Sunday, December 19, 2010

Am I worthy?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.(Matt 5:48)
1 ¶ I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,(Eph 4:1)
4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.(Rev 3:4)

Anti-Mormons will often describe the Gospel as declared by the LDS faith as being an "Impossible Gospel of Mormonism". They assert that Mormons must be essentially sinless to be worthy of salvation in the celestial kingdom. They make this assertion based on a highly selective and flawed reading of works by LDS authors such as Spencer W. Kimball's "The Miracle of Forgiveness", without any attempt to provide context or, for that matter, complete citations from within the work, or in the larger scheme, from official sources.

So let's break this down for a moment. The "perfect" spoken of in Matthew 5:48 is not about an inerrant, sinless type of existence. The word translated as "perfect" is better rendered "complete". Be complete as the Father is complete. This statement comes at the end of the Beatitudes, the nature of existence about which we should strive to be. None of the Beatitudes say "Don't ever sin", since such an admonition is patently impossible for a human. Instead, it encourages us to love, be kind, be forgiving and make peace with all people. The closest Jesus comes to saying "be sinless" is in noting the "pure in heart" shall see God (which, to state the obvious, means Jesus is not asserting he is God, or else it would have been fulfilled for those who are also NOT pure in heart). The word pure, "Katharos" (Gk) (like the word "cathartic"), means to be clean, innocent, unstained with the guilt of anything, having pure desires.

The state of "purity" is attained only through the Atonement of Christ through faith. One cannot be "pure in heart" if they have no desire to be pure in the Biblical sense, or they will not seek purity through Jesus.

We know this to be the case because Paul tell us to be pure, and even more significantly, John notes there are in fact "worthy" people in Sardis, who shall walk in white (symbol of purity) with Jesus. These are part of the series of comments about the various Churches, and at the end John notes that Jesus will make those that over come pillars in the Temple of God, never to go out again, with God's name written on their forehead. (Rev 3:12, 18-21).

Revelation 3 makes it clear that Jesus is the source of purity (Rev 3:18), but that we are in fact responsible for accepting him, retaining him and repenting as we make errors, which is how we are worthy (Rev 3:20; 3:10 and 3:19, respectively).

How are we worthy then? Not by unfailing exactness or never failing obedience, but by becoming complete. That means that when we are disobedient, we repent, but we try to stay clean. If perfection were the requirement for the LDS, as ascribed by its critics, then the LDS Church would have excised those "corrupt" passages of scripture which offer us, indeed command us, to repent. We would also have no need for talking the sacrament weekly, or "repent speedily"(D&C 65:13), one of some 75 direct admonitions in the D&C for people, in and out of the Church, to repent.

So be worthy. That means have the attitude of pure thoughts, eschew evil, and repent of your sins through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and therefore walk worthy of the high calling of salvation, walking in white with Jesus. How great is that opportunity given to mankind. How sad for those who think accepting Christ is only done with the mouth or heart, and not the feet (Romans 10:8-16) or by obedience.

Be perfect this Christmas.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Trying to Call Hateful Acts Love

I was at General Conference for the priesthood session downtown yesterday, and rather than fight with the anti's before hand, I saw Van Hale, and he suggested I visit the Church History Museum, which I did. They have some great items on exhibit.

I then went to Priesthood in the Tabernacle, and spoke with a few folks afterwards, and went to my soccer game.

Nothing really remarkable. But I was struck by the hate speech of Lonnie and others, which they attempt to justify as Christian love for the lost, and a defense of the Christian faith.

So first, let's define the word "Defense". It means to protect. No one can misconstrue the difference between national defense, for example, and an act of war. Putting up walls around your castle did not mean you were marching on your enemies' castles. It is pure "future speak" to call war a defense.

No one can read my columns and say "Bob is anti-Catholic". Or anti-Protestant, or Anti-Evangelical. I would concede I border on anti-TULIP, simply because I write very pointedly of their differences to the LDS faith.

I am definitely "anti-anti", that is, I have no qualms engaging specific individuals arguments. I do not believe I engage in Ad Hominem attacks against the critics as a means of argumentation. To be specific, I don't say "Shawn McCraney is a liar about everything, so his arguments against the Church are obviously wrong." No, I describe his specific arguments, and show where they are wrong, and as with some writers I have engaged, I will point out things which I believe can be observed as so obviously in error, they are either lying or too ignorant to be taken seriously.

But even these conversations I attempt to do in a civil manner, as any viewing of my interactions with anti-Mormons on Youtube clearly illustrate.

So back to the unChristian protesters at Temple Square. What can we say about them? They have objects which in LDS religious settings are considered religiously important. Priesthood clothing articles, the Book of Mormon, pictures of LDS leaders or religious vignettes. And they mock them all.

Paul noted that a Pastor must have a good reputation with the non-believers (1Tim 3:7). Since Shawn McCraney, for example, claims to be a pastor, such a claim does not hold up to even basis scrutiny. Nor upon a deeper review, owing to his own public admission of having committed the physical act of adultery against his marriage, and his acknowledge ongoing issues around committing adultery in his heart. He can certainly be a disciple of Christ, but such actions, I believe, disqualify him to be a Pastor.

Lonnie Purciful likewise claims to be a pastor. REALLY! If Shawn McCraney is disqualified as a pastor, Lonnie is literally a thousand times worse. His attacks against LDS and non-LDS alike place him outside of Christianity. In fact, his approach is really one which defines him as the arbiter of the definition of what is "Truth". He rejects most other non-LDS Christians, and so has managed to marginalize his importance in the efforts at conversion away from any faith he attacks.

In other words, as rude, uncivil and mean-spirited as Lonnie and his group is, they do fulfill prophecy. They are they who believe no one can teach them anything, and are comfortable acting as the persecutors of the humble who simply love God and seek to live a life in conformity to the teachings of God.

We should love Lonnie, and thank him. Many, many people have joined the LDS Church because of people like Lonnie. Their persecution of the LDS faith provides the context for us to defend our faith. And people see the difference between sharing what you believe, and ignorantly attacking what you don't believe.

We should contend for the Faith. We should attack no other faith.

Joseph Smith asked which church he should join, and was told to join none, for they were all in error. Were that not the case, the Restoration would not be necessary. So too Jesus established His Church because the Jewish faith had gone astray. So back through time. That Jesus felt the Jews were people in error within his faith is clear from his continued attendance and involvement with the Jewish faith. Though the Jews eventually through the Christians out, the Christians still feel brotherhood to the Jews.

So to the LDS. We share a common heritage of faith. While we acknowledge our brothers to have significant errors because of their not having the light of prophetic leadership, we still view them as brothers and sisters in Christ. There was no Trinitarian test of faith to know Jesus of the Gospels and the Bible.

And like those early Christians, Mormons are rejected by those brothers, and persecuted for daring to point out where the primitive faith was corrupted and is now restored. There is no anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant "ministries" in the LDS Church. Period. It is a sign of which faith is true.

Likewise, the fact that "Christians" will defend Lonnie and Shawn and others as legitimate expressions of Christian outreaches, shows all of those groups to actually not be "Christian" by the simplest of definitions. They don't follow Christ's or the Biblical model of evangelizing those outside their faith. And they don't do it with respect and meekness (1Pet 3:15-16).

So we invite you to come learn of Christ with us. We reject the hateful speech, actions and evil spirit carried by such. The contrast between Good and Evil is obvious.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

El Beth El, The Place Where Gods Appeared (Gen 35:7)

Apologies in advance for the length of this thing.

One of the most common assertions about the Hebrew faith by modern Christians and Jews is that the Bible is about a monotheistic faith delivered to Abraham.

When Mormons discuss that by revelation, God has explained that is not the case, but that the destiny of mankind is to follow in the footsteps of God (who has feet, Gen 3:8), and sit on his throne, by invitation and through overcoming the world (Rev 3:21), to rule and reign with God and Jesus, they are attacked as attempting to replace God and change the Faith to polytheism. Mormons don't believe they will ever replace God the Father, or no longer worship him as God.

But the obvious issue here is this creates a type of polytheism in Mormonism. Not that they worship multiple Gods, for in one sense there really is only one God, as the Shema of Deut 6:4 says. They are in complete harmony, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but they are distinct beings who in simple terms share the same mind, that is they are in perfect union of thought because perfection in godhood leads to the same values and desires, and so they share the "mind of God" (Alma 36:4, D&C Official Declaration 1 comments, Moses 4:6, Rom 8:27), which is the holy Spirit, as taught in Lectures on Faith 5:2, which is sometimes twisted by critics to try to say there is some kind of binary godhead in the LDS faith, because the Spirit is described as the method of creating the "mind of god" between the Father and Son and Humankind as well, even though the lecture also states:
these three are one; or, in other words, these three constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme, power over all things; by whom all things were created and made that were created and made, and these three constitute the Godhead, and are one;
going on to state of the relationship of man to the godhead:
...the Spirit of the Father, which Spirit is shed forth upon all who believe on his name and keep his commandments; and all those who keep his commandments shall grow up from grace to grace, and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ; possessing the same mind, being transformed into the same image or likeness, even the express image of him who fills all in all; being filled with the fullness of his glory, and become one in him, even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.

Lectures on Faith were removed in 1921 from the D&C (effectively removing the "Doctrine" part, as historically that is what that part of the D&C referenced)because they really were essentially Sunday School lessons prepared for the early Church, and had never been officially endorsed as inspired writings. Their explanation of doctrines is in a style which can lead to some misunderstandings or nuanced differences in light of later revelations and official doctrinal statements by the Church, such as the somewhat ambiguous teaching about the nature of the Spirit, which can be read in two very different ways, and was clarified in D&C 130:22-23. Since the lectures were never accepted by the Church as "official" scripture, their removable was only mildly controversial within the Church, and is now seen as no more significant than the change of the topical guide or chapter headings.

Anyway, despite the critics of the LDS Church's contention that the idea of their being multiple real gods was a doctrinal evolution in the Church from the 1830's-40's, D&C 76, dating from Feb 1832, makes the existence of "gods",and the destiny of humanity to potentially become like God and gods themselves, explicit (D&C 76:58).

Starting in the 20th Century, the archaeological evidence began to bring to life the previously ignored textual evidence of the Hebrew faith being believers in the existence of multiple real gods, in a way similar to their Canaanite neighbors. The discovery of the Ugaritic texts from Syria in the late 1920's did not have significant impact on Biblical interpretation until they began receiving broad scholarly dissemination in the 1960's and beyond. Today the work of Raphael Patai and Mark Smith, as well as a host of other scholars including Michael Heiser (a non-LDS Christian who attends a Reformed church, and works for Logos Bible Software as their academic editor)and his extensive writings on the Divine Council make defense of "exclusive monotheism" untenable as the teaching of the original Hebrew religion.

The Place where Gods Appeared

Finally, we start to engage the scripture in Genesis 35:7. The King James Bible records:
7 And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.

There are a couple of very interesting items within this verse. First, the name "Elbethel" actually means "God's house of God", because this was the place where God appeared to Jacob. Today we still say that the Temple is the "House of the Lord" and that God visits his holy temples, as he apparently has done throughout history.

But secondly, and even more significantly, is what the King James Version ignores. The word for "appeared", galah is translated as a singular. But in fact, it is a plural. Coupled as it is with "elohim", the correct and accurate translation should be "there gods appeared unto him".

This has many, many theological and historical implications.

First, because Moses uses "El" and "Elohim" in the statement about naming the place and the plurality of "El"s, it is not possible to contend (as Michael Heiser and other critics of the LDS Church often do) that there is an "ontological" difference between Elohim/Jehovah, and the other 'elohim'. (Ontological means "nature of existence", and is asserted to mean in its application to Elohim/Jehovah, that He is self-existent, but the other 'gods' are contingently existent, based on Elohim/Jehovah creating them). The assertion is that the other "elohim' are really more like angels than 'gods'. Moses' statement about what happened to Jacob makes such a contention impossible to maintain. Moses/Jacob lumps El into the same bucket as the other "elohim"/gods that appear to Jacob.e learn from this verse that the statements from Deut 32:8-9, Ps 82, Ps 95:3, Ps 97:7, 9; or Genesis 3:5, 22 do not discriminate about the nature of existence between "El/Elohim/Jehovah" and the other 'gods'.

This inevitably results in some unschooled critic shooting me a note about Isaiah 43:10 and saying "if god doesn't know of any other gods, Mormonism must be false."

Oh that one need never do research, our prejudices would be so much easier to maintain.

It turns out that no one who has actually studied the cultural context of the Hebrew people in light of the Ugaritic texts and other archaeological finds from Israel believe the verse is about anything other than idols or the superiority of Jehovah to the other real gods which cannot save us. Scholars point out Isaiah references the Divine Council himself, and so he is not saying there are no other real gods. He is saying men can make no real gods. He is also not addressing what God holds in store for humanity.

If we stick to the strict language applied to the verses like Isaiah 43:10 invoked by LDS critics stretching for proof of this being a statement against the existence of other real gods, then we must concede that God notes that there was also a time before his own creation.

Of course the answer by the critics is essentially "don't stick my sacred cow with your interpretation". Well, why don't we read this like those folks of Isaiah's day would have read it. But to do so gets you into Mark Smith's or Michael Heisers, or similar experts, who flatly deny the verses are making any claim about the existence of other real gods. Here are a few examples:

In briefest terms, the statements in the canonical text (poetic or otherwise) inform the reader that, for the biblical writer, Yahweh was an אלהים [elohim] , but no other [elohim]אלהים was Yahweh—and never was nor could be. This notion allows for the existence of other אלהים [elohim] and is more precise than the terms “polytheism” and “henotheism.” It is also more accurate than “monotheism,” though it preserves the element of that conception that is most important to traditional Judaism and Christianity: Yahweh’s solitary “otherness” with respect to all that is, in heaven and in earth.

But on what grounds can this description be derived? The elements of the text that allow this approach have been copiously documented in the scholarly literature. As Isaiah 43:10 and 44:6-8 affirm, the canonical writers assume that their God was uncreated and always existed, and that the other gods were subsequent. This alone points to intrinsic superiority to and distinction from all the other gods.[Michael Heiser, Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible, pg 23

Reading Heiser, one is struck by his insightful reading, yet difficult balancing act, as he tries to harmonize a traditional doctrine of Trinitarianism with his research results. Traditional Christianity doesn't believe there were any additional divine beings, period. They call it "exclusive monotheism". Heiser is essentially saying to traditional Christians, "Don't get hung up on the words, look at the faith and not the labels of the early Christians and Jews." Of course, his belief that there can be any additional real gods, regardless of their inferiority to to Jehovah or not, is unacceptable to almost all unschooled traditional Christians, and requires a change of view by them. While his position is not as radical as Mormonism is to traditional Christianity, it is not traditional Christianity.

Finally, while I have the highest respect for Heiser's work, I think he is straining to try to retain his faith. As Genesis 35:7 shows, the Hebrews did not feel a need to differentiate between the types of "Elohim". His method of differentiating between the types of Elohim and Jehovah boils down in his writing to placing his entire emphasis on a two verses, Neh 9:6, and Ps 33:6, which say that God "made" (Heb. "asah" Strongs 6213, to make from existing material, BDB pp 793-5)the hosts of heaven.

Heiser's argument is that because Jehovah "made" the host of heaven, which are 'gods'/elohim, he has a different type of existence than those elohim he has created. That assumes that the cycle or process of creating 'elohim' starts with Jehovah. Such an assertion is absent from the Bible. Jehovah/God is concerned about our existence. There is not Biblical conversation about the "time", as it were, before Jehovah organized this planet. From Everlasting, from all eternity, is a very long time. Especially when it passes without comment.

Moreover, Heiser's argument by necessity relegates Jesus to a position of 'ontological inferiority' to Jehovah, since Hebrews 2:6-18 and Hebrews 12:9 make it clear that the Father made the spirits of all men and Jesus too. Instead of demoting man to an inferior existence, as is the case with traditional Christianity, the Bible in fact elevates man kind to a quality equal to God's, though we are beneath him.

Acts 17:29
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.

Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
10 ¶ For it became him, for whom [are] all things, and by whom [are] all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified [are] all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.
14 ¶ Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
16 For verily he took not on [him the nature of] angels; but he took on [him] the seed of Abraham.
17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto [his] brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things [pertaining] to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

The Bible may differentiate in how gods came to be gods, but it never approaches the idea that any god's existence is inferior in terms of its capability or existence compared to Jehovah. Throughout the Old Testament, Jesus is Jehovah, or the mouth piece of the Father, so the role of Jesus in the OT is sometimes hard to detect. But we do see that in the NT, according to Heiser's criteria, Jesus would be an inferior God.

Yet I believe the reason Jacob states that Gods appeared to him at ElBethEl is because he saw two Gods, the Father and the Son. The Biblical text explicitly supports that he did see two real Gods. That makes the faith of the Bible similar to the faith of the LDS Church.

Sorry for the length of this blog post, but the concepts require a lot of interaction with the arguments of critics to really show that the faith of the LDS is in fact Biblical and defendable.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Jesus: Not Really The Son of God?

Mormons are regularly said to have "another Jesus" than the traditional Jesus of Christianity. I don't find that offensive, even though it is said in the context to attack our beliefs as unBiblical.

But this is a case of "Please don't look too close at our Jesus" by the attackers.

Trinitarian Jesus is not really the son of God, in any meaningful sense of the word "son". Nor is there really a "father".

A son, in the context of a dictionary definition, is:
1. a : a human male offspring especially of human beings
b : a male adopted child
c : a human male descendant

2 capitalized : the second person of the Trinity

3 : a person closely associated with or deriving from a formative agent (as a nation, school, or race) (Webster Online).

The first thing you note is that the second person of the Trinity is not a human male offspring, a male adopted child, or a human male descendant. He is something else.

So they made up a category: A name. Unconnected to anything which could mean an actual relationship.

A typical definition of the trinity follows along these lines:
The three Biblical doctrines that flow directly into the river that is the Trinity are as follows:

1) There is one and only one God, eternal, immutable.

2) There are three eternal Persons described in Scripture - the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. These Persons are never identified with one another - that is, they are carefully differentiated as Persons.

3) The Father, the Son, and the Spirit, are identified as being fully deity---that is, the Bible teaches the Deity of Christ and the Deity of the Holy Spirit. [Alpha & Omega Ministries]

The three persons are not "generated" by any one of the other persons of the Trinity, otherwise there would be a time when "the Father" would cease to be "the Father", because without a son, there can be no father. Arianism was the idea that the Son was a created being. That was the first great heresy of Christian doctrine, and required the Council of Nicea to resolve. This also led to the doctrine of the "two natures" of Jesus, to explain why he could appear to be human and yet be fully God as well. The "filioque" also came out of this, the idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, instead of just the Father. The filioque doctrine is largely responsible for the split between the Eastern and Latin Churches in 1054 AD.

For Mormons, God is literally their Father, as he is the father of spirits (Hebrews 12:9), the creator of their pre-existent spirit (Eccl 12:7). Jesus is their brother (Hebrews 2:9-14), the son of God in a literal sense as well.

And let's not forget that Mormons believe we are the "offspring of God", the "genos" of God, springing from the same family line (Acts 17:29).

When John 1:12 tells us we can become the sons of God through accepting him. This, in the context, is the ability to return to God and see him, as John 1:18 notes, having been born IN THIS LIFE of God. So note that Acts, Hebrews and Ecclesiastes are talking about our birth BEFORE this life, John is talking about faith working to salvation in this life and in the future.

Jesus himself notes his deference to the superior position of God to him in that he notes in John 10 that the titles of "god" as used in scripture is actually superior to his title as "son of god" (John 10:33-36), though he was a son before his earthly birth.

So scripture says Jesus and humanity are all sons. It notes he had a superior pre-existence, was always a god himself. So how does a being who was always God,refer to another being as "the only true God"?

Jesus can only be a son if there is something about his relationship that makes him a male offspring or descendant of the father in the same way we are. Otherwise Hebrews 2 is meaningless. So too Hebrews 12.

The false doctrine of monolatry, of not understanding the henotheistic nature of there being multiple real gods has led to the false doctrine of the Trinity. The Father in the Trinity didn't really father anyone or anything related to Jesus. He is co-eternal with Jesus in the relationship of Father-Son. The title 'father' in fact implies existence prior to the son. It is simple word games to say the Father and the Son must be co-existent because the titles would be incorrect. Yet a father provides the source DNA in humans before the child exists.

What does the "Father" in Trinitarian thought provide the "Son" which is essential to his creation as a son?

Nothing. Because the Trinity is one god expressed as three persons, the roles of the Father and the Son may as well have been selected by slot machine. Nothing is unique about the Father or the Son that could not have been reversed prior to the Son's mortal incarnation. It is simply a role of respect: The Son respects the Father in Trinitarianism. He may have lost at "Rock, Paper, Scissors", and therefore is obligated to respect him. But there is nothing unique about the Father's being which could not be entirely demonstrated in the Son's being. Now the holy Spirit, he proceeds from the Father and (for some) the Son, so he is different. So too, the Son is "generated" from the Father, yet in Trinitarian theology the Father cannot be divided from the Son, since they come from the one essence of God, which they mutually share. Yeah, sure this is all the truth about God.

Since Jesus is generated in a way which does not come from either creation or produce existence, being a "Son" is truly the most meaningless use of a word which had, prior to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, a clear and universally understood meaning. Do we really think all the New Testament authors decided to play word games, and ignore the clear meaning of the word, especially when Paul uses the concept of "heir" in Romans 8 to say our inheritance is identical to that of Jesus', that we are "joint heirs"?

It is true that Mormons have another Jesus. We have Jesus the Son of God, the Biblical Jesus.

We are not confused.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Myths and Stories

Mormons and non-Mormons, and yes anti-Mormons, all have their favorite 'true' stories they love to tell. Unfortunately, because history is a complex tapestry of events, and requires some form of editing to tell the story, we find the regular accusation of one side or the other "lying" or "deceiving" to get their story out with their spin.

I try to deal with the problem by reading both sides of an issue in attempting to make a decision about what history might actually have been. If you look at my personal library, I probably by a ratio of three or four to one own non-LDS books, and I probably own about 1/2 as many anti-Mormon books as Mormon-authored books, the vast majority of my library consisting of non-LDS scholarly works.

So let's discuss a few issues which are commonly discussed using the ever authoritative "everybody knows" author.

1. Wes Walters proved there was no revival in 1820, therefore Joseph Smith lied about the First Vision.
False. The Rev. Wesley Walters is most famous for finding, and then stealing, a document he said showed Joseph Smith was convicted of "glass looking". He only returned the document when he was threatened with charges for the unlawful removal of the document. In any event, subsequent analysis has shown that according to the fees in place for a constable and justice of the peace, Joseph Smith was only charged, but was found not guilty.

In any event, prior to finding this document, a 1967 article about revivals in the Palmyra area put Walters on the anti-Mormon historian map. He asserted there was no record of a revival in the Palmyra area in 1820. This led to frantic activity by LDS scholars to verify his assertion, and see if evidence to the contrary existed. Walters took the position that he was an unbiased and open seeker of truth, and that he simply had a heart for the deceived Mormon people. That was his position until irrefutable proof of the existence of not just revivals in Palmyra was discovered, but that there were in fact huge numbers of converts in the period from 1817-1820 (See Backman's, "The First Vision", Chapters 3-5 and appendices P & Q, and D. Michael Quinn's 2006 article (hard to find now on the Internet, but I have a copy)"Joseph Smith's Experience of a Methodist 'Camp Meeting' in 1820", wherein he points out that they told Walters about the camp meetings in the Palmyra area back in 1969, and he thereafter refused to engage the LDS scholarly community, and essentially played to the sympathetic, uninformed and trusting anti-LDS community. He lied about the existence of any evidence in a 1980 article, and never came clean before his 1990 death. I must point out the irony of a man who attacks Joseph Smith for making up events and deceiving people who himself consciously stole documents from government offices and outright lies about the very existence of sources after previously acknowledging them in his writings.

So we have documented revivals in the Palmyra-Manchester area from 1817 through 1820 by non-LDS sources. The assertion that Joseph got confused about 1824 revivals has no merit. Joseph's story of heavy religious activity in the Palmyra area is confirmed.

2. Joseph Smith used a curtain to separate himself from his scribes during the translation of the Book of Mormon.
Answer: Mostly false. There was a very brief period of a few days during the time Joseph was translating with Martin Harris when they put up a curtain. But this was the exception. They did put a curtain over the front door to the house to get people to not look in just passing by, but everyone in the house could see what was going on, if they cared to look.

The translation process really is divided into two parts. During the early translation time, before the 116 pages were lost, Joseph would wear the breast plate with the silver glass bow attached at the shoulder, containing the translators.

After the plates were returned following the loss of the pages, Joseph used the Seer Stone exclusively in the hat with a small hole for light. Apparently the silver bow was uncomfortable to wear. Joseph had confidence in the seer stone based on his earlier experiences, so I am sure after prayerful consideration, he made the change.

Interestingly, translation was always a wide open process in the home of wherever he was translating. Everyone saw what was happening. Thus Emma noted in an interview with her son that it was impossible for Joseph to have any books or manuscripts to copy from, since he was in plain view and she would have seen them. This is devastating news to anti-Mormons, who envision Joseph behind a curtain reading the Isaiah passages directly from the Bible, changing the occasional word. (Did I mention there was no Bible in the home when the Isaiah passages were translated? True. Makes it hard to read from a book which isn't there.)

So what of the plates being seen by everyone? Well, it turns out that Joseph never looks at the bare plates during translation. They are in a box or a large bag while sitting on the table or nearby. In at least one instance, he translated using the Seer stone while the plates were not in the house at all. This is not really shocking when seen in the context that the translation was achieved by the "gift and power of God", and not by human intelligence. Joseph is having the translation communicated to him via divine means.

Why do we have those classic pictures in Ward libraries showing Joseph with his finger on the plates, sometimes with Oliver seeing the plates, and not Urim and Thummim or Seer stone? I am not really sure. I have looked at this from a historical perspective, and it seems that starting early in the 20th Century, discussion of the mechanics of the translation virtually ceased, as use of the Book of Mormon in public preaching also was reduced. In the second half of the 20th Century there was a huge push in missionary work and reading the Book of Mormon. At that point artists offered up psuedo-realistic artwork which lacked accurate detail. The correct discussion of the process has been discussed in official LDS sources, but institutional inertia being what it is, I suspect nobody wants to take responsibility inside the Curriculum department to change.

3. Danites enforced Joseph and Brigham's dictates.
False. In fact the opposite. Initially the Danites were a more or less positive civic service organization to help the Saints. But when they turned sinister, Joseph separated them from the Church.

Related topic is people were killed or afraid of death by the Danites.
False, at least as related to Church doctrine and apostasy. Thousands left the Church for various reasons in the 1800's. Not a single assassination is tied to the Church leaders by any credible, verifiable source. When I hear this charge, I always ask for the name of someone among these masses. There is always dumb silence, or they name one or two events which have no link to Brigham Young or Joseph Smith. Name names, if you have a case, prove it.

4. Mormons are ignorant of their doctrines.
Yes and No. I know very few theologians in the Church. Most study for their own spiritual growth. In fact, a PEW survey showed Mormons study the Bible more than any other denomination's adherents. (So if Mormons are ignorant, what word do you use for those who study even less?) Most can tell you what they believe, which in my experience is pretty close to official doctrine. Most cannot tell you at any depth about controversial historical issues. And why should they? I literally have never met a non-ministerial person who even understands the issues around Biblical textual transmission and errors. I am certainly no expert, but I am informed. Most swallow what their pastor told them, and go no further. Which, I think, is generally good enough. The Bible is not true because of perfect transmission. It is true because the Spirit can testify of its truth. Just like the Book of Mormon, as the D&C says.

5. The Church is money driven.
No more so than Malachi is money driven. Financial issues drive the ability of an organization to impact the lives of believers and non-believers alike. The Church expects members to be willing to pay tithing because we all obligated to help move the ministry forward. The Church does much good with what it has. Considering it is about 1/70th the size of the Catholic Church, and makes more money than any other Church, I think that is a statement to the commitment of members, who live in the real world and not cult-like compounds attempting to control the members exposure to the world, it is even more remarkable.

6. Brigham Young ordered the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Answer: No. In fact, emphatically no. We have a copy of his memo saying to let them pass. His secretary took the original ink note he composed, wetted it with water, then pressed it against another sheet of paper to get an exact, mirror image duplicate of the note. (This was standard procedure of all 1st presidency correspondence.) He said to let them pass. Assertions of him wanting to let the Indians kill the Fancher party are likewise complete distortions of history. He certainly was OK with the Indians harrassing all non-LDS wagon parties, striving for some degree of isolation at one point in time. But there is never any OK given to kill anyone. Ever. If that were not the case, the Cedar City Stake President and leader of the local militia, Isaac Haight, would not have reportedly been quoted as saying, after ordering the attack, upon receiving the note from Pres. Young, "Too late, too late," and then began to cry. In other words, he made the decision, not BY.

7. The Church is not growing.
Well, not really true. You can do the math on the number of wards being created year over year, and that is the most accurate measure of active membership. The rate of adding wards is slowing, true. But it is growing. Now I think growth means absolutely nothing in terms of whether an organization is true or false. But expansion throughout the world is one of the signs of the times, and so is important in that way. And also the fact that there were prophecies about temples to dot the world is also important. That growth is occurring is not seriously questionable. The Church does not waste money. It won't build buildings, add ward units, etc., if there is no growth. Since 1999, there are 300 new stakes (2,542 vs. 2,865) and about 3 million members. There are over 2,700 new wards and branches (25,793 vs. 28,424. So if an average ward has 150 active members, then you are talking around 1/2 million new active members. Which is not a great retention rate, to be sure, but it is certainly growth. But it also doesn't speak to the issue of allowing wards to backfill more. I know our activity rate is above 50% in my area. But is there only 4.5 million active members worldwide? Official and anecdotal evidence would seem to be contrary to that.

8. Mormons "earn" salvation.
No. If that were the case, there would be no doctrine of the Atonement. Man DOES have a role in his salvation, but it is simply false to think that a Mormon believes he can get to heaven without Jesus' help. I think it is like driving a car up a steep hill. Jesus is the car and the gas. But we still need to get in the car, turn it on and drive. Too many "Christians" think they just need to know the car is there, and don't have to get on board.

Enough for today. Drop me a note if you have additional items.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mormonism in Mark 16:16, Faith and Ordinances= Salvation

I posed the question months ago to two folks, who never answered, so let's make it a headline:

Please answer directly, according to Mark 16:16 what does Jesus say it takes to be saved?

16he who hath believed, and hath been baptized, shall be saved; and he who hath not believed, shall be condemned. (Young's Literal Tranlsation, 1898)

This is Jesus talking. It predates all of Paul's writings. Many scholars believe Mark used the source material quoted in the Gospels much more literally than any other of the Evangelists.

The passage is remarkable for several reasons. First, grammatically it weighs faith and baptism equally for salvation.

Most non-LDS try to grab the second half of the verse for justification to ignore the parts they don't like in the first half. Jesus says, "he who hath not believed, shall be condemned."

I am not really interested in what it takes to be condemned. Anyone can be condemned. Just ignore Jesus. What I am concerned about is what does Jesus expect of me to be saved?

Believe and be baptized. In equal force. Belief is the intellectual part, so to speak, the motivational force. Baptism is the physical obedience. The requirement to not just think about salvation, but do something as well.

The letter to the Hebrews clearly recognized this:

"Although he [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. 9 And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb. 5:8-9, NET Bible).

So it is a simple request I make: Tell me why I should ignore Jesus' direct statement about what it takes to be saved, instead trying to parse from what it takes to not be saved to ignore the command to be baptized?

If I truly believe LDS doctrine is Biblical doctrine, and I do, this passage stands like a lighthouse in the darkness of false doctrines about salvation. On the other hand, for those who profess "sola scriptura", it will be interesting to hear why such a direct, clear and unqualified statement by Jesus, the author of eternal salvation, should be ignored.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Avoid the profane chatter and absurdities of so-called “knowledge.” By professing it, some have strayed from the faith

So Paul advised Timothy (1 Tim 6:20-21)noting that believing in trying to win and retain converts through "knowledge" (gr, 'gnosis'), you run a risk of losing them to those arguments. That is because Paul recognizes the basis of belief is a relationship to the Spirit:
12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:12-14
Paul is not saying we should not seek for knowledge. Indeed, he and Peter both admonish us to add knowledge to faith (2 Cor 8:7; 2 Pet 1:5).

Anti-Mormons routinely assail the faith of Latter-day Saints, mocking the very real yet personal revelation of the truth of the restoration by the Spirit. But the Bible is clear that such experiential "knowledge" is real though not discerned by the world, and therefore neither objective nor rational, but rather subjective and irrational.

A stumbling block to traditional Christians, foolishness to secular Anti-Mormons.

A recent comment on this blog by an anonymous commentator stressed how Christians have science and facts on their side, and have no need to rely upon the Spirit to discern truth. Such is not faith, nor is it even a part of Christianity. It is the pride of man to believe they can "know" what is true through study. Worse, this type of rationalism is precisely why the formerly "Christian" nations of Europe have now "converted" to various forms of existentialism, mysticism and self-awareness.

For the "Wisdom of God is foolishness". Interestingly, Paul's use of the word "Foolishness" is derived from the Greek word "musterion", normally translated as "mystery", meaning something which is revealed to those initiated into a system of thinking. In Paul's writings, mysteries are things which are delivered by the Spirit or Church leaders to new members. "Wisdom" of man is that which is only discerned by rational deduction by men, and has no connection to divine inspiration. Thus we see many of the great scholars in Biblical studies either losing their faith (such as Bart Ehrman or William Dever), or being attacked by fellow-Christians for acknowledging the problems in the traditional interpretation of Biblical doctrine, such as the false doctrines around the inerrancy of scripture, the supposed monotheism of Biblical teachings, or the lack of archeological support for almost everything in the first 6 books of the Old Testament.

I believe the Bible is true on its own merits, and not on any imposed temporary rational observations which are more sacred to their defenders than the communication between God and man the Bible illustrates.

So I am happy to declare my beliefs to be completely foolish, irrational and subjective. Exactly in the Biblical model.