Wednesday, September 5, 2012

IS THE MORMON CHURCH TURNING CHRISTIAN?



With Mitt Romney contending for the Presidency, there has been an increased public interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—especially now that it claims to be Christian. But is it? 

Mormon leaders engaged in a huge PR campaign years ago to convince the public of its new status and hopefully eradicate its reputation as a cult. Have they succeeded? Not yet. Will it ever? Maybe. Presently, there are problems.



IS THE MORMON CHURCH TURNING CHRISTIAN?

Is a switch  possible for a fringe (nicer term than cult) religion?  Has one ever tried to convert to mainstream Christianity? Herbert Armstrong’s World Wide Church of God (WWCG) did. Shortly after Armstrong died in 1986, new leaders declared Herbert W. Armstrong’s doctrines false and began to change many of his unbiblical doctrines. As a hopeful prototype, Evangelicals watched the church with interest to see if it would succeed. The WWCG leaders, aware of the serious repercussions it could have on members, attempted their gradual process of change over a ten-year period, hoping to ease members into it. But even that length of time was too fast. It exacted a terrible toll.

Members were devastated when told that what they had believed in for so long was not the truth, and spiraled into severe spiritual, mental and emotional distress. They became angry and hurt over the leaders' past spiritual abuse they had endured for years, not to mention the heavy financial demands and sacrifices they made, all of which seemed to have been for naught. Some stayed with the transitioning church, while others left in droves. Some formed mini WWCG-like churches, continuing to believe in Armstrong’s doctrines, while others entered traditional churches. Many simply drifted away joining no church, trying on their own to deal with the aftermath and the post traumatic stress. I suspect there may still be some who have not yet fully recovered. (See www.exitsupportnetwork.com)

One needs to imagine, at least in part, how this felt in order to understand what is involved when a fringe religion tries to switch. What if the following happened to you?

What if you suddenly found out that the Bible had no historical validity and your Christian faith and beliefs were no longer valid? What if you found out that there never had been any individual as Moses; that Mount Sinai was a story made up by the Jews to portray God's deliverance; the first five books of the Bible were not written by Moses but by four different writers; that other Old Testament books were written centuries later by other authors; that Jesus was called Messiah by his followers simply because they were desperate for one, and the apostles, disappointed in Jesus' death, made up the whole story of the resurrection?

What would happen? Your whole world would literally come crashing down about you. No longer would there be a sacred book you could believe in. No longer would you have role models from the Bible to inspire and comfort you. Doubt would enter in as to whether there was even a God. No longer would you be able to pray. You would have no God to turn to for help during trials and tragedies. You would have no assurance of salvation, and not know what to expect after death. All spiritual goals would crumble and there would no longer be any meaning or purpose to life. You would have absolutely nothing to put your faith in from that point on, and you would become angry and bitter at having been deceived for so many years.

You might be able to imagine this to a certain degree, but there is no way, unless you actually go through it. Therefore, the effects that happen to members must be considered when a fringe religion or cult-like church like the LDS Church tries to switch horses in the middle of the stream. 

Many, including Evangelicals, not understanding all the ramifications, insist that if the LDS Church hopes to achieve Christian status, its only course is to openly and officially renounce all its non-Christian doctrines and temple rituals in one fell swoop. Can the church do that? Absolutely not. As a former Mormon I know the serious repercussions this would cause for members—and so do the leaders, whom I’m sure took note of the WWCG tragedy. 

To be stripped of one’s faith is one of the worst things that can happen. If the LDS Church were to come out and renounce Joseph Smith as a false prophet, along with Smith's First Vision of God the Father and Jesus, the visitations of Peter, James and John, Moroni, Elias, Elijah and John the Baptist, its ordination of men to the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods, their extra biblical literature, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, not to mention their belief in Godhood, temple rituals, Celestial (plural) marriage, and revering church presidents as divinely called Prophets, Seers and Revelators, members' whole world would come crashing down on them.

There would be such devastation that I believe some would possibly come close to committing suicide. There is no way someone who has not experienced this can fully understand the spiritual, mental and emotional wreckage.

This is what former Mormons also go through after exiting their church when realizing its claims are false. They suffer the death of all foundational beliefs and are left in limbo with absolutely nothing to cling to. After spiraling down from the kind of high LDS beliefs offer, and finding nothing in traditional churches to match, statistics sadly show that 53% become agnostics or atheists. Another 18% are so confused that they don’t know where to turn; and only 11% associate themselves with Catholic and Protestant churches. The aftermath of the devastating effects can go on for years.

In view of this, there is good reason why the LDS Church cannot immediately renounce all unbiblical doctrines or declare Joseph Smith a false prophet. Member simply could not handle it. Yet, at the same time many still insist, or at least expect, that if the church is claiming it wants to change, it is deceptive of them not to renounce all doctrines upfront, including Joseph Smith.

All of this places the LDS church in a Catch-22. If they immediately renounce everything that was unbiblical, they would not only seriously devastate the faith of its members, but also lose them. If they chose the other direction, not repudiate them, the public would still wonder if the doctrines were still privately believed and continue to classify the church as a cult. If, like the WWCG, LDS leaders followed suit and tried a ten-year period, it would prove too short. Members would still be thrown into chaos.

This leaves LDS leaders with only one option—try to hide the doctrines (out of sight, out of mind) over a far longer period than the WWCG took, delete references to them from church manuals and books, put a ban on mentioning them in local Wards, and threaten excommunication to those who reveal them. (more detail later)

Here’s the story . . .

The Mormon Church’s plan
Unlike the new leaders of WWCG who proclaimed Herbert J. Armstrong and his doctrines false, LDS leaders knew better than to do the same with Joseph Smith and his doctrines too quickly. They decided to shove them into the background and hide them as best they could. Then, over their decided-upon time, if long enough they'd be forgotten and it could possibly eliminate their having to officially repudiate them. What steps did they take to achieve this?

They removed all references to unbiblical doctrines and traditional beliefs from church teaching manuals, made church history appear more rosy (e.g., Brigham Young had only one wife), and instructed Ward Sunday school and Relief Society teachers never to refer to these older beliefs in classes.

It was also agreed that the only instance where the church would openly respond to any of these concealed doctrines would be if one happened to receive undue attention due to a public issue that pushed reporters into demanding an answer. In such a case, church spokesmen were coached how to soft-pedal the doctrines by saying something like, “Well, that was a belief back in the early church. It was just an opinion, not an official doctrine. We really don’t know very much about it.”

Does the church admit to their plan of concealing doctrines without renouncing them? No, but two LDS leaders accidentally let the cat out of the bag:

In 1994, F. Burton Howard and F. Enzio Busche of the First Quorum of the Seventy, were quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune as saying: 
"We have an obligation to conceal our doctrines [because] we are trying to be a mainstream Christian church." (6)
The church’s attempt to conceal went so far as to excommunicate, or threaten, those members who not only insisted on revealing them in publications and lectures but were exposing how Joseph Smith’s diary and history of the church had been altered. The church felt that excommunication of doctrinal and historical whistle-blowers was acceptable because the end justifies the means.(1) (Fewer excommunications take place now because of the negative publicity it produces.)

What is the LDS Church’s time plan to facilitate becoming Christian?
The leaders looked into the future and saw a possible light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing they couldn’t accomplish their objective of becoming Christian overnight, not even in a ten or twenty-year period without causing serious repercussions to members, they felt that if they continued their plan of concealment and aimed for a time period involving a couple of generations, they could carefully ease the membership out of knowing about the church’s unbiblical doctrines without their realizing it; the public as well.

How did they see this working? The number of indoctrinated members born and raised in the church, including old-time converts, would die off in a couple of generations and with them, their beliefs in the older doctrines the church was concealing and soft-pedaling. By the end of that time period, hardly any of the younger members would remember or even know about those doctrines (that is, with the exception of BYU scholars and studious lay members who, by that time, will know better than to broadast them). Further, present-day, as well as future, Noms (New Order Mormons) would present no problem either because they could care less about the church’s doctrines (discussed later). However, if any of the older doctrines should happen to surface during that time period, the leaders’ strategy of playing dumb, chalking them up to opinions of early leaders, and declaring them “unofficial” (defined later) should suffice.

So, at the present time the LDS Church is stuffing its more bizarre doctrines in the back closet, hoping no one will notice. But, like Fibber Magee and Molly’s closet (for those of you who remember radio), the door dare not be opened even a crack, or so many unorthodox rituals, doctrines and beliefs would come tumbling out and crashing to the floor that it would be a disaster—especially for today’s new converts who know nothing about them. Nevertheless, if these beliefs can be closeted until older members have died off, then the new church will have been taken over by Christian-thinking converts who will be none the wiser, and the church will have achieved its monumental goal.

At the present, however, there is more in the making than just concealing doctrines, giving soft-pedal answers to reporters, and threatening whistle-blowers with excommunication. There are five additional strategies the church is employing.

THE LDS CHURCH'S FIVE STRATEGIES

Strategy 1:  Rearrangement of missionary lessons and inclusion of Christian terms.
About 1979, in order to attract more Christian converts, the church changed the order of the lessons given by its missionaries. The change took place shortly after my daughter, Debra, returned from her full-time mission in Indiana. (I heard, at that time, that it was prompted by their failure to convert Baptists in the Bible belt.) 

Prior to the change, missionaries presented seven lessons to contacts in a certain order. My daughter and her companion, using this prior method, were instructed that contacts had to be converted and agree to baptism by the third lesson. If they didn’t, they were to drop them. Those lessons covered Joseph Smith, the LDS Church and its Salt Lake City leaders, tithing, Word of Wisdom (no tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco) and the Book of Mormon. Debra immediately saw the seriousness of the problem. If contacts didn’t convert by the third lesson, they would never hear anything about Jesus. He wasn’t mentioned until the sixth lesson. She became very upset when it dawned on her that she wasn't on a mission to convert people to Christ, but to the leaders of the church and its rules and regulations.

Church leaders soon realized that they weren't bringing in Christians. They had to do something. They made three changes.

Change one:
The first major change was to rearrange the order of the lessons by presenting God and Jesus first. This proved to be an effective strategy and resulted in more converts.

Change two:
Along with the above change was the introduction of Christian terms into the missionary's vocabulary so as to exert additional influence on contacts. Therefore, missionaries now talk about God only in orthodox Christian terms. But here is the deceptiveness:

Deception 1: the "bundled gospel"
The missionaries, for example, will use the term "gospel,” but it is not interpreted by the LDS Church in the biblical sense, meaning the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection—although more recently they are pushing this to the public. Rather, the underlying understanding of the term “gospel” means the whole bundle of what Mormons believe. This includes Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, priesthood, temple marriage, work for the dead, Godhood, etc. So, when members stand up in testimony meeting and tearfully say how much they love the "gospel," it’s the “bundle” they are referring to. This is never fully explained to contacts. The ploy is so successful, that many converts who later exit the LDS Church say they initially believed they were joining another Christian church. A  Baptist husband and wife, for example, joined the LDS church, and because of the church’s concealment of its radical doctrines only found out about God being a resurrected man from a previous world after 23 years. They left. (Their story appeared in The Evangel, Marlow, OK, July/August 1998 issue)

Deception 2: falsely prioritizing Jesus and biblical salvation
The other deception of the missionaries is that when teaching about Jesus, they falsely prioritize Him, giving the impression that the LDS Church believes in full and complete salvation through Him alone as stated in John 14:6. In reality, however, the LDS church believes that for members to be saved and exalted in the highest degree within the Celestial Kingdom, the top heaven where God dwells, Jesus is not enough. One must labor in the church to qualify themselves by obeying leaders, keeping all the rules of the church, doing genealogical work to facilitate baptism and temple work for the dead and going to the temple to receive the ordinances and be married for eternity.

Still, even doing all that, members won’t qualify for full salvation in the Celestial Kingdom unless they also have a testimony that Joseph Smith was, and still is, a prophet. Why? Because they must receive his “certification and passport” before they can be resurrected and enter the top heaven.

Brigham Young stated the following, which explains why a member is expected to acquire a “testimony” of Joseph Smith’s divine calling. 
[N]o man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are…(Journal of Discourses)(17)
Change three: conversion of missionaries and testimony-training
The third, more recent, change involves the conversion of missionaries and testimony-training through the church's new evangelizing manual, Preach My Gospel. It does away with the canned (memorized) version missionaries previously used. It requires them to give the lessons in their own words. They can also tailor the sequence of lessons in a different order according to the contact's needs.

For missionaries to be able to give the lessons in their own words they must participate in the intense, outlined study in the manual that is designed to convince these young men of Joseph Smith’s divine calling and the truthfulness of the church. (Often, new missionaries have no conviction about this).

The manual trains them how to strengthen their personal testimony which, hopefully, will culminate in an extra-ordinary, Holy Ghost-conviction they didn't have before. They are then instructed to verbalize their testimony often throughout the lessons to potential converts so it will exert a more powerful influence on them. And it does.

If, by the end of the study, missionaries haven't acquired a spiritual testimony about Joseph Smith and the church, Apostle Boyd K. Packer said to fake it for a while. In a speech to Mission Presidents, the content of which was passed on to missionaries, he said: "A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!" The principle he was using was this: If individuals verbally declare aloud something often enough, they will soon grow to believe it. It is a clever strategy well known in psychological circles—a kind of self-brainwashing that works for any declared affirmation regardless of what religion or beliefs are involved. (See my article, “Mormon Missionaries: Do they believe their own doctrines?” (http://tinyurl.com/cuwwl2o)

Lay members of the church are also issued this manual to strengthen their own personal testimonies so that they will have a more effective influence in wooing people in the neighborhood. They are also admonished to teach this manual to their children and grandchildren, so that in the long run it will produce a greater number in the future of more already-dedicated-missionaries-with-testimonies.

How effective are the new strategies? Because missionary lessons now focus on God and Jesus in the beginning lessons, use Christian terms, reinforced with their newly-acquired personal testimonies (or fake ones), there were 281,312 converts in 2011, most of whom were from Christian backgrounds, with members boasting that they were baptizing the equivalent of a Baptist Church a week. What denominations did these converts represent?

Mormon author and attorney, Ken Driggs said in 2008:

The great majority of members I encounter today are relatively recent Baptists, Presbyterians, Church of Christ, and Catholics. (3)

Theologian, Dr. Carl Mosser, in The New Mormon Challenge (2002) said that the local ward, according to eye-ball estimates, consisted of an estimated 70 to 80% converts from Protestant backgrounds.(18)

However, the boast of how many converts are no longer valid. The 2011 statistics of converts shows a decrease from previous years. The average number of converts in prior years has been about 300 thousand. In 2012, General authority Elder Marlin Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder, addressed a class at Utah State University and admitted that the “retention rate for their converts is as low as 25 percent.”(26) A website that assesses various church growth studies stated that the LDS Church may no longer be considered among the fastest growing faith in the U.S. and “Mormons are actually treading water with respect to their per capita presence in the U.S.” (See http://tinyurl.com/9hcjdpq) (Could this be due to the effectiveness of websites that post commentaries on the truth about Mormon doctrines?) On the other hand, if Romney is elected, the number of annual converts may increase. Time will tell.

Strategy 2: Public devaluation and negation of doctrinal statements of past leaders.
General Authorities and church spokesmen, when pressed by the public and/or reporters about any beliefs stated by an earlier President or General Authority of the church, will dismiss it by saying, "That was simply the opinion of early leaders." Or, “We don't teach itIt was never an official doctrine.”

Members aren’t bothered by this ambiguity. They understand that these kinds of statements are necessary to protect sacred truths from the uninitiated; therefore, “heavenly deception” must be used (a term first used by the Moonies, based on 1 Kings 22:23). This means that when church leaders lie to the public, it is justified in God’s eyes in order to safeguard heavenly-revealed verities. In the meantime, many of these soft-pedaled doctrines, or those classified as not “official,” are still believed; just not shared with the public.

Another doctrine that is not an "official" doctrine or "taught" now, but is understood by those who know early church doctrine, is Jesus' marriage. Early leaders, those considered “Prophets, Seers and Revelators,” taught it. Church members of long standing take this belief for granted but keep it pretty much under their hat (It would shock newer members). Why should they believe it? Because if they believe in Celestial (polygamous) marriage in heaven in order to become a God, they have to accept that Jesus (who is also a God) has to be involved in the same—even have more than one wife. What’s good for the gander (members) would naturally be good for the goose as well.

The Apostle Orson Hyde asserted:
It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; ... no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the least of it. . .
At this doctrine the long-faced hypocrite and the sanctimonious bigot will probably cry,       blasphemy! ... Object not, therefore, too strongly against the marriage of Christ ... (Journal of Discourses, vol. 4, pp.259-60).
Orson Pratt commented:
... it will be seen that the great Messiah who was the founder of the Christian religion, was a polygamist, ... the Messiah chose to ... [marry] many honorable wives himself, show to all future generations that he approbated the plurality of wives under the Christian dispensation.... (More quotes from five high-ranking LDS authorities that include Jesus fathering children, can be found at www.EMNR.org/papers/jesusmarry.htm.
When the movie, The Da Vinci Code, came out about Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene and his fathering a child by her, Dale Bills, spokesman for the church in 2006, made an official announcement in the church's press release to the Deseret Morning News, using the usual rhetoric:

      The belief that Christ was married has never been official church doctrine. It is neither
      sanctioned nor taught by the church. While it is true that a few church leaders in the
      mid-1800s expressed their opinions on the matter, it was not then, and is not now,
      church doctrine.(4) [underlining mine]

This was very well-worded. But while the doctrine of Jesus’ marriage may not be “sanctioned, taught” or considered “official” by the church, those knowledgeable on the subject know that the marriage of Jesus would come under the doctrine of the Priesthood. There is a definite distinction between Church and Priesthood not understood by many but understood by Fundamentalists, early church historians, and BYU intellectuals. Because the church is separate from the priesthood (although run by those holding the priesthood), church leaders can honestly say to the public that it is not a doctrine of the "church."

What constitutes "official" doctrine? The church can also get around calling Jesus’ marriage and other beliefs "unofficial" because their policy is that a belief must be contained in one of their four “authorized” books, the Bible, The Articles of Faith by James Talmage, The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price and the church's rendition of the Writings of Joseph Smith. Therefore, even if the church's earlier leaders may have declared that Jesus was married, if it isn't spelled out in any of the above four publications, it is not "official," and the church can safely portray any belief as “opinion” and “not taught” but continue to privately believe it as part of the doctrine of the priesthood.

Strategy 3: Excommunicate members who reveal historical doctrines.
The biggest offenders of revealing church beliefs have been LDS and BYU scholars and historians. My understanding is that they are no longer excommunicated due to the bad publicity it brings to the church, but they are at least threatened with it.

Pandora’s box was definitely opened by LDS academics over the issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon. The latter claims that Native Americans descend from a people called Lamanites who came to this continent from Jerusalem and are of Israelite origin. Instead, as church intellectuals brought out, DNA research has proved that Native Americans are not from Jerusalem but from the region of Asia around Mongolia. This naturally sheds an unfavorable light on Joseph Smith and whether the Book of Mormon is truth or fiction. The church tried to hush the new discovery up, but couldn’t; so, now they are bending over backwards having church apologists write articles to explain the DNA problem away.

Has the church ever renounced any of its doctrines? So far, the church has not officially, to the public or its members, renounced a particular doctrine except for polygamy. However, it is not a full-blown repudiation. They’re just not “practicing” it now. It is still a major doctrine, contained in the Doctrine and Covenants (see note below this paragraph). The church is only refraining from the practice because back in 1890, the government refused Utah statehood unless they quit it along with their economic exclusivity. However, when the Second Coming occurs and the Millennium is ushered in, the church and its members believe that Jesus will hand over the world government to the LDS Church and polygamy (celestial marriage) will be reinstituted. Why? Because it is crucial to their concept of becoming Gods and Goddesses of future worlds.
Note: In 1930 the LDS Church published Latter-Day Revelations: Selections from the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was prepared by Apostle James E. Talmage. This was an abridged version of the Doctrine and Covenants which left out Section 132 on celestial (plural) marriage. But because Fundamentalist Mormons (who still practice it) accused the church of abandoning true Mormon doctrines, the Church removed the book from stores. (Cited in, "New Future, New Past," Ken Driggs, p. 73, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 41, No. 2, Summer 2008.) 
Strategy 4: Conceal old beliefs in local wards.
LDS leaders feel it is imperative that converts in the local wards do not hear about the church’s non-Christian beliefs. Therefore, the rule for teachers in local wards is to totally stick with their manual and not deviate or offer extemporaneous comments about them. Mormon, Ken Driggs, gives his account.

      For a long time, I taught the Gospel Principles class in my ward. One Sunday we sang
      a hymn in sacrament meeting that referred to our Mother in Heaven, Eliza R. Snow’s
      O My Father. "In heav’n are parents single? / No, the thought makes reason stare!
      / Truth is reason; truth eternal / tells me I’ve a mother there." The manual touched on
      family that Sunday, and I mentioned the Heavenly Mother in my lesson. I did not see
      that belief as heretical. Rather, it was something I had been taught all my life. After
      class a furious missionary scolded me for bringing this up, for "not teaching from the
      manual." Apparently an investigator had been in class and freaked out at the reference.(8)

Strategy 5: Continue to promulgate more Christian concepts.
There are five Christian concepts now promulgated by leaders to make the church appear Christian. On the surface their below statements sound great; that is, unless you understand double-speak and half-truths. Yet, in all fairness to the LDS Church (if one assumes their statement of change is genuine), even though their underlying theology contradicts these five Christian-sounding statements, maybe they anticipate gradually embracing the biblical understandings within their two-generational gradual plan. It’s so hard to tell, since they refuse to come out and renounce their long-held beliefs openly now. They ought to be truthful about what they have believed for so long and say, “This is what we previously believed; now we no longer do.”

The church’s current Christian-sounding statements
1.   “We believe in salvation by Grace”
2.   “We accept Jesus’ death on the cross”
3.   “It is only through Jesus’ name that we are saved”
4.   “We believe in only one God”
5.   “We do not believe God is a man” 
Let’s take a look at what they really believe. At this point in time, I use the phrase, “What they really believe” because the church hasn’t officially repudiated their underlying theology that lies beneath these five statements.

"We believe in salvation by grace." 
What has been their stance in the past about the Christian view of salvation? Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated, with no qualms, that it's a heresy. The church's "works" must absolutely be included in the condition for salvation:
[A] heresy originating in the same courts of darkness …is the prevailing delusion and mania that prevails to this day in the great evangelical body of Protestantism—is the doctrine that we are justified by faith alone without the works of the law. It is the doctrine that we are saved by grace alone, without works. It is the doctrine that we may be born again simply by confessing the Lord Jesus with our lips …(9) [underlining mine]
(The biblical understanding is that while works cannot save us, the life of a person who is truly saved will evidence works as a bi-product of their faith, at the same time knowing his or her salvation does not rest upon their works.)

Is the LDS church now doing a turn-about-face and declaring salvation by grace according to the biblical understanding? If so, why not come out and say that they reject what McConkie and other General Authorities have taught in the past about salvation by grace? 

Here’s what the LDS church means by "Saved by Grace," which is clear to those who truly understand Mormon theology. In a hidden level below their evangelical-sounding words is the following theology:
  • God’s grace of salvation (through the cross) allows all men, good or bad to be resurrected. 
  • God’s grace provides repentance and forgiveness for believers.
  • God’s grace, all by itself, is insufficient to guarantee full salvation. (Full salvation must include  obedience to all church rules and temple rituals that will exalt members as Gods in the highest degree within the Celestial Kingdom with a plurality of wives.)
  • God's grace only makes the “full” Mormon plan of salvation possible.
  • The biblical salvation by grace allows good and upright non-Mormons, inactive Mormons and Christians to inherit the two lesser heavens, the Telestial or Terrestrial—but never the Celestial, which can only be acquired through LDS temple rituals. 
We accept Jesus’ death on the cross

  • Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, along with the biblical promise that believers will receive full salvation in heaven and inherit all that the Father has, applies only to faithful Mormons—it does not apply to non-Mormons who accept Christ. “All that the Father hath” can only be acquired by membership in the LDS Church, receiving the ordinances of the temple, and being exalted in the highest degree within the Celestial Kingdom/heaven.

    President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Exaltation [Celestial Kingdom] is available only to righteous members of the Church of Jesus Christ; only to those who accept the gospel; only to those who have their endowments in holy temples of God and have been sealed for eternity and who then continue to live righteously throughout their lives.”(12)
  • Jesus’ death on the cross affords an “unconditional,” general salvation, a free gift of resurrection for everyone whether good or bad. For any in this group who may accept Christ but who are not faithful Mormons, they will only able to inherit the Terrestrial or Telestial kingdom/heaven—not the Celestial. (See Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, Second Edition, p. 669-670.) 
  • “Conditional,” or individual salvation is available only to those who are members of the LDS Church, are obedient to leaders, strive for perfection, and attain “worthy” status in order to qualify for entrance to the temple to learn secret passwords and signs in order to pass by the angels who guard the gates of heaven. Without these temple ordinances and knowledge of the passwords and signs no one, including unworthy Mormon, can be saved and exalted to the highest degree within the Celestial Kingdom (supposedly, there are three). Unqualified Mormons may, however, inherit a lower degree within that heaven and become a ministering angel to those of higher status.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie said, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 1:30, that the LDS church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth,” and it is the only church that “has power to save and exalt men in the hereafter.”
It is only through Jesus’ name we are saved.”
  • Jesus’ name can only partially save. The Mormon Church does not believe Acts 4:12, that Christ is the only name under heaven by which a man can be saved. It is Christ’s name, plus Joseph Smith’s.
  • Jesus' name is necessary for anyone to initially be saved at all—even in the Telestial or Terrestrial kingdoms. But to be resurrected and saved within any of the Celestial Kingdom’s three degrees can only be achieved through membership in the LDS Church and Joseph Smith's name. (Doctrines of Salvation 1:350) 
This is why Brigham Young and other church leaders taught:
      No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom
      of God without the consent of Joseph Smith.
      No man or woman in this generation will get a resurrection and be crowned         without Joseph saying so.(10) 
      So hear it all ye ends of the earth; if you ever enter into the kingdom of God, it is
      because Joseph Smith let you go there.

      …every man and woman must have the certification of Joseph Smith, Junior, as a
      passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are. (Brigham Young)

      There is no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith.

      If we get our salvation, we shall have to pass by him [Joseph Smith]…we cannot
      get around him.(11)
We believe in only One God
This statement is glaringly misleading. Yes, they believe in one God . . . for this planet. Also, their “one God” statement is not Trinitarian; that is, does not include Jesus or the Holy Spirit also as the one God. (See my article, God and the Trinity) Standard Mormon doctrine officially states the long-held belief that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three very separate, individual and distinct persons, and the only way they are, and can be, one is only in unity and purpose.

The LDS Church has always believed that the Christian concept of the Trinity is heretical:
This first and chief heresy of a now fallen and decadent Christianity…[is] a religion in which men worshipped a spirit essence called the Trinity. This new God, no longer a personal Father, no longer a personage of tabernacle [meaning a physical body] (D&C 130:22), became an incomprehensible three-in-one spirit essence that filled the immensity of space. (Apostle Bruce McConkie (13). [underlining mine]
We do not believe God is a man.” 
To a point, this is correct. The loophole is that they do not believe God is a man of flesh, bones and blood. (Flesh and bone, yes. Just no blood.) If you were to ask a long-standing, doctrinally knowledgeable Mormon today (one who is well read on early church doctrinal statements) if he or she believes God is a man, they would resort to this subterfuge: "We don't believe that God is a man like us.” If pushed further, they’ll clarify their statement by saying, Because man has a body of flesh, bones and blood, and blood is corruptible, making one subject to death, and we know that God is, of course, immortal and eternal and cannot die.” The use of the word, blood is their out.

New converts may have no idea that the church believes that God is a man. Why? Because it is not taught in the local Wards. If asked if they believe God is a man, they may be shocked and truthful in replying that they don't believe that at all. If you asked those belonging to the group within the LDS Church calling themselves “New Order Mormons” (pronounced NOMs for short and sometimes called “Cultural Mormons”), these individuals no longer believe many of the church’s doctrines but instead of leaving wish to maintain their membership because of family and cultural ties as well as the social aspect of the church. They could probably care less whether God is a man or not.

Mormon leaders, believing that God is a resurrected man, would also say He is not a man because, unlike us, has no corruptible blood. They believe God’s veins are filled with a “spiritual fluid.” All resurrected and immortal men have this. Church leaders and knowledgeable (note that I said knowledgeable) Mormons feel no necessity to explain this technical deception to outsiders or to new converts, believing they cannot handle the “meat” of the gospel. Milk must come first. It is doubtful that young missionaries are acquainted with the “spiritual fluid” concept. Mormon Fundamentalists, avid studiers of early church doctrine, know about it:
The "Spiritual fluid” concept is still maintained by Fundamentalists who believe in the Adam-God doctrine taught by Brigham Young. They explain that Adam (who was God) did not physically die, but partook of the Tree of Life, which changed his mortal, temporarily acquired, human blood back to spiritual fluid so he could return to heaven. 
Therefore, if the Mormon Church believes that God’s grace alone is insufficient to achieve full salvation and that Jesus’ death on the cross will not allow believers, as the scriptures state, to dwell in heaven with God and inherit all that He has; and if Joseph Smith’s name is the one that really gets a person into heaven, plus, continues to believe in a plurality of Gods, then church leaders’ biblical-sounding statements are deceptive. (Unfortunately, the average convert doesn't know what full salvation yet entails, so the use of biblical terms continues to attract many.)

I can’t imagine the church, even in its desire to become Christian, being able to change its belief about God being a man, since Joseph Smith, whom they definitely cannot renounce, claimed in his First Vision that God and Jesus appeared as two separate glorified men. The whole foundation of Mormonism rests upon what Joseph Smith said:
We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see... he was once a man like us... and you have got to learn how to be Gods ourselves..."(14) 
In the church’s "official" Articles of Faith, LDS Apostle James Talmage wrote:
We believe in a God who is Himself progressive, whose majesty is intelligence; whose perfection consists in eternal advancement - a Being who has attained His exalted state by a path which now His children are permitted to follow, whose glory it is their heritage to share. In spite of the opposition of the sects, in the face of direct charges of blasphemy, the church proclaims the eternal truth: 'As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be'" (Articles of Faith, p. 430). [underlining mine] 
Would Christian converts still join if they knew about all the closeted beliefs?
Yes. And here's why: In these postmodern times, America has become a greater melting pot of various cultures and religions than ever before. This has produced a revolutionary reversal of thinking in the general public that has brought about a laissez faire broad-mindedness toward religions. In 2007, Scott McConnell, Associate Director of LifeWay Research blamed the "Oprahization of American Christianity," where everyone’s God is okay whether he measures up to Biblical criteria or not. This resulted in a survey at that time in which 52% of American Christians (65% of all Christians) believe that other religions can lead to eternal life. More shocking was the 52% of the general public, including 40% of Evangelicals, believing the Mormon Church's theology to be Christian.(15, 16)  Therefore, this biblically-uninformed, broad-minded attitude brings about easy conversion to churches whether biblically based or not.

That, plus reinforcement by the LDS Church's ongoing PR program to publicly promote Christian concepts, conceal bizarre doctrines, use of double-speak and half truths, will add to one's susceptibility to embrace Mormonism.(16) Plus, there are other factors that are attractive.

The attraction to join
The Mormon Church provides amazing (although unbiblical) answers that have enough scripture mixed in and lifted out of context to be convincing. Its theology supplies extraordinary explanations about God (short of deep detail), how and why the universe was created, why there is suffering in the world,  information about heaven, eternity, where we came from, why we’re here, where we’re going, what the purpose of life is and what one's mission is. It also claims appearances of God, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Elias, Elijah and the angel Moroni, all of which exerts a powerful influence on newcomers—especially since Christian pastors can't offer anything comparable.

When an orthodox Christian who may or may not be frustrated with his or her present church hears all this amazing information, the psychological jolt of fresh new concepts produces a strange effect. It invigorates and excites the mind, clears out any jumble of religious confusion, tickles the ears and gives one an "aha" moment, as if he or she has finally stumbled on to the real truth. "At last, a church with answers!"

What specific beliefs would the LDS Church need to rid itself of to become mainstream Christian?
In view of all the teachings of Joseph Smith and past presidents of the church that leaders are purposely concealing in their “Fibber Magee” closet, the LDS Church would have a difficult time refuting most of its doctrines to qualify for Christian status.

Below is a list of many concealed doctrines the Mormon Church would need to rid itself of to become Christian, a few of which have not been mentioned in this article. (To read about them, see archived articles on this site, specifically,“God and the Trinity.)
  1. The eternal nature of Intelligences that are co-equal with God.
  2. God’s lack of supremacy due to his being subservient to the co-eternal Intelligences.
  3. Pre-existing elements (material) God used in creation that denotes ex-materia (organization of existing materials) instead of ex-nihilo (creation out of nothing.).
  4. The pre-mortal sphere where all mankind are first born as spiritual offspring of God and his wives.
  5. God and Jesus as married polygamists.
  6. Tritheism. Their belief in three separate and distinct Gods, the Father being a resurrected man from another planet.
  7. Plurality of gods.
  8. Temple rituals.
  9. Mormons becoming future Gods and Goddesses.
  10. Plural marriage in heaven and continued procreation to produce spirit children to people new worlds.
  11. Vicarious baptism and other temple work for the dead.
  12. Celestial (temple) marriage for eternity (lovely concept, but includes plural marriage)
  13. Insufficiency of God's grace and full salvation to believers through their acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.
  14. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the only true church on earth, through which salvation and exaltation is possible.
  15. Requirement of a testimony of Joseph Smith's divine calling and use of his name to ultimately be resurrected and enter the Celestial Kingdom.
  16. Men holding the Aaronic priesthood (not even Jesus could hold this priesthood) and the Melchizedek priesthood, which is no longer transferable (only Christ now holds this). 
Many feel that unless the church formally rejects the above beliefs immediately, there is no way it can ever be classified as Christian. Yet, others say that if church leaders are genuine about their desire to change, are able to keep Fibber's closet closed for two or three more generations, plus continue revising and editing out any references to them in church books and manuals, they might, in time, become Christian and convince the general public, potential converts, and future theologians.

What if the church really is trying to change?
One might truly give thought to the idea that maybe . . . just maybe . . . LDS leaders are genuinely trying to change their church. Certainly, in this enlightened day and age they must see the bizarreness of earlier doctrines and practices.

If the church is truly trying to change, and it is not a ploy just to gain converts, it is probably approaching its objective of ridding itself of false doctrines and becoming Christian the only way possible—gradually, over a very long period of time so as not to devastate members' faith. Yet, at the same time, one can understand why others say that it is deceptive to conceal beliefs without renouncing them. 

If the change is genuine, then it behooves us as Christians to change our mentality, stop calling it a cult, and commend them for their attempt and hope they prove successful. I can think of one example that might illustrate how a change in mind-set can occur. America's South once practiced slavery. But that was long ago. Since then, we have changed our mentality knowing we certainly can’t call this generation of Southerners bad because their progenitors once had slaves. So, if the LDS church believed in and practiced bizarre doctrines long ago, mostly by their progenitors, and it becomes evident that it is genuinely attempting to change, we will need to change our mentality over those old doctrines they are trying to change, like we did over the South's old practice of slavery. Can we do this? Will anti-Mormons be able to handle it?

The above paragraph only applies if enough evidence is presented to make the public believe the  Church is really repudiating older doctrines. The following is a proposal I feel would help:

Proposal
The LDS Church Presidency should make up an official, itemized list (a manifesto) that spells out in no uncertain terms, and without any double-speak, of what doctrines and/or beliefs the church and the priesthood absolutely reject, then address it to both the public and church members. You will note that I said the church "and the priesthood.” Why? Because LDS leaders could easily find a loophole in such a manifesto that would allow them to continue believing certain doctrines by making a statement that the “church” no longer believes certain doctrines, at the same time knowing in the back of their minds that the "Priesthood" (considered separate from the church) does, and they can continue to believe it as their little secret.

Still, one major problem
There is one major problem I see at this point in time. The LDS Church, in their statement of change, has indicted no plans to renounce its temple rituals. Leaders are still constructing more buildings with the same Endowment ceremony. (As of 2012, they have 146 worldwide temples.)

In view of this, the only way I see that they could continue building temples and make their rituals acceptable to the Christian world at large, is if everything non-Christian is eliminated.

This means, baptism for the dead and other vicarious work, the wording of their washing and anointings, physical undergarments that carry Masonic marks, their dramatizations such as the story of the pre-existent Michael becoming Adam, calling their temple robes the "robes of the holy (Mormon) priesthood," secret signs and passwords to pass by the angels in heaven, allusion to the death penalties, promises of godhood and the Masonic-inspired, five points of fellowship. And not to be left out, the Second Anointing that seals husbands and wives to the eternal Godhead.

With much of this gone, they could then reduce their temple ceremony to only the Law of Sacrifice, Law of the Gospel, Law of Chastity and Law of Consecration, revising them to a Christian perspective.

Church leaders may already have this in mind eventually, since they have already eliminated a few things in the past from the ceremony that Christians objected to, such as the put-down of Christian doctrines and stating that pastors are Lucifer's hirelings, participants embracing the man on the other side of the veil who represent the Lord, no longer requiring participants to fully unclothe for the washing and anointings, and eradicating the verbalization and physical gestures of the blood oaths and death penalties, although still alluded to.

Conclusion
Even though Christian beliefs are seeping into the LDS Church—at least being stated as such—I cannot say, nor can today’s Evangelicals, that the Mormon Church and its theology can yet be considered fully Christian—particularly if the church conceals its doctrines without officially renouncing them. This will always leave non-Mormons cautiously wondering if they really still believe them and result in the LDS Church continuing to be considered as a fringe religion, or cult. On the other hand, their change may be genuine and maybe we need to give them more time.

The church has so much to change that it seems like an impossible task. They face a difficult road ahead if they are truly changing. For example, their mission impossible, as I see it, is how to do away with Joseph Smith's unbiblical teachings without admitting he wasn't God's prophet. And if they can't  do that one thing, how can they hope to achieve their goal of a complete changeover to Christian?

If the church is indeed pursuing this commendable path, it faces a tremendous task as well as responsibility to keep its members' faith undamaged.

Whether the church succeeds remains to be seen.

Until next time,
Janis
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ENDNOTES

1. "CIA Attorney May Get LDS Ouster CIA Work. (Salt Lake Tribune, page E1, 04/23/94)

2. The New Mormon Challenge by Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, general editors. (Zondervan, 2002), 67.

3. "A New Future Requires a New Past." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 41, No. 2, Summer 2008)

4. “LDS Do Not Endorse Claims in ‘Da Vinci,’” Deseret Morning News, May 17, 2006, B2. Cited in Ken Drigg’s article, “A New Future Requires a New Past,” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 41, No. 2, Summer 2008, p. 76-77.)

5. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1979, second edition, p. 516.) He is quoting from, Man: His Origin and Destiny, pp. 348-355.)

6. "CIA Attorney May Get LDS Ouster/CIA Worker may get LDS Boot for Writing Letters," by Peter Scarlet. Salt Lake Tribune, page E1, 04/23/94)

7. Purposely left blank.

8. "A New Future Requires a New Past." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 41, No. 2, Summer 2008), 75.

9. Bruce R. McConkie, Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, edited & arranged by Mark L. McConkie, copyright 1989 by Bookcraft, Inc.

10. Conference discourse on October 8, 1854. See also, (Journal of Discourses, Vol. VII, p. 289)

11. See Journal of Discourses, Joseph F. Smith, ed. (1854-1886; reprint, Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University Press, 1967), 7:289.

12. Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 1969, 246.

13. Bruce R. McConkie, Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, edited & arranged by Mark L. McConkie, copyright 1989 by Bookcraft, Inc.

14. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345-346.

15. LifeWay Research, "Unchurched Americans Turned Off by Church, Open to Christians by Mark Kelly. Www.lifeway.com (nd). Survey mentioned in article is dated 2007.) See also, “Public Expresses Mixed Views of Islam, Mormonism.” September 25, 2007. www.pewforum.org/surveys/religionviews07 This survey, conducted August 1 through 8, 2007, consisted of 3,002 adults.

16. "Public Expresses Mixed Views of Islam, Mormonism." September 25, 2007. www.pewforum.org/surveys/religionviews07 This survey, conducted August 1 through 8, 2007, consisted of 3,002 adults. Fifty-two percent of the general public believed Mormonism Christian, while 31% (1 in 3) did not. Of Evangelicals, 40% said yes, while 45% said no. Those Evangelicals who attend weekly services and who do not believe Mormonism Christian, were 52%.

17. Journal of Discourses, 7:289. Cited at www.lds.org, “Joseph Smith among the Prophets” by Robert L. Millet.

18. http://tinyurl.com/6s7l239. “Special report -Mormonism besieged by the modern age.” Salt Lake City, Ut.

END

 


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2 comments:

  1. This is Janis Hutchinson. Unfortunately,those who make comments about my articles send them to me via email or on Linkedin, instead of putting them here in the comment box so other viewers can read them. Therefore, in response to one person who said he believed that he thought the LDS church wasn't really trying to change, but just trying to appear Christian to gain more converts, and asked if I didn't think the same, here is my response to him:

    "I lean more heavily toward your opinion that it is a front to look more Christian [in order to gain more acceptability in the Christian community and acquire more converts]. However, at the same time, I see the extreme possibility that maybe leaders just might be trying to do away with their beliefs, but because of the Catch 22 they are in are going to shoot for the passing of a couple of generations when the older members will have died off and the newer ones won't know about them. This, of course, would save the leaders from denouncing everything at once and utterly devastating the members.

    The major reason I wrote the article is because I know that Christians have absolutely no inkling of the devastation and spiritual wreckage that happens to members’ faith when a church erases everything all at once. It’s not just devastation over the loss of the unbiblical doctrines, but in God Himself. That’s why many ex-Mormons become atheists and/or agnostics afterwards. I don’t wish that on anyone. I at least wanted Christian to consider the other side of the issue from the church’s perspective.

    The major problem with Christians (and this is not meant to be a negative) is that while they want the LDS Church to rid itself of its doctrines, they do not approve of the church’s attempt to try and achieve it over a couple of generations, even if the end result might be an LDS Church that no longer believes Joseph Smith’s doctrines. Christians can only see one option, that of the church out-and-out denouncing all beliefs publicly in one fell swoop. It just can’t be done--just can’t, without destroying members’ faith in God. (Many would say it’s a false God, but that’s not true with ALL Mormons, especially those from Christian backgrounds—which is a subject for another article)

    I am, however, hoping that leaders in the LDS Church will seriously consider my "Proposal" that I put near the end of my article. Another alternative that, unfortunately, I didn’t think of at the time to include, would be for the church to try spacing official denouncements gradually by repudiating one doctrine at a time, say every two or three years.

    Do LDS leaders still keep tabs on me? Oh yes. Maybe not the top echelon of the church, but at least leaders at a lower level. On my other website, www.janishutchinson.com, I know that whenever I posted a new article there, someone always came in on my site from “BYU Studies” to read it. Since I started my blog later, I assume they also check out my blog articles there as well.

    I’m not saying that I know LDS leaders are genuine in wanting to become Christian. I only laid it out as a possibility. As I said, only time will tell."

    ReplyDelete
  2. Janis,

    Interesting article. I was not aware of the difference between the "church" and the "priesthood". It raises the rather troubling question of whether there is one "truth" for one person, and another "truth" for his neighbor. I don't know about anyone else, but that makes my head spin.

    In any case, in my reading of it, your article attempts to address the question of the troubled Mormon "where else do we go?" They might be reluctant to leave the fold and, suspicious of other "churches" trying to drag them away (with some justification), they default to staying put.

    In an ideal world, their next church might just be the one they are already in. But (big "but"), it first needs to deal with Joseph Smith and his legacy. Your observations on the WWCG show how painful this process can be, but where there is a will, there is a way. Sincerely, is there a will within the LDS leadership to make it happen?

    The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman ends with the Samaritan village leaving the religion they knew and walking towards Jesus (John 4:30 - interestingly, Jesus doesn't call theirs a "false" religion, but demonstrates how He is the true fulfillment of it, but I digress). Surely, that should be the aim of the orthodox Christian witness to Mormons. I pray that it would be the aim of the LDS leadership, too.

    MartinOfBrisbane
    http://martinofbrisbane.blogspot.com.au/

    ReplyDelete

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