by Fred W. Anson
Yes, there were pre-Columbian horses in parts of the American continent. No, they weren’t as the Book of Mormon depicts them. How can I say that so emphatically and with such finality?

A: I have seen the skeletal remains of those pre-Columbian horses – and so can you. The footer art for this article is a photograph that I took of a skeleton of one at the George C. Page La Brea Tar Pit Museum in Los Angeles in 2016. It was exhumed from the Tar Pits back in the day and put on display. They have found several such skeletons in the Tar Pits, this is just the one that they have put on public display.

It’s about the size of a large dog – say a large Saint Bernard or a small Great Dane – and it would have been harmed if you used it the way the Book of Mormon describes the use of Pre-Columbian American horses: Riding them like a horse or using them to pull chariots.

Further, we know how and why these horses went extinct as soon as human beings arrived on the American continent: They were hunted down and eaten by the new human inhabitants of the continent. We know this not only because they suddenly go extinct shortly after the arrival of humans, but because they have found human teeth marks on the bones of these exhumed skeletons.

Evolution of the Pre-Columbian American Horse. The horses in the banner and footer photos from the La Brea Tar Pit Museum are Equus simplicidens skeletons.

The biggest nail in the coffin, in regard to Book of Mormon horses, is the timeline. From the neutral source Wikipedia:

“Equidae in North America ultimately became extinct, along with most of the other New World megafauna during the Quaternary extinction event during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago.”
(see Wikipedia, “Horses in the United States”)

This is well before the events of the Book of Mormon start to unfold. This is from the header notes of the current LdS Church edition Book of Mormon for 1 Nephi 18:

“The people arrive in the promised land. About 591–589 B.C.”
(see header notes for 1 Nephi 18, official LdS Church website)

Therefore, horses were long gone and extinct prior to the Book of Mormon people arriving on the American continent.

They were not to be seen again in the Americas until 1519. Again, from the neutral source, Wikipedia:

“Horses returned to the Americas thousands of years later, well after domestication of the horse, beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1493. These were Iberian horses first brought to Hispaniola and later to Panama, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and, in 1538, Florida. The first horses to return to the main continent were 16 specifically identified horses brought by Hernán Cortés in 1519.”
(see Wikipedia, “Horses in the United States”)

So the bottom line is that horses simply did not exist on the American continent in any form during the Book of Mormon period. The timeline is off – and by not just a few years, but by thousands of years.

In addition to all the above, another problem that the Book of Mormon has is that not all horse breeds can be domesticated. For example, you may have wondered why you don’t see them riding Zebras in Africa. The answer is simple: They are mean ornery creatures that don’t like people and will flee, bite, and fight even in captivity. The following article explains the difference:

“The kick of a zebra can break a lion’s jaw. They can be savage biters and possess a ‘ducking’ reflex that helps them avoid being caught by lasso. Familiarity with human hunter-gatherers may also have fostered a strong avoidance response in the zebra.

All of this means that zebra are not really “people friendly” and as a species they do not fit the criteria for domestication.

According to the English explorer and polymath Francis Galton (a relative of Charles Darwin), these requirements include displaying a desire for comfort, being easy to tend, being useful and showing a fondness for man.

Galton uses the zebra as an example of an unmanageable species, stating that the Dutch Boers repeatedly tried to break zebra to harness. Although they had some success, the wild, mulish nature of the animals would frequently break out and thwart their efforts. Although it appears possible to tame individual zebra, this species was not a good candidate for domestication.”
(Carol Hall, “Here’s Why Zebras Have Never Been Domesticated”, Science Alert website, September 23, 2016; )

At this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with the Pre-Columbian horses of America. Quite simply, everything. The last species of Pre-Columbian horses on the American continent was Equus simplicidens which is also known as the “Hagerman horse”, the “Hagerman zebra” and the “American zebra” – the last two because in terms of speciation it’s closer to modern zebras than modern horses. Again from the neutral source Wikipedia:

“The Hagerman horse first appeared about 3.5 million years ago. It was approximately 110–145 centimeters (43–57 inches) tall at the shoulder. It weighed between 110 and 385 kilograms (243 and 849 pounds). An average Hagerman horse was about the same size as an Arabian horse. It also was relatively stocky with a straight shoulder and thick neck, like a zebra, and a short, narrow, donkey-like skull.

The horse probably lived in grasslands and floodplains, which is what Hagerman was like between three and four million years ago. Native North American horses became extinct about 10,000 years ago, at the same time as many other large-bodied species of the period.”
(see Wikipedia, “Hagerman Horse”)

Of course, we don’t have any Equus simplicidens horses to observe or test for temperament, but if the speciation is correct, then its entirely possible that the reason why they were killed off for food by the American aboriginals is that since they couldn’t be domesticated they were more valuable as a protein source than as beasts of burden and/or other forms of human helper.

Size comparison between the earliest Pre-Columbian American horse and a modern horse.

To summarize and review:

  1. The indigenous American horses were too small to be safely ridden by people or pull chariots as they are depicted doing so in the Book of Mormon.
  2. Regardless of the prior point, not all breeds of horses are capable of being domesticated. Given their speciation it’s entirely possible that indigenous Pre-Columbian horses were more akin to undomesticable modern zebras than domesticated modern horses.
  3. The above two points aside, and for whatever reason, the American aboriginals hunted the indigenousness American horses to extinction.
  4. Even without the above three points, the timeline is still WAY off. There simply were NO indigenous American horses on the American continent when the Book of Mormon people arrived here. Period.

Conclusion
No matter how you slice it, or how you consider the evidence, the nature and use of horses in the Book of Mormon are both at odds with and in conflict with the empirical body of evidence. The problem isn’t that we’re lacking the evidence to prove the Book of Mormon’s claims, the problem is that the wide, broad, and deep body of evidence that we have regarding pre-Columbian horses on the American continent utterly discredits the Book of Mormon’s equestrian claims.

A photo of one of the La Brea Tar Pit Museum horse skeletons taken by the author in 2016.

Appendix: References to Horses in the Book of Mormon
“And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance.

And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper.”
— 1 Nephi 18:24&25

“Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.”
— Alma 20:6

“Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.”
— 2 Nephi 12:7

“None shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken;

Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.”
— 2 Nephi 15:27&28

“And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.
— Enos 1:21

“And the Lord began again to take the curse from off the land, and the house of Emer did prosper exceedingly under the reign of Emer; and in the space of sixty and two years they had become exceedingly strong, insomuch that they became exceedingly rich—

Having all manner of fruit, and of grain, and of silks, and of fine linen, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things;

And also all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats, and also many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man.

And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.”
— Ether 9:16-19

“Therefore, there was no chance for the robbers to plunder and to obtain food, save it were to come up in open battle against the Nephites; and the Nephites being in one body, and having so great a number, and having reserved for themselves provisions, and horses and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years, in the which time they did hope to destroy the robbers from off the face of the land; and thus the eighteenth year did pass away.”
— 3 Nephi 4:4

“And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.”
— 3 Nephi 3:22

“And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle, and all things whatsoever did belong unto them.”
— 3 Nephi 6:1

“Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;

And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strongholds.”
— 3 Nephi 21:14&15

Size comparison of a modern man relative to the last of the Pre-Columbian American horses, the Hagerman horse (aka “Equus simplicidens”)

(Banner art: Infographic for the “Hagerman Horse” which was the last of the Pre-Columbian American horses and the animal whose skeleton you will see the author’s photograph of in the footer art of this article)

Shawn McCraney Doesn’t Understand Contradictions

by Isaac Farley
This article has taken an unusually long time to write – even for me, someone who hasn’t updated his supposedly monthly demonology series in nearly 12 months. The reason for my delay is that this is a monstrous topic and I’ve found myself doing way more research than intended and I wanted to include more detail than what has made it in but several rounds of editing have put this thing on a diet.

Origin story
I was casually reading over Facebook one morning before work when I came across a post in a Utah Christian group. The post warned members about a new “Shawnite tactic” whereby using a website called CheckMyChurch.org McCraneyism was aiming to cast doubt on the validity of different mainstream Christian congregations. I started looking into the website. My first thought was that, given his post-2013 track record, if it was associated with Shawn McCraney it was going to be a complete mess!

Well, it turns out that in one of his webcasts, McCraney made an off-handed comment about how there should be a website that rates of all congregations as good or bad based on his standards of what qualifies as a good church. One of his followers, a woman by the name of Sarah Young took his comment to heart and has started this website that is in question. Young claims to be doing “unbiased and biblical reviews” but it doesn’t take much to find that none of this is true. The framework by which she is rating churches is McCraneyism a sub-biblical-at-best and the false doctrinal system taught by McCraney at worst. Moreover, and on top of that, this women doesn’t even visit the congregations that she is rating. Seeing the clear problems with this tactic I had a fun idea to do a “church check” on the “church” that Young associates herself with – Shawn McCraney’s church, C.A.M.P.U.S. But first I took the egalitarian move of requesting that CheckmyChruch.org review the congregation that I myself attend: Living Faith Discipleship Community, in Ogden, Utah.

Flawed Methodology and Broken Theology
The “Quick Check” review of my congregation went online in early May (editor’s note, a full review was later published on the CheckMyChurch website in August 2019) and I will not directly be responding to it here. Rather I will be discussing Ms. Young’s methodology as a whole and interacting with an exchange we had in the comments of her review. You can read my full comments to Ms. Young here. I will simplify it here for the sake of word count.

A March 5, 2019 screenshot of the CheckMyChurch website “About Us” page that directly links them to Shawn McCraney’s Church C.A.M.P.U.S. As you can see, they even go so far as to promote their church here. This information was deleted from the page after word got out that CheckMyChurch was, in reality, nothing more than a Shawnite initiative to impose their flawed, unbiblical ecclesiology onto other churches.

Me to Young
‘I didn’t physically attend the […] service at Living Faith Discipleship Community’”

Stop. This should be your whole review. How can you “review” something you know nothing about and have never experienced?

Let me review the next Avengers movie for you but I haven’t actually seen it I’m only going to quote reviews I found online. Nonsense.”

Young to Me
“What more could I possibly do besides physically attend an entire service..”

Oh, by the way,  it’s my understanding that according to Ms. Young’s most recent newsletter to CMC subscribers that she finally has left her home for one of these reviews. Good for her, this is an improvement in methodology. If she keeps it up will remain to be seen. Let’s hope that she does.

Now, remember there is a lot of context around her above comments. Please go read the whole exchange. Again, here is the link to it.

In the end, knowing that I was in the process of writing this review I did not reply to Ms. Young’s comment because I didn’t need a pre-emptive flame war. I know for a fact that she will find this post and for that reason let me share what I would have said to her then if the situation had been different:

Me hypothetically and rhetorically to Young
(again, this is what I was tempted to say at the time but didn’t – so I’m saying it now)
Ms. Young you are propping yourself above everyone else, acting like you are the sole arbiter of truth, you presume that you know better than anyone else what makes a church biblical and not.

Your ego is large and for that, I’d expect you to have the common courtesy to walk in the building before you wash your hands of it. It seems to me that God always sent the prophets to places that need truth (eg Jonah and Nineveh). If I was to write a review of C.A.M.P.U.S. my starting point would be walking up to Shawn McCraney, shaking his hand and introducing myself.

And that’s exactly what I did on Mar 31, 2019.

The Check
The remainder of this article is format to match, as closely as possible, how Ms. Young does her CMC reviews in order to maintain an even playing field as well as an equivalent methodology. 

WEBSITE REVIEW
Logging on to the C.A.M.P.U.S. website, I was able to navigate to the bottom of the page and find the address and service times. This is all I needed from the website and will not need to go into as much detail as someone who is only, essentially, reviewing church websites.

THE MEETING
It feels very strange to be writing an article criticizing Shawn McCraney because I once looked up to him as a pastor figure. I used to regularly watch him on television back in the day. Most of what I know about Mormonism came from the original Heart of the Matter program. In fact, way before there was a WalkingChristian.com I was a contributor to a now-defunct website known as SCAEMinistries. The first article I wrote for them covered was “A Critique of Mormon Cosmology” which was largely based on what I learned from Shawn’s TV program.

I was watching when he got kicked off the air for criticizing the Evangelical Church. Then I kind of forgot about him for a time and was reminded of him when Dr. James White (my favorite Calvinist) on his webcast commented on a scandal that had been going on right under my nose. Shawn McCraney had come out publicly and denied the doctrine of the trinity. After debating many real theologians, apologists, and people who care about Shawn he kept going down the same wrong road and found himself way out in the spiritual wilderness. Today he holds to unbiblical teachings – up to and including the heresy of modalism – and is, therefore, a false teacher. (very detailed links provided below).

When I made it down to C.A.M.P.U.S. meeting hall Mr. McCraney was the first one to pull up and I immediately walked up to his car. I offered him my hand and said “You’re Shawn. I used to watch you on TV. I’m Isaac and I came down to check your church.” We talked for a brief moment before entering the building.

OBSERVATIONS
Upon entering and grabbing a coffee and a bagel I talked with a few of the congregants for about 20 minutes. One of the members is openly bisexual and continuing to engage in this blatantly immoral behavior relative to the sexual ethics taught in the Bible. Several C.A.M.P.U.S. members told this person they were proud of their decision.

Meanwhile, off in the corner, Shawn was talking loudly with other members about how he had gotten drunk that Saturday night and “drunk texting” people. Getting drunk is a sin (Proverbs 20:1; 23:20; 29–32; Isaiah 5:22, Ephesians 5:18) and pastors are called to a higher standard (James 3:1).

Another member told me she loved C.A.M.P.U.S because it was an accepting place to be she said she looked at many denominations and couldn’t accept their “Patrichal bull ****” (her words) and finally closed with “I absolutely will not and could never be part of a church that doesn’t accept homosexuality.”

Everyone was very nice and easy to talk to and you could tell their (over) emphasis on love is genuine and that they intend well. When it was time for the service I sat down with coffee in hand.

Worship Service
Mr. McCraney introduced the service and welcomed the first time guests, me and my associate included. Then they launched into the worship segment, for which they play a pre-recorded song that is simply the words of the day’s passage set to music. So, for example, if the passage for consideration on the day is 2 Corinthians 13 – which in this case it actually was – they will listen to the chapter sung to music three times and have a moment of silence to reflect on its meaning before the sermon is preached. I actually thought this was really great, all things considered. It’s no secret that I am a fan of a certain Christian movement that started in China and this practice of scripture-hymns reminded me a lot of prayer-reading as observed by the Chinese believers.

Let me just say as an aside, just because a false teacher or controversial personality originates a practice doesn’t mean the practice is necessarily false, that is the genetic fallacy. So even if Mike Bickel of the International House of Prayer, Witness Lee (founder of the Local Church Movement), or Shawn McCraney teach prayer-reading or scripture-hymns doesn’t mean it’s a fruitless practice. And I thought this worship method was actually pretty cool.

Sermon
Oh boy, this has been one of the most complicated things I’ve ever had to write. On the way back home after our visit, my associate and I attempted to untangle McCraney’s muddle mess of a sermon we just had the displeasure of sitting through. The only thought running through my head was “Shawn McCraney doesn’t understand the law of non-contradiction.” McCraney is like someone who went through brain surgery and had the two halves of his brain disconnected, one half controls one side of his mouth and the other side controls the rest of his mouth and they both try to speak at the same time. His views make no sense when you try to use them to build a house on the rock – the pieces do not fit together and I can’t understand how he and his followers cannot see this.

Imagine my sense of vindication when I went back and looked at the actual scholars who have interacted with and tried to correct Shawn have noted the same thing that I did. Dr. James White, for example, provides these comments in an episode of Radio Free Geneva from September 20, 2018, @10:39: “I mean there’s a huge amount of confusion in Shawn’s teaching there’s no question about that but … To use the word ‘confused’ for Shawn McCraney is the understatement of the century.”

Or consider this comment from a former follower of Shawn known as “Brother Thomas” shared this insight in a series of blog articles on his direct, first-hand experience, at C.A.M.P.U.S.:  “The bottom line of the whole thing is that Shawn wants to be able to teach whatever he feels like at any given moment, call it ‘real’ Christianity . . . and never have to answer for it.” (Brother Thomas “Brother Thomas” blogsite, February 13, 2015)

Before I interact with his sermon I think the greatest contribution that I could possibly make on this topic, is to try and explain to Shawn and all his potential followers what exactly the law of noncontradiction is. Please know I’m not a professional philosopher unlike my colleague Gil Sanders. So I am a dummy trying to dumb this down even further. Here we go.

An amusing, real-world example of the confusion and insanity that ensues from violating the Law of Non-Contradiction.

A contradiction is a term used in the study of logic to describe hypothetical situations when two opposing things are true at the same time and in the same way. For example, if it is raining in Salt Lake City at 12:05 PM on July 2 and it is sunny with a high of 99 in Salt Lake City at 12:05 PM on July 2 cannot both be true at the same time. There is no possible way. In the same way, the old question can God (who is all-powerful) make a rock so big He can’t lift it. This is a meaningless sentence, you’re essentially asking “can God do something He cannot do?” It’s just words that can have no meaning in objective reality.

Likewise, Shawn, many of the things you believe contradict other things you believe, and therefore you’re theology doesn’t work – you do not believe reality. Why does it matter? Well God is the truth is He not? So if we worship He who is the truth then we must love truth in all ways, shapes, and forms. Contradictions cannot be the truth. It is literally, physically, and ontologically impossible to confirm a contradiction. When John writes that “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” The word — word in Greek is ‘logos’ and it means logic, reason as well as word. This means God by his nature is reasonable and logical because he is the Word and the Word is logic. So God’s true scripture teaches us that God Himself is logic by his nature. So the truth and the doctrines that He reveals to us MUST be logical, otherwise, they are not from Him and they are not true. Now that this is out of the way. Let’s get on with it…

In the video above Shawn first begins interacting with 2 Cor 13 @10:11. Regarding verses 1-2 he provides the following comments.

”This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. Remember Paul was a jew of jews, he’s citing the old testament and for some reason, he is citing this passage […] about witnesses. It’s obvious Paul has been to Corinth once before so he has resolved to going [TO] them a second time. He says this is the third time I’m coming to you, the third time I’m trying to get to you and he suddenly cites this passage out of Deut 19:15. Now, we don’t know why he cites this passage here.”

@13:09 into the video I must pause and say this with all respect and kindness possible… But Shawn what are you smoking, friend? How clear can it be what Paul means? He says “I’m coming to you a third time and like the Scripture says let two or three witnesses establish a truth.” You claiming that scholars don’t know what Paul means by this and spending several minutes postulating all the possible explanations is just flat out dumb. don’t know how it could be any clearer that Paul considers his first visit and teaching at Corinth to be the first witness, his second visit to be the second witnesses, and this final visit to be the last witnesses necessary to establish what he’s saying as true. He’s clearly about to repeat something he’s already said to them and so he cites the Old Testament as a way of validating his third visit and third teaching. Dear reader, I hope the meaning of this passage is as clear to you as it is to me.

@14:11 while still trying to explain verse 1 Shawn makes the off-handed remark that “That apostolic discipline was for them in that age. We don’t have apostolic discipline now except by the Word that we read and the Spirit in our hearts.” Hold this comment in your mind for later.

Editorial commentary on Shawn McCraney’s June 4, 2019, HOTM 2.0 announcement to rebrand and relaunch his show for the third time since its debut in 2005.

Shawn spends the next several minutes responding to verse 2 saying that it was the job of the apostles to discipline the church and keep it together in that day and age. He talks about how one of the ways they did this is by ex-communication aka not having fellowship with people who are willful hypocrites. @18:03 he says “we have some churches today that insist on doing this. The reason it doesn’t work today is that if I excommunicate [someone] from this church … all he’s going to do is he’s going to leave and he’s going to go to Calvary Chapel across the street and if they don’t want him he’ll go down the street to the next one.”

A few thoughts, 1) this passage is not about ex-communication. 2) if ex-communication is taught in the scripture as proper church practice then it is our obligation to God to follow His word regardless of our modern 21st-century environment 3) I have been saying for years now that Biblically speaking there is one church in every city. The Church in our community is made out of the churches in our community. The bride of Jesus is the Community of communities and we need to be doing a better job of getting on the same page with clear issues of sin and work together more often to help counsel and edify our whole city not just the 10 people in our Sunday school class. /soapbox.

@18:33 “We don’t have apostolic authority keeping the bride together anymore and so this is no longer effective in a non-apostolic church. Which is why we don’t take it just it was part of the NT church and do it now.” Yes, we do still have apostolic authority Shawn, it’s called the Bible. Sure we can disagree on secondary issues but if the Bible is the true word of the Living God then if we seek to honor Him and handle his word properly then believers should agree on 98% of things.

In a comment on verses 3-4, @21:20 he said, “Now these are apostolic words to believers at that time so to get what he’s meaning is really tough.” Shawn if the words of Paul have no relevance to us today then what in God’s green earth are you doing? Why are you standing up there “teaching”? Didn’t you yourself say that the Word is binding on us today when you called it our “apostolic authority” back @14:11 but every time it says something you don’t want to believe, you claim “it’s cultural and not for us today.” This is the height of stupidity my friend.

I’m being 100% honest with this question I’m about to ask Shawn and if you happen to read this I’d love to hear your answer in the comments or via email or whatever. Here’s the question, how do you know that Jesus died for your sins? Will you answer it’s in the Bible? Because what’s stopping someone from telling you that “That was cultural for the church, on that day. We in the modern day have no hope.” This problem gets even worse when we take into account that you’re a hyper-Preterist who believes the church stopped existing around 70 AD when the second temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. In that context, the case gets even stronger that Salvation and the Gospel were only for people living in the Roman Empire in the first century CE. Your view of the Bible, Shawn, cuts off the branch you’re sitting on. Your only way out is to contradict yourself…. but as we know now contradictions cannot exist.

@23:03 Shawn says some good stuff about how Jesus was a man – so weak he couldn’t even carry his own cross. God didn’t give us a superman. He came as an ordinary man. These are good comments.

A satirical take on the actual words of Shawn McCraney from the June 4, 2019, HOTM 2.0 broadcast.

Commenting on verse 4, @24:30 Shawn says “…’we also are weak in him’ Now I’d like to apply that to you but I can’t because Paul is talking about the apostles, ‘also’ and ‘we’ he’s talking about the Apostles himself included not the general population.”

OK again my friends I want to be as kind as possible but this is just more abject stupidity. What exactly about this passage gives you any indication that Paul is talking about the apostles only in verse 4? Is verse 5, literally the very next sentence not addressed to the ‘general populace?’ so I can’t understand Shawn’s thinking on this whatsoever. Again Shawn is taking a verse and saying it only applies to one group of people at one time in history. So I have to ask again if it has no relevance to you today, why exactly are you even ‘teaching’ this passage? Here’s an even more direct question, how much of the Bible is for us today? Can you put a percentage to it? I’m assuming you’d say all of the Old Testament is out, so there goes 85% of all of Scripture. And you keep chopping pieces out of the New Testament. So really what does have practical application for us today? Is it just the gospels? Or are you one of those that say Jesus was teaching law to people under the Mosiac Law? In which case is just the passion story for us today? These are questions that you need to answer.

@26:12 Shawn shows his true self with this comment, “But for this reason what he (Jesus) accomplished on our behalf, in fact, I think he accomplished for behalf of the whole world.”

Again friends… I’m at a loss to respond to this sophomoric statement. Shawn is a universalist – a position which is so clearly and obviously not Biblical that it’s incredible that people even try to push it. Again I have to say to you Shawn if the whole world will be saved why are you doing what you’re doing? What’s the point? Why did you devote so much of your post LDS life trying to convince Mormons of the truth of Christianity? You contradict yourself in thought, word, and deed.

For several minutes Shawn goes on somewhat of a tangent and quotes Philippians 2. My only comment here is @31:09 he says ” that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So we see that relationship again, in and through God the father working all this in and through Jesus his only son to accomplish for us on our behalf…”

Shawn doesn’t believe the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet he quotes this passage that clearly shows the Father is called God, and the son being called Lord (read God) and but they are not the same person because they interact. And then Shawn goes on to talk about the “relationship” between the Father and Son. Shawn, are you contradicting yourself again?

Shawn spends some time talking about how we know what we know while commenting on verse 5. I have no comments on this section.

@42:04 Shawn makes the passing comment “The latter-day was Jesus day those were the true latter days we’re not in them now.”

Shawn is a hyper-preterist. He believes the whole book of Revelation has been fulfilled before the year 70 AD. You have to really wonder why Shawn even bothers with the Bible if he believes even all the future stuff was “for them in that age.” Utter stupidity.

@42:45 Shawn affirms a version of the doctrine of Assurance. I like John Wesley and I can agree with Shawn’s comments on this.

@43:26 Shawn says “…if hell exists…”

So in the midst of talking about how we can be sure of what we know to be true he also questions a doctrine clearly taught in scripture. Contradictions abound with this one.

OK, enough I’m ending @45:00 just a little before two thirds into the sermon. You folks should get the point by now. Let’s move on to my final score…..

Final Ratings
I won’t call them a cult, as others have, but Shawn is without a doubt a heretic and needs to read the Bible a lot slower and try to break down some of the big words.

Final Recomendation
Never Attend unless you’re writing a church check!

Issac Farley is the founder and chief contributor of the WalkingChristian website. This article was originally published on his website on August 10, 2019. It has been edited from the original to enhance clarity and legibility. It has been republished here with the kind permission and approval of the author. 

APPENDIX: UPDATE AND PUBLICATION NOTES
The CheckMyChurch rebuttal to the above article, including further comment interaction between WalkingChristian founder Isaac Farley and CheckMyChurch founder Sarah Young,  can be read here.

The “Where It All Began” section of the Check My Church website About page as of May 10, 2020.

Also of interest is Ms. Young’s April 2019 review of Shawn McCraney’s church CAMPUS – which is glowing, at times even gushing, while simultaneously downplaying or ignoring the heresies and error that’s taught there. It can be read here. In addition, a second review was published in October 2019 and can be read here.

These reviews are also noteworthy because she not only doesn’t deny her relationship to Mr. McCraney and his church in them, she speaks with a warm affinity toward them in both. The second review is basically nothing more an apologetic for why her relationship with CAMPUS and Mr. McCraney (and by implication Mr. McCraney’s heretical teachings and error) are really no big deal and should be ignored.

The timing of this second review appearing shortly after Mr. Farley’s challenging review was originally published in August 2019 was interesting then and it’s interesting now.  That’s probably because Mr. Farley’s review made quite a splash and, no doubt, put more unwanted attention on the issue of the Check My Church website at a time when the initial wave of criticism was slowly starting to subside.

The reader may also find it of interest to know that when her affiliation with Mr. McCraney and his church was initially publicly questioned by her critics after the inception of the Check My Church website, steps were taken to distance herself from both. Thus, the tight relationship with McCraneyism that was originally “out there” and plain on the Check My Church website was simply quietly redacted and tucked away in the first CAMPUS review instead.

Probably the most telling evidence of this was the elimination of either in the website’s original “About” page. To that point, a screenshot from March 5, 2019, can be seen in the Isaac Farley article above. Now compare and contrast that to how the same page on the Check My Church website read as of this time of writing (May 10, 2020) with only the following passing reference to anything Shawn McCraney or Shawnite:

“… when our pastor, Shawn McCraney, came up with the same exact idea, we knew it had to be a good one. What are the chances, right? So, here we are. Checking every church, so you don’t have to.”
(see provided screenshot)

It’s just more proof that if the history of McCraneyism has shown us anything it’s that Shawn McCraney and his disciples simply can not be trusted, isn’t it?

Finally, it’s important to note that in May 2020, Sarah Young published a letter of apology on the Check My Church website that concluded as follows:

There are wolves in our local churches, dear Christians, but our approach of writing opinionated reviews of local churches wasn’t working the way we intended, and it was having a negative impact at the same time. We are not the judge or authority on what makes churches good or bad, but we do have a passion for defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ, defending God’s sheep against wolves (especially those in sheep’s clothing), and telling the truth for God’s glory, but always in love. As it turns out, that love wasn’t showing. Now, we hope it will.
(Sarah Leann Young, “CMC Announcement & Apology Letter”, May 10, 2020)

Sounds good, doesn’t it? However, the fact remains that Sarah Young is still a member of a heretical cult judging other churches by their heretical cult standards. Her Check My Church website remains the relative equivalent of a Mormon starting a Church Checking website that’s based on the standards of the LdS Church using Floyd Weston’s “17-Points of the True Church”.

The apology letter and change in methodology has done nothing to address or change any of that.  Therefore, Isaac Farley’s article is just as relevant today as it was a year ago – perhaps even more so.  Check My Church has just been rebranded and repackaged to appear softer and less polemic, that’s it. The Check My Church website remains a snare rather than an aid, benefit, or an edifying service to the Body of Christ. Yellow warning tape and orange cones have now been put up around this disaster, just as Beggar’s Bread did so with the burgeoning cult of McCraneyism back in 2013. What you, dear reader, do with it is entirely up to you. Choose wisely.
— Fred W. Anson, Publishing Editor

A “We Agree With Moroni 8:18” Day Special Edition

A common Latter-day Saint apologetic in response to the “We Agree With Moroni 8:18” initiative goes something like this:

“Then how do you deal with the changes in God through time? This is a serious question that cannot be answered by posting an odd verse or two. It requires in-depth consideration of all that God has done over time from the beginning until today.

Those Christians that believe in the incarnation are the greatest of believers in the changeability of God. Why, then, are they blind to basic exegesis and the purpose of this verse and its expression in Hebrews 13:8 which in the KJV Bible says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever”, when the Bible also contains many passages of God’s changing, such as BECOMING man, SUFFERING, DYING, being Raised from the dead, and then being EXALTED? Trinitarians accept a changeable God.”
(Mormon Apologist arguments posted on the “We Agree With Moroni 8:18” Facebook page on 2020-05-01)

Other related arguments that we hear are that because God appears as a burning bush, cloud, pillar of fire, rock, Captain of the Lord’s Host, as a man striving with Jacob, as a man appearing to Abraham and Sarah, etc., etc., etc., He clearly changes in the Bible.

To this, we would simply assert that neither in theophanies nor in the incarnation did any of God’s essential divine attributes change. And the most important of all those attributes is explicitly stated in John 4:24 by Christ Who clearly and blatantly stated: “God is a Spirit”. Further, the Bible is quite clear that that Spirit is: eternal; omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.

Given that omnipotence, that Spirit can most certainly manifest Himself in any form or in any way that He chooses to. After all, a potent Being can most certainly choose to control His potency just as a human parent must choose to restrain theirs when they play or handle a small child who would be harmed, even killed, if they failed to do so. In other words, they must choose to humble themself for the sake and out of their love for the child and the purpose and role that they currently engaged in for that time, place, and audience. Similarly, and logically, if God can’t limit the expression of Himself then He isn’t authentically omnipotent because He lacks potency over Himself. Isn’t this precisely what Paul was describing in Philippians 2 when he spoke of God’s condescension as the incarnate Christ?

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”
(Philippians 2:3-5 KJV) 

Further, Biblical orthodoxy is clear that Christ was both fully God and fully man. The divinity in Christ (which is spiritual) remained unchanged even though He took on human flesh (which is physical). Thus God could come become fully human without changing any divine attributes. God did not change. God the Son freely and permanently added a human nature to himself without modifying his divine nature. Nothing in the incarnation improved upon any of his essential attributes.

To that last point, the Bible also teaches that God is an uncreated, eternal omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Being consisting of three uncreated, co-eternal, co-equal, co-omnipotent, co-omniscient, co-omnipresent and distinct Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are one in essence, yet three in person – one God.

Thus, God the Son can take on and possess a physical human body without it having any impact on the overall ontology of God any more than God the Spirit taking on the form of a dove, cloud, or fire does.

For a Being who is physical, all the above is impossible. However, again, the Bible is clear that “God is spirit”. And that Spirit, even though He has manifested Himself in many ways and has taken on many different forms, has never changed just as the Bible so clearly states:

Malachi 3:6
“For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.

Psalm 90:2
“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”

Numbers 23:19
“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Psalm 102:25-27
“Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. “Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. “But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.

Psalm 33:11
“The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.”

Isaiah 46:10
“Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;”

Isaiah 43:10
“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.

Psalm 138:8
“The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.”

Philippians 1:6
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Exodus 3:14
“God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

Romans 11:29
“…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Titus 1:2
“…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,”

Hebrews 6:17
“In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath,”

James 1:17
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

Hebrews 13:8
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Further, the Book of Mormon is in complete agreement with the Bible:

Moroni 8:18
“God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.”

2 Nephi 27:23
“For behold, I am god; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

2 Nephi 29:9
“And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Mormon 9:9
“For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever , and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?”

Mormon 9:19
“And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchanging Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.”

Moroni 7:22
“For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.”

Mosiah 3:5
“The Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity…”

As is Doctrine & Covenants:

D&C 20:17
“By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them.”

D&C 76:4
“From eternity to eternity he is the same and years never fail…”

Again, and to end where we began, we would simply assert the Bible is clear that neither in theophanies nor in the incarnation did any of God’s essential divine attributes change. To claim otherwise isn’t exegesis, it’s eisegesis. Stated plainly neither the Bible or the Book of Mormon teach that God changes. Rather, they are both emphatic that God is immutable and does not change.

So now that we have that settled, the real question that remains is this: Why does the modern LDS Church disagree with and contradict both the Bible and the Book of Mormon? No, God may not change according to the Bible and the Book of Mormon, but, yes indeed, according to Mormon Doctrine sure He sure does, doesn’t He?

So, to our Mormon friends, we would simply ask, why is that? Why does modern Mormonism contradict both the Bible and the Book of Mormon in regard to God’s immutability?

by Matthew Eklund
As we saw in part one of this series, the Mormon Gospel is impossible because a Latter-day Saint can never really an absolute assurance of their salvation. A common response to the point to this observation by outsiders is that some Latter-day Saints who say it isn’t about obedience to all the commandments but, instead, is just about “doing your best”. However, this isn’t what the LDS scriptures teach whatsoever. As Mormon Prophet Kimball said in his book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” (which we covered in some detail in part one) Jesus’ commandment to be perfect in Matthew 5:48 to mean you must actually rid yourself of sin, and that no commandment has been given to men that cannot be kept. Not only is this Mr. Kimball’s interpretation in his book, but this concept is also taught in the Book of Mormon and is often used by LDS members and missionaries:

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
(1 Nephi 3:7, emphasis mine)

Thus, if God commanded you to be perfect, you really can achieve it. LDS will say they can’t do anything without God’s help, but it still ultimately lies upon their shoulders to achieve it. LDS scriptures also say that, if you repent of a sin and return to it, the guilt of all your former sins returns upon your head:

“And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.”
(D&C 82:7, emphasis mine)

So, according to LDS doctrine, not only are you enabled to keep all God’s commandments, you must keep them all, every single one of them, and if you break any one of them, then the guilt of all the sins you’ve already repented of come back upon you. Thus, you can never truly achieve a state of forgiveness or a mended relationship with God, because humans are sinful creatures that sin many, many times every day. Those who deny this don’t really understand the absolute holiness of God or the depravity of man in their sin. Even a lustful or jealous thought is a sin against a holy God. Everything we do is tainted by sin. There is no complete freedom from the grasp of sin in this life. Thus, there is no true and lasting forgiveness in the LDS gospel.

To summarize, the LDS gospel according to their own materials, then, it would be:

1. Faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Repentance.
3. Baptism by water for the remission of sins.
4. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands of someone with priesthood authority.
5. Receive other ordinances such as priesthood (for men), temple initiatories (washing and anointing), temple endowment, celestial marriage/temple sealing for husband and wife.
6. Continue to be faithful, attend sacrament meetings, fulfill your church callings, etc.
7. Strive to reach for perfection by working and keeping the covenants you’ve made and keep all the commandments not just to the best of your ability but striving for absolute perfection, knowing that God actually makes it possible for you to achieve perfection in this life, since he cannot give you a commandment you cannot keep (according to 1 Nephi 3:7).

If you do all of these things, then, you might have a shot at achieving exaltation.

Does this sound too radical? Too ridiculous? “They cannot possibly believe all this”, you may say. Well, if it sounds like I am misrepresenting them, then I will quote the list of directions for achieving exaltation given by the LDS church manual, “Gospel Principles”, the book they use to teach aspiring and new members of the LDS church the basics of what they believe. In chapter 47 titled “Exaltation”, pages 278-279, it says thus:

To be exalted, we first must place our faith in Jesus Christ and then endure in that faith to the end of our lives. Our faith in Him must be such that we repent of our sins and obey His commandments.

“He commands us all to receive certain ordinances:

1. We must be baptized.
2. We must receive the laying on of hands to be confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
3. Brethren must receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and magnify their callings in the priesthood.
4. We must receive the temple endowment.
5. We must be married for eternity, either in this life or in the next.

In addition to receiving the required ordinances, the Lord commands all of us to:
1. Love God and our neighbors.
2.
Keep the commandments.
3. Repent of our wrongdoings.
4. Search out our kindred dead and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel for them.
5. Attend our Church meetings as regularly as possible so we can renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament.
6. Love our family members and strengthen them in the ways of the Lord.
7. Have family and individual prayers every day.
8. Teach the gospel to others by word and example.
9. Study the scriptures.
10.
Listen to and obey the inspired words of the [modern] prophets of the Lord.

“Finally, each of us needs to receive the Holy Ghost and learn to follow His direction in our individual lives.” (emphasis mine; a note was added to indicate when LDS speak of “following the prophets”, they speak of their modern leaders, which they consider to be as much prophets as Moses or Paul and receive revelation directly from God)

In that same chapter on page 279, it states:

The Lord has said, “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “If we will continue in God; that is, keep his commandments, worship him and live his truth; then the time will come when we shall be bathed in the fulness of truth, which shall grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36).” (emphasis mine)

Could it be any clearer that salvation (eternal life with God and the fullness of happiness and glory with your eternal family) according to the LDS gospel certainly does depend on you, your faithfulness, your works, your struggles, your efforts to become perfect? When Christians point out that grace and the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is insufficient to grant eternal life according to Latter-day Saints, and that you must provide your own works of obedience to receive eternal life, we are often accused of misrepresenting them. But do these quotes from the LDS church’s own resources (which you can easily find on their website or buy in an LDS bookstore) provide enough evidence for our case?

Does this “gospel” sound like “good news” to you? To spend an entire life yoked with an immense set of commandments and covenants that you must keep perfectly according to your own faithfulness, or else you will receive a lower kingdom of glory? This is the exact kind of religion that Jesus came to abolish. The Pharisees believed it was their devotion to the 613 commandments in the law of Moses that made them right before God, but their hearts and devotion were far from Him who gave the law as a schoolmaster to bring Israel to the true Messiah. They were devoted, obedient, but they put their tradition on the same level of scripture, and they did not keep everything perfectly as they should. Jesus said of them that they are like “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside [they] appear to be righteous, but on the inside [they] are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

When I bring up this importance of obedience in the LDS gospel, I am criticized. “You never truly understood the gospel”. “That isn’t what we believe”. Then they present one of the myriad of explanations (as I gave above) of what they think the gospel really is. That is the kind of response I invariably receive when attempting to discourse with them.

They can label me as an “ex-Mormon”, an “anti-Mormon”, an “apostate” (which is technically true, as I did leave their faith) in an attempt to disparage me, but this is merely an ad hominem attack to avoid the substance of my argumentation. But do not the Latter-day Saints’ scriptures and leaders themselves (as I’ve quoted above) show that it is “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” that prepares them for eternal life? If this isn’t the case, how do they explain these statements from their scriptures, their leaders, and the official LDS church’s website?

When I attempt to address what the LDS church officially teaches and I’m told I’m misrepresenting them and what they believe, I wonder why this is the case. Why not just honestly describe what your church teaches? Does the LDS church not teach that you can become gods as D&C 132:19-20 state? Does it not teach you that obedience to the law is how you achieve such a status? Does it not also teach that God’s grace alone cannot save you, but you must also do works and receive ordinances to make eternal life possible? Why try to make the focus all about grace, all about God’s mercy, etc., and minimize the importance of your contribution and your obedience to your salvation when it has been made so abundantly clear by your church’s teachings?

For example, if I point out that LDS believe you need works to be saved and it is dependent on what you do (as I previously described), they rebut that I “never understood the [LDS] gospel” and that the gospel is more about being transformed by God’s grace to become like Him than obedience. So then I show that the gospel according to the Bible is indeed salvation by God’s grace [as they seem to be indicating], but that it is not just by God’s grace we are saved; it is by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone through which we are saved and receive eternal life. They then immediately point to James 2 to show you can’t just be saved by faith alone; you need good works to receive eternal life [this passage being taken completely out of context in their attempt to show our works contribute to our righteousness and receiving eternal life, which they don’t; that is a topic for another discussion]. It feels like playing a perpetual game of “whack-a-mole”, where one argument presents itself, and so you attempt to address it, but before you can address it, it has disappeared and been replaced by another.

If I try to show them what their own church teaches, it is repudiated, but then when I show them what the Bible teaches and how it refutes what they just stated that they believe, they claim that either what I’m understanding from the Bible is incorrect, or try to cast a different light upon their church’s gospel in an attempt to make the Bible fit with what they believe instead of what I believe. Or they will assert [albeit more rarely these days] that the Bible is corrupted or missing the entirety of the restored gospel from it; in their Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi chapter 13 teaches the Bible had many “plain and precious truths” removed from it by the “great and abominable church”, which was historically understood by Latter-day Saints to be the Roman Catholic church but, in recent years, has been changed to be any church that fights against them.

This is why I refer to the LDS gospel in these articles as the “chameleon gospel”. It isn’t because the LDS gospel isn’t well defined; it certainly is well defined by the LDS church’s leaders, scriptures, and teaching manuals, as the quotation from the LDS “Gospel Topics” manual above and the passage from the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 31:17-20 show. But the LDS gospel is presented as one of many different things in a variety of fashions by each Latter-day Saint, and the way they present it might change depending on what the topic is, and may even change within the course of the same discussion. This makes it incredibly difficult to do apologetics with Latter-day Saints because they each have their own version of what the LDS gospel “really” is. If we attempt to identify what their church believes, we are often accused of misrepresentation, lying, etc.

If you are a Latter-day Saint and you are reading this, I plead with you, read at least this paragraph: I love you. I try to discuss the Bible with you because I care about you and your eternal welfare. I truly believe what the Bible says, and what Jesus says in the Bible is that if you don’t have the correct belief of Him and of the gospel, you don’t go to a “lower glory” of heaven; you will burn in hell for your sins for all eternity (see John 8:24, Matthew 25:31-46). There are no second chances after we die. There is no gospel preached in the afterlife. This life, this time, now is the time to believe in the true Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe that created absolutely every created thing, everything that exists other than God (the only uncreated being) according to Colossians 1:15-17, He who is God from all eternity to all eternity and not a spirit child of Elohim and his wife (and definitely not the spirit brother of Lucifer). It is through faith in Him and His death on the cross alone that will make you righteous before God as it occurred with Abraham:

“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.
(Romans 4:1-8, ESV, emphasis mine)

I implore you if you do not know Christ [the Biblical Christ, as described above] as your Savior: turn to Him with an open hand, knowing you have nothing to offer God but only your dirty hands covered in the filth of your sins. Turn to Him as a Savior to pull you from the wretched muck that surrounds you. Trust in Him and in Him alone to save and keep you as your only hope. Reject your past works and accomplishments, which are as “filthy rags” before God (Isaiah 64:6). They will do nothing but condemn you. Rely on the mercy of God alone to save you from them. The perfection which is required in Matthew 25:48 can only be fulfilled by the One who did keep all the commandments, Christ Jesus, and receiving His spotless, perfect righteousness credited to your account through faith alone. This is how all your past, present, and future sins may be forgiven. If you are in Christ, the punishment for all these sins is placed on the Lord’s death on the cross on your behalf.

This is the Biblical gospel. This is how I and all saved Christians keep the command to be perfect. This is how we have a right relationship with God. This is how we are considered righteous. I am not righteous by what I do, because all my sinful deeds ever do is condemn me. Even after being saved, even my best efforts are tainted by my sinfulness. But I am saved because the Lord has died for my sins and I place all my trust in what He was done to save me. And God has made this promise for all those who do put all their faith and trust in Him:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 1:6, ESV)

I pray that God will open your hearts to this message and that you will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, as did the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-40) and countless others, including me, have done. Turn to Christ before it is too late.

About the Author
Matthew Eklund is a graduate student in nuclear engineering and a Utah native who converted to the LDS faith at the age of 10. He served a faithful two-year mission to Belgium and France and served in various teaching callings prior to being saved by God’s grace through faith in the Biblical Christ in 2016. He is now an active member of a Reformed Baptist Christian congregation in Albany, New York and is passionate about defending and sharing the truth of God’s saving grace to friends and family.

(click to zoom)

by Matthew Eklund
I was a member of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (a.k.a the LDS or Mormon church) from the age of 10 until 30 when I officially resigned in 2017. I served a faithful two-year evangelistic and service mission to Belgium and France between 2007 and 2009. Since God showered grace upon me to learn the truth of the LDS church, that it does not follow the gospel and it does not worship the God as written in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Scriptures, I have come to receive a knowledge of the true Lord Jesus Christ, God from all eternity to all eternity who took upon flesh to die for my sins, and to exercise saving faith in Him.

In the time since I resigned from the church, I have communicated with those who are still members of the LDS church and attempted to have respectful, loving dialogues with them. I know most of them are moral people who claim to seek truth and follow Jesus. However, they have been blinded by a system that does not accurately teach the Christ that Christianity has worshiped for nearly 2000 years. Their view of who He is, what He actually accomplished on the cross, and how to be in a right relationship with Him has been distorted by teachings given by the first president and “prophet” of their church, Joseph Smith, Jr. He emphatically denied the God from the Bible which says that He is God “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2) when Smith said this at a sermon for a funeral ceremony:

“For I am going to tell you how God came to be God and what sort of a being He is. For we have imagined that God was God from the beginning of all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so you may see… He once was a man like one of us and that God Himself, the Father of us all, once dwelled on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did in the flesh and like us.”
(Joseph Smith, Jr., King Follett funeral discourse, April 7, 1844, emphasis mine)

At this moment of time, Joseph Smith eternally severed “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” from biblical and true Christianity and declared war upon those who do believe and follow the Bible. When I evangelize Latter-day Saints and tell them they are not actually Christians, I do so out of love for them and their salvation and not out of spite. However, I do so in acknowledging that we do not have fellowship and they are not yet my brothers in Christ as long as they continue teaching and believing what the LDS church has to say about Christ and the gospel.

When I speak with Latter-day Saints, I try to touch on the most important points of sharing the gospel. They must understand:

1. Who God is.
2. Who Christ is and what He accomplished during His incarnation.
3. What the “good news” of the gospel is.

What makes these tasks difficult is that, in interacting with Latter-day Saints, each has their own description of what the gospel is, how we have a right relationship with our Creator, and how we return to live with God after this life. I’ve heard many different descriptions when speaking with them. The following are some examples of things I’ve heard.

I have heard from various Latter-day Saints that the gospel is:

1. Becoming more like their Heavenly Father.
2. Becoming more like Christ.
3. Receiving eternal life by obedience to the “laws and ordinances of the restored gospel”.
4. The plan of happiness.
5. What Jesus did for us that we couldn’t do ourselves.
6. The way to return to heaven with our families forever.
7. Receiving forgiveness of sins.
8. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

And the way to receive the “restored gospel” is, according to the “Preach My Gospel” handbook that is given to every single missionary:

“Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
(Preach My Gospel, Chapter 1: “What is My Purpose as a Missionary?”)

Yet I hear from Latter-day Saints that the purpose of the gospel or the way to return to live with Heavenly Father differs. Some say:

1. We have to humble ourselves and accept Christ.
2. We are only saved by grace, but we have to receive ordinances and keep the commandments and our covenants to receive them.
3. The gospel is meant to transform us to be more like God; it isn’t a set of rules or “dos” and “don’ts”.
4. We are to prove our faithfulness to God by keeping our “second estate” [the “first estate” being the “pre-mortal life” where Latter-day Saints believe we all lived in heaven with God before coming to earth, and since we came to earth, it shows we were faithful and “kept” our “first estate” faithfully].
5. We are to love God and our neighbor and if we have loved enough, then God will allow us into heaven.
6. We have to love Jesus and keep the commandments as best as we can, we don’t have to be perfect, and Jesus will make up for the rest.

However, if you look at all those various definitions, some of them seem to be theologically shallow (focused more on emotions or not getting into the heart of the matter) and some are even mutually exclusive (meaning they all cannot be simultaneously true). We are either saved by God’s grace, or we must keep the commandments. One is the gift of the gospel, and one is salvation by works [even if God is helping us to keep the commandments, it is still up to us to get to heaven]. Salvation is either entirely a gift, or it is something you work for. According to the Bible, salvation is entirely a gift and not something we receive by any measure of our works:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
(Ephesians 2:8-9, New International Version)

When discussing what the gospel is according to Latter-day Saints, I will usually be given different requirements for attaining eternal life from them than from what previous leaders of the LDS church have provided. In a BYU devotional address titled “Be Ye Therefore Perfect” given on September 17, 1974, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“Let me say, then, that perfection is still our goal. It is reached by climbing steadily upward, controlling all our desires, impulses, and urges. It is possible. Remember that the Lord gave us Abraham as an example and quoted him often: “Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne” (D&C 132:29). This is not a promise; it is a reality. “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved” (D&C 132:32)…

“Perfection is a long, hard journey with many pitfalls. It’s not attainable overnight. Eternal vigilance is the price of victory. Eternal vigilance is required in the subduing of enemies and in becoming the master of oneself. It cannot be accomplished in little spurts and disconnected efforts. There must be constant and valiant, purposeful living—righteous living. The glory of the Lord can be had only through correct and worthy marriage and living a clean, worthy life.”
(emphasis mine)

In a book titled “The Miracle of Forgiveness”, written by future LDS President Spencer W. Kimball*, he writes that perfection is not only a commandment, but it is an attainable goal for Latter-day Saints:

Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.
(Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, chapter 15, “Keeping God’s Commandments Bring Forgiveness”, pages 208-209, emphasis mine)

Kimball adds, on page 210 of the aforementioned book, “only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality.” (emphasis mine)

Here, President Kimball states that you actually can attain perfection according to your obedience and that the time to reach for perfection by your own obedience is now. This is done by climbing the ladder of obedience, and that obedience and submission to the law is how Abraham received his inheritance (quoting the “Doctrine and Covenants”, a.k.a. D&C, a book of scripture used by the LDS church). Doesn’t this go against what other Latter-day Saints have said personally where they say it isn’t about being perfect, but about doing our best? Or those who say our works actually don’t give us eternal life, but we are saved by grace?

To quote another LDS leader, Apostle (now President) Russell M. Nelson said the following:

“If I were to ask which of the Lord’s commandments is most difficult to keep, many of us might cite Matt. 5:48: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’…

“Keeping this commandment can be a concern because each of us is far from perfect, both spiritually and temporally…

“When comparing one’s personal performance with the supreme standard of the Lord’s expectation, the reality of imperfection can at times be depressing. My heart goes out to conscientious Saints who, because of their shortcomings, allow feelings of depression to rob them of happiness in life…

Mortal perfection can be achieved as we try to perform every duty, keep every law, and strive to be as perfect in our sphere as our Heavenly Father is in his. If we do the best we can, the Lord will bless us according to our deeds and the desires of our hearts.”
(Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection Pending”, October 1995 Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, text in parentheses added by speaker, emphasis mine)

Here, Nelson paints a slightly less grim picture than Kimball does of what it requires to attain perfection as a Latter-day Saint, but I think he does so inconsistently. He recognizes that Jesus commands perfection in Matthew 5:48 and that we are capable of being perfect in “our sphere as our Heavenly Father is in his” and that we need only “do the best we can”. But you cannot be “keeping the commandments”, including the command to maintain perfection, and fulfill this requirement by simply doing “the best [you] can”. That is not good enough. Perfection is perfection. Even if you were capable of keeping all of the law (which isn’t possible) but sin in one area, you are found guilty. James wrote in his epistle, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10, English Standard Version). It is not about doing what we can and having Jesus “make up the rest” (as many Latter-day Saints will say).

If you say your eternal life hinges on perfection, and keeping all of the commandments, as the LDS scriptures and leaders have said, you must keep all of them perfectly. Just as a college student will mourn over that single “A-” grade which ruins their perfect GPA, only one sin is required to break the law. Even repentance cannot simply undo that mistake. This is why salvation cannot be based on our keeping the commandments. Even if this were possible, and the Atonement undoes all of our previous sins, this would mean our salvation is still dependent on ourselves and none of our future sins would be covered. We would be completely dependent on our ability to keep the commandments for our salvation. We would have no assurance. We could be doing well for our entire lives and all it takes is one sin for which we have not repented sin to keep us out of heaven.

If our eternal life depends on us and on how well we keep the commandments, how can we believe the Bible that says that we are saved by grace? How can both of these propositions be true simultaneously when they are so completely irreconcilable? The Bible says that if salvation has anything to do with us and our works, it is not grace, but it is a payment (even if the payment is much higher than what we did to earn it, that doesn’t make it grace). In speaking of a remnant of people in Israel saved by God, Paul describes them being chosen not by what they did, but according to the grace of God alone:

“In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise, grace is no longer grace.
(Romans 11:5-6, New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition, emphasis mine)

Many times when showing a Latter-day Saint a quote from a President of their church (who they sustain as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and speaks directly with God) with which they disagree, they often say that he was “speaking as a man”, made a mistake, or employ some other explanation to avoid the fact he disagrees with what they say or what they believe. But President Kimball quoted their own scriptures in the D&C as justification for what he said. Is the D&C wrong in this case, also?

Elsewhere in the D&C, it teaches that every blessing received is through obedience:

“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
(D&C 130:20-21, emphasis mine)

Here, we see that LDS scripture teaches that any blessing from heaven, which would certainly include the blessing of eternal life, is attained by obedience to that law. This is further reiterated in the LDS “Gospel Topics” manual under the entry of “Eternal Life” (which can be accessed at the LDS church’s website), where it says this:

“Eternal life is the phrase used in scripture to define the quality of life that our Eternal Father lives. The Lord declared, “This is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Immortality is to live forever as a resurrected being. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone will receive this gift. Eternal life, or exaltation, is to live in God’s presence and to continue as families (see Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4). Like immortality, this gift is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, to inherit eternal life requires our “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel(Articles of Faith 1:3).

When we are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, we enter the path that leads to eternal life…

After we are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, much of our progress toward eternal life depends on our receiving other ordinances of salvation: for men, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood; for men and women, the temple endowment and marriage sealing. When we receive these ordinances and keep the covenants that accompany them, we prepare ourselves to inherit eternal life.”

What is clear here is that God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ and His finished work on the cross alone (as taught and believed by orthodox Biblical Christianity) are insufficient to bring man to a right relationship with God. You must receive ordinances, keep the associated covenants by obedience, and keep other commandments given by God through obedience to receive eternal life according to LDS doctrine.

In the Book of Mormon, another book of scripture for the Latter-day Saints and the namesake of the common moniker “Mormon”, it reiterates that faith alone is insufficient to reach eternal life. It says:

The gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

“And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

“After ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life
(2 Nephi 31:17-20)

The Book of Mormon reiterates that God’s grace alone is insufficient. You need, at a minimum, faith, repentance, baptism by water, and the “gift of the Holy Ghost” to even enter the path to eternal life. But it doesn’t end there, either. You aren’t saved yet (in the sense that Biblical Christians understand the word “saved”, being sealed up unto eternal life and having an assurance of salvation from sins, death, and hell by the blood of Jesus). If you also don’t obey God and “endure to the end”, which includes receiving the ordinances of priesthood for men, temple endowment, and celestial marriage/temple sealing for husband and wife, you will not receive eternal life and exaltation in God, but you will receive a lesser glory. Thus, you must continue in faithfulness and add to your salvation by your own works. Even if God is helping you out, it still depends on you.

Thus, you can’t really ever have an assurance of salvation as a Latter-day Saint because it depends on you and your works. If a Latter-day Saint were to say they do have an absolute assurance of their salvation, I would ask, “And if you commit a sin tomorrow and are excommunicated from the LDS church? Did you lose your salvation, or was your assurance of salvation unfounded to begin with?”

About the Author
Matthew Eklund is a graduate student in nuclear engineering and a Utah native who converted to the LDS faith at the age of 10. He served a faithful two-year mission to Belgium and France and served in various teaching callings prior to being saved by God’s grace through faith in the Biblical Christ in 2016. He is now an active member of a Reformed Baptist Christian congregation in Albany, New York and is passionate about defending and sharing the truth of God’s saving grace to friends and family.

NOTES
* I say “future President” because Spencer W. Kimball was an Apostle when he wrote and published, “The Miracle of Forgiveness”. That said, and for those who say we shouldn’t quote “The Miracle of Forgiveness” because it isn’t in the LDS Standard Works (the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) and that it doesn’t represent orthodox/accepted LDS doctrine, the book has been recommended by several LDS General Authorities in recent years to be read and followed by LDS members, including Prophets Thomas S. Monson and Ezra Taft Benson, Apostles Richard L. Evans in 1970, Richard G. Scott in 1995 and in the October 2000 General Conference, Boyd K. Packer, and more. “The Miracle of Forgiveness” is also quoted in many LDS church manuals that you can find on the LDS church website today. For a thorough examination of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” and how it teaches forgiveness of sins only comes through obedience to all the commandments, I recommend reading the article by Eric Johnson at the “Mormonism Research Ministry” website at http://www.mrm.org/the-miracle-of-forgiveness which outlines the broad and wide-reaching influence of this book on modern Latter-day Saint soteriology and theology.

 

 

Fred W. Anson
For those unfamiliar with the Didache, here is a brief description and overview by Evangelical Theologian, Matt Slick:

The Didache” (also called the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) was written around 65 – 80 A.D. and is supposed to be what the twelve apostles taught to the Gentiles concerning life and death, church order, fasting, baptism, prayer, etc. There is debate as to its authenticity. The work is cited by Eusebius who lived from 260 – 341 and Athanasius 293-373. It seems to be referenced by Origen who lived from 185-254. In the Didache, 16:2-3 is quoted in the Epistle of Barnabas in 4:9, or vice versa. The Epistle of Barnabas was written in 130-131 A.D. The Didache is not inspired, but is valuable as an early church document.
(from “The Didache” by Matt Slick; lightly edited for this format)

With that established, let’s consider the following from an official, correlated LdS Church manual:

According to Jude, he had originally intended to write about “the common salvation” (Jude 1:3), meaning the idea that “salvation is available to all men, not just a select few” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:416). However, Jude instead found it needful to exhort his readers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). Here Jude was referring to the faith that was taught originally by Christ Himself and then by His Apostles. The same faith that we read about in the New Testament has been restored in our day and is found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
(“New Testament Student Manual” (2014), Chapter 52: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude)

Then if this is the case why is there no trace of Mormonism – past or present – found in the earliest Christian Church History? To illustrate my point let’s look at some specifics of the Didache and compare and contrast them to the modern LdS Church. After all, it was most likely written while at least some of Christ’s original Apostles were still alive (if we assume that John the Beloved died around 100AD as tradition claims) so if Mormonism’s restorationist claims are true, then it should be reflective of LdS Church doctrine and practices, right?

DIDACHE: Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets Must Teach What Has Been Said Before
“Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets. Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not.” (Didache, Chapter 11) 

LDS CHURCH: What Was Taught Before Can Be Replaced With And Sub-Ordinated to New Revelation
Mormonism teaches another Jesus and another gospel than what’s taught in the Bible. As a result, it rejects historic Christian orthodoxy – including the very core orthodoxy that was taught during the Apostolic era that the Didache was written in. One need only consider the fact that the polytheism taught in Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse, The Sermon in the Grove, The Book of Abraham (see Chapter 4),  and elsewhere – and that is still echoed in today’s Church literature and manuals – flies in the face of the key distinctive of normative, historic, Judeo-Christian orthodoxy: Monotheism.

Furthermore, Mormonism isn’t even internally consistent – with Mormon Prophets from one age contradicting those from an earlier age and claiming that it’s new “revelation”. This even includes Mormon scripture – the classic case study being how the Book of Mormon discredits and contradicts both modern Mormonism and the LdS Standard Works that followed it. And recently we have even seen the Mormon Prophet change gospel ordinances claiming new revelation. Stated plainly the only constant in Mormon teachings (aka “doctrine”) is change.

DIDACHE: Apostles Shall Not Remain More Than Two Days
“Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. ” (Didache, Chapter 11) 

LDS CHURCH: Apostles Have Remained For More Than Two Days
The word Koine Greek word “apostlos” means, “a messenger, one sent on a mission, apostle” (see Strong’s Greek 652). Strong’s concordance goes on to explain:

Usage: a messenger, envoy, delegate, one commissioned by another to represent him in some way, especially a man sent out by Jesus Christ Himself to preach the Gospel; an apostle. (ibid) 

The Didache here not only reflects the very meaning of the word but the application given to it by Christ Himself:

Jesus came and spake unto them [the Apostles], saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
(Matthew 28:18-20 KJV) 

Christ’s Apostles weren’t supposed to be settlers, they were supposed to constantly in motion, out fulfilling their mission of bringing the message of the Good News to the nations. And two days in any one place before moving on to the next place, according to the Didache, was enough.

And this is a pattern that we see in Church History as well with the Apostles of the Lamb moving from place to place and eventually dying miles – even several entire countries – away from where they were originally called. Paul (the former “Saul of Tarsus”) died in Rome after a lifetime of travel. Ditto for Peter the fisherman from Bethsaida. John the Beloved, who was also from Bethsaida, died in Ephesus (now in Turkey). The Apostle Thomas, originally from Gailee, died in India. Etc., etc., etc. the pattern is the same through across twelve Apostles. They lived constantly in motion, constantly carrying the message, and all eventally dying on the move as pilgrim and wanderers throughout their apostolic mission until the very end.

Yet Mormon Apostles have most certainly remained in one place – Salt Lake City – for more than two days, haven’t they? And we only see them moving from place to place sporadically, intermittently and occasionally, don’t we? And then it’s right back to Salt Lake City. Just to cite one case in point, former Mormon President, Thomas S. Monson’s stay in Salt Lake City as a Church Apostle was so extensive – a lifetime to be exact – that he had amassed multiple real estate holdings in Utah by the time of his death:

LDS Prophet and Mega-Corporate-Sole President Thomas S Monson is aged. Rumors abound that he may suffer from severe health limitations in his capacity as “prophet”. He may even be convalescing in his many residences—by my count now standing at 4 addresses.

That’s a lot of property for a man whose 60-year career spent most of its time, since his 30th birthday, employed as a “clergy” of the LDS Church (starting as a mission president). The four residences total in value just under $2 million by most recent assessments. Most of you already know about his primary home in Salt Lake City at 4125 S Carter Cir, Salt Lake City, UT 84124. (Parcel 22-04-202-080-0000). Many know about his latest vacation home at 140 W Farm Rd. Midway, UT 84049. (Parcel 00-0001-3776 ). And his old family property up Provo Canyon at 6742 North Fairfax Dr (Parcel 540370053007 ).

However, as most do not know, the LDS Church apparently also granted Tommy a condo worth upwards of $600K at Gateway Condos, on 40 North State Street in Salt Lake. Now, he doesn’t outright own this penthouse, but he’s lived there for many years rent free and does as he wishes there.
(David Twede, “Tommy’s Big Move”, Mormon Disclosures website; retrieved 2019-02-24) 

If one was snarky, one might be tempted to ask what the Apostle Paul’s real estate holdings were at the the time of his death. Peter’s? John’s? Thomas’? But I digress…

And, finally, to drive this point to its final conclusion we need only compare and contrast the end state of Mormon Apostles to the original Biblical Apostles – the guys whose shoes Mormon Apostles claim to be standing in: The latter died scattered all over the world like seed scattered to the wind within the first hundred years of the movement. But where do we overwhelmingly see Mormon Apostles dying within the first hundred years of the Mormon Restorationist movement? Answer: One place, Salt Lake City. One set of Apostles reflect constant movement and risk, the other reflects constant settlement and power consolidation. The contrast is telling, isn’t it?

DIDACHE: Itinerate Apostles Are To Take Nothing But Bread
“And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.” (Didache, Chapter 11) 

LDS CHURCH: Itinerate Apostles Receive A Stipend And Other Forms Of Compensation
All Mormon Apostles receive a generous stipend from the membership worldwide that’s certainly more than “nothing but bread” isn’t it? The following is a from a Salt Lake Tribune article that was written after the pay stub of a Mormon Apostle and a letter regarding a Mormon General Authority’s increase in pay was leaked to the public by MormonLeaks:

Mormons and others who wonder about the salaries of top LDS leaders got a possible peek at those numbers Monday, when purported pay stubs for a high-ranking church official emerged online.

Copies of the biweekly stubs for Henry B. Eyring — then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — report that he earned $83,132.75 from the start of 2000 until the first week of December. Two more pay periods at $3,096.15 each would have put Eyring’s salary at $89,325.05 for the year.

The 16-year-old records were posted by MormonLeaks and show Eyring’s biweekly salary broken down into a living allowance ($2,192.31), parsonage or clergy housing, ($826.92) and a child allowance ($76.92).

A second newly leaked document, from a more recent year, is a 2014 memo from the church’s Presiding Bishopric (which handles all financial issues for the faith), noting that the “base living allowance” for all Mormon general authorities was being raised from $116,400 to $120,000.

It is unclear from the leaked documents what additional income or perks these men might make, including health care benefits, free cars or book royalties.
(Peggy Fletcher Stack, “How much do top Mormon leaders make? Leaked pay stubs may surprise you.”, Salt Lake Tribune, January 26, 2017; retrieved 2019-02-24) 

The Pay Stub of Mormon Apostle Henry B. Eyring that was leaked by MormonLeaks in January 2017.


DIDACHE: The Local Church Is Obligated To Pay Local, Resident Prophets

“But every true prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have no prophet, give it to the poor. If you make a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when you open a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.” (Didache, Chapter 13) 

LDS CHURCH: Claims That Local, Resident Paid Clergy Is A Sign Of Apostasy
While earlier the LdS Church was criticized for paying what should be itinerant clergy (that is, Apostles) the Didache also stipulates that having paid, local, resident professional clergy (that is, prophets) is not only not a problem, but is a good thing, a responsibility under God.

Herein lies the irony: Despite the fact that the Bible (see First Timothy 5:17–18), the Didache, and even scripture unique to Mormonism (see D&C 42:71-73) demand that local, resident, clergy are to be paid, the LdS Church is not only disobedient to them, it actually teaches publicly that such compensation is a sign of apostasy, corruption, and worse:

Wherever creeds are found one can also expect to find a paid clergy, the simple truths of the gospel cloaked in the dark robes of mystery, religious intolerance, and a history of bloodshed.
(Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler, “Revelations of the Restoration”, p. 964, published 2000)

In short, the Mormon Church has it “topsy turvy”: They don’t pay local, resident clergy, while they do pay remote itinerant clergy. And then, to add insult to injury, they hypocritically condemn other churches for being obedient to the very scripture that they, themselves, ignore.

DIDACHE: Prophets Must Do In Private What They Teach In Public
“And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets.” (Didache, Chapter 11) 

LDS CHURCH: Prophets Have Done in Private The Exact Opposite Of What They Teach In Public
Joseph Smith and other Mormon Prophets have taught one thing in public and practiced the exact opposite in private, haven’t they? The most blatant example is how they lied about and denied practicing polygamy publicly after 1890 while still practicing it privately until 1904 – a fact that was acknowledged in the 2014 “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage” Gospel Topics essay on the official LdS Church website.

And in terms of post-polygamy Mormonism, we can talk about how until recently Mormon Prophets have publicly denied that they were paid clergy until they were forced to come clean thanks to the information being leaking to the Internet (as previously mentioned). Yet, given all this, consider what they were teaching at the time:

“I explained also that our Church has no paid ministry…”
(Thomas S. Monson, “Our Sacred Priesthood Trust”, April 2006, General Conference; retrieved 2017-01-29)

“We have no professional clergy…”
(Henry B. Eyring, “Watch Over and Strengthen” Liahona Magazine, July 2000; retrieved 2017-01-29)

“All of the work in the Church is voluntary. No one is paid for such service.”
(“Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service” (Official LDS Missionary Manual) Lesson 5: Laws and Ordinances; retrieved 2019-02-24)

“Personal sacrifice is vital to the religious faith of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members volunteer their time to serve in various positions in tens of thousands of congregations throughout the world. Their service is critical at the local level because the Church has no full-time paid clergy.”
(LDS Church Newsroom, “The Church’s Unpaid Clergy”, retrieved 2017-01-29)

“One of the important and distinguishing features of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that its affairs are administered by the lay members of the Church rather than by paid clergy.
(Franklin D. Richards, “Conference Reports”, October 1968, p.113)

“‘Did they also tell you that we have no professional clergy? All of us contribute our time, our talents, our means, and travel—all to help the work. And we’re not paid for it in money.’”
(From a story told by Boyd K. Packer, found in “Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders”, Part B, Lesson 30: Tithes and Offerings, pp.251-256, published 2000; retrieved 2019-02-24) 

“Out of this body of priesthood, now great, were drawn, and are drawn the administrative workers of the Church: the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve Apostles, the Council of the First Quorum of the Seventy; the Presiding Bishopric; the stake and ward officers, and the many others needed, but only for such time as they are needed. The Church has carried on successfully with such a voluntary, unpaid body of officers and teachers.”
(John A. Widtsoe, “Joseph Smith: Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God”, 1951, p.128)

DIDACHE: True Prophets Hold The Ways Of The Lord
“But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known.” (Didache, Chapter 11) 

LDS CHURCH: Mormon Prophets Have Not Held The Ways Of The Lord
Joseph Smith most certainly did NOT “hold the ways of the Lord” did he? Neither have many of his successors, have they?

For the former, one need only consider the fact that Joseph Smith publicly lied about practicing polygamy. We know this because he denied that he was practicing polygamy in a sermon on Sunday, May 26, 1844. Specifically, he said, “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.” And he said this while at least sixteen (16) of his polygamous wives were still members of his church and most likely in attendance. (see History of the Church Vol. 6, p. 408-412, or Millennial Star No. 42 Vol. 23 pp. 672-674, also see Utah Lighthouse Ministry website “Joseph Smith’s Boasting and Polygamy Denial Sermon”)

And for the latter, one need only point to that fact that LdS Church leaders are so corrupt that they will brazenly violate their own canonized scripture – as, again, they have illustrated by ignoring the scriptural injunction to pay local clergy.

Another example is the November 2015 policy that barred the children of homosexual parents from receiving baptism into the LdS Church until they are 18-years old – and even then only after they have formally renounced their parent’s homosexual behavior. In other words, in direct violation of the first clause of the canonized Article of Faith 2 (“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins”), the LdS Church now punishes the child of homosexuals for their parent’s sin. (see official LdS Church website, “Articles of Faith” and LA Times, “New Mormon policy bans acceptance of children of same-sex couples”, November 06, 2015) 

And to make things even worse, Mormon Leadership declared this policy change a “revelation” thus validating yet again the fact that they do not teach members all the things that have been said before. (see Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Mormon gay policy is ‘will of the Lord’ through his prophet, senior apostle says”; Salt Lake Tribune, February 3, 2016)

An early 20th Century Postcard of the Baptismal in the Salt Lake City Temple.

DIDACHE: Full Immersion Baptism Is Preferred, But Pouring Is Also Acceptable
“Concerning Baptism. And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.” (Didache, Chapter 7) 

LDS CHURCH: Only Full And Complete Immersion Baptism Is Acceptable
From the official LdS Church website:

The Savior revealed the true method of baptism to the Prophet Joseph Smith, making clear that the ordinance must be performed by one having priesthood authority and that it must be done by immersion:

“The person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize, shall go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and shall say, calling him or her by name: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“Then shall he immerse him or her in the water, and come forth again out of the water” (D&C 20:73–74).
(“Baptism”, LdS Church website article; retrieved 2019-02-24) 

And the LdS Church takes the full immersion requirement so literally that the Church’s Handbook of Instruction even stipulates that the entirety of the person – including their clothing – must be fully immersed:

[The presiding Mormon Priesthood holding authority,] Has the person hold his or her nose with the right hand (for convenience); then the priesthood holder places his right hand high on the person’s back and immerses the person completely, including the person’s clothing.
(LdS Church, “Handbook 2: Administering the Church”, section 20.3.8; retrieved 2019-02-24)

They even go so far as to have a spotter monitoring the baptism to make sure that every piece of the person (including every strand of hair for those with long hair) and every thread of clothing is immersed. And if anything is missed then they must redo the baptism in order for it to be legitimate.

DIDACHE: Priesthood Authority Is Not Required To Speak Or Act For God
Finally, please consider the following analysis by Didache expert Wyatt North in light of Mormon Priesthood authority dogma – especially as it relates to the authority to baptize.

“Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.” (Didache 7:4)

Very importantly, the text does not identify who is to perform the baptism. It specifically does not indicate anyone with an official office, such as a deacon or bishop. This absence of an official functionary indicates a very primitive time in the life of the Church. The reference to “any others who can” appears to indicate the communal nature of baptism: it occurred with the participation of the community. Those participants were also to try to fast. It is not entirely clear if this is an indication of the community celebrating the neophyte or the need for witnesses to the act of baptism. Rabbinic conversion in Judaism requires legal witnesses, although information about how Jewish conversion would have been conducted at the time of the Didache is limited.
(Wyatt North, “Christian Writing Decoded: The Didache”, Kindle Locations 447-455, Wyatt North Publishing, LLC.)

LDS CHURCH: Priesthood Authority Required In Order To Speak or Act For God
The following is from the official, correlated LdS Church manual entitled, “Gospel Principles”, though similar language can found across many Church publications and curriculum:

We must have priesthood authority to act in the name of God when performing the sacred ordinances of the gospel, such as baptism, confirmation, administration of the sacrament, and temple marriage. If a man does not have the priesthood, even though he may be sincere, the Lord will not recognize ordinances he performs (see Matthew 7:21–23; Articles of Faith 1:5). These important ordinances must be performed on the earth by men holding the priesthood.
(Gospel Principles (2011 edition), Chapter 13: The Priesthood, p.67)

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The hard fact of the matter is this: No trace of the unique distinctives that Mormonism declares as “restored” can be found in Church History prior to the advent of Joseph Smith. Further, those distinctives contradict what we find in recorded Early Church History up to and including the Didache.

(all Didache selections from — Didache 11-13, Roberts-Donaldson English Translation)

The Living Allowance increase letter sent to Mormon General Authority Bruce D. Porter in 2014 and leaked by MormonLeaks in 2017 that clearly shows that Mormon Apostles and Prophets are, in fact, professional, paid, full-time clergy despite what they publicly teach and declare.

Banner Art: Icon Painting of Christ and the Early Church Fathers

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
–Matthew 22:37 (NKJV)

by Paul Nurnberg
An Application of Textual Criticism
The year before I left the LDS Church, I received as a gift Royal Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, published by Yale University Press. That first night, I read the introduction in which Skousen describes his decades of research aimed at reconstructing the earliest English text of the Book of Mormon by comparing the various early manuscripts and stripping away changes made by Smith’s scribes and later editors. It had only been a couple years since I’d been introduced to the science and purpose of Textual Criticism. Here, I was seeing it applied to a Mormon text for the first time. While I was eager to get to the resultant textual reconstruction to see what insights Skousen’s work had uncovered, I re-read the 35 pages of Introduction and Editor’s Preface that first night. It had unlocked in my mind several questions that had been sitting on the shelf of my mind for a few years, and now weren’t going to let go.

  • All of that work to arrive at the earliest English text, but to what end?
  • Aren’t there still cultural and time gaps between modern readers and the supposed ancient authors that can never be bridged due to the fact that the golden plates aren’t extant?
  • On what basis were subsequent changes to the English text of the Book of Mormon made, if they weren’t original, and there is no recourse to an original language manuscript?

As I’ve engaged with Latter-day Saints on these questions, answers have varied, but mostly those I’ve encountered have held to the idea that original language manuscripts for the Book of Mormon aren’t needed, because Skousen’s work gets us as close to the source of Joseph Smith’s inspired translation as we’re going to get. This raises a couple related questions:

  • Who was inspired, the supposed ancient authors of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith?
  • If both, then does Joseph Smith’s original manuscript also contain errors?

Approaching Inerrancy
Like my view of Scripture, my understanding of the concept of Biblical inerrancy was informed by my upbringing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The title page to the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith said was translated from the last leaf of the golden plates, contains a statement and a warning about mistakes in the text. It reads, “And now if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.”[i] Not only did the Book of Mormon’s supposed ancient authors predict how its detractors would react to it (“A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.”[ii]), but also predicted that it would be put under scrutiny for errors and warned against rejecting it on that basis. The passage about how “gentiles” would react to the Book of Mormon had struck me as the manipulative, self-serving justification of a modern author trying to foist his own work on the world as ancient Scripture since that notion had unlocked in my mind sometime in early 1999 when I was sitting on a bed in an apartment in Budapest, but I’d pushed it aside. The title page warning now struck me as similar.

When asked why the eighth Article of Faith doesn’t contain a disclaimer for the Book of Mormon like it does for the Bible (“as far as it is translated correctly”), Latter-day Saints will often argue that it’s not needed because the Book of Mormon was translated “by the gift and power of God” so its resulting translation is perfect and exactly as God wants it. That aligns with Skousen’s work to try to identify the earliest text. Presumably, the closer Skousen gets to the original English text, the closer he gets to the perfect English text—but not to the ancient version of the text, if such were indeed to exist.

Ostensibly, both the ancient authors of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith in translating it, were inspired in what they wrote. Skousen’s entire exercise would be futile without that assumption! Why, then, does the title page contain the escape hatch it does? It suggests that despite God’s involvement if humans are involved in the production of Scripture (either in writing the original texts or in translating them with God’s help) there will unavoidably be errors.

The translation process as described by David Whitmer suggests that Smith put his face in a hat and the translation of the characters on the plates was shown to him on his seer stone in the hat, one character from the plates and its interpretation at a time, and that the next character’s interpretation would not appear until the scribe had recorded it correctly.[iii] Such a verbally inspired translation process should not have resulted in any errors needing correction by later editors, but that is not what we have with the Book of Mormon, necessitating Skousen’s work to arrive at the earliest text.[iv]

Where Christians can logically reason to the inerrancy of Scripture from God’s perfection, Mormon Theology seems to lack a robust concept of inspiration powerful enough to overcome human frailty, else Latter-day Saints would also reason to a position of scriptural inerrancy, but even the supposed inspired translation of the title page of the Book of Mormon prevents them from doing so. The Book of Mormon, from the title page to the supposed worries of its ancient prophet Moroni is rife with the concerns of a mind seeking to convince the world that what he is producing is Scripture on par with the Bible.[v]

The Helaman 1–15-16 manuscript from the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon known as “O”. The “O” manuscript contains the transcriber’s handwritten record of what Joseph Smith dictated via the infamous peep stone in the hat “translation” technique.

Flunking Inerrancy
In the first article in this series, I affirmed a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.[vi] A friend with whom I served on the LDS Mission wrote to me to share his thoughts on my article. One of his statements reminds me of a sentiment I have seen often from Latter-day Saints. He said, “I don’t think I can ever conceive of anything as ‘God’s inerrant word.’”

As I transitioned out of the LDS Church and continued to discuss religion with others online, I found that Latter-day Saints often reacted with incredulity to the concept of Biblical inerrancy. I think this stems somewhat from what is stated in the eighth Article of Faith: “We believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God.” This ties the reliability of the Bible with the reliability of the translation, in some ways confusing what Christians are affirming when they hold to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. I also think it stems from the idea that human involvement in the production of Scripture necessarily entails error because as the title page of the Book of Mormon suggests, to “err is human.”[vii] Latter-day Saints come by a misunderstanding of the doctrine of inerrancy honestly.[viii]

One thing that discussing the concept of Biblical inerrancy with Mormons online circa 2010-11 taught me is that I didn’t have a firm grasp of the concept of Biblical inerrancy myself. I knew that it was something that many Evangelical Christians affirm, but as Latter-day Saints (at least one of them a Biblical scholar not just laypersons) presented me with their arguments against the concept, I often found myself either agreeing with them or flummoxed as to how to respond.

It wasn’t until I began attending a Christian Seminary, studying for an M.Div. in Biblical Studies that I encountered two clarifications that gave me solid footing for understanding the concept of Biblical inerrancy, and could see that many of the arguments made against the concept are rooted in a misunderstanding of what is being affirmed.[ix] Two clarifications that helped me to have a better grasp of what an affirmation of inerrancy entails are:

  • Infallibility (the idea that the Bible is incapable of failing) is the stronger concept than inerrancy
  • Inerrancy (the idea that the Bible contains no errors) applies only to the original text, not to later copies or translations

I affirm both the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. Here’s why.

  • The Bible teaches that God’s word is truth (free from error)
  • The utter reliability of God’s Word has been the consistent teaching of the Church from the earliest times
    • “You have studied the Holy Scriptures, which are true and inspired by the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing contrary to justice or truth has been written in them.” – Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians (between 70 – 96 CE)[x]
    • “[. . .] the Scriptures are indeed perfect since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit [. . .] – Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 28 (between 174 and 189 CE)
    • “For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.” – Augustine Letter From Augustine to Jerome (405 CE)

An elegant argument can be made for the infallibility and inerrancy of the Biblical autographs. One of my theology professors lays out the argument for the inerrancy of the Bible as a logical syllogism supported by the Bible’s own teachings:

  • Premise A: Every word of God is true (Titus 1:2; John 17:17; 2 Cor 6:7; Col 1:5; 2 Tim 2:15; James 1:18)
  • Premise B: The Bible is the Word of God (2 Tim 3:16; Mt 15:6; Mk 7:13; Rom 9:6; Psalm 119:105; Rom 3:2
  • Conclusion: The Bible is inerrant[xi]

Another of my favorite theologians, R. C. Sproul, puts that syllogism this way:

  • Premise A: The Bible is the infallible Word of God.
  • Premise B: The Bible attests to its own infallibility.
  • Premise C: The self-attestation of Scripture is an infallible attestation.
  • Conclusion: The Bible is the infallible Word of God[xii]

However, Sproul rightly notes that the syllogism as structured above leads to the charge of circular reasoning. The conclusion is contained within the first premise. This pre-suppositional method of argumentation is wholly a theological enterprise, and I don’t have any problems with it and can affirm it on those grounds. But it doesn’t describe how I came to trust the Bible as infallible and inerrant.

A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This, and all I have laid out in this article about the historical reliability of the Bible when compared with the Book of Mormon, is why I hold to the classical approach to Biblical infallibility and inerrancy. It also can be structured as a logical syllogism:

  • Premise A: The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.
  • Premise B: On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
  • Premise C: Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an infallible authority.
  • Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy: it is the very Word of God.
  • Premise D: That the word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
  • Conclusion: On the basis of the infallible authority of Jesus Christ, the Church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy, i.e. infallible[xiii]

The first premise allows for the study and wrestling that I’ve done with regard to the historical reliability of texts claimed to be Scripture. The rest of the premises argue from that to various theological positions leading to the conclusion. This classical structure marries the two facets of my religious experience: mind and heart. I can love God with my mind and be justified in loving God with my heart. It leaves room for the work of the Holy Spirit in me through my studies. It escapes base fideism and allows for the evaluation of evidence and reasoning to play its part in my religious convictions. Historicity matters!

NOTES
[i] Times and Seasons, Vol. III, No. 24, “Truth Will Prevail” accessed from http://www.centerplace.org/history/ts/v3n24.htm#943
[ii] 2 Nephi 29:3
[iii] See David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ
[iv] This problem was also identified by LDS Scholars David L. Paulsen and R, Dennis Potter in their response to Owen and Mosser’s review of How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & An Evangelical in Conversation. See their discussion of the issue as handled by Stephen Robinson on pp. 231-235 https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1408&context=msr
[v] Ether 12:23-29
[vi] Continuing the Tragic Quest https://beggarsbread.org/2019/03/03/12289/
[vii] Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, accessed from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69379/an-essay-on-criticism
[viii] The Gospel Topics entry on Bible, Inerrancy Of states the following:

Latter-day Saints revere the Bible. They study it and believe it to be the word of God. However, they do not believe the Bible, as it is currently available, is without error.

Joseph Smith commented, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, chapter 17)…

As the Bible was compiled, organized, translated, and transcribed, many errors entered the text. The existence of such errors becomes apparent when one considers the numerous and often conflicting translations of the Bible in existence today.

So while Joseph Smith, as quoted here, explicated a view that is close to what Christians mean by inerrancy, the view argued against in this brief article from the LDS Church’s website is a straw-man. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/bible-inerrancy-of?lang=eng
[ix] Hat tip to my theology professor and the Dean of the Seminary while I was there, Dr. Johnny Pressley, for the clarity with which he (and Dr. Cottrell) presented theological concepts. They both achieved within me a clarity of thought and enunciation of theological concepts for which I will forever be grateful and which I will forever be chasing.
[x] Most scholars date this writing to the last three decades of the first century CE.
[xi] Jack Cottrell, Solid: The Authority of God’s Word, College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, MO 1991, 40-41.
[xii] R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine, P&R Publishing, Philipsburg, NJ, 2005, 69.
[xiii] Ibid. 72-73.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
–2 Timothy 3:16

By Paul Nurnberg
Finding Hidden Books
Recently, I listened to an Episode of Mike Licona’s Risen Jesus Podcast. He was discussing three methods of approaching ancient texts that he defined as follows:

  • Methodological Credulity – One comes to the text assuming that it is reliable, that it is reporting truth until one is shown otherwise. The default position is: this text is true.
  • Methodological Neutrality – One approaches the text with an attitude of neutrality, not assuming it to be true or false. The default position is: openness to the text being true or false.
  • Methodological Skepticism – One approaches the text with the attitude that one has to be convinced that it is true. The default position is: this text is false.[1]

Having been born into a Mormon family, by default I inherited a certain view of what constitutes Scripture. More specifically, I inherited a set of books that the LDS Church holds as its “standard works” or canon. Chief among these was the Book of Mormon. That was the book that had been, according to the narrative, preserved by God, prophesied by Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 29:4; Ezekiel 37:16), and had been brought forth in the last days to convince Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, like those of old.

The story — that Joseph Smith was visited by an angel and led to find a set of golden plates in a hill near his home in upstate New York — always seemed audacious to me. When I was growing up, I accepted this narrative as true — that actual metal plates had been buried in a hill which contained the history of an ancient American civilization, which had its origins in a family who left Jerusalem during the reign of King Zedekiah, and whose patriarch, Lehi, had been a contemporary of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah; and that these plates had been delivered to Joseph Smith after four years of testing his resilience, sincerity, and obedience, and that he translated the writings on the plates into English from a language called in the text “Reformed Egyptian.” I believed that the Book of Mormon published to the world in 1830 was, in fact, the Word of God — delivered by a prophet to prepare the way for Jesus’ return. Smith’s explanation for why the source text — the plates themselves — were no longer extant, seemed equally incredible to me.

I said that the story seemed farfetched to me. It did! Smith’s claims are recognizable as bold, even for one predisposed by upbringing to take an approach to them of methodological credulity. But I didn’t have any reasons when I was young to seriously doubt the narrative. Everywhere I turned there were adults I knew, loved, respected, and trusted who believed whole-heartedly in that story and the resultant text. I didn’t see compelling reasons to take a different approach than to believe what was presented. My mother believed it and her family had roots in the LDS Church that went back to the 1860s and included the leaving behind of home and family in Denmark to cross the American plains pulling a handcart — dedication to the cause. My father believed it, and he had left the Lutheran Church to join the LDS Church, subjecting himself to a lifetime of serious and sometimes heated discussions with his born-again-Christian brother. These played out over the phone and I recall often eavesdropping on my dad’s side of their conversations.

I’ve been a bibliophile from a young age. I come by it honestly. My parents built a large library of books in our home. My dad’s bookshelves had two shelves at the bottom that were behind closed doors that latched magnetically, and three shelves above that were open to view. One night while perusing his library, I found among the books that were behind closed doors, a book titled “The Book of Mormon on Trial” by J. Milton Rich. Curious, I flipped through this comic book style Mormon apologetic work. I don’t know how my dad came to have the book, but the titles of the other books that were stashed away with it in the bottom shelves taught me early the meaning of “putting something on the shelf.” I am not suggesting that the possession of books that present a defense of one’s beliefs automatically suggests that one’s faith is unreasonable or indefensible. Rather, I am describing what I learned from this experience — that faith entails reasoning through the arguments both for and against one’s beliefs.

Inside the Shrine of the Book in West Jerusalem. This museum houses the famous Isaiah scroll and other Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts dating back to 150BC.

Out of the Dust
Once when I was a teenager, during a particularly boring Sunday service, both I and my older sister ducked out to “go to the bathroom” and ended up sitting together on a sofa in the foyer. I was leafing through my quad (one thick volume that contained all of the LDS canon) and looking at the maps. The Bible had maps of the Mediterranean showing where the Apostle Paul had journeyed, but the Book of Mormon didn’t have maps. My sister told me about the conversation they’d had in Seminary about whether the Nephites inhabited all of North and South America or just a small portion. Her High School Seminary teacher always brought the goods!

My mom did family history research for others, spending long days at the Family History Library downtown Salt Lake City. During the dog days of summer, when boredom with suburban life would set in, and I’d pine for the regimen of school, and I’d often go with her. I’d walk the stacks, looking through books or drawers of microfilm, or I would find the picture books with coats of arms and practice drawing the one for Nürnberg, with its black eagle on a yellow background and red bands[2]. As a teenager, I geeked out on that historical connection to my family name. I was excited by history in general. Many of those summer days, I would go next door to the Church History Museum or walk up the hill by the Deseret Gym, past the spot where I later learned Mark Hofmann nearly blew himself into eternity, to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum.

The museums enthralled me. In the exhibits, I could see artifacts from the lives of the founders of the LDS Church and of the Mormon pioneers. Among the tangible relics, I saw the pocket watch that saved John Taylor’s life in the firefight at the Carthage Jail in Illinois, where Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob. The exhibits there connected me with my heritage in a way that both grounded me to my people and to my story.

In March of 1997, as I was preparing to leave on a mission for the LDS Church. BYU was hosting the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, and I went to Provo to see it. As I stood in front of a long display case that held the traveling reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, I listened to the self-guided tour cassette on a Walkman describe this ancient text. I learned of the import the Dead Sea Scrolls held for Biblical Scholarship because they pushed the dating for the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible back by nearly a millennium. The Biblical record was indeed ancient.

Standing there on the campus of BYU, I had what I would describe as a first brush with methodological skepticism towards the Book of Mormon. I thought of the missing plates contrasted with the Great Isaiah Scroll. It was a jarring juxtaposition because the Book of Mormon uses Isaiah 29 in 2 Nephi 27 to suggest that Isaiah was prophesying the coming forth of the Book of Mormon “out of the dust.” But there I was, standing before an ancient text that actually had come forth out of the dust. It wasn’t sealed. Scholars actually could read it and compare it to the other known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. Differences though there may be, the process of Textual Criticism could be applied. The Book of Mormon plates were nowhere to be found, and according to the narrative, shouldn’t be expected to be discovered. Scholars could not read them.

Despite that first encounter with methodological skepticism, with my mission approaching, I knew that a spiritual witness of the book is what my church leaders prescribed. So I settled into an attitude of methodological neutrality and studied the book extensively. I didn’t then concern myself with scholarly, critical approaches to the Book of Mormon. Rather, I approached it like I hoped those I met on my mission would, I read it and prayed to know if it was true.

On a hot summer day in 1998, as a Mormon missionary knocking doors in Szeged, a beautiful university city in southeastern Hungary. One man spoke with us from his front window, seemingly uninterested. When we told him about Joseph Smith and the golden plates, he suddenly became enthusiastic and asked, “Do you want to read a real book pulled from the dust of the earth?”

My companion and I exchanged puzzled glances and the man disappeared into his house and returned a few moments later with a stack of paper. He handed it to me and said, “I got this from a friend. You can borrow it if you promise to bring it back tomorrow.”

Never one to miss the opportunity to bargain, I told him I would read his stack of papers if he would take a copy of the Book of Mormon and read it. He agreed. That night I sat on our balcony reading. The packet of photocopied material he had lent me was a translation of the “The War Scroll,” found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Each page was bisected with Hebrew script on one side and the English translation on the other. I was mesmerized by the description of the eschatological war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. The packet lacked a contextual description of the work, and I was so steeped in Mormon cosmology, that I tried to make sense of what I was reading as a description of a primordial War in Heaven. The dots weren’t connecting, but I stayed up late trying to make it fit. Reading that non-canonical work from the Second Temple period was a formative experience. It helped me to see that even the evidence for a small Jewish sect could be unearthed and provide valuable historical and cultural insights into their beliefs and practices—evidence of their existence.

Throughout my two-years in Hungary, I studied the LDS Standard Works (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the King James Bible). I used the LDS Institute manuals, designed as curriculum for Mormon college students, as study aids. While studying the Old and New Testaments, I was fascinated by the cultural insights the manuals provided that helped to illuminate the context of the Biblical narrative. Even the manual for the Doctrine and Covenants provided valuable 19th-century cultural context for each section in that book. As I studied through the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, however, I was troubled by the paltry size of those manuals. They contained only summaries of the narratives and teachings of each book supplemented by quotes from LDS General Authorities.

The Pearl of Great Price is only 61 pages long. It makes sense that the commentary for such a brief work would be less substantial than for the Bible. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, claims to be an epic covering roughly a millennium of history—more when you count the Jaredite narrative—and fills 531 pages. The cultural commentary for that book should have been weighty. But it wasn’t.

By the end of my mission, I would sit on my bed during morning personal study, and daydream about becoming an archaeologist and finding the evidence that would vindicate the Book of Mormon as ancient history. When I returned from my mission, I subscribed to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, then published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). With each issue, I was dismayed as the articles would walk back from premature claims made by previous generations of Mormon archaeologists about ancient Mesoamerican artifacts such as Izapa Stela 5. While I was glad for the forthright dedication to accuracy, I began to have serious doubts about the Book of Mormon as a historical narrative about real people who existed in the ancient past.

Photo Credit: British Library

The Codex Sinaiticus was handwritten well over 1600 years ago. This manuscript contains the entire Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

Fast forward about a decade to 2007 and I was finishing up a business degree at a small Catholic college near my home in northern Kentucky. One of the requirements for graduation was to complete a religion class. I signed up for Intro to the New Testament. The class was taught by a priest who rekindled in me the fire I had felt years before when studying the New Testament. We used “Understanding the New Testament and Its Message: An Introduction” by Vincent P. Branick as our course text. Beyond providing a cultural framework for understanding the New Testament, Branick discusses the textual issues: oral tradition and two-source theory, the “Synoptic Problem,” as well as Text, Form, and Source Criticism. I was fascinated! Why? Because the New Testament can be studied as history and as a historical text. Unbelievers argue that Jesus’ miracles, resurrection, and other supernatural elements of the narrative are hagiography, but all but the most skeptical scholars agree that the New Testament is focused on the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth.

Taking that class was the nail in the coffin of my belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. One simply cannot study the Book of Mormon in historical and cultural context the way one can the Bible.[3] Although I have been charged with “trusting in the arm of flesh” because I have sought to understand the Word of God as history, and have rejected works that do not display the same traits as the Bible, the very point of the Gospel is that God acted in history to accomplish His plan of salvation.

I know in whom I have trusted to lead me in my studies. I thank God for my mind that has ever sought Him, and the Holy Spirit for teaching me in the way that He knew would be convincing to me and prepare me for the gift of a new heart. I praise Jesus, my Savior, forevermore. I can never go back. As Peter testified, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). Historicity matters!

NOTES
[1] Risen Jesus Podcast S3E5 Methods of Approaching Ancient Text
[2] https://www.heraldry-wiki.com/heraldrywiki/index.php?title=N%C3%BCrnberg
[3] I am not convinced by Brandt Gardner’s arguments in Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History.

Yeah . . . that’s how the receiving end often feels to we Theists.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
A few years ago, the good folks at the Zelph on the Shelf did a fantastic article entitled, “15 Things Ex-Mormons are Tired of Hearing” which was a superb compilation of the bad arguments that Ex-Mormons typically hear from True Believing Mormons (aka “TBMs”). As the author noted in her introduction, these are things that not only don’t facilitate constructive debate, they distract from it.

I loved the article. So did my friends. We ate it up!

Now my friends, like me, are mainly mainstream Christians and most are Ex-Mormons as well. And they suggested that we put together a list of the top 15 things that Christians are tired of hearing from ex-Mormon atheists/agnostics. So I slapped together a crowdsourced poll, posted it on the Internet, and the results will be discussed and considered over this short series of articles.

By the way, if you missed any of the first three parts of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three.

2) “There’s no evidence that Jesus ever existed – it’s all just a myth like the Book of Mormon.”
Well, my atheist friends, I must tell you that scholarly consensus and the historical record both discredit this assertion – and I’m talking about hostile, extra-biblical sources and scholars. Consider, for example, agnostic Bart Ehrmann: In a National Public Radio interview for his 2012 book, “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth” he summarized the issue like this:

I wanted to approach this question as an historian to see whether that’s right or not,” Ehrman tells weekends on “All Things Considered” host Guy Raz.

The answer is straightforward and widely accepted among scholars of all faiths, but Ehrman says there is a large contingent of people claiming that Jesus never did exist. These people are also known as mythicists.

“It was a surprise to me to see how influential these mythicists are,” Ehrman says. “Historically, they’ve been significant and in the Soviet Union, in fact, the mythicist view was the dominant view, and even today, in some parts of the West – in parts of Scandinavia — it is a dominant view that Jesus never existed,” he says…

In his book, Ehrman marshals all of the evidence proving the existence of Jesus, including the writings of the apostle Paul.

“Paul knew Jesus’ brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did,” Ehrman says. “If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed,” he says.

In [his book] Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman builds a technical argument and shows that one of the reasons for knowing that Jesus existed is that if someone invented Jesus, they would not have created a messiah who was so easily overcome.

“The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the enemies – and so if you’re going to make up a messiah, you’d make up a powerful messiah,” he says. “You wouldn’t make up somebody who was humiliated, tortured and the killed by the enemies.”
(“Did Jesus Exist?’ A Historian Makes His Case”, All Things Considered, Radio Broadcast, April 1, 2012

Then there is the historical record outside of the Bible from hostile sources:1

Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)
[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.
(Tacitus, “Annals”, XV.44, Written c. 116–117 C.E., as translated in Robert E. Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus)”, pp. 42–43)

Josephus (37-c.100 C.E.)
“Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.”
(Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities”, XX.9.1. Written c. 93-94 C.E.)

“Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.”
(Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities”, XVIII.63–64 (in Whiston’s translation: XVIII.3.3); this redacted version of The Testimonium Flavianum is from, Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, “Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide”, pp. 65–66, after deleting the apparent, later, Christian additions to the original text.)

Lucian of Samosata (c. 115–200 C.E.)
“It was then that he learned the marvelous wisdom of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And— what else?—in short order he made them look like children, for he was a prophet, cult leader, head of the congregation and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books, and wrote many himself. They revered him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector—to be sure, after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world…

For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws.”
(Lucian, Passing of Peregrinus, §11, as translated in Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans, eds., “Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, 2nd impression, New Testament Tools and Studies, vol. 6”, Boston: Brill, 1998, 1994, p. 462)

Celsus (c. 176) as quoted by Origen:
“Next he makes the charge of the savior that it was by magic that he was able to do the miracles which he appeared to have done, and foreseeing that others also, having learned the same lessons and being haughty to act with the power of God, are about to do the same thing, such persons Jesus would drive away from his own society.

For he says, “He was brought up in secret and hired himself out as a workman in Egypt, and having tried his hand at certain magical powers he returned from there, and on account of those powers gave himself the title of God”’
(Origen, “Against Celsus”, 1.6, 38, as translated in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p.460)

Pliny (c. 61–113 C.E.)
“They [the Christians] assured me that the sum total of their error consisted in the fact that that they regularly assembled on a certain day before daybreak. They recited a hymn antiphonally to Christus as to a god and bound themselves with an oath not to commit any crime, but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and embezzlement of property entrusted to them. After this, it was their custom to separate, and then to come together again to partake of a meal, but an ordinary and innocent one.”
(Pliny, “Epistles”, X.96, as cited in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 459)

Mara bar Serapion (c. 73 C.E.)
“For what advantage did the Athenians gain by the murder of Socrates, the recompense of which they received in famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because in one hour their country was entirely covered in sand? Or the Jews by the death of their wise king, because from that same time their kingdom was taken away? God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”
(Mara bar Serapion, “Letter to His Son”, (cited in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” pp. 455–456). The phrase “death of their [the Jews] wise king” is believed to refer to Christ.) 

If you still have any lingering doubt on this matter, perhaps you’ll find the modern opinion of famous Jewish scientist, Albert Einstein on this question of some value. When answered the question, do you accept Jesus as a historical figure? This his reply: “Absolutely! No one can read the Gospels without feeling Jesus’ presence. His character lives in every word. No legend is full of such life… No one can deny the fact that Jesus existed, or that His words were enlightened. Even if some of His sayings were said before, no one expressed them in such Godly way like He did.” (Walter Isaacson, “Einstein: His Life and Universe”, p.386)

I think that it’s fair to say given the broad consensus among scholars as well as the compelling body of evidence outside of the Bible that Jesus Christ most certainly did exist as a real, historical figure. So to claim that His existence is as fatuous as comparing the Book of Mormon people to Plato and claiming that they’re equivalent.

Click the above link to see a brief explanation from Bart Ehrman as to why Jesus Christ was indeed a real, historical figure. 

1) “You’re just stupid and ignorant. Once you’re enlightened you’ll be an atheist too!”
Wow! I think that I’ve just had a flashback or have just stepped through a time warp: I’m hearing echoes of my Atheist self from bygone days. Yes, my Atheist friends, you read that right, I am a former Atheist. And I’m not alone. So, at the risk of being accused of a Gish Galloping bandwagon fallacy, you have to admit that I have some pretty prestigious (and in some cases notorious) company:2

  • Steve Beren – former member of the Socialist Workers Party (United States) who became a Christian conservative politician
  • Kirk Cameron – actor noted for his role in Growing Pains
  • Francis Collins – physician-geneticist, noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes; director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; former atheist
  • Ray Comfort – evangelist and author.
  • Bo Giertz – Swedish Confessional Lutheran Bishop, theologian, and writer
  • Simon Greenleaf – one of the main founders of Harvard Law School
  • Keir Hardie – raised atheist and became a Christian Socialist
  • Paul Jones – musician, of Manfred Mann; previously atheist; in 1967 he argued with Cliff Richard about religion on a TV show
  • Kang Kek Iew (also known as Comrade Duch) – Cambodian director of Phnom Penh’s infamous Tuol Sleng detention center
  • Akiane Kramarik (and family) – American poet and child prodigy raised as an atheist and converted to Christianity
  • Jonny Lang – blues and rock singer who professed to once “hating” Christianity, before later claiming to have a supernatural encounter with Jesus Christ which led to his conversion
  • Chai Ling – Chinese student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989; converted to evangelical Christianity in 2009
  • John Warwick Montgomery – renowned Christian apologist, Lutheran theologian, and barrister; as a philosophy major in college, he investigated the claims of Christianity “to preserve intellectual integrity” and converted
  • William J. Murray  – author and son of atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair
  • Marvin Olasky – former Marxist turned Christian conservative; edits the Christian World magazine
  • George R. Price – geneticist who became an Evangelical Christian and wrote about the New Testament; later he moderated his evangelistic tendencies and switched from religious writing to working with the homeless
  • Mira Sorvino – Academy Award-winning actress who had been on Humanist lists
  • Lee Strobel – former avowed atheist and journalist for the Chicago Tribune; was converted by his own journalistic research intended to test the veracity of scriptural claims concerning Jesus; author of such apologetic books as The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ
  • Lacey Sturm – musician, former vocalist and lyricist for alternative metal band Flyleaf
  • Emir Kusturica – filmmaker, actor, and musician; although of Muslim ancestry, his father was atheist; took the name “Nemanja” on conversion in 2005
  • Seraphim Rose – Hieromonk and religious writer; in early adulthood he considered non-theist ideas of God and the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche that God is dead; became Russian Orthodox in 1962
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Nobel Prize-winning dissident author who converted to Russian Orthodoxy
  • Mortimer J. Adler – American philosopher, educator, and popular author; converted to Catholicism from agnosticism, after decades of interest in Thomism
  • G. E. M. Anscombe – analytic philosopher, Thomist, literary executor for Ludwig Wittgenstein, and author of Modern Moral Philosophy; converted to Catholicism as a result of her extensive reading
  • Benedict Ashley – raised humanist; former Communist; became a noted theologian associated with River Forest Thomism
  • Maurice Baring – English author who converted to Catholicism in his thirties
  • Mark Bauerlein – English professor at Emory University and the author of 2008 book The Dumbest Generation, which won at the Nautilus Book Awards
  • Léon Bloy – French author who led to several notable conversions and was himself a convert from agnosticism
  • Paul Bourget – French author who became agnostic and positivist at 15, but returned to Catholicism at 35
  • Alexis Carrel – French surgeon and biologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912
  • Alfred Döblin, German novelist, essayist and doctor, a former convert from Judaism to atheism
  • Avery Dulles – Jesuit priest, theologian, and cardinal in the Catholic Church; was raised Presbyterian, but was an agnostic before his conversion to Catholic Christianity
  • Alice Thomas Ellis – born Anna Haycraft, raised in Auguste Comte‘s atheistic “church of humanity”, but became a conservative Catholic in adulthood known as Alice Thomas Ellis
  • Edward Feser – Christian philosopher and author, wrote The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism
  • André Frossard – French journalist and essayist
  • Maggie Gallagher – conservative activist and a founder of the National Organization for Marriage
  • Eugene D. Genovese – historian who went from Stalinist to Catholicism
  • Dawn Eden Goldstein – rock journalist of Jewish ethnicity; went from an agnostic to a Catholic, who was particularly concerned with the moral values of chastity
  • Bill Hayden – The 21st Governor-General of Australia. In 1996 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. Baptized September 2018.
  • Mary Karr – author of The Liars’ Club; Guggenheim Fellow; once described herself as an “undiluted agnostic”, but converted to a self-acknowledged “Cafeteria Catholicism” who embraces Pro-Choice views, amongst others
  • Ignace Lepp – French psychiatrist whose parents were freethinkers and who joined the Communist party at age fifteen; broke with the party in 1937 and eventually became a Catholic priest
  • Leah Libresco – popular (former) atheist blogger; her search for a foundation for her sense of morality led her to Christianity; she continues her blog under a new name, Unequally Yoked. Her blog readership has increased significantly since her conversion.
  • Arnold Lunn – skier, mountaineer, and writer; as an agnostic he wrote Roman Converts, which took a critical view of Catholicism and the converts to it; later converted to Catholicism due to debating with converts, and became an apologist for the faith, although he retained a few criticisms of it
  • Gabriel Marcel – leading Christian existentialist; his upbringing was agnostic
  • Claude McKay – bisexual Jamaican poet who went from Communist-leaning atheist to an active Catholic Christian after a stroke
  • Vittorio Messori – Italian journalist and writer called the “most translated Catholic writer in the world” by Sandro Magister; before his conversion in 1964 he had a “perspective as a secularist and agnostic”
  • Czesław Miłosz – poet, prose writer, translator and diplomat; was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and in 1980 the Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Malcolm Muggeridge – British journalist and author who went from agnosticism to the Catholic Church
  • Bernard Nathanson – medical doctor who was a founding member of NARAL, later becoming a pro-life proponent
  • Fulton Oursler – writer who was raised Baptist, but spent decades as an agnostic before converting; The Greatest Story Ever Told is based on one of his works
  • Giovanni Papini – went from pragmatic atheism to Catholicism, also a Fascist
  • Joseph Pearce – anti-Catholic and agnostic British National Front member who became a devoted Catholic writer with a series on EWTN
  • Charles Péguy – French poet, essayist, and editor; went from agnostic humanist to a pro-Republic Catholic
  • Sally Read – Eric Gregory Award-winning poet who converted to Catholicism
  • E. F. Schumacher – economic thinker known for Small Is Beautiful; his A Guide for the Perplexed criticizes what he termed “materialistic scientism;” went from atheism to Buddhism to Catholicism
  • Peter Steele – lead singer of Type O Negative
  • Edith Stein – Phenomenologist philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Discalced Carmelite nun; declared a saint by Pope John Paul II
  • John Lawson Stoddard – divinity student who became an agnostic and “scientific humanist;” later he converted to Catholicism; his son Lothrop Stoddard remained agnostic and would be significant to scientific racism
  • R. J. Stove – raised atheist, converted to Catholicism
  • Allen Tate – American poet, essayist and social commentator; Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress
  • Victor Turner – A British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage.
  • Sigrid Undset – Norwegian Nobel laureate who converted to Catholicism from agnosticism
  • Evelyn Waugh – British novelist who converted to Catholicism from agnosticism
  • John C. Wright – science fiction author who went from atheist to Catholic; Chapter 1 of the book “Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion”, edited by Rebecca Vitz Cherico, is by him
  • Joy Davidman – poet and wife of C. S. Lewis
  • Tamsin Greig – British actress raised as an atheist; converted at 30
  • Nicky Gumbel – Anglican priest known for the Alpha course; from atheism
  • Peter Hitchens – journalist who went from Trotskyism to Traditionalist conservatism; estranged brother of the late outspoken anti-theist and Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens
  • C. E. M. Joad – English philosopher whose arguing against Christianity, from an agnostic perspective, earned him criticism from T. S. Eliot; turned toward religion later, writing The Recovery of Belief a year before he died and returning to Christianity
  • C. S. Lewis – Oxford professor and writer; well known for The Chronicles of Narnia series, and for his apologetic Mere Christianity
  • Alister McGrath – biochemist and Christian theologian’ founder of “scientific theology” and critic of Richard Dawkins in his book Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life
  • Enoch Powell – Conservative Party (UK) member who converted to Anglicanism
  • Michael Reiss – British bioethicist, educator, journalist, and Anglican priest; agnostic/secular upbringing
  • Dame Cicely Saunders – Templeton Prize and Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize-winning nurse known for palliative care; converted to Christianity as a young woman
  • Fay Weldon – British novelist and feminist
  • Peter Baltes – former heavy metal musician, member of Accept
  • Anders Borg  – Sweden’s Minister for Finance
  • Julie Burchill – British journalist and feminist
  • Nicole Cliffe – writer and journalist who co-founded The Toast
  • Jeffery Dahmer – serial killer and convict who was baptized by Churches of Christ minister Roy Ratcliff
  • Bruce Cockburn – Canadian folk/rock guitarist and singer/songwriter (former agnostic)
  • Karl Dallas – British music journalist, author and political activist
  • Larry Darby – former Holocaust denier and former member of the American Atheists
  • Terry A. Davis – American computer programmer who created and designed an entire operating system, TempleOS, by himself. Davis grew up Catholic and was an atheist before experiencing a self-described “revelation”. He described the experience as seeming “a lot like mental illness … I felt guilty for being such a technology-advocate atheist … It would sound polite if you said I scared myself thinking about quantum computers.”
  • Andrew Klavan – Jewish-American writer who went from atheist to agnostic to Christian.
  • Nina Karin Monsen – Norwegian moral philosopher and author who grew up in a humanist family, but later converted to Christianity through philosophic thinking
  • Rosalind Picard – Director of the Affective computing Research Group at the MIT Media Lab; raised atheist, but converted to Christianity in her teens
  • Vladimir Putin – current President of the Russian Federation
  • Allan Sandage – prolific astronomer; converted to Christianity later in his life, stating, “I could not live a life full of cynicism. I chose to believe, and a peace of mind came over me.”
  • Rodney Stark – a formerly agnostic sociologist of religion.
  • A. N. Wilson – biographer and novelist who entered the theological St Stephen’s House, Oxford before proclaiming himself an atheist and writing against religion; announced his return to Christianity in 2009

So there it is. It’s quite a list, isn’t it? Further, given the background of many of the personalities on this list, how it is reasonable or credible to claim that true enlightenment – not to mention logic, reason, and evidence – always leads to Atheism? Are we to believe that all the personalities represented here were the type of irrational, fanatical, confirmation bias driven, evidence denying, culturally ensnared dullards that many Ex-Mormon Atheists are so quick to label all theists as? Or could it be that the body of evidence and human experience can and will reasonably lead somewhere else than Atheism?

Click above to watch former Atheist Ray Comfort’s answer to his former worldview and belief system.

Speaking only for myself, that initial rush of Atheist liberation after growing up in what I perceived as oppressive, irrational religious fanaticism (is this sounding familiar my Ex-Mormon Atheist friends?) eventually faded. And I soon found the relativism and worship of one’s own perceptions and opinions, unfulfilling, and unsatisfying. Atheism, at least for me, was like ordering a pizza and eating the box that it came in rather than the pizza itself. The rational Christianity that I chose (or perhaps better said, “choose me”) after Atheism only keeps getting richer, deeper, more satisfying, more fulfilling, more nuanced, and, yes, more rational.

The gaping hole that I found in Atheism was the lack of recognition for transcendence, wonder, or mystery in life. I knew that there had to be more than just pure, raw, logic, reason, and evidence interspersed with moments of pleasure-seeking. This was especially apparent when I experienced true romantic love and knew that it was more than just some kind of evolutionary impulse to mate bond in order to create a stable society so that the species could survive – as the atheist voices that I heard claimed. It was far deeper and far more profound than that! It was, simply stated, transcendent, even spiritual.

Thus, and stated plainly, not everything can be entirely explained by empiricism, logic, and reason – which is why, I think, many hardcore Atheists are just as likely to buy into whacky non-theistic schemes and conspiracy theories – as the Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, “Look Who’s Irrational Now”, The Wall Street Journal article cited way back in Part One of this series documented so nicely. But perhaps Atheist cum Evangelical Christian and renowned physician-geneticist, Francis Collins said it best when he said of hardcore, militant Atheism:

I think strong atheism, of the kind that says, “I know there is no God,” suffers from two major logical flaws. And the awareness of those flaws might be reassuring to believers who are somehow afraid that these guys may actually have a point.

The first of those is the idea that anyone could use science at all as a conversation-stopper, as an argument-ender in terms of the question of God. If God has any meaning at all, God is at least in part outside of nature (unless you’re a pantheist). Science is limited in that its tools are only appropriate for the exploration of nature. Science can therefore certainly never discount the possibility of something outside of nature. To do so is a category error, basically using the wrong tools to ask the question.

Secondly, I think the logical error that atheists of the strong variety commit is what English writer G.K. Chesterton calls the most daring dogma of the universal negative. I often use a visual analogy to explain this. Suppose you were asked to draw a circle that contains all the information, all the knowledge that exists or ever will exist, inside or outside the universe – all knowledge. Well, that would be a pretty enormous circle. Now, suppose on that same scale, you were asked to draw what you know at the present time. Even the most assertive person will draw a rather tiny circle. Now, suppose that the knowledge that demonstrates that God exists is outside your little circle today. That seems pretty plausible, doesn’t it, considering the relative scale? How then – given that argument – would it be reasonable for any person to say, “I know there is no God”? That is clearly going outside of the evidence.
(David Masci, “The ’Evidence for Belief’: An Interview with Francis Collins”, Pew Research Center website, April 17, 2008)

Amen Brother Collins, amen!

Click on the link above to watch Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, describe his personal journey from atheism to Christianity when he was a young doctor and an aspiring academic.

NOTES
1 An important primary source for this section was Purdue Bible Scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk’s superb article, “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible”,  Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2015. For those interested in a more comprehensive treatise on this subject than was possible in a short article, I highly recommend considering this primary source – especially the endnotes which add much-needed depth and nuance to the cited historical sources and their provenance. Mr. Mykytiuk’s final answer to the question of Christ’s existence is wonderfully understated, but yet pointed, in regard to the evidence deniers: “As a final observation: In New Testament scholarship generally, a number of specialists consider the question of whether Jesus existed to have been finally and conclusively settled in the affirmative. A few vocal scholars, however, still deny that he ever lived.”

2 Wikipedia, “List of converts to Christianity from nontheism”

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three.

 

Video  —  Posted: May 24, 2020 in Atheism, Bullying, Confirmation Bias, Ex-Mormons, Fred Anson, Modernism, Mormon Studies, Recovery from Mormonism, Sociology

An Ex-Mormon Turned Pastor Responds to A Letter From the Mormon Church To Be Truthful About What Church He Actually Belongs To

The Mormon Temple in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I grew up Mormon, and left the church while in college. Many years later I found Jesus (or Jesus found me) and today I pastor a small church my family helped start in SWFL [Southwest Florida]. Recently I received a letter from the Mormon Church instructing me to “be truthful by telling others that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints“.

Well — I want to obviously be truthful. So below is both the letter I received from the Mormon church, and my full and detailed response.

Letter from Mormon Church

Dear Brother Culbertson,

As your new bishop, I want to start by wishing you a happy Christmas season and letting you know that I send the love of the ward to you and your family.

I am writing because it is my understanding that for some years now you have been a pastor at a church you helped found called Refuge Church. I’ve visited your website and can appreciate what you do to help bring people closer to Jesus Christ and your service to the community. On Refuge’s website you say that you “grew up mormon” and then “left all religion behind,” publicly suggesting that you no longer identify as a member of the Restored Church. Unless and until you have your name removed, if friends or neighbors ask you what church you belong to, please be truthful be telling them that you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am attaching a copy of your membership record. In the Restored Church of Jesus Christ what is bound on earth in heaven (See Matthew 16:19). Please understand that name removal cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member (in your case, the Aaronic priesthood), and revokes the temple blessings of the member. Once your name is removed you can be readmitted to the Church by baptism and confirmation but only after a preparation process including a thorough interview.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, if a member formally joins another church and advocates its teachings, name removal may be necessary if formal membership in the other church is not ended after counseling and encouragement. I know that members of the church have tried to reach out to you many times over the years and that your own brother is the bishop of another ward in our stake. I think at this point it is appropriate for me to invite you to send me a letter letting me know whether you want your name remove from Church records. If I do not hear from you within a few weeks I will assume you wish to remain on church records, in which case I’ll be following a different – and mandatory – procedure for these very circumstances. Please make your decision on name removal and let me know it unequivocally, in writing (a verbal request is invalid, per Church policy). Meanwhile, please let me know if there is anything that I or your ward can do for you.

My Letter in Response

This letter is my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it is effective immediately. I hereby withdraw my consent to being treated as a member and I withdraw my consent to being subject to church rules, policies, beliefs and ‘discipline.’ Please remove my name permanently and completely from your membership rolls.

I walked away from the LDS church in the mid 1990’s due to considerable consideration and study.  I had been taught from birth that the LDS Church was the “one true restored church”.  I had been taught because we had a prophet, in Joseph Smith, and a prophet today, that we would be guided in “these later days”.

With the advent of the internet, I was able to read church documents and records dating back to Brigham Young and through the modern generation, documenting change after change to this “restored true and perfect church”.

These documents I read and researched were not propaganda books or documents pushed by “anti-Mormon” groups, they were archived church teachings and writings from the Prophets.  From Polygamy, to views on race in the priesthood, to changes to temple ceremonies and scriptural translations, the church was still evolving its beliefs, even though it had supposedly been perfectly restored by Joseph Smith.  This is what led to my initial walking away from the LDS church.

As time progressed, jaded now against all religion, thinking of it simply as a coping mechanism for death for naïve people, I didn’t give my personal faith much thought.  Then one day, around 2003, I begrudgingly visited a local church here in SWFL.  My wife and I (and new daughter) were new to town and thought maybe we could at least make some “nice” friends.

As the pastor spoke, I debated everything he said, using what I’d been taught in Mormonism.  I still knew all the come backs.  All the reasons the Christians were wrong.  I still felt that sense of arrogance.  Of how “cheap” the grace he taught about seemed.

Over the course of the next year though, I continued to go, listen … and MOST importantly, I finally opened the Bible and began to read it for myself.  As I read through books like the Gospel of John, I found a different Jesus than the one I’d been exposed to through Mormonism.  That Jesus was with God in beginning, and we were not. That there is ONE GOD, in three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

I discovered that grace didn’t come “after all we could do”, but grace upon grace was available.  That there was nothing we could do to save ourselves.  That there is no ladder we needed to climb to God.  That John teaches about God’s descension to us, not our ascension to him.

I learned that Jesus destroyed the temple and rebuilt it.  He did not rebuild it as one of those beautiful buildings the LDS uses today and calls Temples, but that when we are born again (as Jesus refers to our being remade process in John 3), we become the residing place of God.  We become His temple.  We no longer needed a prophet.  We no longer needed temples.

I read through the Epistles, in particular Paul’s letter to the Romans and found a new kind of appreciation for the depth of my (and all of humanities) depravity and our inability to do ANYTHING about it.  Yet I found hope beyond hope, that for those in Christ there is no condemnation.  That Jesus set us free.  Free from striving, and working, and temple recommends, and dress codes.  Free from wearing masks.

I read Galatians, that made is so clear that what Joseph Smith did was a twisting and perversion of the gospel just like Paul warned about.  That anytime we add works on top of the finished work of Jesus Christ, it is not the Gospel.  That we are made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law, or gotten married in a temple, or received the Melchizedek priesthood.

I read the Old Testament (which is still hard to read), but I began to see that even those hard, difficult stories pointed us to Jesus.  That the Bible isn’t about me, and what I must do … but about God and what He has done.

I write to you today, and I bear you my testimony, that I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Mormon church is a perversion of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That the Book of Mormon is a fraud.  That Joseph Smith was never a prophet of God.

I believe that there is this ONE infinite, Holy, perfect, almighty, creator God in three persons that created ALL things for His glory.  I believe human beings, have all sinned against God, fall far short of his glory. I believe that the wage of that sin is death.

I believe God, being just and right and Holy, cannot stand for sin.  That we cannot enter His presence in our corrupted state.  Yet He desires to be with us; to reconcile with us.

I believe He sent Christ in the flesh to pay for our sin, to take the punishment we deserved.  He suffered.  He died.  I believe God raised him to life, and now being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, makes us alive together with Christ, saving us by grace through faith alone.

I believe in the admonition of Paul that says  …If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED.  (Rm 10:9)

That’s my testimony.  I can’t imagine the cost of the Gospel. I can’t fathom the cost of our sin.  The cost of God saving me, Brian Culbertson.  It’s so high. That’s why I also can’t fathom an All-Knowing, All-Powerful God, who would pay that cost … and then allow the truth to be removed from the earth for 1700+ years, only to then finally be “restored”.

As I studied the Bible and came to understand that it wasn’t a book about me, rather a book about the true hero (Jesus), I gave my life to Him in 2005 and became a child of God.

I remember as a kid singing that primary song “I am a child of God, and so my needs are great.  Help me to understand his words, before it grows to late.  Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do, to live with him someday.”  

The list of “all that I must do” was pretty long as I remember in the Mormon Church.  But I had missed that all I must do was REST.  Rest in the arms of a Savior; put my life, my hope, my eternity into the hands of the one who already did EVERYTHING.

Today, I am the full-time lead pastor at Refuge.Church in Fort Myers (www.refuge.church).  I do this for no pay.  I do it out of no obligation.  I do it only because I’ve FINALLY found the one true pearl of great price and I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

My encouragement to you, and to others (Christian, Mormon, Atheist, etc) read your Bible.  Read it like a child reading it for the first time. Allow God to speak to you.  Remove your filters.  Stop using it as a tool to justify what you already believe. Instead, read it to see what it actually says.  Be honest with yourself.  Be honest with God.  Seek the truth.  Then Jesus says “and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you FREE.”  (John 8:32)

I understand what you consider the ‘seriousness’ and the ‘consequences’ of my actions. I am aware that the Church Handbook says that my resignation “cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation…and revokes temple blessings.”

My resignation should be processed immediately, without any ‘waiting periods.’ I am not going to be dissuaded or change my mind.  I would like a letter of confirmation so that I know that I am no longer listed as a member of your church.

Lastly, I pray that this letter begins a new search in your heart Daniel.  You will be in my continued prayers.  If you have a free Saturday night, feel free to drop by Refuge for a visit.  You’ll always be welcome and loved.

About the Author
Brian Culbertson is a Teaching Pastor of Refuge Church in Fort Meyers, Florida. His full autobiography from the church website can be found by clicking here

This article was originally published on the Refuge.Church website on January 27, 2019. It has been republished here with the kind permission of the author and Refuge.Church.