Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mormon Coffee Closes Discussion on Free Speech with Mormons

This is a weird thing for me. I had responded to a post about Mormons and Evangelicals debating, and how I find Evangelicals who "reach out" to Mormons are usually unBiblical in their approach, and are generally unChristian as well. I accidentally addressed it to Aaron Shafovaloff, when it should have been directed to Sharon Lindbloom, both of Mormon Research Ministry (MRM). If you like, you can see the exchange here.

What's weird is that I only posted once, and wanted to apologize for mislabeling to whom my remarks should have been directed. Instead, after deflecting the substance of my comments by demonstrating precisely my point which was: Aaron doesn't preach what he believes, but tries to contrast what he believes against what he says Mormons believe; They then discontinued further comments.

The truth is Aarons characterizations of LDS doctrine are precisely at issue here. He has notions about LDS doctrine around forgiveness of sin (You must be perfect in your behavior, says Aaron, or else LDS leaders say you will go hell), perceptions of scripture (Mormons don't really believe the Bible so much as tolerate it as an unauthoritative trick play), and my personal spirituality (he knows I am not born again through some means, which allows him to therefore consider me a target for his form of preaching), all leads him to ignore the Bible's message on proselyting: Gentle, respectful, and go away if they don't want to speak to you.

Instead, I got this response:
And I [Aaron] don’t share the notion that any public criticism of Mormonism in street preaching is automatically uncivil or disrespectful. It’s part of the task of calling you to repentance. You don’t like that, and it seems you never will until you are born again, and until then you’ll keep defining “civility” and “respect” as that which excludes public, heralding criticism and calls to repentance.
I of course never said ANY public criticism of Mormonism is uncivil. In fact, I cited two people who are decidedly NOT in favor of Mormonism as examples of how to act consistent with the Bible.

Moreover, I don't have a problem responding to a call to repent. Since Aaron presumes to know my heart, he feels equally confident expounding upon my sins and pride. The point is not his "right" to call me or anyone to repent. He has that right. The point is the way he does it is not scriptural for post-crucifixtion Christians.

Which brings me to Sharon. Apparently they decided that discussing Evangelical and Mormon proselyting styles was not a topic they wished to continue receiving comments on. Sharon made a response, essentially saying that Acts 17-19 and 2 Tim 2:23-25 supported their behavior at MRM, and then they turned comments off. So let me respond here, at some considerable depth (sorry for those of you rolling your eyes in the "here goes dad again" fashion).

I don't know what you see in Acts 17-19 that you find supports public attacks on other faiths by Christians, better known as "Confrontational Evangelism" among its advocates. I have written on the subject before, but you drove me to dig to try to find if I had missed something by the confident manner you through out these chapters to support such abuse of liberty. So I have written a comprehensive list of every missionary opportunity contained in those three chapters, which I will attach below. To say the least, I am still scratching my head. Where do you find even a single incident to support the idea that going to people who don't want to talk with you, or attacking the faith of others, is present anywhere in these passages? The words 'repent' and 'repentance' each occur only once in these three chapters, and they are done in speeches NOT addressed to any particular person (see 17:30 and 19:4) or even the people as a whole standing presently in the crowds. Indirectly, yes, but not so someone would take particular notice of an attack on their faith. Instead, in the 13 missionary vignettes contained in those three chapters, we find Paul leaving EVERY TIME he engages people who resist him. Not just "usually", but every single time. In fact, Paul taught publicly for 2 years during this period in an open lecture hall where only people came who wanted to learn about Christianity.

As I note in example 13, after 3 years of living in Ephesus, the people who accused Paul of attacking their belief in idols were unable to produce a single witness to testify of Paul attacking the goddess Diana. NOT ONE. Yet we have Aaron proudly describing his contrasting method using wrongly contextualized passages from Isaiah to show how he is fine describing his faith in terms of what the LDS faith is not. This is the very opposite of what you claim is contained in these three chapters. Now for the list:
1. Acts 17:1-9 Paul’s preaching is exclusively about Jesus, nothing noted about attacking the Jews or anyone else.

2. Acts 17:10-15 Famous Berean Jews. But they welcomed Paul. And he teaches Jesus, not that they are stupid.

3. Acts 17:16-18 Paul is said to argue with Jews and others in public. But what does verse 18 say he proclaims? Polytheism, since he described Jesus being resurrected and the Gospel. He does not say anything against their beliefs. In fact, Paul obviously says nothing about their beliefs at all, since they interpreted his teaching through the lens of their understanding of the gods.

4. Acts 17:19-34 Famous Mars Hill, where Paul was invited to speak, (did you notice that Sharon?) and he proclaims the “Unknown God”, Jesus Christ. His message is the Gospel and the resurrection. His recorded proclamation to repent (vs.30), to those in the audience who invited him to speak, is in no way directed as a personal attack or even an intrusion at their event. He was, after all, the invited speaker, not just a self-appointed proclaimer.

5. Acts 18:1-7 Paul goes to Corinth, and argues with the Jews in the synagogue that Jesus is the Christ. He stops when they become completely unwilling to listen, and vows to never go back to teaching them. In other words, if they don’t want him, he doesn’t go to them.

6. Acts 18:7-17 Paul teaches many converts. Acts does not ascribe any particular message of what Paul is preaching, but the Jews say he is persuading people to worship God in ways not prescribed in the Law. So his message did not attack the Law or Jews, but advocated a belief outside of the Jews understanding.

7. Acts 18:18-21 Paul goes to Ephesus, and is, again, INVITED to speak in the synagogue. In fact, they want him to stay longer.

8. Acts 18:22-23 Paul travels to Caesarea, Jerusalem, Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the members of the Church. In fact, in his letters back to those regions, there is no indication that he attacks any other faith. He simply teaches Jesus and the Gospel.

9. Acts 18:24-28 Apollos, having only been imperfectly taught the Way of God, Paul’s friends Priscilla and Aquila hear him launching on the Jews, and take him aside to correct his understanding. Guess what? He then only refutes Jewish misunderstanding by demonstrating Jesus is the Messiah from the scriptures.

10. Acts 19:1-7 Paul teaches some folks who thought they had joined the Church that they didn’t have it correct, and taught them about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

11. Acts 19:8-10 Paul speaks and argues persuasively in the synagogue in Ephesus. When they stubbornly refused to believe him, he leaves. He then holds discussions (yes, that is the word in the NIV) in a lecture hall where people interested could come and hear. This was in the fashion of modern college instruction settings where a professor could lecture and respond to inquiries from those in attendance. Not a "drive by" confrontational preaching setting, but those interested could come.

12. Acts 19:11-20 A vignette is inserted to show the power of God. Paul blesses handkerchiefs, which are then taken to the sick, and they are healed. The incident of the sons of Sceva is told, as well as the conversion of many as a result of hearing of this powerful story. I like how the devils laugh at the sons' lame attempt to use the name of Jesus.

13. Acts 19:21-41 Perhaps the single clearest example that Paul NEVER teaches against other faiths. This is where pagan silversmiths realize the huge impact on their business as Paul racks up thousands of Christian converts. So they riot, claiming Paul and his group are teaching that “gods made with hands are not gods” (vs. 26, NRSV). They dragged two of Paul’s traveling companions to the theater, and there the town clerk sets the record straight. He disbands the crowd by telling them that in fact Paul and his people “are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess,”(vs 37, NRSV) and says they must bring charges in court or risk punishment for disorderly conduct. The bottom line: After 3 years of living in Ephesus, they could not find a single witness who could say that Paul had ever said anything against the local goddess, Diana/Artemis. Think about that. He taught in an open lecture hall for two years to anyone who would walk in, and they could not find a single witness to confirm he had taught against any specific belief. He had only taught Jesus.

You also seem to totally miss what Paul is instructing Timothy in 2 Tim 2:23-26. First of all, you don't seem to want to accept what verse 23 is saying: Don't engage in strife. Next, Paul tells them to avoid arguing and verbally fighting. "A slave of the Lord ought not to fight" (Literal Greek translation) seems pretty obvious. But the word "fight" means to battle, as in at least two soldiers facing off against each other, and in Biblical usage means to engage in "fighting, quarrels, strife, disputes" (BDAG, page 622, entry "mache"). Paul uses the verb form of mache from verse 23 in his next statement quoted above in verse 24, commanding Timothy "not to fight".

You also seem to miss the obvious lesson from Acts 17-19 captured in 2 Tim 2. Timothy was with Paul at Mars Hill and most all of the 13 incidents contained in the 3 chapters you cite vainly for support. Timothy knows what Paul means by contending for the faith. He is with Paul almost constantly for the rest of Paul's life, starting in Derbe in Acts 16:1. Aside from two letters addressed to him, Paul cites Timothy as being with him in 8 of his letters (Romans, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thess, 2 Thess, Philemon). He is even mentioned in Hebrews. That leaves just 3 letters composed by Paul where Timothy is not explicitly mentioned as being with Paul; Galations, Ephesians and Titus.

Timothy knows that when Paul says "not to fight/quarrel", he means don't attack another man's faith. In fact, when Paul says to avoid entertaining foolish disputes and to respond patiently, Timothy knows Paul means to keep teaching the Gospel. Because he saw that, and that is the language Paul uses. He doesn't say "Draw contrasts between the truth of our faith with the lies of others to provoke arguments." NO. He says the exact opposite: "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels...Those who oppose [God's bond servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of truth."

Paul notes to the Corinthians that he was sent "not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." (1 Cor 1:17). So that complicated, compare and contrast style Aaron believes is correct is not how Paul did it, since it negated the Cross. But Maybe Aaron is more powerful, learned or insightful than Paul, and need not follow his example. It could happen. Sure it could.

Every time Paul talks about preaching, 100% of the time the message is about Jesus and the Gospel, and never is preaching intended to start a debate about the other person's faith. It is always a debate about Jesus. Talking about Joseph Smith is exactly the kind of satanic preaching Paul describes as foolishness. If you really believe we have the wrong system of beliefs, tell us about yours. That is the Biblical model.

This is another case where I believe people such as MRM simply indulge their personal lust for argument, and ignore the plain teaching of the Bible through self-serving filtering of the words of scripture. It is literally inconceivable that Paul, who ALWAYS walks away from religious strife if his presence is not wanted or if he cannot stick to preaching the Gospel and Jesus, and has had Timothy at his side for most of the years of this example, right from the verses you mistakenly cite, and he commands Timothy "not to fight/quarrel" over silly questions; to repeat, it is inconceivable to any rational reading of Paul's letter to think he is giving his OK to confrontational evangelism or seeking out people to offend the masses through holding of signs with offensive slogans, even if you think the slogan is true. Remember, three years of teaching among pagan worshippers of Diana, and not a single instance of him negatively commenting about the prevailing religion. And we have this of his interaction in the Jewish synagogue's and the temple:

Acts 24:12 And they neither found me [Paul] in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city:

Timothy was there with Paul in Ephesus for nearly all of the three years as near as we can tell. He was with Paul in Jerusalem when Paul is defending himself. Is Paul lying in front of those with whom he has travelled for years? If so, then Paul is lying for the Lord, right?

MRM, in my opinion, simply doesn't understand scripture. Which is why MRM is unqualified to call me or anyone else to repentance: They don't know what to repent from or change to. False teachers, however, will call night day, and try to lead from the light to the dark. Thus it is easy to show from MRM's representatives' statements alone that they are the ones who have "another Gospel", even without determining the truth of Mormonism. You can't teach falsehoods about scripture and have any spiritual authority.

That is what I wanted to say, if they had not turned the comments off on their article about the free exchange of ideas between Mormons and Evangelicals. Funny, huh, that they accuse the Mormons of being thin skinned about criticism, but they turn the comments off when the discussion swings against them. Hmm. What do we call that when we assume we don't have to live by the standards we demand from others?



Clean Cut said...

I have long been in disbelief about the way people justify their uncivil and very disrespectful evangelistic actions as "biblical". Thanks for the thoughts.

BHodges said...

Pretty in-depth analysis to which I will likely refer back to in the future. Thanks.