by Fred W. Anson
On his May 20, 2014 Heart of the Matter broadcast Shawn McCraney read the follow email from “Michelle”:
He then spent about 6-minutes (from 6:42-13:01 in the broadcast) using this email as validation for his rebellion against Christian orthodoxy and as a soapbox to (in his typical backhanded, thinly veiled manner) rail at his critics from. In the end, I don’t think that Michelle’s questions and issues were addressed and I think that they deserve and need to be – so here’s my response:
Let me first say, “I get it!” I was in a Mind Control Cult for 13-years so I know how confusing and challenging transitioning out of one can be. Further, when one is leaving an authoritarian group it’s natural to feel stung and not want to trust authority figures – that is, any authority figure – again. And like Mormonism my group was filled with formal and informal rules too so I can certainly appreciate your apprehension about them. And, of course, when you’ve been deceived by false teachings and white washed, spin doctored versions of the group’s history it’s only natural to be on “high alert” when approaching a new church.
It took me 4-years of searching before I found a good church family and I made some bad turns into some groups with less than sterling doctrine and practices during that time. I’ve come to find out that for those of us coming out of cults this is actually pretty normal. In my case, I went from a large authoritarian Mind Control Cult (The Shepherding Movement) that was being run by a bunch of experienced, mature, controlling old dudes to a mainstream denominational church was that essentially being run “man behind the curtain” style by a false prophetess and then to a small authoritarian church that was being run by a bunch of inexperienced, immature, controlling young dudes.
Can someone say, “Ouch?” Well we could, but since it’s so common for cultists to leave one errant or abusive group only to find themselves in another one, perhaps it would be better to say, “We have met the enemy and it is us!”
SAME MOTH, NEW FLAME
The reason why we former cultists are so prone to this type of error Michelle is because the past – whether we realize it or not – feels comfortable to us. As a result we’re drawn to the old and familiar like a moth to a flame – so we tend to be same moth, new flame. That’s why I find your attraction to Shawn McCraney so concerning.
Michelle, I would ask you to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and think about what Shawn McCraney’s has been saying in both in concept and in words lately:
- That Christian churches who adhere to historic Christian orthodoxy are wrong.
- Their creeds are an abomination in God’s sight.
- Their professors are all corrupt and motivated by things other than the truth.
- They’re treating Shawn’s communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, even saying it may be of the devil.
- As a result, there’s prejudice against Shawn among these corrupt, self-interested professors of religion.
- And that all the above is the cause of a great persecution of Shawn.
- Further, his circumstances in life are such as to make Shawn of no real consequence in the world.
- Yet despite all this men of high standing are taking notice sufficient to excite the public mind against him.
- But Shawn has an inner witness that he can’t deny, lest he offend God and come under condemnation.
- And so he continues to bring forth new revelations week after week after week.
Sound familiar? Yes, I’ve used Joseph Smith’s 1838 First Vision account as my template in describing Shawn’s basic, recurring message but I’ve done so because the shoe fits. Tell me, is there anything is that list that doesn’t match the themes and principles Shawn has been teaching lately?
Thus I found this assessment particularly astute and to the point:
“… a former Mormon, he is mainly targeting other former Mormons and disaffected Mormons. Without a ‘nod to Joseph,’ he is playing on their ingrained prejudices and leading them into another counterfeit of Biblical Christianity. Mormonism is often categorized as a Christian cult, because it primarily targets those from a Christian background. You don’t see many Mormons trying to evangelize Muslims. Similarly, Shawn is targeting those from a Mormon background. This is why I would loosely call it a Mormon splinter group.”
Further, have you noticed how Shawn launches pre-emptive strikes against his critics? Joseph Smith did that too didn’t he Michelle?
In fact, essentially wasn’t that the gist of how he responded to your email on the air? Of course it was couched in terms of how you will be subjected to the same “persecution” that he has if you continue to “seek truth” in the same deaf, stubborn, rebellious, rogue, and obstinate “wild ass” (his description of himself at “Inquisition 2014”) fashion that he has. Make no mistake about it Michelle, he was only talking to you tangentially – his real audience was his critics. And in the end, didn’t it all seem and sound something like this:
“Our religious principles are before the world ready for the investigation of all men, yet we are aware that all the persecution against our friends has arisen in consequence of calumnies and misconstructions without foundation in truth and righteousness. This we have endured in common with all other religious societies at their first commencement.”
— Joseph Smith, 1836
Yes, it’s all very “Joseph Smith” isn’t it Michelle? I would ask you to think about that.
BECOMING A NEW MOTH
Michelle, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until I began to change my way of thinking and became willing to consider getting outside of my comfort zone that I broke out of those old cult ways of thinking, evaluating, discerning, and behaving and finally got knit into a healthy, functional, Biblical church family. I would encourage you to do the same.
Now I know that you may not realize it but your email displayed some pretty strong Mormon tendencies. For example, in Mormonism defining and establishing the essential doctrine of the faith is pretty much impossible since they can change at any time. That’s why Joseph Smith was able to write “scripture” that was pretty much aligned with orthodox 19th Century Protestantism (the Book of Mormon, The Lectures on Faith, The Joseph Smith Translation) but then utterly contradict it with heresy old and new in what followed (The Book of Commandments, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price). It’s why polygamy can be denied in one prophetic regime, an essential practice required for exaltation in the next, publicly abandoned (but still secretly practiced) a few years later, and then grounds for excommunication just a little over a decade later. It’s why at first a trinitarian God can be taught, followed by a modalistic god, who’s finally followed by a pantheon of henotheistic gods. It was once even taught that Adam is God in Mormonism. All this begs the question, “What’s next in Mormon theology?” And the fact of the matter is that nobody knows isn’t it?
My point is that in Mormonism the idea of adherence to a fixed set of essential doctrines of the faith is a foreign (perhaps even discomforting) concept. Exhibit A of this would be so-called “Cafeteria Mormonism” in which as long as one toes the lie publicly to the current set of doctrine, privately one can believe whatever one wants to. That’s why the old joke about how one could talk to ten different Mormons about what they believe walk away thinking that they’re all in ten different churches is so poignant. Michelle, I can even tell you about unbelieving Latter-day Saint atheists whose private apostasy was known to their bishop but he still allowed them to practice callings as Gospel Doctrine and/or Priesthood Quorum teachers because they “played the game” publicly.
With Biblical Christianity this isn’t the case – there is an established set of essential doctrines that one must privately believe in and publicly confess in order to be considered a Christian. And it’s the Bible itself that establishes and reveals those doctrines. Groups that deviate from those essential doctrines are known as cults and those who teach doctrine contrary to them are known as false teachers, or even heretics. That’s why Christians can say with authority that Mormonism is a cult and Joseph Smith a false teacher and a heretic. It’s also why we can declare Shawn McCraney’s false, unbiblical teachings heretical as well.
SAY HELLO TO BOUNDARIES
Biblical Christianity has boundaries Michelle. As the Apostle Peter said, “… no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20 KJV) and as a Christian you are joining a community of Spirit filled saints that for over 2,000 years has read, loved, struggled with, and sought God over the correct interpretation of His written revelation of Himself to man. Michelle, we’re all fallen sinners prone to error and the great “cloud of witnesses” (the one that Hebrews 12:1 describes) can be of great value and benefit in guiding us in sound Biblical interpretation if we’ll listen to them through their creeds, sermons, writings, and lives. In fact even their flaws, foibles, follies, and mistakes can be instructive! No, Church History isn’t the Bible but it’s important. After all, as Elizabeth Browning said well:
“Always learn from experience – preferably someone else’s”
Further, the Bible is clear that we also need to be in a part of and accountable to the living community of saints:
“…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
(Ephesians 5:21 NLT)
“…encourage one another and build one another up…”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
(Acts 2:42 ESV)
“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints…”
(1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV)
That’s why I found your statements about “having this war against rules” and your praise for Shawn McCraney’s “explanation of culture” troubling. Michelle, like it or not the Bible is full of rules. So there’s nothing wrong with rules as long as they’re biblical is there? Further, Shawn McCraney’s explanation of culture is nothing more than a contrived, unbiblical rationalization for his own rebellion, teaching of heresy, and leading others into dangerous error. Once again, it’s just Joseph Smith all over again isn’t it?
It’s my prayer that you will reconsider your stance on both because I must respectfully say that you’re not showing much insight, wisdom, or discernment on either of them. Yes, I know that the Mormon Church and other cults misuse and abuse spiritual authority, submission, and accountability so this may not be want you want to hear right now. And I know that due to the overbearing legalism of Mormonism you may find what I have to say next hard to believe, but the Bible tells us that mutual accountability and submission to one another is for our own protection due to our fallen nature and propensity to sin:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
(Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
(Proverbs 27:17 ESV)
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)
Shawn McCraney is a great example of what happens when a Christian rebels against spiritual authority and refuses to listen to other wiser, more mature, experienced Christians. As James White said well of Shawn, “He does not realize that the people who are showing him the greatest love are the people who are warning him, ‘You’re goin’ down the wrong road!”
SOME FINAL ADVICE
So Michelle, my final advice to you is this:
- Ignore Shawn McCraney’s bad, unBiblical advice and teachings.
- Be courageous in rethinking your Mormon comfort zone and presuppositions.
- Find a good Church where the Bible is the final authority and is regularly taught.
- Be humble.
- Be teachable.
- Be in community.
- Be accountable.
On that third note (and so you don’t go through too much culture shock all at once while you’re transitioning) I would recommend that you try to find a church that’s in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. I make this recommendation because the Mormon Chapel liturgy was “borrowed” from the 19th Century Methodist church. Specifically, that means finding and attending a Methodist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, or Holiness church. And I would recommend that you stick with the “Traditional” (rather than the “Contemporary”) service as it’s closest to the 19th Century style liturgy that you’re familiar with in the Mormon Church.
Again, the most important thing with any church that you attend is that they love, respect, teach, and obey the Bible. Never the less, all too often transitioning Mormons are off-put by modern expressions of worship that are too far afield from the traditional Latter-day Saint Chapel service. If you want to try or move on to a different, more contemporary type of corporate worship later it’s up to you but I would recommend that you stick with the traditional “Methodist style” until you find your “sea legs” in modern mainstream Christianity.
And if you need help in finding a good church just let me know – I’ll be happy to help you out.
I hope that this helps Michelle and may God richly bless you in your quest to find a new church family outside of Mormonism. I (and I’m sure many others) will be praying for you.
 Daniel Jason Wallace in the “Evangelicals Discussing Mormonism” Facebook Group.
 There are many, many, many examples of Joseph Smith’s public posturing and pre-emptive strikes against critics. Please consider these merely a sample:
“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam…Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet”
(History of the Church, vol. 6, p.408-409)
“If you tell them that God made the world out of something, they will call you a fool. But I am learned, and know more than all the world put together”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.350-352).
“…how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age…should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was…I have thought since that I felt much like Paul”
(from Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:23-24).
“God made Aaron to be the mouthpiece for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead…and if you don’t like it, you must lump it!”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.363).
“I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is…God himself was once as we are now and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret…I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.345)
 History of the Church, vol. 2, p.460; from a letter from Joseph Smith and others to John Thornton and others, July 25, 1836, Kirtland, Ohio, published in Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1836, p.358.
And if you would like to read even more examples of how Joseph Smith used, and how the LdS Church still uses, this tactic of demonizing critics in order to alienate followers from them, please see “Teaching of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith”, Chapter 32. This is a common Mind Control Cult tactic Michelle – all cults do it.
 In a nutshell the Essential Doctrines of the Christian faith are:
1) The Deity of Jesus Christ
Jesus is eternal God who incarnated Himself as a man. He is fully God and fully man.
2) Salvation by Grace alone through faith
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast,”
(Eph. 2:8-9, NIV).
“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace”
This verse and its context plainly teach that if you believe that you are saved by faith and works then you are not saved at all. (Read Rom. 3-5 and Gal. 3-5)
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” (1 Cor. 15:14). “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,”
(1 Cor. 15:17).
To deny the physical resurrection is to deny that Jesus’ work was a satisfactory offering to God the Father. It would mean that Jesus was corrupt and needed to stay in the grave. But, he did not stay because his sacrifice was perfect.
These verses clearly state that if you say that Jesus did not rise from the dead (in the same body He died in — John 2:19-21), then your faith is useless.
4) The Gospel
The gospel message which in its entirety is that Jesus is God in flesh, who died for sins, rose from the dead, and freely gives the gift of eternal life to those who believe. Furthermore, it would not be possible to present the gospel properly without declaring that Jesus is God in flesh per John 1:1,14; 10:30-33; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 1:8.
There is only one God in all existence (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8; 45:5,14,18,21,22; 46:9; 47:8)
A fuller discussion of these essential doctrines of the faith can be found in Theologian Matt Slick’s superb “Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith”. I used Mr. Slick’s article for this brief endnote primer and for portions of the main article above.
 James White, “Ukraine, Hyper-Calvinism, David Allen, Shawn McCraney, and More!”; March 6th, 2014, at time stamp 1:09:00.
 By the way, a good Christian Mormons in Transition group or program can be very helpful here. If you can’t find a good one in your area, please consider the Institute of Religious Research’s online transition support group.