Friday, November 16, 2007

Mormons are Now Christians?


Mitt Romney's run for the presidency has placed the Mormon church back into the public eye. But it has also stirred up old questions and concerns. Sensitive to an image that appears less than Christian, they have decided to step up their marketing strategy of painting the church in bold Christian colors. In the November 12 issue of U.S. News and World Report, Elder M. Russel Ballard was interviewed by Jay Tolson as to "The Mormon Way." Here is some of the interchange:

Tolson: What is the biggest misconception that people have about your church?
Ballard: One is that some people say we Mormons are not Christians. We can't comprehend that, when Jesus Christ is the center of everything we teach and believe...The other thing is that some people say the Mormons are a cult. We don't understands that. We're a very strong Christian organization that's doing great things and trying to relieve human suffering, to increase knowledge of the gospel truths.....

[Comment: Mormons are not Christian for the simple reason that they do not confess or believe that Jesus is true man and God, and that they do not confess or believe in God as triune. If they were trying to increase knowledge of the Gospel truths, they would teach the Gospel in truth, not according to the false gospel of Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Book of Mormon, or any other books that contradicts the scriptures.]

Tolson: And what about your sacred Scriptures?
Ballard: We also get that one: "Well, Mormons don't believe in the Bible. You have your own Bible." Which is ridiculous. We think that the Bible is a miracle. We accept the Bible, and we also accept the Book of Mormon. We use them hand in hand as Scripture and guidance and doctrine. Interestingly, the Book of Mormon has more references to Christ and his teaching and his words than are in the Bible.

[Comment: Don't forget that the Mormons accept the Bible in so far as it agrees with the Book of Mormon and their other books. Plus, they interpret the Bible in light of the Book of Mormon, not the Book of Mormon in light of the Bible. As far as the references to Christ, I wonder if Mr. Ballard understands the many typological references to Christ throughout the Old Testament? Any way, mentioning the name of Christ means little if you confess Him falsely.]

Tolson: And the doctrine of the Trinity?
Ballard: Let's put it in simply terms: God the Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Ghost - separate individuals. God is the father of all our spirits. Jesus Christ, son of God, savior of the world, is separate and distinct. When you go door to door, as we did as young men, and talk to the average person - the theologians might have a different view - but people think fo them as distinct.

[Comment: Now we determine truth by what "people think"? Any Christian who cannot identify this confession as false and misleading regarding the nature of the Trinity needs additional instruction. Note that Jesus is never confessed as God in human flesh. Note the emphasis on the word "separate and distinct," as opposed to no reference to the unity of the Godhead. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is ONE." Nothing. And that is simply because they do not believe in the unity of the Godhead, but rather in a plurality of gods. Additional investigation into what they really teach would quickly reveal a very pagan concept of deity, where Mormons become 'gods' themselves and populate other planets. Mr. Ballard may think that this description of the Trinity will be accepted by most people as orthodox and biblical, but true informed Christians know better. It took no time at all for my Bible class a few weeks ago to see the huge holes in this.]


On one hand I am surprised by their very forward attempt to address topics which they have historically been at great odds regarding the Christian church. But they obviously believe that the average person out there will buy their rhetoric. Well, the Church needs to make sure it is informing their people of the differences, because apparently the LDS people are busy blurring the lines.....

13 comments:

Bot said...

It is an outright prevarication that Mitt's church is not Christian. It is more First Century Christian than any other denomination. Members of the church believe every word of the original Greek New Testament, and spend twice as much time studying the Bible as they do studying the Book of Mormon.

Teenagers display Christian characteristics more frequently than any other Christian denomination.

Check http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com for details.

Rev. Don Engebretson said...

I checked out your new blog "Mormons are Christian." My confusion is why you and your church are insistent on claiming the title "Christian," unless you feel that you claimed it first before all the other churches and now are simply defending it. However, the LDS church is a latecomer to the scene, so that can't be it. Some, like the Jehovah's Witnesses eschew the word and distance themselves thereby from organizations which they disagree with. They are not afraid of noting that they are different in their belief from mainline Christianity. Why not the Mormons?

One commenter on your blog perhaps summed it up himself when he wrote: "I don't think it's purpose is to argue that the LDS are 'more' Christian than other Christian churches but to dispel the fundamentalist/evangelical Christians claims and views that Mormons aren't Christians which the mass media so readily picks up on."

Your defense of the LDS church as Christian lacks one very important part - documentation from your church's own writings that can demonstrate true Christian teaching, especially such crucial doctrines as the deity of Christ and the Trinity. In the "Articles of Faith" of the LDS church no mention is made of Jesus as God in human flesh. While Jesus is certainly exalted in the Mormon faith, he is truly distinct and different from the Father, either indicating that he is another deity or that he is not deity at all. There are many LDS teachings that are very different than what the Bible teaches, but the church seems shy about revealing these. What about some of the things I referenced in my article? Are they truth?

An appeal to correct behavior, opinion polls and testimonials from those who left mainline churches is subjective and hardly conclusive information for the biblical orthodoxy of the LDS church and its teachings (e.g. the deity of Christ and a Barna poll on how people view the sinlessness of Christ.) Also, attacking the legitimacy of the Nicene Creed's truthfulness is also hardly a conclusive demonstration that the Trinity as confessed in mainline Christianity is not biblical or historical. Where is the demonstration of your claims from the pages of the Bible itself? As a Lutheran I confess according to the Nicene Creed not because it is historical, but because I believe it reflects and confesses the true faith as revealed in Holy Scripture.

You have made one swipe at Christian teachings as confessed by such churches as my own. However, you have failed to make a conclusive defense of your own.

Bot said...

Rev. Engebretson, thank you for your reply.

Yes, if the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is a restoration of First Century Christianity, then it should rightfully claim the title "Christian". Please note that the church does not disparage Protestants and Catholics who claim fidelity to the Emperor Constantine's Nicene Creed.

Anyone who believes Jesus Christ is divine and believes He was/is the Son of God should be accorded the title "Christian".

With regard to Christian teachings, I can only say that at a conference on Mormonism at the Yale Divinity School which I attended, the consensus of the Protestant faculty was that the teachings from Book of Mormon are not inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible.

That is why it is referred to as "Another Testament of Jesus Christ".

I simply refer to the (original Greek) New Testament to document Jesus as a divine being, the Son of God the Father. Who was he speaking to on the Cross? In the Garden of Gethesemane? He says "He does the will of The Father". How much clearer can it be? Can't we all have been spirit children of our Father in Heaven?

Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.”

Rev. Don Engebretson said...

Dear "Bot"

Thank you for your reply and interest in my blog article on LDS beliefs. We obviously are working with different definitions of what it means to be "Christian." I suspect we are only going to go around in circles on this one....

While you say that you do not disparage other churches that claim the title Christian, I find it interesting that your assessment of traditional mainline Christianity seems disparaging in itself. You have noted that the LSD church is "more First Century Christian than any other denomination." You have also disparaged one of the primary confessions of these churches as "Emperor Constantine's Nicene Creed," which is an inaccuracy. While the emperor helped to facilitate the council, it was very much a council of the Church.

However, your defense of Mormonism is curiously based on comments from a faculty of one of the more liberal seminaries of the US (which would not be completely supportive of the historicity or accuracy of the Bible, BTW), and a reference from Harper's Bible Dictionary. Both sources are secondary sources, at best.

Since you speak highly of the "original Greek New Testament," can you appeal to this in support of the LDS belief concerning God? I have studied the original Greek for many years (my undergraduate and graduate degrees) and am familiar with the passages that clearly defend the doctrine of the Trinity as confessed in the Nicene Creed. While the word "Trinity" was first used in the time of Tertullian, the doctrine it describes, namely that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, yet they are not three "gods" but One God, is easily proved from the pages of the New Testment.

The doctrine of God as per LDS teaching appears much more novel, and the church itself as we know it today dates from less than 200 years ago. Can you show that there was a teaching of God as Mormonism teaches that is clearly evident in the church of the First Century? Or the Second Century? Which teachers of that century would you appeal to? Are their confessions accepted in the church of that time that resemble the confessions of the Mormon church? I need more specific references here. Appealing to a secondary reference work or a symposia of liberal scholars is too general and not authoritative.

It is not my intent to disparage the LDS church. I simply wanted to point out that there is a fundamental difference between this church and what most of society identifies as "Christian." The LDS elder I quoted made it appear that we are all quite alike when we are clearly not. We don't even agree on the doctrine of God, let alone salvation, heaven, etc.

The Early Church spent three centuries defending the doctrine of God as we confess it today in the Nicene and the Apostles' creeds. Various teachings were condemned as unorthodox to help the church understand what was true and what was false. Do you consider these early councils and church leaders who defended the traditional doctrine of the Trinity as "disparaging" toward those with whom they disagreed?

Thanks for the dialog,
Pastor Engebretson

Lug Nutmegger said...

Dear Rev. Engebretson,

In your comments you state, "It is not my intent to disparage the LDS church. I simply wanted to point out that there is a fundamental difference between this church and what most of society identifies as Christian.". I found this to be accurate. While highlighting the differences you see between the LDS faith and the beliefs of what some consider to be "traditional" Christian churches you did not disparage the LDS Faith and that is much appreciated.

I do have one question though, you state the "Early Church" in your comments. Could you define the "Early Church"?

Thanks,

Lug

Rev. Don Engebretson said...

Thank you for your commends, Lug

By "Early Church" I am referring primarily to the church of the first four centuries, although mainly emphasizing the 100's, 200's and 300's AD (Second through Fourth; the Apostolic Era would be from the death of Jesus through the death of John). The Fall of Rome in the Fifth Century is often used to mark the beginning of the Early Medieval Era (sometimes called the "Dark Ages"). The High Middle Ages would come about 1000 AD and last until the Renaissance in the 15th C.

The Early Church would encompass the church leaders who had personal knowledge of the Apostles, such as Polycarp in the second century (John died at the end of the first century, thus ending the Apostolic Era), through the Apologists such as Justin, into the great theologians of the Nicene era such as Athanasius, to the end of this era with Augustine, a bridge between the end of the Early Church era, and the Early Middle Ages.

Steve said...

If the LDS claims that that the bible we how have is somehow corrupted, then they do they even use it? If it is corrupted, what sections are corrupted and how did they come to this conclusion?

Bot said...

Mormons believe every word of the original Greek New Testament. Please see http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com to understand the translation problems, which cause them to not subscribe to, for example, the Nicene Creed.

Rev. Don Engebretson said...

Dear Steven,
According to Mormon Article of Faith #8: "We Believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."

Thus, Mormons insist that there are no truly inspired or infallible translations of the Bible. However, they do accord infallibility and inspiration to their own additional "scriptures" (Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, et.al.).

Note this information from a pro-Mormon site re: their use of the Bible:

"Some time after completing the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph was commanded to perform a "translation" of the Bible in which important missing or corrupted items would be restored. Though the work was not completed, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible makes many changes to existing Bible passages that often bring questionable or troublesome passages closer to the spirit of the Bible, clarify unclear passages, or add revealed material completely missing. In performing this "translation," Joseph used the King James Version rather than Hebrew or Greek texts, and sought guidance through revelation about corrections that were needed. Though we use the King James Version, LDS people regularly do and should use information form the Inspired Version in studying the scriptures." [See: http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_Bible.shtml#pick}

Thus, you see they use their own translation, much like the Jehovah's Witnesses do. It is interesting that Joseph Smith did not appeal to the original Greek or Hebrew but the KJV. In fact, it would be interesting to see if Mr. Smith had any knowledge of the original languages, and if he did, would they accept the current manuscripts then used for the KJV (The Majority Text), which is considered by "scholars" to be less reliable than the current Nestle-Aland edition.

It takes much faith to believe that Mr. Smith, who was not a "scholar" of the Bible by the standards of his day, could produce a more accurate translation, and that he, more than any other, was singled out by God to receive guidance hidden from so many others for so many centuries.

Steve said...

BOT:

How do we know that Joseph Smith didn't mess up the translation of the golden tablets? Since we don't have the original autographs, are we assuming that he did it correctly? Does this not place us in the same position as Holy Scripture? At least both the Old and New Testaments were written in known languages of their time. I'm not sure if you can make the same claim on the Book of Mormon in its "original language".

What in the Bible is incorrect? If you don't have the original, you cannot either prove or disprove that the bible is correctly translated to English.

Does the bible that the LDS use come from the original Greek autographs? If not, what is their source materials? Are the changes that occurred over the course of time material to the message of Christ Crucified for sinners? If the bible is so wrong, then why do you bother even referring to it?

Bot said...

We know Joseph Smith did the translation because 11 witnesses verified it. None of the 11 ever recanted their testimonies. Furthermore, his hand-written translation was done without punctuation or verse or chapter headings, as you would expect on a literal translation.

Please read http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com on the Trinity topic to see what New Testament translation issues caused the Chairman of the UNC - Chapel Hill Religion Department to dis-believe the Nicene Creed.

Rev. Don Engebretson said...

If one would check the translation teams assembled to put together most modern translations, you would find many more than a mere 11 men. The NIV had scores of people from scores of different denominational backgrounds. And considering the technical skills and knowledge often required of these translators today (e.g. lexicography, textual criticism, etc.), I wonder how Joseph Smith and those 11 men compared. Did they simply accept what he did or saw that he did just because he claimed divine guidance? That requires a lot of trust and faith in one person. The Early Church even scrutinized the inclusions in our current canon, looking at the consistency each book had with the whole, weighing the witness of the less known against the witness of the known, considering heavily the testimonies for and against each book. As opposed to this the 11 men simply accepted his partial translation in blind faith? How could they know so much more than the early believers?

Again, it needs to be pointed out that Joseph Smith revised the English of the KJV and did not produce a fresh translation from the Greek and Hebrew (and Aramaic.) At least the JW's claim to have gone back to the originals, even though their theological biases and errors ruined the effort.

A lack of punctuation, etc. is not an indication of a more literal translation. It simply means that one wanted it to look that way. Many literal translations (e.g. NKJV, NASB) employ punctuation in an attempt to "translate" the intent of the original authors. For example, a question mark or quotations are simply an aid to the modern reader to help them understand that the original contained an interrogative or a quotation.

Again, did Joseph Smith consult the actual Greek texts of his day (which were limited compared to today), and that is why he omitted the punctuation, etc.?

BTW, although you have used a secondary source to supposedly debunk the Nicene Creed, you have yet to demonstrate conclusive proof from the NT itself that the theology in that Creed is false. Which words or phrases are misleading? Which ones are contrary to the NT witness? And which NT witness to we compare it to - the Greek or Joseph Smith's translation? However, if your sources point is to discredit the NT itself, we will have no standard by which to compare and judge and will end up again going in circles...

Steve said...

Bot:

What do you believe in the Creeds is not correct? Likewise, what parts of the New Testament is not correct?