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I'm a Christian, married to a wonderful man, Steven, and mother to a wonderful little son. I have many interests and a few noteworthy journeys in life and I enjoy sharing them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Do Mormons Understand Grace? A Response to "His Grace is Sufficient"

A few days ago, while visiting my parents, I noticed an article printed out on their (not for) coffee table that was about grace. I didn't get a chance to peruse it while there, but skimmed the first page for keywords and phrases so I would be able to search and recognize it, and pulled it up to read once I returned home. When I found and read it, I was in shock at what I was reading. It wasn't quite the Christian doctrine of grace, but it was a far cry closer than anything I'd been taught as a Mormon! Has the church really changed so much in less than three years?

The article is below for your perusal. My comments are in (italics), and quotes by Mormon General Authorities are in blue. It is long, but please bear with me..(http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=2968)

His Grace is Sufficient
By Bradley R. Wilcox

Several years ago I received an invitation to speak at Women’s Conference. When I told my wife, she asked, “What have they asked you to speak on?” I was so excited that I got my words mixed up and said, “They want me to speak about changing strengths into weaknesses.”
She thought for a minute and said, “Well, they’ve got the right man for the job!”
She’s correct about that. I could give a whale of a talk on that subject, but I think today I had better go back to the original topic and speak about changing weaknesses into strengths and about how the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient (see Ether 12:27, D&C 17:8, 2 Cor. 12:9)—sufficient to cover us, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes.
Sufficient to Cover Us
A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”
She said, “I just don’t get grace.”
I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”
She said, “I know I need to ‘do my best and then Jesus does the rest,’ but I can’t even do my best.”
She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing—“because she’s a Mormon”—that she wasn’t doing.
She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”
She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn’t be doing—“because she’s a Mormon”—but that she was doing anyway.
Finally I said, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”
Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, “Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”
She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.
I said, “Wrong.”
“I knew it was higher,” she said. “I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”
I said, “No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.” 
 (Right, that sounds Christian. He did pay it all. It is finished. But...)

“However good a person’s works, he could not be saved had Jesus not died for his and everyone else’s sins. And however powerful the saving grace of Christ, it brings exaltation to no man who does not comply with the works of the gospel” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 207).

She said, “Right—like I don’t have to do anything?”
“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.” 
(There it is. The caveat that is not Biblical. Grace belongs to everyone in LDS theology, regardless of faith or obedience. All will be resurrecting into a kingdom of heaven. Obedience decides which one. You did not solve this girl's issue by telling her she will be resurrected by grace no matter what--she's still going to have to struggle for "worthiness.")

“Conditional or individual salvation, that which comes by grace coupled with gospel obedience, consists in receiving an inheritance in the celestial kingdom of God. This kind of salvation follows faith, repentance, baptism, receipt of the Holy Ghost, and continued righteousness to the end of one’s mortal probation” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 669-670).
Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matt. 5:48, 3 Ne. 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 3 Ne. 28:35). 
(No, you aren't paying the demands of justice, but you are fulfilling a requirement.
“So what’s the difference?” the girl asked. “Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required.”
“True,” I said, “but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ’s requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason.” 
(So...you still have to pay for what you get, you mean? Its just more worthwhile? Right. That's still money owed or invested. That's still our effort earning or gaining something that we can't have at all unless we do it on our own.)

“I believe in the grace of God made manifest through His sacrifice and redemption, and I believe that through His atonement, without any price on our part, each of us is offered the gift of resurrection from the dead. I believe further that through that sacrifice there is extended to every man and woman, every son and daughter of God, the opportunity for eternal life and exaltation in our Father’s kingdom, as we hearken and obey His commandments” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1986, pp. 50-51).

Sufficient to Transform Us
Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.
If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with Mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.
In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19), “keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us. 
(I have multiple issues with this part. First of all, what if the child refuses to practice? In both Mormon theology and in the piano lessons, if the efforts stop, so do the payments. If the child refuses to practice and loses all interest in piano, the mother will often stop paying for lessons. In Mormon teachings, if you don't fulfill your efforts well enough, you won't make it to the Celestial Kingdom.
Second, what arrogant comparisons to Christians! As if Christians are all lesser! Do Christians give of time and money? They do, or if they don't, they should. But since they are not required to do so in order to be "worthy" to go to a temple for "saving" ordinances, they choose to do so out of personal conviction. Any requirement on amount is done away with in the New Testament, but a cheerful giver is praised. In fact, many Christian churches give a significantly greater percentage in outreach and charity than the Mormon church does! Christians do go on missions, often bringing the Gospel to places Mormon missionaries won't touch, and often providing much-needed medical aid, clean water, and food in third world countries that Mormons don't. Christians also often have things like prison outreaches and other ministries that reach out to those who are hurting the most, which Mormons often do not. Christians do serve in callings--because they are actually called by God, not a bishop who possibly has no true understanding of their abilities and demands on their lives, as my own poor mother experienced. I am not saying that all who call themselves Christians or all so-called Christian churches do all these things as well as they should, or at all, but they should and in many cases--especially outside of developed countries--do, and often do so better than the Mormon church.)
Elder Bruce C. Hafen (BA ’66) has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange for his paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], p. 149; emphasis in original). 

“The blood of Christ was shed as a free gift of wondrous grace, but the Saints are cleansed by the blood after they keep the commandments” (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p. 77).
“Even that grace of God promised in the scriptures comes only ‘after all we can do’” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, November 1995 (Conference Edition), p. 19).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (BS ’54) has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], p. 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put this in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change. 

“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. Along with all the other works necessary for man’s exaltation in the kingdom of God this could rule out the need for repentance. It could give license for sin and , since it does not require man to work out his salvation, could accept instead lip service, ‘death-bed repentance,’ and shallow, meaningless confession of sin” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 206-207).

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”
I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”
They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”
I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!” 
 (How so? In that you will be resurrected...like everyone else? What have you been saved from, before the works begin, and no matter how well you do in your works through the rest of your life? What will you be saved to, by virtue of grace alone? Certainly not saved from death and hell and saved to heaven and righteousness the way the Bible talks about!)

“The Athanasian creed will return to the realms of darkness where it was spawned. The doctrine of salvation by grace alone without works shall be anathema. The great and abominable church shall tumble to the dust. False worship shall cease” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, p. 430).
Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: (The author's general assumption that they have no fully considered it is, frankly, insulting to many Christians and arrogant on his part.) “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from (Care to share? If he saved us from sin, death, and hell, why does that not apply to the Christian?) but also what He has saved us for. (Well, if they've got a good pastor or mentor and/or have read the New Testament, they do know. Ephesians 2:10) As my friend Brett C. Sanders (BS ’00) puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals shared with me, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moro. 7:48).
The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Rom. 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but no unchanged thing will even want to.
I know a young man who just got out of prison—again. Each time two roads diverge in a yellow wood, he takes the wrong one—every time. When he was a teenager dealing with every bad habit a teenage boy can have, I said to his father, “We need to get him to EFY.” I have worked with Especially for Youth since 1985. I know the good it can do.
His dad said, “I can’t afford that.”
I said, “I can’t afford it either, but you put some in, and I’ll put some in, and then we’ll go to my mom, because she is a real softy.”
We finally got the kid to EFY, but how long do you think he lasted? Not even a day. By the end of the first day he called his mother and said, “Get me out of here!”
Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly.
In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.
Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”
Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it. 

“Through grace, made available by the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, all people will be resurrected and receive immortality (see 2 Nephi 9:6-13). But resurrection alone does not qualify us for eternal life in the presence of God. Our sins make us unclean and unfit to dwell in God’s presence, and we need His grace to purify and perfect us ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23)” (True to the Faith, 2004, p. 77).
“The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fulness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him” (True to the Faith, 2004, p. 77).

But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone were to beg on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.” 
(Uh, no. Jesus won't beg them. They had their chance.)
The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—amazingly—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. To return to our metaphor, if practice were not required, then we would never become pianists. 
(And not once has the author mentioned yet how the Spirit comes into play...As if we have to do it all on our own. We don't. The Spirit works in us constantly to sanctify us. It is one of the benefits of being a true believer in Christ.)
Sufficient to Help Us
“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with movement in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?
Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace.
There are young women who know they “are daughters of [a] Heavenly Father who loves [them], and [they] love Him.” Then they graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don’t understand grace.
There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, “I hope they call me on a mission,” and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “This is stupid. I will never do it again,” and then they do it. The guilt is almost unbearable. They don’t dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, “I can’t do this Mormon thing. I’ve tried, and the expectations are just way too high.” So they quit. These young men don’t understand grace.
I know returned missionaries who come home and slip back into bad habits they thought were over. They break promises made before God, angels, and witnesses, and they are convinced there is no hope for them now. They say, “Well, I’ve blown it. There is no use in even trying anymore.” Seriously? These young people have spent entire missions teaching people about Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and now they think there is no hope for them? These returned missionaries don’t understand grace.
I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don’t understand grace.
In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Cor. 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).
One young man wrote me the following e-mail: “I know God has all power, and I know He will help me if I’m worthy, but I’m just never worthy enough to ask for His help. I want Christ’s grace, but I always find myself stuck in the same self-defeating and impossible position: no work, no grace.”
I wrote him back and testified with all my heart that Christ is not waiting at the finish line once we have done “all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). He is with us every step of the way. 
 (2 Nephi 25: 23 "For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." Pretty sure it says after...Did I read that wrong? And I have to ask, how does all that fit into the three kingdoms of heaven? Entry into each one is determined by a combination of faith and works, or lack thereof. Is grace just the heavenly aid for those who already believe in the Mormon faith, or what?)

“The Lord will bless us to the degree to which we keep His commandments. Nephi put this principle in a tremendous orbit when he said: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ (2 Nephi 25:23.) The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments” (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in the Holy Places, p. 246. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 24).

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during, and after the time when we expend our own efforts” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], p. 155). So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch (see Heb. 12:2).
The first company of Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Their journey was difficult and challenging; still, they sang:
Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
[“Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002), no. 30]
“Grace shall be as your day”—what an interesting phrase. We have all sung it hundreds of times, but have we stopped to consider what it means? “Grace shall be as your day”: grace shall be like a day. As dark as night may become, we can always count on the sun coming up. As dark as our trials, sins, and mistakes may appear, we can always have confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ. Do we earn a sunrise? No. Do we have to be worthy of a chance to begin again? No. We just have to accept these blessings and take advantage of them. As sure as each brand-new day, grace—the enabling power of Jesus Christ—is constant. Faithful pioneers knew they were not alone. The task ahead of them was never as great as the power behind them.
Amazing Grace
The grace of Christ is sufficient—sufficient to cover our debt, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes. The Book of Mormon teaches us to rely solely on “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne. 2:8). As we do, we do not discover—as some Christians believe—that Christ requires nothing of us. Rather, we discover the reason He requires so much and the strength to do all He asks (see Philip. 4:13). Grace is not the absence of God’s high expectations. Grace is the presence of God’s power (see Luke 1:37).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said the following:
Now may I speak . . . to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. . . .
. . This feeling of inadequacy is . . . normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance. . . .
. . This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us. [“Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, November 1976, pp. 12, 14]
With Elder Maxwell, I testify that God’s grace is sufficient. Jesus’ grace is sufficient. It is enough. It is all we need. Oh, young people, don’t quit. Keep trying. Don’t look for escapes and excuses. Look for the Lord and His perfect strength. Don’t search for someone to blame. Search for someone to help you. Seek Christ, and as you do, I promise you will feel the enabling power we call His amazing grace. I leave this testimony and all of my love—for I do love you. As God is my witness, I love the youth of this church. I believe in you. I’m pulling for you. And I’m not the only one. Parents are pulling for you, leaders are pulling for you, and prophets are pulling for you. And Jesus is pulling with you. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

“In the Restored gospel, grace and works ever go hand in hand. No one will ever be exalted by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, if that person is complacent in his approach to the commandments. Nor will anyone find himself exalted solely through seeking to keep all of the commandments of Christ, as no one is able to fully do so” (Alonzo L. Gaskill, Odds Are, You’re Going to be Exalted, p. 2.

What I find in this article is a complete misunderstanding of grace and a horribly arrogant attitude towards Christians. Yes, some people who profess to be Christians do not do the works they should and take advantage of grace. The New Testament specifically condemns that. Whether they are truly Christian could be up for debate in many cases, especially in light of the list of those who will not reach the kingdom of heaven in Galatians 5--although we are all sinners, even after being saved, and that is where grace must applied. We, true believers, are sanctified through the Spirit. And through the Spirit you get the Christians who so obviously do love Jesus and make efforts to be good, Godly people. The author's all-encompassing condemnation of some American Christians shows a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be a Biblical Christian.

Grace, however, is what saves us from death and hell and to heaven, fellowship with God, and righteousness, all thanks to Jesus. We receive grace through faith. The Spirit then sanctifies us, and we do good works as a result. In fact, Ephesians 2:8-10 sums it up neatly:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Notice that the works do not get us anything--they were already prepared for us. Salvation is from faith alone, as a gift, and good works are prepared for us by God. How can we earn something (like exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom) by doing something already prepared for us? How can we become worthy of what we already have? Being saved by grace alone does not advocate pursuing sin. What it does do is give all the credit to Jesus.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mormon Temples

Mormon temples are sacred places meant for worship and reception of saving ordinances, in the Mormon mind. 

 D&C 124: 37 And again, verily I say unto you, how shall your washings be acceptable unto me, except ye perform them in a house which you have built to my name? 38 For, for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was. 39 Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name. 40 And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; 41 For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.

So what do we find in these temples? Are they consistent with the Bible? Are the centered on God and Jesus? 

Nauvoo Temple
 This is a picture my parents took on their Nauvoo trip. The sunstones and pentacles that adorn the temple can be seen clearly.

 This is not the original Nauvoo temple, which was destroyed by fire and tornado. It is built the same, though, and Joseph Smith was heavily involved in its design.
 While pentacles are commonly associated with Satanism and magic now, they were not always used for such. Many of the symbols on the temple, including the pentacles, are derived from their use in Masonry, of which Joseph Smith was a member.

There was a myth long believed about Masonry, which is that it ultimately could be traced back to the Temple of Solomon. This myth, however, has proven unsubstantiated and false, used as a claim to legitimacy. In reality, Masonry is a later creation. Is reasons for creation were not bad, and much of its history has not been bad, though it has had its shady moments.

In fact, one of these shady moments found its way into the Book of Mormon. A murder took place during the time that Joseph Smith was writing the Book of Mormon, and was done by the Masons to a man who was going to publish the secrets of Freemasonry. This murder sparked general outrage and anti-Masonic sentiment, which found its way into the Book of Mormon in the form of the Gidianton robbers, who parallel the Masons in many respects, such as in "secret signs and combination," which the Book of Mormon condemns.

Helaman 6:22 And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant. 26 Now behold, those secret oaths and covenants did not come forth unto Gadianton from the records which were delivered unto Helaman; but behold, they were put into the heart of Gadianton by that same being who did entice our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit— 27 Yea, that same being who did plot with Cain, that if he would murder his brother Abel it should not be known unto the world. And he did plot with Cain and his followers from that time forth.

 Considering the injunction again secret signs and oaths, its interesting that Joseph Smith later joined Masonry--with its secret signs and oaths--and incorporated its signs, tokens, rituals, oaths, and symbols into the temple and the rituals performed within the temple. And considering that the symbols, rituals, etc. do not trace back to the Temple of Solomon, it is quite difficult to argue that these are inspired symbols and rituals that line up with Biblical teachings. They are not based on the Bible, on Jesus, or on revelation, but from a man's experience with a man-made organization.

Perhaps even more evident of the lack of Biblical truth found in the temple is the use of things like the statue of the Angel Moroni on the top of every temple, along with all the symbolism within the temple that point to forever families and exaltation rather than to Jesus.

It is profoundly condemning, in my eyes at least, that they are willing to put a golden statue of a man on top of their temples, as well as all sorts of Masonic symbols, some of which have since become associated with the Satanic and pagan, but they are not willing to put up crosses or much else that is obvious tribute to Jesus alone. At best, it is un-Biblical. At worst, it is idolatrous. To claim that these are God's House when they are so obviously based on the imaginings of a man is wrong.

Furthermore, we can compare the Mormon temples to Solomon's temple. If they really are the houses of God, then they should fall in line with the Old Testament mandates for the tabernacle, which later became the temple, and should have the same uses. But again, the Mormon temples fail this test. The appearance is far different. The Old Testament gives much detail on how the tabernacle is to be laid out, and on how the later temple was built on the same pattern.

 We can easily see the difference between unique and varied architecture of the hundreds of Mormon temples and the design of the Old Testament temple. The basement baptismal font of the LDS temples are outside, and not used for baptisms for the dead, in the tabernacle and Solomon's temple. Where the floor plan for the tabernacle was laid out in excruciating detail, and the rituals done in all places explained, even if some were restricted to only a select group or single person, the inside of the Mormon temple is little known to the uninitiated,, as well as the rituals done inside being kept secret.

Where are the sacrifices, the incense burning, and all the other requirements for the tabernacle to be found in the Mormon temples? If they are even there, their use or meaning has been altered. Where are the celestial marriages, the ordinances for the dead, the secret handshakes and names, in the Old Testament? There are not there, because they were not needed, and still are not. Even temples are not needed anymore.

Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

This is yet another reason I cannot accept the Mormon claim to be Christian. To tell me that I must go to a building adorned with un-Biblical symbolism derived from a man-made (although not necessarily bad) organization, and therein perform rituals derived from the same organization, in order to be "worthy" and have a chance at "exaltation," is not anywhere to be found in the Bible and is an insult to what the temple was in the Old Testament and what Jesus did in the New Testament.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Have Mormon Prophets Taught That We can Become Gods?

There is a growing trend amongst Mormons to deny the long-held doctrine that we can literally be exalted to Godhood. This doctrine was established by Joseph Smith, affirmed by multiple prophets, can be found at least implicitly, if not explicitly, in LDS scripture, and is still believed by many Mormons today, particularly the older generations. Yet it is a doctrine that is hard for many non-Mormons, especially Christians, to accept, and the church is pulling away from it just like they have pulled away from blood-atonement, Adam-God, and polygamy as a requirement in the past. So perhaps establishing that it really was taught as doctrine by multiple prophets and really is contained in their scripture would be helpful.

Let's start with their scripture.

D&C 132:  20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
(It is interesting to note that the footnote for the word "gods" includes the Topical Guide reference "Man, Potential to Become Like Heavenly Father.")
 37 Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.
Notice how closely the language parallels language that is ascribed only to God and Jesus in the Bible...yet they are referring to mere mortal men here. 

D&C 76: 58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God— (speaking of the resurrection of the faithful)

Abraham 4 is particularly disturbing to me. I would encourage reading the whole chapter, but the first verse sets the tone well enough:
And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.

At the least this is referring to the polytheistic Godhead, which is contrary to the Bible's very clear monotheistic teachings which are proven by sources like the Dead Sea Scrolls to predate Jesus. It's more likely that the reference to Gods was a council of Gods that Joseph Smith refers to elsewhere.

Here is what I think is one of the most damning evidences of the doctrine of men becoming like God being taught by Joseph Smith. This is the King Follet Sermon.

"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.

Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. (My note: in the Bible, only God is enthroned in everlasting power.)

These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.

In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted [prepared] a plan to create the world and people it.

The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal [co-eternal] with God himself.

They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know that you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know that it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more."
 (Read the full sermon at http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/sermons_talks_interviews/kingfolletsermon.htm)

 These are not isolated teachings. Many are familiar with the couplet that says that, "God once was as man is now, and man may become as God now is."

Here are some further quotes by Bruce R. McConkie, a previous General Authority:

"The Father is a glorified, perfected, resurrected, exalted man who worked out his salvation by obedience to the same laws he has given to us so that we may do the same," (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1985, p. 64).

"Man and God are of the same race, and it is within the power of righteous man to become like his Father, that is to become a holy Man, a Man of Holiness," (Mormon Doctrine, p. 465-466).

"This Holy Man, the Father of us all, who reigns supreme and is a saved being , ordained and established a plan of salvation so that his Firstborn and all his spirit children might advance and progress, become like him, have all power, know all things, live in the family unit, having eternal increase of their own or in other words, that they might gain for themselves immortality and eternal life," (A New Witness, p. 704).

The Gospel Principles manual, used to teach on Sundays, says this in Chapter 2:
"Our Heavenly Father called a Grand Council to present His plan for our progression (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 209, 511). We learned that if we followed His plan, we would become like Him. We would be resurrected; we would have all power in heaven and on earth; we would become heavenly parents and have spirit children just as He does."

Chapter 47 says that,
"When we lived with our Heavenly Father, He explained a plan for our progression. We could become like Him, an exalted being."

This has been reflected more recently, such as in D. Todd Christopherson's April 2011 General Conference talk titled "As Many As I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten" where he says that God's purpose is for us "to be with Him eternally, and to become even as He is."

These things have been taught from the pulpit by prophets and published in works written and endorsed by General Authorities. These things were taught by their very first prophet as revelation. The Topical Guide still hints at it. It is still being taught.

In fact, it is a logical outreach of the doctrines the church espouses. If we are the literal children of heavenly parents, well, how did they become heavenly parents? And if children grow up to become like their earthly parents, as far as being adults and hopefully successful and productive citizens and parents, will we not "grow up" to become like our heavenly parents as far as having the opportunity to reach the same or similar status and have our own spiritual families as well? Moreover, the very fact that Jesus, who Mormons teach is our literal spirit elder brother, was able to become a God would argue that we could, too, and that that is the whole point of God's plan.

This is what Mormon authorities have taught explicitly in the past, and even if they're far more shy about teaching it so openly now--and even if they are sometimes outright duplicitous in denying that the doctrine is taught, as Hinckley did to the public even though he himself taught it within the church--it doesn't not change its existence or that it is the logical outgrowth of the false doctrines about God and how we came to be that the Mormon church teaches.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Conversation on Sin and the Fall

This is a conversation that purely took place in my own head. Admit it, you have conversations in your head too. The Mormon missionary in this conversation is pretty much just the sounding board to work through the whole thing. The Mormon will be M and I will be L. I know missionaries travel in pairs, so I'm just assuming only one engages in the conversation.

M: "Hello. Can I talk to you about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?"
L: "Sure. I actually have some things I wanted to ask a Mormon about."
M: "Awesome, what can I help you with?"
L: "Okay, I'm going to process through this with you. Your Second Article of Faith says that you believe that mankind is punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgressions, right?
M: "Right."
L: "And if I'm not mistaken, that is at least in part because you believe that 'Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.' (2 Nephi 2:25) So the Fall was necessary, and therefore we aren't held accountable for it."
M: "Something like that."
L: "Okay, let's backtrack. You believe that before this world was 'organized,' we all lived as spirit brothers and sisters with our Heavenly Father and Mother."
M: "Yes."
L: "So, being good parents, they wanted us to be able to get bodies and become exalted like them, kind of like how kids hopefully grow up to be productive adults who continue the cycle of raising children themselves."
M: "Exactly!"
L: "So because this cycle had been done before, God knew what the best plan was to make sure this happened, and needed a savior. Jesus volunteered to do it God's way, but Satan wanted to do it his way, which involved basically taking away our free will so that everyone would be exalted but no one would have a choice about it. God and Jesus' way involved almost everyone making it to at least some level of heaven, but not everyone being exalted, because everyone gets to make their own choices, which is free will."
M: "Something like that."
L: "So Satan rebelled against the tested and proven plan because he was prideful enough to think his way was better, started a war that was doomed to fail because he was outnumbered two to one and the other side was led by God, and got kicked out of heaven like a rebellious teenager."
M: "Basically."
L: "Alright, fast forward to the Fall again. Adam and Eve have to fall. For some reason, they can't procreate unless they sin first--which is weird, since God made everything else able to be fruitful and multiply, and gave them the same command, but apparently their bodies weren't capable of reproduction, or they were but sex is associated with sin even within marriage so they have to sin first. Anyways, that's another issue, so we'll leave it alone. No matter why it worked that way, they had to sin in order to have children, and they had to have children in order for God's plan to work. But God can't tempt them to sin, and since they had no knowledge of good and evil and no sinful nature and weren't spiritually dead, they couldn't sin. They had to be tempted by an outside source. Does that make sense?"
M: "Sure."
L: "So Satan comes along and tempts them, according to plan. The Bible says he tempts them with a lie, which was that they could become like God or become gods, but Mormon theology says he was actually tempting them with the truth. But that's yet another issue that we won't get into. Anyways, he knew God's plan; God presented it to everyone, including him, and he rejected it, and doesn't want God's plan to work now because of his pride. Everyone who knows much about the Bible knows that. Yet for some reason, he played along with God's plan and did exactly the one thing that God himself could not do; he tempted them to sin. Wouldn't he have left Adam and Eve to be sinless forever if he truly wanted to thwart God's plan?"
M: "Well, uh...you see...I..."
L: "You don't have to answer that right now, there's no scripture for that one anyways. I'll move on to another related question."
M: "Uh..."
L: "Okay, so we agreed earlier that in Mormon theology, the Fall was necessary to God's plan?"
M: "Yes."
L: "So sin was necessary, so that we can be tempted and prove ourselves and apparently procreate and all that."
M: "Right..."
L: "Okay, the Bible says something different, so bear with me here. The Bible says that sin was not part of God's intention for humanity. He made creation good, and then we sinned and fell, and now God has a plan to redeem us. Sin is bad, redemption is good. He could leave us in this state because we got ourselves into it, but we can't get ourselves out, and He is a loving God, so He's made a plan even before He made us to get us out of the mess that we got ourselves into. But sin was not necessary. He gave the command to be fruitful and multiply before the Fall, and He meant it. Satan lied to Eve, and she fell away from God's plan and mankind became spiritually dead, and we can only be made alive again in Jesus. There's no becoming like God or preexistence, there is redemption from a fallen and sinful state to the perfect creation that God originally made. We will be cleansed of all sinfulness and corruption. That's the plan of salvation that the Bible outlines. I know its not what you believe, necessarily, but its what the Bible says. Are you tracking?"
M: "I think so..."
L: "Good. Okay, so think about a rape victim. You probably know one, if you're willing to get personal about it. About a fourth to a third of women are sexual assault victims, and about a sixth to a fifth of men are, so chances are you know at least one, probably a woman."
M: "Yeah..."
L: "Alright, so let's look at the rape they underwent in light of the Mormon view and the Biblical view of sin. In the Mormon view, sin was part of God's plan. He doesn't necessarily like it or what it does, but he planned on it and requires it. So if we get very literal and down to the very core of the issue, when that rape victim you know says, 'Why did this happen to me,' the Mormon view would have to say, 'Because sin is part of God's plan, and not everyone resists temptation, and you became a victim to that.' I know that doesn't sound good, but when you get down to the core of it, that's true, right?"
M: "I guess..."
L: "Now if you go to the Biblical view, when the rape victim asks that question, the Biblical Christian can say, 'Because this is a sinful and fallen world, but God can and will redeem and restore it, and that includes redeeming and restoring what happened to you, if you let Him.' That sounds a lot more right and hopeful, doesn't it? More in line with the nature of a loving and perfect God?"
M: "Yes..."
L: "And that is one of the reasons I can't accept the Mormon God. I can't accept a God that would tell a rape victim--and I know many--that what they underwent was part of his plan in the sense that he meant for sin to come into this world. I can accept a God that did not mean for sin, but knew it would happen because we were able to choose it and He is all-knowing, and then He made a way to redeem and restore, which He is doing through Jesus.
"And that, my friend, is the true gospel."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Response to Mormonism 101: FAQ

There is an article in the LDS Newsroom that I wish to respond to. My responses are in italics. This is the "FAQS" about Mormons, as presented by the article, which can be found at http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-101#C13


Are Mormons Christian?

Yes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian church but is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Rather, it is a restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ as originally established by the Savior in the New Testament of the Bible. The Church does not embrace the creeds that developed in the third and fourth centuries that are now central to many other Christian churches.
Latter-day Saints believe God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save all mankind from death and their individual sins. Jesus Christ is central to the lives of Church members. They seek to follow His example by being baptized (see Matthew 3:13-17), praying in His holy name (see Matthew 6:9-13), partaking of the sacrament (see Luke 22:19-20), doing good to others (see Acts 10:38) and bearing witness of Him through both word and deed (see James 2:26). The only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ.

No, it is not Christian. I've addressed this in past blogs. First, the LDS church is not a historical or spiritual restoration of the early Christian church. It looks nothing like it. Second, rejection of those creeds rejects some very sound and foundational biblical teachings that the apostles held quite sacred. While it is true that salvation is through faith in Jesus, Mormons also believe that works are required--see the Third Article of Faith.

What do Mormons believe about God?

God is often referred to in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as our Heavenly Father because He is the Father of all human spirits and they are created in His image (see Genesis 1:27). It is an appropriate term for God who is kind and just, all wise and all powerful. God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost constitute the Godhead or Trinity for Mormons. Latter-day Saints believe God is embodied, though His body is perfect and glorified.

God does not have a body (John 4:24). Further, the above statements are somewhat deceptive, as Mormons don't just believe that they are created in God's image, but that God is the literal spirit father of us all and that we were procreated.

Do Mormons believe in the Trinity?

Mormons most commonly use the term “Godhead” to refer to the Trinity. The first article of faith for the Latter-day Saints reads: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” Latter-day Saints believe God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are one in will and purpose but are not literally the same being or substance, as conceptions of the Holy Trinity commonly imply.

The Bible "implies" that conception of the Trinity, too. Mormons reject some very clear teachings of the New Testament in rejecting the Trinity as Christians understand it. Further, it makes them polytheistic (or henotheistic) rather than monotheistic, despite very clear teachings in the Bible that there is only one God (Isaiah 43:10).

What is the Mormon View of the purpose of life?

For Latter-day Saints, mortal existence is seen in the context of a great sweep of history, from a pre-earth life where the spirits of all mankind lived with Heavenly Father to a future life in His presence where continued growth, learning and improving will take place. Life on earth is regarded as a temporary state in which men and women are tried and tested — and where they gain experiences obtainable nowhere else. God knew humans would make mistakes, so He provided a Savior, Jesus Christ, who would take upon Himself the sins of the world. To members of the Church, physical death on earth is not an end but the beginning of the next step in God’s plan for His children.

There is no reason to believe in a preexistence, biblically speaking. Nor are we here to be "tried and tested," because that begs the question, for what? Mormons believe it is for exaltation and progression, but that is not a biblical belief. Sin is not desirable, as it would be if it were necessary for testing and proving ourselves. Jesus' atonement is not an "out" because of something that we have to undergo to prove ourselves. That cheapens Jesus' suffering and triumph at best. We got ourselves into sin, and only Jesus can get us out, and the question is not proving ourselves, but whether or not we choose Jesus, who proved himself, so that we might live with God. That's quite a big difference.

Do Mormons believe in the Bible?

Yes. The Church reveres the Bible as the word of God, a sacred volume of scripture. Latter-day Saints cherish its teachings and engage in a lifelong study of its divine wisdom. Moreover, during worship services the Bible is pondered and discussed. Additional books of scripture — including the Book of Mormon— strengthen and reinforce God’s teachings through additional witnesses and provide moving accounts of the personal experiences many individuals had with Jesus Christ. According to Church apostle M. Russell Ballard, “The Book of Mormon does not dilute nor diminish nor deemphasize the Bible. On the contrary, it expands, extends, and exalts it.”

While Mormons do regard the Bible as scripture, there is a caveat: "As far as it is translated correctly." (Second Article of Faith) However, there is good scholarship proving, time and again, that the Bible is translated correctly. The other Mormons scriptures often contradict the Bible and each other, not to mention the plethora of issues with the Book of Mormon that make is historicity and authenticity highly suspect at best.

What is the Book of Mormon?

In addition to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. It contains the writings of ancient prophets, giving an account of God’s dealings with the peoples on the American continent. For Latter-day Saints it stands alongside the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as holy scripture.

It would help if the Book of Mormon did not have issues such as anachronisms, contradictions with the Old Testament Law and practices, evidences of 19th century origin, being written in King James English when that was not spoken at that time, no definite historical setting or archeological support, etc.

What is a Mormon temple?

Temples existed throughout Biblical times. These buildings were considered the house of the Lord (see 2 Chronicles 2:1-5). Latter-day Saint temples are likewise considered houses of the Lord by Church members.
To Latter-day Saints, temples are sacred buildings in which they are taught about the central role of Christ in God’s plan of salvation and their personal relationship with God.
In temples, members of the Church make covenants with God to live a virtuous and faithful life. They also offer sacraments on behalf of their deceased ancestors.
Mormon temples are also used to perform marriage ceremonies that promise the faithful eternal life with their families. For members of the Church family is of central importance.

Temples (plural) did not exist throughout Biblical times. There was only one temple, which began as the tabernacle, and it fulfilled a very, very specific set of purposes which were fulfilled in Jesus' atonement. This is also why it was destroyed within a generation of Jesus' atonement, as Jesus prophesied--it was no longer needed. Marriage, endowments, and ordinances for the dead never took place in the Biblical temple. Mormons spend billions on these lavish temples, and the ordinances done with in can be kept quite secret, with the excuse that they are "sacred"--which is rather strange, because normally sacred things are shared and celebrated and taught, even if their access is restricted, such as the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament. The fact that Mormon endowment rituals closely resemble Masonic rituals is lost on most Mormons.

Do Latter-day Saints believe in modern-day prophets?

Yes. The Church is governed today by apostles, reflecting the way Jesus organized His Church in biblical times. Three apostles constitute the First Presidency (consisting of the president or prophet of the Church and his two counselors), and, together with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they have responsibility for leading the Church worldwide and serving as special witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each is accepted by Church members in a prophetic role corresponding to the apostles in the Bible.

It would help if their first prophets were true prophets. There are many documented false prophecies, most of which can be found in D&C or in the History of the Church volumes and the Journal of Discourses--all written/recorded by Mormons and approved by "prophets." The current prophets do not prophesy, they just lead the church, more as businessmen and spokesmen than anything else.

Do Latter-day Saints believe that the apostles receive revelations from God?

Yes. When Latter-day Saints speak to God, they call it prayer. When God responds through the influence of the Holy Spirit, members refer to this as revelation. Revelation, in its broad meaning, is divine guidance or inspiration; it is the communication of truth and knowledge from God to His children on earth, suited to their language and understanding. It simply means to uncover something not yet known. The Bible illustrates different types of revelation, ranging from dramatic visions to gentle feelings — from the “burning bush” to the “still, small voice.” Mormons generally believe that divine guidance comes quietly, taking the form of impressions, thoughts and feelings carried by the Spirit of God.
Most often, revelation unfolds as an ongoing, prayerful dialogue with God: A problem arises, its dimensions are studied out, a question is asked, and if we have sufficient faith, God leads us to answers, either partial or full. Though ultimately a spiritual experience, revelation also requires careful thought. God does not simply hand down information. He expects us to figure things out through prayerful searching and sound thinking.
The First Presidency (consisting of the president or prophet of the Church and his two counselors) and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles receive inspiration to guide the Church as a whole. Individuals are also inspired with revelation regarding how to conduct their lives and help serve others.

There is little "revelation" that has come forth in quite a while, and most of it seems rather uninspired when examined. For instance, blacks were allowed the priesthood in 1978. The fact that civil rights pressure and expansion of the church (and building of temples) in countries where there are many citizens of color seems to have played quite a role in this "revelation."

Do Mormon women lead in the Church?

Yes. All women are daughters of a loving Heavenly Father. Women and men are equal in the sight of God. The Bible says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In the family, a wife and a husband form an equal partnership in leading and raising a family.
From the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints women have played an integral role in the work of the Church. While worthy men hold the priesthood, worthy women serve as leaders, counselors, missionaries, teachers, and in many other responsibilities— they routinely preach from the pulpit and lead congregational prayers in worship services. They serve both in the Church and in their local communities and contribute to the world as leaders in a variety of professions. Their vital and unique contribution to raising children is considered an important responsibility and a special privilege of equal importance to priesthood responsibilities.

This is quite a deceptive answer. The real answer should be no. Women lead the women's organizations under the leadership of the men. Women cannot fulfill many, many leadership roles outside of that. Their "preaching from the pulpit" are the same assigned talks that any member can be asked to give. The authority of men--the priesthood--is ultimate in the church, and the women are subject to it. While it is not wrong to choose to have men only fulfill certain leadership positions on theological grounds (such as complementarian Christians do; I am one), the Mormon church has overstepped this to a chauvinistic level at times, restricting women even from giving a blessing of healing to their own children and such, even though the Bible does not restrict the spiritual gift of healing--and many other spiritual gifts that Mormons restrict to male priesthood authority--from women. The big issue is really the Mormon priesthood, which is not a biblical priesthood, but which Mormons put complete trust in and give all authority to.

Do Latter-day Saints believe they can become “gods”?

Latter-day Saints believe that God wants us to become like Him. But this teaching is often misrepresented by those who caricature the faith. The Latter-day Saint belief is no different than the biblical teaching, which states, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). Through following Christ's teachings, Latter-day Saints believe all people can become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

This wishy-washy answer is actually outright deception. Prophets beginning with Joseph Smith and advancing all the way through Gordon B. Hinkley, and perhaps even the current prophet Thomas S. Monson, have espoused the doctrine of eternal progression from the pulpit, which says that God was once a man and that people can become Gods. Joseph Smith introduced this doctrine in his King Follett discourse, and most Mormons who have been in the church for long enough believe it. When Mormons says that they believe that God wants us to become like Him, it is meant literally, although not all Mormons--especially new converts--realize exactly what they are saying. The doctrine is in their scripture, however. D&C 132 speaks of people becoming gods.

Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will “get their own planet”?

No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine. Mormons believe that we are all sons and daughters of God and that all of us have the potential to grow during and after this life to become like our Heavenly Father (see Romans 8:16-17). The Church does not and has never purported to fully understand the specifics of Christ’s statement that “in my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2).

Yes, they do. Their prophets have taught it, and it is a logical outgrowth of their eternal progression doctrines and their idea that God lives near a start called Kolob, according to their scriptures (Book of Abraham). Many Mormons,  believing that God is an exalted man and that we are His literal spirit children and that He organized this planet for us (also in the Book of Abraham), believe we too can be exalted and have our own spirit children and planets/galaxies/universes. They even sing about this stuff, such as in the song "If You Could Hie to Kolob." I believe that is Hymn 284.

Do some Latter-day Saints wear temple garments?

Yes. In our world of diverse religious observance, many people of faith wear special clothing as a reminder of sacred beliefs and commitments. This has been a common practice throughout history. Today, faithful adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wear temple garments. These garments are simple, white underclothing composed of two pieces: a top piece similar to a T-shirt and a bottom piece similar to shorts. Not unlike the Jewish tallit katan (prayer shawl), these garments are worn underneath regular clothes. Temple garments serve as a personal reminder of covenants made with God to lead good, honorable, Christlike lives. The wearing of temple garments is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.
Biblical scripture contains many references to the wearing of special garments. In the Old Testament the Israelites are specifically instructed to turn their garments into personal reminders of their covenants with God (see Numbers 15:37-41). Indeed, for some, religious clothing has always been an important part of integrating worship with daily living. Such practices resonate with Latter-day Saints today.
Because of the personal and religious nature of the temple garment, the Church asks all media to report on the subject with respect, treating Latter-day Saint temple garments as they would religious vestments of other faiths. Ridiculing or making light of sacred clothing is highly offensive to Latter-day Saints.

The temple garments are also thought to be protective. They have masonic symbols stitched into them--I think two symbols on the top, over the breast, very small and discreet but definitely there. I never wore them myself, by I did my family's laundry, and my parents wore them, so I grew up seeing them. The garment has evolved with society and cultural standards. They once went to wrists and ankles, but now resemble boxers and a t-shirt. They are supposed to be a reminder of the endowment covenants in the temple.

Do Latter-day Saints practice polygamy?

No. There are more than 14 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and not one of them is a polygamist. The practice of polygamy is strictly prohibited in the Church. The general standard of marriage in the Church has always been monogamy, as indicated in the Book of Mormon (see Jacob 2:27). For periods in the Bible polygamy was practiced by the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, as well as kings David and Solomon. It was again practiced by a minority of Latter-day Saints in the early years of the Church. Polygamy was officially discontinued in 1890 — 122 years ago. Those who practice polygamy today have nothing whatsoever to do with the Church.

Well, not one of them is supposed to be a polygamist according to the standards of the mainstream church. Some do, though they often end up in one of the fundamentalist sects after becoming polygamists. The command for polygamy still exists in their scriptures, however, in D&C 132. Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets practiced it, and it was a requirement for exaltation for quite a while, as Brigham Young pointed out more than once. It was given up due to social pressure. The sects that still practice it follow the examples and teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young closer than mainstream Mormons do. It is still practiced spiritually, in that men may be sealed to more than one woman (such as in case of the death of a first wife and remarriage) but women cannot be sealed to more than one man.

What is the position of the Church regarding race relations?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, “Black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.
People of all races have always been welcomed and baptized into the Church since its beginning. In fact, by the end of his life in 1844 Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed slavery. During this time some black males were ordained to the priesthood. At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended. Church leaders sought divine guidance regarding the issue and more than three decades ago extended the priesthood to all worthy male members. The Church immediately began ordaining members to priesthood offices wherever they attended throughout the world.
The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”

Joseph Smith flip-flopped on the issue of abolitionism. He embraced it purely for his presidential campaign. Brigham Young and subsequent prophets were very racist, as their documented statements in the church-published Journal of Discourses bears witness to. That is precisely where the restrictions on blacks holding the priesthood came from--Brigham Young went so far as to declare it as doctrine that no blacks would receive the priesthood until all white races did. The Book of Mormon also makes is clear that dark skin is a curse. The above verse from the Book of Mormon is probably just Joseph Smith paraphrase of Galtatians 3:28, and does not really reflect the rest of the Book of Mormon which, while not outright racist, does have some white supremacist overtones because of dark skin being a curse and white skin being preferable.

Do Mormons believe that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri?

We do not know exactly where the original site of the Garden of Eden is. While not an important or foundational doctrine, Joseph Smith established a settlement in Daviess County, Missouri, and taught that the Garden of Eden was somewhere in that area. Like knowing the precise number of animals on Noah’s ark, knowing the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important to one’s salvation than believing in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Although its still really weird to think of Missouri as the Garden of Eden...not to mention, the fact that the New Jerusalem is supposedly going to be there. Particularly since the Bible clearly mentions the Euphrates river when describing the general location of the Garden of Eden--and that, for those who don't know, is most definitely not in Missouri.

Why do you “baptize for the dead”?

Jesus Christ taught that “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). For those who have passed on without the ordinance of baptism, proxy baptism for the deceased is a free will offering. According to Church doctrine, a departed soul in the afterlife is completely free to accept or reject such a baptism — the offering is freely given and must be freely received. The ordinance does not force deceased persons to become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or “Mormons,” nor does the Church list deceased persons as members of the Church. In short, there is no change in the religion or heritage of the recipient or of the recipient's descendants — the notion of coerced conversion is utterly contrary to Church doctrine.
Of course, proxy baptism for the deceased is nothing new. It was mentioned by Paul in the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 15:29) and was practiced by groups of early Christians. As part of a restoration of New
Testament Christianity, Latter-day Saints continue this practice. All Church members are instructed to perform proxy baptism only for their own deceased relatives as an offering of familial love to one’s ancestors — any other practice is not sanctioned by the Church.

Physical water baptism is not a requirement for salvation, only faith is. Mormons would do well to take a very close, long, careful reading of all of John 3, not to mention other New Testament passages on the requirements of salvation. Baptism by the Spirit is a requirement, but that comes automatically when one is saved by grace through faith. Water baptism is no more than a symbol--one that shouldn't be neglected, but still a symbol just like communion/sacrament. Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that there isn't a second chance after death (Hebrews 9:27). There is no proof that early Christians practiced baptisms for the dead, or that it was condoned by Paul when he mentioned it, particularly since he refers to those who do it as "they," when he usually says "we" when talking about Christians. He merely mentioned it to support his arguments for resurrection; it would not have been the only time that he used non-Christian beliefs, practices, or sayings to prove his point.

Why does the Church send out missionaries?

The missionary effort of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is based on the New Testament pattern of missionaries serving in pairs, teaching the gospel and baptizing believers in the name of Jesus Christ (see, for example, the work of Peter and John in the book of Acts). More than 52,000 missionaries, most of whom are under the age of 25, are serving missions for the Church at any one time. Missionary work is voluntary, with most missionaries funding their own missions. They receive their assignment from Church headquarters and are sent only to countries where governments allow the Church to operate. In some parts of the world, missionaries are sent only to serve humanitarian or other specialized missions.

Why don’t Mormons smoke or drink alcohol?

The health code for Latter-day Saints is based on a teaching regarding foods that are healthy and substances that are not good for the human body. Accordingly, alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee and illegal drugs are forbidden. A 14-year UCLA study, completed in 1997, tracked mortality rates and health practices of 10,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in California, indicating that Church members who adhered to the health code had one of the lowest death rates from cancer and cardiovascular disease in the United States. It also found that Church members who followed the code had a life expectancy eight to 11 years longer than the general white population of the United States.

While Mormons may be physically healthy because of their Word of Wisdom, there are many other problems that the Word of Wisdom does not fix. Utah, with its high concentration of Mormons, is top in the nation for internet porn searches, teen/young adult suicide, anti-depressant use for women, boob jobs, and some kinds of financial fraud, among other things.

I also want to address a picture that accompanied the FAQs:

It is not a Christ-centered faith, it is a church-centered faith. Outside of their sacrament, prayers, and hymns, Jesus is not even one of the main focuses of Mormon meetings and teachings. It is possible to go through multiple Sundays at Mormon services barely hearing about him, specifically, outside of the aforementioned instances. He is part of the church in name only. Even in members' testimonies, the church usually comes before Jesus.

Mormons might be the most "knowledgeable" as far as some basic scripture trivia goes just because they teach the same lessons on it over and over and over again, but next to someone who has actually studied the Bible, their theological and biblical knowledge is quite lacking. I did not know much of the Bible when I was a Mormon, and though I'd read the whole New Testament, much of the epistles were incomprehensible to me because they taught the opposite of many Mormon teachings. I was not unusual amongst Mormons. Most Mormons have never read their whole Bible, more or less the whole New Testament, through. Its far more likely for them to have read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, even multiple times.

While Mormons are family-focused, they do so to the point of idolatry, often putting forever-family first even over God. So while their family values are good, their motives behind it are misplaced.

Mormons have a giving faith precisely because they are required to give in order to go to the temple, and they have to go to the temple in order to get a forever-family and exaltation. Donations go almost exclusively to the church, and the church does not disclose its finances in countries where it is not required to do so. However, what they have released is very telling. They've spent more on a single mall in Salt Lake city than they have on charity in 25 years. So yes, Mormons give...to Mormons.

Furthermore, while the Mormon church claims over 14 million members, statistics show that it is probably less than half this number in reality, as there is no more than a 50% retaining rate for new converts. However, despite half or more of new converts ceasing attendance within a year, those converts are still claimed as membership. Not all of the active membership would be "temple-worthy," either. At best, there's probably less than 5 million active and temple-worthy Mormons. And despite more membership being outside of the U.S. than inside, it is still a very American faith. It is run in America, mostly by Americans, and America is the central focus of the Book of Mormon and of the future restoration of the 10 tribes and the gathering of the New Jerusalem, according to their scriptures.

 So there you have it. My take on the FAQs and representations the Mormon church is trying to present to the public to make themselves appear acceptable and desirable. I'm just not buying it.