Archive for the ‘Weak Arguments’ Category

Newburgh Seminary College

Was Christ born “in Bethlehem” or “at Jerusalem”? And does it matter?

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“The entire Book of Mormon was discredited just as soon as it said that Christ was born in Jerusalem.”

Why It’s Weak:
This argument is a molehill not a mountain. This is a valid contradiction with the Bible, however, on it’s own, it discredits this verse but not the entire Book of Mormon.

1) This molehill was turned into a mountain by Mormon Apologists
This argument arises from the fact that Alma 7:10 in the Book of Mormon says:

And behold, he [Christ] shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.

The first Christian Mormon critic I know of that used this argument was Alexander Campbell who in his 1831 review of the Book of Mormon polemically observed:

But he is better skilled in the controversies in New York than in the geography or history of Judea. He makes John baptise in the village of Bethabara, (page 22) and says Jesus was born in Jerusalem, p. 240. Great must be the faith of the Mormonites in this new Bible!!![1]

And, of course, he has a point since the Bible states plainly, not once, not twice, but eight times that Christ was born in Bethlehem. This is a clear contradiction with the Bible. And since Mormon critics are of the opinion that the Book of Mormon is just a piece of contrived 19th Century historical fiction, as far as we’re concerned, it’s the kind of thing that one would expect were that the case. There are no just surprises here!

However, Mormon Apologists just can’t seem to leave it alone. As Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever notes:

It is obvious that this is a very sensitive issue with these [Apologist] Mormons. According to them, Alma was referring to the surrounding area of Jerusalem and not the city itself. They insist that Alma was a real person, so to credit him with saying that Christ would someday be born in Jerusalem and not in Bethlehem would be a serious faux pas. To say otherwise casts doubt upon the historicity of Mormonism’s sacred Book of Mormon.

We do not hide the fact that we do not believe the Book of Mormon is an ancient text. Because we believe Alma is a fictitious character, we naturally wouldn’t credit him with such a gaffe. We are not implying that Joseph Smith was ignorant as to where Jesus was born. Instead, we believe that this was a simple slip of the pen. Joseph Smith may have mistaken the better-known Jerusalem for the lesser Bethlehem.[2]

And if one suspends disbelieve and presumes that Alma the Younger was in fact a historical figure, such a gaffe is still really no big deal – people get excited and misspeak like this all the time. For example, do you remember the last time that Grandma and Grandpa retold the same story and spent half the time correcting each other’s bad memory rather than actually telling the story? I rest my case.

After all, if the Book of Mormon is true history then Alma would certainly would have known the location of the Messiah’s birthplace wouldn’t he? That’s because the Book of Mormon tells us that he had the plates of brass (see Alma 37) which is said to have contained the Biblical record up until the time of Jeremiah’s prophesies. If that was the case, then Alma would have had Micah’s prophecy, since Micah prophesied more than a hundred years before Lehi left Jerusalem. And that prophesy states clearly:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2, bold italics added for emphasis)[3]

A slip of the pen, in a work of fiction? An over zealous speaker with a bad memory? No big deal right? Well, according to Mormon Apologists, no – this is a big deal!

View of Bethlehem from South Jerusalem. Bethlehem is only 6-miles away.
(click to zoom)

2) What’s 6-miles between friends?
So, rather than simply acknowledging that this is a contradiction with the Bible, Mormon Apologists go to great lengths to convince the world that the word “Jerusalem” in Alma 7:10 really means, “the land of Jerusalem”. This argument is based on the fact that Bethlehem is a suburb of Jerusalem that’s only 6-miles away. OK, I can kind of see that. I was born in Anaheim, California which is a suburb of Los Angeles. Therefore, for those who are unfamiliar with the city (which includes a Major League Baseball team and an itsy bitsy amusement park called “Disneyland”) I tell them that I’m from the Los Angeles area. However, in actual fact, downtown Los Angeles is 24-miles from where I was born. And if anyone pressed me (which hasn’t happened yet) I would simply say, “Well, to be precise I was born in Anaheim which is where Disneyland is, where Angel Stadium is, and where the Los Angeles Angels play baseball.” In other words, I would clarify and things tighten up a bit. I just don’t think that this, in and of itself, is a big deal. Do you?

Thus, Mormon Apologists argue:

Google Earth satellite photo of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (click to zoom)

Google Earth satellite photo of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (click to zoom)

The town of Bethlehem is in the “land of Jerusalem.” In fact, Bethlehem is only 5 miles south of Jerusalem: definitely “in the land,” especially from the perspective of Alma, a continent away. Even locals considered Hebron, twenty five miles from Bethlehem, to be in the “land of Jerusalem. This is, in reality, another literary evidence for the Book of Mormon. While a forger would likely overlook this detail and include Bethlehem as the commonly-understood birthplace of Jesus, the ancient authors of the Book of Mormon use an authentic term to describe the Savior’s birthplace—thereby providing another point of authenticity for the Book of Mormon.[4]

But the problem passage doesn’t use the term “land of Jerusalem” it says, “at Jerusalem”:

Dr. Peterson argues, “The most reliable way to determine what a given phrase means in the Book of Mormon, therefore, is to look at the Book of Mormon” ([FARMS] Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5:73). This is a reasonable point. The problem is that Peterson and his colleagues ignore this guidance and instead go to great lengths to defend a phrase that is not included in the text. While much has been written to defend the notion that Jesus was born in the land of Jerusalem, the fact of the matter is that this phrase is not used in this passage. We repeat, the phrase land of Jerusalem is not used in Alma 7:10.[5]

Furthermore, the other eighteen times the term “at Jerusalem” is used in the Book of Mormon it always means “in the city of Jerusalem”.  Thus, as Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson very correctly observe, “if a phrase is used 19 times, and in 18 of those times it can be demonstrated that it means the actual city of Jerusalem, it is both inconsistent and tenuous to interpret Alma 7:10 otherwise.”[6]

3) Straining at gnats, swallowing Camels…
On the Mormon side of the divide the problem is that Mormon Apologists make this a hill to die on. Why? So Joseph Smith had a slip of the pen when he was writing the Book of Mormon – so what? So Alma had a memory lapse or simply misquoted Micah 5:2 in his prophetic zeal – so what? By straining at this “gnat” of a problem Mormon Apologists are merely bringing attention to the “camel” of their over the top apologetic tactics. Why not just acknowledge the contradiction and move on to more pressing Book of Mormon issues?

On the Christian side of the divide the problem is that some critics overstate their case in exaggerating the importance of this contradiction. While it’s true that the Mormon apologetic on this point is strained and inconsistent, it’s not completely unreasonable. And while this contradiction most certainly discredits this verse it’s a stretch to say that it discredits the entire Book of Mormon. Rather, the overall case that discredits the Book of Mormon is a culmination of contradictions, problems, and issues not just a single contradiction, problem, or issue.

Further, standing on the Mormon side of the divide I don’t see Christians abandoning the entire Bible and calling it “discredited” over just a single Biblical contradiction. I don’t see Protestants denouncing Catholic and Orthodox Bibles as fully discredited simply because they contain the Apocrypha. Nor do I hear Catholics and Orthodox Christians denouncing us because our Bibles don’t. Why then do some Christians expect Mormons to abandon the entire Book of Mormon based on solely one problem text?

4) …and showing obvious bias
I think that the underlying problem here is many Christians seem to employ a double standard when it comes to Mormonism. These Christians tend to judge all things Mormons much harsher than they do all things Christian. After all, the Bible isn’t without contradictions too. Here’s an example:

Matthew 27:5 (NKJV)
Then he [Judas Iscariot] threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Acts 1:18 (NKJV)
Now this man [Judas Iscariot] purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

Even if we harmonize this as the hanging rope breaking and Judas’ entrails gushing out after his corpse hit the ground, the fact remains, that when taken at face value this is a contradiction. Should Christians declare the entire Bible discredited because of it? Even Atheist critics and Muslims[7] don’t suggest such a response because it’s so “over the top”. Yet, many Christians would demand exactly that of Mormons over Alma 7:10. To me, such a demand on Mormons reveals an extreme bias on the part of some Christians and the type of unjust, uncharitable treatment that can drive Mormons deeper into the LdS Church if they stay, or right past Christianity and straight into atheism if they leave. This need not be, there is a better way.

The Stronger Arguments:
While it’s clear that while Alma 7:10 used in isolation isn’t a strong argument, it can be used as part of one or more stronger arguments. Let’s look at them.

First Suggested Strong Argument: “Alma 7:10 is just one of many pebbles breaking the shelf.” 
Most ExMormons tell us that there wasn’t just one thing that convinced them that the truth claims of the LdS Church don’t add up, it was a culmination of a lot of little things. They say it’s like a bunch of pebbles being tucked away on a shelf in a deep, dark corner – that is until the shelf finally collapses under the weight of them all. That said, here’s a sampling of some other pebbles[8] to add to the pile in addition to the Alma 7:10 Jerusalem pebble:

"Scriptures" by Grant Heaton

“Scriptures” by Grant Heaton
(click to zoom)

Book of Mormon: The Book of Mormon people built temples in the Americas and performed sacrifices. (Alma 16:13)
Bible: Jerusalem was explicitly chosen by God as the one and only place for the one and only temple and the only legitimate place for sacrifices. (1 Kings 8:44-48Deut. 12:5-6)

Book of Mormon: The priesthood did not need to be Levitical. The Book of Mormon people were from the tribes of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:16-17) or Manasseh (Alma 10:3) not Levi. Nephi, who consecrated the first priests, was from the tribe of Joseph (2 Nephi 5:26) as were they.
Bible: The priesthood could only be through the lineage of Aaron, a Levite. (Numbers 3:9-10)

Book of Mormon: At Christ’s crucifixion, there was three days of darkness. (Helaman 14:27)
Bible: At Christ’s crucifixion, there were three hours of darkness. (Luke 23:44)

Book of Mormon: At the tower of Babel the Jaredites had a separate language which was spared the confusion of languages. (Ether 1:34-35)
Bible: At the tower of Babel there was one language, which was then confused by God. (Genesis 11:1)

Book of Mormon: The Gospel, the Church, and Christianity existed prior to Christ’s incarnation. (2 Nephi 26:12)
Bible: The Gospel, the Church, and Christianity were proclaimed during Christ’s ministry and came to exist after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. (Matthew 16:18)

Book of Mormon: One son of King Zedekiah escaped destruction and came to the Americas. (Helaman 6:108:21)
Bible: All of King Zedekiah’s sons were killed. (Jeremiah 39:6)

Book of Mormon: The Book of Mormon people people received the gift of the Holy Ghost as early as 545 BC (2 Nephi 31:12-13)
Bible: The Holy Ghost was bestowed on the Christians at the time of Pentecost in 1 AD. (Luke 24:49Acts 2:1-4)

Second Suggested Strong Argument: “Why are those Jews acting like goyim?”
“Goyim” is the Hebrew word for “nations” that in Jewish vernacular has come to mean “gentiles”. The Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient record of Jews who left the Middle East around 600 BC. However, these alleged Jews don’t act like 7th Century BC Jews, they act like 19th Century AD Protestant Christians. As Alexander Campbell notes in his review of the Book of Mormon:

[Joseph] Smith makes Nephi express every truth found in the writings of the Apostles concerning the calling and blessing of the Gentiles, and even quotes the 11th chapter of Romans, and many other passages before he had a son grown in the wilderness able to aim an arrow at a deer. Paul says these things were secrets and unknown until his time; but Smith makes Nephi say the same things 600 years before Paul was converted! One of the two is a false prophet. Mormonites, take your choice!

This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in N. York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies – infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to. How much more benevolent and intelligent this American Apostle, than were the holy twelve, and Paul to assist them!!! He prophesied of all these topics, and of the apostacy, and infallibly decided, by his authority, every question. How easy to prophecy of the past or of the present time!!

He represents the christian institution as practised among his Israelites before Jesus was born. And his Jews are called christians while keeping the law of Moses, the holy sabbath, and worshipping in their temple at their altars, and by their high priests.[9]

Further, as Mormon Studies Scholar Luke P. Wilson notes:

The most common biblical terms used to describe the Old Testament priesthood, temple and appointed feasts, are entirely missing from the Book of Mormon. Here are 10 examples of such biblical terms with their frequencies, that never appear once in the Book of Mormon:

  • “laver” (13 times in Bible)
  • “incense” (121 times in Bible)
  • “ark of the covenant” (48 times in Bible)
  • “sons of Aaron” (97 times in Bible)
  • “mercy seat” (23 in Bible)
  • “day of atonement” (21 times in Bible)
  • “feast of tabernacles” (17 times in Bible)
  • “passover” (59 times in Bible)
  • “house of the LORD” (627 in Bible)
  • “Aaron” – this name appears 48 times in the Book of Mormon, but never in reference to the biblical Aaron or the Aaronic priesthood.[10]

Finally, and not insignificantly, as one Mormon Researcher has observed:

2 Nephi 25:24 says, “we keep the law of Moses”. During the time this was written (about 559–545 B.C.) the Nephites were claiming to be orthodox Jews. Having the law of Moses, they would have said the shema (Duet 6:4) and they would have followed the Mosaic law strictly. In fact, the phrase “we keep the law of Moses” appears in the Book of Mormon four times (2 Nephi 25:242 Nephi 5:10Jacob 4:5, and 1 Nephi 17:22), it is a recurring theme throughout the book.

According to Mormon dogma Nephi and Lehi followed the Mosaic law without error. Yet even after all they allegedly knew concerning God and His law why did they still break his commandments? There’s just no excuse for this if the Book of Mormon is true. Further, why are the Nephites blessed by God despite their disobedience of His law, while at the same time God is calling down judgment on the Jews in Israeli for violating it? This makes no sense!

Further, the Nephites were from the northern kingdom (the tribe of Manasseh), so they would have known their heritage. They would have surely known the story of Jeroboam and all he did to put Israel into such a state of apostasy that it merited the Assryian exile of 722 BC. The orthodoxy and legitimacy of these Book of Mormon Jews needs to be seriously questioned![11]

Simply put, shouldn’t a book written about Jews, by Jews, for Jews be . . . well . . Jewish? Shouldn’t such a book accurately reflect Jewish history, values, attitudes, and customs? Well the Book of Mormon ain’t Jewish folks – it’s goy through and through!

Summary and Conclusion:
These arguments are just a small sample of the vast array of better, stronger arguments to choose from. Simply put, the Book of Mormon discredits itself in so many other, better, more persuasive ways that the begging question is this: Why use this weak argument at all? It’s a molehill not a mountain.

"Jesus Christ visits the Americas" by John Scott. It doesn't get much more Jewish than this does it folks? Especially the "Jewish" Temple in the background.

It doesn’t get much more Jewish than this does it – especially the “Jewish” Temple in the background.
(click to zoom)

NOTES
[1] Alexander Campbell, “Delusions: An analysis of the book of Mormon with an examination of its internal and external evidences, and a refutation of its pretenses to divine authority”, The Millennial Harbinger, February 7, 1831

[2] Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, “Was Jesus born ‘at Jerusalem’?”, Mormonism Research Ministry website

[3] And, I should add that Micah 5:2 not only says “Bethlehem” clearly but redundantly.  “Ephratah” is the ancient name for Bethlehem. A variant of the name first appears in the Bible in Genesis 35:

“Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor.” (Genesis 35:16, NKJV)

“So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).  And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.” (Genesis 35:19-20, NKJV) 

This is also reiterated elsewhere in the Bible (click here).

[4] Uncredited, “Question: Why does the Book of Mormon say that Jesus would be born ‘at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers’ when the Bible states that he was born in Bethlehem?”, FAIRMormon website

[5] Op cit, McKeever and Johnson

[6] Ibid, McKeever and Johnson

[7] For example, please consider these critiques:
Atheist Critic: Uncredited, “Discrepancies in the Bible: The Death of Judas Iscariot”
Muslim Critic: Abdullah Smith, “The Death of Judas”

[8] This list was taken mainly from the website of Main Street Church of Brigham City, “Scripture Reference: Bible & Book of Mormon Contradictions”. Other recommended resources:

Sandra Tanner, “Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions”
Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”

[9] Op cit, Campbell

[10] Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”, Institute for Religious Research (IRR) website

[11] Adapted from a Facebook comment made by Brian Roberts on December 19, 2014 in the B.C.  &  L.D.S.  (Biblical Christians and Latter Day Saints) discussion group.  Mr. Roberts has also written extensively on the theme of Book of Mormon inconsistencies on his “Sinners and Saints” website.

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Samaritan Woman at the Well

“Jesus Teaches a Samaritan Woman” The Mormon Channel video (LDS Church, circa 2012). Click to watch.

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon! I won’t stoop to the level of heretics – after all, Jesus and the Apostles never did!”

Why It’s Weak:
This stance is impossible to defend since Jesus and the Apostles did learn other cultures and related to them where they were in order to reach them with the gospel – and this included heretics.

Meet the Samaritans
Who does this sound like?

  • They’re heretics yet they claim that they are the only true and living church.
  • They claim that all other churches are apostate.
  • The founding of their religion was strongly opposed, criticized and denounced by the established church at that time.
  • Many members claim to be from the House of Joseph – descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
  • They have a a view of God that differs from the larger mainstream orthodox church’s view.
  • They believe in pre-existence.
  • They claim that the current church’s scripture is corrupt – deliberately infused with an apostate agenda. That is, it’s truth intermingled with the vain philosophies of men not God.
  • They claim to be the sole possessors of the original, pure and uncorrupted Bible – a bible which discards books in the established church’s canon, and that is very different on key points of doctrine relative to that canon.
  • They have additional sacred texts which, while not formally canonized, maintain a quasi-canonical status.
  • Critics claim that portions of their theology is syncretistic, incorporating outside cultures and religions.
  • They have their own priesthood system.
  • They have a temple system that deviates strongly from the Levitical system given in the bible.
  • They claim that their temple, rather than the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, is the correct place set apart by God for special ceremonies and worship.
  • Outside critics and scholars throughout history have disputed the veracity and historicity claims of their scripture as well as their origin story.

They, of course, are the Samaritans of Christ’s day – who did you think I was talking about? But joking aside, it’s not hard to see how much the Samaritanism of Christ’s day parallels today’s Mormonism.[1] Thus whenever I hear someone rhetorically ask, “I wonder how Christ would have engaged Mormonism had it been around in His day?” I say, “We already know!”

Scene of the meeting of Christ with the Samaritan woman at the well from a fresco in the side wall of the refectory in the Monastery Ambramowickiego, Przypusta, Poland

That said, here’s a short debriefing on the Samatarians:

The Samaritans occupied the country formerly belonging to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The capital of the country was Samaria, formerly a large and splendid city. When the ten tribes were carried away into captivity to Assyria, the king of Assyria sent people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim to inhabit Samaria (2 Kings 17:24;Ezra 4:2-11). These foreigners intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in and around Samaria. These “Samaritans” at first worshipped the idols of their own nations, but being troubled with lions, they supposed it was because they had not honored the God of that territory. A Jewish priest was therefore sent to them from Assyria to instruct them in the Jewish religion. They were instructed from the books of Moses, but still retained many of their idolatrous customs. The Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry (2 Kings 17:26-28). Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were generally considered “half-breeds” and were universally despised by the Jews.[2]

And in addition to these racial and theological issues, the Jews had plenty of other good reasons to stay in hardhearted, ignorant, bigotry toward the Samaritans:

1. The Jews, after their return from Babylon, began rebuilding their temple. While Nehemiah was engaged in building the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans vigorously attempted to halt the undertaking (Nehemiah 6:1-14).

2. The Samaritans built a temple for themselves on “Mount Gerizim,” which the Samaritans insisted was designated by Moses as the place where the nation should worship. Sanballat, the leader of the Samaritans, established his son-in-law, Manasses, as high priest. The idolatrous religion of the Samaritans thus became perpetuated.

3. Samaria became a place of refuge for all the outlaws of Judea (Joshua 20:7;21:21). The Samaritans willingly received Jewish criminals and refugees from justice. The violators of the Jewish laws, and those who had been excommunicated, found safety for themselves in Samaria, greatly increasing the hatred which existed between the two nations.

4. The Samaritans received only the five books of Moses and rejected the writings of the prophets and all the Jewish traditions.[3]

“The Woman at the Well” by Diego Rivera
(Mexican, 1886-1957)

To see how deeply seated the Jewish animosity, prejudice, and bigotry was toward the Samaritans, we need look no further than Christ’s “before Abraham was, I AM” debate with the Jews (John 8:37-59).  The Jews felt that they can do no worse than fling a “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” insult at Jesus.  And as Jewish convert to Christianity Alfred Edersheim notes, the Jewish view of the Samaritans continued to degrade in the ensuing years:

Later authorities [such as Rabbi Jehuda the Holy a 3rd Century Rabbi] again reproach them [the Samaritans] with falsification of the Pentateuch, charge them with worshipping a dove, and even when, on further inquiry, they absolve them from this accusation, ascribe their excessive veneration for Mount Gerizim to the circumstance that they worshipped the idols which Jacob had buried under the oak at Shechem. To the same hatred, caused by national persecution, we must impute such expressions as that he, whose hospitality receives a foreigner, has himself to blame if his children have to go into captivity.

The expression, ‘the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans,’  finds its exact counterpart in this: ‘May I never set eyes on a Samaritan;’ or else, ‘May I never be thrown into company with him!’ A Rabbi in Cæsarea explains, as the cause of these changes of opinion, that formerly the Samaritans had been observant of the Law, which they no longer were; a statement repeated in another form to the effect, that their observance of it lasted as long as they were in their own cities. Matters proceeded so far, that they were entirely excluded from fellowship. The extreme limit of this direction, if, indeed, the statement applies to the Samaritans, is marked by the declaration, that to partake of their bread was like eating swine’s flesh. This is further improved upon in a later Rabbinic work, which gives a detailed story of how the Samaritans had conspired against Ezra and Nehemiah, and the ban been laid upon them, so that now not only was all intercourse with them forbidden, but their bread declared like swine’s flesh; proselytes were not to be received from them; nor would they have part in the Resurrection of the dead.[4]

Got the picture yet or should I keep going?  And I’m sure that if you  and I compared “war stories” we could find plenty of similar reasons to find fault with Mormons. And the same thing is true on their side of the divide – many Mormons have no love lost toward critics and give as good as they get.  It didn’t take too many steps into Mormon Studies before I realized that it’s a land where animosity and acrimony rule the day – every day!  It’s Israel and Samaria all over again.

Passing through…
Christ certainly wasn’t unaware of the intense Jewish animosity and bigotry toward the Samaritans. He knew his Samaritan history well and was well versed in the Jewish cultural norms that one was to engage in in regard to the Samaritans.  This is reflected in the gospels where it states, “But he had to pass through Samaria.” (John 4:4 bolding added) As Kenneth Boa notes:

Now there were other ways in which one could go. You could take the coast or more often Jews would bypass Samaria by going into Perea or perhaps going all the way through Jericho and up along the Jordan River on the extreme west, just next to the river and then cutting across bypassing the whole province of Samaria. The most direct and quickest route would be to go through Samaria. Typically Jews would avoid it because of the hostility that was there.[5]

“Woman at the Well” by Rick Griffin
(American, 1944-1981)

So Christ had options, He could have avoided Samaria entirely – after all that’s what was expected.  And by doing so He would have reinforced the bitter animosity of the Jews – which included His own disciples toward the Samaritans.  After all, if the Samaritans wanted the truth that He carried they could always come to him, right?  It’s not like it was any secret where He was! Yet the bible tells us that He had to pass through Samaria. And I think that Dr. Boa has it right in his continuing commentary on this story:

He [Christ] went there [Samaria] because it was the shortest route and also there are appointments that take place. God has divine appointments. He didn’t necessarily leave Judea with any fixed intention of ministering in Samaria, He just planned to pass through but the Spirit will always blow wherever He wishes. True messengers of God are never subject to fixed programs and to prejudices.[6]

The key thing here is that, prejudices aside, Christ went to the Samaritans, He didn’t wait for them to come to Him. Yes, He went to them just like when He “passed through” to save us:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8, NKJV) 

… speakin’ the lingo…
Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well reveals how well He understood Samaritanism. His words to the woman masterfully target and address key Samartian dogmas and doctrines. In other words, He spoke her lingo:

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”
(John 4:19-21, NET Bible)

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman” Unknown Japanese Artist

The key point of division between the Jews and Samaritans was where the proper place for temple worship was located. The Samaritans asserted that Mount Gerizim was the original Holy Place of Israel from the time that Joshua conquered Israel and the ten tribes originally settled the land.

According to the Bible, the story of Mount Gerizim takes us back to the story of the time when Moses ordered Joshua to take the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the mountains by Shechem and place half of the tribes, six in number, on the top of Mount Gerizim (Mount of the Blessing), and the other half in Mount Ebal (Mount of the Curse). The two mountains were used to symbolize the significance of the commandments and serve as a warning to whoever disobeyed them. The quasi-canonical Samaritan Chronicle Adler (aka “New Chronicle”, aka “Book of Joshua”) summarizes the Samaritan position as follows:

And the children of Israel in his [Joshua’s] days divided into three groups. One did according to the abominations of the Gentiles and served other Gods; another followed [Jewish Priest] Eli the son of Yafni, although many of them turned away from him after he had revealed his intentions; and a third remained with the [Samaritan] High Priest Uzzi ben Bukki, the chosen place, Mount Gerizim Bethel, in the holy city of Shechem.[7]

Therefore, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, according to the Samaritans, was an illegitimate temple sitting on an illegitimate place of worship. To all this Christ tells the woman (paraphrasing), “This is a non-issue, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”  Then He goes on to explain:

You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
(John 4:22-24, NET Bible)

In other words, He tells her directly that Samaritanism doesn’t have the truth and doesn’t save: “You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews.” (bolding added)  But He then goes on to reinforce and validates a key tenet of Samaritanism: The spiritual, non-corporeal nature of God, “God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  To Samaritan ears this would sound like validation of their view of God and would resonate deeply.  As  James A. Montgomery explains:

“[In Samaritan Theology] God’s essence is pure spirit. Contrary to much Old Testament phraseology, and especially to apocalyptic Judaism, which located God in the highest, — the third or seventh heaven, — the Samaritan generally can find no local place for him. This spiritual notion receives noble expression in a verse published by Gesenius: “The abode which I shall have is the place of thy power; no ocean is there, nor sea [cf. Rev. 21,1], nor the very heavens themselves.” In his relation to creation, God ” fills the world.” Most particularly does the Samaritan theology dwell upon the incorporeality and impassibility of God, surpassing Judaism in this respect. The earliest evidence of this tendency is the Samaritan Pentateuch with its Targum, which latter exceeds even the Jewish Targumists in the avoidance of original anthropomorphisms.”[8]

Of course this extreme incorporeality of God is just as imbalanced, in error, and unbiblical as Mormonism’s extreme corporeality of God is. Hence, Christ ends with “and truth” because that’s where He’s about to lead this woman now that He’s confronted her error.

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”
(John 4:25-26, NET Bible)

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman” Unknown African artist

So there stands God incarnate – that is, God in corporeal form – before this woman.[9] The irony is stunning.  Even more stunning is the fact that the first person that Jesus explicitly tells that He is the Messiah is not only a Gentile,  but a hated Samaritan Gentile to boot!  And, even worse, not just a hated Samaritan Gentile, but a lowly, looked down upon, outcast Samaritan Gentile woman! Further he, again, validates Samaritan doctrine – in this case, their Messiah doctrine.  Now to fully understand the Samartian mindset on the Messiah first requires an understanding of the central figure in Samaritan theology , that is, Moses:

In the Samaritan sect Moses takes a place parallel to that enjoyed by Mohammed in Islam : ” Moses is the Prophet of God,” and there is none other like him. But the Samaritan doctrine even surpasses Islam in reverence for its prophet. For while Muslim orthodoxy thinks of the Arabian prophet with rational soberness, the Samaritan advances the great Lawgiver to a position where he becomes an object of faith. He is rather like the Christ of Christianity, one whose origin is often held to be mysterious, who now lives to make intercession for his brethren, who will appear effectually for the saints at the last day; the Messiah himself will be but an inferior replica of that absolute Prophet…

Moreover the doctrine approaches that of a real pre-existence; he is ” the man in whom the Spirit of God was established since creation; the eyes of God were upon him with the generations of the days and years.” Further, the connection between the pre-existent state and that in the flesh was mediated by a species of metempsychosis, the sacred germ of divine light being transmitted through his forbears until it fully incarnated itself in the prophet.[10]

Sound familiar? Specifically, doesn’t this sound a bit like the veneration that Mormonism gives to Joseph Smith? Consider this:

“It was decreed in the councils of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that [Joseph Smith] should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people and receive the fullness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. [Joseph Smith] was foreordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.”
(Brigham Young, Deseret News, Oct. 26, 1859, p. 266) 

He Qi -SamaritanWomanAtTheWell

“Samaritan Woman at the Well” by He Qi
(Chinese, 20th/21st Century)

So ironically, with both Mormonism and Samaritanism a human prophet must be displaced so that the Messiah can assume His proper place.

A prophet after the manner of Moses (Dt. 18) was what the Samaritans desired in their Messiah; this notion accordingly limited the Samaritan ideas. He was to be a Revealer of hidden or lost truths like the one the Samaritan woman had in mind, and inasmuch as there could be no greater prophet than Moses nor one equal to him, the Messiah is an entirely inferior personage. Accordingly, in contrast with the developed Jewish doctrine of the Messiah, such as was abroad since the Danielic prophecy of the Son of Man, the Samaritan Messiah never attains the character of a divine personality. He always remains human and the thought concerning him moves in a prosaic plane.[11]

And, like the Jews, the Samaritans were expecting the advent of the latter days to coincide with the appearance of the Messiah:

It is thus the chief function of the Taeb [the Samaritan term for the Messiah meaning “He who returns” or” He who restores”] to introduce the Millennium, which, as our Midrash proceeds to relate, is to be disturbed by the grand final conflict between God and the forces of evil. Here we have the replica of the Jewish and Christian notions of Gog and Magog and of Antichrist. The happy condition above described shall last for many days. But at last God’s wrath will wax hot against the Gentiles, for the earth will again corrupt itself, as in the days of the Flood. Then will come the Day of Vengeance, the Great Day, accompanied with cosmic cataclysms…

Thus [4th Century CE Samaritan theologian] Marka makes the advent of the Messiah a time of woe to the Gentiles, and regards his coming as contemporaneous with the resurrection. We also note in correspondence with the assertion of Jn. 4, 42 concerning the Samaritan expectation of the Taeb as the Saviour of the world, that an Epistle teaches that all peoples will make submission to the Prophet of the Last Days and believe in him.[12]

So Christ has quite a job here doesn’t He?  Not only does He have to overcome misplaced priorities and over (one might even say “extreme”) adulation of Moses, He also has to deal with the same type of wrong headed Messiah dogma and eschatology[13] that his own Jewish disciples are burdened with.  And what is His solution to this sticky wicket? Answer: Relationship.

Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” So they left the town and began coming to him.

Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the report of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they began asking him to stay with them. He stayed there two days, and because of his word many more believed. They said to the woman, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world.”
(John 4:28-30; 39-42, NET Bible, bolding added) 

“Woman at the Well ii” by Hyatt Moore
(American, 20th/21st Century)

The bible doesn’t tell us exactly what happened in those two days but something profound did: Christ went from prophet, to Messiah, to Savior of the world. Now, I would speculate that this was much as it is when one has a house guest for a few days –  one gets to know them well enough to know what they’re really all about.  So, I suspect, this was how it was for the Samaritans with Christ. I’ve seen a lot of bad theology and doctrine get dealt with without a word by good relationship, and I suspect that was the case here. Spend enough time with Jesus and things change – this is a recurring pattern in the gospels.

… and breaking bad
My observation is that for many modern Christians given a choice, between taking or leaving Mormons they would be just fine with the latter – it’s Christ’s disciples all over again:

Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman. However, no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?”
(John 4:27, NET Bible)

Actually, we should give them credit for holding back for given the period’s bigotry against Samaritans in general and Samaritan women in particular:

Jews do not use (utensils) with Samaritans. This was built into a regulation in A.D. 65 or 66: “The daughters of the Samaritans are (deemed unclean as) menstruants from their cradle” (Mishnah, Nidd. 4:1); in other words, they are all regarded as ceremonially unclean.[14]

And Jewish attitudes toward even their own women weren’t much better:

The rabbis regarded women as inferior to men in every way. A very ancient prayer (still found in the Jewish prayer book) runs, “Blessed art thou, Ο Lord . . . who hast not made me a woman.” The corresponding prayer for a woman was “Blessed art thou, Ο Lord, who hast fashioned me according to thy will.”[15]

“St. Photine” Russian Icon

But here was Jesus breaking bad[16] and turning all this on it’s ear: He’s talking to a woman, in public – and a Samaritan woman no less!  And here He is asking to drink water from her well – which would require sharing the same drawing and drinking utensils with this morally compromised outcast.  This outcast who is so despised by her own people that she has to draw water mid-day – when it was so hot that all the “good and normal” people stayed safely sheltered away.

Yet by passing through this dreaded land and seeking out this sinful misfit Christ found a harvest and a feast where others could only scrape together a road side snack on the highway named, “anywhere but here”:

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” So the disciples began to say to one another, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. Don’t you say, ‘There are four more months and then comes the harvest?’ I tell you, look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest! The one who reaps receives pay and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps can rejoice together. For in this instance the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
(John 4:31-38, NET Bible) 

As Leon Morris notes:

S.D. Gordon has a suggestive comment : “The disciples had just been down to the town — they who knew the Master much longer and better. They brought back some loaves. That was all. The woman went down; she brought back some men” (The Sychar Revival [London, n.d.], p. 25).

[John] Calvin sees a hint “at how much more careful men’s minds are for earthly things than for heavenly. For they are so consumed with looking for harvest that they carefully count up the months and days. But it is surprising how lazy they are in reaping the wheat of heaven.”[17]

Suffice to say our prejudice and bigotry can blind us to what really matters can’t it? And if that woman at the well thing wasn’t enough of a throw down on smug, self-righteous, religious bigotry Jesus also had to go and introduce us to this guy:

“Le bon Samaritain” by Aimé Morot
(French, 1850-1913)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.’ Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
(Luke 10:25-37, NET Bible)

So not only did Jesus understand Samaritan culture, speak like a Samaritan, and “break bad” by very deliberately, and intentionally invading Samaritan space (and taking other good Jewish boys with Him too) with the gospel, He actually chose to challenge the bigotry of His day by holding one of these cultists up an example of Christian mercy, charity, integrity, and compassion! Were He alive today would He challenge us in the same way by telling the story as “The Good Mormon”?  One can only wonder.[18]

Christ’s Rx for Bigotry: The Samaritans
In summary, it’s been my observation that the weak argument being addressed in this article tends to be rooted in at least one of the following four things: 1) Ignorance, 2) Hardheartedness, 3) Bigotry, 4) Amnesia regarding the universal inclusiveness of Christ’s gospel.  In the gospels Christ kept prescribing the same thing over and over whenever He found any or all of those four bullies loitering: The Samaritans. As Church Historian Phillip Schapp notes:

“The Samaritan Woman at the Well” by Annibale Carracci
(Italian, 1560-1609)

For three years he mingled freely with his countrymen . Occasionally he met and healed Gentiles also, who were numerous in Galilee; he praised their faith the like of which he had not found in Israel, and prophesied that many shall come from the east and the west and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. He conversed with a woman of Samaria, to the surprise of his disciples, on the sublimest theme, and rebuked the national prejudice of the Jews by holding up a good Samaritan as a model for imitation

It is the Gospel of universal humanity. It breathes the genuine spirit of charity, liberty, equality, which emanate from the Saviour of mankind, but are so often counterfeited by his great antagonist, the devil. It touches the tenderest chords of human sympathy. It delights in recording Christ’s love and compassion for the sick, the lowly, the despised, even the harlot and the prodigal. It mentions the beatitudes pronounced on the poor and the hungry, his invitation to the maimed, the halt, and the blind, his prayer on the cross for pardon of the wicked murderers, his promise to the dying robber. It rebukes the spirit of bigotry and intolerance of the Jews against Samaritans, in the parable of the good Samaritan. It reminds the Sons of Thunder when they were about to call fire from heaven upon a Samaritan village that He came not to destroy but to save. (bolding added)[19]

And I would also add to the list that in response to the aforementioned, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jewish insult, He didn’t disassociate or distance Himself from identifying with the Samaritans in His response (“I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.” see John 8:48&49) Rather, that part of the insult was simply ignored. 

We also see this same anti-bigotry prescription applied to Peter’s prejudice toward the Gentiles (see Acts 10) when God says to him, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!” (Acts 10:15).  And we see Christ’s Samaritan evangelistic approach applied by Paul with the Greeks on Mars Hill (see Acts 17:16-34) when he proclaimed, “what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands.” (Acts 17:23&24).  We even see Phillip returning to Samaria (see Acts 8:4-25), reapplying Christ’s methods and starting such an overwhelming revival that Peter and John had to help him bring in this second Samaritan harvest.

The Stronger Arguments:
(Well, no so much arguments as strategies and tactics and a general change of attitude in this case)
Brothers and sisters, the fields are white. In Mormonism we have one of the largest mission fields on earth literally sitting in our own backyards just like the Jews did with the Samaritans.  And in my opinion, it all too often it gets ignored (which is bad), napalmed, (which is worse), or catered to (which is a disaster and an embarrassment) by Christians depending their level of indifference, animosity, or ignorance. The template that Christ gave us with the “Mormons” of His day, offers us a balanced and biblical “higher calling” for evangelizing the Mormons of ours.  Let’s take a good look at that template.

Pass through…
Just as Christ made a conscious decision to enter Samaritan space shouldn’t we too enter Mormon space?  However, before doing so I recommend becoming familiar with the basics of Mormon culture.  Thankfully, a Pastor in Utah, Ross Anderson (who just so happens to be a former Mormon) has provided us with a wonderful resource:  A short little 144-page book on Latter-day Saint culture entitled, “Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor” that can easily be read in a couple of hours. Here’s an excerpt:

mormon-church-meeting21

A Mormon Fast and Testimony meeting in Africa.

On the first Sunday of each month, [the normal weekly] Sacrament Meeting takes a different twist. This Sunday is set aside as a day of fasting and prayer. Members typically go without two meals and donate the money they would have spent on food to the Church to help the poor . Sacrament Meeting becomes “Fast and Testimony Meeting.” On this Sunday , babies are blessed and newly baptized members are confirmed. In place of the regular Sacrament Meeting talks, members bear their testimonies. One at a time, they spontaneously go to the podium to give thanks for personal blessings, talk about faith-promoting experiences, and affirm their confidence in the truth of Mormon claims.

Members declare that they know the LDS Church is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that the current Church president is a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, or similar affirmations about the core principles of the Restoration. These monthly testimonies reinforce the speaker’s identification with the history and beliefs of the group while bolstering the confidence of those listening. Often testimony bearing is an emotional experience, accompanied by faltering voice and tears.

While Fast and Testimony Meeting can be a moving experience, Sacrament Meeting in general lacks the sense of transcendence that most traditional Christians associate with worship. In the biblical Christian worldview, God is infinitely above and distinct from his creation, but the LDS worldview collapses the distance between God and human beings. One LDS scholar, commenting on the implications for artists of a God who is the same kind of being as us, writes: If God is shorn of ineffability and transcendence , or is construed in human terms, how does one find the reverential awe that moves one to true worshipfulness? If Jesus is our “big brother,” how can he be our Lord and God? Reverence before the Almighty must be freshly conceptualized in such a reconfigured heaven and earth. But the dilemmas for the artist are especially vexing: in a universe devoid of transcendence and sacred distance (at least as conventionally constructed), how can wonder flourish?[20]

And I would recommend that you also read Mr. Anderson’s other excellent little book (only 116-pages this time) “Understanding the Book of Mormon” which will give you a quick overview of that book and a bit more insight into the Mormon mind and culture. That way  if you decide to a meeting at the local Mormon Church you’ll have at some basic knowledge of that book and it’s role in Mormonism.

And, yes, you read that last paragraph correctly, if we are truly going to pass through Mormonism like Christ passed through Samaria it is incumbent on us to go just as He went.  After all, if Christ could sit on the edge of a well and talk to Samaritan woman I think that we can somehow manage to stand by the water fountain in a Mormon Ward building and chat with Mormons can’t we?

In fact, I would recommend that if you’ve never been to a Mormon Church service before that you jump right into the deep end and attend an aforementioned Fast & Testimony meeting.  Not only will you come away with a better understanding of Mormonism you’ll also be inoculated against two things: 1) Ever wanting to join the Mormon Church because F&T’s (to use Mormon slang for them) are probably one of the boring things you’ll ever experience in this or any other lifetime – they even make the uptight Nazarene church that I grew up in seem lively, and; 2) Ever wondering if Mormonism is a cult or not.  All it will take for the latter is one of these:

In my opinion, until one has attended a Mormon Chapel service I don’t think it’s possible to fully grasp Mormon culture.  In fact, if you can, I would recommend that you also attend a Mormon Sunday School class (by the way, they’re usually not boring), a regular (that is non-Fast and Testimony) Chapel meeting, and watch at least one General Conference Address (which you can do after reading this article by clicking here). Do all that and you’ll have a rather nice immersion into Latter-day Saint church culture.

…speak the lingo…
To paraphrase from George Bernard Shaw,  just as Israel and Samaria were two countries separated by a common language, so too are Christianity and Mormonism.  As Sandra Tanner explains:

Whenever an evangelical Christian and a Latter-day Saint engage in a doctrinal discussion they encounter the problem of terminology. LDS leaders use the standard  vocabulary of Christianity but with radically different definitions. A Christian should never take for granted that his/her LDS friend understands common Christian terms in the biblical way.[21]

For example, and to cite from Ms. Tanner’s article, let’s consider the differences between how Jesus Christ is defined in both Latter-day Saint and Christian theology:

LDS: He is literally our elder brother, born to Heavenly Parents in the pre-existence. Jesus, Lucifer, angels and humans are all the same species and are brothers and sisters.

Christian: Jesus is fully God, not a subordinate deity. He eternally exists as God and is our creator.

Folks, this is not the same Christ![22] And like Christ, whose understanding was so great that He was both strategic and tactical in how He deconstructed and corrected the errors in Samaritan theology,  a good understanding of the “language differences” between the two groups are essential so we can do the same.

16402_10152868918113115_616651833807347885_nHowever, a word of warning: I’ve seen Christians overdo it on on this point too. Notice how in His conversation with the woman at the well Christ didn’t insist on correcting her bad theology into the minutiae right then and there.  Rather, He seemed to be content to leave things “loose” in order to build a common foundation for relationship.  This is typical with Mormons too – all too often you have to leave some loose ends dangling with the hope that you’ve planted enough seeds that they’ve yield fruit later.  It can take Mormons years, even decades, and multiple contacts with different Christians over that time frame to transition out of Mormonism since the personal price they pay they pay for leaving can be so high.

So a big part of “passing through” and “speaking the lingo” means being empathetic to the fact that for many Mormons the price for leaving can include divorce, being shunned by friends and family members, loss of income, loss of employment, feeling lost and alienated in the new non-Mormon culture that they’re suddenly thrust out into, and a whole host of other issues. As former BYU Professor Arza Evans‘ classic white paper  “Families Held Hostage” explains:

A man or a woman who comes to the conclusion that Mormonism is based upon deception and who then decides to leave the LDS Church must also be willing to give up his or her family. It may turn out that the doubter is able to persuade some family members to change their minds about Mormonism, but the odds are against this happening. Instead, a person usually learns that family members have been so thoroughly indoctrinated that their highest loyalty is to the Church, not to a husband, wife, son, daughter, or even to the truth. And a Church member who associates or sympathizes with an “apostate” risks failing his or her temple worthiness interview. (This is one of the questions.)[23]

This leads to the phenomenon known as “Shadow Mormonism” – members of the LdS Church who secretly no longer believe that all of it is true but are held hostage to Mormonism due to family, social, and vocational ties. Here’s how one such Mormon described his plight:

To those of you on the outside reading this, I beg you, please do not forget us. Please remember the hundreds of thousands of unique, special, beautiful individuals that are currently serving life sentences in the prison of Mormonism. Please do not cease to pray; to whatever God you serve, for our deliverance. Some of us have no hope for redemption or liberation. For the greater good, we willingly sacrifice our souls upon the altar of conformity and orthodoxy. Our pain is real. Our sentence is absolute…

To those of you on the outside, I thank you. I thank you for your courage. I thank you for your wisdom and insight. I thank you for your compassion and understanding. I thank you for your stories. I thank you for showing me the truth and allowing me to bask in its warmth, even if for a small moment. I love you all. I hope that truth will ultimately prevail. I hope that you and I will live to see it.[24]

… and break bad.
Perhaps I’m wrong but it seems to me that the woman at the well might have also felt like a hostage to Samaritanism. She was clearly an outcast or she wouldn’t have been drawing water in the heat of the day. And her multiple “marriages” seem to be a misguided attempt to fill some kind of existential void to me. But where could she go? She was trapped.

So when I read that Shadow Mormon plea I think of the “Mormons at the well” who must be suffering in like manner. I think of all the true believing Mormons who think that by oppressing and keeping them captive that they’re serving God.  I think of the blindness of those all those Mormons – believing and unbelieving – who are in sinking sand but don’t know it because they can’t see it. And I think of how they’re too often treated by well meaning but misguided Christians.

“Woman at the Well” by Sieger Köder
(German Catholic Priest, 1925-)

Sadly, the most common form of engagement by many Christians with Mormons – especially those new to Mormon Studies – tends to be one of three things: 1) Mormon bashing; 2) Soapboxing, and; 3) Placating. Bashing doesn’t require much of an explanation, just visit any internet page where Mormons and Christians are dialoging and you’ll both groups gleefully punching each other in the nose – all in the name God and with the love of Christ of course! You’ll also see both groups getting up on their soapboxes and spewing the dogma of their respective group in their native tongue.  There they’ll be Christians spewing Christianese, Mormons spewing Mormonese while those in their group smile and nod – and while those in the other group either glare angrily at such insensitive folly, or look bemused at the blizzard of meaningless words whizzing over their heads and splatting unproductively against the wall behind them.

But the most damaging of them all are the placators who “mangle Mormonese” (that is take everything at face value without realizing that while the words are the same, the underlying meaning is different) and then smile and gleefully declare, “Well whaddya know! You guys are pretty much just like us!”  Richard Mouw comes to mind here.

Christ’s  “Samaritan Template” offers us a better way: Break out of the unbiblical social conventions of Evangelical Christianity and be different if that’s what it takes to reach Mormons with the gospel.  In other words, “break bad!”  Now be forewarned that this may get you in trouble with Christians who misunderstand what you’re doing – and some Mormons may like it even less.

I’m speaking from experience. Occasionally Christians who first encounter me online think that I’m Mormon because I speak Mormonese and I don’t bash. And some Mormons think the same thing.  Further, I break bad whenever I tug at the sleeve of Christian soapboxers and say (in effect), “You do realize that they’re not ‘getting’ a single word you’re saying, right? Have you ever thought about learning their culture and learning their native tongue first?” Finally, I have the even more annoying habit of standing between Christians who are bashing Mormons and their targets and saying, “Why are you hitting that blind man?”  (by the way, sometimes they’ll just hit you instead when you do this). And, yes, I’ve learned how to recognize all these behaviors because, to my shame, I’ve done all these things in abundance – and on bad days I still do.

“Christ and Woman at the Well” Byzatine Icon

It is to such zealotry that Heavenly Father (through the Apostle Paul) says:

“God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth, enabling them to escape the Devil’s trap, where they are caught and held captive, forced to run his errands.”
(2 Timothy 2:24-26, The Message)

And the Holy Spirit (through the Apostle Peter) says:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
(1 Peter 3:15, NIV)

Thus, it is to all the well meaning but misguided zealots like myself that the Master beckons saying, “Follow Me! If you speak the lingo, know the culture, and if will ‘break bad’ by humbling yourself as I, did then come with Me – there are some Latter-day Saint captives waiting to be freed.”

Summary and Conclusion:
Clearly the weak argument presented at the beginning of this article is unbiblical. We do need to understand Mormon culture. We do need to speak their language. And if we’re to have the mind of Christ hadn’t we must be willing to get out of the Christian ghetto and walk into “Zion” as boldly as Christ walked into Samaria – or more pointedly as He was willing to humble Himself for a planet full of sinners that included you and I.

Shouldn’t we have the good sense to understand their culture and language well enough to preach the gospel in a way that really, really reaches them rather than just doing things make us feel good about ourselves but doesn’t bear fruit? Shouldn’t we go against the social conventions and biases of our own culture if they’re getting the way of reaching the lost that God loves so much with the gospel? Shouldn’t we model ourselves after the Apostle who said so well:

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
(1 Corinthians 9:20-23, The Message, bolding added)

What I hope to see is revival in “Zion” due to an occupying army of Christians who speak the native tongue and love Mormons enough to move with comfort and ease within their culture while still keeping their bearings in Christ.  I long to see the captives in “Zion” set free – and I hope that you do too. After all, Christ has already showed us how to do it – it all started at a well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henryk_Siemiradzki

“Christ and the Samaritan Woman” (1890) by Henryk Siemiradzkizki (Polish, 1843-1902)

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”
— Mother Teresa

NOTES
[1] Some rhetorical liberties were taken here. For example, the use of the term “church” to describe pre-Christian era Samaritanism is presentist spin. As is true with most “parallel-mania” type comparisons, reality is far more complex and nuanced than the cryptic shorthand version given here. This is a big, complex topic so I would refer the interested reader to the following bibliography (from most relevant to least) from which this list derived:

Uncredited, “Differences Between Samaritan-Israelites and  Jews  of their Religious Beliefs”, TheSamaritans.com website
(compares modern Samaritanism and Judaism)

James A. Montgomery, “The Samaritans the earliest Jewish sect their history, theology, and literature”, The J.C. Winston Co.1907, pp.204-251

Wikipedia, “Eli (biblical figure)”, Samaritan Sources section

Wikipedia, “Samaritans”

Samaritan Sacred Texts (web portal page)

“Who were the Samaritans?” Gotquestions.org web article

Abraham Tal, “The Emergence of the Samaritan Community” (Lecture given at Mandelbaum House, August 2001)

J.E.H. Thomson, D.D., “The Samaritans (Being the Alexander Robertson Lectures , delivered before the University of Glasgow in 1916)”

Jacob, Son of Aaron High Priest of the Samaritans, “The Messianic Hope of the Samaritans”

John R. Sampey, D.D., “The Samaritans”

Stefan Schorch, “The Origin of the Samaritan Community” (2005)

[2] Uncredited, “Who were the Samaritans?” Gotquestions.org web article

[3] Op cit, Gotquestions.org

[4] Alfred Edersheim, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”In Judæa and through Samaria – a Sketch of Samaritan History and Theology – Jews and Samaritans chapter

[5] Kenneth Boa, “Studies in the Book of John: John – Chapter 4”

[6] Ibid

[7] As cited in The Keepers, An Introduction to the History and Culture of the Samaritans, by Robert T. Anderson and Terry Giles, Hendrickson Publishing, 2002, p.12.  An online English translation of  the “Samaritan Chronicles” (aka the “Book of Joshua”) can also be found here.

[8] James A. Montgomery, “The Samaritans the earliest Jewish sect their history, theology, and literature”, The J.C. Winston Co., (1907), pp.210-211

[9] Here’s a quick explanation of this phenomenon from Wikipedia:

Christianity takes exception to a strict adherence to belief in God’s incorporeality when it comes to the Incarnation. According to traditional Christianity, in the Incarnation, the second member of the Trinity… became infleshed (the Latin meaning of incarnatus) and thus, in a sense, came to be “with body.” While this pivotal claim about the union of God and man at the heart of Christianity marks a dramatic departure from a radical transcendent theology of God according to which any such union is metaphysically impossible, it does not commit Christians to denying God’s immateriality. In traditional Christianity, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son (apart from the Incarnation) are clearly understood as lacking material structure and composition.
(Wikipedia article on “Incorporeality” bolding added)

[10] Op Cit, James A. Montgomery, pp.225-226, 228

[11] Ibid, pp.244-245

[12] Ibid, pp. 249,250

[13] New Testament scholar Leon Morris notes:

There is no reason for thinking that Samaritan ideas of the Messiah were with out nationalistic aspects. But the Taheb was primarily a teacher, a restorer of true worship, a priest. Macdonald says, “no king was looked for and no royal prerogatives” (The Theology of the Samaritans, p. 362). Clearly to accept the title “Messiah” in Samaritan surroundings in a discussion with a woman about worship was a very different matter from accepting the title among Jews.
Leon Morris, “The Gospel According to John” (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)” (Kindle Locations 6770-6773). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[14] Ibid, Kindle Locations 6621-6623

[15] Ibid, Kindle Locations 6791-6793

[16] “Breaking bad” comes from the American Southwest slang phrase “to break bad,” meaning to challenge conventions, to defy authority and to skirt the edges of the law. Example: “What, you just decided to break bad one day?”
(source: Urban Dictionary)

[17] Op Cit, Leon Morris, Kindle Locations 6808-6810 and 6837-6840

[18] I understand well those who might take umbrage to the idea that Christ might tell the parable of “The Good Mormon” were He to tell it today.  Despite the similarities, there are some substantial differences as well.  For example, unlike modern Mormonism, the Samaritans didn’t insist in trumpeting and promoting their charities and other good works every chance they get. Further, I doubt (though I don’t know with certainty) that they used charity as a means of coercion like the LdS Church has throughout it’s history has.  I thought that we summarized both of these points well in The 95 LDS Theses (circa 2013) when we said:

70. It [the LDS Church] publicly (and loudly) trumpets its philanthropic work when compared to other churches its per capita outlay is less than what smaller, less wealthy, less organized religious organizations spend: “A study co-written by Cragun and recently published in Free Inquiry estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.”
(Caroline Winter, “How The Mormons Make Money”, Business Week; July 18, 2012) [click here for supplemental evidence]

33. It [the LDS Church] has a double standard for treating non-members with charitable benevolence (as a means of proselytizing and public relations) while exacting, high, often unattainable standards that members must meet to receive the same levels of attention, aid, and assistance.

So while my rhetorical stance in this article may have put too positive a spin on Mormonism on this point I’m not naive – I really do realize how complex the issues here really are.

[19] Philip Schaff, “History Of The Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes In One)” (Kindle Locations 2248-2267 and 9332-9338).  . Kindle Edition.

[20] Ross Anderson, “Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor: A Quick Christian Guide for Relating to Latter-day Saints” (Kindle Locations 626-643)

[21] Sandra Tanner, “Terminology Differences”

[22] For an even more granular analysis of the differences between the Mormon and Biblical Jesus see, “Mormonism and Jesus Christ” by Rob Bowman.

[23] Arza Evans, “Families Held Hostage”, p.2; Mr. Evans has a unique insider’s view as he’s one of the best connected ExMormons that I know of.  As Richard Packham explains in the introduction for this article that he has on his website, “Mr. Evans is a retired college professor who grew up thoroughly indoctrinated with Mormonism. He went on a full-time mission for the Mormon church, served in several bishoprics, and was also a temple worker. About age forty he began some serious research into early Mormon history that led to traumatic but liberating changes in his life. His article (written 2004).”  This biography fails to mention that Mr. Evan’s father was the President of the Temple System for the LdS Church during the 1970’s and part of the 1980’s and that Mormon General Authorities, and Presidents were, and in some cases still are, family friends and neighbors of Mr. Evans.

[24] Enigma, “The Death of Reason and Freedom”

This article is dedicated to my dear friend Martin Jacobs without whom I never would seen any connection between the Samaritans and the Mormons. Thank you mate! 

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Two Mormon Missionaries pray in their shared room. Mormon missionaries are instructed to "never be alone" and to always be within sight or earshot of each other, according to the Mormon Missionary Handbook. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

Two Mormon Missionaries pray over Latter-day Saint scripture in their shared room.

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Clinton Wilcox
The Argument: “I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.”

Why It’s Weak:
In short, it’s a weak argument because it is subjective and inconclusive. It doesn’t give any actual reasons for why Mormonism is false and orthodox Christianity is true. It’s a bad argument against Mormonism because it’s a bad argument, period – which makes it a bad argument even when the Mormon uses it.

1) Testimonies are subjective
The Mormon testimony usually goes something like this: “I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the true church. I know that it is Christ’s church…that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he saw our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ…”[1]

Testimonies are not inherently bad things. Testimonies are used in a court of law as evidence. But testimonies are given regarding a certain event that somebody witnessed. You can’t rely on your own subjective experiences to convince somebody else of the truth of your beliefs. The major problem is that in the Mormon’s testimony, they don’t give us any reason to believe Mormonism is true. A subjective experience may give you a reason to believe but it doesn’t give anyone else a reason to accept your beliefs as true. Arguing that it is the correct church doesn’t help. I need to know why it is the correct church.

2) This testimony is inconclusive
A related point, that this testimony doesn’t give us any reason to believe in the truth value of Mormonism. Eyewitness testimony was important for the Disciples because they actually witnessed Christ’s resurrection. A Mormon testifying to you that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, or you testifying to the Mormon that he was a false prophet, is not very compelling since neither one of you were there, nor did either of you know Joseph Smith, personally. This means that your testimony regarding Joseph Smith is inadmissible. We have reasons to believe that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, but a testimony regarding Joseph Smith is not one of them.

A young Mormon woman bearing her testimony

A young Mormon woman bearing her testimony

3) Giving the testimony as an argument rests on a bad interpretation of Scipture
Mormons often rely on Moroni 10 as a grounding for giving their testimony. Moroni 10:4, specifically, reads: “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.” This is, of course, a passage that an orthodox Christian wouldn’t accept. So they also use as justification (James 1:5), which reads: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (NASB)

But this is a bad interpretation of James 1:5. If we take the verse in the greater context of the surrounding passage, we’ll see that James was writing to the 12 tribes of Israel, so he was writing to Jewish believers (probably before 50 AD) in the context of encountering various trials. As Matt Slick wrote, “The context is about gaining wisdom through difficult trials and the testing of one’s faith – not about praying to see if a book is true.”[2]

4) The testimony can be turned right back around
Finally, this testimony can be turned right back around on the Mormon (or on you). You can just reply with, “I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a false church. I know that Joseph Smith was a false prophet,” etc. Then you’re left with the dilemma of whose testimony is correct, or even which is the more powerful testimony? This can be rhetorically effective, but it offers no grounding for the claim that your respective beliefs are true.

The Stronger Arguments:
There are certain testimonial arguments that can raise the truth claims of Christianity. For example, the Disciples’ eyewitness testimony to the risen Christ, or a modern person’s witnessing of a legitimate miracle. Instead, we should be focusing on the reasons for our faith, not the fact that we have it.

I only have one “stronger argument,” because really, all of the stronger arguments against Mormonism are contained under the umbrella of this point:

Give reasons, not testimony.

We do not have to pray to test truth claims. We have the Scriptures given to us so that if we come across a particular idea, we can test it against Scripture to see if it holds up (1 Thessalonians 5:21). All over Scripture we are told to use our faculties of reason. If Mormonism is false, it stands or falls on its teachings, not on whether or not I believe it to be true. And more generally, Christianity, itself, is a religion that is based on evidence, not “blind faith,” as atheists tend to allege. We are told to “love the Lord your God with…all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NASB). God told the Israelites “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV, emphasis mine). And as C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, has observed, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than he is of any other slackers.”[3] The Christian life is one marked by reason and reflection. It is not based on feelings or emotion, which are not accurate guides for determining truth. We read in Scripture that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB).

If you believe the Mormon church to be false, you need to point out which doctrines are false and explain why they are false. If you believe Joseph Smith to be a false prophet, point out reasons why you believe so. Show some prophecies which have failed to take place (the Bible in Deuteronomy 18:22 says that if even one prediction fails, that person is not a prophet of the Lord). The bottom line is, if you want to be able to convince a Mormon of the truth of orthodox Christianity, you need to give arguments for it.

Summary and Conclusion
All things taken into consideration, we are never exhorted in Scripture to “ask God” whether or not a various belief is true. God has given us minds to reason. If we encounter any view or belief, we don’t have to ask God whether or not it is true. We can compare it to Scripture to test whether or not it is true. Whether coming from the lips of a Mormon missionary or an orthodox Christian, this argument just doesn’t do the work of supporting any truth claim that we make.

quote-if-we-did-not-have-rational-souls-we-would-not-be-able-to-believe-saint-augustine-8606

NOTES
[1]  I have personally heard this testimony when I spent a few months in conversations with two Mormon missionaries. I found a transcript of the archetypical Mormon testimony at the Mormon411 website in the article entitled, “An Actual Mormon Testimony”.

[2] The information in this paragraph is paraphrased (and quoted) from the CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry) webpage article, “James 1:5 and praying about the Book of Mormon” by Matt Slick

[3] C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)”, (p. 78, Kindle position 1071). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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BoM-299
An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“The Book of Mormon doesn’t have a trace of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity in it.”

Why It’s Weak:
As previous articles in this series have pointed out, this argument is weak because it’s untrue.[1]

1) The Book of Mormon is largely orthodox
To segue off of the the last article in this series, from a theological perspective, the biggest problem with the Book of Mormon isn’t the content as much as the origin story and how it’s used by Mormonism – that is, as Joseph Smith’s prophetic credential. If you strip away the baggage of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon origin story you’re left with a piece of Christian literature that’s more akin to “Pilgrim’s Progress” or “The Screwtape Letters” than “Dianetics”. In fact, the following mainstream protestant doctrine can be found in the Book of Mormon:[2]

  • The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus is Eternal God. And as such, Christ was neither created or procreated.
  • The Book of Mormon says that God is eternal and unchanging.
  • The Book of Mormon states that God is a Spirit.
  • The Book of Mormon states plainly that there is only one God.
  • The Book of Mormon states plainly that the One God consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that is, the Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of the Trinity (albeit with a strong modalistic skew).
  • The Book of Mormon states that God created via nothing but His word – that is, “ex-nihilo” (out of nothing).
  • The Book of Mormon condemns Polygamy.
  • The Book of Mormon states that there is only heaven and hell.
  • The Book of Mormon denounces universalism as a “false doctrine”.
  • The Book of Mormon denies that there is a second chance to repent and receive the gospel in the next life.
  • The Book of Mormon states that baptism isn’t an absolute requirement for salvation.
  • The Book of Mormon states that man was created by the power of God’s word not procreated by spirit parents.
  • The Book of Mormon makes a clear distinction between men and angels.
  • The Book of Mormon states clearly that Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world on the cross.

2) The Golden Bible’s “Campbellism Improved”
So, ironically, the Book of Mormon, if properly understood and applied, can actually be of great benefit in arguing against the truth claims, doctrine, and theology of modern Mormonism. That’s because it contains so much 19th Century American Protestantism – “Campbellism” for example.

Campbellism refers to the form of Christian Primitivism developed and taught by Alexander Campbell during the 19th Century Second Great Awakening in America. Essentially the movement claimed that the Christian Church after the death of the Apostles fell into apostasy and needed to be restored to it’s pure, New Testament roots. According to the “Faith Defenders” website other key other Campbellite doctrines include:[3]

Alexander Campbell  (circa 1855)

Alexander Campbell
(circa 1855)

  1. The Christian Church disappeared in the first century. The “true” Gospel was lost at that time.
  2. The Roman Catholic Church and all Protestant Churches are apostate organizations, and are not to be viewed as “Christian” churches.
  3. All the historic creeds and confessions are worthless and should be ignored.
  4. God raised up Alexander Campbell to “restore” the “true” Gospel and to re-establish the Christian Church. He restored the pure “Apostolic” Church.
  5. The Millennium was going to be ushered in during their lifetime by the “Restoration” Movement.
  6. The “true” Gospel teaches that “baptism unto remission of sins” is essential for salvation. The “Restorers” spoke of this as “baptismal regeneration.”
  7. The “baptism” given by all other churches is not saving. You have to be re-baptized in accordance with the Campbellite doctrine of baptism to be saved.
  8. Only Bible names should be used in the name of a church. It is wrong to use such names as Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, etc. Even though they first called themselves “Reformed Baptists,” they later took up such names as “Disciples of Christ,” “the Churches of Christ” and “The Christian Church.”

By the way, on that last one, the original name of the Mormon Church was “The Church of Christ”. And isn’t it interesting that the current name still adheres to this Campellite doctrine as well? Further, did you notice what happens with number four if you substitute “Joseph Smith” for “Alexander Campbell” in it? What are you left with? Answer: Mormonism.

This is nothing new, the fact that Campellism can be found throughout the Book of Mormon is a well established fact. My article “Campbellite Doctrine in The Book of Mormon” briefly discusses where many of the above doctrines can be found in the Book of Mormon. On the other extreme, Mormon Anthropologist Daymon Smith has written an entire series of books on the subject. The more interesting question is how did so many of Alexander Campbell’s teachings get in there to begin with? Some, particularly proponents of the Spaulding-Rigdon Theory, argue that Campbellite doctrine entered the Book of Mormon through Early Mormon leader and high ranking Campbellite minister, Sidney Rigdon. As Mormon scholar Scott G. Kenney notes:

Both [both Mormons and Rigdon’s Campbellite Church] were restorationist and taught the formula of faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost. Faith was considered to be an intellectual exercise. Both called on believers to come forward and have their sins immediately washed away. The similarities were so striking that one newspaper article carried the headline, “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved.”

There were differences, to be sure, but they tended to occur at points where Mormons agreed with the Rigdonite critique of Campbellitism. Both Rigdon and Smith believed in a literal and far-ranging restoration that would include prophecy, priesthood authority, and gifts of the Spirit. Smith too believed that the ancient patriarchs and prophets were Christians who were called to prepare the way for Jesus, that the current age was a short preparatory period to prepare for Christ’s millennial reign.[4]

Speculation aside, exactly how the “Golden Bible” (aka The Book of Mormon) became to be equated with “Campbellism” (let alone, the “improved” version) isn’t as important as the fact that it did. And while a lot of Christians don’t think much of Campbellism even to this day, the fact remains that Book of Mormon and Early Mormon teachings were more aligned with the established Christian orthodoxy of Joseph Smith’s day than unaligned.[5]

3) As well as a 19th Century Kitchen Sink
The Book of Mormon also contains parts and pieces of other 19th Century Protestant sources. As Mormon Historian, Grant Palmer notes, “Seventy-five percent of the content of the book [the Book of Mormon] is accounted for by Joseph Smith’s use of six, nineteenth-century sources of which he was very familiar. Twenty-five percent came from the Bible and another twenty-five percent came from the Methodist religion. The remaining twenty-five percent came from three other sources.”[6] For example, let’s consider Mr. Palmer’s analysis of how King Benjamin’s farewell speech parallels one by period Methodist leader Bishop William McKendree.

Methodist camp meeting (1819 engraving) Jacques Gérard Milbert (1766-1840)

Methodist camp meeting (1819 engraving) Jacques Gérard Milbert (1766-1840)

We have not taken Joseph Smith seriously enough when he stated that he had an “intimate acquaintance” with evangelical religion and that he was “ somewhat partial” to the Methodists. Protestant concepts appear to abound in his [Joseph Smith’s] discourses and experiences. For example, a Methodist camp meeting was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826 – a pivotal time in Joseph’s life. Preparations for a camp meeting included leasing and consecrating the ground. Thus the “ground within the circle of the tents is considered sacred to the worship of God, and is our chapel.” The Methodists referred to these “consecrated grounds” as their “House of God” or temple. The Palmyra camp meeting reportedly attracted over 10,000 people. Families came from all parts of the 100-mile conference district and pitched their tents facing the raised “stand” where the preachers were seated, including one named Benjamin G. Paddock. This large crowd heard the “valedictory” or farewell speech of their beloved “Bishop M’Kendree [who] made his appearance among us for the last time.” He was the Methodist leader who “had presided” over the area for many years. The people had such reverence for this “sainted” man “that all were melted, and … awed in his presence.” In his emaciated and “feeble” condition, he spoke of his love for the people and then delivered a powerful message that covered “the whole process of personal salvation.” Tremendous unity prevailed among the crowd, and “nearly every unconverted person on the ground” committed oneself to Christ. At the close of the meeting, the blessings and newly appointed “Stations of the Preachers” were made for the Ontario district.

This is reminiscent of King Benjamin’s speech to the Zarahemlans in the Book of Mormon, whose chronicler describes the setting:

The people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the [last] words which [their beloved] king Benjamin should speak unto them … [T]hey pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family … every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple … the multitude being so great that king Benjamin … caused a tower to be erected … [And he said from the platform,] I am about to go down to my grave … I can no longer be your teacher … For even at this time my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you. (Mosiah 2: 1, 5-7, 28-30).[7]

So given The Book of Mormon’s pedigree of cobbled together and plagiarized 19th Century Protestant sources, it’s only natural that it would be filled with at least some orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity isn’t it? In actual fact, it’s filled with a lot. Therefore, to say that it’s devoid of any, as the weak argument presented here does, is simply wrong.

The Stronger Arguments:
All of the stronger arguments are basically a variation on just one: “So the Book of Mormon’s got Protestant doctrine in it, so what? Modern Mormonism still can’t be found in it.” Let’s consider the following case study to see how this works tactically:

1) Dr. Ridenhour is right . . . 
Dr. Lynn Ridenhour is a former Liberty University professor and an ordained Southern Baptist Minister who, despite the fact he has never been baptized into any Latter Day Saint church, has a Mormon-style testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. He has been warmly embraced by both Brighamite (that is members of the LdS Church) and Josephite (that is members of the RLDS/Community of Christ church and it’s splinter groups) Mormons as, “a witness of the Restoration”. Consider this excerpt from a BYU article on Dr. Ridenhour:

Shortly thereafter, his new neighbor handed him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Lynn [Ridenhour] retorted, “Sir, that’s a Book of Mormon—I thought this was a Christian community.” Undeterred, the neighbor left the book, and Lynn decided to read it as a courtesy and with the intent of lifting his neighbor out of darkness. Lynn described what happened next: “I opened that precious book of the stick of Joseph, and I did not get out of the first page. When I read, ‘I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents,’ I knew! From then on, I knew I was reading the divine word of God, I really did. That was in May of 1985, and I haven’t stopped. I tell my Baptist friends I have been born again—again!”[8]

Dr. Lynn Ridenhour in a BYU TV interview (click to view video)

Dr. Lynn Ridenhour bears testimony in a BYU TV interview
(click to view video)

Every so often Dr. Ridenhour gets rediscovered by Latter-day Saints. They get excited and start touting him as living proof of the veracity of Mormonism as well as the epitome of what a truly honest, spirit-led, and enlightened Protestant/Evangelical Christian looks like.[9] Recently, this was the case when some Mormons rediscovered Dr. Ridenhour’s (circa 2001) article, “The Baptist Version of The Book of Mormon: Protestant Doctrines within the Book of Mormon” in which he outlines the following Baptist doctrines found in the Book of Mormon: Born Again Experience, Plan of Salvation, Plan of Redemption, Salvation, The Lord Jesus Christ, Repentance, Faith, and Grace. Suddenly social media was flooded with posts from Mormons about this exciting new and enlightened Baptist minister who “gets it, really gets it!” And, indeed, the Book of Mormon proof texts that Dr. Ridenhour cites in support of his thesis, if taken strictly at face value, do indeed reflect modern mainstream Protestant doctrine. So Dr. Ridenhour is largely correct when he concludes:

The two go hand in hand, really–Protestant doctrine and the Book of Mormon. They’re not at odds. The Book of Mormon is filled with Protestant cardinal doctrines, believe it or not. In fact, I discovered, the Book of Mormon is more “Baptist” than the Baptist hymnal in places. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s so. I read the Book from cover to cover and found as a Baptist minister, there is absolutely nothing in it that contradicts the Bible.

For example, the book uplifts the blood of Christ (Mosiah 1:118), declares that salvation is only by God’s grace (2 Nephi 7:42), defends the grand theme of salvation (Mosiah 1:108), and proclaims that salvation comes only through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ (Mosiah 3:8,9). Other themes such as repentance, atonement by Christ’s blood, redemption, and forgiveness run like a scarlet thread through the book as well (Alma 3:86, Helaman 2:71, Alma 13:13, Mosiah 2:3,4). Thus, our “tongue ‘n’ cheek” title, The Baptist Version of the Book of Mormon. I’m telling you, the grand themes of Protestantism are found recorded through and through. From cover to cover.[10]

But does he really “get it” folks? Answer: No.

… but so what?
Dr. Ridenhour’s evidence is sound, however, his “leap of faith” conclusion that the book was divinely inspired and testifies of Joseph Smith’s legitimacy as a true prophet of God isn’t. After all isn’t this abundance of 19th Century Protestantism exactly what we would expect to find in the Book of Mormon given the sources that Joseph Smith synthesized, compiled, and plagiarized it from? Why is any of this astounding, surprising, or deserving of over-the-top hyperbolic gushing like . . .

What a book!

Perhaps the late [Mormon educator and writer] John Henry Evans (1872-1947) said it best when he penned an overview of the Prophet’s life with typical nineteenth century eloquence:

“…Here is a man,” says Evan, “who was born in the stark hills of Vermont; who was reared in the backwoods of New York; who never looked inside a college or high school; who lived in six States, no one of which would own him during his lifetime; who spent months in the vile prisons of the period; who, even when he has his freedom, was hounded like a fugitive; who was covered once with a coat of tar and feathers, and left for dead; who, with his following, was driven by irate neighbors from New York to Ohio, from Ohio to Missouri, and from Missouri to Illinois; and who, at the unripe age of thirty-eight, was shot to death by a mob with painted faces.

Yet this man became mayor of the biggest town in Illinois and the state’s most prominent citizen, the commander of the largest body of trained soldiers in the nation outside the Federal army, the founder of cities and of a university, and aspired to become President of the United States.

He wrote a book which has baffled the literary critics for a hundred years and which is today more widely read than any other volume save the Bible…”
Joseph Smith, An American Prophet,
1933 preface

Joseph Smith “…wrote a book which has baffled the literary critics…” So true.[11]

Literary Critic, Harold Bloom

Literary Critic, Harold Bloom

Really? Well, I don’t know of any scholars who are “baffled” by the Book of Mormon. I have no idea where John Henry Evans and Lynn Ridenhour are getting this from. For example, literary critic Harold Bloom (who devoted an entire chapter to Smith entitled, “The Religion-Making Imagination of Joseph Smith” in his book, “The American Religion”) certainly wasn’t baffled when he stated plainly:

With the Book of Mormon, we arrive at the center of Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission, but hardly at any center of Mormonism, because of Smith’s extraordinary capacity for speculative development in the fourteen years that remained to him after its publication. The Book of Mormon was not only his first work; it is the portrait of a self-educated, powerful mind at the untried age of twenty-four. It has bravura, but beyond question it is wholly tendentious and frequently tedious. If one compares it closely to Smith’s imaginings in the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants, it seems the work of some other writer, and I don’t mean Mormon or Moroni[12]

So how and why would one conclude that because Joseph Smith was able to put together a 19th Century work of fiction (and one that’s merely a reflection of the Christianity of his time) that he was a prophet of God? Should we declare John Bunyan a prophet for writing “Pilgrim’s Progress”, or C.S. Lewis for writing “The Chronicles of Narnia”, “The Screwtape Letters”, or “The Space Trilogy”? After all, many moderns sense the same spark of the divine in those books that Mormons do in the Book of Mormon. So if the Book of Mormon is a legitimate prophetic credential for Joseph Smith why aren’t these works for these authors? With all due respect to Dr. Ridenhour, this is beyond an irrational leap of faith – it’s patently absurd!

Using Dr. Ridenhour's criteria for Joseph Smith isn't C.S. Lewis a prophet too?

Using Dr. Ridenhour’s criteria for Joseph Smith isn’t C.S. Lewis a prophet too?

This is especially true when one considers what Smith followed the Book of Mormon with. The Book of Moses, The Book of Commandments, Doctrine & Covenants, The Book of Abraham are filled with heresy of the type that any qualified ordained Southern Baptist minister would and could never endorse – let alone bear witness to someone who as a true prophet of God! Oh, and by the way, the Book of Mormon does indeed contradict the Bible repeatedly – on that point Dr. Ridenhour is simply wrong.[13] OK, but that said, even if I’m generous and go along with his premise that, “the grand themes of Protestantism are found recorded through and through from cover to cover” in the Book of Mormon . . .

So what? Modern Mormonism still can’t be found in it.

Second Suggested Strong Argument: There has to be a Morning After
As noted previously, the other works that Joseph Smith produced both during after the Book of Mormon’s “translation”[14] and publication process were full of heresy. Therefore, after you’re done saying, “So what?” to the Protestantism in the Book of Mormon you can simply focus on the heresies of those later works instead. We’re talking about things like:[15]

  • God the Father was once a man, on another world (Kolob), and progressed to godhood by following perfectly the commands and precepts of his Father God.
  • God the Father is a person with a body of flesh and bones.
  • The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are separate gods, “one in purpose” only but not one in being.
  • There are a plurality of gods but we only worship the God of this world, God the Father (aka “Heavenly Father”)
  • God the Father, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and other sons of the Father did not create the universe and earth out of nothing, but “organized” them from eternally existing matter that pre-existed God the Father.
  • The Most faithful and worthy Mormons can progress to godhood in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, where they can obtain their own world and with their wife (or wives) procreate spirit children for eternity.
  • The “new and everlasting covenant” of polygamy is necessary for exaltation to godhood.
  • Mormons who are unmarried in this life and do not marry in the next life, cannot be exalted, but will become servant ministering angels to exalted Mormons in the next life.
  • Every human being will find a place in one of the three degrees of glory (or “heaven” in plain English).
  • Temples and temple ordinances pertaining to endowments are necessary in order to pass through the veil and enter the presence of God the Father, and consist of temple marriage, new names, secret key words and handshakes that will be used as an identification of the person in the next life.
  • Baptisms for the dead must be performed by proxy in this life for those who did not accept the gospel in this life, so that their sins can be forgiven and they can enter the Celestial Kingdom after they accept the Mormon gospel message in the next life.
  • Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother procreated the spirits of every human being that has lived, is now living or will ever live on this earth.
  • The spirits procreated by Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother lived with their father on his world as angels in the “pre-existence” before being sent to earth to inhabit human bodies.
  • Jesus Christ is the brother of Lucifer (Satan), every human being past and present, and the angels.
  • Jesus Christ made atonement for sins in the Garden of Gethsemane.

This list was compiled from the article entitled “Mormon Doctrine Not Found in the Book of Mormon”. You will find full documentation for each and all of these non-Book of Mormon heresies there.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: That was Then This is Now
Finally, since the 19th Century Protestant doctrine in the Book of Mormon discredits much modern 21st Century Mormon Doctrine you can make the Book of Mormon your biggest ally. I won’t go into further detail on this here since the prior article in this series contains several tactics and tips on how to do this in the “Stronger Arguments” section. Finally, specific passages from the Book of Mormon that can be used in support of this effort can be found in the article, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine”.

Summary and Conclusion:
This argument is weak because it simply isn’t true: The Book of Mormon contains a lot of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christian doctrine. However, it’s still irrelevant: You still can’t find modern 21st Century Mormonism in the Book of Mormon – in fact the Book of Mormon discredits the Mormonism of today. Once this is realized, the Book of Mormon can actually become your most potent weapon against the heresies of the modern LdS Church. So don’t despise the Book of Mormon, use it!

book_of_mormon-1280x960_edited

This can be your most potent weapon against the heresies of the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!

NOTES
[1] See the following:
Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”
Fred W. Anson, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine”

[2] This list of orthodox Protestant doctrine in the Book of Mormon was originally extrapolated from the article, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctine”. A fuller explanation of each of these points – including scripture references – can be found there or by using the embedded links I’ve included in the list on key points in the list.

[3] Uncredited, “Faith Defenders” website

[4] Scott G. Kenney, “Sidney Rigdon Mormonism’s Co-founder”

[5] Please see my previous article, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”, for a fuller exposition on this.

[6] Grant Palmer, “Six Sources Joseph Smith May Have Used In Composing The Book of Mormon”, MormonThink website.

[7] Grant Palmer, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins” (Kindle Locations 2123-2138). Signature Books. Kindle Edition.

[8] Keith J. Wilson, “A Witness of the Restoration”, BYU Religious Education website.

[9] Here are some things for Mormons to consider in regard to Mr. Ridenhour:

1) Lynn Ridenhour practices Pentecostal-style tongues speaking and thinks that all Mormons should too. Which is why he considers himself more RLDS/CoC than LdS. (see http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/me_in_restoration/CharismaticRLDS.htm )

2) Mr. Ridenhour has never been baptized into ANY Mormon church – be the LdS Church, the RLDS/CoC, or any other Mormon denomination. He has a small following with the RLDS/CoC folks but that’s about it. He is neither RLDS or LdS, he’s cobbled together his own form of Mormonism – much of which I suspect you would disagree with strongly. (see http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/Bio/baptized.htm )

3) One reason why Mr. Ridenhour has never been baptized into any Mormon group is because he (like us) has real concerns, issues, and differences with some of the things that Joseph Smith taught after the Book ok Mormon. To my knowledge Mr. Ridenhour has never published anything in this regard but he has told several people (in one-on-one settings, never in a group) this verbally.

Therefore, Mr. Ridenhour is more aligned with the RLDS/CoC stance that at some point Joseph Smith became a fallen prophet rather than the LdS stance that Smith was faithful and true to the end.

I’ve found that most Brighamite Mormons who spend some “quality time” time on Mr. Ridenhour’s websites find their enthusiasm for this “witness of the restoration” waning since he’s not really as aligned with the LdS Church as they had originally thought. Here are the links to those websites:

Lynn Ridenhour (new website) http://www.lynnsbridgebuilding.com/
Lynn Ridenhour’s Winepress Ministries (old website) http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/

And for future reference here’s a link to the start of the Lynn Ridenhour section of this article:
http://wp.me/p25Eco-1jG/#LynnRidenhour
(Tip: You might want to keep this link handy for the next time Dr. Ridenhour gets rediscovered by Mormons.)

[10] Lynn Ridenhour, “The Baptist Version of The Book of Mormon: Protestant Doctrines within the Book of Mormon”, CenterPlace.org website. Bolding and italics are in the original article. The links to online 1908 RLDS edition of The Book of Mormon have been added for this article.

[11] Ibid, Ridenhour.

[12] Harold Bloom, “The American Religion” (Kindle Locations 1184-1189). Chu Hartley Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[13] See Sandra Tanner, “Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions”,
and Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”

[14] “Translation” in quotes because a book produced using a seer stone in a hat with source documents nowhere in sight (a folk magic process called “scrying”) can hardly be called “translating” can it? See the LdS Church’s “Book of Mormon Translation” Gospel Topics essay for the faithful perspective and MormonThink.com’s “Translation of the Book of Mormon” essay for a more neutral perspective on this.

[15] Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”

BACK TO TOP

An 1890 oil painting of Joseph Smith preaching to the Indians. The painting was commissioned for the Salt Lake Temple and it hung there for over fifty years.

An 1890 oil painting of Joseph Smith preaching to the Indians. The painting was commissioned for the Salt Lake Temple and it hung there for over fifty years.

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.”

Why It’s Weak:
Exaggeration erodes credibility. Overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. This argument is weak because it’s both an exaggeration and an overstatement. It turns early Mormonism into an inaccurate, and untrue, caricature of itself. In actual fact, the historical record shows that what Mormon Church originally believed and taught until around the 1834 pre-Book of Abraham, Kirtland era was largely orthodox and was consistent with what other 19th Century Protestant churches, in general, and Restorationist churches of that time, in particular, were teaching at the time. The heresy came later.

1) The church originally founded by Joseph Smith was largely orthodox.
Like most cults, the church originally founded by Joseph Smith believed and taught the essentials of the Christian faith – albeit with error on non-essential doctrines mixed in. As Mormon Historian Thomas G. Alexander notes:

Early critics primarily attacked Mormons for receiving new revelations and scripture, and for claiming authority, but not for Mormon doctrines, which were quite Protestant…  before about 1835, the LDS doctrines on God and man were quite close to those of contemporary Protestant denominations.

The doctrines of God and man revealed in these sources [the “Book of Commandments” and the “Lectures on Faith”] were not greatly different from those of some of the religious denominations of the time. Marvin Hill has argued that the Mormon doctrine of man in New York contained elements of both Calvinism and Arminianism, though tending toward the latter…

As Marvin Hill and Timothy Smith have argued, much of the doctrine that early investigators found in Mormonism was similar to that of contemporary Protestant churches. The section on the nature of God in the “Articles and Covenants,” now Doctrine and Covenants 20: 17-28, was similar to the creeds of other churches. In fact, what is now verses 23 and 24 is similar to passages in the Apostles’ Creed.[1]

As aforementioned Religious Historian Timothy L. Smith, a Nazarene scholar, summarized:

The persuasive power of both the new scriptures and of the missionaries who proclaimed and expounded them lay in their confident testimony to beliefs that were central to the biblical culture of the evangelical Protestant sects in both Jacksonian America and early Victorian England. These beliefs seem in the early years, at least, to have also dominated the thought and devotion of the Saints themselves, even when debates with outsiders revolved around their special doctrines of continuing revelation, the gathering of Jews and Saints in the two Jerusalems, and the material nature of all reality, whether human or divine.[2]

In fact, one of the best period evidences of how closely aligned early Mormon doctrine was with the Protestant Christianity is Alexander Campbell’s pointed review of the Book of Mormon in which he notes:

This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in N. York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies – infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to. How much more benevolent and intelligent this American Apostle, than were the holy twelve, and Paul to assist them!!![3]

The reader will note how Campbell attacks the Book of Mormon not on it’s content but, rather, on the author’s pretension to be the ultimate authority deciding for all Christians what’s right and what’s wrong on all these issues through his allegedly divinely inspired book.  In fact, Campbell would have been a fool to attack the content itself since so much of his own Campbellite doctrine could be found in the Book of Mormon.[4] As Thomas G. Alexander summarizes well:

Campbell and others before 1835 objected principally to Mormonism’s claims of authority, modern revelation,  miracles, and communitarianism but not to its doctrines of God and man.[5]

2) Error and heresy slowly overwhelmed Early Mormon’s adherence to historic Christian orthodoxy.
This point was best articulated by Timothy L. Smith who observed:

Several scholars have noted that many doctrines peculiar to the Latter-day Saints, particularly in the years since their settlement in Utah, rest not upon the Book of Mormon but upon the revelations to Joseph Smith which took place after the publication of that volume. Accounts by believers, apostates, and outsiders during the first decade or so of the church’s witness in America and England convince me that the movement would never have gotten off the ground if these unique teachings had constituted its major appeal. [6]

In 1887 this drift was confirmed by Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer who, in denouncing the doctrine LdS Church of his day, squarely placed the blame on Joseph Smith for taking it into error:

We do not indorse the teachings of any of the so-called Mormons or Latter Day Saints, which are in conflict with the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as taught in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. They have departed in a great measure from the faith of the CHURCH OF CHRIST [the name of the Mormon Church until 1834]  from  as it was first established, by heeding revelations given through Joseph Smith, who, after being called of God to translate his sacred word — the Book of Mormon — drifted into many errors and gave many revelations to introduce doctrines, ordinances and offices in the church, which are in conflict with Christ’s teachings.[7]

3) The LdS Church’s dirty little secret: The Book of Mormon discredits modern Mormon Doctrine.
Now that you have an understanding what really happened in Early Mormonism you’re ready for the LdS Church’s dirty little secret:  The Book of Mormon not only doesn’t teach Mormon doctrine, it discredits much of it – as Mormon Researcher Aaron Shafovaloff explains in the following video.

In fact, and as previously noted, the Book of Mormon primarily teaches 19th Century American Restorationism in a way that’s for the most part aligned with historic mainstream Protestant Christian orthodoxy.[8] For example:

  • The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus is Eternal God. And as such, Christ was neither created or procreated.
  • The Book of Mormon says that God is eternal and unchanging.
  • The Book of Mormon states that God is a Spirit.
  • The Book of Mormon states plainly that there is only one God.
  • The Book of Mormon states plainly that the One God consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that is, the Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of the Trinity (albeit with a strong modalistic skew).
  • The Book of Mormon states that God created via nothing but His word – that is, “ex-nihilo” (out of nothing).
  • The Book of Mormon condemns Polygamy.
  • The Book of Mormon states that there is only heaven and hell.
  • The Book of Mormon denounces universalism as a “false doctrine”.
  • The Book of Mormon repeatedly condemns the type of secret oaths and combinations that are found in the Latter-day Saint Temple Endowment ceremony in the strongest terms.
  • The Book of Mormon denies that there is a second chance to repent and receive the gospel in the next life.
  • The Book of Mormon states that baptism isn’t an absolute requirement for salvation.
  • The Book of Mormon states that man was created by the power of God’s word not procreated by spirit parents.
  • The Book of Mormon makes a clear distinction between men and angels.
  • The Book of Mormon states clearly that Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world on the cross.
  • The Book of Mormon discredits key points of the First Vision.

So if you strip away the baggage of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon origin story you’re left with a piece of Christian literature that’s more akin to “Pilgrim’s Progress” or “The Screwtape Letters” than “Dianetics”.  In the end it’s very much as  Shawn McCraney described it when he said, “[We] recognize the Book of Mormon as a piece of 19th century literary fiction aimed at teaching Jesus Christ. We reject the story of its origins.”[9]

Why the First Vision isn’t relevant here
Finally, please note that the First Vision isn’t in the Book of Mormon and didn’t make it’s first public appearance until 1838. Further it wasn’t a major factor in Mormon doctrine until it was canonized in 1880. This is well past the 1834-35 date when Mormon doctrine transitioned from being largely orthodox to being heretical. I mention this because many modern Christians erroneously point to the First Vision as proof that early Mormonism was heretical from the beginning when in fact it had no significant role in Mormon thought or theology until much, much, much later – about fifty years later to be precise.[10]

The Stronger Arguments:
By now you may, be wondering, “Well, that all that Mormon History is certainly all very interesting but does it have any practical application?”  Yes, indeed it does – this inside knowledge helps us make make powerful, credibility enhancing arguments that’s supported by a large body of verifiable evidence from Mormon friendly sources.

First Suggested Strong Argument: Don’t despise the Book of Mormon use it 
You knew this was coming didn’t you?  Simply put one of the quickest ways to erode your credibility as a Christian critic of Mormonism is to say that the Book of Mormon is filled with nothing but heresies. Strategically it’s the equivalent of taking out your sidearm, emptying of all it’s bullets and then throwing it away before you hit the front lines. Now please don’t get me wrong, the Book of Mormon still contains a lot of error so one has to proceed with caution and handle it with care – therefore, it should be holstered with the safety on most of the time. But that said, and given the right situation and set of circumstances, it can be a most powerful weapon against modern Mormon error.

For those special situations my article “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine” goes into fuller detail on what modern Latter-day Saint doctrines are discredited by the Book of Mormon and cites passages – with live links to official LdS Church sources to boot.  I would also encourage you to consider using my article entitled, “Mormon Doctrine Not Found in the Book of Mormon” for a list of modern LdS Church doctrines that are conspicuous in their absence from the Book of Mormon – the bulk of which comprise the many errors and many revelations that David Whitmer said Joseph Smith, “used to introduce doctrines, ordinances and offices in the church, which are in conflict with Christ’s teachings”

Another thing to consider in this regard would be to consider participating in “We Agree with Moroni 8:18” day which occurs on August 18th of each year. Participation is easy: On August 18th just post the event video (see below or click here) on social media, blogs, etc. along with something along the lines of, “I agree with Moroni 8:18 – why doesn’t the Mormon Church?” Click here to view the “We agree with Moroni 8:18” webpage for more details.

Second Suggested Strong Argument: “You’re following a false prophet with bogus credentials!”
This should come as no surprise the modern reader since Smith’s prophetic qualifications and credentials have always been the key issues in Early Mormonism.  And let’s make no mistake about it, since The Book of Mormon was Smith’s original prophetic credential it too is still a legitimate target for criticism. The key issue here is how the Book of Mormon is used rather than what it actually says. What if, for example, C.S. Lewis had claimed that the Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy were historically based, divinely inspired scripture and proof of his prophetic credentials and authority to restore the Christian church to it’s original primitive glory? If he had I suspect that the Christian response to Lewis and his work in the 20th century would have been, I suspect, quite similar  to the response Smith received in the 19th Century.  This is despite the fact that Lewis’ works, like the Book of Mormon, are largely doctrinally sound.

Simply put, if Smith’s original prophetic credential (and the one that Mormon Missionaries still use today) falls, so does Smith. And if Smith falls, so does Mormonism.  Even Mormon leaders agree on this point, for example, the tenth president of the LdS Church, Joseph Fielding Smith said:

Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.(bolding added)[11]

The twin issues of Smith’s character and the Book of Mormon were the primary arguments that were made against Mormonism back in the early 1830’s when Mormon doctrine was still largely orthodox. For example, consider how Alexander Campbell opens his scathing 1831 critique of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon…

“Delusions: An Analysis of The Book of Mormon…”
by Alexander Campbell
circa 1832

EVERY age of the world has produced imposters and delusions. Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, and were followed by Pharaoh, his court, and clergy. They for some time supported their pretensions, much to the annoyance of the cause of the Israelites and their leader Moses.

To say nothing of the false prophets of the Jewish age, the diviners, soothsayers, magicians, and all the ministry of idols among the Gentiles, by which the nations were so often deceived, the imposters which have appeared since the Christian era would fill volumes of the most lamentable details ever read.[12]

… and how he closes it:

If there was any thing plausible about Smith, I would say to those who believe him to be a prophet, hear the question which Moses put into the mouth of the Jews, and his answer to it – ‘And if thou say in thine heart, HOW SHALL WE KNOW THE WORD WHICH THE LORD HATH NOT SPOKEN?’ – Does he answer, ‘ASK THE LORD AND HE WILL TELL YOU?’ – Does he say ‘Wait till the day of judgment and you will know?’ Nay, indeed; but – ‘When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken; the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: THOU SHALT NOT BE AFRAID OF HIM.’ Deut.xviii.8. Smith has failed in every instance to verify one of his own sayings.[13]

As Thomas G. Alexander summarizes Campbell’s critique:

Campbell, in his Delusions, An Analysis of the Book of Mormon, lumped Joseph Smith with the false Christs because of his claims to authority and revelation from God, and he objected to some doctrines. He also attacked the sweeping and  authoritative nature of the Book of Mormon with the comment that Joseph Smith conveniently “decides all the great controversies-infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, eternal punishment, [and] who may baptize.” Nevertheless, he recognized, if somewhat backhandedly, that the Book of Mormon spoke to contemporary Christians: “the Nephites, like their fathers for many generations, were good Christians, believers in the doctrines of the Calvinists and Methodists.” Campbell and others before 1835 objected principally to Mormonism’s claims of authority, modern revelation, miracles, and communitarianism but not to its doctrines of God and man.[14]

Even the criticisms of a period ExMormon followed the same pattern:

Ezra Booth, a Methodist both before and after what he called his months of “delusion” as a Mormon convert, criticized at length Joseph Smith’s materialism, his autocratic rule and his claims to miraculous gifts, and noted what he thought was the failure of some of the prophet’s revelations to fit the subsequent facts. But Booth had no complaint at all of Smith’s doctrine of radical obedience to biblical commandments.[15]

“Mormonism Unvailed” by E.D. Howe

And in 1834 E.D. Howe in what’s widely regarded as the first Anti-Mormon book, “Mormonism Unvailed”, consumed 290 pages with essentially the same themes.  Howe even went so far as to obtain and publish affidavits from those who knew Smith and his family prior to the his rise as a prophet so as to expose his lack of qualifications as true prophet and  reveal the character flaws (the “bad fruit”, if you will, in accordance with Matthew 7:15-23) that qualified him as a false one.  Howe had a vested interest in the matter of Joseph Smith and Mormonism: He had lost his wife, sister and niece to them.

And as LdS Historian Marvin S. Hill notes, even in the late 1830’s these were still the dominant criticisms of Mormonism even though by then it had drifted from general orthodoxy and was preaching full blown heresy:

The earliest pamphlets by those opposed to Mormonism s spread in England [which started in 1837] criticized their claims to authority, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith s reputation, and the [1838] Mormon war in Missouri but not doctrinal mysteries.[16]

Throughout history, these issues have anyways been the most common and strongest arguments against Mormonism. Nothing has changed.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: Consider adopting a “reformation not destruction” stance in regard to the LdS Church
Let me ask you something:  How inclined would you be to listen to someone whose goal is the destruction of your church?  If you’re like most people the honest answer is, “Not very, if that!” In fact, a Christian needn’t go further than an atheist discussion board to find out how “receptive” this attitude makes one to listening to anything that someone with such an agenda has to say.

On the other hand, what if the person’s goal is to reform your church so that it’s a better church? While you may still be skeptical of their intentions and motives you would at least be willing to listen.  In this case it would only be the closed minded die-hard defenders of the status quo – be it right or be it wrong – who would tend to take umbrage at such a stance right?[17] But even in those cases even the die-hards would be more inclined to listen to someone who’s trying to be constructive rather than someone who’s destructive right?

So here’s the irony: Relative to the largely orthodox Mormonism taught in early Mormonism the modern LdS Church is in a state of apostasy.  In fact, and even more ironically, just a few years after the formation of the church Joseph Smith had managed to lead his followers into blatant heresy and error. This is clearly what a former member of the First Presidency and his associates stated in the Nauvoo Expositor:

Nauvoo Expositor

The June 7, 1844 of the Nauvoo Expositor. This was the one and only edition of the paper before Mayor Joseph Smith had the printing press and all remaining copies destroyed.

As for our acquaintance with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we know, no man or set of men can be more thoroughly acquainted with its rise, its organization, and its  history, than we have every reason to believe we are. We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants [that is the original 1835 Doctrine & Covenants], and Book of Mormon, is verily true; and that the pure principles set forth in those books, are the immutable and eternal principles of Heaven, and speaks a language which, when spoken in truth and virtue, sinks deep into the heart of every honest man…We are earnestly seeking to explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms; which we verily know are not accordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles; and for that purpose, and with that end in view, with an eye single to the glory of God, we have dared to gird on the armor, and with god at our head, we most solemnly and sincerely declare that the sword of truth shall not depart from the thigh, nor the buckler from the arm, until we can enjoy those glorious privileges which nature’s God and our country’s laws have guarantied to us–freedom of speech, the liberty of the press, and the right to worship God as seemeth us good.[18]

As tempting as it might be to chuckle at the amusing irony of a church that claims that all other other churches (other than theirs of course) need to be restored to their pure, primitive state, actually needs to be restored to it’s pure, primitive state itself, it’s still a fact. Mormons like D. Michael Quinn, Rock WatermanDenver Snuffer, and many others see this clearly and have been lobbying for it for years – though I don’t think that many mainstream Christians would completely agree with their vision of what a truly reformed Mormon Church would or should look like.[19]

And while I know that the idea of a “Reformation not destruction” stance isn’t popular among Christian critics of Mormonism – a fact I found out quickly when I asked for feedback on the concept on social media and promptly got thrown back about a mile by the explosive “Destruction not reformation!” outcries – I would ask the reader to still give the idea some thought and consideration despite how incredible it may sound to you now.  And as you consider the question, I would point you to the precedence of the Quakers, The Shepherding Movement, and the World Wide Church of God churches as examples of full reformations and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka “RLDS”) as an example of partial reformation.[20]

And to those who are still reluctant to consider a “Reformation not destruction” stance I would ask you to consider a few things:

  1. Some at BYU have already taken baby steps toward reform distancing themselves from some Mormonism’s most blasphemous doctrines. They’re also putting a greater emphasis on grace. No, it’s not perfect, and yes, there are still a lot of problems – there is both reason for hope and cause for concern at this point. However, if this trend continues (and if they don’t get excommunicated) this could possibly lead to even greater reform over time;
  2. There are reformers aplenty in the LdS Church right now.  I’ve only mentioned three, there are more. And the engine of internal reformation just seems to be gathering steam. It’s been said that Mormonism is not only emptying out, it’s hollowing out and that, combined with the Neo-Orthodoxy movement within Mormonism, is any indication it looks like we’re in for quite a ride!
  3. If the LdS Church were to fully reform it would be a completely different organization than it is today. Spoken plainly it would cease to exist just as the World Wide Church of God ceased to exist after it became Grace Communion International.  So in a sense one could say that “Reformation of the LdS Church = Destruction of the LdS Church”.  So if you’re really, really, really committed to the destruction of the LdS Church as we know it today perhaps one of the best things you could do to advance your agenda would be to push for reform!

The more things change . . .
For Christians new to Mormon Studies the idea that Mormon doctrine began largely orthodox and then drifted into greater and greater error tends to come as a shock. I understand completely, it was for me too.  Like those first 19th Century Anti-Mormons I was so focused on the character flaws and foibles of the charismatic false prophet Joseph Smith (who in my opinion, Mormon Historian Dan Vogel – who is an ExMormon – has correctly labeled a “pious fraud”) to even consider such a possibility.  After all, how could such a flamboyant, self-serving scoundrel have possibly ever taught anything remotely orthodox, right?

The answer is both simple and complex:  Most Christians cults start out with at the very least a veneer of orthodoxy and slowly drift into greater and greater error. As cult expert Ron Enroth explains:

Most sects [throughout American history have] offered variety rather than aberration, but a few could be categorized as extreme. As with their modern counterparts, they often began with noble aspirations and biblical foundations, but were led astray through human frailty.[21]

Mormonism is no exception to this pattern.  The people who were the first converts to Charles Taze Russell’s Bible Student movement (which later became the Jehovah’s Witnesses), Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, or David Koresh’s Branch Davidian group testified later – as David Whitmer and the dissenting 1844 Mormons did  in the Nauvoo Expositor passages quoted earlier in this paper – that the movement was originally fresh, exciting, pure, and thoroughly Christian – the problems came later. Again, Ron Enroth:

People who have been in close contact over a period of years with some of the pastoral leaders we have discussed have told me that their ministry was far more benign and subdued at the beginning. Gradually, as the pastors became aware of the influence they could exert and the power they could wield, they and their ministries began to change. Consciously or unconsciously, they took advantage of vulnerable people, and convinced them that God had given them, the shepherds, the right to exercise authority over the flock.[22]

And of course, that “authority” typically also includes mandatory new revelations for the flock that depart radically from mainstream, historic, Christian orthodoxy.

Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it

(click to zoom)

… the more they stay the same
Ironically, none of this should come as a surprise to today’s 21th Century Christians in Mormon Studies since we have been watching this very scenario unfold before our very eyes with Shawn McCraney. I won’t belabor this since I’ve written an entire series documenting the descent of Mr. McCraney and his CAMPUS sect into heresy.[23] However, the short version goes like this:

  • From March 2006 through  December 2013 Shawn McCraney, with the exception of a few cringe worthy wrinkle your brow and wonder moments, was aligned with mainstream Christian orthodoxy.
  • From January 2013 to January 2014  he attacked the modern Christian Church on non-essential doctrines (often using uncharitable, inflammatory language) but remained largely aligned with mainstream Christian orthodoxy.  The cringes and wrinkled brows turn into crossed arms, thoughts of deep concern, and some angry frowns.
  • In February 4th 2014  Shawn McCraney renounces all forms of ecclesiastical accountability except in regard to finances. He then proceeds to renounce the essential doctrine of the Trinity calling it, among other things, “garbage”. The first cries of “Heretic!” begin while Christian leaders in the spirit of Matthew 18:15-17 privately and publicly attempt to confront and reason Shawn out of his error.
  • Since then, and despite everyone’s efforts, yet more heresy has followed in the wake of McCraney’s rejection of the Trinity. This is not limited to but includes the heresies of modalism, and full preterism. At times it has seemed as if Mr. McCraney has yet to meet a heresy that he doesn’t love![24]

As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Or, if you prefer, “Here we go again!” Or, if you really prefer, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

Summary and Conclusion
Consider this, what if 117-years from now you were still alive and heard critics of Shawn McCraney and McCraneyism giving, “Shawnite doctrine was heretical from the very beginning!” as an argument against it? It wouldn’t be true would it?  It would be an exaggeration wouldn’t it? It would be overstating things wouldn’t it? You would have serious doubts about the credibility of the person making that argument wouldn’t you? A knowledgeable Shawnite could shoot the argument down by simply presenting evidence from the historical record couldn’t they? In fact, you, yourself as a living witness could discredit those critics by simply saying, “I was there and that’s not true – it just wasn’t that simple, it was far more complex and nuanced than that!” couldn’t you?  Maybe, you would even say something like this:

“Exaggeration erodes credibility.  Overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. This argument is weak because it’s both an exaggeration and an overstatement. It turns early McCraneyism into an inaccurate, and untrue, caricature of itself. In actual fact, the historical record shows that what Shawn McCraney and those who attended CAMPUS originally believed and taught until around January 2014 was largely orthodox and was consistent with what other 21st Century Protestant churches were teaching at the time. The heresy came later.”

As it is with McCraneyism so it is with Mormonism: Keep your strong arguments strong – don’t exaggerate and don’t overstate. Rather, just speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

KeithWalkerQuote_Edited

NOTES
[1] Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology” Sunstone 5:4 (July-August 1980) pp.15-17

[2] Timothy L. Smith, “The Book of Mormon in a Biblical Culture” Journal of Mormon History, Volume 7 (1980), p.8

[3] Alexander Campbell,  “Delusions: An analysis of the book of Mormon with an examination of its internal and external evidences, and a refutation of its pretenses to divine authority”, The Millennial Harbinger, February 7, 1831

[4] See Fred W. Anson, “Campbellite Doctrine in The Book of Mormon”, Beggar’s Bread, February 11, 2013; also see Rock Waterman, “The Book Of Mormon Bait & Switch”, and Daymon Smith, “A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon, Volume One: Setting, a Foundation, of Stones to Stumble Over”

[5] Op cit, Thomas G. Alexander, p.18

[6] Op cit, Timothy L. Smith, p.8

[7] David Whitmer, “An Address to All Believers in Christ: By A Witness to the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon”; Richmond, Missouri (1887), p.4

[8] The list that follows was extrapolated from my article, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctine”.  A fuller explanation of each of these points can be found there or by using the embedded links I’ve included in the list on key points.

[9] Shawn McCraney, Born Again Mormon: Our Faith, The Book of Mormon (website)

[10] Fred W. Anson, et al,  “A Documented History of the First Vision”

[11] Bruce R. McConkie, compiler, “Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith”, (Bookcraft, 1954), vol. 1, p. 188.

[12] Op cit, Alexander Campbell, p.5

[13] Op cit, Alexander Campbell, p.15

[14] Op cit, Thomas G. Alexander, p.18

[15] Op cit, Timothy L. Smith, p.10

[16] Marvin S. Hill, “The Shaping of the Mormon Mind in New England and New York”,  BYU Studies, Spring 1969, p.371

[17] One need only consider Pope Leo X‘s reaction to Martin Luther in this regard.  Luther’s letter to Pope Leo should, in my opinion, be an example to all reformers of how to respond to the harsh reaction of status quo die-hards.

[18] William Law, et al, “Nauvoo Expositor”, June 7, 1844, p.1

[19] At this point you may be wondering, “Sounds interesting but exactly what kind of  ’reform’ are we talking about? I gave my answer  here: “If I Were Mope [2013 Edition]”.  And I wasn’t the first or the last to offer up a suggested reform model for the LdS Church.  Here are some others to consider:

Mormon Reformation Day 2011 95 LDS Theses

Mormon Reformation Day 2012 95 LDS Theses
Mormon Reformation 95 LDS Theses
Mormon Reformation Day 2013 LDS Theses
95 Theses Against the Claims of the Mormon Church

Finally, I think it’s good to remember that Christians aren’t the only ones pushing for reform in the LdS Church – we have competition.  I’ve already mentioned a few Latter-day Saints who are pushing for reform and, as stated, I seriously doubt that many mainstream Christians would agree with what their view of a reformed LdS Church should look like.  This is even more true of Mormon polygamist leader Ogden Kraut who originally published his 95 Theses back 1975 (click here) and has updated it several times now. Therefore, this author is of the opinion that rather than abdicating or abandoning the Mormon Reformation space we should occupy it (see Luke 19:13, KJV) or at the very least have a distinct presence.

[20] Also see, Fred W. Anson, “Can A Mind Control Cult Reform Itself?”

And to clarify, while I’m pleased that the RLDS has made substantial strides toward mainstream orthodoxy I am hoping and praying that somehow, someday they go further and become fully orthodox. A good step in that direction, in this author’s opinion, would be a denunciation of Joseph Smith as a false prophet and a full decanonization of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.

[21] Ron Enroth, “Churches That Abuse”, p.28

[22] Ibid, p.112

[23] See the Beggar’s Bread series on Shawn McCraney, CAMPUS, McCraneyism, and the Shawnite movement for full documentation and supporting evidence:

by Fred W. Anson
The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part One)
The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Two)
The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Three)
The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Four)
Dear Michelle

by Cory Anderson
A Pastor’s Appeal to Shawn McCraney

Also related (written during Shawn’s still orthodox but “cringe worthy wrinkle your brow and wonder” period)
Fred W. Anson, Book Review: “I Was A Born Again Mormon”

[24] Shawn McCraney started teaching Full Preterism in August 2014 starting with Heart of the Matter Episode 406: Has Jesus Returned – Part 1.

BACK TO TOP

Graphic.OpenBible.16x9_Edited
An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“The Bible says that my sectarian, partisan, non-essential doctrine is the only true truth!”

First A Little Background:
A few years ago I was listening to the audio recordings from a conference that was held in Utah to educate Christians on the differences between Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity. The vast majority of the presentations were given in a non-partisan manner that any Christian – even non-Evangelical Christians – could agree with. That’s because they focused solely on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith or simply on the actual text of the Bible itself.

But then there was this one . . .

While the conference was non-denominational and featured speakers from a number of groups, it was held at a Calvary Chapel. One of the speakers (the wife in a husband and wife team who were members of the host church) gave a presentation that, frankly, had me grinding my teeth. That’s because she would first give the Mormon position on something, then say, “But the Bible says . . . ” and proceed to spew pure Calvary Chapel dogma and jargon (most notably on eschatology and demonology) as if it were absolutely and universally held to by all Christians in the way that she was articulating it.

By the end of the presentation, I was so frustrated by such overt “in yer face” bias that whenever she said, “But the Bible says . . . ” I would just talk over her voice on the recording with my own, “But Calvary Chapel says . . . ”

Now on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith there’s clearly no “wiggle room”. In their case, please dear reader, by all means, say “The Bible says” all you like – I do. However, on the non-essentials isn’t it better to preface our statements with a more gracious and qualified, “As I understand it the Bible says” or “To me the Bible says”? If that dear but sincerely misguided sister had done so, I would have had no issues with her presentation and wouldn’t be using it as an illustration of how not to do it.

Why It’s Weak:
1) It needlessly buries the essential doctrines of Christianity underneath a pile of non-essentials.
Here’s a question for my fellow Christian readers: Do you know what the essential doctrines of the Christian faith are? Do you know what the non-essentials are? If you were asked to do so could you list them? Please don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed if the answer to any or all of these questions is no – I didn’t have a good grasp on them when I entered Mormon Studies.  But boy, oh boy, did I learn them, and learn them fast – I had to in order to survive in this rough and tumble world where acrimony too often reigns supreme!

What was most helpful to me was Theologian Matt Slick’s primer on the subject where he explains:

The Bible itself reveals those doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith.  They are 1) the Deity of Christ, 2) Salvation by Grace, 3) Resurrection of Christ, 4) the gospel, and 5) monotheism.  These are the doctrines the Bible says are necessary.  Though there are many other important doctrines, these five are the ones that are declared by Scripture to be essential. [1]

(click for larger view)

Figure A: The Different Types of Essentials and Non-Essentials by C. Michael Patton (click on chart to enlarge)

Once again for emphasis, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith are as follows:

The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith
1) The Deity of Jesus Christ.
2) Salvation by Grace.
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) The gospel of Jesus Christ, and
5) Monotheism.

On these issues there is – and always has been – unity among Christians. Simply put if you’re not aligned with these Biblical essentials you and/or your group isn’t aligned with orthodox, mainstream, Biblical Christianity. As Mr. Slick goes on to explain, “A non-regenerate person (i.e., Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness, atheist, Muslim), will deny one or more of these essential doctrines.   Please note that there are other derivative doctrines of scripture that become necessary also and the Trinity being one.”[2]

Everything else is non-essential.  As theologian C. Michael Patton’s chart illustrates (see Figure A above) that’s not to say that the non-essentials are unimportant, it’s just to say that the Bible is silent, ambiguous, or unclear on them – or that they’re not essential for salvation.  Therefore, there’s “wiggle room” on them. We’re talking about things like:

  • Eschatology (how and when the end times will unfold, the rapture, the millennium, the role of Israel today, etc.)
  • Earth Age (young v. old earth creationism, etc.)
  • Bible translation preferences (King James v. modern translations, word-for-word v. thought-for-thought, etc.)
  • Ecclesiology (church government models, the roles of clergy and laity, are Apostles and Prophets for today, etc.)
  • Soteriological Systems (Arminianism v. Calvinism, etc.)
  • Demonology (can a Christian have a demon or not, teachings on various kinds of spiritual warfare, etc.)
  • Sacrament practices (wine v. grape juice, leavened v. unleavened bread, who can administer, etc.)
  • Modes of baptism (sprinkling v. full immersion, infant baptism, etc.)
  • Worship styles (liturgical  v. contemporary, hymns v. choruses, choirs, drums v. organs, etc.)
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues v. no tongues, cessationism v. continuationism, etc.)
  • Worship observances (Sabbatarianism v. Sunday worship, observance of special holy days, tithing, etc.)
  • Food and drink (consumption of alcohol v. abstinence,  kosher v. non-kosher food, etc.)
  • Various do’s and don’ts (tobacco consumption, playing cards, dancing, makeup, “acceptable” dress, movies, etc.)
  • Etc., etc., etc. This is far from an exhaustive or comprehensive list of Christian non-essentials – it seems endless at times!

On these issues there’s liberty. Christians can and will have legitimate differences of opinion and beliefs on them.  Thus for modern Christians, the words of 17th-century Theologian Rupertus Meldenius still ring true today:

In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity

Or as Christian Theologian C. Michael Patton explains, “I often tell people that there are some things which I believe that I would die for; there are some things which I believe that I would lose an arm for; there are some things which I believe that I would lose a finger for; and then there are some things which I believe that I would not even get a manicure for.”[3]

2) It takes the focus off of the essentials.
Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever has a great saying, “The gospel is offensive enough – let’s make sure we offend Mormons with what really matters!”  Arguing from dogma, preferences, and non-essential doctrine dilutes the message to Mormons that really matters, specifically:

1) Mormonism teaches another Jesus. Jesus Christ wasn’t the procreated son of God. He’s not an exalted man who achieved deification. He is, and always has been, God eternal. (The Deity of Jesus Christ)

2) Mormonism teaches another salvation – specifically that additional works (baptism into a church, temple ordinances, temple marriage, etc.) are all required for full salvation. Rather, the Bible teaches repeatedly that we are saved by grace through faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross, plus nothing. (Salvation by Grace)

3) Mormonism gets Christ’s resurrection mostly right but is still wrong. Thank you our Mormon friends for getting the resurrection of Jesus Christ mostly right! However, the teaching that Jesus by his resurrection assures immortality in some heavenly kingdom for virtually everyone isn’t biblical, it’s universalist heresy. (The resurrection of Jesus Christ)[4]

4) Mormonism teaches another gospel. Paul told us plainly what the gospel is: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel, you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”[5] Mormonism requires works in addition to Christ’s atonement (by making observance of laws and ordinances a salvific issue) thus nullifying God’s grace and putting Mormons back under the law. (The gospel of Jesus Christ)

5) Mormonism teaches a form of henotheistic idolatry. The Bible is clear from cover-to-cover that there is one – and only one – eternal being known as God who consists of three co-equal, co-eternal persons.  The Bible does not teach that there is a plurality of gods, be they exalted, deified men or otherwise. In fact, the Bible repeatedly denounces such teaching. (Monotheism)

6) Mormonism follows a false prophet. And of course, since all the errant, unbiblical, and heretical doctrines above were introduced to the world by Joseph Smith, the Christian message to Mormonism has also first and foremost always been:  You’re following a false prophet!  While that’s not directly tied to the essentials of the Christian faith it’s still an important Biblical distinctive[6] and has always been at the core of Christian arguments against Mormonism.

3) Making non-essentials essential is a very Mormon thing to do.
Stop for a moment and consider this:  Mormonism specializes in making molehills into mountains and non-essentials into essentials.  There’s a reason for this: Because systematic theology is impossible in Mormonism, it’s also impossible to distinguish essential doctrines from non-essential doctrines.[7]

To cite just one of many examples let’s consider baptism.  Mormonism is absolute in its belief that getting baptized in the right way, with the right words, by the right person, into the right church is essential for salvation. Consider this from the official LdS Church website:

Baptism by immersion in water by one having authority is the first saving ordinance of the gospel and is necessary for an individual to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to receive eternal salvation. All who seek eternal life must follow the example of the Savior by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.[8]

In fact, baptism is so critically important in Mormon soteriology that Latter-day Saints make proxy baptism for dead folks (that is, the ones who got it “wrong” while they were alive) a major focus and priority. They consume countless hours and expend untold resources in this effort. Just notice how in the following excerpt from the LdS Church website the criticality of proper baptism for the dead is dogmatically stressed:

Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf.[9]

Yet, when one considers the Biblical record, baptism isn’t nearly as cut and dry – or even as vital – as Mormon doctrine makes it:

Requiring anything in addition to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is a works-based salvation. To add anything to the gospel is to say that Jesus’ death on the cross was not sufficient to purchase our salvation. To say that baptism is necessary for salvation is to say we must add our own good works and obedience to Christ’s death in order to make it sufficient for salvation. Jesus’ death alone paid for our sins (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus’ payment for our sins is appropriated to our “account” by faith alone (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, baptism is an important step of obedience after salvation but cannot be a requirement for salvation.

Yes, there are some verses that seem to indicate baptism as a requirement for salvation. However, since the Bible so clearly tells us that salvation is received by faith alone (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), there must be a different interpretation of those verses. Scripture does not contradict Scripture. In Bible times, a person who converted from one religion to another was often baptized to identify conversion. Baptism was the means of making a decision public. Those who refused to be baptized were saying they did not truly believe. So, in the minds of the apostles and early disciples, the idea of an un-baptized believer was unheard of. When a person claimed to believe in Christ, yet was ashamed to proclaim his faith in public, it indicated that he did not have true faith.[10]

Trust me, I have very strong opinions on baptism – how it should be done, when it should be done, etc. – and I’m pretty darn certain in my little mind that they’re utterly biblical and totally legitimate. However, I still qualify them as my opinion as such when dealing with Mormons because I understand that other Christians can have equally biblical, equally legitimate positions on baptism.   After all, I would much rather have them focus on what really matters rather than whether someone should be dunked, sprinkled, or doused after they’ve accepted the gospel and made the decision to follow Jesus – wouldn’t you?

4) The argument unravels when and if it’s challenged by Christians who hold to equally valid positions.
This has happened to us all hasn’t it?  On more than one occasion when presenting an argument to a Mormon I’ve glossed poetic giving the logic, reason, and language of my church’s views on a particular non-essential of the faith. I’ve uttered the very words that gets the congregation nodding their heads in agreement and giving a hardy “Amen!” in our church.  I’ve been articulate. I’ve been clever. I’ve been witty.  I’ve been wise. And I’ve rested my case and sat back down smug and self-satisfied only to have some “loser” from another church or group say, “Really?  Well what about . . . ?” and then proceed to present evidence that demonstrates that’s there’s more than one valid view on the matter.  And so there I’ll sit, frowning with egg on my face while I watch while my beautiful and glorious “watertight” argument springs a leak right before my eyes (not to mention a worldwide audience). Yes folks, if humbling experiences build character then I must have a lot of character by now!

Curb Your DogmaIn the end, and to paraphrase and abuse an oft-quoted Mormon colloquialism, “When your pastor has spoken all the thinking hasn’t been done!”  I know you love your pastor – I love mine too; I know you love your church – I love mine too, and; I know you think you’re absolutely, positively right in your theology – so do I.  But the fact remains that on the non-essentials there are a lot of good, thoughtful, valid positions out there. Getting too dogmatic on them will only get you in trouble in the marketplace of ideas and make you unpleasant to be around. If you do it too much, you’ll simply be ignored. And like I said, that egg on the face thing has happened to us all hasn’t it? So, perhaps when it comes to the non-essentials we would all do well to “curb our dogma”.

5) It reinforces the Mormon Great Apostasy dogma.
Most Mormons think, and the LdS Church teaches, that all Christian churches other than theirs are a big ball of confusion. Consider this from the official LdS Church website:

During the Great Apostasy, people were without divine direction from living prophets. Many churches were established, but they did not have priesthood power to lead people to the true knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ.[11]

Public bickering in front of Mormons on non-essentials just validates and reinforces this stereotype and prejudice.

Further, watching Christians do their “in house” debating over non-essentials on Mormon discussion boards is what some (manipulative) Mormons live for. I’m an administrator on several Mormon themed discussion boards and I have seen more than one Mormon deliberately bait the Calvinists to get them arguing with the Arminians (or vice versa) simply so they can sit back and watch the Christian fur flying and get the heat off of the errors of Mormonism.  They love it because the spatting, hair pulling, caterwauling cat fight the Christians are giving to a worldwide audience is something that they can point to and (incorrectly) say, “See what I mean? Mormons never bicker like this! We have a living prophet to guide us! We have unity, peace, and serenity in our church! We’re homogenized and boring – and we love it that way!”

The Stronger Arguments:
Normally at this point in the articles in this series, we provide a series of suggested arguments to use instead of the weak argument that was originally presented.  However, this article is really more of an introduction to an overall problem that we see in weak arguments that Christians regularly make – just go onto a Mormon themed discussion board on Facebook after you’re done reading this and within minutes you’ll see what I mean.

Coming articles will echo this article in that we will present some common weak arguments that we’ve seen regularly that fall into the general category of arguing dogmatically over non-essentials.

That said, it should also be said that strong arguments against Mormonism are always rooted and grounded firmly in the essentials of the Christian faith.  Specifically, strong arguments will always be some variation on the themes we introduced earlier in this article:

1) Mormonism teaches another Jesus.
2) Mormonism teaches another salvation.
3) Mormonism gets Christ’s resurrection mostly right but is still wrong.
4) Mormonism teaches another gospel.
5) Mormonism teaches polytheism.
6) Mormonism follows a false prophet.

Like the notes in a musical theme, these six points can be woven into a seemingly endless array of strong, persuasive arguments. Use them skillfully and creatively and your arguments against Mormonism will be as moving as a Mozart symphony. But if you deviate too far from them, we’re talking Spike Jones.

in-essentials-unity-in-non-essentials-liberty-in-all-things-charity-43988

NOTES
[1] Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website. While Mr. Slick’s article is an excellent short vernacular primer, C. Michael Patton’s “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell” article is the better resource for those seeking a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the subject. Finally for those who find Mr. Slick’s outline format a bit too cryptic and Mr. Patton’s article too long should consider the short but insightful “What are the essentials of the Christian faith?” article on the “Got Questions?” website instead.

[2] Ibid, Slick

[3] C. Michael Patton, “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell”, Credo House website

[4] Yes, Mormonism gets this one mostly right – let’s give some credit where credit is due. Never-the-less, Theologian Rob Bowman of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR) explains how and why Mormonism still manages to get the resurrection of Christ wrong:

According to the LDS Church, Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees resurrection to immortal life for practically everybody—Christian or not, moral or not—in one of three heavenly kingdoms. (The only exception are the “sons of perdition,” incorrigibly evil people that include some ex-Mormons.) We cannot discuss the three Mormon heavenly kingdoms here, but the Bible is clear that the wicked will be resurrected only to face, in their bodies, their condemnation to eternal punishment (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 10:28; 25:46; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15). They derive no benefit from Christ’s atoning death. Only the righteous “in Christ”—those who belong to Christ—will be made alive and given immortality (1 Cor. 15:22-23, 53-54).

Finally, although the LDS Church affirms that Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven and will return bodily to the earth one day, it wrongly claims that Jesus has visited the earth bodily on other occasions between his ascension and second coming. The Book of Mormon claims that Jesus visited the Nephites in the Americas several separate times, destroyed whole cities of the wicked, preached to the righteous, and formed a church for them. In the First Vision story, Joseph Smith claimed that Jesus (and God the Father!) appeared personally to him to instruct him to join none of the existing churches. These LDS claims may seem innocent enough, but their significance is that they call into question the sufficiency and, ultimately, the reliability of the New Testament revelations of Jesus Christ.
(Rob Bowman, “The Mormon View of Jesus Christ: The Bottom-Line Guide to Mormonism, Part 5”, IRR website article)

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (New International Version)

[6] Please consider Deuteronomy 13:1-5 in light of this which says:

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
(New King James Version)

[7] Systematic Theology is impossible in Mormonism because any established theological system or doctrine within that system can be overturned at any time via a new revelation from the current “Living Prophet”.  The latest example of this is Official Declaration 2 which overturned long standing doctrine which banned Negroes from holding the Mormon Priesthood.  Due to the Mormon doctrine that new continuing revelation from the Mormon god can contradict his past revelation(s) no Mormon doctrine is safe from such potential action. Mormon history is rife with examples which BYU Professor Charles Harrell has done a masterful job of documenting in his two-volume, “This Is My Doctrine” book series. (link to Amazon pages for these titles: Volume 1; Volume 2)

Hence the saying:
“As heresy is, Mormon doctrine once was.
As Mormon doctrine is, heresy will it become.”

[8] Official LdS Church website, “Topics: Baptism”

[9] Official LdS Church website, “Topics: Baptisms for the Dead”

[10] “Got Questions?” website, “Is baptism necessary for salvation?”

[11] Official LdS Church website, “Apostasy”

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Mormon Doctrine Large_Edited

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Bobby Gilpin
The Argument:
“I know what you believe, because Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie or some other general authority said…..”

Why It’s Weak:
In making this argument you are assuming the beliefs of an individual you have likely only just met. This is never a good thing to do. If you’re an LDS member with any experience of speaking with Evangelicals, or any other critics of Mormonism before, you have likely had a discussion like this before.

Beheld-Virgin-Bearing-AD

Scenario One
Critic You deny the virgin birth don’t you?
LDS No, as a matter of fact I don’t, please let me explain to you my belief on this.
Critic I don’t need to hear it, I have a great quote from Brigham Young when He says the birth of Christ was as natural as anyone else’s.[1] I know what you guys believe.
LDS As I said that is not my view, would you please let me explain my view on this?

This far from only applies to Brigham Young quotes. Lets try another – one that I have personally experienced and learned from by my mistakes:

Scenario Two
Critic Ah, so you’re a Mormon. Well I think it’s totally heretical that you believe God was once a man.
LDS As a matter of fact I don’t believe that either. As Moroni 8:18 and Psalm 90:2 say, God has always been God.
Critic I ‘m sorry but I think you’re just being dishonest, Joseph Smith taught this in the King Follett Discourse, so you must believe it.
LDS There are some renderings of Joseph Smith’s sermons that seem to suggest this. I’m not too persuaded by them as these are not scripture. Would you please let me explain what I believe.

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

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

1) Point One.
We as evangelicals often have this notion that Mormons are all brainwashed and are in some big mind controlling cult, where they all believe the exact same thing – that they would never dream of questioning anything that their leadership says. This is not the case, there is a mass diversity of views within the LDS Church, some people take everything the general authorities say literally, some do not.

It’s always worth bearing this in mind when conversing with LDS people. Some are of the view that if it’s not in the Standard works, then it’s not binding; some may take a lot from the likes of Bruce R. Mcconkie and his book, “Mormon Doctrine”; some may look to James E. Talmage and his writings; some may take closer stock of Gordon B. Hinckley. It often depends on when they grew up or developed their faith.

2) Point Two.
This does not, for a second, take away the validity of your arguments against the teaching of Mormon leaders. What it does mean is that you need to word your argument a little differently. Rather than saying, “I already know what you believe Mr./Ms. Mormon”, instead say: “Here is what your leaders have taught, can we talk about it?”

3) Point Three.
You will inevitably come across the issue of what is official doctrine in the LDS Church. This is a question that no one really has an answer too, LDS or not. And can be a bit of a red herring in discussions. I could not possibly put forward a response to this that’s better than what Keith Walker from Evidence Ministries has done here – this is well worth a watch.

The Stronger Arguments:
First Suggested Strong Argument:
So with all this in mind lets try that first scenario again.

Critic Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?
LDS No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. I affirm what the Bible says that Jesus was born without an earthly parent.
Critic Could you explain what you mean by an earthly parent?
LDS As a latter-day Saint I do not accept the idea that the Holy Ghost somehow “overshadowed” Mary then making her parent – no child is ever born this way. I believe that Jesus was a literal son of His Heavenly Father, and thus in the way that we would usually understand a birth to occur, Jesus was in fact born of a virgin. Bruce R. McConkie said this:

“For our present purposes, suffice it to say that our Lord was born of a virgin, which is fitting and proper, and also natural, since the Father of the Child was an Immortal Being”
(Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, pg. 466)

This sums it up well for me.
Critic Thank you for explaining this. This to me still very much sounds like Jesus was not actually born of a virgin if you are saying that Heavenly Father impregnated Mary naturally.
LDS I guess we define virgin birth differently then, but this is my belief.

(Quick disclaimer: I know this last paragraph does not represent all LDS people – however it will some. It’s more the style of conversation than the content that I am attempting to model here.)

Do you see the difference? Rather than presuming what the Mormon believes, you ask, and then in the ensuing process you get them to tell you their view so you can discuss it from there. More often than not you will still have plenty of places to go with that based what the LDS person says. And sometimes you will even speak with a Mormon who is very “Evangelical savvy” and will give answers that sound identical to your view. That’s where the second stronger argument comes in.

Second Suggested Strong Argument:
While it is not good to make the assumption that Mormons believe something on the basis of a Mormon leader saying it, there is still a lot of ground for discussion on the back of what Mormon leaders have said. Lets try my scenario two again.

Critic Ah so you’re a Mormon, well I think it’s totally heretical that Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man, what is your view on this?
LDS As a matter of fact I don’t believe that. As Moroni 8:18 and Psalm 90:2 say, God has always been God.
Critic I appreciate your response, its good to know that LDS people can look past some of these statements and hold onto the truth about God. But is it not then an issue to you that people who are modern-day Prophets and Apostles are clearly teaching falsehoods about God?
LDS I don’t see LDS leaders as infallible, they are men and sometimes speak as such.
Critic That does not seem to measure up with the teachings of your church. For instance the 2013 LDS Manual, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, said this:

President Snow later recalled, “the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me. …

“As man now is, God once was:
“As God now is, man may be.”

Feeling that he had received “a sacred communication” that he should guard carefully, Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it. Once he knew the doctrine was public knowledge, he testified of it frequently. [2]

Critic It seems that one of your Prophets saw that as a sacred communication, if he is the one with the authority to speak for your church, and this was reprinted in 2013 by your church, where is your authority to say that this is wrong?
LDS I guess I have no authority to say that this is wrong, I just don’t believe it.
Critic Ok I respect your view, however this seems to be what your church teaches, can we please focus on that as I see some massive issues there.

Dallin H Oaks Tweet

LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks’ tweet of September 26, 2014 regarding the upcoming Fall General Conference. (click to zoom)

Again not all LDS people will respond this way. Many LDS people will simply affirm that God was once a man, stop there and go no further. It’s more in LDS apologetic circles today where it’s being completely denied that it ever was or still is doctrine. But the point here is that while an LDS member may not believe what their leaders have taught on an issue, that does not change the massive issue that their leaders have actually taught it or that it’s still taught in current church manuals.

LDS Missionaries all over the world are knocking on doors talking about how amazing it is that they have a Prophet in their church that brings revelation today. So it’s not sufficient for LDS members to simply shrug off their Prophet’s statements past and present in discussion.

The fact is that those prophets have taught so many problematic things – such as Adam being God, black skin being a curse, and so many more issues – that there’s massive ground for discussion. Don’t just assume that the person you are speaking too holds this view, whatever it may be.

In fact, just this week Dallin Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “tweeted” that they only say what the Spirit directs them to say at general conference, that’s well worth noting for these discussions.

So in conclusion there is massive ground for discussion with LDS members. There are so, so many areas that you can discuss with them, challenge them on, and help them to know who Jesus really is and what His grace really means. Just don’t assume because you may have read a book about Mormonism, or read some quotes somewhere that you know where any given Mormon comes from on that issue. Ask where they are coming from and then take it from there.

NOTES
[1] “The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood – was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers” (Brigham Young, July 8, 1860, Journal of Discourses 8:115).

[2] Official LDS Church Manual, “Teaching of the Presidents of the Church”, Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful 

This article originally appeared on the Mormonism Investigated UK website.
Beggar’s Bread wishes to express it’s appreciation to the author and this website for allowing us to republish it here.

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