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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.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Logic Behind Joining the Mormon Church" Analysis

This is a blog post that a Mormon I know shared on her Facebook the other day. It got many cringes as I read it. So, my analysis will be in (parenthesis), italics, and blue. 

About a month ago, my wife and kids were standing in line at Disneyland waiting to go on the newly renovated Thunder Mountain. Normally standing in line for an hour is really boring but not this time! We were blessed to have a couple standing behind us that decided they would like to bag on Mormons for awhile. My ears are big…so I got to hear everything, and since they were unaware of us being Mormons, it was nice and unfiltered. The quick synopsis is “Mormons are soooo weird”, but in all of it I never heard any logical reason for why we were so weird…

I’m not one of those people that can just accept something without working it out in my own mind. I’ve got to work things over and look at all angles in order to come to a conclusion and devote myself to an ideology.  Many people will obviously disagree with my reasoning but I’d like to present some of the logic behind why I continue to be a “Mormon”.
I’ve studied every single major religion and many of it’s factions. I’ve gone straight to the source in my studies of these religions because I know that I’ll never get an accurate depiction of a religion from its detractors. (You don't normally get a totally accurate depiction from the source, either.) I’ve read from Catholic Catechisms, Hindu Sacred Texts, The Koran, and from Primal Religion writings. I’ve studied under non-LDS PhD’s in religious studies and have poured over the Bible. I’ve traveled personally to Basilicas and Cathedrals, to Mosques and Synagogues, and to Mandirs or Temples. I’ve talked with the people at these places about their origins and I’ve studied their history. They were devoted to God, and I loved them for it.

“One True Church”

The only conclusion I could come to in all of this was that each of these religions had one common origin. Their stories of creation and their moral laws seemed to all coincide with one another and each of them had a desire to become more and more like deity. The Bible has shown this pattern over and over again throughout it’s history. God would reveal His plan for us. People would then follow the prophet that revealed the plan and they’d become righteous because of it. Then…over time, people would splinter off and start their own religion because they personally disagreed with a few of the commandments or teachings of the originally established church or religion. (This is actually a very Mormon idea of biblical history. You see people going off to already established pagan religions in the Bible, but you almost never see them start a new religion.) New churches were started for any and every sort of reason. King Henry the 8th started the entire Church of England because he wanted to divorce his current wife Catherine of Aragon and marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. Does this mean the Church of England is devoid of any truth? No…not at all. They still had pieces of the “one common origin” as did all of the factions that broke off from them in subsequent years [Baptists, Episcopal's, Methodists 7th Day Adventists Quakers, and many of the Evangelical churches of our day]. (One of the things that Mormons often miss about many Christian denominations is that we all believe in the same essentials. Those Christians that know the Bible well accept people of other denominations as Christians if they believe in those same essentials, and consider differences to be "in house" or "in family" differences.)
After studying all of the world religions, I came to the conclusion that Christianity made the only claim that appealed to my eternal perspective on life. Other religions fell short of promising a future worth pursuing for myself. But there was a big problem in my mind. As of today there are about 50,000 different Christian denominations, while the Apostle Paul is telling the Ephesians that there is only “One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism”. [Eph 4:5] It wasn’t logical to me that there would be so many churches if Christ himself setup just one. (This isn't about a denomination, this is about salvation. As I stated above, people of multiple denominations can be Christian -- can be saved -- regardless of which of those denominations they attend. Each and every one of those saved Christians of those many churches believe in one Lord, have faith in the same essentials and the same Jesus, and are baptized by the same Spirit.)
Some people get ticked off at referring to a “one true church” but isn’t that what Christ would have called His Church when he established it? Don’t you think that if Thomas came up to Him and said… “Lord, I think I’m not liking this doctrine your teaching about baptism, so I’m going to go start the Church of Thomas”…does anyone think that Christ would have considered Thomas’s church part of the “one true church”? One denomination just became two denominations because of a doctrinal disagreement but it doesn’t make Christ’s church any less true. If Christ was who He said He was, then His Church is the “one common origin” found within the religions of the world. His “gospel” was not just revealed when He was on the earth, but had been given to prophets since the beginning of time. (What in the world does he think this "one common origin" is? All religions outside of biblical Christianity reject Jesus or believe in him wrongly. Not all prophets point to Jesus. Heck, even in the Old Testament, they often didn't realize that everything was pointing towards and building up to the Messiah. Many things only made sense in retrospect. The "gospel" is the good news of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection for our sins and salvation. That wasn't fully revealed and understood until it happened!)

So Where Is The Church That Christ Established?

I figured I’d look to see which if any Christian churches claimed to be the “one true church”. Only a few made this claim. Greek/Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Again, a "one true church" doesn't matter as far as denomination. There is one true Jesus, and those who follow him. Many people of various denominations fit that definition.) A few others may make the claim but don’t have enough content to mention here. Now its time to determine whether any of the three measure up to the Church of Jesus Christ from a couple thousand years ago. Some of the most important attributes I looked at from the New Testament consisted of the following:

Paid Ministry

I could not find anywhere in the New Testament in which servants of the Lord were paid. (Paul actually very specifically said that those whose full time job is ministry can be paid for it, and even deserve to be paid for it (1 Corinthians 9:11-14, 1 Timothy 5:17-18). It's pretty obvious what he means when he says that, "The worker deserves his wages." Further, the LDS church DOES have paid ministry. The general authorities get paid a stipend, plus they are involved in all of the business aspects of the church, which brings them further income, on top of often already being retired businessmen. Some of the general authorities own multiple million-dollar homes.) Peter was a fisherman and Paul was a tentmaker. They had to make a living first and then preach the gospel. In fact, multiple scriptures speak against receiving money for preaching the gospel. Paul specifically says that we should preach the gospel “without charge” in 1 Cor 9:18 “that we abuse not our power in the gospel”. (Paul did not say that people should not be paid for preaching. He said that he chose not to. Only a few verses before, he said that it is allowed (vs 11-14), and that he chose not to use that right (vs 15).) If you look at it logically, how can a man that is relying on money from his church members as his livelihood make perfectly unbiased decisions when it comes to church matters. (A pastor and other members of paid ministry should be subject to oversight, including being transparent with the membership. The LDS church is not. It's highest members are paid, and members don't know exactly what the tithes go towards.) Every member that leaves his church represents less food on the table. Money…especially when it comes to survival…can be a very influential foe. The pastor of the Saddleback mega church might summarize what I’m trying to say best. He paid back all of the money he made from his church after his book went viral and then summarized his decision by saying, “The Bible teaches that we are to love people and use money, but we often get that reversed and you start loving money and using people to get more money.  Money is simply a tool to be used for good.” – Rick Warren  (Founder of Saddleback Church) When money is involved in church governance, compromises are sure to be made because of man’s fallen and natural condition.

Nature of God

I couldn’t find “The Trinity” anywhere in the scriptures. (If he means that he didn't find the word, well, "monotheism" isn't in the scriptures either, yet the scriptures clearly teach it. I've referenced the Trinity a few times before, so I'd recommend reviewing that, but the long and short is that the concept of the Trinity is clearly within the Bible.) Where I did find it was in the ecumenical councils of the early 2nd and 3rd centuries. Tertullian [known as an "early Christian father"] is supposed to have first coined the phrase and it was made famous through the well know Nicene and Athanasian councils. I couldn’t logically get to know God based on a concept that was voted on by politicians and then ratified by a Roman conquerer, emperor, and pagan. (The councils were actually convened to fight against heresy. They made official what was taught in scripture and believed by believers, in order to fight again those who would teach heresy.) The creeds that Constantine oversaw were driven by political agendas and every historian knew it. I once undertook a project to go through the New Testament and write a “G” at the top right or left corner of every page whenever there was a reference to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ being two distinct individuals. In my scriptures [KJV] virtually every page in the “4 Gospels” has a “G” at the top right or left corner. (The idea of the Trinity isn't that the Father and Jesus are the same exact person, who just appear at separate times. That's a heresy called modalism. The biblical concept of the Trinity is that both the Father and Jesus are one God. One God, three persons. One essence. He's not a man, like us, but the person who is Jesus became a man. Again, see my other blog posts on the Trinity. And maybe get a good book on systematic theology, such as the one by Wayne Grudem.) The description of God I found in the Mormon church was logical. Two distinct beings with glorified bodies. Not just a spirit essence that was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The creeds that defined the Trinity told me that God was incomprehensible, but John 17:3 said that I need to know Him in order to find eternal life. (You can know someone without fully comprehending them. God specifically says things like "my thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9) and "I am not a man."  (Hosea 11:9))

I’m Saved If You’re Saved

Almost every page in the New Testament emphasizes the need for us to work the works of righteousness. However, many churches teach that our works are unnecessary. I’ve been told that I need to “confess the Lord Jesus Christ with my mouth” and that I would be saved. I have done that. However… is not the act of me opening my mouth and confessing the Lord’s name a work in and of itself? Do I not need to repent? What of baptism or serving others? Can I honestly do none of those things and expect to be received into the Kingdom of God? Every logical bone in my body tells me that the only way I can show my faith in God is to do the works that He has asked me to do. Throw Revelation 22:12 and Revelation 20:12 on top of that logic and I can see no logic in someone telling me that I do not need to do any works as a servant of Jesus Christ. (All of this is something that Mormons fail to understand and accept scripture on. Passages like Romans 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-9, and Titus 3:4-7 make it clear that works can't earn salvation. All we can do is have faith to accept it. If faith is a "work," then sure, we have to work for our salvation. But that's the only work required. However, true faith, true salvation, changes us. We become a new man, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), and the Spirit works in us to bear fruit, to sanctify us. But in no way do our works, which are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) earn our salvation, but someone who is truly saved and being changed by the Spirit will manifest good works. There is some great preaching on this by good pastors. Here's one example from my pastor.)

The Mormon Church Is The Most Liberal With Salvation

I am being told that I am damned to go to hell on a regular basis. People that care about me are “praying for my soul” because I have “been deceived”, and because of that deception I have no chance at salvation. This is very interesting, because Mormons believe that very few people will go to hell. They actually believe that everyone will be saved and inherit a glory that will suit them and make them happy. Mormons don’t have sunday school classes devoted to tearing down other religions or damning them for eternity. (Most other churches don't, either.) Instead, they focus on the doctrine as it is found in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. (Funny, since Jesus preached on hell more than anyone else in the Bible, including making it clear that those who don't believe in him will go there, yet Mormons pretty much reject that many will go to hell.) They serve missions only for the opportunity to serve others and try to add a measure of truth to a person’s existing testimony of the Savior. (That's disingenuous. They serve missions to try to bring more people into the Mormon church.) It is logical to me that the Saviors Church would focus on building others up instead of tearing others down. (That is true, but if people are going to hell outside of belief in the true and living savior, then the most loving thing a believer can do is warn those who don't believe and teach them about the truth. What do you think Peter was doing in his amazing sermon to a bunch of pagans on Mars Hill in Acts?)

Families Are Forever

Mormons are known for believing that they will know and love their families in the hereafter. Most people believe this in their heart regardless of what their pastor might say on Sunday. (Family is forever insofar as family that is saved will be together in eternity. They don't have to be "sealed" to be together if they are all saved. That's just silly. However, family as we have it on earth isn't necessary in heaven.) It is logical for me to look toward a church that has an eternal perspective regarding the family. The Mormon church is the only Christian church that I know of that builds temples in order to perform baptisms for the dead (1 Cor 15:29) [something that was practiced in the early Christian church] (Actually, Paul is most likely referencing a pagan practice. He was trying to make a point about the resurrection, not teach that baptism for the dead is necessary. In fact, it would be pointless since we're judged after death, not given a second chance (Hebrews 9:27). Temples aren't necessary in Christianity (Acts 17:14-25) because we are the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), and Mormon temples aren't anything like the Old Testament temple, which was for sacrifices and which pointed to Jesus. Jesus fulfilled that need.) and seal families together for time and eternity. (Not a biblical teaching at all.) Mormons believe that they retain their identity in the next life and that our relationships will only be magnified, not diminished. This concept of an after life is far more logical than believing that we will all somehow coalesce into one giant cloud of God’s glory and lose our identity to become full time trumpet blowers or harpists. (The Bible doesn't teach that, so anyone who believes that has a bad understanding of scripture. Revelations explains a lot about the after life.)
There are many other logical reasons why I continue to be grateful for the Mormon church. The resemblance it has to the New Testament Church that Christ established is unparalleled and it makes me happy. (It's actually not much like the New Testament church at all. I explain a bit about that here.)
To the couple standing behind me at Disneyland; I’m hoping this article finds you somewhere in the world of social media and that you can understand a little more about why the little family in front of you loves being Mormon. End post.

Back to me. This post is full of a lot of misconceptions rooted in incorrect Mormon teachings. I'd encourage someone who believes these things to look closer at them, and not in the same way as this guy thinks he did, but actually looking into history, scholarship, and solid Bible-based theology. Please check out everything I've linked to in my analysis.

Meetings With the Missionaries: 5/15/14

This meeting was pretty uneventful. They were doing exchanges again, and Sister T was once again the one who was gone. They didn't have much time, since they'd arrived late and had another meeting to get to. They brought up church, including asking us why we attend church. We explained that we attend, in large part, to learn from people (mainly our preaching pastor) who have more knowledge of the Bible than we do. Our pastor goes through whole books or sections of the Bible at a time; he even spent a couple of years going through Luke once. It's great.

They invited us to church. I may go; not because I want to, so much as because it would be interesting for a few reasons. One would be to see how different it seems to me now that I no longer believe it all. Another would be because I want to keep track of how often certain key words are said, outside of the closing phrase of prayers. I'm betting Mormon key words like Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, restoration, etc. are said much more than words like Jesus Christ, Bible, etc.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Meetings With the Missionaries: 5/8/14

Sorry this one is late. This was a particularly interesting meeting, too.

They were doing exchanges, so one of the regular sisters wasn't with us. I really liked the young woman that came instead. She was very friendly. I handed them my new list of questions, and they didn't run for cover upon reading through them, so that's a good start.

Sister M, one of the regulars, wanted to know what I thought about some of questions I had given them last week before they give me their answers. The first she asked was what I thought we would need a modern day prophet for. My answer was straightforward: I don't believe we need a modern day prophet, because the revelation we need is complete in the Bible.

The second she brought up was my question about why the priesthood wouldn't have been passed on. Here I explained that my belief in what the priesthood is is different than theirs. I briefly explained the universal priesthood, reading 1 Peter 2:5, and explained that all believers received this priesthood by virtue of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which gives us God's power and authority. She asked how the priesthood is received, and I said that all who are saved receive it.

This began an interesting and important discussion about how one is saved.

Sister M: What is salvation?
Me: Salvation is being saved from death, sin, and hell and to heaven and life with God through faith in Jesus.
Sister M: So you only have to believe to be saved?
Me: Yes.
Here I read Ephesians 2:8-9 for them, which they had obviously not considered before. There was a thoughtful silence.
Visiting sister: So...what if someone believes in Jesus, and then goes out and murders someone?
Me: If someone becomes a murderer, do y think they really have faith in Jesus?
Visiting sister: No.
Me: Exactly. Real faith changes a person. Real faith works. But like that verse I just read to you says, it's the faith that saves.

They had a few more questions about the concept, punctuated by long thoughtful silences as they tried to digest what I was saying. Then my baby got fussy, so they left with the promise of another meeting at the same time in a week.

I was both surprised and pleased by the direction that the meeting went. It was very unplanned, but understanding salvation is obviously important. I plan on putting together a few more verses on the idea for them to look up and consider before the next meeting.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Meetings with the Missionaries: 5/1/14 Meeting

After scheduling issues and a meeting that got nowhere because they were on exchanges, we finally had a good one today.

One of the first things I explained to them is that part of why I'm not committing to read the Book of Mormon at this point is because I think God can answer my prayers about it even if I'm not reading it, especially since I have read it before. They asked me a few questions about what I'd be willing to do if I decided that what they're teaching me is truth, and they were satisfied enough with my answers (I'll follow truth where it leads) to stop asking me to commit to reading.

They also asked me what I was expecting from the meetings, since I grew up in the church and they don't want to just be teaching me things I already know or even believe and not answer the questions I really have. I told them I pretty much just want them to go through their lessons and I'll ask questions, and that led to them suggesting that I go through the pamphlet (The Restoration) they gave me the first time they stopped by and write down all the questions that I have for them. I'm not sure they know how much they got themselves into, but it sounded like a great idea, so I agreed to it.

They suggested we start with one section today, and asked me to choose a section. I chose the section on the great apostasy, and we only got through the first paragraph. They didn't even try to answer any of the questions; they simply wrote them down and promised to get back to me at our next meeting.

Following the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted and killed many Church members. Other Church members drifted from the principles taught by Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The Apostles were killed, and priesthood authority--including the keys to direct and receive revelation for the Church--was taken from the earth. Because the Church was no longer led by priesthood authority, error crept into Church teachings. Good people and much truth remained, but the gospel as established by Jesus Christ was lost. This period is called the Great Apostasy.

 The first two sentences weren't a problem for me. The third was where I started having questions for them.

One of the most basic questions I asked was if there was any historical proof of a great apostasy. I explained that the Bible, including the New Testament, has the most manuscript evidence of any ancient document, and that there are a lot of historical records from that time. I therefore wondered if there was anything that proved such a massive apostasy. I know the answer to that--there's no such proof--but I'm interested to see what they come back with on that one.

I asked if there was any reason that the authority wouldn't have been passed on. (I didn't want to get into their teachings on priesthood yet, since that's in another section.) I pointed out that there obviously were people other than the apostles who had authority in the early church, since many of the New Testament writers weren't part of the Twelve, and that the Apostles were alive through the writing of the New Testament.

We also talked a bit about the need for continuing revelation. I explained that I believe the Bible is a whole picture, beginning at the beginning of things and ending at the end times, and that it all points to Jesus. Jesus is the culmination or climax of the Old Testament, so prophets of the type in the Old Testament aren't needed anymore, and pointed out Luke 16:16 to support that. The New Testament then contains everything we need to understand the New Covenant through Jesus and to look forward to the end.

One of the sisters asked me if I'd ever considered if we needed a modern prophet and what that role would look like. I explained that I do believe that the gift of prophecy still exists as a spiritual gift, but that we don't need prophets in the Old Testament sense because their purpose was ultimately to point to Jesus. I had to explain the difference between the two types of prophets. I also explained that I believe that the Bible contains everything we need for salvation, so a prophet of the sort in the Old Testament is no longer necessary.

I then moved on to the assertion that error crept into church teachings. I had two questions about that. One was, again, if there was any historical evidence to support this. The second was what sort of error they believe crept in. I'm betting we'll be talking about the Council of Nicaea next week in answer to that one.

We decided that was enough questions to start with for one week, and didn't move on to the next paragraphs in that section.

At that point, seeking answers through prayer came up again, and I explained to them very clearly why I wasn't comfortable getting answers through feelings/impressions alone. I read a few verses to them, including Jeremiah 17:9 and 1 John 4:1, to explain why I feel that those aren't trustworthy on their own, as well as pointing out that sometimes truth doesn't always feel good and sometimes things feel good that aren't true.

They brought up how sometimes good things feel good and bad things feel bad, and I pointed out that people can still be deceived, giving the example of how a Jehovah's Witness is probably a fairly good person doing good things but still deceived, and they might be able to say their testimony is based on the same sort of feelings that they (the missionaries) have had.

I talked to them about other ways that we have been given to find truth, emphasizing my trust in God's Word in seeking truth and supporting that with Acts 17:11. I reminded them that Jesus said one of the ways we love God is with our mind, so truth should be reasonable and logical and provable, which I explained is a lot of why I'm wanting to ask them so many questions about their beliefs. I gave the Big Bang as an example of how evidence can support God's truths, so I seek evidence where it's reasonable to do so as well. They understood everything I said and couldn't contradict it, so they accepted it and even said I had some very good points.

I also gave them an example of how prayer can be answered through experiences. Recently, we were worrying about transportation as my husband is starting a new job, and a very good one. Attendance is pretty much the biggest thing that would cause him to lose this job, and his car is near the point of dying. He talked to the friend who helped him get that job (this friend attends our church), and the friend urged him to make sure he had reliable transportation. We were literally about to walk out the door to buy a car on a loan, which we had been hoping to avoid, when the friend called back and said, "My brother literally just called me to tell me he's giving away a vehicle and to ask if I know anyone who can use it." The vehicle has some maintenance needs, but not nearly as bad as my husband's current vehicle, so it was a blessing to receive it.

We concluded we me again committing to going through the pamphlet and writing down questions for them. They promised they'd get back to me next week with whatever answers they find for the questions I asked this week. It will be interesting to see how that goes.