Archive for the ‘Michael Flournoy’ Category

by Michael Flournoy
When I was a child, I frequently fought with my younger brother. I’m not talking about play battles, I mean we were trying to destroy each other. My parents had tried to make us stop, to no avail. One night, amid World War 3, my mother made a startling announcement: she and our father had decided they were going to leave us and never come back. My siblings and I shrieked and wailed as they stalked out the door. Within seconds, the feeling of dread was overwhelming. As the oldest, the burden of feeding and educating the others probably fell on me, and it was a burden I had no hope of carrying.

I threw open the sliding glass door and plunged into the unforgiving night. On the back patio, I screamed their names, fairly certain they could not hear me and that I’d never hear their voices again. When I went back in, my parents were there, consoling my brothers and sister, saying they would never leave us.

Looking back, I do not fault my parents for what happened that night. Parenting is a tough thing to do. It doesn’t come with a manual, and half the time it’s like making your way through a pitch black room littered with Legos. Besides, we are all fallible human beings. What I cannot excuse, however, is a god who abandons his children.

A year ago I sat down with an LDS coworker who told me he couldn’t even visit a church that taught that God sends people to hell forever. This was exactly the sentiment I had felt as a Mormon, and it’s probably the way most Latter-day Saints see it too. A God who thrusts people to eternal hell just doesn’t seem merciful. I’ll be the first to admit that hell is a harsh punishment in Protestant Christianity, but it’s even harsher in Mormonism, where God sends his own children there.

According to Mormonism, every person on the face of the planet is literally the offspring of God. This of course, stands in opposition to orthodox Christianity where only saved believers are His children. God is believed to be omniscient and omnipotent; a being who loves everyone perfectly. Yet despite this, in Mormonism, only a small percentage of God’s children will have the chance to live with him in eternity.

Mormons do try to soften the blow of this by espousing a belief in three levels of heaven. Even though Heavenly Father only resides in the highest kingdom, and only the most righteous people will go there, they believe virtually all mankind will go to at least some degree of heaven. The lowest level, the Telestial world, is thought to be so beautiful that if we could see it, we would kill ourselves to get there. In the LDS mindset, this is far more merciful than being sent to a place of fire and torment.

But is it? Elder Holland, an apostle of the LDS church, once said, “I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife and my children. It would not be heaven for me” (Temple Open House video – click here to view). This is exactly how Christians view any place devoid of God the Father, it would not be heaven for us. Well guess what folks, in Mormonism eternal families and fellowship with Heavenly Father are both restricted to the Celestial Kingdom alone. So ask yourselves, is a beautiful world where the Father does not come, really heaven? And is it really less painful than a hell made of fire and brimstone?

Whether literal or metaphorical, The Book of Mormon describes the suffering God’s children will endure after the final judgment in Alma 12:16-18.

And now behold, I say unto you then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining to righteousness.

Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them to his will.

Then, I say unto you, they shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption.

Latter-day Saints may argue that this is a temporary “everlasting destruction” or it’s only talking about the few who go to Outer Darkness with Satan and his angels, but either way it’s a moot point. In Mormonism these are God’s children who are being abandoned, and left chained by the power of the devil.

Mormons also claim that everyone essentially goes to the degree of heaven they are most comfortable in, and it’s not really God abandoning us, it’s us abandoning him. What concerns me about this approach, is I believe there are people who honestly want God, but cannot abandon their sins, despite all desires to the contrary. These will have the doors to the Celestial Kingdom shut in their face and God will say, “I’m sorry, but you chose this.”

At least the Mormon god is consistent. Assuming that humanity does comprise God’s children, Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are incredibly harsh in John 8:42 where he denounces their heritage, “If God were your Father, you would love me…” In verse 44 he goes on to say their father is none other than the devil. Mormon doctrine also teaches that the Holy Ghost abandons us when we break the commandments, leaving us in the very teeth of sin when we need him the most. I would expect this kind of behavior from a teenage girl. I would not expect it from the highest being in the universe, the Alpha and the Omega.

In 1 John 4:8 we learn that God is love. I’m not talking about the “love” Mormons attribute to him: where he lovingly abandons his children to hell and puts the blame on their shoulders, I’m talking about a noble kind of love. This love is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV).

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It is not wrong for Latter-day Saints to struggle with the justice of God and the eternal nature of hell. It is, however, hypocritical to cast stones at Christianity while excusing the problems in their own theology. As for me, I cannot even visit a church that teaches God sends his own children to hell.

A satirical take on a popular Neo-Orthodox Mormon bestseller.

 

 

“And they fell down before me, and were about to worship me, but I would not suffer them, saying: I am thy brother, yea, even thy younger brother; wherefore, worship the Lord thy God…”
— 1 Nephi 17:55

I was a Latter-day Saint for thirty years before becoming an Evangelical Christian in 2016. I was a faithful member who magnified his callings, served a mission, married in the temple, and held a temple recommend. I wrote a book defending LDS truth claims and debated Protestants in online forums, podcasts, and a couple of times in public.

I enjoyed being LDS, but there was one thing that always bothered me: the culture of prophet worship. For many years, my eyes were closed to it, but as time went on it became more and more unbearable. I remember sitting in a BYU Pathways class and a young man made a comment about one of the apostles working a pitiable job in his youth. Enthused by the idea, he said, “It just goes to show that the prophets and apostles aren’t that different from us, they could have worked miserable jobs or sinned… I mean, I’m sure they never committed any major sins, but…”

His comment got me thinking. Where had the idea that the prophets and apostles had not committed major sins come from? Wasn’t that what made repentance so great? You could be the worst sinner on earth, and repentance could transform you into a great apostle or a prophet. I thought of Alma the younger and the apostle Paul, who had anything but flawless pasts. Yet somehow, the LDS mindset no longer considered that a valid possibility for its leaders.

Near the end of my tenure in Mormonism, someone got up to teach a lesson in Elder’s Quorum about Joseph Smith. He started the lesson saying he was going to teach us 15 things about the prophet that we probably didn’t know. My interest piqued. I wondered if he would mention that Joseph had a gun the day he was killed, or that he married other men’s wives. However, as he plunged through the points it became obvious that only good things were being said. Thus the Joseph we were learning about was not a man, but God.

Assuming that Joseph really was a prophet, and his mission was to divert attention away from himself to God, I cannot help wondering what he would think about the young man’s comments in college, or the Elder Quorum instructor’s lesson that day. Furthermore, if he was a prophet of God, I cannot imagine any reaction short of humiliation from him at the sound of hymn 27, “Praise to the Man” being sung in church.

Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 says: For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.

In other words, hymns are prayers to God according to the Doctrine and Covenants. So instead of a hymn and an opening prayer, there are actually two opening prayers. One’s just set to music. That’s why I have a problem with hymn 27, and you should too. A song about a man does not qualify as a prayer to God, so every time it is sung in church an opportunity is missed to receive the blessings promised in D&C 25:12.

Singing “Praise to the Man” is more than a problem of simple opportunity cost. No matter how you slice it, the song is worshipful in nature, and since Joseph is the subject of the song, the worship goes to him. Consider the fact that if Jesus became the song’s subject instead of Joseph, the lyrics would largely remain true, and would certainly be worshipful.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Great, another fallacious argument that Mormons worship Joseph Smith”. However, that’s not quite what I’m saying. To be fair, Mormon don’t typically have Joseph shrines in their houses. I have never heard a Mormon say, “So and so really needs Joseph in their lives,” or “save us, Lord Joseph.” Nor do I consider singing hymn 27 as idolatrous as praying to saints.

However, we read in Exodus 20:3-5 that we are to have no other gods before God, for He “is a jealous God.” You may think that since Joseph was God’s prophet, reverencing him is a way to worship God, but I would caution you against that mindset. If a man had a servant, and his bride slept with that servant, that would not be honoring her husband. This analogy is especially applicable because the church is the bride of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul says, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

I plead with you my friends, not to be taken by the subtle culture of prophet worship. When hymn 27 is sung, don’t sing along. In Matthew 6, we are taught that if our eye is single, our whole body will be filled with light. Immediately after, in verse 24 Jesus says no man can serve two masters, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” If your praise and your hymns are directed at Joseph Smith, then your eye is not single to the glory of God.

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
— Joshua 24:15 (KJV) 

In Christ’s Bond Service,

Michael Flournoy

Computer wallpaper promoting the 2005 LDS film, “Praise to the Man”.

by Michael Flournoy
There are three conversions in Mormonism: social, doctrinal, and spiritual.

Doctrinal Conversion is to believe that the tenets of Mormonism are true, along with The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Social Conversion is to believe that the LDS church is a godly institution, its leaders are inspired, and its founder, Joseph Smith, had an upright, moral character.

Spiritual Conversion is any experience that validates a Mormon’s beliefs.

The most common of these is Spiritual Conversion. It typically occurs after reading The Book of Mormon, which challenges the reader to ask God if it’s true. It promises that God will reveal its truthfulness through the power of the Holy Ghost. Rather than testing The Book of Mormon against the Bible, Latter-day Saints resort to subjective feelings, and often equate a burning in the bosom to an answer from the Spirit. The exact wording in The Book of Mormon is as follows.

Moroni 10:4 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.

These conversions serve as a three-legged stool to keep Mormons tethered to the LDS gospel. If one leg is kicked out, they can keep going on two legs while the damaged one is repaired. Thus, in order to bring them out of the church, at least two of the three conversions must be targeted. However, Latter-day Saints are unlikely to divulge details about their spiritual conversion because those experiences are considered sacred. To them, talking about their experiences with Christians is casting their pearls before swine.

That leaves the social and doctrinal conversions to target. Most Mormons lean either to the doctrinal or the social side of their faith. Rarely, if ever, do you find a Mormon who is on fire about the doctrine and the culture of the church. If they don’t lean either way, they are probably less active. I was a Ward Mission Leader right before leaving, and it was often said that a new convert to Mormonism needed three things: A friend (social conversion), a calling (social conversion), and to be nourished by the good word of God (doctrinal conversion).

Of the two types of Latter-day Saints, the vast majority are socially converted, cultural Mormons. They do not participate in online debates, and their testimonies are not founded on logic. I have been in several wards over the years, and typically I have found only 1 or 2 individuals per congregation that really know their stuff. These doctrinal Mormons are, to some degree or another, outcasts in the faith.

I heard a talk over the pulpit once, where a man was comparing his parents, one of whom was doctrinal, while the other was a cultural Mormon. He said, “My father knew The Book of Mormon backward and forward, he had much of it memorized, and he could explain why each passage was important, but my mom knew it was true…” He implied that because of her blind faith, his mother was the more righteous of the two.

My Conversions into Mormonism
Although I was born under the covenant, I still had to be converted to Mormonism. My social conversion came at age fifteen. I finally made good friends at church and it’s where the pretty girls were. I would have gone without being dragged there by my parents.

My spiritual conversion came a year later when I attended Especially for Youth, a week-long retreat for Latter-day Saints. On Thursday night they ushered us into a room and showed a video about Jesus. It had people testifying that he was their Savior and he’d changed them. That night, the real Jesus visited me.

I was faced with his majesty and righteousness. I knew that I was a wretched sinner, and I would have been satisfied if he had wiped me off the face of the planet. However, instead of wrath, he sent me his love. It was an unbelievable love. It’s the kind of love that says, “You hate my counsel, your feet are slow to do good and swift to do evil, and many of the things you do displease me, but I love you anyway.”

God’s overwhelming, undeserved love made me weep for hours on end. I looked at the context of the situation. I was at a Mormon sponsored event, which I interpreted to mean that the church was true. I decided that my allegiance would be to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When I turned 19, I turned in my mission papers and went to the far away land of California to preach the gospel. Even then, I was seeking the burning in the bosom my counterparts had experienced after reading The Book of Mormon. I was expecting something powerful like my Jesus experience, but it never came. Eventually, I settled on a logical testimony that The Book of Mormon was true, even though it made me feel like a second class citizen in the church.

Spiritual Conversion as articulated by a Mormon Apostle. (click to zoom)

In time, other experiences bolstered my spiritual conversion. On my mission, I met my friend Ed Enochs, an Evangelical Christian, who debated my companion and me for three hours one day. I walked away from that encounter convinced that Mormonism was false. I was saddened at the thought of my family and friends back home. How, I wondered, could such intelligent people be roped in by a scam like Mormonism?

Ed also convinced me that the Bible was the word of God. I decided to examine it and see if it supported the truth claims of the church.

Somehow, as I studied the Bible, I came across all the passages that seemed to support Mormonism, and my doctrinal conversion was complete. When I returned home I became an amateur apologist bent on defending Mormons from smooth talking Christians. With all three conversions in place, the LDS church had me hooked. I spent the next decade as its captive.

My Three Conversions out of Mormonism
By 2015, God was waging war on all three of my conversions. I decided that year to study grace in order to become a more effective weapon. In Mormonism, there are 3 levels of heaven, 6 definitions of salvation, and 50 shades of grace. So every time I came across heaven or salvation in LDS scripture, I had to decipher which level of heaven and what kind of salvation was being described. It was the most frustrating thing I had ever done in my life and I was envious of the elegant simplicity of the gospel my Christian friends believed in.

Later that year the church came out with its policy that children of gay parents could not be baptized. I was not on board with the policy, but what irked me, was the day after it was leaked Mormons were already defending the policy online. It seemed like Latter-day Saints everywhere were abandoning Spirit and scripture in favor of uncontested apostolic authority.

I was on an online forum one day and another Latter-day Saint said he didn’t have a problem with the policy, but if he did, he would just pray about it until he didn’t anymore. I responded, “If that’s not a cult mindset, I don’t know what is!”

Unfortunately, it was a public forum and my family decided to hold a small intervention for me. They warned me to use caution when discussing the church and one family member said throwing the prophet under the bus was the same as throwing Jesus under the bus.

I knew that despite my family’s concern, the truth could withstand criticism. In favor of my relationships, however, I decided to keep my big mouth shut. It was just a stupid policy, after all.

A few days later I saw Elder Nelson speak to Millennials on BYU TV about the policy. He explained that it was not a policy at all, but a revelation from God that had been unanimously received by all 15 prophets, seers, and revelators. My jaw dropped. Suddenly, my issues with the church were just as much doctrinal as they were cultural since God himself was the alleged mastermind behind the policy.

In Mormonism, there are three pillars of truth: the leadership, the Spirit, and the scriptures. Any of these can be used to acquire truth, but in my case, the Spirit and the scriptures were telling me the exact opposite of what the leaders were saying. That October I learned that there had been over 30 suicides of gay and lesbian LDS youth. I was shocked that the so-called “plan of happiness” was causing so much sorrow.

My social conversion shattered into a million pieces. I was no longer proud to be a Mormon; I was ashamed of it. And with my doctrinal conversion struggling as it was, I was dragged into a faith crisis lasting several months. Mormonism had infiltrated every aspect of my identity and questioning it caused me to fall into a confused state of depression.

I managed to stay active through it all. I kept studying grace and came to believe that Christ’s imputed righteousness granted salvation. I found evidence of it in both the Bible and The Book of Mormon, and for a time my doctrinal conversion stabilized. That is until God opened my eyes to the fact that my new favorite doctrine was hostile to the mandatory LDS covenants and ordinances.

My spiritual conversion collapsed soon after that. It didn’t matter that I still had experiences that I couldn’t explain away. One leg was simply not enough to support my testimony. I gave my life to Jesus and over time I discovered that my spiritual experiences did not hold up under scrutiny.

Kicking out the Legs of Conversion
Spiritual conversion is the toughest to target since Mormons are so protective of it. Ex-Mormons might have a shot though, by talking about the spiritual experiences they had while active, and why they failed the test of time. Most Christians will need to go after social and doctrinal conversion instead.

First, find out what kind of Mormon you’re talking to. Does she believe her leaders’ words are always inspired? Does she blur the lines between culture and doctrine? Is she LDS because of the great programs and family values? Does she think people leave the church because they intellectualize their way out? If so, she’s probably a cultural Mormon.

Does he believe the prophets and apostles sometimes speak as men? Is he wary of the culture, but protective of the beliefs? Does his testimony of the LDS scriptures have some basis in logic? Does he think people leave the church over cultural issues? If so, he’s probably a doctrinal Mormon.

Doctrinal and Social Conversion as articulated by a late Mormon Apostle. (click to zoom)

Conventional wisdom says to strike where the Mormon is weak, but that may not be the right strategy. Since my social conversion was weak, I doubled down on the doctrine to overcompensate. I overlooked the prophets’ mistakes because they were men. When faced with Joseph Smith’s misdeeds, it never dented my view that he was a prophet. I just thought he was abusing authority God had actually given him. All the social problems in the world could not have relinquished my grip on the Mormon church.

God attacked my doctrinal conversion first. That made me vulnerable to social problems in the church and set the stage for the avalanche to come. So if you’re talking to doctrinal Mormons, talk about doctrinal issues first: like contradictions between LDS scriptures and the Bible. If you’re witnessing to cultural Mormons, talk primarily about social problems: like Joseph Smith’s polyandry.

I would caution against coming off too aggressive with Latter-day Saints. Above all else, be a friend first. Mormons are wary of Christians who constantly attack their beliefs. We don’t have to tell our LDS friends they’re in a cult every time we see them. They already know what we think, I promise. Bold, fiery preaching may erode their doctrinal conversion, but if it is not coming from a relationship of trust, it will simultaneously bolster their social conversion.

Navigating someone past the three conversions is ultimately the work of God, and it’s a long, drawn out process. Sometimes all we can do is plant seeds, pray for the LDS, and love them. Mormons are unlikely to ever choose Christianity if all they remember from us is: ‘attack, attack, attack’.

I am forever grateful to the many Christians who befriended me while I was LDS, who respected me despite my beliefs, who saw past my religion and saw me, who prayed for me, who built me up, who let the light of Jesus shine through them, and who treated me like a brother before I was one. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.

 

A Critique of Brad Wilcox’s “His Grace is Sufficient”

“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
(Matthew 12:7 ESV) 

by Michael Flournoy
I was born and raised in the Mormon Church, and in early 2015 I began a serious study on the topic of grace. One of the first videos I watched was a BYU devotional given by Brad Wilcox called “His Grace is Sufficient”. Not only did Mr. Wilcox revolutionize the way I viewed grace, his talk was largely responsible for my journey out of Mormonism and into mainstream Christianity.

I was surprised when I listened to it recently, to see how it sounded to my Protestant ears. I caught myself saying “amen” half a dozen times. I was struck by how useful his catchphrases were for explaining my own transition. He says for instance, that we aren’t earning heaven, we’re “learning heaven.” He uses a piano analogy where Mom pays for lessons and requires us to practice. Practicing does not pay for the lessons, nor does it pay back Mom. He goes on to say that we’re keeping the commandments for a different reason, “it’s like paying a mortgage instead of rent, making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt…”

To this day Brad Wilcox is a favorite LDS speaker of mine. However, I found a few problems with his speech. Namely, the way he describes Evangelical Christians is mostly false. He says his Born Again friends often ask him if he has been saved by the grace of Christ, and he replies with a question they haven’t fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?”

This is a common misconception about Evangelical Christianity. Having been LDS, I recall thinking the Christian model of salvation was very 2-dimensional. Having passed through the veil so to speak, to the other side, I see now that Christianity is not what Brad portrays it to be.

In fact, as an Evangelical, my day to day lifestyle is not so different from how I lived as a Mormon. What has changed is my motivation for living the way I do: before, I was trying to earn heaven, and now I’m learning it. I was obeying from a place of condemnation, but now it’s from a place of acceptance. Before it was about fear, now it’s about appreciation. When I embraced Brad Wilcox’s grace, I found that I fit in with Evangelicals much more than my fellow Latter-day Saints. So in answer to his unconsidered question, here is my unexpected answer: yes, the grace of Christ is changing me.

As a Latter-day Saint, I scoffed at the idea that we were created for God’s glory alone. As I mentioned previously, it seemed 2-dimensional. I thought those who were “saved” would have no motivation to be better spouses, parents, employees, and disciples. I assumed as Brad stated, that Christians believed “God required nothing of [them]”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, God’s abundant grace motivates Christians to improve and give their lives to Jesus.

He goes on to explain that Latter-day Saints can sometimes view God’s commandments as overbearing and say, “Gosh, none of the other Christians have to tithe. Gosh, none of the other Christians have to go on missions…” Actually, we do. To set the record straight, “other Christians” do understand the importance of obedience.

I was shocked the first time tithing was discussed at my Protestant church. I thought I had gotten away from all that! My pastor explained that we don’t pay tithing to get into heaven, but because we’re free. As a Latter-day Saint, my perception was that Christians viewed grace as a license to sin. I see now that grace is better described as insurance, covering us in case we sin.

In his speech, Brad Wilcox mentions several people who don’t understand grace: there are those who are giving up on the LDS church because they are tired of falling short, young men and women who graduate from high school and slip up time and again and think it’s over, return missionaries who slip back into bad habits and break temple covenants and give up on hope, and married couples who go through divorce.

He chides anyone who thinks there are only two options: perfection, or giving up. He does not seem concerned that such a huge swath of Latter-day Saints are ignorant about grace, even after admitting he used to picture himself begging to be let into heaven after falling short by two points. My idea of grace was not dissimilar to his. Ironically, he belittles Christians for having the same view of grace he has now, while turning a blind eye to Latter-day Saints who hold an opposing view, as if it were a coincidence.

However, these views against grace are not a coincidence, but a byproduct. My diagnosis is that Brad Wilcox understands grace, but he doesn’t understand Mormonism.

After all, Alma 5:28-29 in The Book of Mormon says if we are not stripped of pride and envy we are not prepared to meet God, nor do we have eternal life. Where’s the grace in that? Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 says if we sin our former sins return to us. Where’s the grace in that? Moroni 8:14 states that should someone die while thinking children need baptism, his destination is hell. Where’s the grace in that? Alma 11:37 says that Jesus cannot save us in our sins. My friends, there is no grace in a religion that says we must amputate all sin from our lives before Jesus can save us.

Mr. Wilcox conveniently leaves out covenants in his speech, which form the foundation of eternal life in Mormonism. According to LDS doctrine, covenants like baptism and temple sealings are required to enter the Celestial Kingdom. These covenants are two-way promises where God gives us eternal life if we keep our end of the bargain. The temple covenants include keeping the commandments, so a Latter-day Saint who fails by 2 points on judgment day will have no right to plead for grace. In Mormonism, grace is not enough.

I do love Brad Wilcox’s speech. I would not be where I am today without it. That said, I call upon him to repent for his false witness against Evangelical Christians and I pray he will see the error in defending an organization that tramples the grace of God. I can say from experience that coming into Protestant Christianity from Mormonism is like “…paying a mortgage instead of rent, making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt…”, it’s the difference between being a servant of your own free will, and being a slave.

mercy-and-grace-heat-map

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.

"The History of Redemption in Four Words" by David Arms

“The History of Redemption in Four Words” by David Arms (click to zoom)

by Michael Flournoy
I was born and raised in the Mormon church, served a mission in Anaheim California, and was married in the San Antonio Temple. In 2012 I began a “career” in LDS apologetics when I published a book entitled, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism.” The book is no longer on the market, but to this day you can find old podcasts of me defending the Mormon church.1 In my mind, Mormonism was 100% true.

Then I heard the impossible gospel argument, which is based on the conditional statements in 2 Nephi 25:23 and Moroni 10:32.2

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

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”
— Moroni 10:32

 The impossible gospel argument says these verses teach that grace is only available after the beneficiary has extended every ounce of effort he can muster. According to the Moroni verse, all ungodliness has to be denied before grace becomes sufficient, therefore, according to Mormonism, grace is only for the perfect who don’t need it. The obvious dilemma is nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect. If you were, there would be no need to take the sacrament. The very act of taking it, is an admission that we have sinned and need to do better. Unfortunately, the Mormon church makes Christ’s admonition to be perfect seem like an attainable goal, when in reality 1 John 1:8 says: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

The impossible gospel argument really got me thinking about how grace works. In Mormonism grace is an enabling power, that strengthens us to overcome our weaknesses little by little. In theory, we might start the week with sins A and B, and if we resolve problem B, we’ll only have A left, and we’ll be that much closer to perfection. Reality, however, is far different. What I noticed, is I might solve sin B, but by the next week I had committed sins C, D, and F. If I stepped back and looked at my life, it wasn’t the stairway to heaven that Mormonism promotes, but rather a roller coaster of highs and lows.

Not one person I knew had denied themselves of all ungodliness. Not one. And being particularly weak myself, I knew that I wasn’t going to be the first normal person to do it. Then something clicked. I stopped thinking “if, then”, and started thinking, “what if?” “What if” Christians are on to something with their doctrine of imputation, and “what if” The Book of Mormon supports it? Imputation, by the way, is the doctrine that during the atonement, our sins were attributed to Christ, and His righteousness was attributed to us. Suddenly I saw 2 Nephi 25:23 and Moroni 10:32 in a new light. Maybe being saved after all we could do didn’t mean keeping every commandment flawlessly. “What if” it simply meant doing the only thing we *could* do: which was throwing ourselves at the feet of Jesus and accepting his mercy?

2 Nephi 25:23 makes a very simple statement: …we are saved by grace… It doesn’t say we are saved by grace and all we can do, it says we are saved by grace after all we can do. So it’s not a question of whether we’re saved by grace alone, but when we’re saved by grace alone. In conjunction with this, the Moroni verse says to “…come unto Christ, and be perfected in him…” That sounds a lot like imputation to me. So “what if” denying yourself of all ungodliness is really just accepting Jesus’ gift of grace? According to the Christian doctrine of imputation, doing so makes us 100% righteous, or “perfected in him” as The Book of Mormon puts it.

The truth is the impossible gospel isn’t a uniquely Mormon problem, it’s the problem for all mankind. We’ve all sinned and accumulated a debt we have no hope of paying on our own. And Jesus’ grace is the only solution to the impossible gospel. I believe the Bible and The Book of Mormon present a unified message about the problem of sin, and its solution.

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The Problem: from the Bible and The Book of Mormon
The great dilemma we have as human beings is that God will accept nothing less than perfection for admittance into His kingdom, but we have inherited a sin nature from the fall that makes it impossible for us to obey God’s laws 100% of the time.

“Wherefore, if ye have sought to do wickedly in the days of your probation, then ye are found unclean before the judgment-seat of God; and no unclean thing can dwell with God; wherefore, ye must be cast off forever.”
— 1 Nephi 10:21

“Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.”
— 1 Nephi 10:6

Nephi, who supposedly wrote these verses, is a prime example of obedience in Mormonism. He is attributed as saying, “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). This verse near the beginning of The Book of Mormon has set the stage for the idea that man is capable of keeping every commandment God gives us, even the admonition to be perfect!

But even Nephi would later state, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh, my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted” (2 Nephi 4:17-19).

The apostle Paul also calls himself a wretched man after admitting that instead of doing the good things that he should be doing, he’s doing the evil things that he shouldn’t be doing (Romans 7:24). James 2:10 says: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

Our sins, whether great or small, are also the instruments of Christ’s death. Our hands are dripping with innocent blood, and our verdict is guilty.

The Answer from the Bible
The Bible makes it very clear that salvation is by the grace of Christ alone.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.

Being justified freely by his grace (The Joseph Smith Translation renders it: only by his grace) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
— Romans 3:23-28 KJV

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
— Romans 4:4-5 KJV

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
— Ephesians 2:8 KJV

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be the righteousness of God in him.”
— 2 Corinthians 5:21 KJV

 Hebrews 10 contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant. In Old Testament times, God’s people were required to make a sin offering once a year. This continued to be necessary year after year, because they continued to sin. As a Mormon, this should sound familiar, as it parallels the practice of taking the sacrament once a week. Regarding the sacrifice of Christ, however, Hebrews 10:12-14 says:

“But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
— Hebrews 10:12-14 KJV

Because of his offering, recurring ordinances to wipe away our sins are not necessary.

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 The Answer from The Book of Mormon
Surprisingly, The Book of Mormon also has passages that fall in line with this doctrine.

2 Nephi 2:4-7 for example, states:

“And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh; for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free. And men are instructed sufficiently that they may know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. Wherefore redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”
— 2 Nephi 2:4-7

 Helaman 8:14-15 says:

“Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come. And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.”
— Helaman 8:14-15

Alma 37:46 proclaims the ease of living the gospel:

“O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever. ”
— Alma 37:46

Helaman 8:14-15 and Alma 37:46 equate the gospel with looking, and being saved. By comparing salvation in Christ to looking at the brass serpent, salvation becomes an issue of trust and belief, rather than an issue of works and covenants. Also of note, is the conversion of Alma the Younger in Alma 36:16-20 where he says, “And now, for three days and for three nights I was racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as my pain!”

This conversion story is filled with things we’ve been taught to avoid, like deathbed repentance, praying directly to Jesus, and “easy believism”. Most importantly of all, there’s no mention of a repentance process. The forgiveness and the salvation is instantaneous!

Concerning the doctrine of being born again, The Book of Mormon says in Mosiah 27:25-26:

“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”
— Mosiah 27:25-26

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Why it’s Important
You may be thinking, “wow, The Book of Mormon really does support the Bible in promoting salvation by grace alone… that proves the Church is true”, but does it?

The truth is, these verses about grace in the Bible and The Book of Mormon deeply oppose the actual doctrines of the LDS Church. Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 says:

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

According to this passage, all blessings must be earned. Contrast that with the God of the Bible, who sends rain on the just and the unjust!

Spencer W. Kimball wrote, “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation”
(The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.206).

Joseph Fielding Smith agreed when he said, “One of the most pernicious doctrines ever advocated by man, is the doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’, which has entered into the hearts of millions since the days of the so-called ‘reformation’” (The Restoration of All Things, p.192).

Even the 3rd article of faith states: We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

There’s no denying that Mormon doctrine states that we must continuously repent, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, receive our endowments, be sealed for time and eternity, and keep the covenants we make in the temple to inherit the Celestial Kingdom.

Since The Book of Mormon contradicts LDS doctrine, we are left with only two possibilities. First, The Book of Mormon is false, even though it happens to have some Biblical truth, in which case the Church is also false. Or second, The Book of Mormon is true, and therefore the Church is in a state of apostasy. Either way though, if salvation is by grace alone, Mormonism is not necessary.

My Testimony
As I compared Christian doctrine to Mormon doctrine, one thing really began to eat at me. In the LDS Church I was taught that God ‘loves’ everyone. I was also taught that when we fall into sin, the Holy Ghost abandons us until we get our act together. However, in John 10:12-14 Christ says it’s actually the hireling who flees when he sees the wolf coming, because he doesn’t care about the sheep. Jesus, in contrast, is the good shepherd. In 1 Corinthians 13 we read that charity endures all things and never fails. So a god that cannot endure my shortcomings, and fails me when I’m caught in the very teeth of sin, is a god who doesn’t love me.

I for one, would choose the good shepherd over a hireling any day. After all, what power does a sheep have to defend itself when the wolf comes prowling? None.

When I was 16 I attended Especially for Youth, a week-long retreat for teenage Latter-day Saints. One night they showed us a video about Christ. In it, people testified that he had changed them. That night the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus to me for the 1st time. I found myself faced with his perfection and holiness, and as a natural byproduct I think, I was also made aware of my own imperfections, and by comparison, my filthiness.

Mentally I thought, I must be detestable to this Holy God, but simultaneously I was being showered in his love. I was shocked, because I knew I didn’t deserve it, and yet there it was, full and unrestrained, proof that my sins carried no weight when determining God’s love for me. At 16 years old, it was the first time I had ever experienced unconditional love.

There have been so many times I have fallen short of God’s standard, and each time, somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve thought: I’m going to put God on the shelf, just for a moment, and I’m going to choose this instead. But God has never placed me on the shelf. In fact, he placed his glory and his life on the shelf, and he chose me instead.

So how can I not love someone who puts me first, even when my heart is far from him? Someone who has suffered on all points what I have, and who, like me, still has some scars that have never healed? How can I not love someone who has forgiven me 7 times 70 million times? How can I not love someone who went as my proxy through mockery, through scourging, to death on the cross, and who vicariously on my behalf, descended below all things because I owed a debt I couldn’t pay?

I tried, really, really, really tried to find that kind of love, grace, and devotion to the Savior in the current teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but I couldn’t – I had to look elsewhere. I didn’t want to but I had to. Which is why today I can testify that under his banner there is no condemnation, but love unconditional and grace freely given. And I testify, that His grace is enough.

My name is Michael Flournoy, and I’m a former Latter-day Saint. Today I am a bond servant of Jesus, a humbled recipient of the gift of His possible gospel. I am now a Born Again Christian.

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NOTES
1 See The Mind Renewed, “TMR 110 : Debate : Bobby Gilpin Vs Michael Flournoy : Mormonism & The Gospel”; Premier Christianity, “The Mormon: Why I believe in Jesus Christ Faith Explored”, and; Premier Christian Radio, “Is the Mormon gospel the Biblical gospel?”
2 See Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, “The Mormon View of Salvation: A Gospel That Is Truly Impossible”, Christian Research Journal, volume 34, number 04 (2011). Also see YouTube Playlist of Videos on the Impossible Gospel of Mormonism (video play list)

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by Michael Flournoy
Recently an article entitled “21 Reasons it Doesn’t Matter if the Church is True” came out of a popular Mormon website. It lists several reasons, regardless of the truth, that someone might want to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In my opinion, this is mind boggling. The primary reason to join the church, one would think, would be because it is true. While I was serving my mission in Anaheim, California I never told people they should join because we have great casseroles or a famous choir. You know why? Because if the LDS Church is false, none of those things matter! If Mormonism is not true, it is a fraudulent version of Christianity and an enormous sham.

So without further ado, here is my list of 21 reasons leaving the Mormon Church might be a great idea, even if it is true.

1) Formal Dress
It takes 20% longer to get ready for Mormon church…. maybe. Probably. Especially when you factor in all the kids. And really, who wants to be sitting in church with a tie that’s choking you to death the whole time and those starchy, formal clothes? Maybe God doesn’t care what we look like on the outside as much as he looks on the heart.

2) Formal Prayers
Who wants to be spoken to in thees and thous? Someone who’s not very personable, that’s who. In LDS Church literature about prayer, it is often explained that thees and thous are used in prayer because they used to be informal. Well, guess what people? Not anymore! Get with the times!

3) Formal Testimonies
Are you seeing a trend yet? LDS testimonies have so many restrictions on them, that they’ve lost all potency. No “storymonies”, no travelogues, no confessions, etc. This has been done to stop the crazies from going up to the pulpit and wasting hours of our time, but wouldn’t you know it, they go up anyways! And they ignore the restrictions! Last time I attended fast and testimony meeting, a crazy lady got up and shared story after story about nothing at all. The alternative, of course, is the standard, “I know the Church is true, I know Joseph was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, and Jesus is the Christ.” If you think these were the testimonies that defeated the armies of Satan, you’re kidding yourself!

4) Praise to the Man
The very fact that they have a hymn praising Joseph Smith (that they sing on a semi-regular basis) is reason to leave. Especially when you consider that God (allegedly) said in Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 that the song of the righteous is a prayer to Him. Thus, the opening hymn is actually a prayer, and when we sing about Joseph Smith, the opportunity to pray to God is sacrificed.

dying-church-15) Three Hours of Church Services
You read that correctly, three hours of Church.

One …

Two …

Three …

By hour 2.5, are we really still getting spiritually fed? Really?

6) Meetings, Meetings, Everywhere
If you’re unlucky enough to be in leadership in the LDS church, you’re required to go to extra meetings aside from the three hours of church on Sunday. When I was a Ward Mission Leader, I had to attend Ward Council (at 6:30 am, I might add) and I had to conduct a missionary meeting on Thursday evenings. I’ve had meetings go for hours as well, and all this detracts from time with family, and God.

7) Kiss Saturdays Goodbye
I remember once trying to start a soccer league in the ward on Saturday mornings. For whatever reason, it never picked up steam. First, there was the week we had to go put mulch around the church building, then the next week there was that move, then the next week… well, you get the picture. It is physically impossible to do anything not churchy on Saturdays.

8) Judgment/Gossip
If there’s one overarching negative thing about Mormon culture, it’s judgment. Mormonism has a lot of rules, and so there’s a lot of room to judge people for breaking those rules. For example, if I go to church with a Dr. Pepper in my hand, I’ll be judged (by some LDS) for drinking caffeine. I’m also likely to be judged if my kid is dirty, if I come without my spouse, or if I don’t take the sacrament. In fact, this culture of nosiness and judgment causes folks to hide their sins and keep up a very good outward mask of righteousness.

9) The Book of Morm..zzzzz
The Boring of Mundane, oops… The Book of Mormon is the most uninspiring piece of literature on the planet. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. There’s a reason most members can’t make it past 2 Nephi. But sadly, Mormons have to pretend that they like it because it just so happens to be the keystone of their religion.

10) King James English
Everything in the Mormon Church is in King James English. The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and every prayer ever said. Unless you’re a huge fan of Shakespeare, this one will drive you nuts!

11) Home/Visiting Teaching
The men and women in the church are generally assigned 2-4 families that they are assigned to go visit once a month. Not only is this extremely awkward, it often doubles as a way for the bishop to spy on families in the ward.

12) Where does the Money Go?
The LDS Church requires members to pay 10% of their incomes and contribute a fast offering once a month. There is, however, no public record of what the church uses that money for.

13) Building Cleaning
One place the church does not use its money for is janitors. Members are required to “volunteer” to clean the church on assigned days. It’s never fun, because most families skip out, leaving the faithful to do an unfair portion of the work.

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14) Too Many Children
I like children, I really do. But when there are 100 of them in the pews, with no child care provided, it can turn into quite the choir of loud cries and babbling. Mormons believe they have a duty to bring spirit children into righteous homes, and it can make church seem like a giant day care. Not only that but if you don’t have enough kids, it’s one of those things you could end up judged for.

15) Volunteer Opportunities are Chosen for You
In Mormonism, you don’t get to pick how you’re going to serve in the congregation, it’s chosen for you. You could be given the calling that you absolutely dread (like when I was placed over the ward’s thirty 2-year olds) and you have to do it anyway because it was “inspired”. If you’re bad at it, it’s just a sign that God wants you to grow in that area in your life. Right? Then when you finally get into leadership, you find out that people are chosen for callings out of necessity. What, we need a pianist? Okay, the next person who moves in who can tickle the ivories is our person!

16) Micromanagement
In the religion of agency, everything is chosen for you. You don’t have to think, because what the prophet says is law. You are told where to go to church and when. Even what underwear you put on is chosen for you. Sure, you get to choose between different “styles” of the same brand of underwear, and what seat you take in your required church time, but that’s just the illusion of agency!

17) Children of Gay Parents Cannot be Baptized
The 2nd Article of faith says, “We believe that a man will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Yet the LDS church punishes children due to their parent’s choices, by not allowing them to be baptized, and gain a stronger relationship with God. By so doing, they claim they are protecting the children…. better than God, apparently.

18) Depression
Utah, home of the religion of happiness, has an extremely high suicide rate. Since the church has a no-nonsense stance on keeping the commandments and makes it seem like the easiest thing in the world, everyone who doesn’t measure up finds themselves questioning their self-worth and abilities.

19) BYU Football
Seriously, who wants to be a Mormon when you have such a lame team representing your faith? “B-Y-Lose! B-Y-Lose!”

20) The Word of Wisdom
The Word of Wisdom, according to Doctrine & Covenants 89:2 is not even a commandment, yet the LDS Church has made it a requirement for entering the temple, and therefore to enter heaven. However, Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 that what comes out of a man defiles him, not what goes in. Leaving Mormonism means the freedom to drink tea, caffeine, even a beer once in a while.

21) Jesus
I saved the best for last even though He should be the #1 reason. Jesus was not mentioned in the article that inspired this one, and that’s probably because in Mormon culture Jesus is often left out. I’ve been through entire Sunday worships were the only time Jesus is mentioned is at the close of a prayer! I’ve even seen investigators come to church and ask, “Why doesn’t your church talk about Jesus?” The truth is Jesus deserves to be emphasized, not hidden behind covenants and ordinances!

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“Jerusalem Jerusalem” by James Tissot (1836-1902)

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.

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