Thursday, April 28, 2005

So "U" Believe in Tulip: Unconditional Grace Examined

Like most concepts, there is some truth in the concept of Unconditional Grace, but monergism distorts the concept by the severe application of pre-destination. Here is what Leroy says of Unconditional Election:

U: For the purposes of God, in accordance with His Holiness and perfection, and for reasons that His creations will not know on Earth, beginning before the foundation of the Earth, God the Father chose the sheep and elected them, without any regard to anything but His own glory and purposes, that they would be born again and gain the inheritance of Jesus in righteousness.U: Unconditional election and Unrelenting election and Undeniable election and Unsuperficial election

U: Gen. 18:17-19, Deut. 4:35-38, Deut. 7:6-8, Deut. 10:14-15, Deut. 14:2, Deut 18:4-5, 1 Chron. 28:4, Psa. 33:12, Psa. 78:67-71, Psa. 100:3, Psa. 135:4, Isa. 40:23, Isa. 41:8, Isa. 44:1-2, Isa. 45:4, Isa. 65:9, Jer. 1:5, Jer. 27:5, Jer 31:35-36, Matt. 11:27, Matt. 20:15, Matt. 22:14, Matt. 24:31, Mark 7:21-23, Mark 13:20, Luke 6:45, Luke 18:7, John 1:4-5, John 5:21, John 8:43-44, John 13:18, John 15:16, John 15:19, Acts 9:15, Acts 10:41, Acts 22:14, Rom. 7:5, Rom. 8:29, Rom. 8:33, Rom. 9:11, Rom. 9:13, Rom. 9:20, Rom. 11:5, Rom. 11:7, Rom. 11:24, Rom. 11:28, Rom. 13:1, Rom. 16:13, 1 Cor. 1:27, Gal 5:17, Eph. 1:4-6, Eph. 1:11, Eph. 2:8, 1 Thes. 1:4, 2 Thes. 2:13, 2 Tim. 1:9, Titus 1:1, James 2:5, 1 Peter 1:1-5, 1 Peter 1:20, 1 Peter 2:4-10, 2 Peter 1:10, 2 John 1:13

U: God said and knew and made who would be saved and who would go to hell before ‘time’ began. God chooses when, how, and why someone gets saved by His grace alone.

I find a couple of things interesting with this aspect of the doctrine of monergism. First, of all, most doctrines which require blind faith in a concept articulated by men are generally false. This is true of the doctrine of the Trinity, and it is true of the idea of 'unknowable' election by God. Repeatedly scripture teaches that salvation is declared and offered to all men, regardless of when they lived or who they are.

Paul himself declared that he had declared all mysteries (Romans 11:25, 16:25-26; 1 Cor 4:1, 13:2), but he is actually quite specific in explaining that salvation's mysteries have been revealed to the chosen (Eph 1:9), and that specifically the understanding of the doctrine of predestination or foreordination of the elect is now known. The word "mystery" means something which was hidden, but is now revealed. The idea of God pre-chosing the elect, and specifically having some elect versus some non-elect is about God choosing Israel as the vehicle of salvation
Romans 11:2-7:
2 God did not cast off his people which he foreknew. Or know ye not what the
scripture saith of Elijah? how he pleadeth with God against Israel: 3 Lord, they
have killed thy prophets, they have digged down thine altars; and I am left
alone, and they seek my life. 4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I
have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal. 5
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the
election of grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise
grace is no more grace. 7 What then? that which Israel seeketh for, that he
obtained not; but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened:

The rest of us are grafted into the vine if we also believe (Romans 9:4,11,20-33, 10:1).

It is also interesting that there are two usual mistakes made by monergists in interpreting the Bible which leads to misapplying scriptural passages on election. First, they don't understand the historical background of the scriptures in Romans 9. Romans 9 is written by Paul to explain to the Jewish congregation how election applied to the non-Jewish members of the congregation. Specifically the description of the clay is a reference to Isaiah 45 and Jeremiah 18:6.
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay [is] in the potter's hand, so [are] ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
This is as clear and direct a citation as one can find anywhere in scripture. The clay analogy is not about individuals, and God selecting specific individuals for salvation. It is about God selecting a channel, the children or nation of Israel, as the means for blessing the world with the promises and covenants he made to Abraham (Gen 17:5-8; 18:17-19).

Furthermore, the most commonly cited passages on God drawing only specific individuals to him, and indeed cited at as proof of specific election, are verses John 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65. Again, it is a very poor piece of scriptural study which stops at these verses. John wrote the Gospel of John with the intention people must read the entire Gospel. You cannot fully understand John 20-21 if you fail to study John 1. Likewise, John 6 is explained and fulfilled in John 17.

6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
17:6 "I have revealed you[a] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

6:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit[e] and they are life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."
17:12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
17:24 "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Literally every element of John 6 is fulfilled in John 17. The whole point of who would be drawn to Christ was about those who would come to him during his mortal life. That is a huge interpretive error.

Absent John 6 and Romans 9, which I have shown to be incorrectly interpreted by monergists, I find no passages which even remotely support the doctrine of Unconditional Grace.


Monday, April 25, 2005

TULIP and Monergism by the Letters: T is for Total Depravity of Mankind

In discussing the monergistic (i.e. Calvinistic) approach to dealing with and contrasting the differences in beliefs between Mormons and monergists, I think it best to let monergists speak for themselves in terms of what they believe, and the scriptural basis for those beliefs. Leroy, a frequent visitor to this blog, has volunteered his own writings as a source of material to describe and defend the monergistic perspective. He has a web page here which describes his understanding of monergism, and gives some "prooftexts" to defend his perspective.

Monergism was formally articulated by John Calvin in the 16th century. Though its followers may assert the doctrines to be the original message of scripture, Calvin is recognized as the person who created the first comprehensive and systematic presentation of the doctrine in its current recognized clarity. A definition of monergism from is as follows:

Monergism (monergistic regeneration) is a redemptive blessing purchased by Christ for those the Father has given Him (1 Pet 1:3, John 6:37, 39). This grace works independently of any human cooperation and conveys that power into the fallen soul whereby the person who is to be saved is effectually enabled to respond to the gospel call (Acts 2:39, 1 Cor 1:2, 9, 24, Rom 8:30 John 1:13, Acts 13:48). It is that supernatural power of God alone whereby we are granted the spiritual ability and desire to comply with the conditions of the covenant of grace; that is, to apprehend the Redeemer by a living faith, to come up to the terms of salvation, to repent of idols and to love God and the Mediator supremely. The Holy Spirit, in quickening the soul, mercifully capacitates and inclines God's elect to the spiritual exercise of faith in Jesus Christ (John 6:44, 1 John 5:1). This instantaneous and intensely personal work of God is the means by which the Spirit brings us into living union with Him.

Here are now Leroy’s comments from his web page, without editing of content, though I did have to paste several comments on the page together to get all of the T content:

T: For the purposes of God, in accordance with His Holiness and perfection, and for reasons that His creations will not know on Earth, beginning with the fall in original sin and the spiritual death of Adam and Eve, no one has been willing or able to do anything in accordance with righteousness. Everyone has inherited the spiritual death through Adam and is a natural enemy of God who does not seek God in spirit or truth and will not love God of his or her own natural will. We are dead. Our works are dead. Our philosophies, systems, desires, and imaginations are dead.

T: Total depravity and Total inability and Total unwillingness and Total reliance and Total dependence

T: Gen. 6:5, Gen. 6:11-12, Job 15:14-16, Psa. 14:1-3, Psa. 51:5, Psa. 58:3, Psa. 143:2, Prov. 5:22, Prov. 14:12, Prov. 20:9, Eccl. 7:20, Eccl. 7:29, Eccl. 9:3, Isa. 1:4-6, Isa. 44:18-20, Isa. 44:25-28, Isa. 48:8, Isa. 53:6, Isa. 64:6-7, Jer. 4:22, Jer. 9:5, Jer. 13:23, Jer. 17:1, Jer. 17:9, Matt. 7:18, Matt. 7:23, Matt. 12:34-35, Matt. 15:13, Mark 10:26-27, Luke 8:11-12, John 1:13, John 3:3, John 3:19-20, John 3:27, John 6:44, John 6:65, John 15:5, Rom. 1:18-32, Rom. 3:9-23, Rom. 5:12, Rom. 7:14, Rom. 8:5-8, Rom. 9:8, Rom. 11:8, Rom. 11:32, Rom. 14:23, 1 Cor. 2:14, 1 Cor. 15:21-22, Gal. 3:22-23, Eph. 2:1, Eph. 4:17-19, Phili. 2:13, 2 Tim. 4:3-4, Titus 1:15, Heb. 11:6, James 1:14, James 1:17, James 4:17, 1 John 2:16

T: Only by being set free by the Spirit can we freely will and act in righteousness. Regeneration precedes faith. Faith always follows regeneration. You must be born again to receive saving faith and no one is saved without faith. The unregenerate are under the law of sin and death and, making choices out of their own free will, never please God. They cannot believe because they always choose not to. Rebirth happens in an instant for the elect and is the sovereign act of God.

Let it never be said I did not try to be as supportive as possible of presenting the other side’s position. Of course I disagree with the premise that simply because men are capable and have committed sin, they are incapable of feeling the Spirit or choosing right or wrong.

The fundamental teaching of the Fall was that men are able to discern right from wrong, as the god’s are likewise able to do. Quoting God:

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23).

This point will be the basis of all argument by me. Namely, unless you can show me from scripture where God is quoted as saying, more or less,

“Behold, the man is NOW become UNLIKE one of us, he no longer knows good and evil”,

then scripture is explicit saying we do know good and evil. Emphasizing the lasting nature of that ability to choose, God has man driven into the world with that knowledge, to protect him from partaking of the Tree of Life and living forever. Until a Savior could be sent, if Adam were to live forever in his fallen state, he could never be brought back into the presence of God (1 Cor 15:21-22).

Such a change in doctrine, namely that man somehow lost his ability to discern good and evil, would require a definitive, authoritative exposition on the order of the change from the Law of Moses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or of circumcision of the flesh for circumcision of the heart. It must be a definite, contextually equivalent statement of superordination . I make this point explicit because it is not enough to simply say that we deduce such has happened because of our interpretation and application of certain verses of scripture.

This is where you will find me a highly conservative scriptural warrior. Time and again I encounter people who protest or criticize the LDS Church for various reasons, but when you try to get them to produce a cogent, Biblically based defense of their own position, they respond with theology, and then read the scriptures in light of their theology.

Such a position for me as an LDS believer in continuing revelation through the Holy Spirit and modern day prophets is actually defensible. I don’t see the scriptures as the only word on doctrine or theology. Even so, I am starting with the first definitive statement in the Bible on the will of men, their ability to choose good and evil, and I am laying down the gauntlet: Show me in scripture where this was changed, or admit monergism is a rational development based on a scriptural interpretation, and not a Biblical imperative.

If scripture is to be interpreted as the only authority in the area of theology, then your theological position must flow from precise statements of scripture, not your understanding of scripture from theological statements. If the Bible is the source, theology should just be a systematic explanation of what is, not the other way around.

So Genesis 3:22-23 is the place to start, in my mind.

Paul’s statements of “none do good” (Romans 3:10-18) or are righteous, or fear God must be understood in the context of Genesis 3:22. As I hear evangelicals so often say, use scripture to interpret scripture. Unless there is a definitive statement rebuking the agency of man, then Paul is writing in a clear understanding that men can choose to do good or evil, regardless of their fallen state. Likewise, looking beyond Paul's citations from the Old Testament to the actual scriptures he cites, it is clear from the scriptures that these are not saying there are not people capable of doing good, but rather that fallen man cannot save himself. Read Ecclesiatestes 7, Psalms 14, or Psalm 53; Psalm 5, Psalm 140, Psalm 10, Isaiah 59 and Proverbs 1, (Psalm67?) and Psalm 35. These are the most likely source verses for Paul’s quotations in Romans 3. Every one of the chapters, while making some blanket statements about there are no righteous or other such statement, also clearly says there are also righteous and good people out there.

On the other hand, Leroy cites Gen 6:5, 11-12 as support of the Total Depravity of man. Yet right there, right in the heart of the statements Leroy cites is this statement about Noah: "These [are] the generations of Noah:

Noah was a just man [and] perfect in his generations, [and] Noah walked with God." (Gen 6:9)

So even though it says that every imagination from the heart of men was evil (vs. 5), Noah, a man, was just and perfect, and even walked with God, whatever that means. In other words, there are still non-wicked people among mankind, and there is no teaching saying the evil being done was by monergistic nature versus their choice. Since we have no statement undoing Gen 3:22 yet, Biblically I have to think the author of Genesis is in effect telling us the people are choosing evil. This would seem to be a more scripturally consistent reading in light of 1 Peter 3:20 where those people of Noah's day are said to have been "disobedient", which clearly means they made a choice to do evil. In fact, the word Peter uses for “disobedient” means to resist being persuaded and to not obey. Again, it sounds like a choice to me, and in light of the context of Genesis 6, it seems to fit the text better than to assert they were evil because they were fallen and incapable of choosing to obey. According to Peter, they refused to allow themselves to be persuaded from their evil. (BTW, we will go through each “proof text” individually to verify their context and merit, and present those discussions for the reader.)

Paul was not teaching we cannot do good. He was teaching we do not have the ability to save ourselves. In Rom 3:19 he says the whole world is guilty of sin because of the Law. But in verses 22-24, Paul makes this statement about for whom Christ’s righteousness is applied:

22 Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Notice the two classes for whom Christ’s righteousness is applied:

1. Unto all

2. Upon all that believe

Why? Because as concerning sin, there is no difference whether you believe or not. As verse 23 reminds us, “All have sinned”. This is the restatement of Romans 2:11

11 For there is no respect of persons with God.

If God forgave some sins simply because of a random, unknowable criteria, then he would be a partial god, and in my view, a fallen god. He would be unjust. It would be the moral equivalent of “hate crimes” legislation, even though the transgression of the Law of Moses was about deeds. ‘Thou shall not’… types of statements, and when you did, you transgressed the Law. There was no penalty for not feeding the poor, and the standard for that was not laid out. You gave tithes and offerings, or you burned at the Lord’s coming. These were actions. Thus Paul also teaches (Romans 2:13-14) that when the gentile did by nature those things contained in the Law of Moses, they became a Law unto themselves. Transgressing those elements of the Law so discerned meant they committed an act of sin. Doers of the Law of Moses were Justified, and it was impossible to keep every element of the Law perfectly.

Paul then teaches that because of Christ’s atonement for the sins of the whole world, all are justified (Romans 3:30). But he teaches that there are two types of faith working for Justification: The faith of the believer, which allows him to remain Justified, and the faith of Christ on behalf of the rest of the world. If after being justified by the Faith of Christ, the world casts him aside, then are they truly punished for actively rejecting the Savior, breaking the rules Christ instituted for the reception of saving grace. But they made a choice, or else Christ is a respector of Persons, not giving all an equal chance for salvation.

Mankind is fallen, and has a nature which wars against the things of God. But since the Fall, mankind is also able to discern Good and Evil. It is a false paradigm, in my view, to say on the one hand I am free any time I want to turn my car to the right, and then give me a care which is only capable of turning left or going straight. If man is incapable of comprehending or choosing good, he cannot be held accountable for the bad he does. But if he can choose good, then he must be able to obtain the same results as any other person potentially can obtain, or else God is a respecter of persons. God can certainly set the rules, and the fact he even provides for rules to be created is a great act of grace on his part.

In my opinion, TULIP would fall solely based on the false nature of this tenet of their theology. Sadly, all five elements of TULIP are false constructs, creating a net, as it were, of self-referencing false doctrine. Within the body of this post we can explore the supposed scriptural support for both points of view.

What say you?


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Grace and Justification Defined

Don't roll your eyes just yet sports fans. Sometimes we need to be very basic to communicate accurately. Two terms that constantly seem to be pitted against Mormons by our non-LDS friends and critics are Grace and Justification. It is often asserted that Mormons are dealing with a different vocabulary than the rest of Christianity. Well, if Christianity had a firmly defined set of meanings for all terms, it would make life easier. Sadly, there are many terms which are controversial, whether LDS or not. Because of a desire to move ahead discussing the differences in LDS and Calvinistic perspectives, I think it best I get some clarity of what Justification and Grace mean.

Justification, or to be Justified, has its roots in a Biblical word having to do with the legal status of a person. The Greek word dikaiosune and its cousin words (Strongs 1342-47) were used frequently by Paul and other New Testament writers, and is similar in meaning to righteousness, especially in a legal sense. So it lends itself very well to counter-positioning to the Hebrew Law (gr. Nomos) to illustrate the superiority of Christ to the Law of Moses.

The Atonement of Christ makes us right with God. Everyone is justified. But we retain the justification through our faithfulness. Everyone is therefore made righteous through Christ, but again that righteousness is retained only through obedience brought about by faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. So by justification we are taken back into the presence of God. Our ability to stay there depends upon our faith and actions towards obeying God. In the Book of Mormon we read:

Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection--Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. (Alma 40:11)

The ability to retain the state of grace in the presence of God and Paradise is determined by our actions in this life, and how we knowingly chose good or evil.

Grace is an interesting component of Justification. Grace has many definitions and meanings, and the exact meaning is dependent upon context. For example, God’s gift of creation is an act of grace not specifically earned by any of us.

The most common understanding of Grace in New Testament times was within the system of reciprocal giving of the Oriental and Occidental cultures. It was an act of grace to give something one was not obligated to give. It was almost a technical term to dispense grace, such as by a king or benefactor: “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.” (See A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature; Third Edition, BDAG, 2000, U. of Chicago Press, entry Xaris, definition 2, page 1079, hereafter BDAG).

For example, by grace we are saved through faith, and not of the works of the Law of Moses. The fact the gift is given without obligation on the part of the giver, so it is not paid as a debt but as a gift, does not mean the giver cannot attach specific conditions or qualifications precedent and predicate to the gift.

Grace is generosity for something without merit. It is being given a Rolls Royce when all the money we have to pay with is $10. There may have been a for sale sign in the car window stating a price of $300,000. The seller took pity on the condition of the buyer, and grace was the difference. The gift is out of proportion and not earned, but that is not to say that there are not requirements to receive the gift. And he who gave the gift must still pay the cost of the gift, for to not do so would be theft and unjust. And even though the gift is given, it can be taken at any time should we violate the terms and conditions upon which the gift was given.

In the parable of the Kings Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1-14), all are invited to partake at the feast. Attendance at the actual wedding feast was Grace. Those to whom the servants (prophets and apostles) first went were the House of Israel. All were offered the invitation: They were justified. It allowed them to enter the Feast. Nothing was earned to get there. Responding to the calling is faith. The Wedding Garment is obedience. They had to come, and they had to be clothed in the wedding garment. The fact that all the people, good or bad, were invited and came means that all men are justified. Their obedience, including accepting Christ, was determinative in their salvation. For they were in the King’s Palace, but some could not stay. And Christ said this is how Heaven is.

While any parable can be pushed beyond its reasonable interpretive limits, it is hard to visualize a better word-canvas outlining the LDS doctrine of salvation. In the series of parables taught in Matthew 21-22, we see Christ describe the need for action and not just confession (21:28-32), the imminent giving of the channel of salvation to a new group because of the unrighteous works of the leaders of Israel (21:33-46), and the necessity of keeping the two great commandments. It is impossible to see how all of these teachings by Christ can be relevant if we believe God predestined some to salvation without regard to their worthiness. In the parable of the Wedding Feast, the Earthly actions of the invited determined whether they were worthy (22:8). Failing to respond, which is a lack of faith, disqualified Pharaseeic Israel. Even those who responded, entered the feast and were seated were not guaranteed of remaining. The whole world was invited, many came, and only a few remained. Therefore, many were called, but only a few chosen. We will certainly get to that.

I think from these definitions and passages, and comparing them to Paul’s specific teaching on the desire of God to save all men, and that Christ is the Saviour of all men, most of all those who believe,(1 Tim 2:4; 4:10) the New Testament destroys any sense that the atonement is limited to just a few people, or that God only wants to save a few of his children. The two verses in 1Timothy 2:4 and 4:10 are especially devastating to any attempt to limit 1 Tim. 2:4 to any particular sub-group and avoid the clear and obvious meaning of the verse. I look forward to discussing these verses and similar ones in great depth.

For those who do not enjoy a deep look under the hood of the scriptures, the next little while may be a solution to that insomnia you have been struggling with. Otherwise, roll up your sleeves pseudo-scholars and jump in with both feet. Based on past experience with Leroy, I am betting we will have a lively discussion, and that it is unlikely he will give up as others do as we roll out facts. It is my blog, so I can’t go anywhere. Besides, it is my sense from meeting and discussing things with Leroy that he is sincere about his desire to develop a deeper understanding of both his faith, and the LDS view of these important subjects as well.

Let the games begin.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Are Mormons Atheological?

Recently it has been asserted by at least a few individuals, and one in particular who wrote into this blog, that all or virtually all Mormons are not interested in theological or spiritual issues, but are only culturally committed to LDS beliefs.

My response has always been that this is not upheld by social studies and indicative statistics, not to mention my own fairly broad and intimate, though certainly anecdotal experiences.

Well, the University of North Carolina just published a broad and probing in-depth study of American youth and their religious perspectives. Their results and conclusions are intriguing, to say the least.

In every meaningful measure of religious commitment, the LDS youth outstrip their non-LDS peers, often by staggering margins. Moreover, the study indicates that LDS families and Church support organizations are places where the youth study and discuss religious issues far more frequently than any of their peers. The study concludes by stating that so far as living and sharing their faith, and the positive results of dealing most effectively socialogically with the challenges faced by all youth, the LDS youth are faring best of all.

It is an amazing culture that breeds the kind of commitment found in LDS youth. For those of us who work with them, we know there are many who are committed and center upon the concept of 'coming to Christ'. Interestingly, the LDS faith is the only denomination whose members, as they become better educated, are more likely to remain faithful. Among Calvinists and all other religious groups, the better educated they become, the less likely they are to remain believing. That's not my anecdotal experiences. Those are scientific studies.

The ultimate irony of those who accuse the Mormons of being only culturally committed is that their own religious traditions actually rely on people remaining uneducated to remain believing. In other words, they must hope their flocks remain ignorant and uneducated, and therefore "atheological", whereas the Mormons want their people to be more educated to promote faithfulness. The charge of 'atheological-ness' among the Mormons is in fact 180 degrees off the mark. It is the need of those leveling such charges to pray for such a position within their own faith-tradition that their flocks remain uneduated, or else the pews will empty.

I was right. The charge of atheological Mormons was in fact a projection of the actual problems within their own faith. They apparently just assume since that goes on in their church, that is what happens in the Lord's Church. By their fruits, we do know them.

While pride will likely not prevent such gossip mongering from occurring in the future, (that is, false statements not based on anything other than hearsay and unfounded testimony) at least the facts are clear: Mormons not only are theologically oriented, but the more education and study they do, the more likely they are to believe and live their faith, something other denominations cannot say. But then again, Mormons are a peculiar people.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Real and the Unreal in Perfect Contrast

I very much enjoy the crop of Anti-Mormons who attend General Conference now. Their carnival-style barking, their unkind and unscriptural messages, their distortions and out-right lies about many points of LDS doctrine, and especially the spirit they create before Conference goers enter the Conference Center are all doing something the missionaries on Temple Square could only dream about: Creating the perfect contrast between the fallen doctrines of those the Church tries to help, and the Spirit of God within the institution of the LDS Church.

During the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference, Elder Oaks introduced his inspired remarks by comparing his assignment to that which Jacob had received from the Lord, noting he was similarly tasked. We sometimes forget there are 15 prophets, seers and revelators who lead our great Church. Their inspiration from our Heavenly Father through His Spirit cuts to the heart of the humble like the Bread of Life and the Living Waters, edifying and building. Their messages, as well as the other Conference talks, are spiritual nourishment for the next 6-months and beyond. Timely, topical help, I am grateful for their messages. They know whereof they speak (Alma 5:45-48).

The contrast between the confused, misled or just plain un-Christian street preachers and the LDS leadership is so clear, no one can miss the contrast. One of the anti-Mormons I spoke with, while he waived a pair of LDS garments, commented that no one converted to his point of view from his efforts, he simply saw himself as one who plants seeds. Like all the deceived, they don't realize that even the evil they blindly do leads people to God's only true and living Church, His Gospel and the Holy Ghost. Keep planting those seeds. If we were to stage such a scene in a movie, we would be criticised for being way too over the top, because no group could be so blind to see how they actually work to promote the cause they are attacking. And so it goes.

Although I would love for no anti-Mormons to be there, the ones we got are far better than the stealthy snakes we previously saw regularly. Just six more months until my next shot at the carnival.


Monday, April 04, 2005

Rob Sivulka Called Me A Liar: False Witness and a Liar is He

I had the chance on Sunday to try to visit with Rob Sivulka, of the paid anti-Mormon ministry, (technically he gets paid through his donation channel at Utah Partnerships for Christ, another anti-Mormon ministry) to confront him about some of the lies he promotes on his web site. He refused to speak with me because he was too busy yelling at the Mormon faithful going to General Conference. So I couldn’t resist helping the public to understand Rob a little better.

I started to explain to the crowd that Rob teaches that Mormons are afraid to interpret Acts 7:55-56 too literally because it would mean Jesus was standing on Gods hand, possibly causing stretch marks. About this time a couple of people came out from lunch in time to hear Rob call me a liar, and catch it on film. I am hoping I can get a copy of it, and maybe submit it to Guiness, because I did not think it was possible a guy could scream, turn red and have a vein sticking so far out from his neck in a name calling fit, and still remain conscious. Here is what Rob’s official website says which I was relating to the crowd:

"Finally, why did Luke state that Jesus was "standing on the right hand of God" (King James Version, which is what LDS use)? LDS want to interpret this literally (i.e., God has a right hand as well as a left), but only to a point. They too must treat this figuratively in some sense otherwise Jesus would actually be standing on the Father's right hand, and then we'd wonder if Jesus left stretch marks on the Father's hand by doing this. LDS certainly don't go this far. "

This is a LIE!

I have researched in two separate LDS reference software programs, the official LDS.Org website, and just plugged the scripture into a Google search. No one of LDS beliefs seems to find the remotest possibility of this indicating God is having Christ stand upon his hand. In fact, in an earlier posting, I noted that Rob’s suggestion of Jesus standing upon the right hand of God is not supported by the Greek text nor the King James Version Bible language. It is and was a perfectly acceptable manner of speaking to say a person is standing on someone’s right hand, meaning directionally to the right. Rob may not know how to read Greek or King James English, but enough Mormons evidently do that they have never written on this absurdity.

Here are just a few LDS works which specifically quote or cite Acts 7:55-56 in the context of the literal standing next to God by Christ:

Bruce R. McConkie: Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, vol 2; The Messiah series, several texts.
Joseph Smith: Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
John Taylor: The Mediation and Atonement.
Joseph Fielding McConkie: Gospel Symbolism.
Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr.: Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia; entry Right Hand.
James Talmage: Jesus the Christ.
Sidney B. Sperry: Paul’s Life and Letters.
FARMS Review of Books: Review of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
Lowell Bennion, Sunday School Manual: An Introduction to the Gospel.
Rulon T. Burton: We Believe.
LDS.Org: Dozens of citations of the reference, some sites including color pictures of Jesus standing next to (not upon) God.
The examples could be greatly multiplied, but where, Rob Sivulka, do you find any believing LDS author expressing a reluctance to cite Acts 7:55-56 because too literal of a reading would lead to questions about such things as stretch marks on God’s right hand from Jesus standing there?

This is simply a STRAWMAN. An argument which exists only in Rob’s mind and in no LDS circle. Rob presents the argument so he does not have to deal with the real issue of the illogic of the situation. Jesus is standing next to God. Not the Father. If the inspired author of Acts understood the meaning of the words he used, then I don’t care if God can appear as a bunny, (as Rob claims is possible as well), He is not next to himself. The language is crystal clear. But even if Rob’s opinion is that God can stand next to himself, or is a bunny or is too big to fit in a Temple, it is still not LDS doctrine or LDS fears that the verse could have a literal meaning of God is potentially getting his hand stretched. It has never been a fear or argument within the LDS Church the verses have reference to standing upon God’s hand if really pressed to the literal meaning of the words.

By lying about the dangers of the LDS position, Rob is trying to minimize the need to deal with the fact the LDS position is more Biblical and textually supported than the apostate Trinitarian position he supports.

In any event, it is a lie, a distortion and an utter mis-statement of LDS beliefs about the verses. Moreover, Rob has compounded the lie by publicly bearing false witness and slandering me by calling me a liar. Engaging in lies and distortion is always a slippery slope, and can lead to not knowing how to tell the truth. This weekend re-affirms what I said when I first encountered anti-Mormons:

IF the truth about the Mormons is so terrible, why lie?
Rob Sivulka, you are a liar, and a bearer of false witness. A Christian would admit it, try to make it right, and ask forgiveness. Not many people read my silly little blog, or even know who I am. But those who do will be watching to see the measure of the man you are.
Either way Rob, I can honestly say: I love you, I just hate the lies you tell about me and my faith. And unless you repent and get the Spirit in your life, you only have this to look forward to as the end of your lies:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part
in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Revelation 21:8

No one is saved who is an intentional, hurtful liar.

Please Rob, change before it is too late.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Some People are Not Overly Blessed with Attention to Details

I had a blast on Saturday at the opening day of the April 2005 General Conference. After the 2nd session I was verbally accosted by a fellow who is apparently incapable of understanding the fine details of LDS doctrine. Let's review what it takes for something to be "Official" LDS doctrine. First, it needs to be a revelation through the LDS Church President (D&C 28:2; D&C 42:11). Then it needs to be presented to the Church for "common consent".

Also official explanations of doctrine may be released under official First Presidency letterhead. Specific, binding revelation is presented to the entire Church. So I am pretty sensitive to being orthodox in my LDS beliefs. D&C 19:31 "And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost."

One of the undefined, though widely discussed, LDS beliefs is whether God had sex with the Virgin Mary. I personally don't really care. But...there are certainly statements by leaders of the Church, even some of the presidents of the Church, which may be interpreted on their face as suggesting, IN THEIR OPINION, God had sex with the Virgin Mary. But that is the whole point. It is simply their speculative opinion. Such a doctrine is not codified in any LDS scripture, anywhere. It has never been presented as the LDS doctrine in any official channel which defines doctrine. That channel belongs exclusively to the living President of the LDS Church while acting in the role of President, Prophet, Seer and Revelator. That statement does not exist.

Indeed, we have a very clear statement by Harold B. Lee from 1969 speaking directly upon this subject:

Teachers should not speculate on the manner of Christ's birth. We are very much concerned that some of our Church teachers seem to be obsessed of the idea of teaching doctrine which cannot be substantiated and making comments beyond what the Lord has actually said.

You asked about the birth of the Savior. Never have I talked about sexual intercourse between Deity and the mother of the Savior. If teachers were wise in speaking of this matter about which the Lord has said but very little, they would rest their discussion on this subject with merely the words which are recorded on this subject in Luke 1:34-35: "Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

Remember that the being who was brought about by [Mary's] conception was a divine personage. We need not question His method to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8-9: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Let the Lord rest His case with this declaration and wait until He sees fit to tell us more. (

President Lee was 18 years old in 1917 when President Smith would have made the comment quoted in the 1972 FHE manual. He was president of the Twelve or the entire Church when it was published. Is it reasonable to think in light of his 1969 comment he would select a quotation which he felt directly and unquestionably taught that God had sex with Mary? Or maybe the comment really does just mean that through a process which is not explicitly explained in the quote, but instead focuses on clearly stating the physical sonship of Christ to the Father? My explanation is actually much more logical, especially in light of the changes in statements by Elder Bruce R. McConkie.

In the 1966 edition of Mormon Doctrine, the last edition which is reprinted, Elder Bruce R. McConkie makes a statement about the conception of Jesus which could be seen as indicating God had sex with Mary. But in his final statement on the subject before his death in 1985, in his book "A New Witness for the Articles of Faith", he wrote this:

"The mortal Jesus, as a man among men, had both a father and a mother. God was his Father, and Mary was his mother. He was begotten by a Holy Man, by that God whose name is Man of Holiness; and he was conceived in the womb of a mortal woman. Mary, a virgin of Nazareth in Galilee, was "the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh." (1 Nephi 11:18.) She was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost; "she was carried away in the Spirit" (1 Nephi 11:19); she conceived "by the power of the Holy Ghost," and she brought forth a son, "even the Son of God" (Alma 7:10). That Son, who is called Christ, is the Only Begotten, the only offspring of the Father born into mortality. As a man, as God's only Son, his only mortal Son, he overcame the world." Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 1985, Deseret Book, Chapter 9, pg 74:

This description is far less dogmatic, clearly not requiring a sexual relationship. Do you think the statement by Harold B. Lee may have had some impact? No speculation, just a careful restatement of scriptural references.

Clear statements by earlier leaders of the Church are often blunt in explaining God the Father was the father of the flesh of Christ. Those statements invariably arise at a time early in Church history, when the concept of God creating the body of Christ in any way other than sexually may have been beyond comprehension. The fact of such statements is nevertheless irrelavent, since such statements are the opinions of the Church leaders, and not accepted or established doctrine.

So if the good evangelical brother who took two hours to repeatedly call me a liar is reading my website, show up with some real proof next time, and put your 1972 Family Home Evening manual away. Then maybe stop trying to define LDS doctrine the way you want it, and instead read the actual, official statements of the Church. Joseph F. Smith in 1917 speaking unofficially does not count, even in a 1972 FHE manual. It was an illustration, and composed of his opinion. In an official comment in 1912, President Smith is far less emphatic about the need for a sexual relationship. That statement read:

It was our Father in Heaven who begat the spirit of him who was "the Firstborn" of all the spirits that come to this earth, and who was, also his Father by the Virgin Mary, making him "the only begotten in the flesh." Read Luke 1:26-35. Where is Jesus called "the only begotten of the Holy Ghost?" He is always singled out as "the only begotten of the Father." (John 1:14; 3:16, 18, &c) The Holy Ghost came upon Mary, and her conception was under that influence, even of the spirit of life; our Father in Heaven was the Father of the Son of Mary, to whom the Savior prayed, as did our earthly father Adam.

That was an official statement by the First Presidency, signed by the entire presidency, in 1912. Definitely does not require God to have had sexual intercourse with Mary. But feel free to keep quoting from the personal opinions of Church leaders commenting outside their capacity as prophets. It just proves again who is really seeking to be sincere. Why don't you write the Church and ask them directly if it is the doctrine of the Church to say God had sex with Mary, and if it is their understanding that the 1972 FHE manual is the definite articulation of that doctrine? That would be too easy. You would get an answer you wouldn't like.

On to Sunday. This will be a blast.