In a class at church one of the fellow parishioners mentioned this August 20th show by Albert Mohler where he discusses the official doctrinal change of the Mormon Church. MORMONISM RESEARCH MINISTRY (MRM) notes the difficulty in the change:
(Imported here 4/2014 [originally posted HERE 12/2007])
(above) Joseph Smith’s Handwritten Account of His Vision in His Diary
Ronald Said (an old debate many yearn ago):
“And about what Joseph Smith believed, he SAW the Father and Jesus Christ, at the same time. He saw that they had bodies like ours, except glorified….To say that Joseph Smith believed that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost were the same is laughable, at best.”
Well, I will quote again the latter part of your comment for clarity, “To say that Joseph Smith believed that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost were the same is laughable, at best.”, unfortunately you are laughing at the Book of Mormon. I added nothing to this book, or took anything out. So when you laugh, you’re laughing at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Secondly, the “vision” that defines for you who God (and his subsequent nature) is commonly referred to as the First Vision, is very important to LDS theology. And separates it from historical Christianity. The First Vision sets up the following, and thus Smith’s
- Prophetic authority,
- Teaching concerning the nature of God, and
- Condemnation of historical Christian beliefs is all dependent upon the credibility of this first vision account.
I would invite anyone who can examine evidence and delineate between what is truth and what is false [who were reading this real-time exchange… slightly edited for readability]. However, this invitation excludes Ronald because he already knows it to be true… how? Due to a feeling he received in his chest when he prayed over the book of Mormon. His only criterion is a sensation, which, if allowed or caused by a fallen angel, Ronald would have no recourse in testing this phenomenon.
Keep in mind that the Mormon Church believes in a form of tri-theism. In other words, the Father has a body of flesh and is a completely separate being than from Christ. Christ has his own body and was in fact born (by sexual union) by heavenly mother in heaven (the Planet Kolob) ~ [could you imagine Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard teaming up!?]. If Christ was not born, Heavenly Father would still be God, they are separate – corporeal – beings. And the Holy Ghost is a God as well, but has a spirit body, still quite discernible. I presume much like Casper the Friendly Ghost’s body. [For more info, see my 4 Trinity Posts on page 3]
The First Vision
Smith’s official account of this pivotal event was published in Times and Seasons in 1842, twenty-two years after the episode allegedly took place. This account is now published in the Pearle of Great Price, and is accepted as Scripture by Mormons. However, Mormon authorities suppressed at least three additional earlier accounts of the first vision, all by Smith, because they contradicted the “official” story. And the official first vision was not published until 1840.
For example, the earliest account we now posses, from 1832, varies in key details from the official 1842 version. There are discrepancies in Smith’s age, in the message given and the number of divine personages in the vision. There are also details added, such as the presence of an evil power, Smith’s reason for seeking the Lord, and the existence of a revival. All this lends serious doubt to the credibility of the official account.
Consider for instance, the divine persons in the revelation. In this version (1832) only “Jesus” appears. What happened to God the Father? The first handwritten account of Joseph Smith does not even mention the existence of the Father – who plays so crucial a role in the official version.
It is absolutely impossible for us to believe that Joseph Smith would not have mentioned the Father if he had actually appeared…. We feel that the only reasonable explanation for the Father not being mentioned in the account that was suppressed is that Joseph Smith did not see God the Father, and that he made up this part of the story after the writing of the first manuscript. This, of course, throws a shadow of doubt upon the whole story.
Consider yet another of Smith’s accounts written between 1835 and 1836. In this case there is no mention of God or Christ at all – only many spirits who “testified” of Jesus. But here again, the authority of the account – and of Mormonism’s “divine origin” – is called into question. No longer is it God and Jesus telling Joseph Smith to begin a new church because all the others are abominations; it is now only a group of nebulous “spirits.” why should anyone accept the word of a fifteen-year-old boy claimed he talked with some unidentified spirits? Even if he did, why should anyone trust such spirits in the first place? If my fifteen-year-old boy claimed he saw a vision of God or Jesus giving him divine authority, why should Mormons believe him?
So what do we have?
We now have three different handwritten manuscripts of the first vision. They are all written by Joseph Smith or his scribes and yet every one of them is different. The first vision account says there was only one personage. The second account says there were many, and the third says there were two.
The LDS Church accepts the one with two personages. If I were to accept one, it would be the first account. It was written six or seven years closer to the event. Also, this account, which mentions only one personage (Jesus), is the only account in Joseph Smith’s own handwriting (his diary).
In fact, as Fawn Brodie explains:
The description of the vision was first published by Orson Pratt in his Remarkable Visions in 1840, twenty years after it was supposed to have occurred. Between 1820 and 1840 Joseph’s friends were writing long panegyrics; his enemies were defaming him in an unceasing stream of affidavits and pamphlets, and Joseph himself was dictating several volumes of Bible-flavored prose. But no one in this long period even intimidated that he had heard the story of the two gods. At least, no such intimidation has survived in print or manuscript…. The first published Mormon history, begun with Joseph’s collaboration in 1834 by Oliver Cowdery, ignored it altogether… Joseph’s own description of the first vision was not published until 1842, twenty-two years after the memorable event….
If something happened that spring morning in 1820, it passed totally unnoticed in Joseph’s hometown, and apparently did not even fix itself in the minds of members of his own family. The awesome vision he described in later years may have been the elaboration of some half-remembered dream [keep in mind his first account in his diary] stimulated by the early revival excitement and reinforced by the rich folklore of visions circulating in his neighborhood. Or it may have been sheer invention, created some time after 1834 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging.
So no one besides Joseph Smith in his diary even mentioned this vision for twenty years!? Unlike the resurrection report of Jesus, we have papyri dating to A.D. 55, Dead Sea scroll illusion dating to A.D. 49, and early creeds and catacomb writings dating to A.D. 44. These all describe the resurrection (as well as the belief that Jesus was God almighty). These are all based on earlier beliefs, so we can get the date even closer. But the point is this; such an event is well remembered and talked about. For the most important foundation for the origin of the Mormon Church to not even be mentioned in the throes of massive copying and writing seems to be the most serious objection to the vision being valid.
And, like I have shown, the Mormon Church has made sweeping changes to the Book of Mormon and Doctrines and Covenants, as well as other important Church writings. So it wouldn’t surprise me if they massively tampered with the official account of the first vision as well. This all shows that the foundation for the existence of the Mormon Church is called into question. But that’s okay Ronald, you can grasp onto that “burning in the bosom,” cause it’s all you got buddy.
(Originally posted in April of 2014)
This is a tough topic to deal with. Mainly because there are many who talk about the same topic who insert many wild-eyed conspiracy stories and points of view that include the New World Order, and many other historical reinterpretations that dilute both the goal and the veracity of the truth of the matter. However, there are many LDS respected, Mormon authors, that have come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from Freemasonry, which is really modern day Gnosticism (see #7 in my run-in with actor, Michael Berryman). One video presentation that includes a BYU Professor/Mormon, that speaks about this occultic connection found in Mormonism is the following video:
The Mormon author/professor who is mentioned in the above video, Dr. Quinn, wrote a book that caused a brow-or-two to raise within the Mormon church. His fellow compatriots that is. It is entitled Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. Here is a partial review of the book from MRM:
- Jesus of Historic Christianity: Jesus is eternal, there never was a time when He did not exist.He is the creator of the time/space continuum which includes the entire known and unknown universe, all the planets and stars, energy, gravity, natural laws, and the like – all this places him as part of the Trinity.Because of His all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-presence nature, he is rightly called God Almighty.
- Jesus of the Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses): Michael the Archangel is the first creative act of God, after that God creates everything else through Michael the Archangel.When Michael comes to earth he is known as Jesus Christ, but when back in heaven once again takes his place as Michael the Archangel.
- Jesus of LDS (Mormons): Jesus was the first begotten son by Heavenly Father and Mother (one of many mothers, but presumably this one is the most important.Polygamy is practiced in the Mormon top-tear heaven), Lucifer was also born of a sexual act in heaven, so Jesus and Satan are literally brothers – as we are all brothers and sisters, albeit most likely half-brother or sister.During the judgment period Elohim, Jesus, and Joseph Smith will judge every Mormon and according to his works.(I say his, because in Mormon theology women are consecrated to a Mormon man, so her salvation depends on his good works.If he does not make it, in heaven she may become one of the many wives of a Mormon male that did make the cut, so-to-speak.) Again, Jesus had to become exalted Himself to also attain the best Heaven so he to can be a god of his own world.This godhood exaltation goes back to infinity in Mormon theology.So Heavenly Father was once a man on a planet much like our, and he too had to attain exultation, he had a father, that father had a father, and so on. (see video below)
As I point out in my chapter on Mormonism, the “god” Mormons worship is too small. Why? Because Jesus is understood to be part of the ETERNAL Holy Trinity, and thus, as God proper, created even the space-time-continuum. Why is this significant? I will explain from an old post that turned into my chapter:
Do you understand? One would be better off worshiping information (as found in DNA: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine) rather than “heavenly father.” Information, so-to-speak, is more powerful than the Mormon god. Hell, gravity is as well. Two completely different Gods — the Christian vs. LDS.
Again, to be clear, Mormons are not a Christian sect in the same vein as say, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Evangelical, or the like. Many LDS say they are Christians, but here is a simple example to show that they are waaay off following their conclusions to logical ends.
Imagine if you will, myself walking into a Mormon stake (church) and proclaiming myself a Mormon. To which, when asked/quizzed, I elucidate:
A knowledgeable Latter-day Saint would defy that such a person was, in fact, a true Mormon. why? Because this person who claims to be Mormon denies the very doctrines that make Mormons what they are. At the same time, however, a Mormon who claims to be Christian denies the very doctrines that make Christians what they are.
Indeed, Mormonism denies or distorts the basic tenants of Biblical Christianity. The two religions are incompatible. The areas of difference include the doctrine of God, the basis for authority, and the idea of salvation for mankind.
Enough said to make it clear we are talking about two separate — completely separate — faiths, we can wade back into the occult aspect of the LDS faith.
A hidden camera was brought into a temple ceremony that collaborates well the following video presentation showing the pre-1990 ceremony (which was replaced heavily with video presentations versus actors). The LDS church’s theology and ceremonies are always in flux, even the “historical” First Vision has been changed many times over.
The hidden camera footage (found here) is interesting because near the end the slits in the fabric wall are explained, and as we shall see in yet another video, these tie into the “magic Mormon underwear.” But first, the classic presentation of some of the temple ceremonies:
Here are a few of the similarities listed between Masonic and LDS temple ceremonies which cause HONEST Mormons to agree with historical evidences of Joseph Smiths involvement with Freemasonry, as well as well as aesthetic comparisons:
Of course, even after all the above, many Mormons will brush aside dealing with these challenging presentations to their theology. And thus reject truth for religious ideology. Faith is even viewed differently in LDS theology than it is in Christianity:
I know God is unchangeable (Hebrews 13:8), cannot tell lies (Hebrews 6:18-19), again, does not lie…
Within Mormonism — if you were diligent to follow the above conversation — there is an endless line of gods, many, many gods in fact…. into infinity; that would negate truth being told us from either Elohim or Yahweh. To wit…
I will end with this presentation that is a good — humorously of course… but with an air of warning — connecting the Temple ceremony with the vaunted magic Mormon underwear, is this presentation by John Safran, entitled, “John Safran vs God – Masonic Mormon Underwear Exposed (pardon the pun..)” Here it is, enjoy:
(Originally posted in April of 2014)
This post is intimately tied to my chapter in my book on the Mormon concept thusly the attributes assigned to “god.” It is from a seminary level book all seminary level LDS have to read. Right click and choose “open link in new tab” in order to see it larger. The first three smaller scans are the publishing date and rear/front covers. I also cataloged these as part of my “Conversation Series” because the link to my chapter is partly from an actual conversation I had with two LDS missionaries. (I will also be importing and beefing up my “Mormon” tag.)
The larger pages (below) are the meat of the issue dealt with and specifically referenced (and thus explained) in my chapter in my book, linked directly below. I was just reading veraciously on this topic then and was fine-tunes to respond, so, enjoy the read if you link to my chapter on it:
CLICK TO ENLARGE IN NEW WINDOW
In any discussion with a Mormon, the following redefinition of biblical/ Christian terms must be kept in mind. Although Mormons themselves may be ignorant of some of the definitions cited below, they represent true Mormon teaching as proven by an evaluation of standard Mormon theological works. (Mainly from John Ankerberg’s and John Weldon’s book, Cult Watch: What You Need To Know About Spiritual Deception)
FIRST, here is a good site where an easy online access to a glossary is found at TRUTH IN LOVE (you may have to sign up [free] to access it), via an adult study at church. Enjoy the below.
- Christianity: sectarianism; a false and damnable apostate religion.
- God: “Elohim”; one of innumerable self-progressing bodily deities; formerly a man, a finite creature. In early Mormon theology, Adam (of the Garden of Eden) was considered by many Mormons as the true earth deity.
- Jesus Christ: a self-progressing deity (“Jehovah” of the Old Testament) and the first spirit child of “Elohim” and his wife.
- Holy Ghost: a man with a spiritual body of matter.
- Trinity: tritheistic; coordinated under general Mormon polytheism; thus the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate deities.
- The Gospel: Mormon theology.
- Born-again: water baptism into Mormonism.
- Immortality: Mormon salvation by grace (limited to the universal resurrection of all men).
- Atonement: the provision God has supplied for an individual to earn their true salvation “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Articles of Faith, 3).
- True salvationleternal life/redemption: Exaltation to Godhood in the highest part of the celestial kingdom based upon individual good works and personal merit; exaltation incorporates ruling a new world and sexual procreation in order to produce spirit children who will eventually be embodied and inhabit that world, each then having the opportunity to be exalted.
- The Fall: a spiritual step upward; a blessing permitting the production of physical bodies for preexistent spirits to inhabit and thus have the possibility of attaining their own “exaltation” or Godhood.
- Death: generally a step upward; death represents the possibility of a form of salvation (if not exaltation) for those who have never heard of Mormonism.
- Heaven: three “kingdoms of glory” comprising various spiritual gradations.
- Hell: generally purgatorial; possibly eternal for a very few (primarily apostate Mormons).
- Virgin birth: the birth of Christ through a physical sex act between God the Father (the Mormon earth god “Elohim”) and Mary (hence, not a virgin birth).
- Man: a preexistent spirit with the potential to earn Godhood by obedience to Mormon dictates.
- Creation: the reorganization of eternal matter.
- The Scriptures: the Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants; The Pearl of Great Price; and the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith, 8).
- The Bible: an erring and often unreliable inspired record, properly interpreted only by Mormons and only in light of Mormon theology.
This is a common comparison I have used over the years:
You can see some of this “fleshed out” in my routine I typically follw with Mormon Missionaries that come to my door — as outlined somewhat in my chapter on Mormonism:
Infinitely Finite – Mormon … by on Scribd
BTW, if you can, memorize the following, and after they give you their testimony, you can give them yours:
This is the actual footage of an witnessing encounter outside of the Mormon Temple in Mesa, Arizona. If you see one encounter between a Christian and a Mormon we hope it is this. This is took place during Apologia Church’s evangelism outside of the Mormon Easter Pageant. We believe that this footage shows that Mormons and Christians can and should break down the walls between their communities in an effort to talk about the Word of God. Truth matters. Mormons and Christians can in fact have gracious and loving arguments about the truth. This video demonstrates that. For more, go to http://apologiastudios.com.
This is, without question, one of the most heartwarming and powerful conversations we have had outside of the Mormon temple in Mesa, Arizona. This young man has been watching our videos and read our tract. He came to the temple to seek our Jeff to have a conversation. He was struggling with some important questions and some contradictions within Mormonism. This is the actual footage of what took place. If you’ve ever shared a video from Apologia, if you have any Mormon loved ones, or if you care about reaching Mormons with the Biblical Gospel, then, please consider joining us in sharing this footage. We believe it has the potential to help many, many Mormons and Christians. Get more content at http://apologiastudios.com. You can join us in ministry by signing up for All Access. When you do you’ll get access to every radio show, every TV show, every After Show, and Apologia Academy (where you can learn to witness to Mormons yourself). But more importantly, you’ll partner with us in ministry and help to make more content to reach the world with the Gospel.
The above man changed his heart and accepted Christ! I will post the description BELOW the video:
This is a very special video. It’s an actual recording of a conversation between Jeff Durbin and someone who was born and raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was also a Mormon missionary. He made contact with us because of our online apologetics content (Thank you to our All Access partners for making that content possible). He has spent a lot of time struggling through issues related to his Mormon faith and he even showed up at the Mormon Easter Pageant to have a conversation with Jeff…
…Yesterday, he came into our studio and sat down with Jeff to ask a series of questions that both he and Jeff hope will be helpful to Christians and Mormons. We believe that this content can truly bless people and we would be so honored if you joined us in sharing it. Please pray for him and for the large segment of Mormons who are struggling with their faith.
Daniel C. Peterson discusses Christopher Hitchens’ book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”… KEEP IN MIND, this is a Mormon apologist defending in parts Mormonism — However, Dr. Peterson spells out some grand church history and other common defenses of the faith. AS WELL AS the low threshold of scholarly aptitude in Hitchens work.
- “We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take the veil away” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345).
Lynn Wilder and Corey Miller are among 4 scholars who tell their story of leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the new book “Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed Their Mind.” They engage with Mormon believer James Holt as they discuss Jesus, Joseph Smith, polygamy, testimony, the Book of Mormon and more. For more on this program, see HERE.
One can also read my chapter on Mormonism, “Infinitely Finite – Mormon Materialism: Are Mormons Really Dialectical Materialists?“
 James A. Beverly, Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Religions of the World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 368.
This is an old conversation from many years ago with a Mormon woman who read some of my chapter in my book. This is merely a cut-n-paste (with some slight edits for ease of reading) I kept from the forum.
My moniker is the “gears,” Johnna (the Mormon) is the “person.” And LDS, Latter Day Saints… are synonyms for Mormons.
I wish here to applaud Johnna, she is at least admitting that many “Saints” view Heavenly Father’s nature this way.
- Thank you Johnna for being honest.
For the reader to continue they must understand what Johnna just did. Often times when Mormon Elders come to your door they will shy away from this because you are not initiated into the Latter Day Saint Church. And so, I will define the LDS “god” so the conversation is fully understood. I will pull some from my chapter, but first start out with a layman’s understanding of the Mormon “god,” and then get into the weeds a bit.
I don’t know if this clears up the defining aspect of the LDS “god,” but this is what Johnna is referencing as believing. Publicly! Not trying to obfuscate their understanding to a non-Mormon.
I may add here that she also admits that her husband thinks this way as well, she didn’t need to share this private nugget with us, but she chose to, thanks again. Remember (speaking to the reader), it really doesn’t matter what Johnna thinks on the matter, her “goddess-hood” (i.e., salvation to the highest LDS heaven — or — she will be sealed to another LDS man/god she has never met) isn’t based at all on her thoughts on the matter. It is based entirely upon what her husband believes. That’s the bottom line.
An atheist could adopt a similar view in that evolution to a state where control of matter in a godlike fashion would be possible. Many naturalists hold to Eatern metaphysics, who have a similar view of matter being eternal. At this point I merely responded with an adapted excerpt from chapter one of Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson’s book, Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend: Effective Ways to Challenge a Mormon’s Arguments Without Being Offensive (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1994):
This from MORIEL MINISTRIES (2011) explaining a bit about the above:
(Video Description) Why are Islam and Mormonism so similar? Because the devil forgot to check Google Calendar for birthdays, apparently. Also, I recognize that most of the captions fly by too quickly to read, so go to the following website, and I’ll have them all linked THERE.
Hoekema was born in the Netherlands but immigrated to the United States in 1923. He attended Calvin College (A.B.), the University of Michigan (M.A.), Calvin Theological Seminary (Th.B.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.D., 1953). After pastoring several Christian Reformed churches (1944-56), he became Associate Professor of Bible at Calvin College (1956-58). From 1958 to 1979, when he retired, he was Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
(BTW, Hoekema was an Amillennialist. I do not personally hold this position. Likewise, this position has very little impact on the whole of these “traits” of aberrant beliefs… if any. A good 9-minute challenge to a main portion of his “Kingdom” view is HERE.)
- Anthony A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults: Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), 377-388.
[p.377>] THE DISTINCTIVE TRAITS OF THE CULT
In setting forth what I believe to be the distinctive traits of the cult, I do not wish to give the impression that not the slightest trace of these characteristics is to be found in the churches. If we are honest with ourselves, we shall find vestiges of these characteristics in the churches too. I venture to affirm, however, that [p.378>] the traits which will now be described are so uniquely characteristic of the cult that any group in which they play a leading role can no longer be recognized as belonging to the true church of Jesus Christ.
(1) An Extra-Scriptural Source of Authority. As the first of these distinctive traits of the cult, I instance the presence of an extra-Scriptural source of authority. Hutten aptly calls this trait “a Bible in the left hand.” Recalling the ordination of a Sweden-borgian minister, who held a Bible in his right hand and one of Swedenborg’s books in his left, Hutten observes that every cult has such a “Bible in the left hand,” which actually supersedes the Bible in the right hand. It should be added here that the cults face a kind of dilemma with respect to the question of authority. Since, in distinction from non-Christian religions, they claim to be Christian groups, they must somehow appeal to the authority of the Bible. Yet in order to justify their peculiar doctrines they must either correct Scripture, reinterpret Scripture, or add other sources of authority to Scripture. Their attitude toward Scripture is therefore always an ambivalent one: a mixture of apparent subjection to its authority and of arbitrary manipulation of its teachings.
That this matter of ultimate authority is of determinative importance in evaluating the cults has already been implied by the inclusion of a section on “Source of Authority” in the discussion of each of the cults treated in this volume. It was found that every cult discussed did, indeed, find its ultimate ground of authority in some extra-Scriptural source. Mormons, it was seen, consider the Bible to be full of errors and in dire need of supplementary material; hence their ultimate source of authority is found not in the Bible, but in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. If there should be a contradiction between what is taught in the Bible and what is taught in these. supplementary sacred books, it is the teachings of the latter which are determinative for Latter-day Saints (see above, pp. 18-30), For Christian Scientists, the final source of authority is Mrs. Eddy’s Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures; although the Bible is read at their Sunday services, it is Science and Health which determines how the Bible is to be understood (see above, pp. 182-86). Though Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the only basis for their teachings is the Bible, it has been seen that their New World Translation is a biased rendering of the Scriptures [p.379>] into which they have smuggled many of their own heretical teachings, that their method of using Scripture is to find passages which seem to support their view and to ignore passages which fail to provide such support, and that they insist that the Bible may only be understood as it is interpreted by the leaders of the Watchtower Society (see above, pp. 237-48).
The reader is reminded of the discussion found on pages 30-33, above, where it was pointed out that the Bible itself condemns the attempt to supplement it with any additional source of authority. These “Bibles in the left hand” are never innocent appendages to Scripture; they always overmaster and overshadow the truth of Scripture. Whenever a cult raises a book or a set of books to the level of Scripture, it does violence to the Word of God. God is no longer allowed to speak as He does in the Bible; He may now speak only as the sect deems proper. Thus the Word of God is brought under the yoke of man.
The claim of the cults to have a source of revelation beyond the Scriptures – for that is what these “Bibles in the left hand” really amount to — is a claim which places them outside the pale of Christian churches. It may be added, by way of warning, that whenever a denomination of Christendom gives so much veneration to a human teacher or group of teachers that he or they are thought to be virtually infallible, it is in this respect manifesting a trait of the cult! People in the Corinthian Church who said that they belonged to Paul, Apollos, or Cephas were rebuked by Paul as being carnally minded; they were told, instead, that Paul, Apollos, and Cephas belonged to them! (I Cor. 3:21-23). Christians today who might be tempted to say that they belong to, say, Calvin or Luther, should learn from this passage that the Biblical way of expressing our relationship to human leaders is this: they (the human leaders) belong to us, but we belong to Christ. If these leaders belong to us, their writings may never be considered superior in authority to the Word of God. Sola Scriptura must remain the motto of every truly Protestant Church!
(2) The Denial of Justification by Grace Alone. A second distinctive trait of the cult is the denial of the doctrine of justification by grace alone. Grace is no longer considered the free gift of God to the unworthy sinner, but a reward which has been earned by the faithful keeping of various conditions and requirements. Hutten, in fact, calls this trait the most basic character- [p.380>] istic of the cult. The Reformation, he contends, asserted the principle of solo gratia: man is saved by grace alone. Salvation, the Reformers taught, does not depend on any human or ecclesiastical co-operation with God. The concept gratia implies that salvation is given freely by God apart from any conditions which man may fulfill or which the church may make available. Even those responses to the Gospel which take place in man through the working of God’s Spirit — his faith, his conversion, his works, and his walk — are not meritorious, since they are all the fruits of God’s grace. Precisely because salvation is all of grace, it can never be a ground for Pharisaic pride but must always move us to deep humility and gratitude.
This demand for humility, however, goes against the grain of human nature. Man wants to be his own lord and master. This is especially so in the matter of his salvation. He shrinks from taking the leap of faith — a leap in which he must trust wholly in God for his salvation. He prefers to take his future destiny into his own hands; he does not wish to surrender this destiny to a strange, unknown power. This fundamental human drive, Hutten continues, is the real root of the cult’s protest against the church. The basic antithesis of the cult to the church is therefore the cult’s antipathy toward the central message of the Reformation: the message of justification by grace alone and by faith alone (.cola gratia, solo fide). Though there are variations in the degree to which the different cults reject this doctrine, they all do reject it. As a matter of fact, Hutten adds, the church must always be on its guard against slipping into this cultic manner of thinking about the way of salvation. Only when the church has completely conquered this cultic tendency within its own borders, will it have the strength to oppose the cult on this point.
It will not be difficult to show that the trait described above is found in the cults we have studied. Mormons, as has been seen, reject the doctrine of justification by faith as a pernicious doctrine which has exercised an influence for evil in the church. They further teach that individual salvation (entrance into one of the three Mormon heavens) is to be merited by man through his own acts, and that one can only become eligible for the highest degree of salvation by keeping the commandments of the Lord in all things (see above, pp. 59-62). Christian Scientists decisively reject justification by grace alone; for them, salvation from sin is accomplished when one ceases to sin, or when one stops believing that there is such a thing as sin — on either interpretation salva‑ [p.381>] tion is achieved by human works and not by the grace of God (see above, p. 212, and compare pp. 209-12). Though Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that salvation is of grace and that all credit for salvation belongs to Jehovah (see above, p. 283), a careful study of their writings will reveal that they, too, reject justification by grace. In the case of the 144,000, man saves himself by exercising faith, repentance, and dedication to Christ (functions in which he is said not to be dependent on God), by showing himself worthy of being selected as a member of the anointed class, and by carrying out his dedication to Jehovah faithfully until death (see above, pp. 282-83; compare pp. 279-83). In the case of the other sheep, these, without having had their natures renewed, are able to exercise faith in Christ, to dedicate their lives to him, and to remain faithful to the end — this faithfulness to be revealed chiefly by diligent witnessing (see above, pp. 283-85). After the millennium has begun, these other sheep, whether as survivors of Armageddon or as resurrected beings, are to be judged on the basis of their obedience to Jehovah during the millennium. If they continue to obey God during Satan’s final battle, they will be “justified,” that is, given the right to perfect life on the new earth — this “justification,” however, is based not on faith, but on works. As far as others are concerned, billions of those who, though sincere in their belief, lacked an opportunity to learn of righteousness from God will be raised during the millennium, will be instructed in God’s law, and will receive everlasting life on the new earth if they now obey God’s commandments.
It is clear, therefore, that these three cults definitely and deliberately reject the doctrine of justification by grace alone. Though they may speak of the grace of God, their theologies have no room for grace in the real sense of the word. For, as the Bible says, “If it [the remnant according to the election of grace] is [saved] by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. 11:6). Note also the severe judgment leveled by Paul against this position in Galatians 5:4, “Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace.” Crystal clear is Titus 3:5: “Not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to [p.382>] his mercy he saved us….” By taking the position sketched above, therefore, the cults deny one of the cardinal teachings of Scripture.
(3) The Devaluation of Christ. In the third place, all cults are guilty of a devaluation of Christ. Hutten points out that, since the cult has assumed a determinative role in the distribution of salvation, the result is bound to be a minimizing of Christ as the only Mediator. This, he adds, does not need to mean a complete denial of Christ’s mission and work; it may express itself simply in a shifting of emphasis. We shall see this tendency revealing itself in a twofold way: in a devaluation of the Person of Christ and in a depreciation of His work. The latter is particularly characteristic of the cult; since salvation for the cult is not determined by the grace of God revealed at the cross of Christ, that cross is robbed of its unique soteriological significance.
Let us see how this trait can be found in the cults we have studied. Mormons teach that Jesus Christ was the firstborn of the spirit-children of Elohim; since, however, all men are spirit-children of Elohim, it is evident that the difference between Christ and men (even, for that matter, between Christ and Satan) is one of degree but not one of kind (see above, pp. 53-54). Christ is considered by Mormons not to be equal to the Father; he shared with other pre-existent spirits like Adam and Joseph Smith the task of “creating” this earth, and his incarnation is not unique, for other gods before him were incarnated on other earths (see above, p. 54). In fact, Christ’s incarnation was only illustrative of what happens to every man who perfectly fulfills all the ordinances of the Gospel: he, too, was once a pre-existent spirit, is now incarnate, and will some day be a god (see above, pp. 54, 61-62, 72). As far as the work of Christ is concerned, Mormons affirm that the atoning death of Christ was necessary to deliver all men from death, and did provide for all the right to be raised from the dead (see above, pp. 57-58). As was just observed, however, Christ’s atonement does not provide individual salvation for man since this is to be merited by man’s own acts; thus the Mormon Christ does not save in the full sense of the word but only gives man an opportunity to save himself (see above, pp. 58-61).
According to Christian Science, Jesus was not God but only a man, whereas Christ is the name for a certain divine idea: the idea that sickness and sin can be healed through Christian Science (see above, pp. 200-202). Jesus was therefore simply a man who demonstrated a divine idea. So unimportant, in fact, is Jesus in [p.383>] Christian Science that Mrs. Eddy could say that if such a person as Jesus had never existed, it would make no difference to her! (see above, p. 203). As far as the work of Jesus is concerned, Christian Scientists deny that he atoned for our sins by shedding his blood on the cross — after all, since sin has no real existence, why does it need to be atoned for? Jesus’ work was rather that of demonstrating the truth of Christian Science and of setting us an example of the kind of life we must live. Even this example, however, is not uniquely distinguished from that of the apostles (see above, pp. 207-9).
What Jehovah’s Witnesses do with the person of Christ is well known: he was, for them, not equal to Jehovah, but the first creature of Jehovah. In his prehuman state he was a created angel; during his stay on earth he was nothing more than a man; and after his stay on earth he was again nothing higher than a created angel, though now endowed with immortality. In none of these three stages, therefore, was or is Christ equal to Jehovah (see above, pp. 270-76). As regards the work of Christ, the Witnesses teach that Christ did lay down his human life for his people as a ransom. By means of this ransom Christ redeemed man from inherited sin and from the prospect of eternal death as a result of that sin (see above, pp. 276-77); his ransom provides a resurrection from the dead for all except certain classes of people (see above, p. 317). Christ did not, however, earn the right to everlasting life in heaven for the 144,000 since he earned only a perfect human life with its rights and earthly prospects; the 144,000 must themselves earn the right to heavenly life by sacrificing their earthly prospects (see above, p. 283). As for those who will spend eternity on the new earth, they, as we saw, will receive this blessing only if they have obeyed Jehovah’s commandments during the millennium. Neither the 144,000 nor those who will inhabit the new earth, therefore, are really saved by the work of Christ; Christ’s ransom has only served the purpose of enabling them to earn their future blessedness, either in heaven or on earth, by their own achievements.
It is quite clear, therefore, that the cults leave us with a Christ who is not the Christ. Neither in his person nor in his work is the Christ of the cult the Christ of the Bible. For the cultist, it is not really Christ who saves but man who must save himself. This position, however, cuts the very heart out of the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The words of Paul to the Galatians, directed against those who in that day taught that one was saved partly [p.384>] through faith in Christ and partly through performing certain works of the law, are equally applicable to the cults of our day: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8).
(4) The Group as the Exclusive Community of the Saved. A fourth distinctive trait of the cult is that it absolutizes itself as the exclusive community of the saved. Hutten points out that the anti-ecclesiastical polemic which is so characteristic of the cult is but the converse side of its own self-justification. Since the cult is convinced that it is the only true community of God’s people, it must try to show that the church is either an apostate organization or an actual instrument of the devil. There is among the cults no appreciation for the Biblical doctrine of the “one holy catholic Church” — that is, of the universal church of Christ, composed of Christ’s true people of all the ages and from all the nations. Every cult says, “We alone are the people of God.” The cult, so to speak, takes God by the arm, insisting that His evaluation of people must agree with its own.
Let us see how this trait is found in the cults we have studied. Mormons contend that the church of Jesus Christ was in a state of apostasy until God revealed Himself to Joseph Smith in 1820; when Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods from heavenly messengers in 1829 and 1830, the Restoration of the Church took place. The Mormon Church is therefore the only true church — because it alone has the Priesthood of the Almighty, and it alone since the time of Christ has received and may still receive divine revelation. One of the early apostles of the Mormon Church claimed that non-Mormon churches have no right to call themselves Christian since Christ has nothing to do with them, and a recent Mormon writer has said that there is no salvation outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see above, pp. 62-64). It may be noted that the possibility of salvation for those who died in ignorance of Mormon teaching only confirms the point under discussion since such people can be saved only if Mormons have been baptized for them (see above, pp. 64-66).
Christian Science also claims to be the only true church. Since Mrs. Eddy is said to have received the final revelation of the divine principle of scientific mental healing, and since Science and Health is said to be the voice of truth uncontaminated by [p.385>] human hypotheses, it follows that, according to them, no group outside of Christian Science has or knows the truth (see above, pp. 183, 212-13). Though individual Christian Scientists may express appreciation for other Christian groups, it is clear from the statements just alluded to that the views of all other churches about the Bible and the way of salvation must officially be considered basically erroneous while Christian Science is held to be unerring and divine (see above, p. 184).
In Jehovah-Witness ecclesiology we reach the ultimate in bigotry. It is said by them that Jehovah’s Witnesses alone are God’s true people and that all others, without exception, are followers of the devil. The Watchtower Society is now the only instrument or channel whereby Jehovah teaches His people on earth (see above, p. 247). The “great whore” of Revelation 17 is organized religion, Christian as well as heathen. The visible part of the devil’s organization on earth includes all of Christendom, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic. The religious clergy are, in fact, the direct link between mankind and the demons (see above, pp. 285-86). At Armageddon all of earth’s inhabitants except Jehovah’s Witnesses will be wiped out of existence (see above, p. 311). Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, will survive Armageddon; during the millennium non-Witnesses who are raised from the dead will be given an opportunity to save themselves in response to the preaching and teaching of the princes, prominent among whom will be those who occupied leading positions with the New World Society on earth (see above, pp. 318-21).
Whenever a group takes the position that it is the only community of the saved, however, it violates an important aspect of Scripture teaching. Christ Himself warned against this type of bigotry when his disciples said to Him, “Master, we saw one casting out demons in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.” Jesus replied, “Forbid him not; for he that is not against you is for you” (Lk. 9:49, 50). We should therefore remember that whenever a denomination slips into a kind of thinking similar to that described above, it reveals a tendency toward cultic behavior.
(5) The Group’s Central Role in Eschatology. The last distinctive trait of the cult I would like to mention is this: the cult plays a central role in the eschatological climax of history. The cult is convinced that it has been called into existence by God for the purpose of filling in some gap in the truth which has been neglected by the ordinary churches. The birth of the cult thus marks the final climax of sacred history, the beginning of the [p.386>] latter days. Eschatology thus plays a determinative role in the
theology of the cult: it becomes the arena in which the glorification of the cult will complete itself. The cult is therefore the messenger and way-preparer for the imminent return of Christ; it is God’s partner in the drama of the end-time; it is the ark of safety for the coming flood; it is the instrument of divine judgment on unbelievers; it shall finally triumph in the sight of all the world as the group particularly favored by God.
This type of procedure Hutten calls a cultic perversion of Biblical eschatology. Whenever the cult has developed an eschatology, he continues, it places itself in the very center of it. The drama of the last things thus becomes the means whereby the cult is glorified and all its enemies are overwhelmingly defeated. Though the cult may now be small and insignificant, when the final climax of history arrives, it will receive from God the place of honor it deserves as a reward for its faithfulness to His commandments. The antithesis between God and Satan which has run through history will in the last days reach its climax as an antithesis between the cult and the rest of mankind, particularly the church.
As we attempt now to see how this trait is revealed in the cults we have studied, we must first make an important exception. Because of the absence of a real historical dimension in Christian Science, the latter has no general eschatology; hence it cannot be precisely fitted into the category just described. Christian Science denies that there will be a literal Second Coming of Christ, a general resurrection, a final judgment, and a new earth (see above, pp. 219-21). Though there is a kind of individual eschatology in this system, there is no general eschatology in the sense of a final, dramatic climax of history. Yet Christian Scientists do manifest a trace of the characteristic in question, since Mrs. Eddy contended more than once that what the Bible calls the Second Coming of Jesus Christ actually coincided with the rise of Christian Science (see above, p. 219). By statements such as these Mrs. Eddy did, in a sense, place Christian Science in the center of eschatology.
[p.387>] It will not be difficult to show the presence of the trait under discussion in the other two cults being considered. Mormons very definitely place themselves in the center of the eschatological drama, giving themselves a position of special privilege in it. The Mormons, God’s “Latter-day Saints,” consider themselves the bearers of the Restored Gospel – the Gospel which must now be proclaimed by them to all the world as God’s last word to mankind (see above, pp. 62-64). Before Christ returns, there will be a series of gatherings. Ephraim or the Ephraimites must be gathered first to prepare the way for the rest of the tribes of Israel when the time comes for them to be gathered to Zion. Since most Mormons today are said to be Ephraimites, it is obvious that the gathering of Ephraim is going on at the present time. Ephraim is being gathered to Zion, the gathering-place on the
North American continent. The “lost ten tribes” will later be gathered to Zion, where they will receive “crowning blessings” from Ephraim – that is, from the Mormons. During the millennium Christ will rule over the Mormon Zion as well as over Jerusalem in Palestine (see above, pp. 67-69). At this time Mormons on earth will be joined by a heavenly group, the City of Enoch (see above, p. 69). Also during the millennium Mormons will preach to non-Mormons who are still alive, and will be baptized for the dead who have lived from the beginning of time (see above, p. 70). In the final state Mormons who have fully kept the commandments of the Gospel will enjoy the highest grade of blessedness in the celestial kingdom; non-Mormons can enter the celestial kingdom only if Mormons have been baptized for them (see above, pp. 66, 72-73). Most non-Mormons, however, will spend eternity in one of the two lower kingdoms, the terrestrial or the telestial (see above, pp. 73-74).
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the kingdom of God was not established until A.D. 1914, that this kingdom is now the ruling part of God’s universal organization, and that this kingdom is comprised of Jesus Christ and those members of the 144,000 who are now in heaven (see above, pp. 295-97). These heavenly members of the anointed class (who were, for the most part, Jehovah’s Witnesses on earth) not only rule with Christ now, but are actually changed from human beings to divine beings (see above, p. 304). Between 1918 and the Battle of Armageddon, a judgment of the nations is taking place, in which all those who do not accept the Jehovah-Witness message and who show no kindness to its bearers are doomed to destruction at Armageddon [p.388>] – a destruction from which there will be no reawakening (see above, pp. 306-7). The Battle of Armageddon will therefore be a stupendous victory for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who will be the only survivors of this worldwide catastrophe (see above, p. 311). Armageddon survivors will have a favored position on the renewed earth during the millennium; many of them will be made princes (see above, pp. 311, 314, 318). Jehovah’s Witnesses who have died before Armageddon will have the privilege of being raised from the dead before the rest of earth’s inhabitants. Those who were active in the New World Society before the millennium will take a leading part in instructing newly-resurrected people in the laws of Jehovah (see above, pp. 318-19). For Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, the climactic antithesis of history will be that between God’s true people, the Witnesses, and all others, including the churches of Christendom.
Whenever a religious group places itself in the center of the eschatological drama, it makes itself guilty of spiritual pride. Overlooking its own shortcomings and sins, it magnifies the sins of others. It blandly assumes that because of its own superior worthiness it has become God’s special favorite. When Christ came across a similar kind of pride among the Jewish leaders of His day, He rebuked it in no uncertain terms: “I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness. . .” (Mt. 8:11, 12).