by Fred W. Anson
First, let’s define terms. Here is the official, correlated definition for the Mormon Godhead:

“…where Latter-day Saints differ from other Christian religions is in their belief that God and Jesus Christ are glorified, physical beings and that each member of the Godhead is a separate being…

The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit (see D&C 130:22).

Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass Heavenly Father’s divine plan of salvation.”
(“Godhead”; https://www.lds.org/topics/godhead?lang=eng )

Official, correlated definition of “Godhead”. Notice the words, “These three BEINGS make up the Godhead.”

Remember: That’s three beings and three persons.

Now, here is the “nutshell version” of the orthodox definition of the Christian Trinity:

“The Bible teaches that God is an uncreated, eternal omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Being consisting of three uncreated, coeternal, coequal, co-omnipotent, co-omnipresent, co-omnipresent and distinct Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are one in essence, yet three in person – one God.”

Again that’s the nutshell definition if you want a fuller explanation that I will simply refer you to the best-written description of the Trinity that I or anyone else has found in the last 1,700 or so years: The Athanasian Creed.

Remember: That’s one being and three persons.

A graphic representation of the doctrine of the Trinity (aka “The Trinity Shield”)

Trinitarian Godhead v Mormon Godhead Logic Exercise
So given all that, please consider the following logic exercise and tell me if and where you see any flaws in my thinking and reasoning.

Definitions:
Being = What you are. (human, animal, rock, tree, etc.)
Person = Who you are. (that is a distinct personality)

Based on those definitions it, therefore, follows that . . .
One being consisting of one distinct person, possible.
(humans, animals, etc.)

One person consisting of one distinct being, possible.
(humans, animals, etc.)

One being consisting of two distinct persons, possible.
(Conjoined Twins)

Two persons consisting of one distinct being, possible.
(Conjoined Twins)

One being consisting of three distinct persons, possible.
(Conjoined Triplets)

Three persons consisting of one distinct being, possible.
(Conjoined Triplets)

One person consisting of one distinct being, possible.
(humans, animals, etc.)

One person consisting of two distinct beings, impossible.

One person consisting of three distinct beings, impossible.

One being consisting of one separate being, impossible.

One being consisting of two separate beings, impossible.

One being consisting of three separate beings, impossible.

One person consisting of one separate person, impossible.

One person consisting of two separate persons, impossible.

One person consisting of three separate persons, impossible.

Application:
CHRISTIAN TRINITY = POSSIBLE

“Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and co-eternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
(White, James R. “The Forgotten Trinity” (p. 26). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition)

That is One Being, three Persons = One God. Monotheism.

OFFICIAL, CORRELATED MORMON GODHEAD = POSSIBLE

“where Latter-day Saints differ from other Christian religions is in their belief that God and Jesus Christ are glorified, physical beings and that each member of the Godhead is a separate being

The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit (see D&C 130:22).

Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass Heavenly Father’s divine plan of salvation.”
(“Godhead”, italics added for emphasis; https://www.lds.org/topics/godhead?lang=eng )

That is three Beings and three Persons = Three Gods. Tri-Theism.

A graphic representation of the doctrine of the modern Mormon Godhead.

UNOFFICIAL, UNCORRELATED MORMON GODHEAD = IMPOSSIBLE
Many Mormons claim incorrectly that the Mormon Godhead is Three Persons and Three Beings which equals One God.

That is three Beings and three Persons = One God. Monotheism.

Again, this is simply NOT possible. It is a logical contradiction because it is both internally contradictory and self-contradictory given the definition and nature of “being” and/or “person”.

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

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

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

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

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

Moroni 10:4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We Agree with Moroni 8--18

“God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.”
Moroni 8:18

There was a time when Mormons agreed with Moroni 8:18. As Mormon historian Thomas G. Alexander writes, “Much of the doctrine that early investigators found in Mormonism was similar to contemporary Protestant churches.”1

Mormonism has apostatized from its own Book of Mormon, and now Christians—who don’t even believe that the Book of Mormon is divine scripture—agree with Moroni 8:18 more than Mormons do. It is a verse that we Christians profoundly wish Mormons would agree with. It is far more important of an issue than tithing, baptism, priesthood authority, or whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet. It concerns an eternal truth of the fundamental nature of God.

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”
Psalm 90:2 (JST)

“Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”
Isaiah 43:10 (JST)

“I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God.”
Isaiah 44:6 (JST)

Doctrine and Covenants
In what was originally read to Church membership as the “Articles and Covenants of the Church,” D&C 20:17 spoke of the God who was always the same unchangeable God: “By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God…” D&C 76:4 spoke of this same God: “From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail…”

The Lectures on Faith, which was a canonized part of D&C from 1835-1921 agreed with the Book of Mormon that God is a spirit (from the fifth Lecture on Faith, page 53.) Click on image to zoom and read.

The Lectures on Faith, which was a canonized part of D&C from 1835-1921 agreed with the Bible and the Book of Mormon that God is an eternal, unchanging, triune Being (from the fifth Lecture on Faith, page 53). Click on image to zoom and read.

Lectures on Faith
In what was originally a part of Mormon scripture, Lecture 3 of the Lectures on Faith taught, “A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes” is “…necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.” It goes on to quote the word of God, Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” The lecture then goes on to say that, “he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday today and forever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation.”

Book of Mormon
This echoes Mosiah 3:5, which speaks of “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity…” Moroni 7:22 also speaks of “God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting…” A chapter later we learn in Moroni 8:18 that “God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.” Other passages in the Book of Mormon also reaffirm God’s eternal, unchangeable nature:

“For behold, I am god; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
2 Nephi 27:23

“And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
2 Nephi 29:9

“For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever , and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?”
Mormon 9:9

“And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchanging Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.”
Mormon 9:19

Mormonism Radically Changed
The Book of Mormon was published in March of 1830. Fourteen years later, Mormon theology had dramatically changed. On April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith preached his famous King Follett Discourse. In it he taught:

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens…

It is necessary that we should understand the character and being of God, and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some; but they are simple…

Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you…2

Lorenzo Snow summarized the big idea that further developed like this: “As man is God once was, and as God is man may be.”

Since then, Mormonism has never been the same. Mormons now radically re-interpret verses like Moroni 8:18 and essentially reject the original teaching that God was unchangeably God from all eternity to all eternity. Mormons are now even in disarray and confusion over whether Heavenly Father was once a sinful mortal.3

Again, Mormonism has apostatized from its own Book of Mormon, and now Christians—who don’t even believe that the Book of Mormon is divine scripture—agree with Moroni 8:18 more than Mormons do. It is a verse that we Christians profoundly wish Mormons would agree with. It is far more important of an issue than tithing, baptism, priesthood authority, or whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet. It concerns an eternal truth of the fundamental nature of God.

NOTES
1 Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology.” Sunstone 5:4; July-August 1980
2 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345. On June 16, 1844, Smith went on to teach that Heavenly Father has his own Heavenly Father (History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 473-479). Also see Ensign, April 1971 and May 1971.
3 See http://GodNeverSinned.com

JST = The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (aka “The Inspired Version”)

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An icon of the Bishops of the First Council of Nicaea with Constantine (in the crown).

by Fred W. Anson
One of the most common Mormon arguments is that they have no creeds. They further argue that the creeds of other churches are an abomination as well as evidence of their corrupt and apostate state. Probably no one has articulated this stance better than BYU professors Craig Ostler and the late Joseph Fielding McConkie when they wrote:

“Wherever creeds are found one can also expect to find a paid clergy, the simple truths of the gospel cloaked in the dark robes of mystery, religious intolerance, and a history of bloodshed”
(BYU Professor Emeritus Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler, “Revelations of the Restoration”, p.964)

And of the many “abominable creeds” of Christendom to chose from, I think one would be hard pressed to find one that Latter-day Saints more pour contempt on than the Nicene Creed:

“Men with keen intelligence got together… [at] Nicea and created a God. They did not pray for wisdom or revelation. They claimed no revelation from the Lord. They made it just about like a political party would do, and out of their own mortal minds created a God which is still worshiped by the great majority of Christians”
(Spencer W. Kimball, “The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball”, p. 426. Ellipsis and brackets in original)

“The trinity was voted on in the Council of Nicene hundreds of years after Christ’s death. A bunch of church leaders and government officials got together and voted on ‘who God was?’, and it wasn’t even a unanimous vote. There were about four different versions of God that they voted on. The version that is used by Catholics and Protestants today only won by about a 40 percent margin. Their view of God, as you may know, is that He is like a formless mass of spirit that fills the whole universe and when He comes to earth, part of it breaks off and forms itself into Jesus.”
(Scott Marshall, “Tracting and Member Missionary” Work, p.73)

“The knowledge of God and His physical separateness from His Son and the Holy Ghost was lost after the death of Christ and His Apostles. Confusion and false doctrines about the Godhead were fashioned out of the Nicene Creed and Constantinople councils… I know that heaven-sent revelations have replaced the gross errors of man-made doctrines concerning the Godhead”
(Gary J. Coleman, “Mom, Are We Christians?” Ensign, May 2007, pp.92-93)

“If Christians are people (and this is the standard definition of the clergy of the day) who believe in the holy trinity as defined and set forth in the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles creeds, meaning that God is a three-in-one nothingness, a spirit essence filling immensity, an incorporeal and uncreated being incapable of definition or mortal comprehension — then Mormons, by a clergy chosen definition, are ruled out of the fold of Christ”
(Bruce R. McConkie, “Doctrinal New Testament Commentary” 2:113)

“Our Catholic friends, our Protestant friends, give us their definition of deity in the Nicene Creed. But that’s just a creed that came of the discussions of men. The marvelous thing is that the boy Joseph was able to testify of the real nature of God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. And that makes it possible for you and for me to understand our relationship to them. Each of us is a child of God. A son or a daughter of God in a very real sense and we can pray to Him and He will hear and answer our prayers.”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Nature of God”, Church News, July 1, 2006, p.2)

“We do not accept the Athanasian Creed. We do not accept the Nicene Creed, nor any other creed based on tradition and the conclusions of men.”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking About Us?” Ensign, November 1998, pp.70-71)

But if the Nicene Creed is such an abomination, why is so much of it found in D&C 20:17-28? A side-by-side comparison is very surprising.

Doctrine & Covenants 20:17-28
(from the 1835 edition of D&C) 

Nicene Creed
(from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer)

By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them; We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth, And all things visible and invisible;

 

And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them; And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship. But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man.

Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him. He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them. He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day; And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father; That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved– And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation he came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered, and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end.
Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life, As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son;
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets.
Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end.
And I believe in one Catholick and Apostolick Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come.
Amen. Amen.

source: Owen D. West III, “Questions to Gospel Answers: Are all their creeds an abomination in God’s sight?”1

So if the Nicene Creed is abominable, then what does that make D&C 20? And if it’s a creed that’s, according to former LdS President Gordon B. Hinckley, “based on tradition and the conclusions of men” that “came of their discussions” then what does that say about an alleged revelation that has it embedded right in it?2

Speaking of Ecclesiastical Councils…
(the Quorum of the Twelve Latter-day Saint Apostles and the First Presidency circa 2017)

NOTES
1 Here are the original end notes of  Owen D. West, III, the creator of this table, regarding it’s background and content:

(The Nicene Creed is also based almost entirely on scripture, much more so than the Articles of Faith. Almost every phrase is taken word for word from the Bible. All phrases have Biblical supporting scriptures).

At first I used the Nicene Creed as used in English by the Roman Catholic Church today. I then realized that the Roman Catholic Church would have been using Latin in 1830, and since we have already seen a strong tie to the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer for the Sacramental prayers (Rite I), and since this book has been available in the U.S. since 1789, I changed to this version, which (should come as no surprise) is much closer on a word by word basis to D&C 20 than is the modern English Roman Catholic version. I then compared to the even older Book of Common Prayer from the Church of England and found it to be word for word the same as the old Episcopalian version (with different capitalization and punctuation and spelling, e.g. Catholic and Apostolic for Catholick and Apostolick). [It is the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer that is the source of so much animosity in the early LDS writing. Polemics against a God “without body, parts or passions”, or the emphasis on the Creed of Athanasius are related to this book.] I have used the Church of England Nicene creed above.

D&C 20 is obviously related to the Nicene Creed in both word and organization. Joseph Smith used the format of the Nicene Creed in writing D&C section 20 in the same way that I did when I wrote my own statement of faith. I wrote my statement of faith without referring to the Nicene Creed because after saying it so many times and having memorized it is easy to use these familiar phrases, blending them into my own belief statement. I believe Joseph Smith (or whoever actually wrote this part of D&C 20) did not have to refer to this well known Christian creed because it was part of his background. I believe this is also why we find familiar phrases from the “Doxology” in the modern scriptures published by Joseph Smith. These phrases were already a part of his religious “vocabulary”.

2 Oh, and by the way, the way that Mormon leaders portray the events of the Council of Nicea bears little to no resemblance to the historical record. As Christian author James White notes:

Nicea was not creating some new doctrine, some new belief, but clearly, explicitly, defining truth against error. The council had no idea that they, by their gathering together, possessed some kind of sacramental power of defining beliefs: they sought to clarify biblical truth, not to put themselves in the forefront and make themselves a second source of authority.

This can easily be seen from the fact that Athanasius, in defending the Nicene council, does so on the basis of its harmony with Scripture, not on the basis of the council having some inherent authority in and of itself. Note his words: “Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.”

The relationship between the sufficient Scriptures and the “Nicene Bishops” should be noted carefully. The Scriptures are not made insufficient by the council; rather, the words of the council “remind” one of the “religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.” Obviously, then, the authority of the council is derivative from its fidelity to Scripture…

Modern Christians often have the impression that ancient councils held absolute sway, and when they made “the decision,” the controversy ended. This is not true. Though Nicea is seen as one of the greatest of the councils, it had to fight hard for acceptance. The basis of its final victory was not the power of politics, nor the endorsement of established religion. There was one reason the Nicene definition prevailed: its fidelity to the testimony of the Scriptures.

And as Dr. White concludes:

Why do Christians believe in the deity of Christ today? Is it because they have been forced to do so by legislated theology from councils and popes? No, it is because the Scriptures teach this truth. When orthodox believers affirm the validity of the creed hammered out at Nicea, they are simply affirming a concise, clear presentation of scriptural truth. The authority of the Nicene creed, including its assertion of the homoousion, is not to be found in some concept of an infallible church, but in the fidelity of the creed to scriptural revelation. It speaks with the voice of the apostles because it speaks the truth as they proclaimed it.
(James R. White, “What Really Happened at Nicea?”, Christian Research Institute Journal, June 2009) 

16th Century Fresco in the Sistine Chapel depicting the First Council of Nicea.

16th Century Fresco in the Sistine Chapel depicting the First Council of Nicea.

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Evangelical Christians Praying for Mormons at the Manti Miracle Pageant in 2016.

by Jaxon Washburn
Nowadays, I tend to peruse and engage in many online forums and discussion groups geared towards Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. I actively read and study from various biblical commentaries, historical works, and books on theology, apologetics, and Church history (both churches included). I have been able to have many acquaintances from both sides of the divide that I am happy to call “friend”, one being Fred Anson, the founder, and publisher of Beggar’s Bread – who graciously invited me to write this open letter to Evangelicals.

Now, it is not unknown that Fred is generally critical of Mormonism as well as a non-professional student of Mormon Studies. There are myriad areas in which he and I are sure to disagree, and yet such doesn’t prohibit the two of us from respectful, genuine conversation, and occasionally friendly banter. There are sure to be individuals from both camps which are astounded to hear that such is possible. To them, I would share a quote from Thomas Jefferson that I wholly attempt to live by: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

I understand that I am the first active True Believing Mormon (or “TBM” as some jokingly call it) to write for Beggar’s Bread. I am happy to be, what is hopefully, a trendsetter here since I’m a firm advocate for meaningful and positive cross-denominational interactions.

It is my hope that I will be able to squeeze in a few more appearances here before I depart on my mission in the coming months after I complete some schooling at Arizona State University (ASU). And in saying so, I should include that my message today is not at all antithetical for my plans on serving a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; despite what the click-bait title might have you think! No, I wish instead to offer some serious reflection and advice I believe will be valuable to Evangelicals in their fellowshipping with members of my own faith community.

I often find that too often what could have been substantial discussions, real relationships, and even legitimate spiritual experiences are traded through an expectation of quick conversions with shallow conversations and insincere outreach. Thus I will be answering the following question I consider to be vital if any Evangelical wishes to engage with their Latter-day Saint friends: “How would I, as a Mormon, like to be preached to?” and provide practical suggestions for facilitating dialogue between adherents of both respective faith groups.

The Language Barrier
The ability to clearly communicate our demands, emotions, questions, statements, conjecture and abstract concepts is a constant task required by all members of society. In conveying those ideas with enough coherence and precision so as to effectively convey those same ideas into the minds of those whom we are speaking with, most find themselves at a loss for words. This can often come with great difficulty when we find ourselves unable to express ourselves at times, or else subject ourselves and other to a series of unfortunate events due to a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Now consider the difficulty when speaking completely different languages and the imagery of the confusion at the Tower of Babel is sure to come to mind., most involved in interfaith dialogue enter into such speaking the same actual language, however that doesn’t mean that they will speak the same theological or religious language.

The odds are, both parties will be walking into the discussion carrying different baggage whether that be preconceived ideas about the other, presuppositions about their own faith, past spiritual experiences, and a different vocabulary to communicate such. This is what I refer to as “the Language Barrier of Faith”, and it is an individual’s responsibility to overcome it if they wish to speak with a person of another worldview. I am no stranger to the confusion and frustration that can come when two or more well-meaning people, when engaging in active discussion about their beliefs, fail to speak to each other in clearly defined and mutually understood terms. Unfortunately, many of the conversations held between Mormons and their Evangelical neighbors go along these same lines.

Let’s take Portuguese and Spanish for example: did you know that it is easier for someone who speaks only Portuguese to understand someone speaking only Spanish, than for a Spanish-speaking individual to understand a native of Portugal or Brazil? The two languages are strikingly similar in a variety of ways and are close relatives within the same Romance language family, however, it is noticeably easier for a native of one to understand the other, and noticeably more difficult when the positions are switched. Why is this? Simply put, Portuguese itself is a more complex relative of Spanish with a high amount of possible variation in its verb, noun and adjective endings that prove more challenging for Spanish speakers to pick up on. Pronunciation also makes things more challenging as Portuguese have more phonemes (sounds) than Spanish, equipping the natives of that tongue with an early ability to comprehend and “decode” differences in sounds such as nasal and regular verb endings. All in all, the two languages pose a unique situation and challenge for their respective native speakers when wishing to dialogue; exemplifying a concept that I believe to be comparable to Mormons and Evangelicals, and their respective theological languages.

It is a common experience for many Evangelicals or Protestants in general that, after speaking with either missionaries or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and presumably hearing a testimony given on the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, they walk away with feelings of surprise and confusion at the apparent similarity of much of what was said in comparison to their own beliefs. This is due to the similar vocabulary held between both Mormons and Evangelicals in matters of scripture, theology, and faith. Words like God, Christ, sin, Atonement, Grace, faith, prayer, repentance, baptism, salvation, heaven, Resurrection, scripture, revelation, and the Holy Spirit, all frequent the standard Mormon religious vernacular as often as they do the Evangelical. Where the confusion comes in though is due to the – at times large – differences in the definitions that are behind such words.

As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints historically stems from the Latter Day Saint Movement of 19th Century American Restorationism, it naturally carries with it a multitude of terms, concepts, and practices not at all uncommon within Mainline Protestantism from which many of its early converts were derived from. With its religious vernacular being akin to that of King James English, (the KJV Bible being its official translation) Mormon theological and scriptural phraseology is not too distant from most Evangelicals. It is this similarity with language -mixed with many unique Mormon terms- that can often be perplexing to most other Christians in active discussion with them. On the flip side, apart from more complex and technical Protestant theological terms, Mormons are usually already aware or familiar with much of the Evangelical vernacular, or at least enough to not experience the same confusion as their neighbors.

Unfortunately, both groups can and have, at times, come to the theological table with their own share of ignorance, misconceptions, or simplified understanding of the other’s position. Take soteriological views, for example. I have often heard many Mormons describe the Evangelical concept of Sola Gratia (Salvation by Grace Alone) to be one of “Hey man! We are saved! Now let’s party and do whatever we want!” Any informed Latter-day Saint on the subject would now that this is a stark mischaracterization of the true meaning of Grace to Evangelicals. As equally as untrue is the understanding of the Mormon view of salvation from many within the Evangelical crowd as one based entirely on works; in other words, a legalistic system in which individuals must earn their way to heaven by performing the set amount of righteous works. Both views are incorrect and often falsely paint the individuals of the two groups to either be adherents to a cheap and hypocritical form of Christianity, or just a revival of pharisaical believers who are adding a Law unto themselves.

How members of both faith traditions might combat this common scenario is first by clearly defining the terms that they are using, a necessity for any philosophical and theological discussion. As both individuals define words like Grace, faith, righteousness, works, salvation etc, they will quickly find that while there are many similarities in the manners and meanings they use such words in, likewise there are many essential differences that can be overlooked during superficial and quick interactions. Hence my admonition to 1) understand the other’s position in depth, 2) familiarize yourself with the unique religious vernacular (terms such as stake center, testimony, baptisms for the dead and others for the Mormon, and terms like communion, imputation, and others for the Evangelical,) and finally be able to actually speak and explain yourself in ways and terms that the other will understand. The Evangelical must learn what is jokingly referred to as “Mormonese”, and likewise, the Mormon must learn to speak like an Evangelical and speak “Christianese”.

Often, Evangelicals are astounded when I, as a Mormon, speak as if I myself am an Evangelical. This is due to the fact that I have attended various other Christian churches, including my mother’s own nondenominational church for many years. Likewise, I have gone to multiple Christian summer camps and attended youth Bible study during the same time. Essentially it just reflects the amount of time I have spent reading, studying, interacting with, and immersed in an Evangelical environment. The same rule applies to learning an actual language: the quickest way to learn is by living in that country and immersing yourself with its people!

Study and Research
Prerequisite to any informed conversation about a subject is the active study and research of it beforehand. Said research is best accomplished when undertaken by the proper, balanced study of materials coming from a variety of perspectives. Unfortunately, it is my experience that many of the Evangelicals who often perform direct outreach to Latter-day Saints do so with having only a superficial understanding of Mormon beliefs and teachings, which are often studied only through the lens of polemic and counter-cult materials and tracts. If explanations are given from either source, they are often basic, and lacking in both full comprehension and quick reference to valuable sources, making the end-result varied in clarity and uniformity.

This can’t be considered fully the fault of the average Mormon in accidentally misrepresenting or being somewhat ignorant to the full teachings of their Church. It is quite unreasonable to expect the standard member to be a master historian, scriptorian, or theologian, and this can often be met with unmet expectations. This is especially accurate when speaking to missionaries who are presupposed by some to have undergone a similar amount of devotional education as many clergy and pastors from theological seminaries, when in reality they are little more than youth fresh out of high school with a simple testimony of Christ and the Restored Gospel, and a desire to serve and share with others.

Thus it is my advice to the Evangelical to read. Read from Latter-day Saint sources. I don’t say this out of my own bias, but rather to speak to the credibility that comes with having an understanding based directly from knowing the same materials and literature that Latter-day Saints will be familiar with: Stated plainly, that means that you need to read the Standard Works first – that is, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Any Mormon would be more than happy to provide these for you at no cost. Read other important works from Latter-day Saint history as well as modern objective scholarly sources. THEN, if you so wish, move to polemic and counter-cult material so that you can both recognize misleading or inaccurate representations of actual Mormon beliefs as described and taught by Mormons themselves, while also drawing from whatever database of apologetical information and arguments that one might choose to use against Mormonism.

A real-life scenario might be seen in the pretend (but all too common) dialogue held between an Evangelical and a Mormon to whom they might be proselytizing:

E: The Book of Mormon is clearly false as it teaches a false gospel not found in the New Testament. (Galatians 1:6-9) This can be simply seen where in 2nd Nephi 25:23, it teaches a completely different understanding of Grace than found in Ephesians 2:8-9. Mormonism teaches that you are only saved by grace after all you can do, whereas Biblical Christianity teaches that by grace, ye are saved through faith and not of yourselves. Mormons rely on their own merit for salvation and not on the Grace of God.

M: Well, you are certainly correct that 2nd Nephi, Galatians, and Ephesians all contain those words, I am just wondering though where you learned that we believe that? Have you ever read the Book of Mormon yourself? There are actually some places which very much agree with you, that we cannot rely on our own merits and works to be saved but that we can only be saved by and through Christ.

E: No, I have never read the Book of Mormon. I have only read a few small parts, but I know from what I have seen that it teaches a completely different Gospel than the one taught in the Bible!

It is in this moment, that I can say as a Mormon, that any credibility held by the Evangelical is likely to have been lost in the eyes of the average Mormon. This is due to the simple matter of hearing that the mere courtesy of fully researching and reading the sacred scripture recognized by the Latter-day Saint in question, was not taken, and instead of seeing a loving though respectfully disagreeing Christian neighbor, they see a polemical and ignorant antagonist that is misrepresenting their faith. Consider, for example, how you, as an Evangelical, regard atheists who have never read the Bible but feel free to criticize – even condemn it – sight unseen.

Now, how could have some extensive and quality research have changed this situation? The Evangelical might have understood the historical, theological, or devotional context and understanding of the Book of Mormon verse in question. They may have studied how Latter-day Saints can and have interpreted the 2nd Nephi 25:23 in various ways, and not have treated it as a scriptural monolith. They might have avoided blanket statements on the Mormon faith at large so as to allow for more diversity in thought, interpretation, and understanding. As a Mormon, I will tell you that Mormon doctrine is not always uniform, in fact on certain issues, the split in thought might be reminiscent to that of the Calvinist-Arminian debate in that the far majority do not consider full agreement or uniformity to be necessary to be a fully believing Mormon in good standing.

Bottom-line in what I’m advising is this: before you pull a quote or verse off of a tract, polemical book, or website, at least check the source you are reading to have a solid understanding of context and interpretation. Just as I imagine it would irk an Evangelical if an Atheist quoted Bible verses out of context without regard to how Christians see it, so too does the same occur for Mormons who often find supposed words and teachings insisted down their throats outside of their respective context.

Avoid Common Pitfalls
As a matter of fact, I would advise discarding the following approaches. Though at times commonly undertaken by certain Evangelicals, I do not believe as a Latter-day Saint that they are ultimately in their favor of using, when attempting to share their beliefs with Mormons:

“Shock-and-Awe” Approach: This can manifest itself in a variety of forms, the most common of which though lie in either tracts, handouts, or in conversations held with Mormons. The point of this methodology is to so utterly overwhelm one’s opponent with points and arguments fired in such rapid succession so as to disallow for qualitative responses and examination. The individual such a barrage is aimed at has not the time, nor the means to realistically respond to each point in question, and so many either remain unanswered or superficially rebutted. This serves as a quick way to put up walls between the Mormon and the Evangelical, as many would rather keep walking or disengage than be verbally beaten with Bible verses and varied quotations laced with unfamiliar spins.

An example of what NOT to do: Tactless Outreach.

Tactless Outreach: Frankly, most Mormons aren’t too excited to see demonstrating or proselyting done outside their sacred spaces. At times when a Mormon is seeking to be spiritually uplifted during important cultural and religious occasions, such as during Christmas and Easter pageants, Temple Dedications, attending General Conference, or other large gatherings, the last thing many wish to see or hear are individuals likewise gathered to meet them and just to invalidate their beliefs and experiences, looking to sway them from their faith, and debate them in matters of their religious beliefs. Now, I completely understand just how tempting an opportunity it often is given the higher number of “unsaved” Mormons that one can reach, however, I often don’t find it as efficacious as one might think. Again, the presence of foreign and opposing groups at Mormon sacred spaces and community events often will lead many within the LDS community to just keep walking, and worse: make generalizations about who and what they see that often go uncorrected. First impressions are everything, and if my first impression as a Mormon is associating Evangelicals with extreme fundamentalist sects of Christianity such as the Westboro Baptist church due to the methodology of their outreach, it would literally take an act of Divine Intervention to take sincere interest.

Scripted Discussion, “Gotcha” Discourse, and Condescending Rhetoric: Much of this is common sense although I find these three also worth mentioning as each will likely do more harm than good in opening up the Mormon to further discussion. Just as I -and the LDS Church- strongly advise outgoing missionaries, don’t rely on scripted or rehearsed discussion when talking to individuals about your beliefs, instead have an open, free-flowing, and honest conversation. Be a Disciple of Christ, not a door-to-door vacuum salesman looking to squeeze a sale out of an unsuspecting, and a begrudging, customer. Nothing better idealizes this than 1st Peter 3:15 (NIV) “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.” Give answers from the heart, not a tract; from the Word of God, not a hand-out. Mormons will respect and be more open to you for it, and they will appreciate a genuine conversation.

Likewise avoid what I call “gotcha” discourse, or essentially asking leading questions for the sole purpose of entrapping a Mormon into a corner. The scriptures are full of examples of people who carry out questioning and dialogue in this way, and the majority of the time they are not looked favorably upon. It was the Pharisees who sought to entrap and entangle the Savior in his words so that they might condemn Him. My hope is that when outreach to Mormons is undertaken that the focus for the Evangelical might be on winning them to Christ, rather than winning the argument.

In fact, there shouldn’t be an argument at all. When anger or irritation becomes the predominant feeling in the conversation, the Mormon will quickly remove themselves from the situation. Mormons refer to this as the “Spirit of Contention” and it is basically a term for when a person or discussion’s focus has shifted to foster an air of hostility, toxicity, disrespect, or otherwise unkindness. You can actively disagree, you can share your lack of acceptance of belief in various aspects of Mormonism, and you can elaborate on concerns you have regarding points of Mormon doctrine and for the salvation of Mormons themselves, all without being contentious.

Finally to this same point, avoid belittling or condescending rhetoric. This is one of the quickest to both shut a Mormon off from a potential conversation and in fulfilling negative stereotypes many Mormons might have developed towards Evangelicals based oft limited, though negative, interactions with them. Despite an Evangelical’s likely opinion of Joseph Smith being a false prophet and a charlatan, the Book of Mormon being a falsified and illegitimate book of scripture, and the Mormon Jesus as a false-Christ, put all those aside and don’t “shoot yourself in the foot” by saying them outright to a Mormon’s face. It is as effectual and convincing as an Atheist approaching an Evangelical and calling the Bible a fairy-tale, Jesus as a myth, and Christianity as just wishful thinking at best. Pejoratives don’t work, they offend. Belittling doesn’t convert, it closes doors and hearts. As a Mormon, I love to see Evangelicals bold in sharing their own beliefs, without boldly attacking the beliefs that I hold sacred and dear as a Mormon. Which leads us into the next segment…

Invalidating Other’s Spiritual Experiences: Personally speaking, I can look back at many profound and life-changing spiritual experiences that I have had thus far in my life. Moments that have formed the basis for my testimony or faith in Jesus being the Risen Savior, of dying for my sins, of rising from the dead, and being the sole Rock in which I place my faith. I have had deep and intimate experiences where I have felt his unwavering and unconditional love for me, which I cannot deny. The majority of these have taken place within the context of Mormonism.

Without going into further detail, it amazes me when the born-again experiences of many Evangelicals and the descriptive language they use in retelling them so closely parallel what I have felt. The surprise comes in sharing them with Evangelicals, who then dismiss or invalidate them as not being real or legitimate experiences with Christ. It’s as if some Evangelicals wish to claim a monopoly on experiencing God, Christ, and Truth. Imagine if Paul did that in response to Cornelius’ claims of his own spiritual experiences? (Acts 10) I will further illustrate this through someone who is a great example of such within my own life: Michael Flournoy.

Former Latter-day Saint Michael Flournoy has written a few times now for Beggar’s Bread and is as well-known as one could probably be within Evangelical-Mormon Facebook Discussion Groups for being an amateur Mormon apologist of many years who recently converted to Evangelical Christianity. Michael and I are on great and amicable terms, and I am glad to call him a friend of mine whom I have gotten to know and interact with (albeit across some distance) for many months now. One thing that Michael has observed though has been the interesting change in the perspective of Evangelical Christians towards his spiritual experiences while as a Mormon. One, in particular, occurred when he was 16-years old and serves as the first time that Michael had a profound and life-changing experience with the Savior. He says,

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

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

This is an experience that I have heard Michael share many times now, both from his days as a Mormon and now as an Evangelical. While I completely validate and recognize Michael’s experience, unfortunately, such has not always been the case. Whether while on his mission, hosting discussions in various Facebook groups, or even debating ex-Mormons such as Lynn Wilder, many have suggested or quickly written off his experience as not being with the “Real Jesus” or just being mere emotions. Or such was said while he was a Mormon. Now that he is an Evangelical, Michael has observed a stark change in the validation that he receives from those same Evangelicals, that his Especially For Youth (EFY) experience was indeed an authentic encounter with the real Jesus reaching out to him.

A complete 180-degree turn has taken place in comparison to what used to be said, just because his religious identity has now also changed! My hope is that Evangelicals see the double-standard in this and leave themselves open to recognizing or at least considering that Mormons can (and in my opinion do) have legitimate and real spiritual experiences with the Risen Savior. Just as Evangelicals will find the far majority of Mormons invalidating their own spiritual experiences, my hope is that the same respect towards one’s sacred and life-changing moments might be extended, instead of quickly writing them off as false or trivial.

Extending Shallow Fellowship: This is the final point that I will touch on but perhaps may be the most important towards retaining Mormon exposure and interest into Evangelical Christianity. I wish to explain what I mean in making sure to avoid extending shallow fellowship. I say this to describe the outreach or active fellowship towards Mormons that is only extended so long as the topic is regarding Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism. Real fellowship should not be dependent on the interest level of the Mormon in discussing topics of a religious nature, rather it should be extended at all times and be based on feelings of sincere compassion, love, and service.

The common (though likely misquoted) saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi comes to mind in which he says, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” The same is applicable here as an Evangelical can perform the same amount of outreach to Mormons if they provide them with positive examples of discipleship through daily Christ-like living; being witnesses of the active power of His Grace in their own lives. Open conversations will flow more naturally this way, seeds will be gently planted and not forced into unready soil, and overall bridges will take the place of walls that so often impede meaningful relationships.

It is my hope that the Evangelical will always be looking to extend the hand of true friendship and service, whether among neighbors, coworkers, classmates, or strangers. The quickest way for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those present will be in an environment where the love of Christ is fostered. This entails a lifetime commitment to the cause for the Evangelical, and I would remind them that any potential conversions will never be the result of their own efforts, their own rhetoric, arguments, or criticisms of Mormonism. Rather, it is the result of the Grace of God alone that an Evangelical must look to in touching the hearts and lives of Mormons.

If you ever find yourself impatient or irritated, if you ever feel like no matter what you do or say that the Mormon just won’t budge, stop! Trust in God, say a prayer, and refocus your efforts on making a positive experience in the life of the Mormon. If it is meant to be, then as a Mormon, I believe that hearts and beliefs can change. Finally, never ask or expect of a Mormon what you wouldn’t do yourself. If you wish to invite a Mormon to your church service, then offer to attend their sacrament meeting as well. If you want to do a close read of the New Testament with them, likewise offer to read the Book of Mormon. Remember the Golden Rule and trust in the power of God to bring souls to Christ.

I am a fully believing and active Mormon. I hold a temple recommend and will be serving a mission in the coming months for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most importantly, I am a firm believer in God’s Plan for all His children and I believe that this plan includes both Mormons, non-Mormons, and ex-Mormons alike. My hope and prayer is for members of the Evangelical community to foster better relations with the Mormon neighbors built on feelings of mutual respect, love, and true fellowship. Hopefully, as a Mormon, I have been able to offer reflections on the various forms and techniques of outreach to members of my faith community, and ultimately what I find most effective. At the end of the day, it is all about the relationships we have and the Work of Christ in our lives that will make the difference. This is something that I find both Evangelicals and Mormons to be in full agreement on, and if such is our focus, I have full faith that everything will work out in the end.

About The Author
Jaxon Washburn is an 18-year old faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After being raised in an interfaith household for part of his life following his mother’s departure from Mormonism to Evangelical Christianity, Jaxon has been acquainted and involved with Mormon-Evangelical dialogue and relations for many years now.

Jaxon will be attending the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University to major in Religious Studies in fall 2017. This will be prior to serving his 2-year Mormon Mission.  All this while continuing his hobbies of interfaith dialogue, Mormon and Christian Studies, and the occasional dabble in Mormon apologetics. Yep, he’s busy! 

He has a clear passion for the interfaith movement and religious studies: He founded and has led the World Religion and Tolerance Society, a high school interreligious student group built around the values of respect, openness, cooperation, and understanding among individuals of various religious and nonreligious backgrounds, since 2014. This has allowed him to speak at venues such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, UT; the United Nations in New York City; and many others on the topic of youth involvement in the interfaith. You can follow his journey and writings from on his personal blog at The Apotheosis Narrative.

The author speaking at a United Nation Youth Conference on Interfaith Relations in February 2017.

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theosisandjustification

An Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the theosis of the saints.

“As man now is, God once was:
“As God now is, man may be.”
— Lorenzo Snow (5th Mormon President)
1

by Fred W. Anson
There are days when I wonder if the confirmation bias that undergirds so much Latter-day Saint apologetic work has any limits. Most recently I had one of these days when a Mormon Apologist boldly and publicly declared on social media that Mormon Celestial Exaltation – that is, the Latter-day Saint doctrine that men can become Gods in the next life2 – is nothing more than the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of Deification (aka “Theosis”) in another form. This is nothing new, those of us in Mormon Studies have been hearing this argument for some time now. Here’s how Mormon Apologists Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks explained it in the March 1988 issue of the Mormon Church’s Ensign magazine:

As even a cursory glance at early Christian thought reveals, the idea that man might become as God—known in Greek as theosis or theopoiesis—may be found virtually everywhere, from the New Testament through the writings of the first four centuries. Church members take seriously such passages as Psalm 82:6, John 10:33–36, and Philippians 2:5–6, in which a plurality of gods and the idea of becoming like God are mentioned.

The notion of theosis is characteristic of church fathers Irenaeus (second century A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (third century A.D.), and Athanasius (fourth century A.D.). Indeed, so pervasive was the doctrine in the fourth century that Athanasius’s archenemies, the Arians, also held the belief and the Origenist monks at Jerusalem heatedly debated “whether all men would finally become like Christ or whether Christ was really a different creature.”

According to an ancient formula, “God became man that man might become God.” Early Christians “were invited to ‘study’ to become gods” (note the plural).

Though the idea of human deification waned in the Western church in the Middle Ages, it remained very much alive in the Eastern Orthodox faith, which includes such Christian sects today as the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches. Jaroslav Pelikan notes, “The chief idea of St. Maximus, as of all Eastern theology, [was] the idea of deification.”

Is the subject of deification truly a closed question? After all, echoes of man becoming like God are still found in the work of later and modern writers in the West. For instance, C. S. Lewis’s writings are full of the language of human deification. Even Martin Luther was capable of speaking of the “deification of human nature,” although in what sense it is not clear.3

"Mormon America" by Richard and Joan OstlingHowever, commenting on this very article, journalists Richard and Joan Ostling make the following observation in their well known and widely respected book “Mormon America”:

BYU professors Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks in a 1988 issue of Ensign, have often expressed a kinship to Eastern Orthodoxy in that branch of Christendom’s use of the term “deification.” Peterson and Ricks traced deification to such early church fathers as Irenaeus (second century a.d.) and to the notion of theosis, which is “very much alive” in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches.

The embrace, however, is one way. The Eastern Orthodox tradition is also firmly rooted in a distinction of kind, rather than of degree, between man and God. “The idea of deification must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God’s essence and His energies. Union with God means union with the divine energies, not the divine essence,” wrote Timothy Ware (Bishop Ware), who was the longtime lecturer in Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, in The Orthodox Church. “The human being does not become God by nature, but is merely a ‘created god,’ a god by grace or by status.”

Bishop Ware elaborated on Orthodoxy and deification in response to a query:

‘It is clear to me that C. S. Lewis understands the doctrine of theosis in essentially the same way as the Orthodox Church does; indeed, he probably derived his viewpoint from reading such Greek Fathers as Athanasius. On the other hand, the Mormon view is altogether different from what Lewis and the Orthodox Church believe.

Orthodox theology emphasizes that there is a clear distinction—in the current phraseology “an ontological gap” — between God the Creator and the creation which He has made. This “gap” is bridged by divine love, supremely through the Incarnation, but it is not abolished. The distinction between the Uncreated and the created still remains. The Incarnation is a unique event.

“Deification,” on the Orthodox understanding, is to be interpreted in terms of the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. Human beings share by God’s mercy in His energies but not in His essence, either in the present age or in the age to come. That is to say, in theosis the saints participate in the grace, power, and glory of God, but they never become God by essence.’4

So who’s right and who’s wrong? Let’s let our Eastern Orthodox friends speak for themselves, shall we? What follows, in its entirety, is an essay on Deification from The Orthodox Study Bible which was written by Eastern Orthodox theologians for Eastern Orthodox readers. It explains plainly, in layman’s terms, exactly what the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of deification is and is not.

Deification
Deification is the ancient theological word used to describe the process by which a Christian becomes more like God. St. Peter speaks of this process when he writes, “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness  .  .  .   you may be partakers of the divine nature” (1:3,4).

What does it mean to partake of the divine nature, and how do we experience this? To give an answer, let us first address what deification is not, and then describe what it is.

51gju0bne6l-_sx329_bo1204203200_What deification is not. When the Church calls us to pursue godliness, to be more like God, this does not mean that human beings become divine. We do not become like God in His nature. That would not only be heresy, it would be impossible. For we are human, always have been human, and always will be human. We cannot take on the nature of God.

St. John of Damascus makes a remarkable observation. The word “God” in the Scriptures refers not to the divine nature or essence, for that is unknowable. “God” refers rather to the divine energies— the power and grace of God that we can perceive in this world. The Greek word for God, theos, comes from a verb meaning “run,” “see,” or “burn.” These are energy words, so to speak, not essence words.

In John 10:34, Jesus, quoting Psalm 81:6, repeats the passage, “You are gods.” The fact that He was speaking to a group of hypocritical religious leaders who were accusing Him of blasphemy makes the meaning doubly clear: Jesus is not using “god” to refer to divine nature. We are gods in that we bear His image, not His nature.

What deification is. Deification means we are to become more like God through His grace or divine energies. In creation, humans were made in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26) according to human nature. In other words, humanity by nature is an icon or image of deity: The divine image is in all humanity. Through sin, however, this image and likeness of God was marred, and we fell.

When the Son of God assumed our humanity in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, the process of our being renewed in God’s image and likeness was begun. Thus, those who are joined to Christ, through faith, in Holy Baptism begin a process of re-creation, being renewed in God’s image and likeness. We become, as St. Peter writes, “partakers of the divine nature” (1:4).

Because of the Incarnation of the Son of God, because the fullness of God has inhabited human flesh, being joined to Christ means that it is again possible to experience deification, the fulfillment of our human destiny. That is, through union with Christ, we become by grace what God is by nature— we “become children of God” (Jn 1:12). His deity interpenetrates our humanity.

Historically, deification has often been illustrated by the example of a sword in the fire. A steel sword is thrust into a hot fire until the sword takes on a red glow. The energy of the fire interpenetrates the sword. The sword never becomes fire, but it picks up the properties of fire. By application, the divine energies interpenetrate the human nature of Christ. When we are joined to Christ, our humanity is interpenetrated with the energies of God through Christ’s glorified flesh. Nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, we partake of the grace of God— His strength, His righteousness, His love— and are enabled to serve Him and glorify Him. Thus we, being human, are being deified.5

I think it’s important to note, at the risk of being overly didactic, that neither Mormons or Mormon Doctrine was on the radar when this essay was written – the authors simply couldn’t have cared less about addressing either. It is what it is, nothing more and nothing less: An article written for use within Eastern Orthodox congregations and for the personal edification and education of their parishioners. And in doing so it utterly discredits Mormon Apologist claims that Eastern Orthodox Deification/Theosis teachings are in any way equivalent to modern Latter-day Saint Celestial Exaltation doctrine.

Conclusion
The Mormon assertion that Mormon Celestial Exaltation is in any way derived from or related to either the Patristic Fathers and/or modern Eastern Orthodox’s Deification doctrine is pure fantasy. There simply is nothing in Orthodox theosis that asserts that men can become gods – and thereby take on God’s nature as the modern LdS Church teaches. Further, Orthodox Christianity, just like Catholic and Protestant Christianity, considers Latter-day Saint Celestial Exaltation heretical. As stated plainly by the Ostlings in the aforementioned “Mormon America”;

The most radical chasm between Mormon belief and the orthodox Judeo-Christian tradition centers on the doctrine of God. This is the great divide… Educated Mormons are well aware that their doctrine concerning God the Father, particularly the idea that he was once a mortal man and has a literal [but exalted, deified] body, is offensive to traditional Judeo-Christian believers.6

Misrepresenting the theology of others in this manner does nothing to bridge that divide – in fact, it only makes it worse. Therefore, I would politely and respectfully encourage our Mormon Apologist friends to stop doing so.

transfiguration

A Serbian Orthodox fresco of The Transfiguration. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the Transfiguration is considered to be a foreshadowing of the theosis that is possible for all saints.

NOTES
1 From the LdS Church’s official, correlated Church Manual, “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow”, p.68.
2 An LdS Church official, correlated Church Manual explains the Latter-day Saint doctrine of Exaltation like this, “When we lived with our Heavenly Father, He explained a plan for our progression. We could become like Him, an exalted being.” (Gospel Principles Chapter 47, “Exaltation” 2011 edition, p.275)
3 Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, “Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity”; Ensign, March 1988.
4 Richard & Joan Ostling, “Mormon American (Rev. Ed.)”; Nook Edition positions 356-357.
5NKJV, The Orthodox Study Bible, eBook: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World“, Kindle Locations 104077-104110.
6 Op cit, Ostling, Nook Edition position 341.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mercy-and-grace-heat-map

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