A caution to Ex-Mormon Christians.
by Fred W. Anson
Most Mormons are surprised to find out that the Restoration that they think is unique to their church isn’t unique at all. In actual fact, as he had a tendency to do, Joseph Smith plagiarized “The Restoration” from contemporary sources. In this case his major source was a 19th Century Restorationist movement that began in 1801 in Cane Ridge, Kentucky.
That movement (now known as the “Stone-Campbell Movement”) was already an established subset of the Second Great Awakening and was going great guns long before Joseph Smith was even born in 1805. Further, even that American 19th Century restorationist movement had ideological and theological roots going back hundreds of years and crossing continents, cultures, and countries:
Christian primitivism, also described as restorationism, is the belief that Christianity should be restored along the lines of what is known about the apostolic early church, which restorationists see as the search for a more pure and more ancient form of the religion. Fundamentally, this vision seeks to correct faults or deficiencies [in the church] by appealing to the primitive church as a normative model.1
Essentially any group that claims that they have restored something that was lost from primitive Christianity is restorationist. That can range from the addition of a particular rite or belief to the rejection of a particular practice or doctrine. In other words, anything that “restores” the church via addition or subtraction to it’s primitive, apostolic state is restorationist. Does this sound familiar? Can anyone think of any church that believes or does this? Well, I could fill an entire article with just a list of the name of such groups since they’re as common as crickets and more are forming all the time. As the Wikipedia article on Christian Restorationism explains:
The term “restorationism” is sometimes used more specifically as a synonym for the [19th Cenutry] American Restoration Movement. The term is also used by more recent groups, describing their goal to re-establish Christianity in its original form, such as some [20th Century] anti-denominational Charismatic Restorationists, which arose in the 1970s in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In comparable terms, earlier primitivist movements, including the [15th Century] Hussites, [16th Century] Anabaptists, [19th Century] Landmarkists, [16-17th Century] Puritans, and the [12th Century] Waldensians have been described as examples of restorationism, as have many Seventh-day Sabbatarians.2
And just as most believing, practicing Mormons are oblivious to the reality that Latter Day Saint restorationism is just one of many various and sundry flavors of Christian primitivism, so are most Ex-Mormons. So it’s only natural that Ex-Mormons are going to feel some draw toward Restorationism since it’s what Mormons (particularly Born Into the Covenant Mormons) know best. Restorationist is how they’re been conditioned to think and feel about the Christian Church in general – it’s their comfort zone. There’s really no surprise here is there?
However, I would ask our Ex-Mormon friends to consider fully the dangers of continuing to uncritically think like a restorationist. Please consider this:
At least two disastrous consequences can be expected to result from a zealous embrace of restorationist philosophy. First, it easily leads to a spirit of exclusivism and arrogance, not to mention error. The natural outcome of believing one’s own group has the corner on the truth is the despising of all others who claim the name of Christ, seeing them as apostates, or worse, tools of the devil. No spirit of Christian unity can survive such a mindset. One has only to look at the diverse beliefs that exist among the restorationists themselves, and the resulting animosity that accompanies them, to see the inevitable result of adopting such a belief system. Exclusivism leads to pride, a sin especially abhorred by God (Proverbs 16:5; James 4:6). In addition, exclusivism can provoke delusions of grandeur in its leaders, making possible all manner of erroneous interpretations, not to mention rewriting, of Scripture designed to fit it to the paradigm of the group, without regard for clear and concise biblical scholarship and exegesis.
The second, and far more destructive, result of restorationist philosophy is that it denies God’s ability, or willingness, to preserve the faith “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), rejects His sovereignty over His people, and disavows His plan to bring to pass His will without fail, despite attempts by Satan and his minions to derail it. God did not send His Son to die on the cross for the sins of His people only to allow those same people to lapse into apostasy and languish there for 1800 years. Such a notion is not only absurd, but it defines God as a ruthless and capricious entity, not the loving and merciful Father God we know Him to be. Those who believe God abandoned mankind for centuries because of their unbelief and sin need only to read Romans 3, which makes it clear that even though men are unfaithful, this does not nullify God’s faithfulness. The Holy Spirit is, and always has been, active in the world “convict[ing] the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment” (John 16:8), drawing God’s people from every race, tribe, nation and language to the Savior. In every era, the redeemed of God have responded to His Spirit because that is God’s plan, and it will continue unabated to the day of Christ’s return. Until then, we have the assurance of Jesus Himself that He will be with us “always, even until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).3
A Practical Example
Another dangerous by-product of Restorationist philosophy can be taking extreme or dogmatic positions on non-essentials of the Christian Faith. To point to just one of many such examples, some Restorationist groups (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, some Church of Christ groups, etc.) take extreme positions on celebrating some or all holidays – “extreme” as in that they not only don’t recognize or celebrate them, they condemn those who do.
Now let’s be clear: No one denies that the Roman Catholic Church syncretized pagan holidays in creating Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. However, does this really mean that Christians and Churches that observe these holidays are in error or apostate? Thinking critically, couldn’t a counter argument be made that the priests actually took righteous domination over these pagan holidays and redeemed them by “Christianizing” them? As the pastor of a traditional, liturgical Lutheran church noted well in this regard:
Of the major Christian Holy Days, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are the high points in the Historic Church Year. On these Holy Days we celebrate God the Father’s gift of His only-begotten Son in the birth of Jesus Christ, we celebrate God the Son’s gift of His life, sufferings, death and resurrection at Passover/Easter, and we celebrate God the Holy Spirit’s gift of calling us to faith and dwelling in us through Word and Sacrament.
These Holy Days are also one of the main fronts in the battle against Christianity by people who wish to undermine Christianity. Part of undermining Christianity means undermining all the claims of Christianity about what the Bible teaches. The historical liturgical practice of the church has been the focal point of the application of Biblical doctrine to the faith and lives of the saints. By discrediting the liturgical practice of the Church the enemies of Christianity try to distract from biblical teaching for that day and discredit that teaching.
This is not to say that these liturgical practices or holiday traditions should be required in any legalistic way. This is to point out that the efforts of those who try to discredit the authenticity of Christian Holy days and seek to scandalize the traditions associated with those days do so to undermine the biblical doctrine the Church teaches through the observance of these Holy Days.
And so any Christian holy day that could be claimed is claimed by the anti-Christian groups. We have seen this with Halloween [which has supplanted Reformation Day on October 31] and we will see it with many other lesser Historic Christian celebrations.4
This isn’t to say that this Lutheran Pastor is entirely right, Restorationist groups completely wrong, or vice versa. As stated previously, choosing to observe or not observe all or a particular holiday is a matter of conscience and personal conviction that has nothing to do with our salvation. This is just as Paul said Colossians 2:16 (NKJV) when he said, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.”
In the end each of us is left to come their own conclusion and life decision on this matter as the “Got Questions” article on this subject states well:
The Bible nowhere instructs Christians to celebrate holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentines Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. This leads some to refrain from observing these celebratory days, even those that are considered Christian holidays. However, at the same time, the Bible does not speak against celebrating holidays.5
We would also remind everyone that since this is a non-essential of the Christian faith, that liberty and charity should prevail toward those who take a position on this subject that differs from our own.
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity.
Please don’t think that this article means that Ex-Mormons should never consider or join a restorationist church after leaving Mormonism. I would be a hypocrite were I to say that since I’m a Charismatic Christian – that is, someone whose theology includes a belief that God has supernaturally restored the gifts of the Spirit to the church through various revivals throughout Christian Church history. Further, since the congregation I’m a member of is Charismatic, I am in fact in a restorationist church myself. However, that said, there’s a lot of Charismatic Christianity that I refuse to have anything to do so because it fails to pass biblical scrutiny. Rethink restorationism? Oh trust me, I did, I have, and I still do!6
I’m also speaking from hard experience. My lack of discernment and inability to question Christian restorationism landed me in a Restorationist Mind Control Cult back in the day – and my inability to rethink restorationism kept me there for thirteen years.7 So I’m issuing a hard won caution here: If you’re an Ex-Mormon you need to proceed with caution because many restorationist groups are imbalanced, in error, or heretical. Some are even cults that are very similar to the one that you’ve just left – McCraneyism immediately springs to mind here. So be careful out there – think, think, and then rethink!
Finally, I would suggest that biggest error of Restorationism is the presumption that the original Apostolic Church was pristine, pure, perfect, and problem free. Yet all you have to do is read the New Testament to see that this simply wasn’t the case. So when people say they want to restore the New Testament Church, the logical question is, “Which one?” Corinth? Why would you want to restore that dysfunctional mess? Or maybe Galatia where a false gospel was being taught? What about the Seven Churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation – five of which Christ Himself rebukes? Even the original church of Jerusalem (see Acts 2) was slow to fulfill the Great Commission until God stirred up persecution and goaded them into doing so (see Acts 8).
Can you see how presuming that there has ever been an ideal or perfect Church on earth leads to the false conclusion that there can be a perfect church in our day? After all, if Christ’s Apostles couldn’t do it what makes you think that we can? Wasn’t Paul clear in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that the perfect and complete won’t come until the return of Christ? Wasn’t he clear in Ephesians 5:25-27 that Christ is both preserving and preparing His future bride of Revelation 21:2 (notice, present and future tense not past) to be holy, without spot, wrinkle, or blemish? Perhaps, this rethinker of Restorationism said it best with this challenge:
We should stop idolizing a church era, and start worshiping her Creator. We should stop idolizing the past, and look forward to our future with Jesus. We should recognize that we are on a journey, and our ultimate goal is not to reach the “golden age of the church” but it is to earnestly strive to be like our humble Savior in whatever time, season, or place God has appointed us to be.8
Amen Brother Recovered Restorationist, amen!
1 Wikipedia, “Restorationism”
3 “What is Restorationism?”, GotQuestions.org website
4 Pastor Joseph Abrahamson, “Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas”
5 “Should a Christian celebrate holidays?”, GotQuestions.org website. And I would encourage the reader to consider this article in it’s entirety in answering this question for them self.
6 How else does one end up both Reformed and non-cessationist like I am – much to the dismay of both my friends in both camps who just can’t figure that one out. To explain my stance a bit, I could only nod in complete agreement with fellow Charismatic Reformed Christian R.T. Kendall when he wrote:
My position is clear. I describe myself as a Reformed theologian—not only in belief but also in practice. I have to say that for some reason I have often felt last in line as far as signs and wonders are concerned. While others have been slain in the Spirit all around me, my body has remained resolutely upright—like the Statue of Liberty. While members of my family have seen physical healing personally, I have not. It is true that I have spoken in tongues, but you would not find an occasion of that in public. In short: if I am charismatic, I am the least of the brethren.
(R.T. Kendall, “Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives”, Kindle Location 409)
7 See Fred W. Anson, “My Life as a Mind Control Cultist (Part 1)”
8 Yuriy Stasyuk, “12 Reasons Why The Early Church Isn’t the Ideal Church”