Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CGtM: The God Father Part 2

Before I begin this post, I feel I have to make a disclaimer to all members of the LDS church who might be reading my blog.  I do not write in a spirit of contention or mockery.  I realize that speaking about the fundamentals of your religion is walking a very fine line.  I only wish to spread the truth of the Gospel of Christ.  My beliefs and the beliefs of Biblical Christianity are different than the beliefs of the LDS church, and I only ask that you read with an open mind, or at the very least, without the spirit of contention yourselves.  Please feel free to comment and discuss with me.
In Part 1 of “CGtM: The God Father”, I explained the core differences between the God/s of Mormonism and the God of Christianity.  In this post, I’m going to go a little more in depth into Mormon scripture and the doctrine of God the Father.
                If you go back to Part 1, you’ll see that I did not use a single verse from the Book of Mormon to support the current Mormon doctrine of God the Father.  This is because there is no such verse.  Concerning a plurality of Gods, the Book of Mormon has this to say: Alma 11:26-29, “And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God? And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God?  And he answered, No.”  If you were to ask a Mormon Amulek’s question of “Is there more than one God?” he or she will probably respond with something similar to, “Yes, but we only worship one God.”  However, the Book of Mormon explicitly states, not that there is only one God we worship, but that there is no more than one true and living God.  Plus, if Mormons only worship one God, do they worship God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Ghost?  Aren’t they all Gods over the earth?
Other verses simultaneously support a singular God as well as a three-in-one God.  As I have said, Mormons reject the idea of a triune God.  However, the Book of Mormon states:  2 Nephi 32:21, “…behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.”,  Alma 11:38-39, “Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”,  Mosiah 15:1-4, “And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son…And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.”  (See also: 2 Nephi 19:6, 26:12; 3 Nephi 11:27; Mormon 7:7)
The typical Mormon response to these verses is, “Well we believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are united in one purpose, but are not actually one being.”  To which I ask the question, “But where in the Book of Mormon does it say this?”  I have listed several verses which explicitly state that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are indeed one God, not separate Gods “united in one purpose”. 
The Book of Mormon also claims that God is a spirit and thus not made of material flesh and bone as the Doctrine and Covenants and contemporary LDS teachings might say: Alma 18:26-28, “And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit? And he said, Yea. And Ammon said: This is God.”, Alma 22:9-10, “And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem? And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in the heaven and in earth.”  Plus, Mormon 9:8-10 states, “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.”  So if, according to the Book of Mormon, God cannot change (ie. from a man to godhood), how was God the Father’s exaltation possible?
Remember D&C 130’s charge that “the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion and is false,”?  Compare with the Book of Mormon’s Alma 34:36, “…the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell…”
As you can see, the vast majority of this post has been verses from the Book of Mormon.  Compare to the verses I gave from the Doctrine and Covenants in Part 1 and Mormon LDS doctrine.  Mormon doctrine has actually changed since the publication of the Book of Mormon, even in the life of Joseph Smith, since he wrote the Doctrine and Covenants.  Of course, the Doctrine and Covenants has something to say about the changing of revealed scripture: D&C 56:4-5, “Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord. Wherefore, I revoke the commandment which was given unto my servants Thomas B. Marsh and Ezra Thayre, and give a new commandment…”  According to this verse, God’s word can change with newer revelation, as LDS doctrine states today.  Compare with the Book of Mormon, in Alma 41:8, “Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared what whosoever will may walk therein and be saved.”  If the decrees (commands) of God are unalterable in the Book of Mormon (the keystone of the religion), how is it that God can revoke (alter), His commands?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Note on Mormon Scripture

The introduction to the Book of Mormon states, “The Book of Mormon…contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel…the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  (see also D&C 20:9; 42:12)  If the Book of Mormon is the “most correct of any book on earth”, and the combination of it and the Bible contain the “fullness of the everlasting gospel”, doesn’t this mean that the precepts taught in the Book of Mormon and Bible ought to take precedence over those in later revealed scripture (ie. Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price)?  I challenge anyone to find any verse in the Book of Mormon or Bible that supports the following doctrines: Exaltation, pre-existence of spirits, baptism for the dead, more than one true and living god, temple endowments, temple works, temple baptisms, temple marriages, marriage for time and eternity, eternal families, eternal progression, any of the Three Degrees of Glory (three levels of heaven), and latter day scripture and prophecies outside of the Bible and Book of Mormon are needed.
Of the four books of LDS scripture, the Bible has the least amount of authority.  Mormons will often say that they believe the Bible “so long as it is translated correctly.”  Mormons believe that the Bible has been copied over so many times that the modern translations are no longer accurate.  The LDS Church only accepts the Authorized King James Version of the Bible.  This is the version I use for this blog and is mandatory for anyone seeking to witness to a Mormon.   I generally don’t use Bible verses to show conflict between Mormon scripture and Christian scripture, because the Bible is subordinate to the other scriptures to Mormons.  However, it is extremely important that when Christians witness to Mormons, they show Biblical evidence for Biblical Christian beliefs.  Our goal as ministers to the LDS church is not to be contentious and show what is wrong with Mormonism.  Our goal is ultimately to show the truth of the Bible and the free gift of eternal life that is only offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More Than a Feeling: A Look at True Love

When we say “I love you” to our significant other, we don’t mean the same thing as saying “I love you” to the buddy who brought chips and dip to the Super Bowl party, or “I love vanilla ice cream”, or certainly not “I love my Great Aunt Dorothy”.  So what’s so different about the love that married couples share, or ought to share?  For the answer (or at least part of the answer; I’m not sure anyone honestly knows everything about this crazy little thing called love), we turn to the ancient Greeks.

In the Greek language, there is not one word for “love”, but three.  All three are concerned with different aspects of what “True Love” really is.  The first word is “φιλία (philia)”.  This love is the love of friendship.  “Philia” is the kind of love that you feel towards basketball, or painting your nails, or your friends with whom you engage in such activities.  You love someone in this way because you enjoy their company on a day-to day basis, but don’t necessarily have any romantic feelings towards them.

The second is “ἔρως (eros)”.  This is sensual love, from which we get the word “erotic”.  It is sometimes translated as “desire”.  It is what we feel when we see that “certain someone” walk across the room.  This desire is not necessarily sexual, it can be a deep desire to pursue a certain study, but it is usually manifested in sexual desire.  The best way I can really describe what people usually feel when they feel “eros” is the “butterflies in your stomach”.  A more academic term for “eros” is “infatuation”.  Unfortunately, from what I’ve observed, the majority of relationships are built upon this kind of love (ie. “love at first sight”).  However, the majority of those relationships crash and burn.  Do the statements, “I loved him then but I’m not so sure now,” or “I just don’t have feelings for her anymore,” sound familiar to anyone?  That’s because the word “love” in those sentences is actually “eros”.  Can the other two types of love grow from “eros”?  Sure, but if eros love is the ultimate bedrock of a serious relationship, I can guarantee it won’t last.

Lastly, we come to “ἀγάπη (agape)”.  This is essentially “unconditional love”, or love for the sake of another.  It is the love a mother has for her child: a deep love usually entails sacrifice for another person for their sake.  The word is used in the Bible as Christ’s love towards humanity and, especially in 1 Corinthians 13, is oftentimes translated as “charity”.  This is a much deeper love than the previous two, and a lot more mysterious.  How does one know if they love someone in the “agape” meaning of the word?  Bruno Mars might have written a song describing how much he would sacrifice for a girl, but would he really catch a grenade for her?  Agape love is not defined by what someone would do for someone else, but what someone does do for someone else.  The best example I can give of agape love is from John 3:16, “For God so loved (agape) the world, He gave his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

In our quest to find out “True Love”, we have come across three different definitions for “love”.  However, each of these definitions seems to be lacking the others when it comes to the greater term of “True Love”.  Even two of these aspects could not constitute “True Love”.  If one has “phila” and “eros”, which is what most modern relationships are made of, then one doesn’t have the commitment to go the distance and will fail.  If one has “eros” and “agape”, then the relationship is probably obsessive and one-sided, like having a stalker.  If one has “philia” and “agape”, then the relationship is platonic and devoid of any intimacy which is so important to being in say a marital relationship.  No, the healthiest relationships have all three aspects of “love”.  The two individuals are friends, loyal to each other and enjoy the other person as that person.  They have a correctly directed intimacy, protecting their partner’s deepest secrets while trusting the partner with theirs’.  And of course they have the deep, indescribable connection, willing do anything for their significant other, if only because their other is truly significant.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

CGtM: The God Father Part 1

When it comes to discussion about religion, there really isn't any question more fundamental than “Who/what is God?”  Hindus, for example, believe that God (Brahman) is essentially the limitless consciousness forming the basis of Reality itself, and that the “self” is like a wave in the ocean; appearing for a brief moment but is soon absorbed into the greater ocean of Brahman.  Now, as you can see, the Hindu God is very different from the Christian God.  I aim to show that the Mormon God (or gods, as it were) is just as different from the Christian God as Brahman.

The Mormons believe Father God is the “Eternal God of all other gods before this world was…” (D&C 121:32).  According to the LDS website (lds.org), “God is the Supreme and Absolute Being in whom we believe and whom we worship. He is all-powerful and all-knowing, and He is full of love, mercy, charity, and compassion.”  That said, the Mormon God is not transcendent, he exists within the confines of time and space.  As stated before, God the Father is “as tangible” (ie. physical, can be seen, touched, etc.) as a man’s body.  D&C 130:3 also states that “the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion and is false.”  This implies that the Father and the Son can’t live in a man’s heart because they are as real as your Great Aunt Dorothy.   And it’s silly to believe that Great Aunt Dorothy lives in your heart.

According to LDS Scripture, God the Father was once a man.  D&C 130:22 tells us, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”   He then progressed to godhood as described in the Mormon doctrine of Exaltation: that a man may be exalted to godhood if he or she is baptized, married in a Temple, and keeps the commandments (D&C 132:20, “Then shall they be gods…”).  What this means is that there are indeed many gods in Mormonism, although Mormons claim they only worship “God the Father” of the Bible.  If one looks through the book of Abraham in Pearl of Great Price, one will find many usages of the word “Gods” in plural, especially taking part in the Creation.  See also D&C 76:58, 121:28, 132:17-20,37.

The God of Christianity is vastly different from the God of the Latter Day Saints.  First of all, there is only one God in existence.  Isaiah 43:10, “before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”, 44:6,8, “Thus saith the LORD of the King of Israel…I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God…Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any.”, 46:9. “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me.”

Secondly, Christians believe God is transcendent.  He is beyond time and space, having created all of time and space.  The Bible supports this claim: 2 Peter 3:8, “…one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”, Psalm 41:13, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting.”, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God...”.  Also, in Biblical Christianity, God has never been, is not, and will never be human.  Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man…”, 1 Samuel 15:29, “And also the Glory of Israel [God] will not lie or have regret, for He is not a man.”, Psalm 8:4, “What is man that You are mindful of him…”, Hosea 11:9, “for I am God, and not man; the Holy one in the midst of thee.”, Malachi 3:6, “I am the LORD, I change not” (ie. from man to godhood).  Also, John 4:24 explicitly states, “God is a spirit…”, and Luke 24:39 supports this by defining “a spirit” as a being who “hath not flesh and bones…”.

Christians also believe in the doctrine of the Trinity: that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three personages in one entity (being).  Mormons, on the other hand, believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate entities (beings).  There’s a lot to unpack in the Trinity, so I’ll leave that for a later post.

And who believes the “old sectarian notion”?  That’s right, Biblical Christians: Ephesians 3:16, “…Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in Him.”

As I have shown through both religions’ scriptures, Mormonism and Christianity have vastly difference concepts of God the Father.  It’s important to note that like the God of Christianity and Brahman, the God of Christianity and the God of Mormonism cannot coexist.  In Part 2, I will explore some of the logical implications of both religions’ models for God the Father.

Note: I encourage everyone reading my blog to look up any scripture I cite.  As Levar Burton, host of the popular 90's children's show Reading Rainbow, used to say: "But don't take MY word for it."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Christian's Guide to Mormonism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the fastest growing faiths on the planet. According to the LDS website, there are 13,824,854 Mormons around the world as of 2009. They are the fourth largest religious group in America. Even with their reach extending across every continent, people still have many misconceptions about what exactly Mormons believe. Are they Christian? Who was Joseph Smith? What should we say when they come a-knockin'? The majority of Christians, not to mention people of other faiths, simply don't know anything about Mormon history and doctrinal teachings. My purpose in writing this blog series is to explain Mormon theology from a Christian's perspective in a manner that is both truthful and non-offensive, and then show the logical implications. I do not intend to "bash" Mormons or make fun of the LDS religion in any way. That said, there are a number of things I need to put forward before I begin, so that there is no confusion on my full position.
1. I believe Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God.
2. I believe that the Bible is the only source of Scripture, and the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are not divinely inspired.
3. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord God, a person of the Trinity, who died on the cross as a sacrifice for ALL my sins, past, present, and future, and that he rose from the dead, fulfilling the prophesies and proving himself to be the Lord.

During these posts, I will refer to a number of resources. Though I will be speaking from a Christian’s perspective, I will be using all LDS materials, such as the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price (all with the Church of LDS seal of approval), as well as President Spencer Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness. I encourage all of my readers to look up any verses or passages I cite for themselves.

OK, first things first: are Mormons Christian? The simple answer is “no”. Whenever I enter into a discussion about Mormonism, both Christians and Mormons alike look puzzled when I give this answer. “But aren’t Christians just ‘followers of Christ’? Look! The LDS church even has Jesus Christ in the name!” To which I reply, “Yes, but they follow a different Jesus Christ.” It’s not that there are two Jesus’ of Nazareth, but rather that Jesus is ultimately the core of both religions, and both attribute different qualities to Jesus. Similarly, the God of the Qur'an and the God of the Bible are different gods, yet don't simultaneously exist. In fact, Christianity and Mormonism differ on every major doctrine. For example, Mormons disagree with the Christian doctrines of God, Jesus, Salvation, and the Trinity. Also, Christians do not adhere to (much less hear of) the LDS doctrines of Exaltation, Pre-Existence of Spirits, Baptism for the Dead, Temple Endowments, Marriage for Time and Eternity, and Eternal Progression, just to name a few. Now they’re sounding more separate belief systems, aren’t they? As you can see, the doctrinal difference between Christianity and Mormonism is literally an eternity.

Speaking with a Mormon about certain doctrines can get complicated extremely easily. This is because of a language barrier that many people (Mormons and Christians alike) are unaware of. What I mean is this: Christian and Mormon terminology have different definitions for the same words. For instance, the first Mormon Article of Faith states, "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." However, when a Mormon says this, it means something completely different than when a Christian says the exact same words. When a Christian says the previous statement, he or she is talking about the Doctrine of the Trinity: three persons who exist as a single entity, a single deity. A Mormon, on the other hand, would say that the three are separate entities and separate deities "united in a single purpose". See how significant that difference is? Some other terms that share this difference in definition include Godhead, Jesus Christ, The Fall, The Virgin Birth, Sin, Forgiveness, Salvation by Grace, Redemption, Gospel, True Church, Authority/Priesthood, Baptism, Sons of God, Eternal Life, Immortality, Hell, Heaven, Kingdom of God...I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

I’ll explain the previous differences further in subsequent posts, however, for now, I will explain the essential difference between the two religions in two verses. In the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” In the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23 states, “…We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Notice the not-so-subtle difference. Both say, “by grace that we are saved,” but what kind of grace is it? For Christians, it is “through faith…not of works” (ie. what we do). For Mormons, it is “after all we can do” (ie. works).

In the coming posts, I will attempt to give a nearly-comprehensive guide to many of the most important differences between Mormonism and Christianity. I hope that I have sufficiently shown in this introductory post that both religions are different and that a closer look into these dissimilarities is warranted.

Other "Christian's Guide to Mormonism" posts: