testament demonstrates that love, joy, peace, hope, contentment are to be the Christian’s experience, feeling, and emotion…

Rather than coming against a feel-good faith, we should clearly teach that true Christian feelings, emotions, and Holy Spirit experience are the product of sound theology. Rather than confronting imbalance in the church by promoting the alternative and pushing the pendulum to the other side, we should begin with a balanced perspective which means recognizing that feelings will follow a faith that clings to the objective promises of God in Scripture. The person who believes and confesses that his sins are forgiven because Jesus died on the cross should feel guilt-free and experience the joy of having a cleansed conscience. Feelings and emotions. while not the cause of our faith, are the expression of our faith. Martin Luther writes, “We can mark our lack of faith by our lack of joy; for our joy must necessarily be as great as our faith.” Again he writes, “You have as much laughter as you have faith.” (Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), Vol. 2, p. 692.)…

Hopefully the present conflict between sound doctrine and feel-good experience will lead to a balanced perspective on both sides. Those who minimize sound doctrine and promote feelings and experience must recognize that they are plotting a course for deception and disaster. Those who focus on sound doctrine must begin teaching people to apply those great truths of Scripture to their daily living so that the experience of God’s people matches what the Word of God commands.20

And Charisma magazine more directly and forcefully articulated the same sentiment in a web article by Joseph Mattera entitled, “10 Signs You Are a Charismaniac”. In fact, according to Mr. Mattera, this is the #1 characteristic of a Charismaniac:

1. You put prophecies and extra-biblical leadings on the same level as the written Word of God. Isaiah 8:20 says if we speak not according to the Scripture then we have no light. Second Timothy 3:16 teaches that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. The Scriptures are our rule for life and the highest standard for judging truth.

Unfortunately, some in the charismatic camp seem to be led more by personal prophecies and supernatural visions and dreams than by the Scriptures. I have known some people who would record personal prophecies by well-known “prophets” and—without praying about it or comparing it to Scripture or getting discerning counsel from more seasoned leaders in the kingdom—would just obey the prophecy as if it were as inspired as the Bible.21

Jean_II_Restout_-_Pentecôte

“Pentecost” by Jean II Restout, (c.1732)

In other words, biblical epistemology is facts, faith, feelings – in that order. To see the contrast, just consider Paul Richardson’s “evidence” that the Book of Mormon must be true because, “Each time you lay the Book of Mormon down and walk away, it feels just like you had a real good church service.”22 Now compare this to his lack of any acknowledgement that the Book of Mormon does in fact contradict both the Bible and Christian orthodoxy. When you take that and then factor in the reality that there is absolutely no empirical evidence to support the historicity of the Book of Mormon – a glaring omission that somehow fails to be addressed on his website or in any of his articles – the work’s rejection as holy writ should be fait accompli. Instead, again, again, and again in his articles Mr. Richardson endorses the book as scripture equivalent to scripture based on subjective analysis that’s devoid of any objective evidence. As I said to Cal Fullerton regarding this same kind of lack of discernment and failure to plumb line such impressions against objective evidence:

I, a fellow Charismatic who believes in modern prophetic utterances and the other gifts of the Spirit say to you now as I did back on the [now defunct] Concerned Christians board [in 2010]: I don’t care WHO that prophetess was, I could care less what her reputation is among Charismatics or anyone else for matter, she gave a false prophecy – period.

When plumblined against the Bible it was a false prophecy. Period.

And most distressingly she validated a false prophet and a heretical non-Christian group in the name of (and allegedly in the voice of) God. She is, therefore, a false prophet and a deceiver. Period.23

This blatant disregard of objectivity (especially biblical objectivity) over personal subjectivity is very Mormon isn’t it? In fact, Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel and a Charismatic with Pentecostal roots, could have been describing these men when he wrote:

It is of utmost importance that we allow the Bible to be the final authority for our faith and practice. Any time we begin to allow experiences to become the criteria for doctrine or belief, we have lost biblical authority, and the inevitable result is confusion. There are so many people today who witness of remarkable and exciting experiences. The Mormons, for example, “bear witness” to the experience of the truth of the Book of Mormon. They encourage people to pray in order to experience whether or not their Book of Mormon is true. One person says he has experienced that it is true, and another says he has experienced that it is false. Which one am I to believe? Each swears he has had a true experience from God; yet one has to be wrong. Whenever you open the door for experience to become the foundation or criterion for doctrinal truth, you are opening a Pandora’s box. The result is that the truth is lost in the conflicting experiences, and the inevitable consequence is total confusion. We know that God is not the Author of confusion.24

Further, didn’t Christ stress the importance of evidence throughout His sermons? And could Paul have been any clearer when he said that if our Christianity isn’t empirically true then “we are of all men the most pitiable”?

If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
(1 Corinthians 15:14-19, NKJV)

In summary and conclusion, this unbiblical, feeling affirming, evidence denying pattern can be seen plainly in the writings and public instruction of all three men – again, one need only spend some “quality time” on their websites to see this clearly. By embracing false scripture from a False Prophet – and even worse, encouraging others to do the same – these men have become false teachers themselves. And the Bible was quite clear what God’s people are to do when we encounter a false teacher, false prophet, false apostle, or false anything for that matter:

You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.
(Deuteronomy 13:3&4, NKJV) bolding added for emphasis

pentecost

A primitive fresco of Pentecost.

NOTES
1 Full disclosure and clarification: I worked as a Music Reviewer for “Worship Leader Magazine”, which is also owned by Strang Publications, the publisher of Charisma Magazine, from 1992-1993. During that time I found John Strang and his staff to be reasonable, personable, and theologically sound. I think that’s why you will find the editorial content of Charisma Magazine to be generally sound.

That’s why I’ve specifically recommended that you just view the advertisements in the magazine instead – they’re an unvetted, raw picture of the current state of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Church at the grassroots level and, frankly, it’s scary. Whenever someone asks (or challenges) me about my (admittedly blunt) assessment of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement I just point them to there. After seeing them, nothing else need be said. For example, let’s look at a couple of them from the December 2015 issue of Charisma magazine:

“Blood Moons are not about the end – they are about the beginning.

For over 3,000 years God has used the blood moon tetrads on His feast days of Passover and Tabernacles as a sign of special revival coming to His people. The last great blood moon revival came in 1967, when God poured out His Spirit to begin the charismatic renewal. Today there are over 600 million charismatic Christians who are the fruit of this revival, including most of the readers of this magazine.

The blood moon tetrad of 2014-2015 occurred in troubled time, as have most the previous 14 blood moon tetrads. Yet we can see the beginning of a new revival coming based on unity in Christ in answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Don’t miss it!

we invite you to study the Scriptures, the heavenly signs, and the history of the blood moon tetrads in our new book . . . ”
(Charisma, December 2015, p.9)

But, wait folks, if blood moons aren’t enough, there’s more! Consider this “gem”:

“Discouraged?
Need a miracle?
Lack the faith to believe?
Desire to be empowered to heal?

– Receive step by step Biblical Instruction to activate God’s healing power in your life.
-Be encouraged as you read the amazing testimonies that are in this book.

Afraid?
Feel defeated?

– Tap into the supernatural potential of your faith.
– Unleash the power of God.
– Experience the impossible.
– Overcome in these Last Days.
(Charisma, December 2015, p. 15)

Even more disturbing are the titles and subtitles of the latter books being advertised in the second advertisement: “Dare to Believe: The True Power of Faith to Walk in Divine Healing and Miracles” and “Greater Than Magic: The Supernatural Power of Faith”. Apparently, the Bible isn’t enough any more, now we need the equivalent of “How To” Charismatic cookbooks and computer manuals! Further, if one didn’t know in advance one might even assume from the title alone that these are books from pagans on how to cast spells or channel metaphysical powers and forces. Yet there they are, being advertised in the flagship periodical of American Pentecostals and Charismatics! And not only does no one seem to care, but judging by the reviews of these books on Amazon, my Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters seem to be delighted by it! It is any wonder that prudent and conservative continuationists distance themselves from such things?

My dear Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters we can do better than this! Brothers and sisters we must do better than this in the Name of, and for the cause of, Christ alone!

2 See “The Errors of Dr. Lynn Ridenhour” and “Weak Arguments #7: ‘The Book of Mormon doesn’t have a trace of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity in it.’” in particular.

3 Lynn Ridenhour, Facebook post October 20, 2014

4 Paul Richardson, “Our Distinctive Stand”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website. The reader may also be interested in reading Dr. Richardson’s biography (which for or some unknown reason he calls a “News Release”) by clicking here.

5 Paul Richardson, “Someone Had To Write The Book of Mormon”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website

6 Paul Richardson, “The Charm of Joseph Smith”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website

7 Donna Morley, “The Errors of Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, Appendix: Is the Book of Mormon Really “Baptist”?”

8 See Ronald V. Huggins, B.F.A., Th.D., “Joseph Smith’s Modalism: Sabellian Sequentialism or Swedenborgian Expansionism?”; Also see Bill McKeever, “Modalism in the Book of Mormon”.

9 Cal Fullerton, “Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” home page. Bolding retained from original.

And in accordance with the usage guidelines of that website we post the following: “Copyright © 2008 Cal Fullerton. Permission is granted, and you are encouraged, to print the above article in hard copy form, as well as send it to your own email lists and post it on your own websites. We only ask that you include the name of the originating website (EvangelicalsandMormonsforJesus.com) and this copyright and permission notice.”

10 Please see the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions “Statement On Richard Mouw And Evangelical Countercult Ministries”; And for a good analysis and deconstruction of Richard J. Mouw’s claim that Evangelical Christians have lied about and misrepresented the Mormon Church see Fred W. Anson, “Scolasticus cum Peter Principle”; Also recommended: Mike Thomas, “That Apology and How Liberal Theolgians “Go Native”’, and; Fred W. Anson, “Apologizing For Richard J. Mouw”.

11 See Matt Walsh, “Joel Osteen and his Wife are Heretics, and that’s why America Loves Them”; Also see “Joel Osteen-Preaching a False-Positive, with a Smile”.

12 Cal Fullerton comment, September 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm on the article “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons” by Jared C. on the LDS and Evangelical Conversations website.

13 Op Cit, Fullerton, “Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” home page.

And by the way, and for the record Mr. Fullerton, there are thousands of Christians who can subjectively claim that the Mormon Church is neither true or Christian because God told them so. I’m one of them:

I would like to bear my testimony . . .
I have diligently sought God regarding whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true or not. To that end, I have studied the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon and I have prayed consistently for over 30-years. I have taken the “Moroni 10 Challenge” and I have felt an intense “burning in my bosom” many, many, many times in my life — in fact, I carry it with me everyday of my life.

… and my testimony is this:
I am utterly convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a non-Christian cult, that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, as is Thomas S. Monson. Further, I am utterly convinced that the Book of Mormon is an uninspired, man created work of 19th Century fiction.

Here I stand before God and before men – I can do no other.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, amen.

And if my testimony isn’t enough, I can provide similar testimony from other Christians with little to no effort at all. Further Mr. Fullerton, please note that -unlike your testimony of the LdS Church – the body of objective evidence, including the bible itself, supports and verifies our subjective testimony. So in the end where has all this subjective testimony bearing of contrary positions gotten either of us? Answer: Absolutely nowhere.

What I have said to countless Mormons, I will now say to Misters Ridenhour, Richardson, and Fullerton: That Mormon testimony of yours plus a buck fifty will get you a cup of coffee at Denny’s and that’s about it! And what’s true for you is just as true for my contra-Mormon testimony: Testimony bearing in and of itself proves nothing. Rather, let’s see the objective evidence that supports and verifies it – because in the end that’s all that really matters.

14 Fred W. Anson reply to Cal Fullerton, September 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm; Op Cit, Jared C., “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons”.

15 Cal Fullerton, “Essentials for Salvation”“Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” website. Bolding from original retained.

16 See Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website. While Mr. Slick’s article is an excellent short vernacular primer, C. Michael Patton’s “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell” article is the better resource for those seeking a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the subject. Finally for those who find Mr. Slick’s outline format a bit too cryptic and Mr. Patton’s article too long should consider the short but insightful “What are the essentials of the Christian faith?” article on the “Got Questions?” website instead.

17 In his article, “God of the Philosophers: Brief Comments on the Godhead” Lynn Ridenhour writes:

“The God of the Trinity wallows in modalism, stumbling to give its advice to new converts. Listen to Cyril of Jerusalem:

“…For there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God, the Father; One Lord, His only-begotten Son; One Holy Ghost; the Comforter. And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance: for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.” –Catechetical Lectures 16:24

Enough.

What kind of Being is God?

Let Joseph answer. The Prophet preached that “…if you were to see [God] today, you would see him like a man in form,” and that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22).

As I said in the beginning, this may be old hat to most, and not unlike the tour guide, some may be tempted to say “…O, we see it all the time…” and walk away, but for me—it’s like seeing the Niagara Falls for the very first time.”

In case you didn’t notice that a heretical definition of the Trinity followed by an endorsement of Joseph Smith’s blasphemous tri-theistic view of the godhead.

18 John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship” (pp. 73-74) Kindle Edition.

I would ask the reader to note that while I find much to soundly applaud in this work, overall I was disappointed by John MacArthur’s extremist stances, exaggerations, misrepresentations and generally ungracious, polemic attitude in both this book and the conferences that preceded it. Perhaps Dr. Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the “Reformation Commentary on Scripture” as well as several other books said it best when he wrote:

“Within the worldwide charismatic movement, there are no doubt instances of weird, inappropriate, and outrageous phenomena, perhaps including some of the things MacArthur saw on TBN. Many Pentecostal leaders themselves acknowledge as much. But to discredit the entire charismatic movement as demon-inspired because of the frenzied excess into which some of its members have fallen is both myopic and irresponsible. It would be like condemning the entire Catholic Church because some of its priests are proven pedophiles, or like smearing all Baptist Christians because of the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church.

When told that his all-charismatics-are-outside-the-pale approach was damaging the Body of Christ because he was attacking his brothers and sisters in the Lord, MacArthur responded that he “wished he could affirm that.” This is a new version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus—except that the ecclesia here is not the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church but rather an exclusively non-charismatic one.”
(Timothy George, “Strange Friendly Fire”, First Things, November 4, 2013)

I also agree with Reformed Theologian John Piper who wrote:

‘On each point, it is surely misguided to single out charismatics, says Piper. “Charismatic doctrinal abuses, emotional abuses, discernment abuses, financial abuses, all have their mirror image in non-charismatic churches.” Of charismatics and non-charismatics alike, “we all stand under the word of God and we all need repentance.”

But those charismatic abuses remain. So how are these excesses best policed? How are Christians today protected from the abuses of the charismatic church? Is it through attack-centered books and conferences?

“I don’t go on a warpath against charismatics. I go on a crusade to spread truth. I am spreading gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, Calvinistic truth everywhere, and I am going to push it into the face of every charismatic I can find, because what I believe, if they embrace the biblical system of doctrine that is really there, it will bring all of their experiences into the right orbit around the sun of this truth.”’
(John Piper, “Piper Addresses Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos”, Desiring God website)

I’m trying hard in this article to tread a fine line between being too polemic and too tolerant regarding Charismatic practices that I consider imbalanced or outright unbiblical. I will leave it to the reader’s judgment to determine if I’ve succeeded or not.

19 See Fred W. Anson, “Mormons: Pentecostals Gone Bad”“Mormons: Pentecostals Gone Bad [The Sequel]”; Also see John Farkas, “Speaking in Tongues and The Mormon Church”.

20 Don Matzat, “Feelings, Emotions and Christian Truth”

21 Bishop Joseph Mattera, “10 Signs You Are a Charismaniac”, Charisma magazine’s “Charisma News” website. Bolding from original retained.

22 Paul Richardson, “Someone Had to Write The Book of Mormon”.

23 Fred W. Anson reply to Cal Fullerton, September 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm; Op Cit, Jared C., “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons”.

24 Chuck Smith, “Charisma Versus Charismania”, Kindle Locations 1282-1289.

The Bible

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:1, KJV)

BACK TO TOP

what-is-the-gospel1_edited
“Beer is made by men, wine by God.”
― Martin Luther

by Marie Johnson
The Book of Mormon claims to be, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” but when it is put to the test, the gospel it embodies is nothing more than a man made concoction of of law mixed with grace; a tainted gospel that is condemned by the Apostle Paul.

In Galatians 5:4 (AKJV) Paul writes, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.” He reiterates his point in Romans 4:13-14 (KJV), “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.”

The Bible teaches that before, during and after God made covenants with Israel, people were counted righteous by believing the promises of God (Romans 4); not by obedience to the the law of Moses (Romans 3:20). In the book of Hebrews we read that, prior to Christ, God’s people looked forward to the promise of a heavenly city; the Old Testament version of eternal life (Hebrews 11:9-16). In addition to God’s promise of a heavenly city, the Messiah and the New Covenant were also promised (Galatians 3:8, Hebrews 8:6-13). The people of God who lived before Christ were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance (Hebrews 11:1, 13-16, 39).

The Old Covenant sacerdotal system, which came 430 years after God made his promises to Abraham (Genesis 12: 1-3) was never designed to give eternal life. Its purpose was to act as a tutor and a disciplinarian; teaching people about the depths of their sinfulness. As their custodian, it watched over them and keep them in check until the fullness of time came and they could be justified by faith in Jesus (Galatians 3:19-24). Just as the promise was not the reality, the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant were only a foreshadow of the good things that were coming in Christ (Hebrew 10:1-2).

Inaugurated with the shed blood of animals, the Mosaic covenant had a very distinct beginning. When Moses took the blood of calves and goats and sprinkled the book of the covenant and all the the people, the Israelites were bound to abide by the law of Moses (Exodus 24:8, Hebrews 9:19). They were required to continually perform sacrifices for the temporary covering of sins (Hebrews 10:11). If they intentionally defied the Mosaic law, they would be cut off from Israel; that is, put to death (Numbers 15:30, Hebrews 10:28). No Hebrew was exempt from this obligation to the law until, “the fulness of the time was come, [when] God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Galatians 4:4-5,KJV).

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Because Jesus redeemed those under the law, the Old Covenant became obsolete when the New Covenant was ratified in his blood. (Hebrews 8:13, 10:9-10). Jesus addressed this in the parable of the wineskins. New wine can’t be poured into old wineskins: The old skins will burst and both will be ruined. (Matthew 9:14-17). The two covenants can’t be mixed.

In spite of Paul and Jesus’ teaching, the Book of Mormon asserts that people who were under Old Covenant law could freely partake of the New Covenant and claim remission of sins through Jesus’ atonement. One example can be found in the introduction to 2 Nephi 25, “The Nephites keep the law of Moses and believe in Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel. About 559–545 B.C. [about 575-580 years before the New Covenant existed].”

BYU Professor Noel B. Reynolds gives a nice summary of this teaching explaining how it is found throughout the Book of Mormon (emphasis mine):

Because of the great visions and revelations he rebloodd, Nephi shared a role with his father as a founding prophet. At a young age he was inspired by the Holy Spirit and believed his father’s words. He heard the voice of the Lord telling him that he would become a ruler and teacher over his brothers (1 Ne. 2:22). He witnessed the vision of the tree of life shown earlier to his father (1 Ne. 8), which showed him the future birth, baptism, and ministry of Jesus Christ, as well as the future rise and demise of his own people. He was shown also the future establishment of the Gentiles in the Western Hemisphere and the restoration of the gospel in their midst (1 Ne. 11-14). Because of these revelations, Nephi was able to teach his people the gospel or “doctrine of Christ”-the means by which they could come unto Christ and be saved (2 Ne. 30:5; 31:2-32:6). His carefully formulated teaching of this doctrine provided a model that other Nephite prophets invoked repeatedly (see Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Because the Nephites had received the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, their strict observance of the law of Moses was oriented toward its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, and Nephi explained to his people that they should observe the law of Moses as a means of keeping Christ’s future atonement always in their minds (2 Ne. 25:29-30). The law itself had become “dead”to those who were “made alive in Christ” and who knew that Jesus was the one to whom they could look dirctly for “remission of thier sins” (2 Ne. 25:25-27).”
(Reynolds, Noel B., “Nephi 1”, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism)

Here is another example from Mosiah 3:13-16, 28 where, “strict observance of the law of Moses” is taught (that is the Old Covenant) while a direct appeal is made to the atonement of Christ for the remission of sins (which is the New Covenant):

“And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them…and yet they hardened their hearts, and understood not that the The law of Moses availath nothing except it were through his atonement. And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins…. And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.”

“King Solomon Dedicates the Temple” by or in the style of James Tissot (c.1896–1902)

Splattered throughout the pages of the Book of Mormon, this concocted gospel attempts to mix the Old and New Covenants, only to rip apart the fabric of the Old Covenant and trample underfoot the New Covenant.

The Old Covenant was bound together and structured around the temple, the priests and the sacrifices. It was inaugurated in and kept by the blood of animals. Before the High Priest could enter God’s presence (The Most Holy Place in the temple), the blood of animals had to be spilled as a sin offering. If the High Priest had tried to enter the Most Holy Place without first making a sin offering, if he tried to enter by promising a future animal sacrifice and not by the literal shedding of animal blood, he would have died. (Leviticus 16:2-3).

The New Covenant was also inaugurated in and kept by blood; the blood of Jesus (Mark 14:24). Just as no one could enter into the Old Covenant without the literal shedding of animal blood, no one could enter into the New Covenant and gain the blessings of the atonement without the literal shedding of Jesus’ blood (Hebrews 9:16-28).

However, as seen in Mosiah 3:16 above, The Book of Mormon teaches that, before Jesus died, the, “blood of Christ atoneth for their sins“ and the children of men received, “remission of sins,… even as though he had already come among them.” This was impossible. For, as the writer of Hebrews explains, “without shedding of blood, there is no remission [of sin].” (Hebrews 9:22, KJV) 

Claiming to receive remission of sins based on blood which had not been shed, makes Jesus’ death into nothing more than a token or a symbol. Remission of sins and the gift of eternal life are not given through tokens or symbols. They are given based on the reality of a vital union with the one who shed his blood and died to take away our sins; the one and who is eternal life (1 John 1:2, 3:5, 5:9-12).

The claim that Nephi was given a revelation about Jesus Christ does not change how the covenants were ratified. The terms of ratifying the New Covenant were not, “Nephi will receive a vision about the restoration of the gospel” or “Nephi will be able to teach his people of the ‘Doctrine of Christ’.” The New Covenant came into effect only when Jesus was dead. (Hebrews 9:15-17).

In Alma 22:14, the missionary Aaron preaches the the gospel of The Book of Mormon to King Lamoni’s father and tells him, “…the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their [fallen men’s] sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth..” In response, King Lamoni’s father asks, what he should do that he might have eternal life, be born of God and receive [God’s] spirit (All blessings of the New Covenant. They were not available under the Old Covenant. See eternal redemption in Hebrews 9:12-26; see the requirement for Jesus death to be born again in Jn 3; see Jesus promise of the Spirit in John 14:16-18). Aaron responds to Lamoni’s father, “If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.”…and Lamoni’s father does so.

This story is infused with the Biblical concepts of calling on God’s name in faith, repentance, bowing down, believing and receiving. It has a strong air of authenticity. However, when tested, it is missing the most essential ingredient required for the forgiveness of sins: a sacrifice.

Aaron’s gospel overlooks the fact that under Mosaic law animal blood must be shed to make atonement for sins (Leviticus 17:11). Instead of requiring an animal sacrifice, Aaron tells King Lamoni’s father he is covered by Jesus’ sacrifice; a sacrifice that has not taken place and does not exist.

1886-1894 --- A painting from a series of Bible illustrations by James Tissot. --- Image by © Brooklyn Museum/Corbis

“The Crucifixion” by James Tissot
(c.1886-1894)

Today, we look back on Jesus’ death and from our perspective we see that the people of faith who lived under the Old Covenant are now covered by the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice. When they lived under the Old Covenant they were counted righteous because they believed God’s promises; not because those promises were a reality. As a demonstration of their faith in the promises of God, they performed the animal sacrifices required under the covenant they had with God. They did not claim remission of sins based on blood that had not been shed or a covenant that did not exist.

This is the bitter gall The Book of Mormon asks us to swallow – wrapped in catch phrases and words that have been lifted from the Bible. In 1982 the LdS Church labeled the Book of Mormon, “Another testament of Jesus Christ”. The word, “testament,” is Latin for covenant. The Book of Mormon is not another covenant of Jesus Christ. It is not , “Another testament of Jesus Christ”. The Book of Mormon teaches a gospel that violates both the Old and the New Testaments of God. Those who imbibe it’s false gospel will stumble and fall short of the pure grace and truth that are offered to us by Jesus Christ.

“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28, KJV).

The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Another gospel comes by the Book of Mormon.

About the Author
Marie Johnson is a free lance writer and researcher in Utah who specializes in Latter-day Saint culture and theology.

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