Tag Archives: Book of Mormon

Title: Weak Arguments #13: “There’s NOTHING in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”

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

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“There’s nothing in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”

Why It’s Weak:
As stated a number of times throughout this series, exaggeration erodes credibility and overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. This is an example of both: The fact of the matter is that there is some good and some truth in Mormonism despite the preponderance of errors and lies. This is just as pioneering cult researcher and lecturer Walter Martin said so well:

Within the theological structure of the cults there is considerable truth, all of which, it might be added, is drawn from biblical sources, but so diluted with human error as to be more deadly than complete falsehood.[1]

And as Bible teacher Don Basham noted, “All cults are at least 10% truth and 90% lie. If they didn’t contain some truth then no one would believe the lies – no one would join them.”[2] And I would add, based on my own experience in a cult, that if they didn’t meet some kind of a need no one would stay. So it shouldn’t surprise us to find some truth and some good in all cults – and the Mormon Church is no exception. Therefore, acknowledging what’s true and what’s good – without underestimating or discounting what isn’t – is simply a matter of common sense. And giving credit where credit is due is a matter of integrity.

1) Point One: There is some truth in the Mormon Church
Focusing exclusively on Christology, here’s what the Mormon Church gets right:

Warner Sallman, Warner Sallman, “The Head of Christ”
(circa 1941)

  1. They believe that Jesus preexisted in Heaven before becoming a man.
  2. They believe that Jesus is Jehovah, the God of Israel.
  3. They believe that we are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus.
  4. They believe that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father.
  5. They believe that Jesus was the Messiah, lived a sinless life, and did the miracles reported in the Gospels
  6. They believe that Jesus suffered and died on a cross.
  7. They believe that Jesus rose physically, bodily from the grave.
  8. They believe that Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven.
  9. They believe that Jesus will return physically to the earth.[3]

2) Point Two: It’s not all wrong
It tends to get downplayed in the heat of battle but in the area of values, morality, and social issues, the Mormon Church is spot on in a number of areas. Mormon Researcher Eric Johnson, an Evangelical Christian who is generally critical of Mormonism, has gone so far as to identify ten areas (in David Letterman countdown fashion) that the LdS Church excels at and that he believes we can learn from:

10. Dedication to the heritage and the faith.
From a young age, Mormon children are taught about their heritage and the struggles that the early LDS pioneers faced when it came to living their faith. On the other hand, most of us Bible-believing Christians have very little knowledge of our history, including the conflicts and persecutions of the early Christian church. As a result, we do not benefit from the examples of our own past…

9. Overall morality.
While Mormons struggle with sin just like everyone else, they are generally well known for keeping a high moral codes and abstaining from a secular lifestyle. Faithful members are not to partake in drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Remaining chaste, personal modesty, and being honest (along with the other commandments) are important virtues in the LDS lifestyle…

8. Politics and religion mix.
The Mormon Church is willing to put its money where its mouth is when political issues warrant a moral response. Certainly not every member may like the conservative stance that the LDS Church takes. But it is admirable how the Church is willing to support those things it strongly believes in…

7. Organization in its leadership.
The LDS Church is a well-oiled machine when it comes to organization, from the top down to the bottom…

6. Positive peer pressure towards missions.
Many Mormon young people look with anticipation for the day when they can leave on a church mission… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Christian young person were encouraged to spend two years of his or her life on the mission field? Perhaps many more career missionaries would be a result if short-term missions became a Christian priority…

5. Respecting Sundays as sacred.
Sundays in the Mormon Church are treated as a quiet day, a time to reflect and be with the family after attending the morning service at the local ward. Recreational and sporting activities as well as retail excursions are discouraged… We should not forget that the day of rest was created for the benefit of man…

4. Religious education for the youth.
The LDS Church is very concerned about educating its young people in the ways of its faith… Later, when the college years come and the young adult is challenged in his faith, he will have some possible answers to help him remain faithful to his religion…

3. Helping to supply the needs of the membership.
Mormons are known for being generous, even going out of their way to help their fellow members…

2. Preventing members from falling through the cracks.
When a Mormon fails to attend the services of his designated local ward for several weeks, he is sure to be missed… While I am not suggesting that Christian churches should become legalistic nags in order to force its membership to attend meetings and volunteer for projects, perhaps the general idea of following up on those who all of a sudden are no longer there would fulfill the shepherd role that the church is supposed to have…

1. The importance of families.
And the number-one thing we can learn from the Mormons is (drum roll, please) the priority the Mormon Church places on family life. Certainly many Christian families are very successful. Yet few churches emphasize the importance of the family like the Mormons do; they even set aside every Monday evening for Family Home Evenings to play games, talk, do devotions, etc…[4]

And Mr. Johnson isn’t alone, Christian Commentator Nick Asolas has developed his own list:

The Church Office Building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints The Church Office Building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

1. Public Relations
If Christianity had a PR firm, it should have been fired decades ago. The fact that we don’t is so painfully obvious that preaching against our past failures has almost replaced the Gospel itself…

2. Staffing Issues
In the average Christian church, the largest budget section is the salary of the staff. We have managed to take a couple curious verses in the New Testament and turn them into a mandate for creating medium-sized corporations complete with corporate perks and parking spaces. I am not going to make a case against paid staff in this post, but it is possible…

3. Engaging the Community
I think this is because as church leaders, we know what we need to do (talk to our neighbors, etc) but we don’t know how to do it. The Mormons are great at this. Granted, their strategy is simple and hasn’t changed for decades, but they have conditioned their community now to know who they are and what they are about based on looks alone…

4. Social Media
The LDS Church is excellent at talking with people across their social media sites. There are several Facebook pages for the different sections and interests and multiple Twitter feeds users can follow for church news, devotions etc. The official LDS Facebook page is updated daily with videos, polls and conversations and has almost half a million users…

5. Unity
This is the biggest and most important. While there are varying sects of the LDS religion, for the most part, they are one unified body that offers a consistent experience across all regions and wards. The statement of faith for all communities is the exact same and there is no competition among branches…[5]

Now I have been extremely critical of Greg Stier the president and founder of “Dare 2 Share” in the past for his uncritical and discernment impaired “Mormon Envy” of Mormon youth programs[6] but I will acknowledge that in pointing to the finer aspects of those programs he made some good points, including this one:

We need to push our teens. We need to turn them into active activists. We need to build consistent opportunities for service, outreach and training. We need to equip them to share their faith and then go with them, leading the way. After all, we are youth leaders.[7]

And Methodist minister and youth ministry expert Kenda Creasy Dean agrees. In her book “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” she devotes the entire third chapter (entitled “Mormon Envy: Sociological Tools for a Consequential Faith”) to deconstructing and analyzing the Mormon youth enculturation process. In the end she concludes:

By intentionally reinforcing the significance of Mormonism’s particular God-story, by immersing young people in a community of belonging, by preparing them for a vocation and by modeling a forward-looking hope, Mormons intentionally and consistently create the conditions for consequential faith—so much so that Mormon teenagers are more likely than teenagers from any other group to fall in the category of young people the NSYR [National Studies of Youth and Religion] called highly devoted.[8]

In addition to everything that been said above, I would add my own “Mormon Envy” item to the list: Community. It was hinted at in the lists above but I would like to state it plainly: The LdS Church does a great job of creating a faith-based community of belonging that meets members social needs. Further, Mormon culture includes an element that’s missing from far too many of our churches: Good clean, fun. To be exact, they have fun for fun’s sake and nothing else.

When I was a kid I used to secretly hope that my parents would convert to Mormonism because the social events at the Ward Halls of Mormon friends and family members were always so darn fun! My Mormon cousins did Boy Scouting and they regularly had awesome, memory building, family outings. On the other hand my dreary, church meeting addicted, Nazarene parents seemed to think that fun was a sin and boredom a virtue. Their church’s idea of “fun” in my mind was, “Hey, I’ve got it! Let’s have another revival/potluck/prayer/testimony meeting!” Now you boring old religious people might love those things but they’re not exactly a good memory building, family bonding, experience if you’re a kid who’s still undecided about this whole Christianity thing – sorry folks, but there it is!

Even today, decades later, I have to ask: Why are so many of our churches so darn boring? Why can’t we just have some good clean fun every once in a while? Why can’t we just get together and have a good time? Why does everything have to be some form of religious utilitarianism?  I’m sorry fellow mainstream Biblical Christians but on the community thing, in comparison to the Mormon Church, we’re losing badly. This is an area where we can do a lot better in my opinion. I mean, come on, in the Old Testament God commanded the Jews to have seven festivals per year.[9] Yes, that’s right He commanded them! And since God seems to love a party shouldn’t we, His covenant people, love them too?

In fact, I’ve found that the rich community of Mormonism is the one thing that will keep members in the LdS Church long after they stopped believing in Joseph Smith, Mormon doctrine, or even God. Mormon culture is so rich and need fulfilling that it can be hard to leave when you’ve decided that its beliefs are hooey. If we did better in this area we would probably see far more Mormons leave the LdS Church and far less transition into atheism when they do.

The bottom line is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t get everything wrong and they get quite a few things right. In fact, in terms of operations, maintaining a family first philosophy, very intentionally and deliberately engaging the surrounding cultural, creating a community of purpose and belonging, and caring for their membership they do some things better than many mainstream Christian churches do.

3) Point Three: It’s not all lies
Well now, okay, okay, okay, yes, there is a lot of deceit that goes on in the LdS Church! I’ve said it, I feel better now. Most egregious of all is how it chronically, even habitually, lies to its own members. Never-the-less, as stated above, since it still contains at least 10% truth, there is some truth in Mormonism.

Further, Mormon Leaders don’t lie all the time.  And official church literature doesn’t lie all the time – but when you do lie they do “go big!” So the problem that I have with the “it’s nothing but a pack of lies!” portion of the weak argument isn’t that it’s not more true than false but that it’s hyperbole.

The Stronger Arguments:
Building a stronger argument in this area involves two things: 1) Not engaging in over-the-top hyperbolic rhetoric, and; 2) Presenting your argument in a way that’s fair and balanced rather than obviously biased.

First Suggested Strong Argument: Present a balanced rather than biased argument 
To illustrate how one does this, let’s consider the list of things that Mormonism gets right in the Christology that was presented above. Rather than arguing that, “There’s nothing in Mormon Christology that’s true!” (which is so extreme that it’s like announcing, “I’m biased, my mind is closed, and I’m unwilling to consider the full body of evidence!”) a more balanced argument would look something like this:

Unknown Artist, Unknown Artist, “Mormon Corporate Jesus”

“Well the LdS Church does get some things right in it’s Christology – including the two most important things, His divinity and His bodily resurrection from the dead. However, it also gets far more wrong, specifically: 

  1. Jesus is one of billions of spirits who preexisted in Heaven before becoming human.
  2. Jesus is one of three Gods ruling the universe (among other Gods that also exist).
  3. We are never supposed to pray directly to Jesus.
  4. God is Jesus’ “literal” father in the flesh—compromising the truth that Mary was a virgin.
  5. Some of Jesus’ statements must be revised according to Joseph Smith’s revelations.
  6. Jesus accomplished the Atonement primarily in the garden of Gethsemane.
  7. Jesus by his resurrection assures immortality in some heavenly kingdom for virtually everyone.
  8. Jesus returned to the earth to preach to the Nephites and start a separate church for them.
  9. Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith, condemned all existing churches, and restored the true church.[10]

Unfortunately, due to what it gets wrong, the Mormon Jesus isn’t the Christ of the bible – he is the type of ‘another Jesus’ that Paul warned us against in 2 Corinthians 11:4.”

Second Suggested Strong Argument: Present both sides of the coin
Closely aligned with the first strong argument is simply giving both sides of the coin. For example, even though the last section presented only the positive side of the coin, an argument regarding the both sides of the LdS Church’s Mormon Missionary program coin might look like this:

“Christian Youth Ministry experts like Greg Stier and Kenda Creasy Dean have praised your missionary program. Even Eric Johnson, who’s a critic of the Mormon Church, has said that it creates ‘positive peer pressure’ within your youth groups and culture. However, it has a dark side too, specifically: 

  1. BandaidMissionaryBadgeIt has created a culture whereby fear of their family’s reaction puts pressure on disenchanted LDS Missionaries to continue with their missions whether they want to or not. [click here for supporting evidence]
  2. LDS Church Missionary training and policies employ Mind Control techniques and tactics.
  3. The LDS Church focuses on the needs and interests of the institution over the needs and interests of the members. For example, on January 29, 2013, the LDS Church announced that the Benemerito De Las Americas private school in Mexico would be closed and converted into a Missionary Training Center leaving its more than 2,000 LDS students to the mercy of the vastly inferior Mexican public education system.[11]

So while I and other Christians applaud the good impact that your missionary programs have on Mormon young people, at the same time we often wonder if they and others get hurt more often than they get helped by it. After all, isn’t 18-years old awfully young to be taking on a role in life that requires some degree of maturity and life experience? Sometimes I wonder if the price for being a Mormon Missionary is simply too high.”

Another example might go like this:

“One thing that I love about the LdS Church is how it does such a great job of creating a faith-based community of belonging that meets member social needs. As kid I loved how you all know how to have good clean fun for fun’s sake and nothing else. I mean, for goodness sake, even after they’ve left Ex-Mormons still try to find ways to stay engage in Mormon Culture – that says something!

However, what seems to be missing from LdS community is real authenticity and vulnerability. The community relations are social but not intimate. The perfectionist expectations create a culture of “looking good” – where you don’t admit that you aren’t measuring up or that you are  struggling in some way. As former Mormon composer J.A.C. Redford once said, “You get a casserole if you’re sick, but not if you’re doubting.” To be sure, evangelical churches can suffer from the same problem, but from what I’ve seen in the LdS Church it’s both extreme and chronic. Candidly, I think if I’d had to deal with my drug and alcohol addictions as a Mormon I’d still secretly be drunk and using! Have you ever thought about any of this?”

And you can trust me when I say this: They probably have. I know this because I’ve had Mormons talk to me about this when we were in private and they feel safe enough to open up. They can’t talk about this stuff to insiders but they will to outsiders that they feel safe with.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: “So what?”
Now I would imagine that some Mormons reading this article might be tempted to point to the positive things that have been said in this article and crow, “This only proves that we are indeed the only true and living Church!” This isn’t speculation, Mormon are prone to use the good works and positive aspects of their institution as proof of its veracity. How many times have we heard a Latter-day Saint say, “Just inspect the fruit – it’s good!” as evidence of the truthfulness of Mormonism? However, as thesis #70 of the 95 LDS Theses points out:

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

In the end, this argument proves nothing – it’s just a bad argument. There are a lot of groups that not only do good works but do far more of it than the LdS Church both per capita and in total. To cite one example, let’s talk about WalMart which in 2012 gave 1.7% of its pre-tax profits to charity.[12] Does that make WalMart the only true and living store?

Further, there are many other groups getting similar positive results from their members and in their communities. And this isn’t limited to religious groups, we could point to groups like the Red Cross, the United Way, the Shriners, the Kiwanis, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other institutions that give and do far more than the LdS Church does. And in terms of religious groups the Roman Catholic Church absolutely buries the LdS Church in terms of giving, good works – and some would add, demonstrably positive outcomes – with its membership. So I guess the Roman Catholic Church is really the only true and living church, right?

LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City which was sold off to Intermountain Healthcare. The Mormon Church now owns no hospitals. LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City, which was sold off to Intermountain Healthcare in 1975. The Mormon Church now owns no hospitals. period.

Finally, whenever, a Mormon uses this argument with me I always ask this question: “Where are the Mormon Church owned hospitals and orphanages?” Between where I live and work (a 51-mile stretch) there are seven Catholic hospitals and several Catholic orphanages. And I haven’t even added in the hospitals and orphanages that are owned by Protestant churches in the same area. So how many Mormon equivalents are there? Answer: Zero.  The LdS Church doesn’t even have any church owned hospitals – it sold them all off years ago.[13] And while the Mormon Church offers adoption as part of its family services portfolio it doesn’t own a single orphanage and has even outsourced its adoption agency.[14] In this area the LdS Church is conspicuous in its absence. Thus, its “good works” bravado is most certainly more heat than light – while it may sound good at first, it simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Finally, always remember the Golden Rule of Apologetics
The Golden Rule of Apologetics is:[15]

Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated

All too often I see Christians engaging in the exact opposite of this, in something that apologists call “Scorched Earth Tactics”. This is a tactic whereby one is determined to win the debate no matter what the cost. It’s like dropping napalm or salting the ground after each advance so nothing can grow in your wake. The end result is that all too often you win the debate but lose your debating opponent – forever.

This is a formula for failure since it can take Mormon years, even decades to shake off the mind control of the LdS Church, to unsnap psychologically, and to start considering the body of evidence through clear eyes rather than Mormon sunglasses. And then there are typically several years more after that before they transition out due to family, professional, and cultural entanglements. Therefore, it’s always best to strive to maintain a good relationship even if you’re at loggerheads as debating opponents. Think long, not short term, and always, always, always consider how to maintain the relationship without compromising your message or yourself.

That sounds so easy doesn’t it? It’s not. It can be so hard to keep one’s passions, ego, and pride in check when engaging Mormons. And if you really like the person it can be hard not to soften your message to maintain the relationship.  It’s a balancing act. Which is why we so desperately need the mind of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us rather than our fallen human nature. So for those moments when you feel your adrenaline beginning to pump, your palms beginning to sweat, and your eyes beginning to bulge I would encourage you to remember (or better yet, memorize) what God has said to us through His word:

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
(2 Timothy 2:25 NIV) 

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
(Colossians 4:6 NIV)

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

For as my wiser older sister once said so well, “The church is a mess and always has been. If it wasn’t for Jesus none of us would be Christians!” And that’s the best news of all – nothing depends entirely on you or me!

Summary and Conclusion:
Again, exaggeration erodes credibility and overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. The weak argument as presented here is an example of both.  As I have shown here there is some good and some truth in Mormonism despite the mountain of lies and errors in the LdS Church.  There is not only no shame in giving credit where credit is due, but doing so builds credibility. And not only do fair, full arguments demonstrate integrity, they also build trust so that honest relationships can form.  And above all they demonstrate that you’re committed to the truth above all else.

Do these things and your arguments will always be strong and have impact. It’s all about balance.

balanceTruth without love is too hard. Love without truth is too soft
— Jim Spencer, Idaho Pastor and former Mormon

NOTES
[1] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults”, p.24

[2] Don Basham, “Spiritual Warfare”, lecture at Santa Ana High School 1980, taken from author’s personal notes from the event.

[3] Adapted from Rob Bowman, “The Mormon View of Jesus Christ”, Institute for Religious Research website.  I would encourage the reader to read this article in its entirety as it also discusses in full detail how Mormon Christology is both right and wrong in each of these areas.

[4] Abridged from Eric Johnson, “10 Things Christians Can Learn from the Mormons”, Mormon Research Ministry website. Again, I would encourage the reader to read this article in its entirety as it also discusses the LdS Church’s imbalances and flaws in regard to each of these items.

[5] Abridged from Nick Asolas, “5 Things We Need to Learn from the Mormon Church”, Shrink The Church website.

[6] See “An Open Letter to Greg Stier”

[7] Greg Stier, “Why Mormons Do Better Youth Ministry Than We Do”, Christian Post website.

[8] Kenda Creasy Dean, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” (p. 50, Kindle position 881). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] See “What are the different Jewish festivals in the Bible?”, GotQuestions.org website

[10] Op cit, Rob Bowman.

[11] These three points were taken from “The 95 LDS Theses”.  They are  theses #30, #75  and #2 respectively.

[12] Sarah Frostenson and Megan O’Neil, “10 Companies That Gave the Most Cash in 2013”, The Chronicles of Philanthropy website.

[13] See the “Hospitals” article in the “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism”. BYU Harold B. Lee Library website.

[14] From the LdS Church’s “Adoption Services” website:

Current Services Offered by LDS Family Services
We have made changes to the way we provide services to single expectant parents and prospective adoptive families. As of August 1, 2014, we no longer function as a full-service adoption agency and instead outsource most adoption functions. However, we continue to provide consultation for adoptive couples, screening and registration on an adoption matching website, and counseling for single expectant parents.
(retrieved January 7, 2015)

[15] For a more thorough analysis and explanation of “The Golden Rule of Apologetics” see Kenneth R. Samples‘ seven part series on the subject which starts here, “The Golden Rule of Apologetics Part 1”.

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Weak Arguments #4: “The Bible says that my sectarian, partisan, non-essential doctrine is the only true truth!” by Fred. W. Anson

 

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

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

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

But then there was this one . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public bickering in front of Mormon just validates and reinforces this stereotype and prejudice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Ibid, Slick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Official LdS Church website, “Apostasy”

 

This article can also be found at Beggars Bread Blog.

General Conference October 2014. Sunday Morning Session, by Bobby Gilpin

lds-general-conference-april2013-1020x444

I think the thing that always strikes me very quickly whenever I listen to any general conference talk is this, where is the revelation? Where is ANYTHING that is new. It just does not happen. There are thousands of missionaries around the world telling people how great it is that the LDS church has a modern-day Prophet, that the canon of scripture is not closed, and that God loves us too much to leave us without the modern revelation that we so need today.

Yet none of this is anywhere to be found, least of all in one of these sessions. From what I can tell general conference exists for 3 purposes.

1, To keep people active in the church.

2, To respond, usually indirectly to criticism or comments being made about the church.

3, To keep people obedient to the church.

This is it, and in this session this is as clear as any other.

The first talk of the Sunday Morning Session is by Henry B Eyring first counsellor to the presidency, and it is on Continuing Revelation. 

Eyring says this:

 

President Boyd K. Packer described that identifying mark of the true Church this way: “Revelation continues in the Church: the prophet receiving it for the Church; the president for his stake, his mission, or his quorum; the bishop for his ward; the father for his family; the individual for himself.”

Nowhere in this talk does Eyring give an example of a Prophecy from current Mormon Prophet Thomas S Monson. Toward the end of his talk he says this

God pours out revelation, through the Holy Ghost, on His children. He speaks to His prophet on the earth, who today is Thomas S. Monson. I witness that he holds and exercises all the keys of the priesthood on earth.

Can any Mormon give me an example of when this has happened? The only thing I can think of that has happened of any significance under Monson’s tenure  is reducing the age of missionaries. Which is a procedural change at best. Right now around the world we are facing some of the hardest issues ever, yet the Mormon Prophet and therefore the Mormon God, are silent on the matter, this to me and I hope others, speaks volumes.

 

The second talk is called Sustaining the Prophets and is by Elder Russell M Nelson, of the Quorum of the twelve Apostles. 

This talk very strongly fits with my point number 2 above of what general conference does. General conference will indirectly respond to what’s being said about the church and its leaders, but will very rarely affirm that what is being said is the case.

For a number of years now there has been much discussion on whether Thomas S Monson is suffering from dementia. Monson is 87 years old and whether you believe he is a prophet or not, you will agree that he is human like the rest of us, subject to the same weaknesses, illnesses etc as the rest of us, so as a quick disclaimer even if this is true I don’t see this as a deal breaker as to whether the LDS “gospel” is true or not, however I wonder why this cannot be specifically and clearly addressed.

 

John Dehlin of the Mormon Stories podcast said this:

I’ve probably talked to 50 people who work directly with the church in some significant capacity who all confirm that President Monson has some form of dementia and that unless he’s got handlers around him, and unless he’s reading a speech, he’s unmanageable and incoherent, and you know that doesn’t mean he can’t be friendly to a child and wink to a crowd or wiggle his ears or read a teleprompter, but in terms of really managing the church, he’s over 90.(1)

This talk never affirms this is going on but it is filled with the idea that even if the Prophet is unwell the church is ok, here’s a quote. (bold added by me)

The Apostle with the longest seniority in the office of Apostle presides.15That system of seniority will usually bring older men to the office of President of the Church. It provides continuity, seasoned maturity, experience, and extensive preparation, as guided by the Lord.

The Church today has been organized by the Lord Himself. He has put in place a remarkable system of governance that provides redundancy and backup. That system provides for prophetic leadership even when the inevitable illnesses and incapacities may come with advancing age.Counterbalances and safeguards abound so that no one can ever lead the Church astray. Senior leaders are constantly being tutored such that one day they are ready to sit in the highest councils. They learn how to hear the voice of the Lord through the whisperings of the Spirit.

While serving as First Counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, who was then nearing the end of his mortal life, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained:

“The principles and procedures which the Lord has put in place for the governance of His church make provision for any … circumstance. It is important … that there be no doubts or concerns about the governance of the Church and the exercise of the prophetic gifts, including the right to inspiration and revelation in administering the affairs and programs of the Church, when the President may be ill or is not able to function fully.

So we see here Nelson affirming that leaders are only there because God has put them there. That illnesses are inevitable given the age of the leaders, and not to worry if this happens. I think for now many LDS members are unaware or unconvinced of Monson’s dementia, and many are aware, this comment speaks to both of those sets of people while never affirming or denying this to be the case, this is a very common general conference theme.

Recently Thomas S Monson was pictured meeting a stake president.

Monson

This is obviously without the makeup that will go with a general conference day. There is nothing particularly shocking about this picture, it just simply shows a man who is getting very old. As we all will over time, however Nelson also makes this point.

 

The ways of the Lord are different from the ways of man. Man’s ways remove people from office or business when they grow old or become disabled. But man’s ways are not and never will be the Lord’s ways. Our sustaining of prophets is a personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities. Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us.

 

It seems to be saying that Monson cannot step down, that he must stay in the role till death. This saddens me a little for this man, his dementia if he truly has it is only going to manifest more over time, yet in the process he has to stay the at least named leader for this church, I struggle to see why this is such a good thing that makes the LDS church so unlike the so-called “man’s ways”.

 

This talk is all about the fact that the LDS church leaders know that this information is getting out, and so they want people to not worry, the church is still in good hands. Fulfilling my points 1, 2 and 3.

 

Nelson ends with this. (bold added)

 

Last year, when President Monson reached the milestone of 5 years of service as President of the Church, he reflected on his 50 years of apostolic service and made this statement: “Age eventually takes its toll on all of us. However, we join our voices with King Benjamin, who said, … ‘I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen … and consecrated by my father, … and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me’ (Mosiah 2:11).”

President Monson continued: “Despite any health challenges that may come to us, despite any weakness in body or mind, we serve to the best of our ability. I assure you that the Church is in good hands. The system set up for the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve [Apostles] assures [us] that it will always be in good hands and that, come what may, there is no need to worry or to fear. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we follow, whom we worship, and whom we serve, is ever at the helm.”

President Monson, we thank you for those truths! And we thank you for your lifetime of exemplary and dedicated service. May I presume to speak for the members of the Church throughout the world in our united and sincere expression of gratitude for you. We honor you! We love you! We sustain you, not only with uplifted hands but with all our hearts and consecrated efforts. Humbly and fervently, “we ever pray for thee, our prophet dear”! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Mormon Church is, at its heart a man exalting organization, Jesus Christ is an after thought, I see this section of the talk as a clear affirmation of this. Why would we ever thank a man for any truths? Ever? It just would not happen. We see in the New Testament from the Apostle Paul a constant exalting of God. A constant grateful heart to God, for all things, here’s some examples.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth Godthanks.

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;

Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.

But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you.

Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.

For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God;
We thank God for the blessings God gives, we thank God for the blessings that God gives through people. All things are by, from, and to God. No human no matter how significant their position, or great their gifting deserves the thanks and praise that only belongs to God.

 

For the sake of time I am going to jump straight to the last talk. Given by President Thomas S Monson and called Ponder the Path of thy feet.

 

Now to be fair I think on the whole this seemed a fine talk, sure terms like Exaltation that are used are ones that open theological minefields, however that aside, and casting aside the regular emphasis on obedience could take us into the faith/works debate, there were some good points made, such as:
As we strive to place Christ at the center of our lives by learning His words, by following His teachings, and by walking in His path, He has promised to share with us the eternal life that He died to gain. There is no higher end than this, that we should choose to accept His discipline and become His disciples and do His work throughout our lives. Nothing else, no other choice we make, can make of us what He can.
Sounds good to me, however what did strike me was that this was a very general, safe talk. Nothing new, certainly nothing revelatory, and it could have been given any time throughout the history of Mormonism with no real relevance to a specific time.
 In recent years Monson has seems to have started a habit of repeating talks that he gave years ago. In the Priesthood session this year he gave the talk “Guided safely home”. This has remarkable similarities to the 1982 talk Sailing Safely the seas of life.  There is some further discussion on this with other examples here.

 

I think there is only more of this to come and that this is a sign of Monson’s dementia. From some research I have found that familiarity is essential for people with this condition. Doing new things is very difficult and the more familiar surroundings/circumstances a person is in the better, see an article on this here. President Monson, has been giving general conference talks for many years, this is a familiar surrounding to him, I think giving him talks with content he has given before, with likely some re watching of these talks before conference will only help him carry out his role with this condition. However it does seem these days that he rarely makes an appearance otherwise.
As I said earlier this point alone is not a deal breaker for the truthfulness of the LDS message, however it is, I feel a cruel and irresponsible move to  have someone in this position still be expected to carry out this role. It is dishonest of the leadership to not spell this out, rather just giving a pep talk that if something is wrong you do not have to worry.

 

In some senses this would be an opportunity to show the true prophetic gift of the Mormon prophet, that even with this condition God is giving him clear prophetic messages for the LDS church. With respect I really would not hold your breath for this. The reality is that because President Monson is not a true Prophet, dementia or no dementia, it really does not make any difference if he has this illness, as nothing new was coming anyway.

Notes.

(1) http://www.wheatandtares.org/14846/does-pres-monson-have-dementia/

Weak Arguments #2: “None of the eleven Book of Mormon witnesses ever signed their testimonies.” By Fred. W. Anson

Eight witnesses_5-18

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

by Fred W. Anson

The Argument:
“None of the eleven Book of Mormon witnesses ever signed their testimonies.”

Why It’s Weak:
Based on the body of available evidence we don’t really know if the eleven Book of Mormon witnesses ever signed their testimony or not.

Yes, it is true that the signatures on the extant manuscript page that we have for the testimony of the eight and three witnesses were done by Oliver Cowdery. However, that manuscript was “P”, the Printer’s Manuscript, not “O”, the Original Manuscript, which P was copied from.  O was water damaged and almost nearly completely destroyed after being placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo Temple. As Book of Mormon manuscript expert Royal Skousen explains:

The printed versions of the Book of Mormon derive from two manuscripts. The first, called the original manuscript (O), was written by at least three scribes as Joseph Smith translated and dictated. The most important scribe was Oliver Cowdery. This manuscript was begun no later than April 1829 and finished in June 1829.

A copy of the original was then made by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes. This copy is called the printer’s manuscript (P), since it was the one normally used to set the type for the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon. It was begun in July 1829 and finished early in 1830.

Exhibit A: Testimony of Eight Witnesses, late June 1829 Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., and others, Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Palymra, NY, late June 1829; in Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript, p. 464; handwriting of Oliver Cowdery; (credit: Joseph Smith Papers Project)
Exhibit A: Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Palmyra, NY, late June 1829; in Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript, p. 464; handwriting of Oliver Cowdery; (credit: Joseph Smith Papers Project)

The printer’s manuscript is not an exact copy of the original manuscript. There are on the average three changes per original manuscript page. These changes appear to be natural scribal errors; there is little or no evidence of conscious editing. Most of the changes are minor, and about one in five produce a discernible difference in meaning. Because they were all relatively minor, most of the errors thus introduced into the text have remained in the printed editions of the Book of Mormon and have not been detected and corrected except by reference to the original manuscript. About twenty of these errors were corrected in the 1981 edition.

The compositor for the 1830 edition added punctuation, paragraphing, and other printing marks to about one-third of the pages of the printer’s manuscript. These same marks appear on one fragment of the original, indicating that it was used at least once in typesetting the 1830 edition.

In preparation for the second (1837) edition, hundreds of grammatical changes and a few textual emendations were made in P. After the publication of this edition, P was retained by Oliver Cowdery. After his death in 1850, his brother-in-law, David Whitmer, kept P until his death in 1888. In 1903 Whitmer’s grandson sold P to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns it today. It is wholly extant except for two lines at the bottom of the first leaf.

The original manuscript was not consulted for the editing of the 1837 edition. However, in producing the 1840 edition, Joseph Smith used O to restore some of its original readings. In October 1841, Joseph Smith placed O in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. Over forty years later, Lewis Bidamon, Emma Smith’s second husband, opened the cornerstone and found that water seepage had destroyed most of O. The surviving pages were handed out to various individuals during the 1880s.

Today approximately 25 percent of the text of O survives: 1 Nephi 2 through 2 Nephi 1, with gaps; Alma 22 through Helaman 3, with gaps; and a few other fragments. All but one of the authentic pages and fragments of O are housed in the archives of the LDS Historical Department; one-half of a sheet (from 1 Nephi 14) is owned by the University of Utah.[1]

Again, and to summarize, P was copied from O by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes to prepare it for the typesetting process. Therefore, it’s only logical and reasonable that the dominant handwriting be his. Further, the portions of O that were destroyed were the first outside and last outside pages (water saturation works from the outside in on books – just like it does on a dry sponge) which included the page (or possibly pages) with the testimonies of the witnesses on it.

Therefore, it’s impossible to know for if the witnesses autographed their respective testimonies on O or not. Hard conclusions either way – no matter how dogmatically or emphatically stated – are nothing more than speculation.

Where Did This Weak Argument Come From?
This argument was practically non-existent until a photograph of the page from the P manuscript with the signatures in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting was published as a part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project (see Exhibit A above). At that point some Mormon Critics who were unfamiliar with the history of the Book of Manuscripts drew wrong conclusions from the photograph based on the presumption that it was the only Book of Mormon manuscript ever created by Joseph Smith and his colleagues. They then went on to make uninformed, absolutist statements publicly which served only to spread ignorant inference as fact to a worldwide audience.

Further exacerbating the problem was Jeremy T. Runnells’ “Letter to a CES Director” in which he used the following as an argument against the Book of Mormon:

The closest thing we have in existence to an original document of the testimonies of the witnesses is a printer’s manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery. Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting. Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon.[2]

MormonInfographics Book of Mormon Witnesses
Exhibit B: MormonInfographics meme with the questionable “Book of Mormon ‘Witnesses’ didn’t even sign their names” headline.

Mr. Runnells’ argument is, at it’s core and presented in it’s entirety, for the most part sound. But again, his point can easily be misunderstood by those who don’t have a full understanding of the manuscript history of the Book of Mormon thus leading to misstatement and wrong conclusions.

For example, after the “Letter to a CES Director” was published a graphic (see Exhibit B) appeared on the MormonInfographics website with the words, “Book of Mormon ‘Witnesses’ didn’t even sign their names” as the headline – that is, as if their missing signatures on the original testimonies were an established and verified fact rather than speculation based on the absence of evidence.

The MormonInfographics meme quickly went viral on social media further disseminating this weak argument.  Further, weakening the argument was the fact that Mr. Runnells overstated his case since Oliver Cowdery’s signature as a Book of Mormon witness on the page is legitimate. This oversight was later corrected in the revised 2014 edition of his “Letter to a CES Director”.[3]

And, as they say, the rest is history – this argument continues to be used by critics despite it’s fragility.

The Stronger Arguments:
When it comes to the Book of Mormon witnesses it often seems like there’s no end to strong, compelling, cogent, persuasive arguments against them and their testimonies to choose from. MormonThink has pages of them (click here) as does the aforementioned “Letter to a CES Director” (click here). And if that’s not enough the “Letter to a CES Director” companion piece “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking” (click here) has yet more.  That said, we offer a small sampling of those arguments for your consideration.

First Suggested Stronger Argument:
Use the fully formed and nuanced argument that Jeremy Runnells uses in “Letter to a CES Director” and “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking” in it’s entirety rather than anything short or cryptic:

From “Letter to a CES Director”:

From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law as there are a) no signatures, b) no specific dates, c) no specific locations, and d) most of the witnesses made statements after the fact that contradict and cast doubt on the specific claims made in the statements contained in the preface of the Book of Mormon.
(page 61, revised edition)

In discussing the witnesses, we should not overlook the primary accounts of the events they testified to. The official statements published in the Book of Mormon are not dated, signed (we have no record with their signatures), nor is a specific location given for where the events occurred. These are not eleven legally sworn affidavits but rather simple statements pre-written by Joseph Smith with claims of having been signed by three men and another by eight.
(page 62, revised edition)

From “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”:

[LdS Apologist group] FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists.

We do not have an actual document of actual signatures of the Book of Mormon witnesses. We just have a document, in Oliver’s own handwriting, of the names of the Witnesses. We have a claim that there was a document of actual signatures and a claim that this document was “placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House” and that it was “destroyed by water damage” years later.

We’re asked to put faith in a claim as opposed to being able to observe and analyze actual individual signatures written by actual individual witnesses. Without the original document, of course, there is no way of knowing with certainty whether the witnesses actually signed it. And, as explained below, subsequent accounts of two of the witnesses (Martin Harris and David Whitmer) conflict with key details of the account given in the Book of Mormon.
(link to source)

Second Suggested Stronger Argument:
Instead of using this argument argue that the body of evidence that strongly suggests that the witnesses never physically or tangibly saw or handled the golden plates. Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever explains:

Several LDS sources give the eleven men who bore their testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon the special title of eyewitness; however, it appears doubtful that any of them actually saw the plates apart from a supernatural and subjective experience. While they all claimed to have handled what they were told were ancient plates, they did so while the plates were covered up and not visible. That being case, how is their experience any different from others who also claimed to handle the plates? Such persons include Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy admitted she never saw the plates, but she claimed to have handled what she was told were plates of “pure gold.” As mentioned earlier, Joseph Smith’s wife Emma also claimed that she handled the plates when she moved them to “do her work” in the Smith home, though she insisted that she never uncovered them.

I maintain that if the eleven are called eyewitnesses, why not Lucy and Emma as well? After all, their experiences with what they thought were gold plates are really not much different than that of the eleven. Mormons might find this conclusion troubling since it tends to take away some of the mysterious sensation associated with the accepted folklore, but it is a consistent conclusion when it comes to comparing the experiences of those involved. If Mormons want to insist that a person can’t be considered an eyewitness to the authenticity of the gold plates unless they actually saw them, then there were no eyewitnesses to Joseph Smith’s gold plates.[4]

Third Suggested Stronger Argument:
Compare and contrast how credible testimony should be done versus how it was done in the case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses. Here’s an example of how to present this argument from MormonThink:[5]

If someone was going to have witnesses to some earth-shattering event, and they wanted people to believe them, they would have done it very differently than Joseph did. The whole witnesses’ portion of the BOM would have been much better served if the following things had been done:

  1. None of the witnesses should have been related to Joseph or each other.
    Most of the witnesses were either related or good friends. Having unrelated people as witnesses would be far more effective than using your brothers and father.
  2. The witnesses should not have already been eager believers.
    There should have been some skeptics.
  3. There should have been no financial motive.
    Martin Harris mortgaged his farm and invested at least $3,000 of his own money into printing the Book of Mormon, so of course he had incentive to ‘promote’ the book.
  4. Each of the witnesses should each have written their own testimony instead of merely signing a prepared statement written by Joseph.
    If the prepared document wasn’t 100% accurate many people would simply sign it anyway as it would be too much of a hassle to have it completely rewritten by hand – especially in the 1800s.
  5. The witnesses should have been much more detailed about this amazing event.
    What did the angel look like? What exactly did he say? How did he speak? There are almost no details provided which can be analyzed and compared. If each witness had simply written their own account and provided significant details then their individual testimonies could corroborate each other.
  6. The witnesses should have been interviewed independently immediately after going public.
    They should have been interviewed the same way police do with witnesses to crimes or that investigators do with UFO cases. Ask questions to see if their stories match; How was the angel dressed? How tall was he? How did he speak?, etc.
  7. The witnesses should not have used subjective language and say strange things like comparing seeing the plates with seeing a city through a mountain or using spiritual eyes instead of their natural eyes to view physical plates.
  8. The witnesses should not have been gullible people that believed in things like ‘second sight’, divining rods, finding treasure by placing a rock in a hat, etc.
    That the Three Witnesses were a gullible sort is illustrated by an incident in July, 1837. Joseph had left on a five-week missionary tour to Canada, only to find on his return that all three of the Witnesses had joined a faction opposing him. This faction rallied around a young girl who claimed to be a seeress by virtue of a black stone in which she read the future. David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all pledged her their loyalty, and Frederick G. Williams, formerly Joseph’s First Counselor, became her scribe. The girl seeress would dance herself into a state of exhaustion, fall to the floor, and burst forth with revelations. (See Lucy Smith: Biographical Sketches, pp. 211-213).
  9. All of the witness should have been much more vocal and been interviewed much more often.
    There are very few interviews done with the witnesses that provide any additional information or corroboration of their statements. You would think that these people, after seeing such a magnificent sight, would spend their time testifying to the world about their experience instead of largely just signing a prepared statement and avoiding interviews by the media. Only three of the eight witnesses made separate statements that they had handled the plates. They were Joseph’s two brothers, Hyrum and Samuel, and John Whitmer.
  10. And of course it would have helped had all the witnesses remained loyal to the Church for the rest of their lives instead of having most of them abandon it later on.
    It doesn’t make much sense to leave the one, true Church of God if you have really received an indisputable witness that it was true. Why would these people risk being cast in Outer Darkness for all eternity for denying what they KNEW to be true unless they maybe had some doubts?
    (link to source)
The "three witnesses" to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdrey, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris
The “three witnesses” to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdrey, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris

NOTES
[1] Royal Skousen, “Book of Mormon Manuscripts”, article in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1992 edition. For those who would like to go deeper on this subject the following video is recommended: Royal Skousen, “The Original and Printer’s Manuscripts”

[2] Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director” (first edition), p.55

[3] Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director” (revised edition), p.60

[4] Bill McKeever, “Did the Eleven Witnesses Actually See the Gold Plates?”

[5] Author uncredited, “How should it have been done?”, Mormon Think website

BACK TO TOP

Weak Arguments from Christians Number 1: Does The End of Revelation Close the Door on Mormonism? by Fred W. Anson

While it goes without saying that this blog and others like it seek to show the Biblical problems of the Mormon faith, and thus present the true gospel, it is also true to say that some of the arguments used for this purpose are not great.

I have been there many times whether on facebook or face to face and seen Christians present an argument to Mormons that they think easily wins the day, and refutes Mormonism in a single swoop. Yet even I find myself thinking “that does not prove your point at all”. And this the Mormon easily refutes it, and walks alway thinking “those darn evangelicals don’t have a clue.” 

My friend Fred W Anson from the blog Beggers Bread and I have decided to co write a series pointing out these arguments, explaining the issues, and also presenting some better arguments you might use instead. We are not saying we get everything right, however from years of experience we have found that Mormons do not find some arguments persuasive, and for good reason.


The Argument:
“Everyone knows that the Biblical canon is closed – it says so at the very end of the Bible in Revelation 22:18 which says:

I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book

So Joseph Smith willfully defied God’s Word by adding new scripture to a canon of scripture that God said was complete and forever closed!”

Why it’s weak:
1) It’s a misinterpretation of the passage.
As Bill McKeever of Mormon Research Ministry explains:

Revelation 22:18 read in context and carefully is referring solely to itself – not the Bible in it’s entirety and not to any other book of the Bible.  This is clearer when the verse is considered in it’s full context:

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Revelation 22:16-21 (KJV)  

Notice the use of the terms,  ” the words of the prophecy of this book” and “the words of the book of this prophecy” limiting the conditions exclusively to “this book” and “this prophecy”.  The language of the text itself limits the scope of these conditions to this book of prophecy – that is, the book that we now know as “The Book of Revelation”.

2) It’s location at the close of the Biblical canon isn’t relevant.
The reasoning behind the order of the books of the New Testament  is no mystery:  In the ancient world works of literature were bound by category,  author, and then finally by length from longest to shortest. [1] As John MacArthur’s Grace to You website explains:

The books in the English Bible follow a subject arrangement and are not in the order they were written. The arrangement mirrors that of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament made a few hundred years before Christ…

The New Testament order is also based on subject categories. First come the historical books–the gospels and Acts. Then come the epistles–first those from Paul, then those written by the other writers. Revelation comes at the end.

The early church always grouped the gospels with Matthew first, followed by Mark or Luke, then the gospel of John. It also arranged the Pauline epistles in two categories–first the epistles to the churches, then the personal letters. It typically arranged those epistles according to size or length. The personal letters and general epistles (non-Pauline writings) appear to follow that arrangement–Hebrews first, followed by the writings of James, Peter, John, and Jude. [2]

So, just as the Old Testament Septuagint had the prophetic books at the end, so does the New Testament – it just so happened that there was only one prophetic book. Sure, one can argue that the order of the books were divinely inspired but it too is a weak argument given all the other evidence that contradicts what essentially amounts to nothing more than confirmation bias laden speculation.

3) Using this same tactic, it also be argued that the New Testament is likewise condemned in the Old Testament.
If one applies this same kind of (sloppy, out of context) exegesis consistently then the New Testament is condemned by similar, earlier passages in the Bible:

Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
 Deuteronomy 4:2 (KJV) 

What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
Deuteronomy 12:32 (KJV) 

Yet, many many books and commandments were added to the Biblical canon afterwards – including most the of the Old, all of the New Testament, and Christ’s new commandments in the gospels.  And like Revelation 22:18 one need only read these verses in context to see why this isn’t a problem – again, these words applied only to the portion of scripture that they were contained in, not the entirety of the Bible.

4) This argument condemns the Apostle John too.
If Revelation 22:18 is applied to the other canonized writings of the Apostle John (the author of the Book of Revelation) then he’s just as guilty as Joseph Smith is.  That’s because the body of evidence demonstrates that the Book of Revelation was the probably first book that John wrote with his gospel and epistles coming later. The approximate timeline is as follows:

The Book of Revelation – circa 68
The Gospel of John – circa 85
The Epistles of John – circa 90-95 [3]

This is because internal evidence in the Book of Revelation would seem to indicate that it was written before 70AD because the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing when it was written:

Revelation 1-11 alludes frequently to the fall of Jerusalem. John is called to measure the temple, without any suggestion that it is destroyed (11:1). Jesus told His disciples that within their generation, not one stone of the temple would be left on top another (Mt. 24:2). The temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and never rebuilt. Thus, it is evident that Revelation was written before that judgment. [4]

Further, John’s epistles assume that the reader is familiar with material that’s unique to both the Book of Revelation and his gospel narrative:

Many of these themes in 1-3 John are also present in the Gospel of John. The subject of truth and the idea of a commandment of love is prominent in both books, along with the idea that God is light. “Eternal life” is a phrase that occurs with disproportionate frequency in John and 1 John. Common between the Gospel of John and Revelation are the ideas of Christ as the Lamb and the water of life. Christ is described by the Greek word “logos”, meaning “word”, in John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1, and Rev 19:13, but nowhere else in the Bible. Only Rev 1:7 and John 19:34 say Jesus was “pierced.” The picture of Christ as a lamb is also prominent in both books. Finally, Rev 1:1-2, “…John, who bore record of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw”, could be read as saying that the author of this book previously wrote the gospel as well. [5]

So if Revelation 22:18 applies to any and all additional scripture after the Book of Revelation was written then the Apostle John is just as condemned by it as Joseph Smith is.

The Stronger Arguments:
There are actually not one, but two stronger Biblical arguments that can be made for rejecting Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims as well as his alleged new scripture.

First Suggested Strong Argument:
Limit the scope of your argument to the Book of Revelation pointing out that in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) Joseph Smith both took away from and added to the Book of Revelation thus blatantly and willfully violating Revelation 22:18.

Remarkably, the LdS Church not only doesn’t deny this fact, it boasts about it:

Acting by the spirit of prophecy and revelation, Joseph Smith corrected portions, but not all, of what is amiss in the King James Version of the Bible. In the book of Revelation corrections, for instance, the angels of the various earthly churches become the servants (presiding officers) of those units. The lamb with seven horns and seven eyes becomes a lamb with 12 eyes and 12 horns, thus perfecting the symbolism to identify Christ and his apostles. Chapter 12 is so revised as to identify the woman as the church of God and the child that she brought forth as the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. And so forth.
– LdS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, “Understanding the Book of Revelation” [6]

Appendix A contains a list of the changes that Joseph Smith made to the Book of Revelation in the Joseph Smith Translation.

Second Suggested Strong Argument:
Use other Bible passages instead of Revelation 22:18 and reframe the argument. Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever explains:

…the Bible contains other warnings regarding those who would attempt to put words in God’s mouth. These include Deuteronomy 4:2; “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” And Proverbs 30:6 states “Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”

If both passages were strictly speaking to the problem of adding scripture to the canon, it could be argued that nothing should have been written (or accepted) after Moses penned Deuteronomy since it contains the first of such admonitions. In both cases these passages address the temptation for anyone to presumptuously speak for God. God does not take lightly those who would pretend to speak for Him when they were not authorized to do so. In fact, to be found guilty of speaking for God when God did not speak warranted the death penalty according to Deuteronomy 18:20, “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

The real issue lies in whether or not Joseph Smith was really acting as a mouthpiece for the Almighty. Did he truly reflect the mind and will of God by his teachings? Or did he inject his own views into what is today referred to as the “restored gospel”? Since it is obvious that his teachings conflict in many respects with those of the Bible, we must choose the latter.
– Bill McKeever, “Does Revelation 22:18 Condemn the Book of Mormon?”

Another Bible passage that I use in this regard is Deuteronomy 13:1-4 – which I like to cite from the Joseph Smith Translation because: a) It’s identical to the King James Version, and; b) using the Joseph Smith Translation eliminates getting the “it’s not translated correctly” objection from Mormons:

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,

And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;

Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.
– Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (JST)

And only did Joseph Smith say, “Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them” he actually boasted about it while doing so:

I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is…God himself was once as we are now and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret…I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.
– Joseph Smith, “The King Follett Sermon”[7]

I hope that the reader can see that these are much stronger arguments against Joseph Smith’s claim that he was a true prophet of God.  And if you’ve been using the weak argument that has been presented here you’ll consider using these instead.

"Landscape with St John the Evangelist at Patmos" by Gillis Coignet (ca. 1542–1599) from the Hermitage Museum
“Landscape with St John the Evangelist at Patmos” by Gillis Coignet (c. 1542–1599) from the Hermitage Museum

NOTES
[1] This system of arranging literature was called “Stichometry”.

[2] “Why are the books of the Bible in the order they are in? Are they listed chronologically?” Grace to You website, author uncredited

[3] J. W. McGarvey, “A Guide to Bible Study”  Appendix 8: Chronological Order of the Books of the New Testament

[4] Carl W. Bogue, Jr., Th.D., “The Dating of the Book of Revelation”, a full treatise of this subject can found in Ken Gentry’s classic work, “Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation”.

[5] Craig Davis, “Dating the New Testament”, The Gospel of John, the Letters of 1, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation. Note: While Mr. Davis presumes that the Gospel of John was written prior to the Book of Revelation, this isn’t entirely clear from the text of either book.  However, what is clear from the internal evidence is that John’s epistles were written last – after both John’s gospel and the Book of Revelation.

[6] Bruce R. McConkie, “Understanding the Book of Revelation”, Ensign, September 1975. What Mr. McConkie failed to mention here is that Joseph Smith had absolutely no manuscript support – or verifiable support of any kind for that matter – for his changes while the King James translators remained faithful to the source manuscripts they translated from.  A fuller explanation and analysis of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible can be found on the Mormon Think (click here) and Mormon Research Ministry (click here) websites.

[7] Joseph Smith, “The King Follett Sermon”, Ensign, April 1971; also see “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p.345

Appendix A: Changes that Joseph Smith made to the Book of Revelation in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST)
The changes from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible are italicized in their JST equivalents.

Rev 1:1-8
John received a revelation from Jesus Christ and delivered it to the leaders over the seven churches in Asia rather than the book being a revelation of Jesus Christ. 

JST
1 The Revelation of John, a servant of God, which was given unto him of Jesus Christ, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass, that he sent and signified by his angel unto his servant John,

Who bore record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

Blessed are they who read, and they who hear and understand the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein, for the time of the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Now this is the testimony of John to the seven servants who are overthe seven churches in Asia. Grace unto you, and peace from him who is, and who was, and who is to come; who hath sent forth his angel frombefore his throne, to testify unto those who are the seven servants over the seven churches.

Therefore, I, John, the faithful witness, bear record of the things which were delivered me of the angel, and from Jesus Christ the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.

And unto him who loved us, be glory; who washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God, his Father. To him be glory and dominion, forever and ever. Amen.

For behold, he cometh in the clouds with ten thousands of his saints in the kingdom, clothed with the glory of his Father. And every eye shall see him; and they who pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

For he saith, I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the Lord, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

KJV
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;

And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

Rev. 1:16, 20
The seven stars in the Savior’s hand are actually leaders of the seven churches rather than their angels.

JST
16 And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and his countenance was as the sun shining in his strength.

20 This is the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the servants of the seven churches; and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

KJV
16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

Rev. 2: 22
Jezebel and the wicked will be cast into hell rather than into a bed.

JST
22 Behold, I will cast her into hell, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

KJV
22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

Rev. 2:26–27
Several changes and additions made

JST
26 And to him who overcometh, and keepeth my commandments unto the end, will I give power over many kingdoms;

27 And he shall rule them with the word of God; and they shall be in his hands as the vessels of clay in the hands of a potter; and he shall govern them by faith, with equity and justice, even as I received of my Father.

KJV
26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

Rev. 5:6
Twelve servants of God are sent to all the earth rather than seven Spirits of God. 

JST
6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having twelve horns and twelve eyes, which are the twelve servants of God, sent forth into all the earth.

KJV
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

Rev. 12:1—17
Several changes and additions, including a reordering of verses. The woman and the man represent the kingdom of God and the Church of Jesus Christ.

JST
And there appeared a great sign in heaven, in the likeness of things on the earth; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.

And the woman being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God and his throne.

And there appeared another sign in heaven; and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman which was delivered, ready to devour her child after it was born.

And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore years.

And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought against Michael;

And the dragon prevailed not against Michael, neither the child, nor the woman which was the church of God, who had been delivered of her pains, and brought forth the kingdom of our God and his Christ.

Neither was there place found in heaven for the great dragon, who was cast out; that old serpent called the devil, and also called Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth; and his angels were cast out with him.

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ;

10 For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

11 For they have overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; for they loved not their own lives, but kept the testimony even unto death. Therefore, rejoice O heavens, and ye that dwell in them.

12 And after these things I heard another voice saying, Woe to the inhabiters of the earth, yea, and they who dwell upon the islands of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

13 For when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child.

14 Therefore, to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might flee into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

15 And the serpent casteth out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.

16 And the earth helpeth the woman, and the earth openeth her mouth, and swalloweth up the flood which the dragon casteth out of his mouth.

17 Therefore, the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

KJV
1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:

And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.

And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.

And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.

14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.

16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.

17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Rev. 13:1
The beast of Revelation 13 is in “the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth.”

JST
1 And I saw another sign, in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth; a beast rise up out of the sea, and he stood upon the sand of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns; and upon his horns ten crowns; and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

KJV
1 And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

Rev. 19: 15, 21
God uses the word of Christ rather than a sword to smite the nations.

JST
15 And out of his mouth proceedeth the word of god, and with it he will smite the nations; and he will rule them with the word of his mouth; and he treadeth the winepress in the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

21 And the remnant were slain with the word of him that sat upon the horse, which word proceeded out of his mouth; and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

KJV
15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

21 And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

Additions in Doctrine & Covenants
And, finally, Doctrine & Covenants 77 is a wholesale addition to the Book of Revelation by claiming to be a divinely inspired interpretation of the book directly from God Himself.  For example, the woman [the Church], the child [the kingdom of God], the rod of iron [the word of God], the dragon [Satan], and Michael are explained. The war in heaven is continued on the earth.

Doctrine &Covenants 77
Q. What is the sea of glass spoken of by John, 4th chapter, and 6th verse of the Revelation?

A. It is the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state.

Q. What are we to understand by the four beasts, spoken of in the same verse?

A. They are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created.

Q. Are the four beasts limited to individual beasts, or do they represent classes or orders?

A. They are limited to four individual beasts, which were shown to John, to represent the glory of the classes of beings in their destined order or sphere of creation, in the enjoyment of their eternal felicity.

Q. What are we to understand by the eyes and wings, which the beasts had?

A. Their eyes are a representation of light and knowledge, that is, they are full of knowledge; and their wings are a representation of power, to move, to act, etc.

Q. What are we to understand by the four and twenty elders, spoken of by John?

A. We are to understand that these elders whom John saw, were elders who had been faithful in the work of the ministry and were dead; who belonged to the seven churches, and were then in the paradise of God.

Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will,mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?

A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.

Q. What are we to understand by the four angels, spoken of in the 7th chapter and 1st verse of Revelation?

A. We are to understand that they are four angels sent forth from God, to whom is given power over the four parts of the earth, to save life and to destroy; these are they who have the everlasting gospel to commit to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; having power to shut up the heavens, to seal up unto life, or to cast down to the regions of darkness.

Q. What are we to understand by the angel ascending from the east, Revelation 7th chapter and 2nd verse?

A. We are to understand that the angel ascending from the east is he to whom is given the seal of the living God over the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, he crieth unto the four angels having the everlasting gospel, saying: Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And, if you will receive it, this is Elias which was to come to gather together the tribes of Israel and restore all things.

10 Q. What time are the things spoken of in this chapter to be accomplished?

A. They are to be accomplished in the sixth thousand years, or the opening of the sixth seal.

11 Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel—twelve thousand out of every tribe?

A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.

12 Q. What are we to understand by the sounding of the trumpets, mentioned in the 8th chapter of Revelation?

A. We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctifythe earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things, except that which he hath not put into his power, when he shall have sealed all things, unto the end of all things; and the sounding of the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his work, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years—the preparing of the way before the time of his coming.

13 Q. When are the things to be accomplished, which are written in the 9th chapter of Revelation?A. They are to be accomplished after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ.

14 Q. What are we to understand by the little book which was eaten by John, as mentioned in the 10th chapter of Revelation?

A. We are to understand that it was a mission, and an ordinance, for him to gather the tribes of Israel; behold, this is Elias, who, as it is written, must come and restore all things.

15 Q. What is to be understood by the two witnesses, in the eleventh chapter of Revelation?

A. They are two prophets that are to be raised up to the Jewish nation in the last days, at the time of the restoration, and to prophesy to the Jews after they are gathered and have built the city of Jerusalem in the land of their fathers.

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Exploring Mormon Thought

Bobby recently drew to my attention a book he reviewed on Goodreads, entitled Exploring Mormon Thought by Mormon philosopher Blake Ostler. The history of Mormon publishing and commentary is both interesting and revealing and I think worth a closer look.

Mormon publishing began, of course, with the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith said that it, “was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion…” In publishing terms that has to be a hard act to follow and Smith originally had no intention of following it. Indeed, by ‘revelation’ he made clear that the Book of Mormon was it.

In the 1833 Book of Commandments (the earliest version of what became the Doctrine & Covenants) the Mormon god reveals,

“…and he has a gift to translate the book [of Mormon], and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.”

By 1835 Smith had already started ‘revising’ the Bible and translating the papyrus he had bought and that he claimed was the Book of Abraham. In the ‘revised’ 1835 version of the Book of Commandments, now published as the Doctrine and Covenants, the same verses read:

“And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I commanded that you should pretend to no other gift, until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.”

Joseph Smith had experienced the power of publishing and learned quickly to harness it to achieve his developing ambitions. From the Book of Mormon to the early Mormon periodical Times and Seasons he set a precedent followed for the next century and more by those who came after him.

After Smith’s death Brigham Young took on the mantle of prophet, leading the saints to the Salt Lake Valley. Here he arranged to have recorded the public sermons of early prophets and apostles, though mostly of himself, recorded by a team of stenographers. The Journal of Discourses runs to 26 volumes, from Dec.1851 to August 1877. There has been nothing like it since in the Mormon Church.

Although the Church has proved a prolific publisher it has rarely added to its canon of scripture, effectively working from a closed cannon. This is something Mormons criticise Christian churches for doing. They do, however, publish teachings in books, manuals, compilations of previous prophets’ teachings, magazines, and conference reports.

What is striking for me, and this is a very personal comment, drawing from my own experience, is how the ‘authorities’ behind these publications have changed in my lifetime. When I became a Mormon in the early 1970’s most of the publications on any good Mormon’s bookshelves would have been written by General Authorities of the church.

There were, of course, tame and popular volumes like Rulon Howell’s The Mormon Story, The Restored Church, by William Bennett, and vanity published works such as Genet Bingham Dee’s A Voice From The Dust. Nevertheless, it was very much to the prophets that Mormons looked for their collateral reading of Mormon doctrine.

Talmage’s Articles of Faith, and Jesus the Christ were essential reading. Gospel Doctrine by Joseph F Smith, Doctrines of Salvation by Joseph Fielding Smith, a compilation of the Discourses of Brigham Young, and of The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith sat alongside the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Even the controversial Mormon Doctrine, 80% of which was a distillation of Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation, was written by a Mormon apostle.

The reasoning was sound enough. If you are led by prophets why would you seek guidance from amateur commentators? In ministry terms too, it made no sense to challenge Mormon doctrine on the basis of unofficial statements from what are easily dismissed private interpretations.

What Blake Ostler’s book reminds me of is the departure from the way Mormon leaders of previous generations were regarded as authoritative, their publications widely quoted, their written pronouncements the final word on an issue.

Today’s Mormon world is filled with unofficial commentary on and Mormon apologetic by Mormon academics and lay people. From Stephen Robinson’s Are Mormons Christian, and Richard E Grant’s Understanding Those Other Christians, through to weightier and more academic tomes like Ostler’s, and a small library of Book of Mormon commentaries by a whole raft of unofficial commentators. This is before we begin to look at what is online today, from the more combative, panegyric sites like FAIR and SHIELD, to the more carefully academic work of FARMS at the prestigious Maxwell Institute.

As I have said, this is more a personal note, and I am sure there will be those who easily find fault. But back in the day when answering the question, “What do Mormons believe about…” the go to people were Smith (a raft of Smiths in fact), Young, Talmage, Widstoe, LeGrand Richards, Kimball and, yes, McConkie.

These days their teachings seem to be carefully selected, appropriately edited, and finally brought to the world via a correlation Committee, charged with carefully crafting the perception of Mormonism, while others, freelance you might say, fill the shelves and internet bookmarks in Mormon homes.

Prophets seem to have become little more than window dressing and I would love to read how other people see this issue. Has anyone else noticed these changes? Is anyone surprised that it has not always been the way it is today? What are the most influential unofficial works you hear quoted?

Mike Thomas was a Mormon for 14 years, became a Christian in 1986 and for many years worked with Reachout Trust speaking and writing about Mormonism. He now helps to head-up the Reachout Ministry, still researches Mormonism, delivers seminars, and occasionally posts his thoughts on Mormon issues The Mormon Chapbook

Is The Mormon Gospel the Biblical Gospel? Lynn Wilder vs Michael Flournoy – Unbelievable?

unb

 

Well Lynn and Michael Wilder have gone home now after a great speaking tour in the UK. You can catch one of the sessions they did on our podcast here.  They did sessions in Kent, Wimbledon, Bradford and York. I believe in total around 250 people attended all of the sessions.

However while they were here Lynn also recorded an Episode of Unbelievable? With Justin Brierly. This is a really well done show where each week there is a dialogue between a Christian and a non Christian, or sometime in house issues amongst Christians. On this show Lynn has dialogue with a friend of mine Michael Flournoy. He wrote the book A Biblical Defense Of Mormonism, and is an LDS Apologist well experienced in dialoguing with Evangelicals.

You can catch the show on the Unbelievable? Site here, or below. If you don’t already regularly listen to this show, I think it really is the best Apologetics Radio show in the UK and covers a wide variety of fascinating issues. Their conference is actually being held in London next week, for more info on that see here. 

 

Is the Mormon gospel the Biblical gospel? Lynn Wilder vs Michael Flournoy – Unbelievable?

(left click to listen, right click then save link as to download.)

 As well if you are interested I recorded two episodes of this show a couple of years ago in dialoguing with active LDS member Charles Dayton. You can find those here and here. Also Russ East of our parent ministry Utah Partnerships for Christ, recorded an episode with LDS scholar Brian Hales last year, you can find that here. 

 

Joseph Fielding Smith manual – Chapter 10: Our Search for Truth reviewed by Stephen Livings

teachings-president-joseph-field-smith

Having been given free rein to pick a chapter from this year’s LDS adult Sunday School manual to review, I decided to see what would be being taught near the time my post was due to go online. I discovered that it was chapter 10, entitled: ‘Our Search for Truth’.

The title seems entirely appropriate, given the aims, intentions and purposes of our website.

The chapter begins with this quote:

“It is a requirement that is made of us, as members of this Church, to make ourselves familiar with that which the Lord has revealed, that we may not be led astray. … How are we going to walk in the truth if we do not know it?”

As a Mormon, one feels a sense of being in a safe place when immersing oneself in this world of church publications, which are all so well-produced to a high standard and give off an air of authority. The program is all there for you as laid out by the church, and all that is needed is to read, teach and learn from these authorised materials and you come away with a sense of purposefulness and security which is greatly appealing to those who feel lost or directionless in the world. So, from the standpoint of us who contribute to this website, what may be said of the intention of this chapter, that of making, “ourselves familiar with that which the Lord has revealed, that we may not be led astray”? Well, I intend to show that focusing on, and being familiar with, ‘that which the Lord has revealed’, can be a tricky business for the LDS seeker of truth.

Looking to LDS scripture, one can become easily confused when trying to ascertain a clear picture of the nature of God. For example, the Book of Mormon is clear in Alma 11 that there is only one God: “And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? And he answered, No.” There are many other passages in the Book of Mormon that affirm the same teaching, and the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon support this also, as stated at the end of their testimony printed at the front of the book: “And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God.” When reading from The Pearl of Great Price, those words start to become problematic, since we have Moses 2 on the one hand, which reads: “And I, God, said: Let there be light; and there was light” whilst in Abraham 4 one reads: “And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light.” The problem of knowing what to believe when confronted with words that the LDS church claims are revealed by God starts to become apparent.

Further LDS teaching relating to the nature of God merely adds to the difficulties. For example, the Book of Mormon God is a spirit: “the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem? And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth.” (Alma 22:9-10) but the Doctrine & Covenants God “has a body of flesh and bones, as tangible as man’s”. (D & C 130:22)

The contradictions between the Book of Mormon and later LDS scripture continue when faced with the teaching of whether or not God may dwell in people’s hearts:

Book of Mormon: “the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell” (Alma 34:36)

Doctrine and Covenants: “the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.” (Section 130:3)

Again, one can see in the following example that Book of Mormon teaching goes against subsequent teaching/ practice carried out in the LDS church. Let me present to you the words of Ether 8:18-19:

“And it came to pass that they formed a secret combination, even as they of old; which combination is most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God; For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man.”
Here it is plainly the writer’s intention for it to be understood that God does not go about working in a secretive fashion. This brings to mind Jesus’ words when on trial, “I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.” (John 18:20)

Yet we know that, for Mormons, God does indeed work in secretive ways, since the actions and wording involved in the secret temple oaths past and present are nowadays accessible to all who wish to learn about them. The ‘obligation of secrecy’ regarding the oaths taken in the Mormon temple are of the utmost seriousness to the temple-worthy Mormon. It is clear that the Book of Mormon theme of ‘secret combinations’, which is mentioned in several places throughout the book, presents a view that would suggest that God would not tolerate secretive oaths (even blood oaths as they were) to take place in his one true church.

I could continue with a great many more such differences, but will add only one more. Let us look together at Jacob 2:24, “David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” There are a great many examples in the Book of Mormon where such a stance regarding plural wives is taken. Yet other LDS scripture has the opposite view, expressed in strident terms: “I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory… David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.” (D & C 132: 4 & 38)

Clearly verse 4 is stating in no uncertain terms that the ‘new and everlasting covenant’ of plural marriage is essential in order to ‘enter into (God’s) glory’, and part of the justification for this ‘new and everlasting covenant’ comes from the precedent stated in verse 38, that of David, Solomon and Moses receiving many wives (and concubines!) which was not sinful of them! Yet the Book of Mormon has God saying this was an abomination. Great confusion reigns here once again.

To return to chapter 10 from the ‘Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith’ manual, remember those words quoted earlier: “How are we going to walk in the truth if we do not know it?” Points 2 and 3 from chapter 10 state: “The Lord has commanded us to search the scriptures… We have a great responsibility to hearken to the message of truth that the Lord is now revealing to His servants.” I wonder how the truth can be known using LDS scripture with so many blatant contradictions with which to contend.

Fortunately, there is another way:
“ …whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (John 14:4-11)

This is the way. HE is the way. HE is the truth! Ultimately that is what counts. Not seeking ‘the truth’ in LDS scripture. It is about knowing and (more importantly) being known by, God Himself. When we trust that Jesus is our way and is the truth, we can begin to understand that He is also ‘the life’. This is His gospel and it is far richer and more liberating than the ‘impossible gospel’ of Mormonism.

New Dialogue with a Mormon Apologist

9781479249022_p0_v1_s260x420

 

This is the first in a new series of posts I will be doing having discussion with a new online friend of mine Michael Flournoy. He is an LDS Apologist With a good understanding for Protestant theology. In this first post we both have an opening and closing section talking about the need to be able to get on with those that you disagree with without compromising, more of this to come. 

 

Michael opening thoughts.

In some ways Mormons and Evangelicals are like oil and water. Both groups possess very distinct beliefs and when we come together our differences come to light more than our similarities. Often, our doctrinal disagreements can result in bitter feelings and misunderstandings. Over the last centuries relations haven’t been terrific between us, which keeps us from benefiting from any sort of profitable relationship.

Perhaps it is time for a change in the way we approach one another. If it is possible for Mormons and Evangelicals to be friends, or at least coexist peacefully, here are a few places to start. First, both our religions believe we have “good news” to share. It shouldn’t be difficult for Latter-day Saints to understand that Evangelicals don’t consider themselves good friends at all if they don’t try to share the gospel, since we believe we’ll be held accountable for friends we don’t share it with. Maybe we should allow our Mormon and Evangelical friends to share their view of the gospel with us.

I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “blasphemy”! Let me clarify that letting someone share their beliefs with you comes with no necessary commitments. You don’t have to marry someone just because you go on a first date, and you certainly don’t have to switch religions simply because someone witnessed to you. As every former Mormon missionary knows, it’s all about choice; and a good choice cannot be made without the proper information. Evangelicals and Mormons alike will understand if their message is shared but not accepted. Participating in this sort of exercise can strengthen friendships by allowing each participant to share the hope that is in them while learning about the other.

As Latter-day Saints we are intimately aware of the fact that Evangelicals disagree with us on many important doctrinal issues. What we aren’t always so sure about is whether or not our Protestant friends bring these up simply to spite us. However, it has been my experience that most Evangelicals are not excited about the prospect of any Latter-day Saint spending eternity in hell. Usually when they talk religion to us, it’s actually because they care about us. Of course, I understand that some Evangelicals (and Mormons) do not talk religion with love in their hearts, and I would encourage these individuals to get their priorities straight before entering into any sort of interfaith dialogue.

On this note, Evangelicals and Mormons should refrain from “telling” each other what they believe and try “asking” instead. When we view each other with our Mormon or Evangelical lenses, what we see will not make much sense. But if we try on one another’s glasses for a moment, and try to see things their way, we’ll see clearly why someone believes as they do. This will eliminate the tendency to build and tear down straw men.

Sometimes I’ll hear Evangelicals say something along the lines of, “I’m not attacking you, I’m attacking Mormonism”. What Protestants need to realize, is Mormons take their religion very personally, and so attacking our religion will be construed asan attack on us. If an Evangelical absolutely feels the need to bring up an objection or concern with Mormonism, it should be done with the same tender love and care one would use to tell someone they might have cancer. Evangelicals should also take care not to use the words “Mormon” and “Jehovah’s Witness” in the same sentence. While we may share some similarities with Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are still very different religions, and lumping us together makes the perpetrator seem ignorant and “anti-Mormon”.

My advice to Latter-day Saints is to be sure we aren’t pretending to be the same religion as Evangelicals. Certainly there’s a desire in Mormonism to be acknowledged as Christian, and we do use many of the same words a Protestant would use to describe their faith. We should not be so zealous in our quest to expose similarities that we make our Evangelical friends perceive us as no different.

There is no reason Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals cannot be agreeable, even while disagreeing. If we come to a point where we have to agree to disagree, that’s ok. But if we’re going to change the way our relations have been sliding over the last few centuries, we need to admit that being friendly and really seeking to understand each others’ views can and should be done without compromising on our beliefs or our standards.

 

Bobby Opening Thoughts.

I came across Michael Flournoy when I was in the middle of one of my all time favourite hobbies. Book shopping on Amazon. As I often do I was looking for books on Mormonism, the title “A Biblical defense of Mormonism” of course caught my eye.

 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Michael understands where I and many others come from theologically, (no modalism strawmen) as a result of a lot of dialogue with Christians, and also that he had some interesting and even challenging points raised in this book. I looked him up on Facebook and the chat that has followed between us has brought about this idea of some joint posts.

 

When evangelicals hear of an ongoing dialogue with an LDS apologist or scholar etc I think we all often have the same fearful expectation of another compromise. Another evangelical for the sake of being “friends” with a Mormon letting go of some key beliefs and not asking some of the key questions, and further victory of the LDS churches goal of being accepted as Christian.

 

We all cringed when we heard Richard Mouws words in 2004 at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, when he apologized on behalf of the evangelical world saying this:

 

“We have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe.

 

While of course this will have at times happened, many Evangelicals that heard this sighed. Thinking Mouw was pandering to the LDS people without gaining an understanding from many of those in ministry to Mormons themselves about their methods and motives.

 

LDS Apostle Jeffrey Holland in his talk “Standing together for the cause of Christ” said:

 

“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which He revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.”

 

While there may be good intentions here, for evangelicals this wreaks of compromise, and also the misconception that our goal is to tear down, when actually the intention is to serve God by bringing people to Himself. This is not about wrangling and contending but rather preaching and causing people to submit to Christ leaving behind their false religion. LDS people may not accept this conviction but often the fact that this is our desire is missed.

 

It often seems that the only people that are known to publically dialogue with the LDS apologists scholars or leaders are those that compromise, and don’t make the points or ask the questions that many others think should be asked.

 

However is it possible for someone to dialogue with LDS people, publically and honestly with friendship love and respect without compromise?

 

In October 2013 Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler visited Brigham Young university regarding issues of the threat to religious freedom. Probably the most memorable quote Mohler made on this visit was as follows:

 

I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together,”

 

Its my desire that LDS people see that while I and many others share the sentiment of this quote, that LDS people who go strictly with the teachings of the LDS church have missed the gospel of grace and are not going to heaven, that this is not a belief that we take pleasure from at all. Often this is not understood.

 

I do not like this belief, but nevertheless I hold to it on the conviction that the gospel of grace and the God who saves, has been missed by the Mormon church. So often the label “Anti-Mormon” can get thrown around and before you know it any good motives are irrelevant and missed. The desire of myself and many others in doing this ministry is to bring people to Christ.

 

If I were to say that I myself have never communicated in a way that may be less than totally friendly or respectful or have never assumed the beliefs of the LDS person I am speaking too before asking, I think I would be less than honest. So often a supposed “expert” like myself can jump in too quickly without truly respecting the other person by listening as well as speaking. Sometimes the conviction that I have something this person needs to hear can overtake the fact that they may not want to hear it, at least not in a disrespectful manner.

 

If there is a way through dialogue with Michael that I can learn from him how to better communicate with LDS people, and start a respectful, uncompromising dialogue then this seems like a great opportunity.

 

 

 

Michael Closing Thoughts.

Ephesians 4:15 says that we may grow up unto Christ in all things by “speaking the truth in love”. Notice that this verse does not say speaking the truth is love. Are we at times coming across too aggressively, saying the truth hurts as an excuse to be overbearing? Indeed, we may honestly have love in our hearts while sharing our message, but if we are unable to show that love so that the receiver recognizes it as such, it is useless.

When Bobby initially contacted me on Facebook, I knew immediately that I could trust him. Although he unflinchingly acknowledges that he is anti-Mormon (the religion), he is at the same time one of the least anti-Mormon (the individual) people I’ve come across. Sometimes the things he says on his blog “Mormonism Investigated” can sting a bit to read, but his writing is devoid of sensationalism and exaggeration. If any Evangelical is wondering what tone to take when engaging Latter-day Saints, I highly recommend taking a look at Bobby’s articles, he does a great job of it.

Finally, let me just say that Evangelicals make wonderful friends, and if any LDS readers have them, you know what I’m talking about. There is zero doubt in my mind that Protestant Christians are God-fearing, respectable people. I’m so grateful for my Protestant friends who continue to put up with me, showing Christ-like love day in and day out.

 

Bobby Closing Thoughts

This is hopefully the first of many posts where Michael and I will, learn, teach, dialogue, laugh, get frustrated, and so on with each other in love, with the goal of truly understanding each other, and of course seeking to bring the other closer to Christ.

This is new territory for me and I hope that people reading will enjoy this as much as we do, and I hope this opens a lot of doors for people to see that dialogue between LDS and Evangelical people, or other faiths for that matter, does not have to be disagreeable and does not have to compromise in the process.

 

This post will also appear on Michael Flournoy’s blog at http://www.mormondefense.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Book of Mormon Origins – If Not Angels Then Who?

Book of MormonAnyone who has expressed doubts regarding the story of the Book of Mormon will probably have been met with the question, “Well if Joseph didn’t get it from the angel how do you explain the Book of Mormon?”

Today the Book of Mormon does seem an unusual book that appears to have sprung from nowhere. Certainly the Mormon Church likes to present it as such, insisting that it could only have the history claimed for it because there is no other credible explanation.

In my last post we looked at the Bible as a major source for the Book of Mormon. Large sections of the Bible are quoted in the Book of Mormon, including over eighteen chapters of Isaiah. Even the Apocrypha is pressed into service, providing names, concepts and story lines. Beyond the Bible there was ample material on which Joseph Smith could draw to build his stories of the Ancient Americas; but could a simple farm boy have produced such a book?

Joseph Smith – Ignorant Farm Boy?

LeGrand Richards, in his book A Marvellous Work and A Wonder, after listing “42 great truths revealed through Joseph Smith,” makes this comment:

“Joseph Smith, or any other man, could not have obtained all this information by reading the Bible or studying all the books that have ever been written. It came from God.” (p.411)

At the beginning of his book LeGrand Richards quotes Jesus’ words about putting new wine into new wineskins (Mark 2:21-22) to explain why God would choose an uneducated lad – so that He could teach the lad the way He wanted, without any traditions or prejudices to get in the way. Joseph is often cast in the role of ignorant farm boy, thoroughly incapable of writing the Book of Mormon.First Vision 2

This picture of an uneducated lad is misleading. Although he had little formal schooling, he was an imaginative and bright child. His imagination led him into divination and treasure seeking in his teens. Further, Joseph Smith’s parents, far from being the poor country hicks often imagined, were downwardly mobile gentry from Vermont, who moved to Palmyra in 1817, and struggled with a mortgage, debts, and poor crops. His father worked the land in the season and, during the winter, was a school teacher, so there was education in the home.

Even so, the only way the question of an “uneducated lad” innocently seeking truth could possibly arise in the first place is if the story is plausible. But there is no evidence to show that a fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith sought God, went into a grove to pray, saw visions, or was led by an angel to the hidden repository of gold plates.

Joseph, in his later telling of the story, relates how he shared his experience with a local Methodist preacher and was treated with contempt and subjected to ‘the most bitter persecution and reviling’ by ‘the great ones of the most popular sects of the day.’  And yet no account has been found of the vision in any records of the time, or for almost twenty years after. This at a time when newspapers, fighting for circulation, reported regularly the lively tales based on folk-lore and superstition that prevailed at the time.

Fawn M. Brodie, who published a biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, was one of the first to cast doubt upon the authenticity of the story:

“Joseph’s own description of the first vision was not published until 1842, twenty-two years after the memorable event.

If something happened that spring morning in 1820, it passed totally unnoticed in Joseph’s home town, and apparently did not even fix itself in the minds of members of his own family. The awesome vision he described in later years may have been the elaboration of some half-remembered dream stimulated by the early revival excitement and reinforced by the rich folklore of visions circulating in his neighborhood. Or it may have been sheer invention, created some time after 1834 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging.”

James B. Allen, Professor Emeritus of History at Brigham Young University, admits that “none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830’s, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the first vision.” Dr. Allen goes on to state that in the 1830’s, “…the general membership of the Church knew little, if anything, about it.”

This being the case, the Book of Mormon can only be the product of an older, more mature Joseph Smith, whatever its true origins. The “uneducated lad” was yet to discover his destiny at the age of fourteen and knew nothing of angels, dreams, and gold plates. Joseph Smith

Back in the Day…

In fact, many of Joseph’s ideas can be traced to the people around him and the speculations of the day:

Official Mormon Church history tells us that Joseph’s father believed in dreams and visions and as early as 1811, when Joseph was only 6, contended for a return to the original church established by Jesus Christ and his apostles. His parents were both, purportedly, independent religious thinkers, his mother believing that all the Christian creeds were wrong – as did many people in that place back in the day.

In fact, in 1809, Alexander Campbell had come out against all Christian creeds and began his own sect (the Disciples of Christ), attempting to return to the early church. Also known as the Campbellites, they were prevalent along that part of the frontier and many later became Mormons because of the similarity in their beliefs.

Even the account of Joseph’s so-called First Vision is remarkably similar to accounts of spectacular conversion stories published in that period. In 1816 Elias Smith, a minister, claimed to have seen “The Lamb once slain” in a vision in the woods. Joseph’s local newspaper published a similar story in October 1823. Alexander Campbell himself wrote in 1824 about a revival in New York during which people had had visions, heard a voice in the woods, or seen the Saviour descending to the tops of the trees.

To people today, the idea of the Urim and Thummim stones, which enabled Joseph to translate the golden plates, is strange, but peep stones were common back in the day. In March 1826 Joseph was charged with being “a disorderly person and an impostor.” He admitted in court that he used a peep stone to discover hidden treasures in the earth. He actually had several, including a dark stone he looked at in his hat, and a clear stone he held up to a candle or the sun.

Joseph’s mother testified to the inventive nature of his mind:

“During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.” (Quoted in No Man Knows My History, Fawn Brodie, p.35)

The Book Of Mormon – Couldn’t Have Been Written By A Man?

In view of the above it would seem that Joseph had plenty of material on which to draw for such a book. Added to which, local speculation was rife about a highly civilised race that had been wiped out in a great battle and buried in mounds locally.

A local Congregationalist minister, Ethan Smith, published a book in 1823 called View of the Hebrews; or the Ten Tribes of Israel in America. In it he argues that Native Americans are descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel, a view commonly held back in the day. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Mormon Church asserts that Joseph could not have written such a complete book in the 60 days in which the translation took place. Yet those who acted as his scribes never actually saw him translate. It is known that there was a curtain between them and Joseph, and they never saw the plates as he translated.

They also testify that his translation was fluent and he never corrected. Since even the best linguists sometimes have to rephrase their translation, Joseph must have been directly inspired by God. Another possibility, of course, is that he was reading from a previously prepared manuscript, or even from memory, considering his unique ability to “tell tales” as witnessed to by his mother. And remember almost one third of the Book of Mormon is lifted from the Bible.

It is impossible to consider the origin of the Book of Mormon without considering Joseph Smith and the background against which he lived. The book can be explained by Joseph’s fertile mind, mastery of language, native cunning, and responsiveness to the tittle-tattle, speculations, and opinions around him.

The Book Of Mormon – An Ancient Document?

In 1831 Alexander Campbell wrote concerning the Book of Mormon:

“This prophet Smith…wrote…in his Book of Mormon every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies; -infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of free masonry [sic], republican government, and the rights of man” (Millennial Harbinger, Feb.1831, p.93)

Not only does Joseph Smith tackle these great nineteenth century controversies in his Book of Mormon, but uses material from publications not in existence at the time of the Nephites.

There are marked parallels between the Book of Mormon and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Joseph also appears to have drawn from popular books of his day, and even the local newspaper, to create his theological masterpiece.

Even Shakespeare is paraphrased by Lehi, the father of Nephi,  “hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs you must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveller can return (2 Nephi 1:14). Hamlet, act 3, scene 1, contain the words “from whose bourn no traveller returns…” Famously, the last word in the Book of Jacob is not “Reformed Egyptian” but French, “I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren adieu” (Jacob 7:27)

Not a Shard…

We began with the challenge to account for the Book of Mormon if the official story is questioned. The Book of Mormon is very much a product of its age and fits neatly into the background of the early 19th Century. It is not for us to prove anything, however, but for the Mormon Church to account for the origins of the Book of Mormon.

Mormons argue that they have a prophet and modern revelation, while those who cling to the wreckage of traditional and apostate Christianity have the heavens closed to us – but who has the evidence? Who can “walk Bible lands”, while Mormons pay top dollar to tour guides to take them through non-existent “Book of Mormon lands”, point to Inca and Maya ruins and declare “it might have been something like this”?

Who can walk in the footsteps of Abraham as he travelled from Ur to Haran and Lower Egypt and to Beersheba; or of Israel as they travelled from Egypt, across the wilderness, to the promised land; or of St Paul if they wish, to Seleucia, Lystra, Philippi, Corinth, Athens, Galatia and Rome; or follow in the steps of Jesus himself as he walked the shores of Galilee or the streets of Capernaeum and Jerusalem?

But no one can tell us where Nephi walked, where Mosiah reigned as king, where Alma, son of Alma was judge over his people and high priest over the church, where the wars recorded by Helaman took place and many Lamanites were converted; not even where Jesus walked when he supposedly “walked the Americas”. Joseph Smith could lift his stories from the Bible but the archaeology has stayed stubbornly in Bible lands.

New World archaeology has not turned up a coin, not a pot, not a shard, not a brick, a name, a hill or mountain, a valley or river, not a city, town or village to support Mormon claims for the Book of Mormon. If the places and people didn’t exist then the events cannot have taken place.

It is the Mormon Church that is making great claims for the Book of Mormon and if it can be shown to be false it is for the Mormon Church, and not us, to account for it.

Mike Thomas was a Mormon for 14 years, became a Christian in 1986 and for many years worked with Reachout Trust speaking and writing about Mormonism. He still researches Mormonism and occasionally posts his thoughts on Mormon issues at The Mormon Chapbook