Archive for March, 2012

by Martin Jacobs

Good news for those who are conflicted, and bad news for those who aren’t.
(But not in the way you might think)
Some time back, a friend of mine at church observed that I was quite internally conflicted. She was right, of course, but she seemed to think that I shouldn’t be.

[Author’s note: I had included some words here about a personal situation. Sitting in Church, I realized that they might cause some unnecessary aggravation, so I left, came home and removed them. Hopefully, I’m acting in line with Paul’s admonition below.] 

I have heard these sentiments before, particularly among the friends in my previous charismatic churches. I am writing about them because I feel that they might be well intentioned, but they are ultimately misguided. They are misguided because the idea behind them is not supported in the Bible.

The troubling aspect is not that my friends are concerned with my welfare. They are, and I am grateful.

The troubling aspect is the underlying idea. The underlying idea is that the Spirit-filled person would experience a kind of Zen-like internal calm (in polar contrast to my internal conflicts, for example). This is typically expressed in terms of stilling your mind until it becomes a millpond, so that the image of God can be reflected in you, or so that you can detect the slightest hints of the Spirit’s movements.

Sounds spiritual, doesn’t it?

Though these metaphors sound at home in a typical Christian greeting-card, bookmark or button, they have no equivalent in scripture. Indeed, the more I read the scriptures, the more I see them contending with this kind of thinking.

My concern is that sooner or later, the Christian who holds to the Zen ethic is going to have to decide whether they believe it’s true because it feels right, or because it’s supported in scripture. I can claim some experience in this regard. In short, I tried the former strategy, but it didn’t work, so now, God willing, I’m trying to head down the latter way.

This has led me to revise much of my earlier thinking, and this revising has yielded much internal conflict. If I had avoided the internal conflict, I would not have allowed the Word of God to shape my thinking. See how skewed things become if we evaluate them by how internally conflicted we feel about them?

So, lets take a look at what scripture actually says on the topic. The following is a brief survey, based on the kind of language used by the Zen promoters in Christian circles.

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10, KJV)
Incidentally, it’s the title of one of my favorite choruses.

Consider what it actually says. The NASB renders “be still” as “cease striving”, but the Hebrew simply states “cease”, “drop” or “abandon” (הרפו / harpu, see!bible/Psalms+46).

The translators did not miss the boat here, because the meaning of the Hebrew word for “cease” comes out of its context; the Psalmist observes the restlessness of the heathen, and the turmoil of life, and points the believer to the sure refuge of God. As we all know, a castle on a hill cannot be moved (unlike, say, a tent), so, according to the Psalm, what we need to do for our security is to stay in it. The heathen, by contrast, were always trying this or trying that, running around restlessly looking for safe ground.

The metaphors and typology of the Psalm are exquisite, and the message is profound; you will find refuge and our rest in God, so don’t try to find it somewhere else. He, not our internal state of mind, is the fixed point, the rock on which we stand. So, be still and know that (however you might feel about it, or whatever your internal experience of it might be) the God of Jacob is your refuge.

The still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12, KJV )
The story goes that, after defeating the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah runs away and hides in a cave. Elijah, evidently, is your quintessential anti-hero. God comes to Elijah and asks him what’s going on. Elijah, despite the overwhelming vindication of God at Carmel, is depressed because he thinks he’s the only one of his generation who sees God. God needs to teach him something.

First, God sent a wind, but God was not in the wind.

Then God sent an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake.

Then God sent a fire, but God was not in the fire.

Then came a still, small voice, and Elijah was ashamed because God had spoken to him.

It’s a beautiful story and it tells us that God does indeed speak to us.

What I find remarkable is that after hearing the still small voice, Elijah expresses exactly the same anxiety as he did before (1 Kings 19:14 is a verbatim repeat of 1 Kings 19:10, the only difference being the substitution of “because” for “for” in the King James Version, but the Hebrew is identical). The difference is that after hearing the voice, Elijah has an answer, or a plan of action, which he then executes.

Consider Elijah’s state of mind when the still small voice came to him. I would not call it “calm”. It looks obvious to me that Elijah is being torn by internal anger, conflict and anxiety, which is why he goes and hides in a cave. My point is that this is the state of mind in which God comes and speaks to him. It is good news for us, because it means that we don’t have to foster an internal Zen-like calm before God speaks to us.

Let this cup pass from me (Matthew 26:39)
This is not a favorite of the Zen promoters. I strongly suggest they spend more time thinking about this than their favorite slogans.

The story here is that Jesus is praying on the night before he will die. He knows what is coming. Matthew describes him as “grieved and distressed” (Matthew 26:37). The good news is that Jesus, being fully and wholly human, is reacting to the situation in an absolutely normal human way. He is reacting the same way you would if you knew that in the morning, you would be publicly humiliated, have the skin flogged off your back, and then you would be impaled on a scaffold and left to die of exposure or asphyxiation in public as your tormentors watched to ensure that they would win.

At this point in time, under these circumstances and in his present frame of mind, was Jesus filled with the spirit?

Emphatically, yes.

We need some theology to explain why. Jesus Christ is both fully and wholly human all the time, and fully and wholly God all the time. How could God not be filled with himself? If you try to take the Holy Ghost out of Jesus in Gethsemane, you start down the short, broad road to the classic heresies.

Incidentally, I wonder if the contentions that Athanasius and the other Church Fathers had with the heretics crystallized on this issue; the followers of Arius believed his story because it felt right, whereas Athanasius stuck doggedly to what the scriptures said.

Consider this: Christ was filled with the Holy Ghost whilst experiencing unbearable internal conflict, grief and distress. Why then, do we insist that the sign of the Spirit’s indwelling is an internal calm. Does God operate differently with us than He did with Jesus? Emphatically, no.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15)
At first glance, this appears to support the idea of the millpond mind.

Except, that is not what Paul is writing about. What Paul is writing about is actual or potential conflict between believers in the Christian community. The context is so important, it’s worth repeating in full;

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Colossians 3:12-17

In this passage, Paul anticipates conflict in the Christian community, and he gives us the perspective and tools to deal with it.

Why is it about conflict? Because Paul writes to a situation where believers need to “bear” one another, and “forgive” one another. They would not need to do so if all they did was sit in a circle and gaze at their navels. These were people who interacted with each other in a human way, and they evidently didn’t always get it right and they didn’t always agree.

The cults make much capital over the apparent disagreements in Christendom. Their mistake, which is repeated too often among Christians who should know better, is that they substitute the unity of Christ’s community with cultural or ideological hegemony. The message of the Gospel, by contrast, is that Christ’s Kingdom is made up of all sorts of people, from every tribe and nation.

In Colossians, Paul gives us the outlook to deal with conflict in the believing community. He lays down the foundation for our relationships; we should take on an attitude that is remarkably Christ-like and highly attractive. It’s based on a whole raft of classic virtues, which are bound together by love. It is in this context that Paul writes about the peace of Christ in our hearts. So, what he is writing about is something that dwells in the space between us as we interact with those with whom we might not ordinarily or voluntarily interact in a way that benefits them.

Then, Paul gives us the tools for the job. His toolkit starts with the word of Christ, and includes teaching, admonishing, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (we’re back to the role of worship music here), which are all applied with a spirit of thankfulness to God.

We ought to be thankful to God because these people, who might have offended or wronged us, are still beautifully made in the image of God. However much the ravages of sin have disfigured the image of God in every human being, they can never erase it, and that gives us cause to rejoice for even the foulest of sinners, including me.

What Paul’s toolkit does not include is my internal impulses; Paul does not list any criteria related to the state of my internal experience. And, it’s for good reason. As I have written previously, the Gospel of the New Testament trumps the Jesus of our imagination with the Jesus of the Flesh.

Finally, though Paul writes about how we should deal with others, can we rightly apply the same strategy to ourselves? Emphatically, yes. Should I treat myself any differently than anybody else? Emphatically, no.

If the Gospel is true for them, it is also true for me, and for everybody. If I can bear and forgive someone else for his or her conflict, why can’t I bear and forgive myself? I should accept that I will not always get it right, and I will not always agree (not even with myself), but it is Christ who reconciles me and gives me room to live, just as He reconciles all in His new creation.

Good News to Those In Conflict
So, the message about the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts is good news to those in conflict. It means that we don’t have to react to situations in ways that are not normally human. You can be internally conflicted, and still be filled with the Holy Spirit, and still hear the voice of God.

The bad news for those who don’t experience conflict internally or externally is that it is not normally human. This is a real problem because Christ inhabits a space that is populated by normal humans, the first of which is Himself.

For a better and more comprehensive exploration of this issue, I highly recommend Professor Phillip Cary’s book Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do (because they are not in the Bible)

May Jesus Christ draw our vision away from an unhealthy preoccupation with our own internal state of mind, and may we fix our eyes on Him, who is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

(Originally posted on the “MartinOf Brisbane” website. Reprinted with permission.)


O Spirit of God,
Help my infirmities;

When I am pressed down with a load of sorrow,
perplexed and knowing not what to do, slandered and persecuted,
made to feel the weight of the cross,
help me, I pray thee.

If thou seest in me
any wrong thing encouraged,
any evil desire cherished,
any delight that is not thy delight,
any habit that grieves thee,
any nest of sin in my heart,
then grant me the kiss of thy forgiveness,
and teach my feet to walk the way of
thy commandments.

Deliver me from carking care,
and make me a happy, holy person;

Help me to walk the separated life with firm and brave step,
and to wrestle successfully against weakness;

Teach me to laud, adore,
and magnify thee,
with the music of heaven,

And make me a perfume of praiseful gratitude
to thee.

I do not crouch at thy feet as a slave before a tyrant,
but exult before thee as a son with a father.

Give me power to live as thy child in all my actions,
and to exercise sonship by conquering self.

Preserve me from the intoxication that comes
of prosperity;

Sober me when I am glad with a joy that comes
not from thee.

Lead me safely on to the eternal kingdom,
not asking whether the road be rough or smooth.

I request only to see the face of him I love,
to be content with bread to eat,
with raiment to put on,
if I can be brought to thy house in peace.

(from “The Valley of Vision” devotional)

by Tim
Over the past 180 years the Evangelical world has had two primary missions in response to Mormonism. The first was to protect our own sheep, the second was to call Mormons to repentance and motivate them to join the fellowship of true believers. These were both accomplished by pointing out the heresies inherent in Mormonism and by drawing questions to the trustworthiness of Joseph Smith and Mormon origins. I hope to persuade that the time is now upon us to consider a new approach to Mormonism. I do not wish to criticize the way we have historically approached Mormonism. On the contrary I think the two overall missions have been praiseworthy and Biblically motivated. I do not by any means think that Mormonism stands with historic, orthodox Christianity. I do not think the LDS church teaches truth in regards toward the nature of God. I think the LDS church draws the majority of those it teaches away from the Gospel as taught by Jesus and his apostles. I do not think that Joseph Smith bears the marks of a trustworthy prophet. Despite my continued stance against Mormonism it’s becoming clear to me that a new set of circumstances is now upon us. The signs of a new season are showing and we need to pause for a moment and consider our efforts and the allocation of our resources.

A New Day
We are entering a new day. The world of Mormonism has changed significantly in the seven years in which I’ve explored it. As many have observed, the internet has sparked an information revolution. Materials are widely available and the ability to collaborate and unify with like-minded people has increased tremendously. This has had a tremendous effect on traditional Mormon debates. I’m flabbergasted to see faithful Mormons agree with Evangelicals on the facts of such things as the Kinderhook Plates and the Adam-God theory much less Joseph Smith’s Polyandry and his non-translation of the Kirkland Egyptian Papers. The focus of the debates has changed from “is it true” to “does it matter”. That is a monumental shift.

In addition, non-traditional Mormon voices are beginning to form and they are being heard. The censoring of the “September Six” is not likely to happen in today’s environment. If such an attempt were made by Mormon authorities it would not go well for them. In many ways such efforts would only make those “un-correlated” voices more clearly heard because the controversy would add attention to their work. Grant Palmer was correct when he predicted that church discipline would only increase sales of his book “Insider’s View on Mormon Origins”. Many disaffected and “New Order” Mormons may even hope for church discipline as they continue to speak out on a number of topics.

In many ways our concerns about Mormon origins and the character of Joseph Smith are being carried further and farther by those still inside the church. Ex-Mormons, New Order Mormons, Disaffected Mormons and even some BYU professors and other faithful Mormons are carrying this message forward. Their words about these concerns travel further and farther because it is often wrapped in the package of “Mormon” rather than Evangelical. A perceived friend is more trusted than a perceived enemy.

For many reasons we Evangelicals have been viewed as the enemy. We are not at fault for all of those reasons. Mormonism began with a strong polemic against traditional Christianity and hasn’t let up. In addition we have a Biblical mandate to defend against false doctrines and false prophets. We’ve been correct in taking a stand against the false ideas Joseph Smith presented. Sadly that stand has not always been carried out in love. Evangelicals who think it is appropriate to literally slam their doors on Mormons or in any other way treat them inhospitably have not been the best example of the love of Christ. Those that have intentionally exaggerated or misconstrued Mormon beliefs have given Mormons plenty of reason to view our message and our intentions skeptically. But reasons and motivations for the animosity aside; we need to recognize that the way Mormons perceive us stands in the way of our hope to carry the true Gospel forward. I think we need a new strategy and I think the time to aggressively change modes is now.

Why Change Now
Recently Elder Marlin K. Jensen conducted a Q&A at Utah State University. In that session Elder Jensen stated:

“The fifteen men really do know, and they really care. And they realize that maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now; largely over these issues.”

This statement isn’t all that revealing in terms of the suspected number of people who are now losing their faith in Mormonism (whether they officially resign or remain members is another topic). What’s remarkable about this statement is that it’s being stated by Elder Jensen, Church Historian and a member of the Quorum of the 70. The real news in his statement is that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the 12 are aware that people are losing faith and they are aware of what is causing them to lose faith. That Elder Jensen states this in any kind of public forum is significant. The effects of this apostasy are being felt. In addition the LDS church’s growth rate in the United States is hovering somewhere near its birth rate (which is also dropping). Finally, Generation Y is less committed to the faith of their parents than any generation before it. I do not believe that any sort of significant change will take place within the LDS church to change these trends. The church is too bureaucratic and too invested to make a significant risk that may backfire. In addition the age of the leadership does not incline them to take risks. At best the church will make apologetic answers from unofficial resources such as FAIR more broadly available. But I do not believe this will stem the tide.

People discover questions that threaten the LDS church from search engines not from Gospel Doctrine classes. Those same search engines are already providing these apologetic answers and they are proving to be largely ineffective. Publishing these answers in a manual is only taking a step backwards in technology. Additionally, providing answers in official venues has a double edge, publishing these questions under the church seal reveals them to members who are already disinclined from reading anything that is not officially published by the church.

I predict in the next 20 years there will be a radical shift within the LDS church. If Mitt Romney becomes President that shift may occur sooner (due to heightened media scrutiny). Many people will leave the Salt Lake branch either because they no longer believe the message or because they believe the church is making compromises that it shouldn’t make. We’ve already seen the pattern of this behavior in the Community of Christ and the Worldwide Church of God.

In that sort of environment the LDS church will need friends. Many may be glad to see the organization crumble and hope for its entire evaporation. I do not. I believe the organization of the LDS church can be separated from the heresies of Mormonism. There is much good in the organization and in the people of the LDS church. What doesn’t directly conflict with the authentic Gospel of Jesus should be preserved if at all possible. Jesus is out to make all things new.

If you disagree with me about the organization, I still think it would be appropriate for you to consider changing strategies. Your Mormon friends and neighbors in this time of change will need friends. I’m alarmed and discouraged by the great many ex-Mormons who become secular agnostics or atheists. This is in part the bad fruit of Mormonism. As the saying goes; “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Another part of this is the rising cultural shift toward secularism. A third part has to do with the way Evangelicals are perceived by Mormons. We are rarely viewed as helpful or friendly by Mormons. In our efforts to stand strongly against heresy we’ve become viewed as the opposition. For many in the midst of a crisis of faith the idea of joining in worship with Evangelicals is immediately rejected because of the preconditioned view Mormons have of Evangelicals. A Mormon missionary in distress is not likely to seek out a Protestant minister for help. Again, this isn’t entirely our fault, but perception is the reality that we must deal with. We must make an extra effort to overcome perception. We must do what we can to help Mormons see us as a friendly and helpful face in the midst of a faith crisis.

A New Strategy
For these reasons I believe we need a new strategy. I think we need to largely abandon our role in exposing Joseph Smith and Mormon origins. As I’ve mentioned, I think this work will continue at the hands of Mormons and will have greater traction than anything we could hope to produce. The role “Rough Stone Rolling” has had in changing the tone of the debate should be evidence enough. Terryl Givens has a forth coming book on the evolution and progression of Mormon doctrines. This book will undoubtedly challenge the notion that many Mormon doctrines have been static. Works such as these will continue to erode the traditional Mormon narrative. Our best efforts at expose’ can’t do better than these in terms of effectively demonstrating the LDS church to not be what it historically has claimed to be. The era of Joseph Smith being viewed as a trustworthy figure is closing one internet search result at a time both inside and outside the church.

Instead I think we need to focus on explaining how and why we live out our faith. Many of us have effectively learned how to communicate and frame language in a way that Mormons are familiar with. We need to talk more about the advantages of grace over legalism. We need to proclaim the heart of living solely in the New Covenant. We need to explain better the beauty we see in the Trinity. We need to talk more openly about our own struggles in faith and how we overcame them. We need to better explain appropriate hermeneutics. We need to explain clearly what we mean by “inerrant” and how that differs from “literal”. We need to more boldly proclaim our confidence that the Bible was transmitted throughout history reliably. Many are already doing all of these things, but we need to step up these messages at the expense of talking less about Joseph Smith.

Rest assured, Joseph Smith is being talked about and will continue to be talked about. But don’t spoil your future witness by leading with his failures. Continue to resist his influence. Boldly state when asked about him that you think he’s a false prophet. But don’t get into details. If you are asked for details share them slowly and cautiously. Be confident that everything you know can and will be discovered. The heart of your message is not the bad fruit of Joseph Smith, the heart of your message is the hope that lives within you. Stick to your message. Instead of making you and your ministry the place Mormons become disenfranchised with their faith become the place where they can safely ask “what’s next”. Become a recovery center for the spiritually wounded rather than an artillery range against Joseph Smith. Though some are still converted to Mormonism, the LDS church is not the threat it once was and mostly likely never will be again. I wouldn’t want even a single Evangelical converted into Mormonism but I don’t believe guarding our sheep needs to be our chief focus any longer.

Some may be tempted to disregard what I’m saying. I’ll be branded by some as a compromiser. I can assure you I am not compromising. Instead I’m calling us to see what even the Mormon apostles recognize; the times have changed. We have a new mission. Let us recognize that our battle is not against Mormon flesh and blood but rather Mormon powers and principalities.

Begin your transition. It’s time to be spiritual healers. It’s time to be pastors. Let us no longer erect bulwarks against those lost to Mormonism. Let us now build bridges for those Mormonism has lost.

NOTE: I think the “Transitions” study produced by Western Institute for Intercultural Studies is a great start. Let’s build on it.

NOTE #2: These survey results were posted shortly after I posted this article. They illuminate more on why Mormons become disaffected.

(reposted with permission from the LDS and Evangelical Conversations website)