Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

A Biblical Response to Mormon Communion With the Dead Teachings

Moroni Temple Shadow Red and Grainy

“Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'”
(Matthew 8:22, NKJV)

by Fred W. Anson
It often comes as a shock to many transitioning Ex-Mormons that contact and communication with the dead is prohibited in the strongest terms in the Bible. Please consider the following:

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.
(Deuteronomy 18:9-12, NKJV)

And lest the connection to Mormonism be missed, on April 6, 1853, at the ceremony for laying the Northeast Corner Stone of the Salt Lake City Temple, Mormon Apostle Parley Pratt bragged that Mormonism was ahead of the spiritist curve when,

A quarter of a century since, an obscure boy and his few associates, in the western wilds of New York, commenced to hold converse with the dead.” He further stated that, “The Lord has ordained that all the most holy things pertaining to the salvation of the dead, and all the most holy conversations and correspondence with God, angels, and spirits, shall be had only in the sanctuary of His holy Temple on the earth, when prepared for that purpose by His Saints; and shall be received and administered by those who are ordained and sealed unto this power, to hold the keys of the sacred oracles of God.” Thus temple endowed Latter-day Saints, “By one holding the keys of the oracles of God, [act] as a medium through which the living can hear from the dead.
(Parley Pratt, “Spiritual Communication”, Journal of Discourses, 2:43-46; bolding added for emphasis)

The Impassable Chasms
Yet in the gospel of Luke Jesus tells the following story which states explicitly that there are impassable chasms that separate the living from the dead and those in heaven from those in hell:

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

Lazaraus and the Rich Man EDITED

“Lazarus and the Rich Man” (unknown artist)

Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’
(Luke 16:19-31, NKJV)

Again, please notice these words, “there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” So the Bible explicitly states that there’s a gulf that the living can’t cross to get to the dead, or those in hell can’t pass to get to those in heaven (and vice versa). That pretty much precludes any notions of the dead being guardian angels for the living or the dead being able to communicate with the living in Mormon Temples or anywhere else doesn’t it?

Angels and Humans Are Different Species and Beings
And as the Compelling Truth website explains, human beings and angels are not the same species:

Angels are created beings. They are an entirely separate type of creature from humans. People do not become angels after death, and angels do not become human. They are as different from us as we are from the animals. Angels are intelligent beings (Matthew 8:29; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Peter 1:12), they are emotional beings (Luke 2:13; James 2:19; Revelation 12:17), and each has an individual personality and will (Luke 8:28-31; 2 Timothy 2:26; Jude 6). Angels are spirit beings (Hebrews 1:14) and do not have physical bodies.
(“What are angels according to the Bible?”, Compelling Truth website)

Further, as Mormon Researcher, Bill McKeever explains, the Bible does not teach that humans can become angels:

While the belief in angels is not unique to the Christian faith, Mormonism drastically differs from orthodox doctrine by espousing the concept that humans have the capability to end up as angels. Certainly Mormonism cannot be credited with originating this erroneous concept. This “human to angel” idea has long been a part of the folklore of many countries. Upon the loss of a loved one, how many children have been comforted by well-meaning people who have said this particular loved one “is an angel now”?
…the concept of men and women turning into angels has no biblical support. To begin with, the Bible declares that angels are a distinct creation of God; in other words, an angel was created as such, and is not a being that has undergone some sort of spiritual development or physical evolution. Psalm 148:2,5 clearly demonstrates that angels were created as angels when it says, “Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts…Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.”

In his epistle to the church at Colosse, the Apostle Paul expounds the fact that it was through Christ that all things were created by Him and for Him (2:15). These include what Paul refers to as ‘principalities.’ W.E. Vine notes that the word translated principality in the KJV ‘is used of supramundane beings who exercise rule, called principalities.’ He states that this word can denote holy angels or evil angels. (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 1966, pg. 213). As with many other doctrines unique to Mormonism, there is no biblical justification for the claim that angels were once humans.
(Bill McKeever, “Angels and Humans”, Mormonism Research Ministry website)

So If I’m Not Contacting the Dead What Are They?
The name for what Mormonism teaches is “Necromancy”. As the GotQuestions website explains:

Necromancy is defined as the conjuring of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events. In the Bible, necromancy is also called ‘divination,’ ‘sorcery’ and ‘spiritism’ and is forbidden many times in Scripture (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10; Galatians 5:19-20; Acts 19:19) as an abomination to God. It is something that the Lord speaks very strongly against and is to be avoided as much as any evil. The reason for this is twofold.

First, necromancy is going to involve demons and opens the one who practices it to demonic attack. Satan and his demons seek to destroy us, not to impart to us truth or wisdom. We are told that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Second, necromancy does not rely on the Lord for information, the Lord who promises to freely give wisdom to all who ask for it (James 1:5). This is especially telling because the Lord always wants to lead us to truth and life, but demons always want to lead us to lies and serious damage.

The idea that dead people’s spirits can be contacted for information is false. Those who attempt such contact inevitably contact demonic spirits, not the spirits of dead loved ones. Those who die go immediately to heaven or hell—heaven if they believed in Jesus as Savior, and hell if they did not. There is no contact between the dead and the living. Therefore, seeking the dead is unnecessary and very dangerous.”
(“Necromancy”, GotQuestions? Website)

Still Stinging From the Shock?
Many transitioning Ex-Mormons feel stung, shocked, even angry when they learn what the Bible really says about contact and communication with the dead. This shock is, no doubt, due to the casual acceptance – even encouragement – of such contact and communication in Mormon culture that contrasts so markedly with the Bible’s sound condemnation and loud, repeated warnings against these practices. For example, consider what sixth President of the LdS Church, Joseph F. Smith, taught:

“We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission. The dead are not perfect without us, neither are we without them [see D&C 128:18]. We have a mission to perform for and in their behalf; we have a certain work to do in order to liberate those who, because of their ignorance and the unfavorable circumstances in which they were placed while here, are unprepared for eternal life; we have to open the door for them, by performing ordinances which they cannot perform for themselves, and which are essential to their release from the ‘prison-house,’ to come forth and live according to God in the spirit, and be judged according to men in the flesh [see D&C 138.-33-34].”
(“Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith; Chapter 46: Redeeming Our Dead through Temple Service”, p.410; Official LdS Church manual)

And as the Life After website notes:

The prevalence of necromancy in Mormonism is quite astonishing and can be seen in everything Mormons do. From Joseph Smith and the average Mormon talking to dead people to the Mormon temple endowment ceremonies; there’s always something you can spend countless hours researching.

Moreover, leaders of the Church never miss a chance reminding adults and grooming the young that dead ancestors are waiting for Mormons to redeem them. To make matters even worse they’re also told they can’t be saved without performing works for deceased ancestors.”
(“Necromancy and Mormonism”, Life After website)

And Mormon Researcher, Sharon Lindbloom notes this casual acceptance of and positive indoctrination toward Necromancy starts at a very young age in Mormon Culture:

People who have died are very important to members of the Mormon Church. The dead are a very important aspect of the Mormon gospel. Because the dead are such an integral part of Mormonism, it makes sense that Mormon children would be taught about the Church’s doctrine of baptism for the dead.

In a Mormon Church manual produced for teaching children ages 8 through 11 (“Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History”; Lesson 34: Joseph Smith Teaches about Baptism for the Dead”, pp.193-197)

"Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff" by Ken Corbett

“Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff” by Ken Corbett

The lesson teaches children both the historical background on the development of Mormonism’s baptism for the dead as well as the scriptures that Mormons understand to be support for the doctrine. As part of the lesson, the manual offers a few “enrichment activities” designed to enhance the children’s grasp of the importance of baptizing the dead. Two of the offered enrichment activities focus on telling the children what most of us would call ‘ghost stories.1

Mormons are inspired by these stories. Unlike Christianity, which recognizes a biblical prohibition against contact with the dead (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:9-14), Mormonism embraces it. Joseph Heinerman, whose book is quoted (above) in the Primary 5 manual, states,

‘These temple manifestations signify God’s distinct approval of the temple labors performed by His people here upon the earth. Hopefully, these inspiring stories will edify the readers as they have me and motivate them to perform temple work more diligently on behalf of both the living and the dead.’ (Temple Manifestations, Preface)

God says communication with the dead is a sin, yet Mormonism teaches little children to welcome necromantic contact, be inspired by it, and interpret it as God’s direction and/or approval of proxy ordinance work for the dead. Does anyone else find this troubling?
(Sharon Lindbloom, “Mormonism and Visitations from the Dead”; Mormon Coffee website)

Grieve With Those Who Grieve – But Be Wise!
Finally, and given all this, I would encourage the reader always be patient and sympathetic to people who grieve. Often people who are grieving will have dreams, maybe even some emotionally driven experiences, that are just normal psychological processing that’s rooted in the physiology of the brain. This is normal human biology and psychology, nothing more.

For example, a friend’s mother claimed to have had a posthumous visitation by a cat she loved, and then a vivid, reassuring dream about her mother while she was still grieving their demise. She interpreted these incidents as being miraculous or supernatural in nature. But were they? What does the Bible say?
Speaking personally, each time after I lost a parent I dreamed about them repeatedly when I was early into the grieving process and still working through my loss. Sometimes they would talk to me and comfort me in those dreams. Other times I felt like I could feel them watching over me with love during times of stress and sadness. This wasn’t demonic activity, this was just my mind and emotions coming to grips with a major, emotional jolt and sudden life change. I know this now but in the overheated emotion of the moment, it was easy to think otherwise.

So one shouldn’t jump at the notion of demons when they have or hear of these experiences. Whether it’s a demon is neither here nor there – that’s not why the experience has such meaning and pull for the person who’s had it. The reason the experiences seem so striking is due to their grief and pain. What in normal circumstances would be dismissed due to stress or fatigue in a state of intense emotional pain can easily be interpreted as something it’s not. And that’s why we have to work through without swinging the pendulum too far to either the “God told me” or “I’m being harassed by demons” extreme during those seasons. The important thing is to resist being fooled by these psychologically induced experiences. They are bittersweet and fleeting.

FURTHER STUDY
This article was just a short primer on this subject. The Life After website has compiled a series of articles that covers this subject in depth. It is highly recommended for those who would like to learn more about this important subject. Click here for the portal page for these articles.

mormon3

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The LdS Church got in trouble with the worldwide Jewish community for vicariously proxy baptizing victims of the holocaust .

NOTES:
1 Ms. Lindbloom’s article continues at this point as follows:

The first [ghost story] is about two friends, Brigitte and Carla.

Brigitte and Carla met in the third grade in Europe. Carla had just been baptized and wanted everyone to know she was a member of the “only true church.” Some of Carla’s classmates made fun of her for saying this, but Brigitte became her friend.

Brigitte’s family was active in their own church, but they were respectful of other religions. Brigitte even went to Church activities with Carla a few times. Brigitte and Carla remained friends all through their school years. Then, at seventeen years of age, Brigitte died.

Two months later Carla awoke in the night to see Brigitte standing at the foot of her bed. She did not speak, and Carla wondered why she had appeared to her. The following year Brigitte visited Carla again, and she came a third time the next year.

Carla later moved to the United States and was married in the Salt Lake Temple. After Carla had been through the temple, Brigitte appeared to her more often. Then, a week before Carla and her husband were planning to go to the temple again, Brigitte appeared to Carla three nights in a row.

On the third night Carla woke her husband and told him about Brigitte’s visits. They both felt Brigitte had been taught the gospel plan in the spirit world and had accepted it. Now she wanted to be baptized. Carla and her husband prayed and asked the Lord how to obtain the necessary records. They were inspired to contact a researcher and were able to get Brigitte’s death certificate. Carla was now able to send in Brigitte’s name to the temple so her temple work, including baptism, could be done.

A few weeks later Carla again awoke to see Brigitte. This time Brigitte was dressed in a white gown and was standing in a place that looked like a baptismal room. The next morning Carla received a letter from the temple telling her that the baptism for Brigitte had been done. (See Carla Sansom, “From Beyond the Veil,” Ensign, Feb. 1978, pp. 49–50.)

The second enrichment story for the children is about the experience of a temple recorder in the Manti Temple:

Brother J. Hatten Carpenter, who served as a recorder in the Manti Temple, told of a patriarch who was watching baptisms for the dead being performed in the temple one day.

The patriarch saw “the spirits of those for whom they were officiating in the font by proxy. There the spirits stood awaiting their turn, and, as the Recorder called out the name of a person to be baptized for, the patriarch noticed a pleasant smile come over the face of the spirit whose name had been called, and he would leave the group of fellow spirits and pass over to the side of the Recorder. There he would watch his own baptism performed by proxy, and then with a joyful countenance would pass away [to] make room for the next favored personage who was to enjoy the same privilege.”

As time went on, the patriarch noticed that some of the spirits looked very sad. He realized that the people in the temple were finished with baptisms for the day. The unhappy spirits were those whose baptisms would not be performed that day.

“‘I often think of this event,’ says Brother Carpenter, ‘for I so often sit at the font, and call off the names for the ordinances to be performed which means so much to the dead’” (quoted in Joseph Heinerman, Temple Manifestations [Manti, Utah: Mountain Valley Publishers, 1974], pp. 101–2; see also The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 11 [July 1920]: 119).”
(“Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History”; Lesson 34: Joseph Smith Teaches about Baptism for the Dead”, pp.193-197; official LdS Church manual)

"Transfiguration" by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1824

“Transfiguration” by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1824

APPENDIX: What About Elijah and Mose on the Mount of Transfiguration and Samuel Appearing to King Saul and the Witch of Endor?
A common objection to the the impassable chasm Christ spoke of in Luke and the idea that the dead can’t visit us in this world goes something like this:

“Well, what about dead Elijah and Moses appearing to living Jesus, Peter, James and John? And what about dead Samuel appearing to living Saul at the house of the Witch of Endor?”

This is an excellent question! Let’s consider it shall we? First, let’s consider the Mount of Transfiguration passage:

The Mount of Transfiguration
Here’s the passage in question from the Gospel of Luke:

“Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.”
(Luke 9:28-36, NKJV)

Of course, the emphasis in this passage is on Moses (representing the Old Testament Law) and Elijah (representing the Old Testament Prophets) endorsing and encouraging Christ’s earthly ministry not the how’s and why’s of how they came to be there. The text just gives us a lot of information on the latter, however, there are several possible explanations that we consider here.

First Possibility: God Made An Exception
The first possible explanation I would offer is, to my way of thinking, the easiest. It’s God’s chasm, if He wants to send or carry dead folks across it He can. However, this would be the rare exception, not the rule. This is hinted at in the Luke 16:19-31 passage which we covered at the beginning of this article: Notice that nowhere in the text does it state that God can’t make an exception, it just says that He didn’t.

However, it seems clear from that same text that, generally speaking, this would not only be exceptional but pointless. Further, in the case of Moses and Elijah appearing to Christ there was a very specific purpose for their appearance which is explained when the narrative says:

“And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
(Luke 9:30-31, NKJV)

Second Possibility: They Appeared In A Spiritual Vision
Ex-Mormon Christian Facebook group member Annette Welburn offered this explanation for this possibility which we liked so much that we offer it here with only light editing so it fits the format here:

Yes, they saw Elijah and Moses, but I would suggest that Moses and Elijah’s appearance was not in spirit form in the sense that many people today think people can become guardian angels when they die. We never have any occurrences in scripture of earthly people conversing spiritually – i.e. praying to, or hearing from or getting guidance or protection from dead friends or relatives. However, that said, please correct me please if I’ve missed something. I guess in my mind the transfiguration was a unique, one time event in scripture. Jesus was there, and God was revealing to a few of his disciples that this was indeed His son. I see the whole point of that being summed up with what God said:

“And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.”
(Luke 9:35-36, ESV)

The transfiguration is definitely a spiritual earthly experience, but it is vastly unique in that it was to demonstrate God’s power. Of course God can do anything. Even natural laws He created he is not bound by. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say there is a definite natural law that God never sends people back to earth, but I would suggest that it is just not how he does it. And in the case of the transfiguration, it was not at all normal. I think the important distinction is that God does not allow dead humans to lead or watch over in a protective sense those still living on earth. Here are verses to that effect:

“For his spirit goes out and he returns to his earth and in that day all his thoughts are destroyed.”
(Psalm 146:4, Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”
(Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, NIV)

“As a cloud fades away and vanishes, so the one who goes down to Sheol will never rise again. He will never return to his house; his hometown will no longer remember him.”
(Job 7:9-10, HCSB)

And direct textual support for Annette’s suggestion that Moses and Elijah appeared spiritually (or in vision) rather than physically can be supported by the phrase, “Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory.”

"The Transfiguration" by 1480 (oil on panel) by Bellini, Giovanni (c.1430-1516); 115x154 cm; Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy; Italian, out of copyright

“The Transfiguration” by Bellini, Giovanni (oil on panel, 1480)

Third Possibility: Neither Moses Or Elijah Are Dead
While this last possibility is highly, highly speculative (and from an odd “outside of the box” source to boot) it’s still intriguing enough to be offered for consideration:

To make sense of this, we must first understand two important principles. The first is that, while the general resurrection of God’s people will happen at the end of time, there have been individual resurrections recorded in the Bible. Christ’s resurrection, for instance, was not part of the general one. Neither were those of the saints who came forth from the grave after Christ’s resurrection (see Matthew 27:52, 53). The prophets Elijah and Elisha both performed resurrections during their ministries (see 1 Kings 17:17–22 and 2 Kings 4:32–35). Individual resurrections throughout history do not invalidate the general resurrection when Christ returns.

The second principle to understand is that some people have left the earth without dying, and therefore are not in need of a resurrection.

Moses and Elijah each fit one of these two categories.

The story recorded in 2 Kings 2 tells us unmistakably that Elijah was taken to heaven without first dying. Verse 11, specifically, says he was caught in a heavenly whirlwind and taken to heaven in sight of Elisha, his successor. Appearing with Christ at the transfiguration would not have posed a problem for Elijah; he had already spent much time with Jesus in heaven before His human birth in Bethlehem.

Moses, on the other hand, died in the wilderness before the Israelite people entered into the Promised Land. The story of his death, as recorded in Deuteronomy 34:5, 6, reveals something extraordinary. The Bible says that God Himself buried Moses, and that none of the Israelites were ever aware of his gravesite. This is the first biblical hint that something special awaited Moses after death.

The New Testament, however, gives us more information. In Jude 9, we’re told that the archangel Michael contended with Satan over the body of Moses. In other words, Satan claimed Moses as his own, worthy of death just like everyone else. Michael, however, thought differently. As the archangel, He has the power to resurrect God’s people. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16; the voice of the archangel raises the dead in Christ at Christ’s return.) Moses was not meant to stay dead. Indeed, he was resurrected from the dead and has been living in heaven since that time. Truly, he has already experienced life after death.

Therefore, the presence of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration does not answer the question “What is death?” because neither one was dead! Elijah never tasted death at all, and Moses was given a new life at his resurrection, just like Christ’s people will receive at His return.

While the transfiguration doesn’t directly give us information on the state of the dead, it retains theological significance nonetheless. When Peter recounted his experience in 2 Peter 1:16–18, he writes that he witnessed Christ’s coming at that time. In other words, he understood the experience to represent the return of Jesus Christ. Moses and Elijah represent the two classes of God’s people who will be present at that miraculous event: Moses represents the “dead in Christ” who rise to new life, and Elijah represents “those who are alive and remain” who will be translated to heaven and eternal life without ever experiencing death in the first place (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Understanding that the transfiguration is a representation of the second coming of Christ also helps us understand Christ’s promise that “some standing here … shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God,” spoken a few days before the transfiguration (Luke 9:27).
(“If the Dead Don’t Go Immediately to Heavn How Did Moses and Elijah Appear at the Transfiguration”, Truth about Death, Seventh-day Adventist website)

"The Spirit of Samuel Appearing to Saul" by William Blake, 1783 Pen and watercolor

“The Spirit of Samuel Appearing to Saul” by William Blake, 1783

Samuel Appearing To Saul And The Witch of Endor
The final biblical incident to consider in regarding to biblical instances of the dead appearing to the living is the story of the dead prophet Samuel appearing to Kind Saul and the Witch of Endor. This incident can be found in 1 Samuel 28:3-25 (NKJV):

Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land.

Then the Philistines gathered together, and came and encamped at Shunem. So Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.

Then Saul said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.”

And his servants said to him, “In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.”

So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.”

Then the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?”

And Saul swore to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”

Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”

And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?”

And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”

So he said to her, “What is his form?”

And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.

Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.”

Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy? And the Lord has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”

Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.

And the woman came to Saul and saw that he was severely troubled, and said to him, “Look, your maidservant has obeyed your voice, and I have put my life in my hands and heeded the words which you spoke to me. Now therefore, please, heed also the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”

But he refused and said, “I will not eat.”

So his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he heeded their voice. Then he arose from the ground and sat on the bed. Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house, and she hastened to kill it. And she took flour and kneaded it, and baked unleavened bread from it. So she brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.

The Possibilities
Clearly, in this case, the third option (he wasn’t dead) won’t work since the Bible is clear that Samuel was dead and buried. And while it is possible that God allowed an exception here and let Samuel cross the chasm, the circumstances surrounding the event would seem to discount this option since God would be endorsing a practice that He calls an abomination elsewhere in the Bible. For that matter, that would preclude the second possibility that Samuel appeared as a spiritual vision sent from God.

In the end, there’s really only one possibility left: The “Samuel” that appeared to King Saul was a demon mimicking the appear of Samuel and appearing specifically to deceive Saul. Support for this can be found in the familiarity that the Witch of Endor has with this “Samuel”. In fact, this event follows the typical template for seances and other forms of necromancy doesn’t it? This lends further support for the idea that what the Witch of Endor conjured up was a deceiving spirit manifesting itself physically.

So when considered in that light, this story mirrors and echoes many of the Mormon communion with the dead stories that one hears in Mormon cultures doesn’t it? In the end, the biblical story of Samuel appearing to King Saul and the Witch of Endor is a cautionary tale to us. If you read on, things didn’t end well for King Saul, this incident most certainly didn’t result in a happy ending. In fact, most stories of necromancy don’t.

Bible teacher Don Basham once called involvement in occult practices like necromancy, “The most dangerous game.” And when it comes to necromancy, in the words of the movie War Games, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

From the movie WarGames (1983)

From the movie WarGames (1983)

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tinfoil-hat-effect-02

by Aaron Shafovaloff
By “conspiracy theory” I mean: an explanation that typically requires orchestration between multiple malicious parties and many involved parties keeping it a secret.

They are unlikely because of the high probability of a whistle blower and the low probability that evil takes the form of competent orchestration. They are tempting because they are thrilling, fascinating, fear-inducing, or useful for maligning those we oppose.

Reasons you should avoid conspiracy theories:

  • Paul warns against “evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4)
  • Proverbs associates foolish fear with laziness: “A sluggard says, ‘There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!’” (Proverbs 26:13)
  • Paul associates idleness with gossip and foolish speech: “Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” (1 Timothy 5:13) Contrast: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
  • As Mr. Rogers says, “You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.” Conspiracy theories represent a poor use of time of gardening our minds. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)
  • God warns against joining in on a worldly conspiracy mindset: “For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.” (Isaiah 8:11-12)
  • Conspiracy theories don’t seem to be communicated in the spirit of edifying, wholesome talk: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Conspiracy theories distract us from real spiritual warfare: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
  • People who believe in some conspiracy theories tend to believe in other conspiracy theories. In other words, it’s a mindset that is given over to conspiracy theories.
  • The mindset of conspiracy theories is a tax on the poor: a distracting, enslaving attitude that makes one ironically more of a tool of unjust power structures. Consider the lottery as an analogy: It titillates our imagination over what is possible, not over what is actionably probable. People end up wasting time, money, emotions, and imagination on it.
  • Our flesh, our base urges, our hunger for outrage or intrigue is tickled by conspiracy theories. “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14)
  • Conspiracy theories violate our Christian duty to give people the general benefit of the doubt. Paul says to “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)
  • Conspiracy theories violate the high standard of credibility, fact-checking, truth-telling, and knowledge required by commands to show courtesy and avoid gossiping, slandering, reviling, and spreading false reports. “You shall not spread a false report” (Exodus 23:1) “They are gossips, slanderers…” (Romans 1:29) “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3:5) “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)
  • Conspiracy theories often abuse plausible deniability: “I’m not saying this thing is true, I’m just saying it might be true!” Being suggestive avoids accountability one should own when spreading false reports.
  • Conspiracy theories often avoid the plain speech that Jesus commands in Matthew 5:37. They leave us asking, “OK, so what are you really saying?”
  • Conspiracy theories tend to be associated with bad influences, exploitative false teachers, junk science, and Multi-Level Marketing schemes (MLMs) that make false promises of health.
  • Good, vetted, reliable, discerning, experienced, faithful teachers of the word are not prone to conspiracy theories.
  • Conspiracy theories are most commonly spread through sources and venues (the diarrhea of talk radio and social media) not known having a good reputation for reliability and truth.
  • Conspiracy theories don’t have a good track record of being proven true.
  • Conspiracy theories often evoke gnostic arrogance, a sense of special, privileged knowledge that an inner group has.
  • Conspiracy theories often involve a fascination with the secret sins of others.
  • Spreading or needlessly entertaining conspiracy theories causes Christians to lose credibility — to lose saltiness with people who otherwise have their curious ear turned toward people of the church, which is supposed to be “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
  • Conspiracy theories pervert our ability to see human depravity clearly. When we demonize people we oversimplify or underestimate the subtlety of what makes people evil. Let me repeat: Demonizing people makes you less knowledgeable about the true nature of their depravity.
  • Conspiracy theories tend to under-appreciate God’s common grace to humanity. Both of these are probably true: Your neighbor is condemned by God and needs forgiveness. Your neighbor loves his kids and takes pride in his work.
  • Conspiracy theories tend to misunderstand subcultures of professions (scientists, doctors, teachers, programmers, civil servants, police officers, etc.)
  • Conspiracy theories consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ less plausible, entertaining the possibility that the apostles colluded and collectively lied about seeing the risen Christ.

Please, for the love of God, don’t waste your life on conspiracy theories.
Recognize your carnal flesh: it loves to demonize your neighbor, it loves “evil suspicions”,  it is tickled by what is “possible”, it loves to be intellectually lazy, it delights in suggestive slander, it loves to be entertained by gossip, and it avoids accountability. No!

Invest yourself in dignifying work. Lead with risk-management that prioritizes probabilities over mere possibilities. Get “distracted” by far more worthy endeavors and causes and trains of thought.

Your time on earth is short. Your window of influence is temporary. Flex the muscle of your imagination on something glorious.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

About The Author
Aaron Shafovaloff is an elder at The Mission Church in South Jordan, UT, volunteer with Mormonism Research Ministry, regular evangelist at Temple Square, founder of Theopedia, full-time computer programmer, daily sinner, father of three, and husband of one.

Originally published on the “I Am Aaron Shafovaloff” website on November 5, 2016.
Republished with the kind permission of the author.

Authentic_Fire_Book_png_grandeReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire
Author: Michael L. Brown
Publisher: Creation House
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year Published: 2015
Length: 426 pages
Binding: eBook
ISBN10: 1629984558
ISBN13: 978-1629984551
Price: $9.99 (Digital), $19.99 (Print) 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to review this book or discuss the book that it’s in response to (“Strange Fire” by John MacArthur) without talking about personalities. That said, while I am a Charismatic, Michael Brown is far more Pentecostal than I will ever be – or want to be. And while I’m Reformed, John MacArthur is far more Calvinistic than I will ever be – or want to be. After reading this book and considering the output from the Strange Fire camp (including the book of that title) I find myself somewhere between the two men.

Let’s start with this book. While I concur with most of what Michael Brown and his appendix authors present in this book – particularly their superb exegesis of scripture – I was troubled by the recurrence of that oldest of Pentecostal fallacies: An over-reliance on anecdotal evidence. This is particularly troubling to me since, as a Mormon Studies Scholar, I’m all too familiar with cults and other unorthodox groups citing anecdotes and experiences as though they’re conclusive, objective, empirical evidence. Folks, they’re not, they’re just not. While to some this may seem a niggling gnat straining point, it’s not since Charismatics are often (and not without reason) accused of elevating experience above biblical authority. This the very thesis that forms the core of MacArthur’s book and the one which he gleefully hammered away at for 352 pages, through an entire conference, and now continues through countless tweets and articles.

For example, I was troubled by Brown’s frequent reference to being slain in the Spirit (or “falling under the power of God” as he more often referred to it in the book) as if it were a “biblical given” based on his experiences and stories.  The fact is that it appears exactly nowhere in the Bible (that is unless you eisegete it into the text). This is a glaring hole in this book. By relying on anecdotes, in my opinion, Brown and some of his co-contributors have left themselves open and exposed for even more criticism from the Strange Fire camp.

That said, I thought that they did an excellent job of exposing the glaring hole in MacArthur’s book in particular and his stance in general:  His failure to exegete from the entirety of scripture and tendency to exegete only from select texts. For example, nowhere in his book does he address 1 Corinthians 14 where the public use of the “sign gifts” (to use a cessationist term that never appears in the Bible) of congregational prophetic utterances and tongues is not only commended, encouraged, and endorsed but given a practical framework in which they are to work in the local church.

Another example is his failure to address the last words in the Bible on the practice of charismata which are: “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39, NASB) Respectfully, Mr. MacArthur, if you truly respect the authority of scripture and the authority of the foundational teachings of the Apostles of the Lamb then you can neither ignore this Biblical mandate or criticize others when they respect and obey it.

So clearly there’s bias on both sides – to the surprise, I’m sure, of no one. So the question is, who makes the most compelling case? In my opinion, it’s Michael Brown and his appendix authors. They present a compelling and cogent case that’s truly “sola scriptura” rather than “sola scriptura AND”.  The “AND” in this case are renowned historical figures of the Protestant Reformation in general and John Calvin in particular (for example, consider “Calvin’s Critique of Charismatic Calvinists” by Steve Lawson from the Strange Fire conference for a glaring example of this).

Yes, I’m Reformed but I refuse to put a pinch of incense on the altar of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, or anyone else in addition to declaring Jesus Lord and the scripture His gave us the absolute, final authority for this mortal passage. Michael Brown and the appendix authors very rightly call the Strange Fire camp to task for this.


Above: In contrast to Michael Brown’s calm, reasoned, and thoughtful response to Strange Fire, Pentecostal preacher Perry Stone demonstrates how NOT to respond. 

Last but not least, I’m not as nice as Michael Brown (after all I am one of those cranky, scholarly, truth-oriented, confessing, and Bible thumping, Reformed folks). So I’m just going to say it: John MacArthur can be a real bully. I say this while at the same time happily acknowledging all the wonderful benefit that I’ve derived from listening to more than my fair share of his excellent books and sermons over the years. I honor his gifting as a Bible teacher, expositor, and theologian. However, I’m not blind, nor am I deaf and it’s hard to miss the harsh, ungracious, even mean-spirited jabs that I have heard him take at those he differs with over the years – and that includes cessationists, continuationists, and even other Reformed theologians. It seems that you risk a declaration of war if you dare disagree with Mr. MacArthur. Pentecostals and Charismatics may be his favorite target but they’re far from his only target.

Further, after the harsh and uncharitable hatchet job that he did on John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement in 1993 (full disclosure, I and many other Charismatics were critical of the excesses in the Vineyard at the time as well) in “Charismatic Chaos” as well as the seemingly endless stream of exaggerated, unkind, unmerciful, and ungracious articles and sermons he has preached against Pentecostalism over the years neither his book or his conference came as any surprise – it was just par for the course only with a new club.

Particularly troubling was his comment in “Strange Fire Panel Question and Answer, Session 1” that, “I believe that we are not dividing the body of Christ in this conference.  We are trying to identify the body of Christ and show that these people aren’t part of it“. With that statement (which garnered applause from the audience) Mr. MacArthur has just thrown a half a billion Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians under the bus as not belonging to the body of Christ.

This isn’t theory or hyperbole, the fruit of the “license to kill” and relentless unkind, vitriol that he has  on Pentecostals and Charismatics can readily be seen in the mean spirited memes and posts that fill the Reformed groups on social media. Clearly John MacArthur and the Strange Fire camp has unleashed something is hard to describe as “Christian”. This is unfortunately and, frankly, I would expect more of someone of Mr. MacArthur’s maturity, stature, and position within the body of Christ. However, given the prejudiced model of bigoted bullying that MacArthur has modeled in Strange Fire and his two prior works on the Charismatic Movement (1978’s “The Charismatics” and 1993’s “Charismatic Chaos”) it’s no wonder less mature Christians feel the freedom to do the same.

But with that said is this response to all this bludgeoning perfect? No. However, given the ungracious, unkind, and unfair nature of the Strange Fire onslaught it needed to be written and, as other reviewers have noted, it does a fine job of addressing, as one pastor put it so well, “the strange theology of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”. But more than that it stands up to a bully – and that’s never a bad thing.

A few final thoughts:

First, please read John MacArthur’s book and consider the Strange Fire conference addresses (which can easily be found on the internet). Please don’t take my, Michael Brown, or anyone else’s word for what they’ve said and the way they’ve said it. Frankly, I think that it speaks for itself. Suffice to say, in my opinion, the strong criticism that these materials have received from both the cessationist and continuationist camps is well deserved! MacArthur has since tried to reposition it all as “the start of a conversation”, however, the tone, content, and rhetorical style is clearly something else.

Second, some of the best material in this book (Authentic Fire) is in the appendices. Don’t skip them. In fact, I recommend that you first read through them starting with, “Why NT Prophecy Does NOT Result in ‘Scripture-quality’ Revelatory Words (A Response to the Most Frequently Cited Cessationist Argument against the Contemporary Validity of Spiritual Gifts)” by Sam Storms. This is Appendix B. Frankly, I wasn’t too impressed with Craig S. Keener’s Appendix A (“The Ongoing Evidence of Miracles, with Thoughts on African Charismatic Christianity”) due to its over-reliance on anecdotal evidence. In fact, in my opinion, you could just skip it without missing too much. However, I should probably add that Keener’s review of Strange Fire (which be read by clicking here) is superb and brings much to the conversation – it more than compensates for any deficiency in his contribution to Authentic Fire.

Third, The Pneuma Review published a superb panel discussion of Charismatic leaders and thinkers back in October 2013 in the fall out of the Strange Fire Conference (circa October 16-18, 2013) as web portal page. Everyone from Tim Challies to Adrian Warnock is present. There are hours of reading and it’s well worth your time. Click here.

Finally, in addition to this book I highly recommend that the reader works through Don Horban’s superb teaching series, “The Strange Theology of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire” which can be found by clicking here. Pastor Horban addresses many issues and points that were missed in this book. It is an excellent supplement to the Authentic Fire book and a masterful response to the Strange Fire camp.

(versions of this review have also been previously published on Goodreads and Amazon)

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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

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

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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An Election Day 2016 prayer 

20130301-023109

Lord, You have told us,
Lord, You have promised
That if Your people would pray
That You would hear from heaven,
You would send Your mercy and
Touch us with Your strong, healing hand

So we’re calling out to You,
Crying out to you,
Forgive us of our sin, heal our land
As we seek your holy face,
We turn from all our wicked ways
Hear from heaven even now as we pray

Hear from heaven even now
Hear from heaven even now
Hear from heaven even now

(words and music by Tommy Walker)

From the album “Calling Out To You” by The C.A. Worship Band with Tommy Walker