Archive for the ‘Fred Anson’ Category

TheCharismaticsFrontCover_EDITEDReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective
Author: John F. MacArthur, Jr.
Publisher: Zondervan
Genre: Nonfiction, Religion
Year Published: 1978
Length: 224 pages
Binding: Hardcover, Paperback
ISBN10: 0310284902
ISBN13: 978-0310284901
Price: $12.99 (Hardcover),  $9.95 (Trade Paperback)

While it may be hard to believe now, this nearly forty-year-old book was the first crack in the dike for the flood that was to follow 14-years later in “Charismatic Chaos” (308 pages, circa 1992), and then the tsunami that hit 21-years later in  “Strange Fire” (352 pages, circa 2013). Never the less, the only things that have really changed in the ensuing years and various editions (of essentially the same book) are: a) the people and movements that Mr. MacArthur snipes at; b) the increasingly shrill tone that came with each new offering, and; c) the length and breadth of the polemic – it keeps getting longer and wider. Given all that, a better title for this book would have been, “The Charismatics: A Polemic Perspective”. In fact, Timothy George (the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University) could have been talking about this book when he wrote:

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

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

I’ve been Charismatic since 1976 so this book brings back memories good and bad. What’s addressed here is as much a part of my personal history as they are threads in the tapestry of Christian church history as a whole. However, like MacArthur, I was more an observer than a direct participant. The reason for that is simple: The movements, places, and personalities that MacArthur criticizes (often rightly) in this work were all considered on the lunatic fringe back in the day. We moderate, theologically conservative, Charismatics avoided the likes of Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman, and the first generation TBN crowd then just as surely as we avoid Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and new generation TBN crowd today.

Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda (CA) in the late 1970's. This congregation later left Calvary Chapel and became the first Vineyard Church.

Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda (California) in the late 1970’s. This congregation later left Calvary Chapel and became the first Vineyard Church.

I would echo the words of Joseph Mattera (Presiding Bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York) when he said, “As a believer with a Pentecostal experience since 1978 I have seen many genuine moves of God as well as many counterfeit works of the flesh. Unfortunately, many believers lack the discernment to tell the difference between what is of God and what originates with man.” (Joseph Mattera, “Ten Marks of Charismaniacs”, Spirit Life Magazine, September 26, 2013)

So, given that, why is it that John MacArthur presents these errant, fanatical “out there” Charismaniacs as the norm in this book while simultaneously misrepresenting or outright ignoring the theologically sound and conservative Charismatics that comprised the core of the movement at that time? For example, after giving some examples of Charismatic excesses (a lady who claimed that God “healed” her flat tire and a woman who claimed that she had taught her dog to praise the Lord in an unknown bark) MacArthur makes this claim:

Granted, both of these examples are bizarre. Perhaps it unfair to characterize the Charismatic movement with illustrations like these. I wish that were true. I wish these two examples are rare, but they are not. And the reason they are not is that in the Charismatic ranks no experience has to stand the test of Scripture. The Charismatics, by the nature of their theological persuasion, have no way to judge or stop bizarre testimonies of experience because the experience validates itself. Instead of checking someone’s experience against the Bible for validity, the Charismatic tries to get the Bible to fit the experience, or, failing that, he just ignores the Bible.
(John F. MacArthur, Jr., “The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective”, pp.58-59, italics retained from original)

Indeed, Mr. MacArthur, it is unfair. This is nothing like the kind of normative Charismatic behavior and theology that the aforementioned Joseph Mattera articulates so well in his article:

Isaiah 8:20 says if we speak not according to the scripture then we have no light. Second Timothy 3:16 teaches that all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, correction and for training in righteousness. The scriptures are our rule for life and the highest standard for judging truth…

The more sure word of prophecy comes from the inspired writings of the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments, which should be our guiding light for life (2 Peter 1:19-21) and by which all prophetic utterances should be judged. If the prophetic word or supernatural vision doesn’t go against the scriptures, then we still need to pray and get a witness from the Lord in our spirit as well as get counsel from mature leaders as to whether this specific prophetic word or vision is really specific guidance from Him.
(Op cit, Joseph Mattera, “Ten Marks of Charismaniacs”)

A period photograph of Melodyland Christian Center, Anaheim, CA. The inset is of Pastor Ralph Wilkerson. This church was ground zero for much of the good and bad of this period of the Charismatic Movement.

A period photograph of Melodyland Christian Center, Anaheim, CA. The inset is of Pastor Ralph Wilkerson. This church was ground zero for much of the good and the bad that went on in the Charismatic Movement during this period.

But if that misleading misrepresentation isn’t enough, later in the book MacArthur presents the following as something that Charismatics would object to rather than affirm:

“From the time of the apostles until the present, the true church has believed the Bible is complete. God has given His revelation is finished. What He gave is complete, efficient, sufficient, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative.”
(Op cit, MacArthur, “The Charismatics”, p.25)

He then proceeds to construct this straw man argument:

“Although Charismatics will deny that they are trying to add to Scripture, their views on prophetic utterance, gifts of prophecy, and revelation really do just that. As they add – however unwittingly – to God’s final revelation, they undermine the uniqueness and authority of the Bible. New revelation, dreams, and visions come to be binding on the believer’s conscience as the Book of Romans or the Gospel of John.” 
(Ibid)

Well, Mr. MacArthur, I’m sure that I’m not the first to say, “That is utter nonsense!” and I’m sure that I won’t be the last. This is a complete caricature of how I and most Charismatics that I know treat prophecy, dreams, and visions. Rather, Mr. MacArthur, it’s quite simple: If any new revelation, dream, or vision contradicts the Bible it is promptly and completely thrown out as illegitimate. Period. Always has been, always will be.

Equally upsetting is how Mr. MacArthur incorrectly and flippantly dismisses the normative Charismatic stance in this area as if it’s irrelevant:

“Some Charismatics would say that people misunderstand what they mean by prophetic utterance and new revelation. No effort is made to change Scripture or even equal it. What is happening is the ‘clarifying of Scripture’ as it is applied or directed to a contemporary setting, such as the prophecy of Agabus in Acts 11:28.”
(Ibid)

Yes, Mr. MacArthur, exactly! We are indeed just doing what Agabus was doing in Acts 11:28 (NKJV) …

“Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.”

… and then again in Acts 21:10-11 (NKJV):

“as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, /Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'”

Faith healer Oral Roberts and Elvis Presley circa 1974. You can't get more "70's" than this!

Faith healer Oral Roberts and Elvis Presley circa 1974. You can’t get more “70’s” than this folks!

Why is this a problem? Do you believe the Bible is authoritative or don’t you sir? If so, then why do you disobey the apostolic injunction that clearly states: Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, NKJV) Was Luke errant in recording Agabus’ words and behavior as a model for New Testament ecclesiology? Was Paul negligent in not reproving Luke and Agabus for their folly? And was Paul a fool for admonishing the Thessalonians to continue in the error of Agabus?

And so it goes in this book. Straw man after straw man. Logical fallacy after logical fallacy. Misrepresentation after misrepresentation. Exaggeration, misstatement, imbalance, data mined propaganda, confirmation bias driven presuppositionalism, and bigoted, prejudiced condescension from a mind so closed that no logic, reason, or appeal can possibly touch it.1 Page after page MacArthur acts with all the grace, equity, and gentleness of a schoolyard bully. Just consider this “gem” from the chapter on authority:

“Today, with their emphasis on experience, many in the Charismatic movement are perilously close to a type of neo-Baalism! 

It is not too hard to see that experience can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of Satan. Satan delights in getting Christians to emphasize experience and to de-emphasize God’s Word.” 
(Ibid, p. 68)

So there you have it: Charismatics are the new, apostate idol worshipers drawing God’s people from true and pure worship and into syncretistic paganism. And compared to some of the other claims that MacArthur makes in this book, that’s actually tame. Elsewhere we’re told that Charismatics might be demon possessed (see pp.175-179) and their miracles actually the work of Satan masquerading as acts of God (see pp.114-117). Given all that, perhaps Michael Brown’s observation regarding the fruit of MacArthur’s last Anti-Charismatic polemic tome (Strange Fire, 2013) is just as true as his first (The Charismatics, 1978):

John MacArthur circa late 1970's/Early 1980's.

John MacArthur (late 1970’s/early 1980’s)

“The problem I have is that, at least in my admittedly limited observation, some members or follow[er]s of the MacArthur circle suffer from Richard Dawkins syndrome. Dawkins has such contempt for Christianity that he can’t bring himself to take Christianity seriously even for the sake of argument.

And some members/followers of the MacArthur circle reflect the same mindset. They exhibit such unbridled contempt for charismatic theology that they can’t take it seriously even for the sake of argument. They demand evidence, yet they don’t make a good faith effort to be informed. So the objection is circular, given their studied ignorance.

There’s a word for that: prejudice.”
(Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.8; Charisma House. Kindle Edition)

Friends, this isn’t how one talks or reasons with someone that one hopes to lovingly correct. Vineyard Pastor Rich Nathan summed John MacArthur’s Anti-Charismatic behavior well when he said:

“Ultimately it is MacArthur’s rancorous, bombastic style that undermines his objectivity and any value this book may have had as a necessary corrective to excesses or errors in the charismatic, Pentecostal and Third Wave movements. Rabid anti-charismatics will love this book. It provides wonderful sermon illustrations for the already convinced. For those not so zealously anti-charismatic, this book serves only as a painful reminder of the lovelessness that characterizes too much of contemporary Christianity.”
(Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993, p.27)

Stated plainly, given his polemic extremes does Mr. MacArthur really expect anyone not already in his camp to listen to him? Theologian C. Michael Patton (a cessationist and President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries) spoke for many of us when on the advent of the 2013 Strange Fire Conference he suggested that MacArthur’s never-ending stream of polemic rhetoric may be causing him to lose his voice as a Christian leader:

It is irresponsible to criticize the easy targets within a movement. We call this a “straw man” argument. It is when you choose the worst representative you can and argue against him. Of course, with charismatics in popular culture, the easy targets are the “crazies” who get all the air time. Why do they get the air time? Well, it is entertaining for many to watch. And the sensationalism that can come from these abuses is also easy for the non-charismatic to look at and discredit. But think of all the movements which are part of the Christian fold today that could be picked apart because of some abuses and excesses within. The first two that come to mind would be Calvinism and Pretribulationalism. Certainly conferences could be done about both, characterizing each by the worst-of. But how responsible and godly is that? Yes, you may make a qualification at the beginning and the end saying, “Look, I realize that not all Calvinists are arrogant SOBs, but the movement is dangerous. It is filled with monsters who believe God hates unbelievers.” Or, concerning Pretribulationalism, “I know that not all Pretribulationalists are date setters, but the theology is dangerous and produces an unbiblical mentality. It is filled with date-setting and causes people to be unconcerned with this present world.” Of course, these criticisms can be true, but they are not the necessary outcome of their beliefs and, more importantly, they don’t deal honestly with the arguments…

Because of all this, John MacArthur is losing his voice, and I don’t want him to. His reputation dismantles his platform to speak at just about any conference. He has worked himself into a corner where every time he writes a book or opens his mouth, many of us say, “Oh no!” before anything else. His radio program is called “Grace to You” and we are often left thinking “grace to who?”

John MacArthur says the charismatic movement “blasphemes the Holy Spirit” and “attributes to the Holy Spirit even the work of Satan.” Maybe he should think about who is actually attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. I am not a charismatic, but such a statement really scares me. And because of this it would seem (even though the [Strange Fire] conference is sold out) that John MacArthur may be losing his voice.”
(C. Michael Patton, “Why John MacArthur May Be Losing His Voice”, ReclaimingTheMind.org website, October 15, 2013) 

I think that Mr. Patton is right – and it breaks my heart. I love John MacArthur’s body of work. Some of the greatest sermons and best Bible exposition I’ve ever heard have come from his pulpit. And even though I disagree with him in part, I absolutely adore my MacArthur Study Bible for the deep insight and into the biblical text that it contains – it is my “go to” commentary. John MacArthur is not only not my enemy but I consider him a valued ally in preaching the gospel, proclaiming truth, and bringing glory to God alone.

Yet here we are 39-years and two more books later and Mr. MacArthur’s loveless Anti-Charismatic blindness has gotten worse, not better. So despite my respect and admiration for Mr. MacArthur, I suspect, based on the tone of the three highly polemic works that I have read alone, that he couldn’t bring himself to say anything good about me – or think that I have anything of value to add to any conversation –  simply because I’m a Charismatic. While he isn’t my enemy I suspect that in his mind I am his. Folks, that’s just sad, isn’t it?

And the fact remains that this subject seems to be an obsession for Mr. MacArthur. So in another decade or so we can fully expect to see another work from him on the Charismatic movement. I will be praying that between now and then things will change for him (not unlike the Grinch growing a heart) and his stance will at least soften to at least a point of respectful tolerance. Yes, it will take a miracle but we serve a great God – and one who still speaks moves and performs miracles today.

The Melodyland Christian Center (Anaheim, CA) Marque from the late 1970's.

The Melodyland Christian Center (Anaheim, CA) Marque from the late 1970’s.

NOTES
1 Lest the reader think my rhetoric too harsh here please consider this:

First, here’s how John MacArthur cites Charismatic Theologian Gordon Fee in “Charismatic Chaos” the Anti-Charismatic work that followed the one being reviewed here:

“Gordon Fee, a writer who himself is a Charismatic, commented in the hermeneutical difficulties posed by the way Charismatics typically render the book of Acts:

If the primitive church is normative, which expression of it is normative? Jerusalem? Antioch? Philippi? Corinth? That is why do not all the churches sell their possessions and have all things in common. Or further, is it at all legitimate to take any descriptive statements as normative? If so, how does one distinguish those which are from those which are not? For example, must we follow the pattern of Acts 1:26 and select leaders by lot? Just exactly what role does historical precedent play in Christian doctrine or in the understanding of Christian experience?’

But the book Acts was never intended to be a primary basis church doctrine to the church. It records only the earliest days of the church age and shows the church in tradition from the Old Covenant into the New. The apostolic healings and miracles and signs and wonders evident in Acts were not common, even in those days. They were exceptional events, each with a specific purpose, always associated with the ministry of the apostles and their frequency can be seen decreasing dramatically even from the beginning of the book of Acts to the end.”
(John MacArthur, “Charismatic Chaos”, p.208, bolding added on the Gordon Fee cited text)

But here’s what Mr. Fee actually said in it’s full context:

“In defense of Pentecostals, it should be observed that although they have tended to arrive at the biblical norm by way of experience, they are not alone in establishing norms on the basis of historical precedent rather than on the explicit teaching of Scripture. The practice of infant baptism and the theology of its necessity are based first of all on the exegesis of some historical passages in Acts and one in 1 Corinthians (7: 14); they are made normative on the basis of the historical precedent. (Roman Catholic theologians would prefer the word “tradition.”) The Baptists’ insistence on baptism by immersion is based on no clear statement of Scripture, but rather on the exegesis of certain passages (including word study: “to baptize” = “to immerse”) and historical precedent. The partaking of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday is required by some Christians on the basis of historical precedent (Acts 20: 7). Likewise, on the basis of Acts 2: 44– 45 some groups in the Jesus-movement required the selling of possessions and having all things in common. Even such fringe groups as the snake-handlers argue for their distinctive practices partly on the basis of historical precedent (Acts 28: 3– 6).

The hermeneutical problem, therefore, is not unique to Pentecostals. It has to do with the interpretation and appropriation of the historical sections of Scripture. The problem may be posed in several ways. How is the book of Acts the word of God? That is, does it have a word which not only describes the primitive church but speaks as a norm to the church at all times? If there is such a word, how does one discover it, or set up principles in order to hear it? If the primitive church is normative, which expression of it is normative? Jerusalem? Antioch? Philippi? Corinth? That is, why do not all the churches sell their possessions and have all things in common? Or further, is it at all legitimate to take descriptive statements as normative? If so, how does one distinguish those which are from those which are not? For example, must we follow the pattern of Acts 1: 26 and select leaders by lot? Just exactly what role does historical precedent play in Christian doctrine or in the understanding of Christian experience?”
(Gordon D. Fee, “Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics”, (pp.87-88). Baker Publishing Group, bolding added on selection cited by John MacArthur)

Did you notice how Mr. MacArthur has taken a passage that explicitly indicts both cessationists and continuationists for hermenuetics that are ultimately rooted and grounded in experience first bias and data mines it? Specifically he cites only the content that suit his agenda in an out of context manner so that it appears to be an indictment of Charismatics alone when that’s simply not the case.

Second, I would refer the reader to the appendix of my review of “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)” by Rob and Kathy Datsko in which MacArthur also engages in similar data mining and text twisting tactics in an attempt to build a case that there’s a movement of mainstream Charismatic Christians seeking ecumenical unity with tongues speaking Mormons. As I concluded there, directly addressing Mr. MacArthur:

…you knew that these authors were Mormon converts when you dishonestly tried to pass them off as Charismatic Christians didn’t you? So, in a similar manner Mr. MacArthur, no matter how many times you attempt to count the Datskos as Charismatic Christians, zero plus zero still equals zero. Finally, as Kathy Datsko stated plainly in her February 2013 comment, and as I have repeatedly observed myself, Latter-day Saints have absolutely no interest in Pentecostalism and stay as far away from it as possible – they treat it like kryptonite. So in the end Mr. MacArthur your evidence that mainstream Charismatics Christians are seeking closer ecumenical ties with Charismatic Mormons isn’t just exaggerated, it’s non-existent.
(Fred W. Anson, “Book Review: “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)” by Rob and Kathy Datsko”)

Sadly, it’s quite apparent in his Anti-Charismatic work John MacArthur isn’t really interested in truth, balance, or justice. As one reviewer of MacArthur’s third Anti-Charismatic book, “Strange Fire” noted, “Make no mistake about it, MacArthur is not out to bring correction to a sector of Christianity with which he disagrees; his goal is to destroy a movement he considers false, heretical and dangerous.” (Eddie L. Hyatt, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, Reviewed by Eddie L. Hyatt”, The Pneuma Review website, October 23, 2013)

And apparently, if that means using unethical tactics like data mined propaganda generation, then so be it.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

BACK TO TOP

Authorship page from an 1849 European edition of the Book of Mormon

Authorship page from an 1849 European edition of the Book of Mormon

by Bob Betts and Fred Anson
As theologian R.C. Sproul points out, the issue of hell is a critically important, albeit disturbing, one:

No matter how we analyze the concept of hell it often sounds to us as a place of cruel and unusual punishment. If, however, we can take any comfort in the concept of hell, we can take it in the full assurance that there will be no cruelty there. It is impossible for God to be cruel. Cruelty involves inflicting a punishment that is more severe or harsh than the crime. Cruelty in this sense is unjust. God is incapable of inflicting an unjust punishment. The Judge of all the earth will surely do what is right. No innocent person will ever suffer at His hand.
(R.C. Sproul, “What Is Hell?”)

But still, what could possibly be more unsettling than the eternality of hell? As Dr. Sproul goes on to explain:

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of hell is its eternality. People can endure the greatest agony if they know it will ultimately stop. In hell there is no such hope. The Bible clearly teaches that the punishment is eternal. The same word is used for both eternal life and eternal death. Punishment implies pain. Mere annihilation, which some have lobbied for, involves no pain. Jonathan Edwards, in preaching on Revelation 6:15-16 said, “Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they may escape the wrath of God.”

Hell, then, is an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. Understanding this is crucial to our drive to appreciate the work of Christ and to preach His gospel.
(Ibid)

"Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" from "The Book of Mormon The Musical"

“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” from “The Book of Mormon The Musical”

Given this it should probably come as no surprise that many attempt to lessen the disquieting effect of biblical truth. For example, the Mormon religion today claims that hell is not eternal for the vast majority of people. Consider, for example, consider how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describes hell:

Latter-day revelations speak of hell in at least two ways. First, it is another name for spirit prison, a temporary place in the postmortal world for those who died without a knowledge of the truth or those who were disobedient in mortality. Second, it is the permanent location of Satan and his followers and the sons of perdition, who are not redeemed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
(“Hell”, Gospel Topics article, Official LdS Church website)

And as influential Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained in his classic work, “Mormon Doctrine”:

Hell will have an end… After their resurrection, the great majority of those who have suffered in hell will pass into the telestial kingdom; the balance, cursed as sons of perdition, will be consigned to partake of endless wo with the devil and his angels. Speaking of the telestial kingdom the Lord says: “These are they who are thrust down to hell. These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times.” (D. & C. 76:84-85, 106.) As to the sons of perdition, the revelation says that after their resurrection “they shall return again to their own place” (D. & C. 88:32, 102), that is, they shall go back to dwell in the lake of fire with Perdition and his other sons. Thus those in hell “are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth.” (D. & C. 88:101.)

Thus, for those who are heirs of some salvation, which includes all except the sons of perdition (D.&C. 73:44), hell has an end…
(Bruce R. McConkie, “Mormon Doctrine” (Second Edition, 1966), pp.249-251) 

The Book of Mormon and the Eternality of Hell
However, the following Book of Mormon passages speak of the eternality of hell for not only the most wicked but for anyone and everyone who either rejects the gospel of Jesus Christ during their mortal life – who or fails to live up to it’s demands.

An 1830 first edition Book of Mormon open to 1 Nephi

An 1830 first edition Book of Mormon open to 1 Nephi

1 Nephi 14:3
And that great pit, which hath been digged for them by that great and abominable church, which was founded by the devil and his children, that he might lead away the souls of men down to hell — yea, that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction, saith the Lamb of God; not the destruction of the soul, save it be the casting of it into that hell which hath no end.

1 Nephi 15:29,35
And I said unto them that it was a representation of that awful hell, which the angel said unto me was prepared for the wicked…

And there is a place prepared, yea, even that awful hell of which I have spoken, and the devil is the preparator of it; wherefore the final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God, or to be cast out because of that justice of which I have spoken.

2 Nephi 2:29
And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

2 Nephi 9:12,19
And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel…

O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

2 Nephi 28:19-23
For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well — and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

And behold, others he [the devil] flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none — and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.

Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

Jacob 7:18
And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment.

A first edition 1830 Book of Mormon open to the Book of Alma

A first edition 1830 Book of Mormon open to the Book of Alma

Alma 5:6-10
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.

And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.

And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

Helaman 6:28
And also it is that same being who put it into the hearts of the people to build a tower sufficiently high that they might get to heaven. And it was that same being who led on the people who came from that tower into this land; who spread the works of darkness and abominations over all the face of the land, until he dragged the people down to an entire destruction, and to an everlasting hell.

Moroni 8:13
Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.

Supporting Book of Mormon Texts
And while the following verses do not speak of the actual eternality of hell, they lend additional proof that “hell” should be a taught Mormon doctrine, since, the alleged prophet “Mormon”, formed a book that speaks so extensively about the subject. This is not an exhaustive list.

19th Century Anti-Mormons had their own ideas about where hell was and who resided there.

19th Century Anti-Mormons had their own ideas about where hell was and who resided there.

2 Nephi 1:15
But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.

2 Nephi 24:15
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

2 Nephi 26:10
And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass; and they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they must go down to hell.

2 Nephi 28:15
O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!

2 Nephi 33:6
I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.

Jacob 3:11
O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death.

Alma 13:30
And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.

Alma 14:6
And it came to pass that Zeezrom was astonished at the words which had been spoken; and he also knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused among the people by his lying words; and his soul began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell.

Alma 26:13-14
Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?

Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.

3 Nephi 12:22,30
But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your across, than that ye should be cast into hell.

One can only wonder why the book that Joseph Smith claimed contains “the fullness of the gospel” contradicts the other standard works and what Mormons are taught today.

Bob Betts

Bob Betts

About The Authors
Robert “Bob” Betts received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, in 1970, at the age of 18. After one year of Bible college (’72-’73), Bob was forced to discontinue that education due to a severe bout with valley fever. By 1974, the fever had dissipated, and in 1975, Bob met and married his wife, Patricia (Patty), and started a family. Bob and Patty have been married for 40 years as of 2015, with three children and seven grandchildren.

In the mid ‘90s, God developed within Bob, an interest in the study of the religion of Mormonism. The interest became a passion, and a compassion for the Mormon people. In 2,000, Bob went into full time ministry to Mormons, and to any people directly affected by Mormonism’s outreach (families, friends, Christians, non-Christians, ex-Mormons, inactive Mormons, etc.). He oversaw a website “discussion board,” debating and challenging (and being challenged by) devout Mormons for over 10 years, and thousands of hours, seeing the fruit of salvation in a few, for which he readily gives God all the glory.

After 12 years, Bob left that ministry, but continues on social media to reach out to Mormons and ex-Mormons with the hope and truth of pure, biblical Christianity, honing the gift that God gave him to reasonably and logically dismantle the impossible gospel and theology of Mormonism.

Fred W. Anson is a Mormon Studies Scholar and the publisher of Beggar’s Bread. 

"Christ’s Descent into Hell" Unknown Artist in the style of Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ca. 1550–60) click to zoon

“Christ’s Descent into Hell” Unknown Artist in the style of Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ca. 1550–60) click to zoon

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Strange Fire Front CoverReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship
Author: John F. MacArthur
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year Published: 2013
Length: 352 pages
Binding: Digital, Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook
ISBN10: 1400205174
ISBN13: 978-1400205172
Price: $10.99 (Digital), $22.99 (Hardcover),  $6.99 (Paperback), $9.99 (Audiobook)

My pastor could have been speaking of John MacArthur when he said to me, “Your message is usually substantive and true but the way that you deliver it often leaves the other person so in reaction to the messenger that they can’t receive the message.” Yes, friends, I empathize with John MacArthur since I’m on of that those annoying “truth first, grace and mercy second, and let the pieces fall where they will third” guys too. And try as I may to not react to the messenger rather than the message in this review I will warn you in advance that I may not succeed.

The More Things Change . . . 
Anti-Charismatic books are nothing new to John MacArthur. In 1978 he published “The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective” In 1992 it was “Charismatic Chaos” and in 2013, his latest offering, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship”. So three titles and thirty five years later and what has changed? Obviously, not a lot since the twenty one old words of Vineyard Pastor, Rich Nathan are just as applicable to “Strange Fire” as they were of “Charismatic Chaos”:

“Ultimately it is MacArthur’s rancorous, bombastic style that undermines his objectivity and any value this book may have had as a necessary corrective to excesses or errors in the charismatic, Pentecostal and Third Wave movements. Rabid anti-charismatics will love this book. It provides wonderful sermon illustrations for the already convinced. For those not so zealously anti-charismatic, this book serves only as a painful reminder of the lovelessness that characterizes too much of contemporary Christianity.”
(Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993, p.27)

And this is a pity because MacArthur has always done a very good job of indentifying and condemning the excesses in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. In “Charismatic Chaos” it was the immature abuses of “out there” Vineyard churches (like the bizarre Holy Laughter of the Toronto Airport Vineyard and the insanity of the Kansas City Prophets), the zaniness of The Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the charlatanism of Benny Hinn – who has very appropriately returned as the favored punching bag and dart board target of Strange Fire. To all this, like so many other, mainstream, theologically cautious and conversative Charismatics, I can only stand, applaud, and yell, “Bravo!” These are things that we are in complete agreement with Mr. MacArthur on. In fact, these are things that we ourselves have publicly and repeatedly condemned and denounced ourselves. Bravo Mr. MacArthur, bravo!

John MacArthur

John MacArthur

Broad Brush Polemics
However, MacArthur isn’t content with reprimanding just a few bad apples. It quickly becomes apparent that in his mind, if you’re a Charismatic, you’re a bad apple – period. Consider these excerpts:

“The Charismatic Movement began barely a hundred years ago, and its influence on evangelicalism can hardly be overstated. From its inception by Charles Fox Parham to its most ubiquitous modern representative in Benny Hinn, the entire movement is nothing more than a sham religion run by counterfeit ministers. True biblical interpretation, sound doctrine, and historical theology owes nothing to the movement— unless an influx of error and falsehood could be considered a contribution. Like any effective false system, charismatic theology incorporates enough of the truth to gain credibility. But in mixing the truth with deadly deceptions, it has concocted a cocktail of corruption and doctrinal poison— a lethal fabrication— with hearts and souls at stake.”
(John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire”, p. 113)

“the gospel that is driving these surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.”
(Ibid, p.xix)

As one commenter on The Pneuma Review website said well of such over the top polemics:

“There are excesses in the charismatic group that need to be addressed, but Strange Fire is devoid of any hint on J[ohn] M[cArthur]’s part to meet with these whom he feels are in error to try to make sure he understands them. In taking this to the extreme that he has, he has become an example of the extreme he is trying to point out in others.”
(Rick Collins, Aug 24, 2014 8:27pm comment, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”)

And again, Rich Nathan’s description of “Charismatic Chaos” yesterday is just as true of “Strange Fire” today:

“MacArthur doesn’t rebuke charismatics as a person would rebuke a member of one’s own family. The book reads like hostile fire shot by an outsider. The tone, as will be seen by the numerous pejorative adjectives that MacArthur uses to describe charismatics, is anything but familial or irenic. It is one thing to have your child spanked by your spouse. It is quite another thing to have your child spanked by a stranger. Charismatics understandably react to being spanked by someone who intentionally positions himself as a stranger and not as a “dear friend, fellow worker… and [brother]” (Philem. 1:1).”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.3)

Folks, I could stop right there and you would have an apt brief review of Strange Fire. Unfortunately, when the specifics are considered Strange Fire gets even worse.

Double Standards
Adding insult to injury is MacArthur’s use of Double Standards. He spends an entire chapter pounding away at the scandals in the continuationist camp while utterly ignoring his own shattered cessationist glass house. As Time Magazine observed:

“Anthea Butler, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York believes Pentecostals are no more trouble-prone than other Protestants. “The same sort of thing is happening to Baptists and Presbyterians,” she says. “Except for one big thing. They are not media figures.”
(David Van Biema, “Are Mega-Preachers Scandal-Prone?”, Time magazine, Friday, Sept. 28, 2007)

One need go no further than the dedication page of MacArthur’s first Anti-Charismatic book (“The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective”, circa 1978) to see MacArthur’s blind hypocrisy. It reads as follows:

“To Dave Hocking,
A true and beloved friend
with whom I share a common love
for the Word of Christ
and the purity of His church.”

Yet just fourteen year later, and just 6 months after MacArthur’s second Anti-Charismatic book (“Charismatic Chaos”, circa April 1992), fellow hard cessationist and Anti-Charismatic David (aka “Dave”) Hocking was involved in a scandal that involved not one, but two high profile Southern California churches:

“In Oct 1992, the elders of Calvary Church [Santa Ana, California] caught David Hocking in a major scandal involving marital infidelity. The elders of the church told Hocking that he would no longer be the Senior Pastor of Calvary Church and would have to undergo a three-year restoration process.

Refusing to accept the restoration plan of the elders at Calvary Church, Hocking’s long-time buddy Chuck Smith [the founding Pastor of Calvary Chapel and the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, California at the time] took him in. Reportedly, Smith said that this great man of God should not be wasted, and took in David Hocking as a Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa staff member. Hocking was excommunicated by Calvary Church of Santa Ana after he refused to submit to the elders of the church in their restoration process…

This was a major point of contention between Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa and other local churches in the community (particularly CCSA [Calvary Church Santa Ana]). This caused a major scandal here in Southern California where the results are still being felt.”
(“The Calvary Church of Santa Ana/David Hocking Incident”, Calvary Chapel Wiki website)  

And this is just the tip of the cessationist iceberg of scandals. We could also talk about Southern Baptist Charles Stanley’s divorce, R.C. Sproul, Jr.’s  (whose father R.C. Sproul, Sr. spoke at the Strange Fire Conference) “Ashley Madison indiscretion”, or the scandals of Baptists, Kent Hovind, Lonnie Latham, Coy Privette, or Joe Barron (see “List Of Christian Evangelist Scandals” for details).

Further, and speaking as someone in the same Reformed camp that MacArthur is in (yes, I’m one of those dreaded “Charismatic Calvinists” that Steve Lawson woodshedded at the Strange Fire conference) it pains me to admit that Frank Viola was largely correct when he observed:

“Using MacArthur’s logic and approach, one could easily write a book about the toxicity of the Reformed movement by painting all Reformed Christians as elitist, sectarian, divisive, arrogant, exclusive, and in love with “doctrine” more than with Christ.

And just as MacArthur holds up Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Pat Robertson, et al. to characterize the charismatic world, one can hold up R.J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd, R.T. Kendall, or Patrick Edouard, et al. to characterize Reformed Christians. Or Peter Ruckman and Jack Hyles, et al. to characterize Fundamentalist Baptists. Or William R. Crews and L.R. Shelton Jr., et. al. to represent Reformed Baptists.

My point is that charismatic, Reformed, and Baptist people would strongly object to the idea that any of these gentleman could accurately represent their respective tribes as each of them have strong critics within their own movements. Even so, the game of burning down straw man city with a torch is nothing new.”
(Frank Viola, “Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire” p.9; also cited in Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.157)

But probably no one summed it up better than Rich Nathan when he said:

“Immorality is, tragically, a phenomenon that seems to know no denominational boundaries. Indeed, several very prominent dispensational and fundamentalist leaders have had to step down from radio ministries, para-church leadership, and pastorates because of sexual immorality. One might more realistically point to the sex-drenched culture of the modern western world, the cult of sexual self expression, and the absence of the practice of spiritual disciplines as more likely explanations for the fall of charismatic pastors than their experience of speaking in tongues.”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.8)

Treating the Extreme as the Norm
This treating extremes as the norm is the biggest problem with MacArthur’s approach to Pentecostalism in general and his Anti-Charismatic books in particular. Consider this example from Strange Fire:

“More moderate charismatics like to portray the prosperity preachers, faith healers, and televangelists as safely isolated on the extreme edge of the charismatic camp. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Thanks to the global reach and incessant proselytizing of religious television and charismatic mass media, the extreme has now become mainstream. For most of the watching world, flamboyant false teachers— with heresies as ridiculous as their hairdos— constitute the public face of Christianity. And they propagate their lies in the Holy Spirit’s name.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire”, p. 13)

Again, writing of “Charismatic Chaos” Rich Nathan’s response is just as applicable:

“MacArthur rarely acknowledges a mainstream view within the charismatic or Pentecostal movements that’s balanced, Biblical, and mature. MacArthur, moreover, rarely admits that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement – now over 400 million strong – has borne tremendous fruit for the kingdom of God. He simply does not permit himself to acknowledge positive contributions by this enormous and varied movement.”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.2)

And as this review is being written, Pentecostals and Charismatics not only number over 500 million adherents but represent the fastest growing segment of the modern Christian Church. All this while mainline denominations are shrinking and cessationist numbers are flattening. No numbers and don’t equal veracity but, if nothing else, it bespeaks an ability to meet needs and bear fruit – something that John MacArthur sees as a net negative due to his antipathy toward continuationism in all forms. Such prejudice driven hard hardheartedness and blindness is heartbreaking.

Exaggeration, Data Manipulation, and Guilt by Association Fallacies
Equally concerning is how MacArthur repeatedly engages in gross exaggeration and “Guilty by Association” fallacies. Please consider this example:

“[Joel] Osteen’s muddled comment about Latter-day Saints introduces an interesting point of discussion— especially since the founders of Mormonism claimed to experience the same supernatural phenomena that Pentecostals and charismatics experience today. At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, Joseph Smith reported various types of charismatic phenomena— including tongues, prophecy, and miraculous visions. Other eyewitness accounts of that same event made similar claims: “There were great manifestations of power, such as speaking in tongues, seeing visions, administration of angels”; and, “There the Spirit of the Lord, as on the day of Pentecost, was profusely poured out. Hundreds of Elders spoke in tongues.” More than half a century before Charles Parham and the Pentecostals spoke in tongues, the Latter-day Saints reported similar outbursts, leading some historians to trace the roots of Pentecostalism back through Mormonism.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur,”Strange Fire”, pp.51-52)

Well the “some historians” referenced in the footnote for that last sentence is exactly one historian, and one historical work (Hard Cessationist, Thomas R. Edgar’s Anti-Pentecostal treatise, “Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit”, p.218 and p.108)

Further, speaking as a Mormon Studies Scholar, the fact is that the early Mormons were merely one of many tongues speaking groups in the Second Great Awakening. Joseph Smith and the earliest Mormons didn’t speak in tongues at all until Brigham Young and his tongues speaking brothers arrived on the scene along with their tongues speaking friend Heber C. Kimball. And, for the record, Young and his brothers were Restorationist Pentecostals (specifically tongues speaking Primitive Methodists in most cases) before joining the Mormon Church – so the phenomenon didn’t, I repeat, did not originate in Mormonism.

Rather, it’s generally conceded that the fountainhead for all this 19th Century, Second Great Awakening tongues speaking was the 1801 Cane Ridge Revival. So for a historian to claim that the roots of modern Pentecostalism can be traced back to early Mormonism isn’t just ludicrous, it’s hack scholarship.

But wait, MacArthur isn’t done yet, there’s more:

“Even today, similarities between the two groups have led some to seek for greater unity. In their book Building Bridges Between Spirit-Filled Christians and Latter-Day Saints, authors Rob and Kathy Datsko assert, “Although there is an incredible language and culture barrier between LDS [Latter-day Saints] and SFC [Spirit-filled Christians], often these two groups believe many of the same basic doctrines.” Though Pentecostalism has traditionally rejected the Latter-day Saints, comments like those made by Joel Osteen suggest that a new wave of ecumenical inclusivism may be on the horizon. It is hardly coincidental that Fuller Theological Seminary, the birthplace of the Third Wave Movement, is currently leading the campaign for greater unity between Mormons and evangelical Christians.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur,”Strange Fire”, pp.51-52)

Regarding this passage, as I pointed out in my review of Rob and Kathy Datsko’s book, “Building Bridges Between Spirit-Filled Christians and Latter-Day Saints” MacArthur’s argument is based on data manipulation, flawed evidence, and good old fashioned exaggeration. Please consider the following questions I posed to Mr. MacArthur in this regard:

1) Why are the Datskos implicitly presented as Charismatic Christians in your (circa 2013) book when, in fact, they have been Mormons since 2003?
Folks as soon as these folks converted to Mormonism, they were no longer Charismatic Christians, they were Latter-day Saints who were following another Jesus and preaching another gospel.

2) Where are the rest of the Charismatic Christians that you declare, are seeking greater unity with Mormons?
Friends I’m a Mormon Studies scholar and I will tell you plainly: Any that have tried this (such as Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richardson, and Cal Fullerton) are now considered, marginalized, lunatic fringe, Charismaniacs by mainstream Charismatics. They have no significant power or influence among us.

3) Why do you single out Charismatics when, in fact, it’s cessationists who are taken a far greater, more active role in seeking greater unity with Mormons?
I’ll name names: Craig Blomberg (Denver Theological Seminary), Christopher Hall (Episcopalian theologian), Gerald R. McDermott (Beeson Divinity School), and James E. Bradley (Fuller Theological Seminary). Oh, and let me add newcomer, Baptist Author and Educator, Roger E. Olson, to the list.

4) Where are all these Charismatic Latter-day Saints that you refer to on p.73 of Strange Fire?
That’s where you claim, “Today there are even charismatic Mormons. Regardless of what else they teach, if they have had that experience, they are in.” Footnote 53 for the passage on p.73 takes us to this: “See, for example, “Hi. I’m Kathy, I’m a born again, Spirit-filled, Charismatic Mormon” at Mormon.org, accessed March 2013” (p.290) and one clicks on the link that’s provided in the footnote and it takes us to (wait for it, wait for it, wait for it) Kathy Datsko’s Mormon testimony! Folks, no many how many times you count her Kathy Datsko is one, and only one, Charismatic Latter-day Saint. Add in her husband Rob and you now have not one but two Charismatic Mormons.

This is far from a trend or even a pattern people! In fact, other than these two I know of no other Charismatic Latter-day Saints. That’s because Latter-day Saints have absolutely no interest in Pentecostalism and stay as far away from it as possible – they treat it like kryptonite. So in the end Mr. MacArthur’s evidence that there’s a major trend involving mainstream Charismatics Christians are seeking closer ecumenical ties with Charismatic Mormons isn’t just exaggerated, it’s non-existent.

Confirmation Bias Driven Evidence Presentation
As continuationist Bible scholar Craig S. Keener notes:

“MacArthur’s selective approach to history is meant to substantiate his approach. Yet his appendix on church history, if intended to be representative, cherry-picks only statements that agree with him. Yes, cessationists existed; but not all orthodox believers have been cessationists. Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian all claimed eyewitness accounts of healings and exorcisms. Historian Ramsay MacMullen shows that these sorts of experiences constituted the leading cause of Christian conversion in the third and fourth centuries.

MacArthur cites Augustine as an advocate of cessationism (252-53) without noting that he later changed his mind and reported numerous miracles, including raisings from the dead and some healings that he personally witnessed. John Wesley valued weighing prophecy rather than rejecting it, reports healings, and offers his own firsthand report of what he believed to be a raising from the dead. Late nineteenth-century evangelical leaders such as Baptist A. J. Gordon (for whom Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is named) and A. B. Simpson, founder of Christian and Missionary Alliance, were continuationists and recounted healing reports.”
(Craig S. Keener, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”, The Pneuma Review website)

And it’s not in the book but in the follow up video on to the book and conference that Mr. MacArthur did at The Master’s Seminary entitled, “What has happened after the ‘Strange Fire’ Conference” (it can be seen on YouTube) John MacArthur said of Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement that in 1967 “a bunch of Jesus freak people.. go to Calvary Chapel…and for the first time…that I know of in history, the church lets the very defined subculture dictate what it will be,” citing “the hippie culture, communal living…kids coming out of drugs and free sex, and all that” as displacing “all the normal and formal things,” and typifying the charismatic church, with the movement becoming Calvary Chapel. (video transcription from Wikipedia)

Well, I’ve got to tell you, I was at Calvary Chapel in the 1970’s during the height of Jesus Movement and what Mr. MacArthur has just said is nonsense! Chuck Smith’s friend and colleague Jacob Prasch has called it “false witness” and I agree with him. Folks, it simply isn’t true. Anyone who thinks that staid, culturally and theologically conservative Pastor Chuck wasn’t fully in control of things and wasn’t keeping a leash on the insanity that we hippies brought in tow with us simply wasn’t there! Case in point: Chuck Fromm (the founder of Maranatha! Music and Chuck Smith’s son in law) once told me that Pastor Chuck didn’t like the rock music that was on the label and was always trying to convince him to shut that side of the ministry down and focus on just worship music – which Fromm eventually did.

While we all loved and respected Pastor Chuck, we still thought that he was a bit of an establishment square, a stick in the mud, and even an encumbrance to all our “grooviness” at times. To suggest that we children were leading a strong willed, in command, personality, father figure, and leader like Pastor Chuck is just laughable! And if there’s any doubt on any of this please see watch the “Pastors Perspective 4/3/2014” video on the K-Wave Radio YouTube Channel and you can hear it straight from Brian Brodersen, Don Stewart, Steve Mays, and Ray Bentley who were there at a much higher level than I ever was.

Conclusion and Other Perspectives
Since the Strange Fire conference and publication of the book John MacArthur has stated that they were supposed to be “the catalyst for conversation” (see “John MacArthur on Making an Informed Response to Strange Fire” on YouTube). Well if that’s the case, given the harsh, polemic, condemning tone then this “conversation” started with all the charm and grace of an alley mugging by a bully.

Equally amusing is how in the aforementioned, “What has happened after the ‘Strange Fire’ Conference” video Mr. MacArthur complains about the ad-hominems leveled at him in the reviews on Amazon. This coming from a man who spends, pages, chapters, and even the greater part of a book engaging in personal attacks, character assassination, and some of the most derogatory and insulting slurs against fellow Christians imaginable. Mr. MacArthur that thing sticking out of your eye is what’s called a “beam”.

That said, I have one last piece of advice to my Charismatic friends: Read the Strange Fire book. Yes, read the book. I think it speaks for itself. Please don’t take my word for it, read the book and see for yourself if all the criticism that this book has garnered from myself and others is justified or not.

Finally, probably no one summed up the mindset, spirit, and content of “Strange Fire” better than the late, great, first editor of Christianity Today, Carl F.H. Henry who said in 1957:

“The real bankruptcy of fundamentalism has resulted not so much from a reactionary spirit – lamentable as this was – as from a harsh temperament, a spirit of lovelessness and strife contributed by much of its leadership in the recent past. One of the ironies of contemporary church history is that the more fundamentalists stress separation from apostasy as a theme in their churches, the more a spirit of lovelessness seems to prevail.

The theological conflict with liberalism deteriorated into an attack upon organizations and personalities. This condemnation, in turn, grew to include conservative churchmen and churches not ready to align with separatist movements. It widens still further, to abusive evangelicals unhappy with the spirit of independency in such groups as the American Council of Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches. Then came internal debate and division among separatist fundamentalism within the American Council. More recently, the evangelistic ministry of Billy Graham and [the] efforts of other evangelical leaders, whose disapproval of liberalism and advocacy of conservative Christianity are beyond dispute, have become the target of bitter volubility.

This character of fundamentalism as a temperament and not primarily fundamentalism as a theology, has brought the movement into contemporary discredit… Historically, fundamentalism was a theological position; only gradually did the movement come to signify a mood and disposition as well. In its early [years] leadership reflected ballast, and less of bombast and battle… If modernism stands discredited as a perversion of the scriptural theology, certainly fundamentalism in this contemporary expression stands discredited as a perversion of the Biblical spirit.”
(Carl F.H. Henry, Editor of “Christianity Today” magazine in 1957)

Appendix: Other Voices
Here are some other quotes on and about John MacArthur and Strange Fire that I thought the reader might find interesting:

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

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

“The problem I have is that, at least in my admittedly limited observation, some members or follow[er]s of the MacArthur circle suffer from Richard Dawkins syndrome. Dawkins has such contempt for Christianity that he can’t bring himself to take Christianity seriously even for the sake of argument.

And some members/followers of the MacArthur circle reflect the same mindset. They exhibit such unbridled contempt for charismatic theology that they can’t take it seriously even for the sake of argument. They demand evidence, yet they don’t make a good faith effort to be informed. So the objection is circular, given their studied ignorance.

There’s a word for that: prejudice.”
(Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.8; Charisma House. Kindle Edition)

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

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

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

“In his “Strange Fire” conference (that starts today), book (upcoming), and ensuing promotions, John MacArthur has, I believe, acted very irresponsibly and is doing incredible damage to the body of Christ.

It is no secret that John MacArthur pushes the polemic line and causes many of us to be uncomfortable. This is just who he is and I don’t really expect him to change. But this conference is an excessively eristic and unnecessarily divisive crusade against charismatics. And, to be frank, it is even over the top for him…

Because of all this, John MacArthur is losing his voice, and I don’t want him to. His reputation dismantles his platform to speak at just about any conference. He has worked himself into a corner where every time he writes a book or opens his mouth, many of us say, “Oh no!” before anything else. His radio program is called “Grace to You” and we are often left thinking “grace to who?”

John MacArthur says the charismatic movement “blasphemes the Holy Spirit” and “attributes to the Holy Spirit even the work of Satan.” Maybe he should think about who is actually attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. I am not a charismatic, but such a statement really scares me. And because of this it would seem (even though the conference is sold out) that John MacArthur may be losing his voice.”
(C. Michael Patton, “Why John MacArthur May Be Losing His Voice”, Reclaiming the Mind website, October 15, 2013)

“I’m not just talking from the sidelines as a bystander but as someone who has had a lot of experience and education in both [the Charismatic and Reformed] traditions and still embraces a respect for each while feeling free to critique both.

As I watched the video [of John MacArthur’s opening address at the “Strange Fire Conference”] I felt a growing anger as well as a disgust for what MacArthur was saying and how he was saying it. His speech is as lofty as his demeanor. His criticism of charismatics is as old as the charismatic movement itself. So it’s nothing new. It is a familiar flame. What I found dismaying is his complete dismissal of the movement and all its adherents in a single one hour dignified gesture. With one speech he purged the rolls of salvation of over 500 million believers.

Basically his argument is that charismatics dishonor God. Since they are therefore not in Christ, their theology is demonic. So since they are serving Satan and promoting him, there is a hotter hell reserved for them. He claims that the charismatic movement has done nothing to advance sound doctrine or biblical theology but in fact has caused more damage than anything else ever has because it has only delivered confusion, distortion and error to the church. He questions the church: You have always defended God. You have always defended Jesus Christ. Why do you not defend the Holy Spirit? Instead, the church opens the gates to the charismatics and they have taken over the city of God and set up an idol in its center. He doesn’t understand why God doesn’t just strike all these people down. He sadly supposes his ways aren’t our ways…

I’m not just angry. I’m not just disappointed. I’m sad. After watching MacArthur I was tempted to throw in the towel. Even though many people would distance themselves from MacArthur and his position on charismatics, it’s still a sign that the church and its leaders may use anything at their disposal to elevate themselves above their brothers and sisters, even if it means separating themselves from them forever.

I thought we were better than this.”
(David Hayward, “John MacArthur Sends 500,000,000 Charismatics to Hell”; nakedpastor website, October 18, 2013

“MacArthur’s latest book does not represent an honest search for truth. It is obvious that his mind was already made up when he began his research for Strange Fire, and he found what he was looking for. He presents a circular argument, beginning with a faulty premise and proceeding with selective anecdotal evidence that determines the outcome. He begins with a commitment to cessationism, the belief that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church after the death of the twelve apostles and the completion of the writings of the New Testament. Since that is the case for him, that means modern expressions of Spiritual gifts must be false. He then utilizes the selective anecdotal evidence to buttress his presupposition, which leads him back to his starting point of cessation.

It seems that MacArthur wants to believe the worst about the movement of which he writes. At times I felt he was embellishing the bad to make it even worse. For example, Oral Roberts was not a Christian brother with whom he had profound differences but a heretic who did much damage to the body of Christ, “the first of the fraudulent healers to capture TV, paving the way for the parade of spiritual swindlers who have come after him” (p.155). Make no mistake about it, MacArthur is not out to bring correction to a sector of Christianity with which he disagrees; his goal is to destroy a movement he considers false, heretical and dangerous.”
(Eddie L. Hyatt, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, Reviewed by Eddie L. Hyatt”, The Pneuma Review website, October 23, 2013)

And while Pastor Jack Hayford didn’t call out John MacArthur (who by the way he’s close personal friends with) directly, for anyone who’s read the Strange Fire book or watched the conference videos there’s no mistaking what prompted the following response:

“It is essential to note: as with any sector of the church, at times ungodly and wholly unworthy leaders rise and gain a following. From local pastorates to notable media ministries one can find shameful violations of the Word and personalities lauded as ‘anointed’ who ignore biblical standards regarding morality, financial accountability, and biblical integrity. Pop culture themes that compromise the whole truth of God’s Word on subjects that lead to human, financial, lifestyle, and attitudinal shoddiness are often paraded in the name of ‘charismatic.’ This is a tragic miscarriage of a biblically rooted word (charismata) and shameless rejection of the charismatic lifestyle modeled by the apostles’ own first-century ministry—one lived without compromise of truth, character, behavior, or morality, and devoid of any self-serving ways.

May it be known and affirmed here: such biblically inconsistent leaders, be they men or women, who violate God’s Word—and any who follow them—are not and should not (no matter what ‘signs following’ are claimed) be seen or understood to be a valid definition of what charismatic or Pentecostal life or leadership is about.

It is grieving to all who seek to live and walk in humility and holiness as members of the Spirit-filled community of believers, when there is evidence of a leader’s doctrinal, ecclesiastical, moral, or financial compromise, and yet nothing of confrontation, discipline, or disapproval appear to be administered. However, truth is that this is not at all the case among the vast majority of those within the Pentecostal or charismatic community. For the most part, existing denominations and structured nondenominational networks do administer correction and discipline, as well as directing recovery and restoration programs where repentance is shown by the errant or fallen.

The most flagrant cases of violation and neglect of discipline occur in the glaring instances where independent, self-directed, self-ruled, and self-governed leaders move. The absence of structures requiring accountability to fellow leaders, or the ‘cronyism’ of some who unite, but do so forming small circles of equally errant ministers who ‘measure themselves by themselves’ (2 Cor. 10:12) and smugly exercise a self-affirming tolerance and grace that refuses the legalism of critics; these are of the nature of those the Epistle of Jude identifies as ‘dreamers’ who ‘defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries,’ and as having ‘gone in the way of Cain, run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah . . . for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever’ (Jude 4-13, NKJV).

Further, it is an egregious exercise in unkindness when categorical charges or institutional ‘blackballing tactics’ are leveled against charismatics as though all are given to indifference concerning Bible interpretation or moral recklessness. Even those differing theologically know full well that such broad brush treatment is a violation of facts—that the few characterize neither the values nor lifestyle of the many, i.e., charismatics who love, honor, and live for Christ, the Lord of us all—charismatic or otherwise. May God extinguish the foul incense from the ‘strange fire’ offered by voices among leaders at either group’s altars, and may His ‘holy fire’ baptize us all with a fresh baptism of His unifying love, whatever our doctrinal differences.”
(Jack Hayford’s foreword for R.T. Kendall, “Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives”, Kindle Locations 3477-3504)

Recommended Reading
The following books have been written in response to “Strange Fire”. They offer a fuller, richer perspective on the book and address in greater detail MacArthur’s errors – up to and including his confirmation bias driven hard cessationist exegesis of scripture.

“Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire” by Michael L. Brown
This book directly addresses the issues raised by the Strange Fire book, conference, and camp in a calm, even toned, and scholarly manner. (note: I have also reviewed this book)

“Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives” by R.T. Kendall
A thoughtful scriptural exegetical response to MacArthur’s hard cessationist arguments from a theologian in the Reformed tradition who is Charismatic.

“The Essential Guide to the Power of the Holy Spirit: God’s Miraculous Gifts at Work Today” by Randy Clark
A combination defense of continuationism and practical, scriptural guidelines which, if followed, would eliminate would eliminate many of the abuses and excesses that MacArthur correctly criticizes in Strange Fire.

Christian Historian William De Arteaga’s short analysis of how John MacArthur abuses and misrepresents Church History in “Strange Fire” is very informative and enlightening.

William De Arteaga, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire as Parody of Jonathan Edwards’ Theology”, The Pneuma Review website, November 8, 2013

And, finally, while I would like to believe that my review is pretty good, I’m not sure that these reviews of John MacArthur’s last two Anti-Charismatic books can be topped. I’ve cited from some of them above but I encourage a full read in order to fully appreciate them for yourself: 

Craig S. Keener, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”, The Pneuma Review website, November 15, 2013

Monte Lee Rice, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Monte Lee Rice”, The Pneuma Review website, December 26, 2013

Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993

(this review was previously published on Goodreads and Amazon)

BACK TO TOP

ministry_logo-01_EDITED_REDby Fred W. Anson and Jackie Davidson
She was a really nice lady and a wonderful friend. But she wouldn’t stop talking about her “ministry”. He was a really great guy, warm, friendly, outgoing and really, genuinely cared about people. But he couldn’t stop talking about his “ministry”. I could stop right now and you could give us names, places, and “ministries” couldn’t you? That’s right even if we’ve never met, even if we live in different states, go to different churches and are theologically at odds we could both tell each other stories about Christians we’ve known that fit the scenario that I’ve just described. Isn’t that interesting?

Or how about this one?

She had a dramatic, born again experience. Her life was dramatically changed and she became a different person it seemed, almost instantly. There was no doubt that God had intervened like a bolt of lightning and performed a miracle. That was a month or two ago and now she was telling me, “I’ve just got to find my ministry!”

Sound familiar?
Maybe it was you.
Maybe it’s you right now.

Modern American Christians (we can’t speak for other cultures, we don’t know them well enough) are obsessed with finding, having, and growing their “ministry”. The lady that we described in our opening couldn’t tell you if the Book of Hebrews was in the Old or New Testament, couldn’t tell you why the doctrine of the Trinity was important, and thought that Joel Osteen was a wonderful man of God and gifted Bible teacher – and for the record, he’s a heretic. Another lady that we knew was bouncing from one seminary to another trying to get her credential so she could have a public “ministry” and start preaching at churches. All this while divorced and the single mother of two kids who, we suspect, were feeling the neglect that comes from being sacrificed for “ministry”.

Fred Anson was one of those kids. His father was in many ways a wonderful man but everything and everyone got sacrificed for his “ministry”. As his mother used to say, “Why is he down at the church building repairing a pipe when our pipes are leaking here at home? Why is he over at the house of the co-worker doing a remodel so he can witness to him when our house is falling apart?” And Fred would add, “Why was he always off doing volunteer work for children’s charities rather than explaining to his own kids how to survive in this broken and fallen world?” Oh yes, friends, we know all too well what happens when “ministry” becomes the ultimate thing in a Christian’s life. As well known Presbyterian Pastor Timothy Keller notes:

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. . . .

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.1

"Counterfeit Gods" by Timothy Keller

“Counterfeit Gods” by Timothy Keller

Isn’t this really what’s so often happening with “ministry” these days in modern American Christian culture? We’ve turned a good thing into an ultimate thing – and by doing so have turned it into an idol. Thankfully Keller also gives the solution to the problem:

Idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. If you only try to uproot them, they grow back; but they can be supplanted. By what? By God himself, of course. But by God we do not mean a general belief in his existence. Most people have that, yet their souls are riddled with idols. What we need is a living encounter with God.2

OK, the concept is good but how can we make this real? What worked for us was thinking through this whole “ministry” thing and coming to realize that the the word “ministry” simply means “to function in the office of a servant”. So if we’re “ministering” I’m really doing nothing more than serving – which is biblical, just as Bob Deffinbaugh explains:

The predominant word for ministry in the New Testament is diakoneo (the noun form of which is diakonia). From this root, the term, deacon, (in Greek, diakonos) is derived. One of many possible expressions, it most accurately conveys the New Testament function of ministry. Our Lord and the apostles employed diakoneo to invest ministry with a meaning to both the Jews, and the Greeks.

To the Greeks, there was no dignity in service. In the words of the Greek sophist:

“How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?”

The only service deemed to be of high value was that rendered in behalf of the state.

How different was our Lord’s concept of the ministry:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served (passive form of diakoneo) but to serve (active form of diakoneo), and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus taught His followers that serving was a vital part of discipleship:

“If anyone wants to serve (diakoneo) me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant (diakonos) will be too. If anyone serves (diakoneo) me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26).

In the teaching of Jesus, greatness was to be measured in terms of service:

“Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).

All of this invested New Testament ministry with a dignity unimagined by the Greeks of that day.3

So if one wants a “ministry” for any other reason other than out of an attitude of service something isn’t right. Further, the question is this, “service to who?” Trust us, we speak from hard experience when we say that it’s entirely possible to think that you’re serving others when you’re really just serving yourself. And we will state plainly that the praise and gratitude of those people that you help can be intoxicating! It can be easy to serve to get the high that comes from it. And yes, the recognition that one can get from “ministry” have you breathing rarefied air if you’re not careful – you might even start believing that you actually deserve the praise that you’re getting.

So tell me friend, who’s getting the glory there?

And here’s a question: Who gave you the talents that you’re now sharing with others? Remember this?

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.
(Matthew 25:14-15 NKJV)

We are, of course, only speaking to ourselves since we know no one else has ever forgotten or taken for granted the fact that without the Master we would be nothing and have nothing. He owes us nothing, and we owe Him everything. So it’s only logical that when in service our attitude must always be, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV) Friend, without Jesus we are nothing!

In the end the real question is this: Why do you need a “ministry” if you have a Master?

Dirck van Baburen, "Christ Washing the Apostles Feet" (c.1616)

Dirck van Baburen, “Christ Washing the Apostles Feet” (c.1616) Here Christian, is the Master’s ministry model.

The Way of The Master
Now here’s the thing about having a Master: He gets to tell you what to do when to do it, and how to do it. And, here’s the part that modern Christians don’t seem to like much, He can tell you when to stop or not do it all. Example, let’s consider the Apostle Paul.

While the exact chronology and dating of the events in the Apostle Paul’s life are still a topic of dispute among biblical scholars,4 the fact remains that there was a significant gap between when Paul became a Christian and when he became a missionary. Remember the Book of Acts covers events that occurred between around 30-62AD.5 That puts Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-9) around 33AD and his first call to missions (Acts 13:2-3) at about 47AD. Folks that’s a 14-year gap!

Think about that! Here is a guy who was schooled by one of the most famous and respected Jewish Rabbis not just of his time but of all time, Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3). A man to whom Jesus Christ personally appeared to in a vision and whose life Christ completely overturned and transformed. This is a guy that today would be on the Christian talk show, church, and book circuits within a year or two of his conversion. Yet what was the Master’s bidding during that 14-year period? What “ministry” did he have? Apparently, it was the “ministry” of being trained, equipped, and prepared for what was to come because once the Master said, “Go!” he went – and he performed masterfully when he did.

Still not convinced? Then let’s talk about this guy called Moses who spent 40-years exiled in the wilderness until God called him to his “ministry”.6 Or how about Abraham who had to wait for 19-years from the promise of Isaac until his birth?7 Or, last but not least, how about Christ – God incarnate – who had to wait for 30-years for His “ministry” only to have it last 3-years? The way of the Master is not our way my friend – it’s far better!

Yes, it’s tempting for a new Christian to want to go into some sort of ministry. Baby Christians are on fire for the Lord. They want to spread their new found joy to everyone. And this is especially true for former Mormons or those who come from other works-based religions. Ex-Mormons are used to having their Bishop tell them what to do – and remember in Mormonism if you say no to a calling there will be hell to pay down the road. So when Ex-Mormons become Christian, if they’re asked they just say yes to everything. Their pastor loves it! However, a year later they end up with too many ministries, an overloaded plate, and none of it being done well. Plus they are not doctrinally trained enough to actually minister to others.

And we could talk about all those “zombie” Facebook groups that were started and then abandoned because someone who just had to have a “ministry” created the group on a whim. Then they discovered the hard way that they weren’t equipped to lead or sustain such an endeavor either practically or theologically. So there the group sits, doing nothing, going nowhere, benefiting no one, crickets chirping, existing but not alive. If there were dust, rust, and wood-rot in cyberspace it would be covered with it.8

Finally, since it’s so common, we want to warn our transitioning Mormon friends about well-meaning Christians who will try to turn them into weapons against Mormonism immediately after they leave the LdS Church. This isn’t idle speculation – expect it, it will happen. Simply put, don’t listen to them.

Consider this: Could Christ have had a better weapon than Paul against the apostate Judaism of his day? Or a better weapon than Moses, a former Prince, against pagan Egypt for that matter? Yet the Master waited until they were properly equipped and trained before He missioned them – think about that my friend. We know that it is so, so, so easy to pick up the sword against the LdS Church after you exit and even easier to swing it, but here’s a word of advice learned from hard experience: Don’t.9

"Moses Flees" (unknown artist)

“Moses Flees” (unknown artist) Can anyone else relate to what Moses must have been feeling here?

Equipping the Saints (and Other Stuff That Everyone Seems to Want to Ignore)
We have seen a lot of harm come from Baby Christians (and sorry Ex-Mormon but after you exit you are a baby Christian no matter how long you were in the LdS Church and what your callings were) who have no firm theological foundation, don’t know their Bible, have no knowledge of proper hermeneutics, Christian Church history, historic Christian orthodoxy, modern Christian culture, or even proper Christian terminology, create a “ministry” for themselves. We have seen them destroy their own faith while they’re destroying the faith of others – usually taking themselves and their parishioners and into the morass of atheism. We have seen them alienate themselves from the community of saints due to their unteachable attitudes and recalcitrant behavior. We have even seen them end their own marriages because they were so driven to have a “ministry” that they ran over their spouse. We have seen them do exactly as Jesus said they would:

“They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
(Matthew 15:14 NKJV)

Ironically, even the infidels know better than to act with such folly! One of Fred’s mentors – an apostate, cultural Jew – once challenged him with this, “How do you know what to do about what’s going on until you know what’s going on?” And in a similar vein, a secular, materialist, agnostic mentor, counseled him to, “Do nothing for the first 90-days except watch, listen, and learn. That way you’ll know exactly what to do on day 91.” This, of course, is nothing more than an echo of the biblical wisdom which says:

“Fools think their own way is right,
but the wise listen to others.”
(Proverbs 12:15 NLT)

“A wise man doesn’t display his knowledge,
but a fool displays his foolishness.”
(Proverbs 12:23 TLB)

“Sensible people always think before they act,
but stupid people advertise their ignorance.”
(Proverbs 13:16 GNT)

“Become wise by walking with the wise;
hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.”
(Proverbs 13:20 The Message)

“Fools have no interest in understanding;
they only want to air their own opinions.”
(Proverbs 18:2 NLT)

So you want a ministry? Here’s a tip, change the 90-days to 9-years from Fred’s secular mentor’s advice and wait patiently on the Lord while you’re doing it. And if you have any questions while you’re waiting just open up your Bible and start reading. But trust us, friend, while you’re waiting you will still have plenty to do – life happens!

"Christ Washing The Feet of His Disciples" (unknown artist) Mosiac, Basilica di San Marco, Venice

“Christ Washing The Feet of His Disciples” (unknown artist) Mosiac, Basilica di San Marco, Venice

Equipped But Not Called
It’s also common for mature Christians to try to make those that they haven’t really been called to, a target for “ministry”. They do so by not spending the time required to learn the worldview and theology of the people that they’re approaching. Instead, they just go out and act as if these people are clones of them self. As Nancy Pearcey observes:

What would you think of a missionary in a Muslim country who refused to learn about Muslim culture? He would not be very effective in communicating a biblical message. Cultivating a missional mind-set means being willing to learn both the language and the thought patterns of our mission field.

When Paul said, “I have become all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), he did not mean dressing like the locals. Nor was he embracing cultural relativism. Instead he was taking the assumptions of his audience into consideration in his language and approach. He tried to see the world through their eyes so he could communicate more persuasively.10

The harm that this presumption causes is unbelievable. We have seen one transitioning Mormon after another driven into atheism due to well meaning but ignorant and culturally insensitive Christians disrespecting and offending them in this manner. They figure that if Christians can’t be bothered to learn about them then obviously Christianity doesn’t have anything to say to them. And frankly, we don’t blame them having once been on the receiving end of this closed-minded, myopic, and often bigoted, behavior ourselves. If you have any doubts about this just go up on just about any Mormon/Evangelical internet discussion board and you’ll see it. If that doesn’t do it then go on YouTube and watch the “Street Screechers” driving Mormons away from God and deeper into Mormonism on Temple Square.

Simply put dear mature Christian brother or sister, taking it upon yourself to go into “ministry” without the proper equipping, training, and divine calling is not only poor stewardship of your talents, it can actually harm the very people that you think you’re helping. Whether it’s people in Africa, the homeless, or well to do Ex-Mormons, they are precious souls to be loved and cared for. It is extremely important that the person who is shepherding these people be prepared to shepherd them in accordance with the Golden Rule. And if all this has made you realize that you need more time to prepare yourself for the mission field then just sit back and rest in the arms of the Lord while He prepares you like He did Paul.

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!
(Psalm 27:14 NKJV) 

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31 NKJV)

Further, the Bible tells us both plainly and repeatedly that we are to be under pastoral oversight not just in our ministry but in general.11 Be accountable, be teachable, be shepherded yourself. Never stop researching and pray for God’s guidance constantly. If and when the Master says “Go!” then go. If and when the Master says, “Stop” then stop. If He says, “Speak” then speak. And if He says, “Be quiet” then stop speaking and remain silent. After all, friend this really isn’t your “ministry” at all is it? It’s His, always has been, always will be. So say it with me, dear Christian:

“I have no ministry, I have the Master. And that’s enough.”

servant

NOTES
1 Timothy Keller, “Counterfeit Gods”, pp.xvii-xviii
2 Ibid, Chapter 7
3 Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Meaning of New Testament Ministry”
4 Timeline of the Apostle Paul
5 Chronology of Acts and the Epistles
6 Exodus Bible Timeline
7 Complete Bible Timeline
8 And by the way, before you start one yourself, speaking as people who have been administrating multiple Facebook groups over a number of years (and have the scars to prove it) please know there’s a reason why they call Internet administration, “feeding the beast” when it comes to providing content and “taming the beast” when it comes to monitoring and administrating it. It’s not for the fainthearted or ill-equipped!
9 Please see Fred W. Anson’s article, “On Taking Up The Sword” for a fuller explanation and caution on this. Want to guarantee that you will remain a Baby Christian forever our newly exited Ex-Mormon friend? No problem, just pick up that sword and start swinging it!
10 Nancy Pearcey, “Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes”, p.250, Kindle Edition. In specific regard to Mormonism, the reader may also be interested in Fred Anson’s article, ‘Weak Arguments #9: “I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon…”’
11 Please consider the following:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
(Hebrews 13:17-21 ESV) 

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
(Proverbs 27:17 ESV)

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:1-2 ESV)

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
(Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
(James 5:16 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)

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
(James 5:19-20 ESV)

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
(Ephesians 4:25 ESV)

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
(Romans 12:3-8 NKJV)

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LDS Missionaries Bearing Their Testimony in the Hollywood, CA Ward

LDS Missionaries Bearing Their Testimony in the Hollywood, CA Ward
(click to watch video)

“Bearing testimony is ‘Declarationism’.
And ‘Declarationism’ is the last bastion of the unreasonable fanatic.”

— Lyndon Lamborn, ExMormon Foundation 2008 Conference Keynote

by Fred Anson
Mormon Testimony bearing is the cornerstone of Latter-day Saint (LdS) Theology, culture and experience – it is the “lens” through which the world is perceived – the very core of LdS epistemology.  As composer, free thinking Latter-day Saint, and cultural observer William Call explains:

“A Mormon’s ‘testimony’ feigns certainty via a supposed knowledge that negates real understanding. He who knows ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’ has no need to comprehend, discern, or master . . . Both rank and file Mormons and their leaders are dependent on their testimonies. They cannot question what they already ‘know’ is true. And so it is that a Mormon testimony is more than a denial of life’s uncertainties; it is a denial that a critical evaluation of any kind is effective or necessary so far as discovering religious truth is concerned.”
(William Call, “The Cultural Revolution”; Freethinkers Press, 2000)

It is also the primary means of converting others according to The Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

“Spoken testimony is the foundation of faith and with written testimony becomes the essence of scripture…
Latter-day Saint missionaries, in particular, rely on testimony bearing, rather than on logic or artifice, to reach their listeners.”
(Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Testimony Bearing)

Thus Mormon Testimony Bearing does many things including:
1) The Mormon Testimony acts as a “trump card” that over rides logic, reason, even physical evidence. 
Which explains why so many non-Mormons have observed that when trying to reason with Mormons about their religion that any evidence – Biblical, historical, archaeological, scientific, psychological, or otherwise that contradicts their “testimony” gets trumped by it. Others have described trying to use reason and logic with True Believing Mormons as, “like talking to someone behind a wall of glass.” Jerry Benson, a Pastor involved in outreach to Mormons in Southern California describes the phenomenon like this:

“To the Mormon, the ultimate test for truth is an “INNER FEELING” or a “BURNING IN THE BOSOM” which tell him that every facet of Mormonism is true.”1

2) The Mormon Testimony acts as a metaphysical “panic room” that the Latter Day Saint can retreat to should anything get in that unsettles them or causes Cognitive Dissonance.
For those unfamiliar with the term or concept, Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a fundamental cognitive drive to reduce this dissonance by modifying an existing belief, or rejecting one of the contradictory ideas. Once the Mormon retreats to this “panic room” nothing gets in (like new disturbing evidence) and nothing gets out (like old comfortable beliefs) until the crisis has passed and/or Cognitive Dissonance has dissipated. Again, Jerry Benson:

“When the Mormon is confronted with scripture from the Bible that refutes the teachings of the Mormon Church, or when he is faced with documentation proving the unreliability of the Mormon books of scripture, or when you have shown him a dozen absolute contradictions from Mormon sources, you will probably be treated with ‘THE MORMON TESTIMONY.'”2

3) The Mormon Testimony acts as the active agent in converting others to the Mormon religion.
As President James E. Faust Second Counselor in the First Presidency stated in a March 1997 Ensign article:

“Perhaps we do not always remember that it is the power of the Spirit that carries our testimony into the hearts of others. Our testimony is our own. It cannot be challenged by someone else. It is personal and real to us. But it is the Holy Spirit that gives a similar witness to another.”
(James E. Faust, “First Presidency Message: The Importance of Bearing Testimony”; Ensign, March 1997)

quote-testimony-bearing-is-the-key-to-missionary-work-thomas-s-monson-68-92-05

However, Ex-Mormons – including Returned Missionaries and Stake Mission Presidents – have suggested that quite another force is at work here – human psychology. In fact, these Ex-Mormons assert that one of the LDS Missionary’s core tools – the so-called, “Book of Mormon Challenge” is nothing more than emotional and psychological manipulation. For those of you unfamiliar with “The Book of Mormon Challenge” (also, and often more commonly known as “The Moroni 10 Formula”) it’s as follows:

The Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:2-6: 
And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God] that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.

This formula is intermingled with Missionary Coaching as Jerry Benson points out:

“In the Mormon Missionary handbook in the mid 1980’s, “The Uniform System for Teaching Families,” instructions were given to the missionary on how to “bring the people you teach to a knowledge and conviction of the truth” effectively. (Page A-l) “Keep in mind how you want the family to FEEL… help them FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE GOSPEL.” (Page A-l, No. 4)

Further instructions encouraging this FEELING were given:
“As the Spirit confirms to you that those you are teaching are receiving a witness of the Spirit, pause in the discussion and say, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Brown, what you are FEELING right now is the Spirit of the Lord testifying to you that we are teaching you the truth. You are beginning to receive YOUR OWN TESTIMONY of the truthfulness of this message.” (Page A-3, No. 4)

NO LESS THAN 84 DIFFERENT TIMES in the series of missionary lessons given to “Mr. Brown,” the missionaries were instructed to “TESTIFY” of the truthfulness of their message. Over and over and over again, they reinforced virtually every point they make of a personal assurance that it is true–that the Book of Mormon is true, that God did speak to Joseph Smith, that the true church was restored, etc., etc.

Although modern missionary handbooks [editor’s note  “The Uniform System for Teaching Families” was replaced by “Preach My Gospel” in 2005] have removed these embarrassing statements, they are still encouraged to “bear witness” to the truthfulness of their message as they feel the spirits prompting.”3

Benson’s outsider’s voice is joined by a multitude of former Mormons who have analyzed deconstructed this approach to “revelation”.    Consider the cases of Bob McCue (a former Bishop and Stake Mission President, and now an agnostic) and Shawn McCraney (a former Born-into-the-Covenant Mormon, Returned Missionary, Temple Mormon, and now a Born Again Christian). Their methods and styles are as different as these ExMormon men are. McCue, a Canadian Tax Lawyer, has written a series of calm, even toned articles on the Mormonism. Excerpts from his most comprehensive article on the subject of Mormon Testimony Bearing comprises a major part of this paper’s final section.

Shawn McCraney

Shawn McCraney

McCraney, on the other hand hosts a popular Salt Lake City based television program where he has been passionately – even aggressively – outspoken in his criticism of Mormon Testimonies. There was no better example of this than the August 26, 2008 show entitled “By Their Fruits – Part 3 – Revelation Unsupported by Scripture” where @13:01 into the program McCraney slowly and methodologically deconstructs not only how he developed his own Mormon Testimony but the techniques that he and his fellow Missionaries used to induce those investigating the LDS Church into developing a personal Testimony experience.

One of the keys to this proselytizing process, according to McCraney is that if an investigator’s testimony that doesn’t produce the desired result is simply rejected as either “false” or the investigator is told that they didn’t fully meet the requirements of The Moroni 10 Formula – such as praying with real intention or real faith. Therefore, and this can’t be emphasized enough, in Latter-day Saint culture only one result is valid when it comes to Mormon Testimonies!

This moved from abstract to real for me when a Mormon on a now defunct internet discussion board challenged me when I bore my Mormon Testimony which went like  this:

“I would like to bear my testimony.

I have diligently sought God regarding whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true or not. To that end, I have read the Bible and prayed regularly for over 30-years. I have also studied, sought God and prayed about the veracity of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, as well as many other official LDS Church documents. I have felt an intense “burning in my bosom” many, many, many times in my life — in fact, I carry it with me everyday of my life. And it is that which I feel when I testify to this:

I bear witness that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a man made religion synthesized by Joseph Smith, a false prophet. To that end I also bear witness that all the Mormon “living prophets” that followed Joseph Smith up and until today have been false prophets. Further, I bear witness that the Book of Mormon is a work of non-inspired 19th Century fiction. Finally, I testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as well as all it’s splinter groups are non-Christian cults.

Here I stand before God and before men. Thank you for letting me share what I know to be true.”

Ironically, I was only one of five board members who bore similar testimonies as a result of taking “The Book of Mormon Challenge”. Every single one was rejected as “invalid” by the Latter Day Saint thread participants. In the lightly edited board exchange that follows you’ll find my deconstruction of the psychological dynamics underlying the typical Mormon Testimony as well as the typical LDS reaction to it.

LdS:
“When you took the Book of Mormon challenge did you go in skeptical or did you think as I did, “How could this book come from anywhere but God?” That is what I asked myself, and that was the beginning of a revealed testimony which transcends the arguments of Man!”

My Response:
What you’re describing is what’s known as a “presupposition”:

pre-sup-pose
verb (used with object), -posed, -pos-ing.
1. to suppose or assume beforehand; take for granted in advance.
2. (of a thing, condition, or state of affairs) to require or imply as an antecedent condition: An effect presupposes a cause.
(Dictionary.com)

The problem that I see here is that when you took the “Moroni 10 Challenge” you didn’t read the Book of Mormon objectively simply reading and considering the words on the page you presupposed that it was from God and guess what – that’s exactly what you found!

Moroni's Grammatically Correct Promise

This is a known psychological phenomenon called a “gestalt closure” where your mind “closes the loop” with a known recognizable object, desired or predetermined conclusion. This is normal and natural – we all do it. It’s actually it’s an indicator that God is a God of order because He designed our minds to seek out order even in the midst of randomness or even chaos. Here’s an example:

GESTALT PRINCIPLE OF CLOSURE
The Gestalt principle of closure means that the mind is able to derive meaning from objects or pictures that are not perceived in full. For example:

I-m s-re th-t y-u w-ll be a-le to und-rst-nd th-s s-nt-nce

Most people are still able to read, “I am sure that you will be able to understand this sentence”, in the above sentence although nearly 25 percent of the letters have been omitted.

That’s because the mind is quite able to bridge the gaps that were left in the sentence. That’s due to Gestalt Closure. Here’s an example: In the figure above you should see an integrated figure thanks to Gestalt Closure:

Graphic_Closure_Cropped

An example of gestalt closure. The mind bridges the gap to fill in or complete the “white” figure in the middle.

Gestalt Closure and Snapping
However, Gestalt Closure also has a dark side. For example, in Mind Control Cults it’s used to guide the investigator to a “snapped” psychological state as their mind projects into, or brings to closure a predetermined conclusion that they conditioned to “presuppose” by the person in the cult guiding them to “snap”.

Such as, “If you will read the Book of Mormon with an open heart and open mind then I’m sure that you too will see – as we do – that an inspired book like this, revealed to an ignorant, uneducated farm boy, could have ONLY come from God!”

So you dutifully go off and start reading the same Book of Mormon and guess what, you’re sudden struck with the new “reality” is no ignorant, uneducated farm boy could write this great book of inspiration – it could have ONLY come from God!

Yet, others who just read the book without any Mormon preparation think that it’s (take your pick):

What’s the difference? One person reads the book with presuppositions and see inspiration and another takes it at face value and doesn’t. Same book, completely different results.4

LdS:
“For the record (and good laugh) could you please explain, or give us a practical example of a ‘stereotypical Gestalt Closure/Cult Snapping experience?'”

My Response:
Sure let’s look at the infamous ‘Moroni 10 Formula’ that’s at the core of ‘The Book of Mormon Challenge’ shall we?

shutterstock_book_of_mormon-1280x960STEP 1: The “Moroni 10 Formula” is introduced to the Investigator/Born-Into-The-Covenant-Mormon (I/BIC).
Look at the language of the passage it’s quite interesting – note, in particular, the bolded words and especially the bolded and redded words.

Moroni 10
2 And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
6 And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.

STEP 2:
These instructions implant random patterns into the subconscious of the I/BIC:

This book will open me to “wisdom”. […if it be wisdom in God…]

This this book will open my memory […ye would remember…]

This book will cause me to receive some things. […ye shall receive these things…]

This book will open my “heart” […and ponder it in your hearts.]

If I do the above I will receive something as it says, “And when ye shall receive these things”. Not“if” but “will” – an absolute emphatic.

Once I receive that “something” I must seek “spiritually”, (not intellectually) as it says, “I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true;”

However, if I want to keep the things that I’ve received my “heart” must be sincere as it says, “. . . and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart . . “

And I have to be intentional or I’ll not only not receive but not keep what I receive, as it says, “. . . with real intent . . . “

So if I don’t receive anything it’s my fault – I wasn’t sincere or intentional enough in my heart.

Or I didn’t have enough “faith”. [. . . having faith in Christ . . .]

But if I’m really sincere and really intentional and really have faith then I will have truth revealed to me, [‘…he will manifest the truth of it unto you . . .

And it will be from God [. . . by the power of the Holy Ghost…]

And if I’m “good” I will acknowledge this “truth”, if I’m “bad” I will “deny” it! [“…whatsoever thing is good is just and true…”]

And if I do deny it, I am denying Jesus Christ Himself! [‘…wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.’]

Again, these random prepositional parts and pieces are called “implants” – they create random but concrete forms so that Gestalt Closure can fill in the gaps via psychological projection.

More examples of how the mind engages in Gestalt Closure.

More examples of the mind gestalts to create a unified whole out of bits and pieces of information.

STEP 3:
So with these implants rolling around their subconscious, the I/BIC trots off to seek this transcendent experience.  And very often they find it . . .

STEP 4:
Then all these, loose, random, implanted patterns work until a recognized pattern merges and concertizes in the conscious mind and “BAM!” the I/BIC “Gestalts” the desired result: An emotional, non-intellectual, irrational witness that Joseph Smith is a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is from God.

OPTIONAL LOOP BACK TO STEP 1:
AND if they don’t receive it, per the Moroni 10 Formula, the I/BIC knows to do it again until they “get it right” and do it with enough. . .

  • Sincerity
  • Intention, and
  • Faith

. . . to achieve Gestalt Closure.  And this step is often done repeatedly until the I/BIC “gets” a Mormon Testimony that they can bear. Even if the Moroni formula isn’t fully understood, or only partially understood, or not understood at all, the I/BIC still has the random implanted thought, “There MUST be something here! The Missionaries/My Parents/My Friend/The Internet/etc. told me that there’s something here so there MUST be!”

The Mormon preparatory technique is a fine example of how to create a situation where Gestalt closure has a high probability of success.

But probably the most telling evidence that The Mormon Testimony is a guided Gestalt event is the uniformity. Sit through the typical (3-hour) “Fast and Testimony” meeting at your local LDS Ward Meeting House and nearly all of the testimonies given will match the following template with only the slightest modification:

“I know that God is our Heavenly Father and He loves us. I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth and translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church on the earth today. I know that this Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation.”
(“Testimony Glove”, Friend magazine, October 2008)

As Jerry Benson says plainly from years of working with Mormons, “Almost all Mormon testimonies are identical.”5

Were this truly a “personal” testimony rather than a “implanted” testimony based on a corporate template that has been reinforced by Gestalt closure wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect less uniformity and more originality? Just compare and contrast the heartfelt but often rambling, disorganized, fragmented, even confusing testimonies given in Churches, 12-Recovery Groups, even ExMormon groups to the equally heartfelt but neat, concise and formulaic Mormon Testimony and the contrived, induced nature of the latter becomes even more apparent.

LdS:
“You claim that when overwhelmed with evidence, logic and reason, a Mormon will retreat into their testimony like someone retreating into ‘A Panic Room’. This ‘Panic Room’ concept is a crock and just show how truly ignorant and uninformed you really are!”

My Response:
Well, I’m not the only person who’s seen this behavior from Mormons – it’s nearly universal.

When the facts, evidence, and feelings of Cognitive Dissonance get too hard to process Mormons retreat into the “Panic Room” of their “Internal Witness/Testimony” until they feel safe and settled enough to come out again.

I’ve seen it so many times that I’ve lost count – so have many others.

Former LdS Bishop Bob McCue

Former LdS Bishop Bob McCue

From A Former Mormon Bishop
The insight and observations from former Latter-days has been remarkable. Bob McCue (a former Mormon Bishop and Mission Stake Mission President) had far more to say about how this works than I ever have. What follows are excerpts from a lengthy 128-page paper that he wrote on the subject which validates much of the above.

Nowhere is the “saying is believing” paradigm more visible in Mormon culture than in the Mormon custom of “bearing testimony”. Young people who were raised as Mormons but do not “have a testimony” are encouraged to “bear their testimony” until the find it. That is, they should publicly state that they believe Mormonism to be God’s one and only true religion, etc., or that they want to believe this, even if they do not. This is the one of the primary techniques used by missionaries and members of the Mormon Church to “strengthen the faith” of prospective members and young Mormons, including Mormon missionaries who do not yet believe. A large percentage of the Mormon missionaries who started their missionary service with me in 1977 fell into this category.

Mormon Apostle Russell Ballard referred to this practise by telling a story that dates to Brigham Young, near the beginning of Mormonism, that is fair to assume has been told many times since then. He told this story at a Mormon General Conference on October 3, 2004. It is important to note that anything said by a Mormon Apostle at a General Conference is more important than scripture from a Mormon point of view. That is, to the extent that it does not contradict scripture it is on par with it, and to the extent that it contradicts or “clarifies” scripture, the scripture is overridden. Ballard’s remarks were as follows:

My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them.

Many years ago Brigham Young told of an early missionary in the Church who was asked to share his testimony with a large group of people. According to President Young, this particular elder “never had been able to say that he knew Joseph [Smith] was a Prophet.” He would have preferred to just say a prayer and leave, but the circumstances made that impossible. So he started to speak, and “as soon as he got out ‘Joseph is a Prophet,’ his tongue was loosened, and he continued talking until near sun-down.”

President Young used this experience to teach that “the Lord pours out His Spirit upon a man, when he testifies that [which] the Lord gives him to testify of” (Millennial Star, supplement, 1853, 30).

The lesson, I believe, is clear: having a testimony alone is not enough. In fact, when we are truly converted, we cannot be restrained from testifying. And as it was with Apostles and faithful members of old, so is it also our privilege, our duty, and our solemn obligation to “declare the things which [we] know to be true”
(D&C 80:4).

Brothers and sisters, join together with the missionaries in sharing your precious testimony every day, witnessing at every opportunity the glorious message of the Restoration. The fire of your testimony is all that you need in order to introduce the gospel to many more of our Father’s children. Trust in the Lord, and never underestimate the impact your testimony can have upon the lives of others as you bear it with the power of the Spirit. Doubt and fear are tools of Satan. The time has come for all of us to overcome any fear and boldly take every opportunity to share our testimonies of the gospel.

So, Ballard is saying several things. First, Mormons have a duty to say they “know” the Mormon Church is true more often. Second, they should say that even if they don’t believe it is true. Third, they should ignore the feelings of fear and doubt that indicate they do not know the Mormon Church is what it claims to be. And fourth, the act of saying something is true will cause them to “know” that they did not previously know.

And most of all, Ballard is saying that the basic premises of Mormonism are sacred, and hence unquestionable, as far as Mormon leaders are concerned.

I recall being told that story, and others like it, when I was a young person and did not believe that Mormonism was “true”. However, my testimony did not spring from saying things I did not believe. Rather, the dynamics described by the short story “The Missionary” are closer to what I experienced. And so, I was never a fan of the “say it even though you don’t believe it” philosophy that is prevalent within Mormonism.

As noted above, when I served my mission a large percentage of the missionaries who entered Mormon missionary service do not have a “testimony”. It is commonly believed within the Mormon community that young men are sent into the mission field first and foremost for their own good ? that is, to get their own testimony and become firm in the faith. And, they are encouraged to find their testimony by bearing it. That Ballard would say this at a Mormon General conference is not surprising since he has been a key player in the formation of Mormon missionary strategies for decades and has consistently taught this principle in that context at least since I was a missionary in the late 1970s.

Think of how the principles Aronson outlined above would be likely to apply to one of the many Mormon missionaries who starts his missionary service without a testimony. He doesn’t yet have a testimony of his own, and many times each week for two years he stands in public wearing an authoritative looking suit and bears solemn testimony in God’s name with regard to the truthfulness of the Mormon Church. He is not paid to do this. In fact, he knows that he is sacrificing his and his family’s money and time in order to have the privilege of bearing this testimony. So, either what he says is true, or he is a liar (or fool) to have said it. Since few people like to admit that they have been fooled or are a liar, the easiest conclusion to reach is that the statements made must be true. He also knows he is encouraging the people who hear him to make a commitment that will absorb a huge percentage of their lives and will change the course of their lives in dramatic fashion. This situation is calculated to produce the maximum attitudinal change in those young missionaries.

Something similar happens when regular Mormon members bear testimony to their friends and neighbours, and it is intensified if any of those friends become Mormons as well. This is why Mormon leaders like Ballard are constantly after the members to do missionary work with the friends, and to bear their testimonies. That is not to say this is a conscious strategy on the part of Mormon leaders. Rather, there is a strong correlation between members who bear regular testimony and members who remain faithful, hence testimony bearing is encouraged. Cognitive dissonance theory and the principle of insufficient justification in particular provide a cogent explanation as to why this is the case, and it has nothing to do with the truth of Mormonism’s claims. Not surprisingly, a similar strategy works well for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other religious groups.

oaksMormon leaders justify the practise of encouraging people to say things that they don’t believe on the basis that those things are certain to be true, so even if the person saying them does not believe them to be true, she is still telling the truth. So, testimony bearing is a fundamental part of the Mormon culture. Each meeting, class, Mormon activity, etc., is opened with prayer. Most Mormon prayers are an implicit bearing of testimony; a certification that the Mormon Church is the Mormon Church’s God’s true Church. From the time they are able to speak their first words, little children are encouraged to utter such prayers. They do so at their meetings on Sunday, and at home on a daily basis with their families. Those occurs both in private, with Mom and Dad initially saying the words for the child, and in public before family members in the home each day and later in larger groups at Church. Formal testimony bearing is part of every lesson presented at Mormon Church or activity, and every speech (talks by Mormons) presented in Church services. Young people, again, begin to give these talks on a regular basis starting at age three or four. They are encouraged to bear their testimony each time they stand up and give a talk. Most adults have teaching responsibilities within the Mormon Church. They also bear their testimony each time they stand before the congregation to teach.

Mormon hymns are another form of testimony bearing. Starting at age 18 months, Mormon children are taught to mouth the words to songs that testify to the truth of the Mormon message. Each week these songs are sung at Mormon worship services for children, teenagers and adults. Mormon are encouraged to sing these songs in their homes during weekly Family Home Evenings and to have them playing in the background at other times.

Once a month, each Mormon congregation has a “fast and testimony” meeting. This is a meeting held at the end of a Sunday on which food and water are abstained from for a period of 24 hours by faithful Mormons. Toward the end of that period, the testimony meeting occurs. Going without food weakens body and the intellect, making it more susceptible to emotional experiences. These meetings are intended to provoke emotional experience. Feelings are shared with regard to the importance of family, community and a part of every testimony is a formula which has been laid down by Church leaders respecting belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the current prophet (whoever he may be) is also God’s only prophet on Earth and that the Mormon Church is the one and only true Church of God on the Earth. No dissenting opinion is permitted. And a steady stream of members approach the pulpit to express their faith in public. It is thought “cute” to have small children to stand up before the congregation to utter the words “I know the Church is true; I know the Book of Mormon is true; etc.” Special, and highly charged testimony meetings are held for teenagers at “Youth Conferences” and other special youth meetings which for many young Mormons is where the first visible glimmers of testimony are felt, and magnified. The short story “The Missionary” explores this process.

The "Testimony Glove" a mnemonic device used in the LdS Church to teach Mormon children how to bear testimony.

The “Testimony Glove” a mnemonic device used in the LdS Church to teach Mormon children how to bear testimony.

A variety of other similar examples from within Mormon culture could be described. I do not accuse Mormons of consciously planning to brainwash their children and those who investigate the merits of the Mormon Church; however, the system just described could hardly be better designed for that purpose. Again, I do not accuse Mormons of dishonesty or deceit. There may be a few at the top that are guilty of this, but the vast majority are certainly not.

Other Mormon Behaviours Related to the Principle of Insufficient Justification
Mormon culture includes many other behaviours that are likely to bring the principle of insufficient justification to bear on the creation of belief in the key tenets of the Mormon Church. For example, Mormons go through odd temple rituals that require promises of faithfulness and obedience to be made in front of other members of the community of faith; Mormons act as lay leaders of their congregations and commit enormous amounts of time and effort to Mormonism in this way; Mormons spend two years as full time missionaries while bearing testimony daily and baptizing new members who look up to the missionaries as their literal saviours; Mormons hand out Books of Mormons to their friends and otherwise encourage their friends to join the Mormon Church because it is God?s one and only true Church; and Mormons engage in many other behaviours that are part of Mormon culture and that publicly commit them to the Mormon Church. In each of these cases, the principle of insufficient justification will kick in to make Mormons feel that the Church must be ?true? and otherwise more valuable that it should objectively or rationally seem in their lives. Were this not the case, they were either liars or fools to do and say the things they did, and it is hard for most humans to consider that as a viable alternative.

I engaged in many of the behaviours just indicted while I was a faithful Mormon. The principle of insufficient justification would predict that this behaviour on my part would have created a powerful cognitive dissonance barrier to any information that indicates that the Mormon Church is not “true”. This is because if the Church is not true, I have been either dishonest or foolish by virtue of having done what I did, and I “know” that I am neither dishonest nor foolish! And, as noted in greater detail below, the more important to me is my image as a smart person, the more effective that cognitive dissonance barrier will be.
(excerpted from “Do Smart Mormons Make Mormonism True? And Answers to Other “Tough Gospel Questions” in Reply to a Faithful Mormon Scholar’s Defence of Mormonism”; Bob McCue; June 20, 2004; Version 3)

Holy Bible_Edited

What Does The Bible Say About The Mormon Testimony?
For the Christian, Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (NIV) is as good a description of The Mormon Testimony as you could hope for. It says:

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.

Perhaps the most interesting phrase in this Bible passage is, “. . . if the sign or wonder of which he was spoken of takes place . . .” In other words, God, through the human instrument Moses, was saying, “There will be false prophets who can produce signs and wonders!” But then God goes on to explain how you can tell what criteria for veracity you’re to use when you’re confronted with one of these false but able to produce signs and wonders Prophets, “. . . and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,'” God says (paraphrasing), “Regardless of what signs and wonders the prophet produces you are to judge him by his behavior and on the content of his words. Specifically, does this prophet push you toward Me the true God of Israel or does he push you away from Me and toward other gods?” So at the end of the day, the issue with anyone who claims to be a divine prophet isn’t miracles or how the prophet makes you feel, it’s what he says and does – it’s it’s behavior and content not feelings, signs, or wonders!

So I have no doubt that Mormons and Investigators really do feel something when they apply The Moroni 10 Formula. I have no doubt that the infamous Mormon “burning in the bosom” is real. In fact, Christian Apologist and Ex-Mormon Timothy Oliver to this day says that the “burning in the bosom” that he felt as a Mormon was undeniably real! In fact I have felt that same sensation myself and I know for a fact that it’s real! It is a legitimate sign I do not deny or denigrate that fact at all. It is indeed a legitimate wonder. However when we apply the Biblical test these very real, undeniable “signs and wonders” are irrelevant because Joseph Smith:

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

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

  1. Prophesied another God
  2. Prophesied another Jesus
  3. Prophesied another Gospel
  4. Prophesied using Biblical words but changed their meaning
  5. Prophesied new revelations that are not in the Bible and, in fact, are contrary to it

Nowhere was this call to “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” from Smith clearer than in the King Follett Discourse when he said:

I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to inquire after God; for I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of Him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am His servant; for I speak as one having authority.

I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of a being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.
(“The King Follett Sermon”, Ensign, April 1971, italics added for emphasis)

Though I have had Mormon after Mormon deny it, the content of what Joseph the Prophet preached in the King Follett Discourse was clearly, “‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known).”6 As a result he was clearly a False Prophet. Therefore, the church that he founded are based on false revelations from a False Prophet.  And we have been specifically commanded by God not to join institution that holds to “other” gods. This is called “idolatry” – and dear reader, the Bible is clear what the consequences of following a false prophet into idolatry are dire both in this world and the next. If you have any questions, just see Revelation 21:7&8 which says:

“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
(Joseph Smith Translation, italics added)

Conclusion
The Mormon Testimony experience is a real phenomenon. However, applying the Gestalt psychological model to it, the experience and sensations surrounding it are easily explainable. Further, and to review, the Biblical witness is that Joseph Smith was a false prophet. Therefore a Mormon Testimony event is ultimately an emotionally induced psychological experience accompanying a testimony to a false prophet and other gods whom God has commanded His people not to follow. To do so is to take your fate upon yourself.

proper-application-of-the-moroni-10-challengeNOTES:
1 Jerry Benson, “The Mormon Testimony: ‘I Testify to You…’.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 My LdS Brother – who had been “prepped” by my Mormon Uncle – felt the infamous “burning in the bosom while my other brother – who had not been prepped by my Mormon Uncle – just picked it up and read it. He called it, “Like reading a book about a bunch of Jews on the Planet of the Apes.”
5 Op Cit, Jerry Benson.
6 And subsequent Mormon Leaders have further validated this by explicitly acknowledging that the Mormon Church follows another Jesus. Since the Bible is clear that Jesus Christ is God, this Mormon Jesus is also another God.

“In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages’”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the LdS Church, “Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads”, Church News, June 20, 1998, p. 7)

“As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some sub­stance to what they say”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the LdS Church, “We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90; )

“It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”
(Bernard P. Brockbank, LdS Seventy, “The Living Christ”, Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1977, p.26; )

MormonTestimonyBasedOnChurch

(This is the Second Edition of this article. The First Edition was originally published on September 26, 2008 on the now defunct Concerned Christians discussion board)

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thoughts-are-things
by Fred W. Anson

Personally, I find it helpful to get the “Is the LdS Church a cult or not” discussion out of the arena of doctrine and theology. After all very often arguing doctrine with religionists ultimately always seems to come down to a “my opinion v. your opinion” stale mate.

So let’s see if we can put the question on a more objective, dispassionate plane.

Instead why don’t we choose to label “cults” based not on doctrine, but whether or not the group exercises the mental and sociological control elements common in cults and recognized by secular counter-cult experts.

There are many sociological aspects we can examine to determine if a group fits the criteria of a “cult,” but one of the easiest models to use in evaluating cult mind-control is given by Steven Hassan. In his book “Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves” Mr. Hassan calls his mind-control model, “BITE“, which stands for “Behavior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions.” This diagnostic model was based primarily on Robert Lifton’s work but also draws from research from Margaret Singer, Leon Festinger and many others. It doesn’t target any group in particular and can be applied to any group be they religious, political, secular, etc. It just doesn’t matter. Here is the Steven Hassan BITE Model:1

“Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves” by Steven Hassan

“Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves” by Steven Hassan

BEHAVIOR CONTROL
• Regulation of individual’s physical reality
• Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
• Need to ask permission for major decisions o Need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors
• Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques positive and negative)
• Individualism discouraged; “group think” prevails
• Rigid rules and regulations
• Need for obedience and dependency

INFORMATION CONTROL
• Use of deception
• Access to non cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
• Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
• Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
• Spying on other members is encouraged
• Unethical use of confession

THOUGHT CONTROL
• Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”
• Use of “loaded” language (for example, “thought terminating clichés”). Words are the tools we use to think with. These “special” words constrict rather than expand understanding, and can even stop thoughts altogether. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words.”
• Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged.
• Use of hypnotic techniques to induce altered mental states
• Manipulation of memories and implantation of false memories
• Use of thought stopping techniques, which shut down “reality testing” by stopping “negative” thoughts and allowing only “good” thoughts
• Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate.
• No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful

EMOTIONAL CONTROL
• Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings
• Make the person feel that if there are ever any problems, it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s
• Excessive use of guilt o Excessive use of fear
• Extremes of emotional highs and lows
• Ritual and often public confession of “sins”
• Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.

Steven Hassan

Steven Hassan

BITE Anayses by Former Latter-day Saints
Mr. Hassan recommends that the BITE Model analysis be done by former members as they have the greatest insight into the group’s formal and informal behavior. Furthermore, since one aspect of Mind Control Cults is lying, deceit, misinformation, “spin” and other obfuscating techniques for hiding “insider” secrets, active members and official group resources (such as websites, tracts, and other public facing materials) typically only allow an investigator to see a false, friendly facade rather than true, harsh internal reality. So with that in mind, here are links to the BITE analyses that have been completed by former Mormons. I would politely suggest that these analyses answer this nagging question rather nicely – and I will leave it to the reader to decide the answer for them self what that answer is:

The BITE Model and Mormon Control
by Luna Lindsey (an ExMormon)
http://www.rationalrevelation.com/library/bite.html (retrieved 2012-09-25)

The BITE model applied toward Momonism’s two-year missionary program as submitted by an ex-Mormon
https://freedomofmind.com/Info/infoDet.php?id=372 (retrieved 2014-08-09)

The BITE model applied toward Mormonism as submitted by an ex-Mormon https://freedomofmind.com/Info/infoDet.php?id=370 (retrieved 2014-08-09)

Below: Steven Hassan speaking at the Ex-Mormon Foundation Conference in 2008.

NOTES
1 Steven Hassan, “Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves”, Ch.2.  Also see http://www.freedomofmind.com/Info/BITE/bitemodel.php.

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by Fred W. Anson
Well I’ve just found out that I’m an Anti-Mormon. Boy am I surprised!

It all started with Facebook. Some Mormon family members saw some things in my news feed that they didn’t like and BAM! just like that I’m an Anti-Mormon.1

Well since it appears that I’ve been judged, labeled, and pigeonholed I’ve got some work to do – some “heavy lifting” penitence for my “sin” if you will! Specifically I need to answer the questions – the really big ones – that I think every Anti-Mormon, like myself, shoud ask:

1) Who am I?
2) Where did I come from?
3) Why am I here?
4) Where am I going?
(and, of course, if you have a filmstrip that will help me in my search for happiness . . . ) 2

Who am I?
Well, I thought that I was a Mormon Studies Scholar specializing in Mormon History and Culture. After all doesn’t the dictionary tell us that a scholar is:

schol·ar
[skol-er]
–noun
1. a learned or erudite person, especially one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject.
2. a student; pupil.
3. a student who has been awarded a scholarship.

You see, studying Mormonism and interacting with Mormons and doing the same with non-Mormons involved in Mormon Studies is pretty much what I do, whenever I’m not doing anything else. It’s my passion. My joy. My calling. So I certainly qualify for #2.

#1, from what I’ve seen, always seems to be a matter of opinion depending on whether the work of the “learned or erudite person” is approved of by the person doing the assessment (“Yes, they are!”) or not (“What are you crazy? They’re clearly a hack!”). In my case I’m even “loopy” enough to publicly talk about and write on the results of my research with others. But apparently I’m no scholar since sometimes my work upsets people who disagree with it – especially True Believing Mormons. So that, apparently, automatically makes me an “Anti-Mormon” rather than a “scholar”.

However, I suppose I should take some consolation in the fact that in recent years I’ve heard the following people labeled “Anti-Mormon” by True Believing Mormons:

– D. Michael Quinn
– Grant Palmer
– Gordon B. Hinckley3

And oddly enough these are all believing Mormons! So apparently even being a believing Mormon doesn’t immunize one from being an “Anti-Mormon”. In fact, I’m sure that if queried these men would all declare (as they have) that they have a profound and love and respect for the Mormon people, culture and history – and I echo those sentiments. So how then are we all “Anti”? To me, it’s both illogical and irrational.

So I can’t help but wonder if this, “I’m upset because I don’t like what you’re saying so you must be an Anti-Mormon!” is a validation of that infamous quote:

“All too often [Latter-day] Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.”
(“Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (2007 Edition)”; Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling; p. 115)

“Man’s Search For Happiness” (1964 Mormon Missionary filmstrip)

Where did I come from?
I’ve never been a Latter-day Saint but I’ve had Mormon family members and friends my whole life. I like them, I get along with them (at least I think I do), and I like to think that my main concern is my Mormon friends and family member’s best interests. Further, I can’t help but believe that what’s true for me is even more true for the distinguished gentlemen in the above list.

Never-the-less, I do have something else in common with all those men: I’ve criticized the LdS Church and suggested that all isn’t well in Zion. Yes, I have had the gall and the audacity to criticize “God’s perfect Church” and call it to account for I see as it’s deficiencies. In addition, I have this in common with all but one of them: Whenever I study and discuss Mormon History it’s always true rather than faithful Mormon History.4 And since I have been on a quest to acquire and speak truth my entire life, I’m not inclined to give that up.

You see, to me, to present the white washed, spin-doctored view of the LdS Church that’s presented to the membership and the public as well as limiting one’s self to the “Faithful” history pontificated by the Church Educational System is akin to lying via omission or commission. Now I’m far from perfect but to the best of my ability I speak the truth as I see it, as I understand it, and as it’s aligned with the best available evidence – if that makes me an “Anti-Mormon” in the eyes of some . . . oh well!

Why am I here?
So how in the world did I get here at all? To answer that question we must “rewind” to the passing of Gordon B. Hinckley . . .

A Mormon family member sent out a mass email praising him and expounding on the time that he shook his hand. The “hook” that got me was when this normally rational, logical relative used these words, “When I looked into his eyes it was if I was he and I were the only people in the room – it was if I were looking into the eyes of Christ himself.”

That was wake up call #1.

Then a few months later Mitt Romney drops out of the Presidential race on the same week that the Wall Street Journal publishes an article revealing that most Americas consider Mormon beliefs troubling and thus would have second thoughts about having a Latter-day Saint as President of the nation.

Apparently the Mormon Leadership sent out some type of communique to the Wards about this article and Romney’s departure from the race because that Sunday that same Mormon family member sent out another email about how Mormons are just normal, average people and how we non-Mormons shouldn’t persecute them for their faith.5

That was bad.

What was worse when someone else in my family (who’s not Mormon) immediately replied with words of comfort and reassurance ending with, “… after all we all worship the same Christ”6 I sat there stunned and realized that I wasn’t equipped to reply intelligently to either of these bright, intelligent, well read family members even if I wanted to.

So I resurrected my long dormant (it had fallen to the side decades ago due to pressure of finishing college, starting a career and raising a family) study of Mormonism and got to work.  Well to my shock and surprise I found that I had discovered a new passion: Mormon Studies.

I’m hooked.

My favorite Mormon Studies quote – and the one the epitomizes my philosophy and experience – comes from LdS Scholar Kathleen Flake who said:

Superficially, one thinks of revealed religions as providing answers, and Smith provides as many questions as he does answers. Nobody is exempt from struggling with who he is. Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, thinking about Smith causes you to struggle, and that struggle brings as much of you into the question as it does Smith himself. He’s a bit of a religious Rorschach test.
— Kathleen Flake, Historian 
(from the PBS Series “The Mormons”)

That quote matches my experience to a “T”. I have been changed, I believe for the better, through the craft and discipline of Mormon Studies – it touches on everything and it stretches you everywhere! It’s funny that way. Further, I just find Mormonism downright fascinating in and of itself – period.

So, yes, Mormon Studies has become my “thing” – it’s what I really enjoy and, frankly, I seem to be pretty good at it. So, for better or worse, here I am pursuing what seems to be a unique gifting and doing the best that I can to steward that gift well. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but whatever happens I just keep learning, struggling, growing, and stretching.

Where am I going?
In addition, I see some good things in the LdS Church and I see even more in Mormon Culture. There’s also much – particularly in the former – that, in my opinion, is really, really bad and needs to change. Never-the-less I’m just crazy enough to believe that there must be a way to keep the good and jettison the bad. After all isn’t that what happened to the Worldwide Church of God?7

falsely-accused-on-social-mediaHowever, to get there from here the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from my perspective, must reform. And that, at least for me, is still a work in progress. That’s to say, it’s a work in progress for me because while I think I have an idea as to what end state might look like, I know that I’m not alone in this vision and I’m find the ideas and thoughts of others often more interesting than my own – hence the need for ongoing dialog.

I also know that time is on my side since the LdS Chuch keeps changing – and, it seems, usually for the better. Thus, I think that we will see a better more mainstream Mormon Church in 1-2 generations (that’s 40-80 years for those of you who are counting). That also means that I won’t be around to see it so I must be content to shoot arrows into the future via ideas carried on written words.

And you dear reader have just picked one of those arrows up. May I ask you to please carry it into the future for me? And if you do, on behalf of myself, my family, my Mormon friends, and my Mormon family members: Thank you!

And if anyone ever asks you where you got it from just say, “From some guy on the Beggar’s Bread website. I don’t know much about him – but I do know that he’s no Anti-Mormon!”

NOTES:
1 Now those of you have listened to the recent “The History of Online Mormonism: The Board Wars” podcast will know what I mean by “the problem of Facebook”, for those who haven’t here’s the short version: The great thing about Facebook is that it connects us. The problem is sometimes, those connections can be awkward (as any teenager who’s had their Mom friend them on Facebook will tell you!)

2 Yes folks, that was coded language. Link here (or see the embedded video above) to decode that great mystery!

3 Yes, believe it or not, some Mormons consider Gordon B. Hinckley an Anti-Mormon. When John Dehlin reported this in an early episode of Mormon Stories I didn’t believe it either. That was, until I saw this YouTube page – wow, just wow!

4 The best discussion of the differences between “True” and “Faithful” Mormon History is “Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History” Edited by George D. Smith which can be read online here or purchased from Amazon here. Marvin Hill’s Dialogue Article, “The ‘New Mormon History’ Reassessed in Light of Recent Books on Joseph Smith and Mormon Origins” (Dialogue volume 21, number 3, p.117) is also a good short overview.

5 Though I didn’t realize it at the time this was reflective of the infamous “Mormon persecution complex” which was described thusly in the first part of the aforementioned Mormon America quote:

“The thin-skinned and image-conscious Mormon can display immature, isolationist, and defensive reactions to outsiders, perhaps because there is no substantive debate and no “loyal opposition” within their kingdom. With some, it almost seems that the wilderness is still untamed, the federal ‘polyg’ police are on the prowl, and the Illinois lynch mob is still oiling muskets and preparing to raid Carthage Jail. All too often Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.”
(“Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (2007 Edition)”; Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling; p. 115)

6 Big topic. Controversial topic. However, I would encourage the reader to please consider the following articles from the critical perspective on this point:
What is the difference between the Mormon Jesus and the Jesus of the Bible?
Hinckley says Mormons Believe in a Different Jesus
The Biblical Jesus vs. the Book of Mormon Jesus
Is Mormonism Christian?: A Comparison of Mormonism and Historic Christianity
A Comparison Between Christian Doctrine and Mormon Doctrine
Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity

7 A portal page on the Worldwide Church of God’s transition to mainstream orthodoxy can be found can here. It’s a fascinating and inspiring story. If the LdS church will go this way is anyone’s guess but I holding out hope that the answer is, “Yes!”

(As originally published on the Mormon Expression Blogs website on July 11, 2011)

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