Saturday, August 9, 2008

Some Mormon Blog Tract

A Mormon who goes by the blog name MORMONS ARE CHRISTIANS dropped what I can only describe as a tract of some kind off in the combox at Triablogue. For whatever reason, I decided to take up the cause of showing the hand correcting some errors contained therein. Here is the cut and paste, followed by my response:

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion This article helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity's theology relating to baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

• Baptism: .

Early Christian churches, practiced baptism of youth (not infants) by immersion by the father of the family. The local congregation had a lay ministry. An early Christian Church has been re-constructed at the Israel Museum, and the above can be verified.

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continues baptism and a lay ministry as taught by Jesus’ Apostles. Early Christians were persecuted for keeping their practices sacred, and prohibiting non-Christians from witnessing them.

• The Trinity: .

A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ , His Son , being separate , divine beings , united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration?

The Nicene Creed”s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity , which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: "There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one."

Scribes later added "the Father, the Word and the Spirit," and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity. .

Scholars agree that Early Christians believed in an embodied God; it was neo-Platonist influences that later turned Him into a disembodied Spirit. 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.”

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts.

• Theosis

Divinization, narrowing the space between God and humans, was also part of Early Christian belief. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Eastern Orthodox) wrote, regarding theosis, "The Son of God became man, that we might become God." . The Gospel of Thomas (which pre-dates the 4 Gospels, but was considered non-canonical by the Nicene Council) quotes the Savior: He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him. (Gospel of Thomas 50, 28-30, Nag Hammadi Library in English, J.M.Robinson, 1st ed 1977; 3rd ed. 1988) The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS agrees with Athanasius and Thomas regarding theosis.

• The Deity of Jesus Christ

Mormons hold firmly to the deity of Christ. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS), Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God the Son. Evangelical pollster George Barna found in 2001 that while only 33 percent of American Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists (28 percent of Episcopalians) agreed that Jesus was “without sin”, 70 percent of Mormons believe Jesus was sinless.

• The Cross and Christ’s Atonement: .

The Cross became popular as a Christian symbol in the Fifth Century A.D. . Members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) believe the proper Christian symbol is Christ’s resurrection , not his crucifixion on the Cross. Many Mormon chapels feature paintings of the resurrected Christ or His Second Coming. Furthermore, members of the church believe the major part of Christ’s atonement occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane as Christ took upon him the sins of all mankind.

• Definition of “Christian”: .

But Mormons don’t term Catholics and Protestants “non-Christian”. They believe Christ’s atonement applies to all mankind. The dictionary definition of a Christian is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ”: All of the above denominations are followers of Christ, and consider him divine, and the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. They all worship the one and only true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and address Him in prayer as prescribed in The Lord’s Prayer.

It’s important to understand the difference between Reformation and Restoration when we consider who might be authentic Christians. . Early Christians had certain rituals which defined a Christian , which members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continue today. . Please refer to:

If members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) embrace early Christian theology, they are likely more “Christian” than their detractors.

• The Parallel with the “Rise of Christianity”

Rodney Stark in his book “The Rise of Christianity” found parallels with the rise of Mormonism:
A similar growth rate (40 percent for Christianity, and 43 percent for Mormonism) for both nascent religious movements. Conversions proceeded along social networking lines, primarily. While Christianity retained Jews’ belief in the Old Testament, Mormonism retains Creedal Christians’ belief in both the New and Old Testaments. The Romans martyred the Christian leaders, the mobs in Missouri and Illinois martyred the Mormon leaders. In both cases, they expected the fledgling movements to fail without their leaders.

• The Need for a Restoration of the Christian Church:

The founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams, just prior to leaving the church he established, said this:

"There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking.” (Picturesque America, p. 502.)

Martin Luther had similar thoughts: "Nor can a Christian believer be forced beyond sacred Scriptures,...unless some new and proved revelation should be added; for we are forbidden by divine law to believe except what is proved either through the divine Scriptures or through Manifest revelation."

He also wrote: "I have sought nothing beyond reforming the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. The spiritual powers have been not only corrupted by sin, but absolutely destroyed; so that there is now nothing in them but a depraved reason and a will that is the enemy and opponent of God. I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it.

"The Lutheran, Baptist and Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) churches recognize an apostasy from early Christianity. The Lutheran and Baptist churches have attempted reform, but Mormonism (and Roger Williams, and perhaps Martin Luther) require inspired restoration, so as to re-establish an unbroken line of authority and apostolic succession.* * *

• Christ-Like Lives: The 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion published by UNC-Chapel Hill found that Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) youth (ages 13 to 17) were more likely to exhibit these Christian characteristics than Evangelicals (the next most observant group):

1. Attend Religious Services weekly
2. Importance of Religious Faith in shaping daily life – extremely important
3. Believes in life after death
4. Does NOT believe in psychics or fortune-tellers
5. Has taught religious education classes
6. Has fasted or denied something as spiritual discipline
7. Sabbath Observance
8. Shared religious faith with someone not of their faith
9. Family talks about God, scriptures, prayer daily
10. Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen (very supportive)
11. Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality

LDS Evangelical
1. 71% 55%
2. 52 28
3. 76 62
4. 100 95
5. 42 28
6. 68 22
7. 67 40
8. 72 56
9. 50 19
10. 65 26
11. 84 35

So what do you think the motivation is for the Evangelical preachers to denigrate the Mormon Church? You would think Evangelical preachers would be emulating Mormon practices (a creed to believe, a place to belong, a calling to live out, and a hope to hold onto) which were noted by Methodist Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean of the Princeton Theological Seminary, as causing Mormon teenagers to “top the charts” in Christian characteristics. (see It seems obvious pastors shouldn't be denigrating a church based on First Century Christianity, with high efficacy. The only plausible reason to denigrate Mormons is for Evangelical pastors to protect their flock (and their livelihood).

My response on Triablogue:

Thank you, MORMONS ARE CHRISTIANS, for giving me my daily OMG! moment. It's late at the time I'm reading your comment, so I apologize I will not be giving a thorough examination of your many propositions at this time. However, I will not forget you and will probably address much of your outrageousness on my own blog in the future.

Aside from the Trinity, the diety of Christ, and the Atonement, your points hailing LDS doctrine as "historic" Christianity is at best secondary and at worst, hollow of meaning when it comes to determining genuine faith in the Christian God. And, that's giving you too much credit for the things you did say about the Trinity, the diety of Christ, and the Atonement.

Here are your flaws:
1. The Nicene Creed”s definition of the Trinity...

The Nicene Creed doesn't define the Trinity; it describes the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, being of "one substance" (Gk. homoousios) with each other. The Son is identified as "God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God" to which the creed follows with the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father (and the Son) to be interpreted as of the same substance as well. You sound as if you have never read the Nicene Creed and are not familiar with the formation of the Trinitarian doctrine, for anyone who has given it any serious look will know that Trinitarian doctrine is not based solely on 1 John.

In trying to elevate LDS beliefs concerning the Son to the level of orthodoxy, you discreetly failed to mention that LDS doctrine teaches a polytheistic understanding of the divine vs. the strict monotheism of 1st century Judaism (and hence, Christianity) and that Jesus the Incarnate Son of God is the product of sexual intercourse between the Father and Mary. Nowhere in the Bible is the Son treated as a separate god apart from the Father, nor a literal offspring of God; the Father and the Son are the same divine being worthy of worship across the Old and New Testaments. There are no "separate divine beings," as there are no separate divinities within historic Judaism and Christianity, so it is exceptionally erroneous to claim that LDS beliefs are "in accord with Greek New Testament manuscripts."

2. Scribes later added "the Father, the Word and the Spirit," and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Erhman...

Was it left in the KJV Bible that the LDS church uses itself?

Bart Erhman, as you cited, no longer believes in very much about Christianity at all today. Are you willing to continue to cite him even when his point of view also contradicts your own? Erhman is best known for his touting of problems in the Bible, an opinion that has been refuted publicly not once or twice, but three times in debates with Christian scholars (not to mention the number of times in print). Just what do you think his opinion would be toward the Book of Mormon, a book that has numerous problems with language, scholarship, and consistency with actual history and historic Christianity?

3. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS), Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God the Son.

You fail to clarify that this statement should read "Jesus is not only a son of God literally but also a god himself called the Son," in accordance with true LDS doctrine. Mormon doctrine indeed teaches that God has fathered many children quite literally in the spirit realm with his spirit wives, and that you and I are also one of these incarnate sons (and daughters)--we're just not Jesus. That is about as far away from biblical teaching as you can get.

4. members of the church believe the major part of Christ’s atonement occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane as Christ took upon him the sins of all mankind.

This is unsupported by the Bible. It is part of the orthodox understanding of the Atonement that the period at which Christ took upon the sins of the world was on the cross, specifically indicated when Jesus exclaimed that the Father had forsaken Him.

5. The Gospel of Thomas

Welcome to the funny farm. Not even reputable liberal scholars date the Gospel of Thomas to anything before 150 A.D., long after the last Gospel was written, not to mention that many of Paul's letters were written before even they. And why should we take seriously a "gospel" with talking crosses and men tall enough to reach the clouds (and beyond) compared to the four Gospels we have? Ridiculous. CORRECTION: This depiction is found in the Gospel of Peter, not the Gospel of Thomas, my mistake. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of Syriac Gnostic sayings attributed to Jesus which is completely uncharacteristic of the four Biblical gospels and shows a heavy influence by the Diatessaron, a work written by Tatian in 175 A.D. This means Thomas was an even later work, making the dating of it at the earliest of 150 A.D. fantastically generous.

Even what you quoted is a tell-tale sign of the later Gnosticism that existed beyond the New Testament church, and you need to know that it doesn't correspond to LDS teaching about the godhood of man (as you implied). To the Gnostics, it was more important that Jesus was enlightened (occupying a higher plane of existence in which knowledge was supreme) more than He was divine.

But this is what you must resort to doing: pulling out scraps of extremely bad scholarship and wacky ideas about Christian history and scholarship in order to prop up some semblance of credibility to the LDS Church. The problem that you haven't mentioned yet is that the LDS church doesn't even have any confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, from which Christianity ultimately flows. So far from being a part of the historic Christian faith, Mormonism is exactly its namesake, that which the Book of Mormon has wrought, to contradict your moniker that MORMONS ARE CHRISTIANS.

Mormons need to have a truthful perspective on where the LDS church stands in the beliefs and doctrines of historic Christianity, which is firmly outside of the discussion entirely.

BTW, your comments are a little convenient in their format in that it looks like a prearranged troll or tract. You wouldn't happen to drop this little package off every so often on people's blogs now, would you?

Gene Bridges from Triablogue did confirm for me that Mormons are Christians' fly-by-night posting was a repeat from past comboxes, so I am confident that this is nothing more than a roadside ambush that appears on Christian blogs every so often.

I must give credit to some Mormons who are trying to learn new things and wrestle with how they believe their faith should fit into the scope of Christian history. However, ex nihilo nihilo fit (from nothing, nothing comes), and no Mormon can fabricate a position on the LDS church that fits in with historic Christianity where no such position can possibly exist.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Steve Wagner at ASU

My official alma mater is Boilermaker country in the midwest (Purdue), but I do adopt Arizona State University as a kind of "aunt" when it comes to schools I've attended and have a particular soft spot for (aside from the fact that I'm from AZ and ASU is the alma mater to my husband and sister and other members of my extended family and in-laws and great crowd of friends). Thus, when I ran across Steve Wagner's latest newsletter about his recent open air time at ASU, partnered with Justice For All, I was genuinely interested in the outcome of his encounter with students concerning the issue of abortion. I invite you to read it and think about the dialogue that took place between himself and one particular student.

I am convinced that this student's views are consistent with the vast majority of Americans on the issue of abortion. Most people (even former liberal Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry) are "personally against abortion," but cannot deny that the unborn are living humans that we can legally kill for reasons unrelated to medical necessity whatsoever.

We have come a long way to valuing the visible lives of women in human civilization. Isn't it about time we also valued them at the time when they are the most vulnerable and invisible--in the womb of their mothers?

(Steve Wagner is on staff with Stand to Reason, a Christian ministry that I would better term hard-hitting Christian thinktank or thinkarmory than anything else.)