Guide written by Eric Johnson, Co-Author, Answering Mormons’ Questions
When we proposed Answering Mormons’ Questions to four different publishers in 2010, we suggested offering several discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Whether Sunday School teachers want to use these questions to facilitate a discussion or youth group leaders hope to prepare their students for mission trips to Utah, we hope this resource will be beneficial.
Answering Mormons’ Questions is broken into 6 segments, each containing 6 chapters based on that particular theme, for a total of 36 chapters. Depending on the time frame, the facilitator may want to meet with the class weekly and discuss 2 or 3 chapters at a session, which would take 12-18 weeks. This would be an excellent way to prepare any group to better understand how to answer the common questions that Mormons often ask in typical conversations with Evangelical Christians. Those leaders who have enough background information on Mormonism may want to consider taking on the role of the LDS position by asking the initial question from the chapter and then allowing the group to work through the issue with an opponent in the room. This strategy can be successful, but only if the very best and strongest points of the Mormon position are utilized instead of weak straw man arguments. However these discussions are led, getting the members to talk through the issues will be most beneficial for the Christian who desires having conversations with Latter-day Saint.
For each question, we will provide some commentary. We realize that, for many of the questions, there are multiple correct answers. This was done to encourage discussion. In addition, please feel free to disagree with the authors, as there are often multiple places to land. With that in mind, we hope that this can help guide leaders as they create quality group discussions.
At the end of each chapter in this study guide, we have listed a resource or two that we recommend for further study. Feel free to consider this additional material for more information. In addition, the authors are available to come to your church, as we have a variety of methods to teach your congregation, including weekend Compassionate Boldness Symposiums. For more information, have your pastor contact me ([email protected]).
• In your estimation, what is the greatest danger in allowing Mormonism to be called a “Christian” religion?
One great danger is that many people could accept Mormonism as just another Christian denomination. This can result in:
1) People converting to Mormonism, falsely believing that this religion is synonymous with biblical Christianity.
2) Christians deciding not to share their faith with Latter-day Saints, falsely assuming that there are more similarities than differences between Christianity and Mormonism.
Mormons should not feel comfortable with their Mormonism while Christians should not lose their sense of urgency in offering an effective witness with their LDS friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers. And it should be known by all bystanders that Mormonism is not the same as Christianity.
- What advantages might Mormon missionaries have if they were able to convince Christians at their doorsteps that there are more similarities than differences between the two faiths?
One advantage is that they might be able to convince nominal Christians that the benefits of Mormonism (such as good families, welfare programs, and a structurally organized religion), making it more appealing to join. We hear stories on a regular basis of those who once belonged to Christian churches who are now Latter-day Saints. This is why it is important for Christian churches to inform their congregations about the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity.
- How could you respond to your Mormon friend who is genuinely hurt by those who say Mormons are not true Christians?
Too many people equate Christianity with moralism. However, not calling Mormonism “Christianity” does not mean individual Mormons are immoral people. In fact, many Mormons live much more moral lives than a number of people calling themselves Christian. However, the term Christian has a certain historical meaning to it. Issues such as the nature of God, the view of salvation, and the role of God’s revelation to man are vital components to the meaning of Christian. Yet Mormonism denies or distorts every fundamental doctrine of the Christian church.
Depending on your relationship with an individual Mormon, it is important to use good tact. This is why we don’t like to use the word “cult” in a typical conversation, even though (as our chapter explains) Mormonism fits the traditional meaning of this term. We also don’t think it’s a wise tactic to directly tell a Mormon, “You’re not a Christian.” This tends to be fighting words. Instead, focus on the religion itself. It is less threatening to say “Mormonism is not Christianity.” One possible idea is to use the quotes listed in this chapter to show that even LDS leaders have taught the importance of determining the truthfulness of a religion like Mormonism. If Mormonism is true, then the beliefs should be able to stand by themselves. This doesn’t mean we have to attack each other in a personal matter, but ideas should be allowed to remain open game. Nobody should be offended because ideas are in conflict.
Recommended Resource: One Nation under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002) and Becoming Gods (Eugene: Harvest House, 2004), both by Richard Abanes. A good overview of Mormonism from a great researcher.
- Why do you think some Mormons may sometimes shy away from past teachings of LDS leaders?
Probably the biggest reason is that the doctrine in question (including polygamy, blood atonement, and banning of blacks to priesthood) is either no longer believed by the church or by the individual Mormon. However, when a Mormon disagrees with a General Authority who may no longer be alive, it is fair to ask if the position of this individual Mormon is higher than this leader in question. Ask where this leader gave the teaching in question. Often controversial teachings took place at an official site such as a general conference. Did the Mormons of that day believe this leader was telling the truth? If the teaching was not authorized by God, then was the leader speaking irresponsibly by giving that particular teaching? Even if an individual Latter-day Saint disagrees with a past leader, there can be no debate that the teaching in question was at one time taught and then believed by the majority of Latter-day Saints. If these leaders were not giving true doctrine then, how do we know today’s LDS leaders are giving reliable doctrine today?
- Suppose a Mormon says, “You can’t understand Mormon doctrine because you’re not a Mormon.” What examples might you give to show that this is faulty reasoning?
A Mormon might say that a person needs to pray about the Book of Mormon and have a personal testimony to fully grasp the religion. However, Mormonism should not be considered so esoteric that one needs to be a believer in order to understand it. After all, it is possible to read correlated curriculum, watch and listen to General Conference talks, and attend regular church services and classes to determine the actual teachings of the Mormon Church. Just as a person does not need to experience drugs in order to know such activity is harmful, so a person does not need to be a Latter-day Saint to show that Mormonism is different from biblical Christianity.
- Some Mormons might say that the General Authorities, including the prophets, could be wrong at times and should be accepted only based on a Mormon’s personal revelation. Do you think most Mormons believe this? Does this test work for or against the LDS leadership? Why do you think so?
Most Mormons with whom we have talked do believe in their leaders. When these men speak or write, their words are typically taken by the laity as gospel truth. This is a church based on modern-day revelation, but if individual Mormons can receive revelation superseding their leaders, then why should any leader ever be trusted? Saying that leaders are not speaking authoritatively minimizes the necessity of apostles and prophets, the very cornerstone upon which this church is supposed to be based.
Recommended resource: Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (San Francisco: Harper, 1999). An overall look at the church from a nonreligious viewpoint, with statistics from the late 1990s about the church’s wealth and holdings from around the world.
- Suppose a Mormon tells you that your church must not be Christian because it does not have the name of Jesus in it. How would you counter this argument?
Possible questions you could ask in response (with more details given in the chapter) include:
- Why must the “true” church have Jesus’ name in it? Is this an idea found in the Bible? Or is this just an arbitrary standard?
- Would it matter to you that your church did not have the name of “Jesus” in it for several years?
- Would you accept the “Church of Christ” denomination as true since it has Jesus’ name in it?
- If a church has Jesus’ name in it yet denies the very teachings as given by Jesus, would this church still be considered true?
- Some might insist that Christians’ disagreement on such issues as the mode of baptism, the way to administer the Lord’s Supper, or even which Bible version is best proves they are all apostate. Why are these issues not of paramount importance in defining a Christian? List several issues about which all Christians should be in agreement.
If it is a requirement that Christians must believe exactly alike on all issues, then everyone ends up becoming the only Christian. And how many Mormons are there who don’t agree on every issue, even if they might remain quiet on their disagreement? Essential doctrinal issues that unite the body of Christ include the belief in God’s triune nature (and agreement that God was never once a man or that men can become gods), the deity/humanity of Jesus, salvation (justification by faith alone), and God having revealed Himself through the Bible. There are a number of issues considered “peripheral” (side) issues that Christians can agree to disagree, which don’t affect one’s salvation. For example, while Christians agree that baptism is important, there is freedom in the mode of baptism because the Bible doesn’t seem adamant about the method. While Christians believe in celebrating the Lord’s Supper, there is freedom in the frequency and elements of the ordinance, as the Bible just isn’t very specific about this issue. And while Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that the Good Book should be studied, there is freedom in choosing a particular English translation. By not turning minor issues into major points of disagreement, Christians are able to fellowship together while worshiping the true God of the Bible.
Recommended Resource: Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 3rd ed. (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2008). Shelley looks at church history as well as the growth of the church and compares it with other religious movements, including Islam.
- Why is it important to show gentleness and respect when sharing one’s faith with someone of another religion? Provide at least three reasons.
Some possible answers include:
- First Peter 3:16 says that we are to tackle apologetics with “gentleness and respect.” Proverbs 15: 1 lays out a valid principle: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Why wouldn’t we want to do what the Bible commands?
- The Golden Rule says that we are to treat people the same way we would want them to treat us. If we don’t want Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons at our door mocking our faith or showing arrogance, why would we think that Mormons want the same type of treatment?
- People are more apt to listen to what we have to say if we say it with the right attitude and appropriate voice inflection.
- Some Mormons have taken offense when approached by Christians who want to share their faith, equating such evangelism efforts with persecution. Why is it incorrect to automatically equate disagreement with hatred and bigotry?
Ask the Mormon, “Why do you consider my disagreement with your viewpoint “persecution”? (If this is the case, should the Mormon’s disagreement with the Christian’s position also be considered “persecution”?) Of course, Christians are supposed to tackle issues with gentleness and respect, as discussed earlier. But if ideas cannot be discussed, debated, and even be disagreed upon, then everything become superficial. In addition, if there is a heaven and hell, with the possibility that people could be separated from God forever, the worst type of persecution Christians could inflict is to walk by the burning house called Mormonism and not even bother to see if anyone is inside to provide a warning. Christians share their faith because they care, not because they have hatred or bigotry.
- If the unredeemed dead could speak to us, do you think they would have more contempt for the Christian who feared offense and said nothing to them, or the Christian who felt the sense of urgency and unintentionally offended them in the process? Why?
This question speaks for itself. We believe there would be far more contempt for the Christian who kept quiet rather than someone who never said anything for fear of offense. As our symposium title states, we are to have “Compassionate Boldness.” One without the other creates ineffectiveness.
Recommended Resource: Greg Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). This book utilizes the Socratic method to invite the nonbeliever to produce the evidence to defend his or her position. The advice is not limited to conversations with Latter-day Saints but can be used with other nonbelievers as well.
- A Mormon has just told you that the fruit of the LDS Church, including its welfare program and beautiful temples located throughout the world, proves that Mormonism really is true. Explain the fallacy of this assertion.
While good works are no doubt important, this should not be the main indicator of truth. After all, it depends on what exactly is meant by “fruit”? A person’s personal preferences may dictate just what fruit really is. Consider some biblical examples. For example, Adam and Eve certainly felt that the serpent’s offer to them had benefits, though their choice brought sin into the world. Solomon had plenty of material possessions that made him look like a success, yet his choices eventually split the kingdom of Israel. On the outside, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day looked like they had everything together in a spiritual context, but as Jesus pointed out, they were like whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but inside full of dead people’s bones.
- The LDS Church did not grow as fast in the first decade of the twenty first century as it did in the last decade of the twentieth century. Perhaps the Internet and the amount of information freely available on Mormonism have played a role in this stunting of growth. Would you agree? What other reasons could have contributed to the church’s declining rate of growth?
We believe that the available information has been very helpful in not only keeping people out of the LDS Church but has caused others to leave. Before the mid-1990s, the only way some people could find out about Mormonism from a Christian perspective was walking into a Christian bookstore or knowing someone with the information. Before 1980, only a handful of books were even available—probably the most popular books were Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults and The Maze of Mormonism. It was also next to impossible for the average layperson to have access to important Mormon documents and teaching manuals. Today, information about Mormonism from a Christian perspective is not only available in dozens of books but on many Internet sites as well. A visit to LDS.org can allow anyone to search many years of church magazine articles, correlated curriculum. and up-to-date Newsroom articles. A person in checking Mormon history can also access LDS primary sources such as the Journal of Discourses and History of the Church. Having access to these sources has helped Christians more effectively share with their LDS friends and family members, probably another good reason why the Mormon Church is losing members while growing at less than 2% a year, down from over 4% a year just two decades ago. No doubt, there has been no better time in history to research the religion of Mormonism and show how this religion is so different from biblical Christianity.
Recommended Resource: Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987). The Tanners are well known in the countercult ministry, operating a bookstore in Salt Lake City for many decades. This book is full of resource information on Mormon history and doctrine.
- Polygamy was practiced by some of the patriarchs and kings in the Old Testament. List just a couple of them. What were the consequences of their polygamy?
Of course, there were a number of biblical characters who were polygamous, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. Polygamy was allowed in the Bible but never commanded. However, polygamy has caused many problems, including bitterness (Hagar and Sarah/Ishmael and Isaac), jealousy (Jacob’s sons sold Joseph into slavery), and taking one’s eyes off God (Solomon, whose wives caused him to follow other gods).
- A Mormon might insist, “Polygamy is a dead issue in the Mormon Church.” What would be a good response?
When it comes to marriage of one man to multiple women in this life, Mormons do not practice polygamy. However, when it comes to spiritual polygamy, Mormonism still holds that one man can have multiple wives in the celestial kingdom. Even three LDS apostles—Apostles Nelson, Perry, and Oaks—have been widowed and then married second wives for not only time but also eternity. This is certainly not a dead issue.
- Since polygamy as a doctrine apparently was banned by the LDS Church due to political pressure in the United States, what do you think the church would do if polygamy were to be legalized in the future? Do you think the church would officially restart the practice? Why or why not?
There is much speculation on this topic, making this a great discussion question. Historians agree that polygamy was abolished by the LDS Church based on political pressure. When the Manifesto was announced in 1890 and Utah received statehood in 1896, many leaders in the church continued to practice their polygamous ways until 1904. If polygamy was to be legalized in the slippery slope shaping up from the legalization of homosexual marriage (could this eventually become a federal law under the current presidential administration?), we are not convinced the LDS leaders would be ecstatic. We believe they will hesitate and not desire an official restart to its former polygamous ways.
- Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997)
Richard Van Wagoner, Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989). Both books do an excellent job explaining the history of polygamy, including a discussion of Smith’s polygamy of 33 or 34 wives (depending on the source). Many Mormons may be shocked by the information, but both historians were faithful Latter-day Saints when they wrote their books
- Choose a Christian denomination other than your own, and explain how its views and your own (along with those of the church you attend) are similar. How are they different? Are these differences so big that you couldn’t have fellowship with someone who belongs to the other church? Why or why not?
There are many good Christian denominations that hold to the fundamental issues of the historic Christian church. Whether it entails the nature of God or how a person comes into a relationship with God, Christians are able to stand together and say they are on the same page, even if they disagree on certain peripheral issues. This might be a good chance for the group leader to explain some points where denominations don’t always agree.
- Mormons differ among themselves on various beliefs. For example, some Mormons avoid all caffeinated sodas, while others drink them because they are not specifically prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. Some Mormons even disagree on whether life begins at conception. How could these examples help the Christian explain the differences between denominations?
Many Mormons criticize their Christian friends and family members, sometimes even asking “which church do you belong to?” In their minds, a Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran have such significant differences that they all certainly cannot agree. On the streets of Manti at the Mormon Miracle Pageant (held for two weeks each June), this issue often comes up. At this point, I like to find a fellow believer standing nearby and ask, “Do you believe in the triune God? How about Jesus as God? Salvation by grace alone?” The conclusion is that even those belonging to different Evangelical churches have the same basic beliefs. Of course, we may disagree on peripheral issues, but this does not divide us in the essentials. While Mormons like to make it appear they agree in everything, this is not the case.
In September 2012, the church’s website declared that caffeinated sodas are OK to consume, an announcement that took place after the final draft of our book had been completed. What’s interesting is that many Latter-day Saints over the years have avoided these drinks for apparently no reason; why the church waited until now to clarify this information is mysterious. We’re sure, however, that there is not going to be a run on Mountain Dew in our Utah grocery stores. While Mormons may think they agree on all issues, they don’t. Yet Mormons are not encouraged to discuss their disagreements. Among these include where the Book of Mormon lands are located, the morality of homosexuality, and whether or not the General Authorities can be considered as authorities on all issues.
Recommended Resource: What Every Mormon (and Non-Mormon) Should Know: Examining Mormon History, Doctrines and Claims, by Edmond C. Gruss and Lane A. Thuet (Xulon Press, 2006). An excellent primer for understanding the differences between Mormonism and the historic Christian faith.
- Consider the implications of the “Great Apostasy.” What divine authority could anyone outside the LDS Church have if God’s authority on earth had been taken away?
While LDS leaders like to quote Reformation leaders such as Luther and Calvin, Mormonism at its core teaches that the Great Apostasy was a complete taking away the authority of God’s representation on earth. The First Vision is necessary in Mormonism for the gospel to be restored to the earth. The priesthood restored to Joseph Smith by John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John was also required. This is the reason that this church believes it alone has the authority to baptize and marry its people, giving the Mormon people the hope for the celestial glory.
- The history of the Christian church is certainly littered with many potholes, but it seems that there have always been people throughout the centuries who desired to seek God and were filled with the Holy Spirit. Some prominent names include Augustine, Tyndale, Wycliffe, and Luther. What other historical examples of people or events can you cite to show that Christ’s authority never left the earth?
Any number of names can be provided that came before the time of Joseph’s Smith “restoration,” which could be a good “history lesson” time to talk about Christians who have lived their lives for Christ over the centuries. Other names that could be talked about are Polycarp of Smyrma, Ireneaus of Lyons, Tertullian, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Cyril of Alexandria, William Tyndale, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards, among many others.
Recommended Resource: J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (Harper, 1978). A historical look at the teachings of the Christian church and its view of important doctrines in Christianity.
- Suppose someone says, “That’s your truth, and I have my truth. Nobody has a claim on exclusive truth.” What questions can you ask to show that such a viewpoint itself is a claim of exclusive truth, making this a self-defeating argument?
- Before we discuss this, can you give me a definition of what truth is? (Establish what exactly is meant by the word “truth.”)
- If this is the case, how can I know if what you just said is true?
- Does the truth of gravity apply to everyone or to only those who believe this is their truth?
- If my “truth” contradicts your “truth,” how can it be possible for both of our “truths” to be true at the same time? For example, what if the Book of Mormon events as described in the LDS scripture never took place? Or if the Book of Mormon is not an actual account of real people and real events, then does it really matter how strong a person’s testimony about the Book of Mormon might be since it is nothing more than a fictional story, regardless of the person’s sincerity? In other words, either the Book of Mormon is historical or it’s not, as the law of non-contradiction does not allow A and non-A to be both true at the same time.
- Sensitive discussion topics, such as differences in religious systems, often end up with the two parties raising the tone (and even harshness) of their voices. Why is it important to stay calm and eliminate the word “you” from evangelism encounters?
First of all, our tone is very important because it dictates whether or not we will be heard. A tone with sarcasm, anger, or hatred can be easily detected and is a turn-off to most people. As one evangelist has put it, let others know how much you care by the concern of your voice. The Bible is very clear in 1 Peter 3:16 that we are to approach apologetics with “gentleness and respect,” and Ephesians 4:15 talks about “speaking the truth in love.” I’ve tried both approaches and can speak with experience that the gentle approach is usually much more effective. Second, using the word “you” is typically taken in a negative manner. Rather than say “you believe,” for example, say “Mormonism’s leaders have taught” or “the Bible says.” Jesus said that we need to be as shrewd as serpents but innocent as doves. Using good tactics can help us enter into sensitive issues of importance.
- What are some effective ways that have helped you discuss the issue of truth in a kind and gentle manner?
One important trait for witnessing situations is to have a good ear. Looking people in the eye and using body language that doesn’t look defensive helps keep a conversation going. Listen instead of interrupting. In addition, ask lots of questions and don’t attack straw men.
Recommended Resource: R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth. (Multnomah, 2008). In the past thirty years, the rules in evangelism have changed, as many nonbelievers respond with “that’s only your truth.” The author, who is the president of a seminary, provides valuable tips in engaging the current culture.
- Why do you think the Bible allows for Christian workers to receive wages for what they do?
There are a variety of answers that can be given, but we believe allowing pastors and missionaries to do their jobs full-time (rather than trying to mix a secular career with ministry) allows them to be the very best they can be. As mentioned in the chapter, even Mormon bishops should be paid, as it has to be very difficult having a full-time job, manage a household with a wife and kids, and still try to lead 200+ people in a typical congregation. The Bible is very clear that the Christian pastor, missionary, or Christian worker all need to have their needs taken care of so they can focus on the ministry for which they have been commissioned.
- How would you respond to a Mormon who says that an unpaid clergy brings a higher level of sincerity to their service?
Ask your Mormon friend, “How do the upper LDS leaders live?” After all, the prophet, apostles, seventies, and other full-time leaders must be paying their mortgages and feeding their families somehow; few of them are independently wealthy. It is a fact that the church does have a payroll department. Therefore, should we assume that those who get paid by the church are not as sincere as the bishops and other volunteers who don’t get paid? At this point, some Mormons would argue that these leaders only get “living expenses.” Isn’t this the same as a wage, which qualifies these leaders as “paid” employees? In addition, most pastors and missionaries are not getting paid exorbitant wages either, so why are their motives still questioned?
- Does a volunteer clergy really guarantee purer motives? Why or why not?
Not at all. There are some volunteer pastors/leaders with impure motives. Maybe they like the prestige or they begrudgingly feel their position is a duty. Meanwhile, there are a number of salaried pastors who put in much more than 40 hours a week, as they see the need and want to serve their people. Meanwhile, how many LDS bishops are getting burned out trying to be all things to all people? Working a full-time job, taking care of a family, and taking care of all the duties of the bishop must be an overwhelming position for any man.
Recommended Resource: Mark J. Cares, Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons (Wels Outreach Resources, 1998). A book that ought to be considered by anyone wanting to have a successful dialogue with a Mormon, using witnessing techniques that are sure to get results.
- What are the differences between the priesthood of Mormonism and that which Peter calls the “the royal priesthood”?
- The royal priesthood is allowed to male and female alike, but the Mormon priesthood is limited to males. This means a Mormon woman will need a man to call her up to the celestial kingdom, with her husband, using her new name received in the temple to allow her the ability to enter.
- The royal priesthood is available to anyone regardless of race, but until 1978, the Mormon priesthood was denied to those with black skin.
- The royal priesthood is not limited to an age, but the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods are limited to those males of a certain age.
- The royal priesthood does not require a particular church’s membership, but the Mormon priesthood requires baptism and membership in the LDS Church.
- A Mormon might say that he has priesthood authority that the Christian does not have. What scriptural evidence could you point out to help this person understand that the Christian believer does indeed have authority from God?
In Matthew 18:18, Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” His last words in Matthew 28 were these: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” And in Ephesians 2:18-19, he explained, “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
- Mormon women essentially need a male’s authority to be eligible to enter into the celestial kingdom. Why should a Christian find this troubling?
The Bible says that every person has the authority to get into a relationship with God. How is this done? The individual is told to “believe in Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) and that we need to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9, 10). Then we can know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). To even think that another person’s authority (a woman’s husband, whom she married in the temple) is needed if she hopes to enter heaven (in Mormonism, the celestial kingdom) is not a Christian teaching.
Recommended Resource: Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (InterVarsity Press, 1999). Understanding the history of theology is important as we see how Christians throughout the centuries believed.
- Suppose someone argues that dating a non-Christian does not necessarily mean the relationship will end in marriage. Provide a response consistent with a biblical worldview.
As the chapter pointed out, dating is the typical first step in a potential marriage. While it’s not likely that a marriage will result from only one date, is it more likely that a person will marry someone she never dated over someone she did date? The answer is obvious. We must also understand that when the Bible says not to be unequally yoked, it should be considered a very serious command. With so much at stake, including being like-minded with a spouse and having the two parents work together to spiritually raise a family, why would a Christian want to even consider playing with fire?
- If a Mormon and Christian date and it leads to serious discussions about marriage, do you believe it’s more likely the Mormon would convert to Christianity or the Christian to Mormonism? Do you know any real-life examples to support your answer?
From our perspective, we more often see the Christians in dating situations convert to Mormonism than the Mormons convert to Christianity. It will be interesting in your discussions to see what your group’s experience might be.
- Suppose a friend of yours says she is dating a Mormon because she thinks it is possible to convert him to Christianity. Why is this not a good strategy for evangelism?
Some may think dating people in order to evangelize them is a wise and even spiritual choice, but this is not fair to do to another person in dating relationship. It’s selfish to tell someone that you will keep a dating relationship alive as long as he converts to your religion. One Christian complained to me about my position, saying in effect that she was glad her husband (a Christian) married her (a Mormon) because she later became a Christian after the marriage. God certainly works in many ways, and it’s exciting when God does work through such situations. However, the book of Proverbs explains the importance of living with wisdom, so the wise choice is to make a decision to only date those who are like-minded in spiritual matters. For a three-part YouTube video series on this topic that I produced with my daughter Carissa, go to
Recommended Resource: Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries in Dating: Making Dating Work (Zondervan, 2000). Dating is serious business, and Cloud and Townsend explain ways to put boundaries into dating for the protection of the participants.
- What weaknesses do you see in the Mormon arguments to support their doctrine that all humans once existed in premortality?
Quite simply, this doctrine is not biblical. Instead, verses must be pulled out of their context to support this unique LDS teaching. To say that people are born on earth according to their merit is certainly not a teaching of Jesus. When He was asked what a man born blind did to get into that situation, Jesus declared that it had nothing to do with him sinning in a previous life or anything done by the parents. Rather, the man was born blind to bring glory to God. (See John 9:1-3.) The karmic philosophy advocated by Mormonism fits more in line with a Hinduistic rather than a biblical worldview. Another reason is that Hebrews 9:27 says that judgment comes after death. However, if premortality is a true doctrine, it appears that another judgment took place before birth, which is not taught in the Bible.
- Suppose a Mormon uses Jeremiah 1:5 to support this doctrine. How can you answer the Mormon’s argument?
This verse merely explains how the omniscient God intimately knew humans, not that humans knew God. Another verse sometimes used by Latter-day Saints is Job 38:7, as Mormon leaders have said “spirit children” shouted for joy. This interpretation also has to be read into this passage. In addition, it is curious that the Book of Mormon—called “the most correct book on earth” by Joseph Smith—is generally not referenced by LDS apologists to support the doctrine of premortality. If premortality is an important teaching, it seems strange that both the Bible and Book of Mormon cannot be properly cited in context to support this teaching.
- What are some of the problems with assuming that the doctrine of premortality was once taught in Christianity but later removed?
This idea does not have support of the most reliable Old and New Testament manuscripts. It’s one thing to say something was taken out of the manuscripts, but it’s nothing more than an argument from silence. If this is the case, it would seem that there would be evidence from in the Dead Sea Scrolls—almost a thousand documents bridging the gap of Old Testament manuscripts by a thousand years—that would have added support to this idea. Also, it would be quite a conspiracy for all the applicable manuscripts to be edited and the same exact passage(s) taken out, with no evidence left behind to show that this really happened. This is so unlikely with so many manuscripts available, including the almost-6,000 Greek manuscripts and some 24,000 other manuscripts scattered throughout the world.
Recommended resource: F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1981. Originally written in 1943, this small book is still a classic as it explains in detail why we can trust the Bible, specifically the New Testament.
- The statement “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may be” is something most Latter-day Saints will readily agree is true teaching. Why is understanding this concept crucial to understanding Mormonism?
Since the final edit of our book, it has come to our attention that the manual to be used in 2013 church teaching sessions will focus on the teachings from Lorenzo Snow. Twice this couplet is used in an official manual that will be used in teaching sessions. It’s critical to understand this couplet because it clearly distinguishes Mormonism from biblical Christianity, as Christianity has never taught that God was once a man or that man can become a god. If we can’t agree on this most fundamental of all issues, then everything else will fall apart.
- If God has sinned, what difference would this make in how Christians should approach Him?
It would make all the difference in the world. For example, consider these questions:
- If God is eternally God (as Ps. 90:2 and Moroni 8:18 agree), when was He a human being?
- Where in the Bible or the Book of Mormon (which was called the “most correct of any book on earth” by Joseph Smith) is it taught that God was ever a sinner?
- Is it really possible for an all-holy God to have ever been a sinner, regardless of the stage of His existence?
- If God was a sinner yet requires His children to overcome sin (as described by LDS scriptures), how could He expect so much when even He didn’t accomplish this?
- Mormon leaders have been very clear about the notion that exalted members would make and rule over their own worlds. Why do you think current LDS leadership is distancing itself from this teaching?
The current church leadership appears to be much more politically correct than leaders from earlier days. Anything that makes Mormonism look unique or non-Christian is typically deemphasized in public; however, as our book has shown throughout its pages, current teachings from General Conferences and correlated curriculum still clearly emphasize many unique LDS doctrines. For example, leaders have taught for decades that exalted members can rule their own worlds. Even two current church manuals clearly teach this. However, the Newsroom website on www.lds.org tells the public that this is no longer taught. If the leadership denies this, then why is this still taught in current manuals? Plausible deniability is playing on an unlevel playing field. We wish that the LDS leadership would make up their minds and determine which way the doctrine should read so it will be easier to understand the fundamentals of this religion, as the law of non-contradiction says that either men can rule their own worlds in the next life or they can’t. It can’t be both.
Recommended Resource: A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1961).
A classic from the theologian/pastor on the attributes of God and the traits that make God so special. Understanding the nature of God is important if we hope to worship the true God of the Bible.
- How would you respond to this statement: “The Trinity cannot be logically explained. Therefore, the Trinity cannot be true.”
This is an issue that comes up often in discussions regarding the Godhead. We recommend that Christians study basic Christian doctrines, including the Trinity, so they can explain the truth about God to those who ask them why they believe the way they do. It is problematic, though, when someone claims that mysteries ought to be rejected. After all, putting God (and His attributes) into a box is akin to putting ourselves on the proverbial throne. God is incomprehensible, which means that His being cannot be fully grasped by human beings. Just because we cannot grasp a certain principle doesn’t mean it can’t be true, or both authors of this book would have to disagree with quantum physics since they are completely lost by these difficult concepts!
While we can certainly understand the basic tenets of the Trinity, we cannot fully grasp this biblical teaching since our finite minds are incapable of understanding either an eternal past or an eternal future or how three can be one. While the Mormon may say he or she cannot believe in a God that cannot be fully understood, ask your Mormon friend: If God the Father had a God, and this God also had a God, ad infinitum, then is it possible to determine just who the first God was? (The idea that there is a “first God” is a contradiction since Mormonism teaches in eternal matter; in fact, there is no official teaching of this concept.) In addition, the Mormon is incapable of logically explaining how “families can be together forever.” How can a Mormon couple have children who will be with them forever if each child gets married to a spouse in the temple “for time and eternity”? In other words, how can a couple be with their family when their parents and children are hoping to be in worlds with their own spouses? The logic breaks down, as there certainly is plenty of mystery in Mormon doctrine.
- Many people argue that the Trinity was an invention of the later Christian church. Explain why this is not the case and how the Trinity is presented in the pages of the Bible.
Christian theologian Robert Bowman says this “doctrine safeguards the following elements of the biblical revelation,” listing these points:
- There is one God, the LORD (Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; 32:39; Is. 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:21; Mark 12:29; Rom 16:27; Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim. 1:17; James 2:19; Jude 25).
- The Father is this God, the LORD (John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:6a; Eph. 4:6; 1 Thes. 1:9,10).
- The Son is this God, the LORD (John 1:1; 20:28; Rom 10:9-113; 1 Cor. 8:6b; Phil. 2:9-11; Eph. 4:5 Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8-12; 2 Pet. 1:1).
- The Holy Spirit is this God, the LORD (Acts 5:3-4, 8; 2 Cor. 3:16-18; Eph. 4:4).
- The Father is not the Son (Matt. 3:17; John 8:16-18; 16:27-28; 1 John 4:10; 2 John 3).
- The Father is not the Holy Spirit (John 14:15; 15:26).
- The Son is not the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7, 13-14).
Bowman then writes this insightful paragraph: “Correlating these teachings in a way that is faithful to the biblical context, other than through something along the lines of the doctrine of the Trinity, is difficult if not impossible. Frankly, most orthodox Christian theologians would happily dispense with the technical language of person and essence, of consubstantiality and Trinity, if only everyone professing to believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did so in a way that was faithful to these explicit biblical teachings. As Calvin pointed out, what drove the church to use such language was the distortion of those biblical truths by false teachers.” (Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics Vol. 1 No.1, 2008, p. 62.)
- Mormons have said they believe in three gods but one Godhead. Why should this be rejected as a form of monotheism?
The definition of the Trinity is very clear. To say that one believes in three gods is not Trinitarianism but trithesm. To say that there are three gods but a person only worships one of them is not Trinitarianism but henotheism. Both are considered heresies by the historic Christian church. No, the Trinity is very clear. As James White so clearly put it, “Within the one being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This is much different than the heresy proposed by Mormonism’s leaders.
Recommended Resources: James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Bethany House Publishers, 1998). James White says he “loves” the Trinity. This book defines who God is and help us with this mystery.
Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Kregel Publications, 2007). Understanding the deity of Christ is vital if you hope to be able to explain the Trinity, so this serves as a good overview of the biblical case.
- Why do you think anthropomorphisms were used in the Bible?
It is clear from the language in the Old Testament that God did not intend to have His people think He literally possessed human or animal attributes. Describing God in human terms can make Him much more understandable to His creation.
- What would you consider some commonsense rules for determining whether a particular verse should be taken literally or figuratively?
Here are several to consider:
- The context is crucial—reading Matthew 5-7 (such as “pluck out your eye” in the Sermon on the Mount) should not be taken literally as compared to 1 Corinthians 15 (the resurrection). The book of Joshua should be interpreted differently than Daniel, just as Hebrews should be interpreted differently than Revelation.
- If the literal reading makes sense, then it’s very likely this is meant to be taken literally.
- Does the literal teaching coincide with other biblical teachings?
- Look at different Bible translations to see if a different version helps shed light on the meaning of the original language.
- What have previous commentators/Christians said about the passage? If your interpretation disagrees with all of Christian history, then the odds are that your interpretation is off. (Keep a good set of Christian commentaries near-by to help determine proper interpretations.)
Recommended Resource: Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007). With so many different English translations available, it is important to understand just what it takes for a version to be considered accurate. The authors talk about the tools translators use to do their jobs.
- Suppose a Mormon told you that it is sacrilegious to use the cross and perhaps even insinuated that Christians physically worship the cross, whether it’s a large replica made of wood or an emblem worn around the neck. How can this argument be answered while also presenting the gospel message of Christianity?
First, it ought to be pointed out that symbolism is very important to Mormons as well. For example, consider the LDS temple. Adorning the outside of the Salt Lake City temple are stone decorations displaying several special handshakes (because founder Joseph Smith was a high-ranking Mason, Masonic handshakes are used in ceremonies) and planets in the solar system. A statue of Moroni with a trumpet rests on the top of one spire. For those patrons who perform the required ordinances inside the temple, the temple garments that are worn have special insignias embroidered into them. Patrons wear a green apron that represents a fig leaf. And the final room in the temple is the celestial room, which symbolically represents the highest level of heaven where Mormons hope to reside.
Symbolism, such as what is represented by the cross, is also important for Bible-believing Christians. As Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Christians don’t worship the cross. However, they worship the Man who died on that cross before rising again. In Ephesians 2:14-16, Paul writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” It’s possible to be an “enemy” of the cross, as Paul writes in Philippians 3:18: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” And the cross is referred to symbolically in Colossians 2:13-15, as Paul explained, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
According to Christianity, the cross is not meant to be worshiped. Yet the gospel is summarized in the cross, making this a wonderful reminder and thus a significant symbol for Christians. It’s why many adorn their homes and necks with the cross. As the famous Christian hymn puts it, “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away (rolled away). It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.”
- While Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, the Friday preceding this event, the day Jesus died on the cross, is known as “Good Friday.” Is this morbid? Why or why not? In what ways can we as Christians better mentally prepare for resurrection day?
For many years, the Old Testament saints delivered their animal sacrifices at the temple. It was a bloody affair. Comparing the old system with Christ, the author of Hebrews says (10:10-14), ““And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” First John 4:10 adds, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Therefore, Good Friday is good because without the events that took place on this day, there would be no sufficient payment for the Christians’ sins.
Too many Christians inadequately prepare for Easter. Perhaps reading through the Passion Week will be helpful. Watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ to understand the extent of Jesus’ suffering. Focus on what our Savior did so that we could have eternal life. Find a church that has a Good Friday service and attend, allowing yourself to experience the loss that took place that day. Whatever it takes, we would encourage you to not participate in the party (Easter services) until you have partaken in the event that made the celebration possible.
- In a Christian hymnal or on the Internet, look up the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” by George Bennard (1873–1958) and read the words. (The chorus reads, “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”) What significance does the symbol of the cross hold for you in your life?
Of course, answers will vary, as this is a very personal experience. The authors are excited that they cling daily to the old rugged cross.
Recommended Resource: John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 2007). A careful study of the cross and its importance to the Christian believer.
- Is the doctrine of hell an important issue? Explain your reasoning.
If hell is a real place, Christians ought to be willing to tell their Mormons friends, co-workers, and family members about what a true relationship with Christ is all about, even if there is risk that rejection may follow. It is separation from God for eternity, something Jesus said nobody should desire.
- Why do you think there is so much controversy over this doctrine, even within the Christian church?
Many do not like to talk about hell because it’s considered to be a “negative” topic. However, if it’s true, it needs to be considered. While we don’t want anyone to become a Christian merely to avoid hell—some call this “fire insurance”—understanding our predicament certainly needs to play some type of a role in evangelism. When someone is bobbing up and down in the ocean, the reality of drowning is not a mirage. When a ship comes by and drops a ladder down, won’t the person rejoice and climb up to safety? The alternative was a terrible death, so the rescued person rejoices to escape to life. Indeed, it is impossible to grasp the significance of the Gospel (Good News) without understanding the bad news, that we are by nature sinners (Romans 3:23) and that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is found in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
- Do you agree with the assessment that if there is an outer darkness that will be inhabited mainly by spirit sons and daughters of God, this would be more unfair than the perceived unfairness of the biblical doctrine of hell? Why or why not?
When it comes to “fairness,” what’s truly unfair is that anyone receives eternal life (a “gift,” according to Ephesians 2:8). We don’t want justice because what is “fair” is hell, or eternal separation from God, for everyone. In addition, if Mormonism is true, then Outer Darkness for the spirits cast out of the preexistence is the cruelest act God could have perpetuated upon His creation. After all, someone as evil as Adolph Hitler has had his work done for him in a Mormon temple. (See www.mrm.org/files/images/hitler_baptism.jpg) Yet Hitler will receive nothing less than the telestial kingdom, one of three levels in Mormonism’s heavens. Meanwhile, one-third of God’s children who made one mistake (choosing Lucifer as the savior rather than Jesus), even though some had to be ignorant of the severity of their choice, will be relegated to Outer Darkness. If anything, that is not fair.
Recommended Resource: Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We Made Up (David C. Cook, 2011).
In recent years, there has been controversy about the existence of hell, even within the ranks of Christianity. This simple-to-read book takes a look at a tough issue and contemplates the God whose ways are higher than ours.
- Why is it necessary to understand the difference between the Mormon concepts of general salvation (resurrection) and individual salvation (exaltation) if we hope to have an intelligent conversation with a Latter-day Saint?
If a Mormon says that he believes in God, Jesus, and salvation by grace, some Christians believe this is a sign the person is a Christian. Yet understanding the definitions of these terms used by Mormons is crucial if we hope to effectively communicate. When it comes to salvation, asking questions such as “Are you saved by grace?” or “Do you depend on Jesus’ work on the cross for your salvation?” will only confuse the issue. Instead, ask, “Do you believe exaltation in the celestial kingdom comes only by grace?” Or, “Do you believe Jesus’ work on the cross alone allows you entrance into the celestial kingdom?” With clearer definitions, we can differentiate between Mormonism and Christianity and cut to the chase of any issue.
- Suppose a Mormon tells you that justification really does come by grace through faith yet works are required too. How could you use Ephesians 2:8–10 to explain how Mormonism’s definition of salvation differs from that taught in biblical Christianity?
Make the distinction between “general” resurrection and “individual” exaltation, and then you can use Ephesians 2:8-9 to show how neither definition of salvation will work. Thus,
- “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith…” This cannot be referring to general resurrection since no faith is necessary, as everyone who is born into the second estate received “grace.”
- —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” This would eliminate the possible meaning of “exaltation” since, as the chapter has pointed out, many works are required.
- Any implication that works somehow “merit mercy” is akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. Do you agree or disagree with this assessment? Why?
Hopefully the discussion group will fully agree with this concept. Ask why this is so disturbing to Christians. We believe this chapter regarding salvation is vital if we want to have intelligent and meaningful conversations with Latter-day Saints.
Recommended Resource: Timothy Keller, The Prodical God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (Dutton, 2008). In a short and simple-to-read book, Manhattan pastor Timothy Keller uses the parable of the prodigal to show God’s grace toward both the irreligious and the moralistic. Mormon Church-owned Deseret Books carried this title beginning in 2011.
- Compare a person who believes he is forgiven and a person who is trying but isn’t sure he is forgiven. How would their outlook on life differ? How would their attitudes toward works differ?
Quite simply, the forgiven person can live a life that is “full and abundant” (John 10:10b) because he or she lives a life of gratitude for what Christ provided at belief. The attitude of doing good works because of what God has done, not to earn God’s favor, means that there is a freedom to do the right thing (displaying the fruit of the Spirit) rather than a feeling of obligation. The motives for doing good works are based on what Christ first did, not what we can earn for ourselves. If somebody gives us something of immense value—maybe a grandparent deposits a $10 million gift into the bank account of the grandchild—our desire to pay back kindness with kindness is natural. Instead of going over to Grandpa’s house and spray-painting graffiti on the house, throwing lye in the grass, and kicking the family dog, the recipient will want to do something nice, like mowing the grass. Doing this is joyful and brings pleasure, even if it is understood that the good work is not being done to “earn” the gift. Meanwhile, the second person does everything possible, trying hard, yet can never have assurance of salvation. This attitude comes with a feeling that the works are required, just as a worker who hopes to earn a paycheck. Put in the time, this attitude says, and there can be benefit at the end. Such an ideology too often leaves a person frustrated, disappointed, and incomplete.
- Some Mormons might think it’s arrogant for Christians to say they are a forgiven people. Why do you think Mormons look upon this as a prideful attitude? What are some possible responses to this complaint?
Too many Mormons think it’s prideful for the Christian to say he or she has eternal life because they feel such a person must think they’re perfect. In a sense, the Christian is perfect…through Christ, not one’s own efforts or works. There are a number of biblical passages that explain how Christians are forgiven because of Christ. Acts 10:43 says that “all the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” In Colossians 1:13-14, Paul wrote, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” In Colossians 3:13, Paul said to “forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Notice how forgiveness is something that has taken place, in the past tense. This is the difference between Christianity and Mormonism, as the chapter explains. There is nothing arrogant about receiving the gift that God gives to those who are His; this is received with gratitude and is not something that is received with arrogance.
- How could 1 John 5:13 (“that ye may know that ye have eternal life”) be used to show how the assurance of salvation for a true believer is something that can be known?
Notice that the verse is in present tense, “ye have eternal life.” This assurance of salvation is something that the Mormon can never have, as he or she must continue to strive to attain the very best the LDS religion has to offer. Yet it’s something many Mormons desire to have, as they envy the Christian’s assurance of eternal life. We find that 1 John 5:13 is a wonderful verse of promise that ought to be shared with Latter-day Saints at every opportunity.
Recommended Resource: Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1969). This LDS book should be considered authoritative because it was written by a president and has been recommended twice in General Conference. It is still promoted and sold by Deseret Bookstores. Kimball was very clear in his teaching about what was required for forgiveness; for the Latter-day Saint who is looking for hope, there’s very little offered here. For more information, visit www.TheMiracleofForgiveness.com.
- Should baptism play an important role in Christianity? What reasons can you give?
We hope the reader of this chapter will not walk away saying that we were trying to minimize the role of baptism. Instead, we believe that every Christian ought to be water baptized. Our point is that baptism is not something we do as a work to appease the God of the Bible. But if Jesus was baptized as an example for us, and if the early church stressed the importance of baptism, why wouldn’t we want to follow the command to be baptized as well?
- How would you explain to a Mormon that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was “all-sufficient”?
There are a variety of ways to do this, but probably the best way we have found to make this clear is to continually go back to the sinfulness of the individual Mormon. The Standard Works and the church leaders have continually stressed the importance of keeping “all” of God’s commands. Generally, most Mormons understand right away that they’re not doing what they’ve been commanded, so they have to be content in “trying” or “doing the best” they can. Yet, deep down, they know this isn’t enough. This is why they generally know that they are not forgiven at the present time of their sins. If there is no way to accomplish forgiveness on our own, there is nothing left except to trust in God. Until the Mormon understands this, there will always be a mindset that if I only I try a little harder, then maybe it can be done some day. This is not the Gospel as proclaimed in the Bible.
- A person who takes a wedding ring off her finger remains married. The ring simply serves as a symbol. Wearing it lets others know she is married. How could this analogy be related to baptism?
Symbolism is an important part of Christianity. For example, the numbers 6, 7, and 10 all have significant meanings, especially in a book like Revelation. When Christians take the Lord’s Supper, they are not literally eating the body of Christ but “do this in remembrance” of Jesus. When Christians say they have invited Jesus into their hearts, this doesn’t mean Jesus made His way through the aorta and sits in one of their organ’s chambers. The list could go on and on, but good works are done because of what has taken place in the life of the believer, not somehow to earn points with God in an attempt to reach heaven. As we have tried to stress in our chapter, baptism is a very important part of who we are as Christians because it tells the world that we are identifying with Christ. But nobody should ever assume that we don’t receive salvation until this ordinance is performed, as if someone slipped on a bar of soap walking to the water and tragically hitting his or her head would somehow negate the justification that had already taken place at belief.
Recommended Resource: G.R. Beasley-Murray. Baptism in the New Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962). Granted, it’s not an easy read, but to better understand the role of baptism as taught in the New Testament, this book is considered a classic on the topic.
- Some Mormons believe baptism for the dead offers those who rejected the Mormon gospel in this life a chance to repent and spend eternity in the celestial kingdom. What do Mormon leaders like Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie think of this view?
They would disagree, as they taught that works must be done in this life and should not be procrastinated until the next. Their view would seem to coincide with Alma 32:32-36 in the Book of Mormon.
- How does the doctrine of baptism for the dead contradict biblical passages related to salvation?
The Bible gives no indication that it’s possible for a second chance of salvation. Instead, the message that is continually preached is “today is the day of salvation.” When Peter and Paul give their messages to the people, there always seemed to be a sense of urgency. And Paul said in Romans 10:14-15, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believe in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God news!’”
- How does the Mormon view of baptism for the dead relate to the faith element of salvation? How much faith is really involved if this concept is true?
Imagine that you, an Evangelical Christian, died and found yourself in “Spirit Prison.” You look around and realize, with regret, that Mormonism was true after all. Here you are, stuck and waiting for spirit missionaries to come visit you. This happens when a Mormon relative does vicarious work on your behalf in a Mormon temple, freeing the missionaries to pay you a visit. They tell you the plan of salvation and ask if you’d like to accept this gospel. What would your response be? Looking around at the loneliness and despair coinciding with Spirit Prison, there’s no doubt that you (and everyone else) will accept this offer. If you were an honorable person, just blind, then there’s a good chance you will receive the terrestrial kingdom, a place where many Mormons will also reside because they were unable to keep all the commandments. Everybody, for the most part, receives something that their heart desires, thereby avoiding Outer Darkness, where the Sons of Perdition and Satan with his demons will reside. What kind of faith does this really require?
Recommended Resource: Chip Thompson, The Mormon Scrapbook (Providence Publications, 2015). For a hands-on book on how to effectively witness to Latter-day Saints, we recommend this book that has plenty of dialogue material and shows you how to use the material we have cited throughout our writing.
- When Mormons say, “Families are forever,” what thoughts come to your mind? What is the Mormon meaning of this phrase? How does this concept differ from the teaching of the Bible?
If we’re talking about heaven, we’re talking about all children of God (saved individuals) gathered together in a place of incredible joy as we are in the presence of God forever. For most Mormons, though, the image of immediate families is given, with grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren all in the picture. (One older LDS missionary at a temple visitor’s center admitted to us that “family” would include everyone from Adam to the very last person, which contradicts the picture Mormons are typically given in church movies.) The family institution on earth is very important. Marriages are to be full of love and respect. Parents are to raise their children in a godly manner; children are to obey. But nowhere does the Bible indicate that our familial relationships will be the same in heaven as they are on earth.
In our 1994 book Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend: Challenging the Claims of Latter-day Saints in a Constructive Manner, we ask the question, “If Mormon families will be together forever, where will the in-laws live?” On pages 110-11, we wrote:
“For the sake of argument, suppose everyone in a given family was able to meet the requirements for entry into the celestial kingdom. The question now becomes: If every person is promised his own individual kingdom or planet, how will all members of the family be together? In other words, if the children were to reside with their parents on their parents’ planet, it would appear to be impossible to exist on their own planets with their children. If a son-in-law won the right to his own kingdom, surely he would have to take with him the daughter of another family. Surprisingly, very few Mormons have seriously considered the logical implications such an idea presents.
“While the Bible does speak of believers being together in heaven, it certainly does not talk about heaven as Mormon doctrine presents it. Although few details are given, the Bible does say that it will be through Christ that all believers sit together in heavenly places, ‘that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.’… While Mormonism depicts an eternity of self-made gods occupying themselves with procreation, the Bible speaks of the family of God, sinners cleansed through the blood of the lamb, exalting their God for ever and ever.”
- Suppose a Mormon told you that he/she doesn’t want to spend eternity strumming a harp and singing hymns in a heavenly choir. How could you more clearly explain what heaven is really like?
We believe that Mormon 7:7 found in the Book of Mormon (quoted in the book’s chapter) is an excellent passage to reference. Unlike the Bible (where it can be argued that it’s true “only as far as it is translated correctly”), this verse is hard for the Mormon to argue against. The word “ceaseless praises” to the Triune God is a positive idea, not negative as many Latter-day Saints want this concept to be portrayed.
Recommended Resource: Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004). The author takes a closer look at what heaven—a topic many Christians never really contemplate—is going to be like.
- In this chapter, it is proposed that rejecting biblical Christianity without having an accurate understanding of what it says is a dangerous outlook. Do you agree or disagree with this assessment? Provide specific reasons.
Unfortunately, many nonbelievers create stereotypes in their minds about what Christianity is. To them, living as a Christian is too strict and narrow-minded. It will require them to waste their time on church meetings and not allow them to have any fun. They also like to point to “hypocrites” in the church, believing that these people are reasons not to become Christian. However hard they try, there is a hole in everyone’s heart that cannot be filled except a relationship with the living God of the Bible. Jesus said that He was the Truth (John 14:6) and that only a relationship with Him would satisfy. He came not to require a bunch of mindless regulations but to give His people a full life full of promise and hope (John 10:10b). Many will be surprised in the end that all their good actions or intentions are not good enough to satisfy the God of justice. In the end, they will say, “Lord, look at all the good things I’ve done.” Yet they will be told to depart, for their names were not listed in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This is why it’s important for Christians to share their faith and provide a more accurate portrayal of biblical Christianity. If someone is going to reject the gospel, it should be with full understanding of what it really is. And, since the “hypocrite” card is pulled out so often, we have a responsibility to live like the Christians we claim to be. To have someone reject the truth because of our bad example brings shame to the Savior.
- Why should it not be dangerous for Christians to study other religions and philosophies? To whom could this be a threat, and what solution could you offer?
Our philosophy is that, first, Christians ought to learn the fundamentals of the historic Christian church. At the same time, we should not be frightened to bring other philosophies to the table. If Christianity really is true, it ought to be able to stand the test any competing worldview has to offer. For more than a decade, I taught Christian high school juniors using this philosophy. For example, the students studied atheist web sites and chatted with these rabid nonbelievers on the Internet. My students were required to read their literature in order to fully understand the other side. Doing this as well as studying the doctrines and truths of Christianity provided these students the opportunity to learn how to own their own faith rather than force them into blindly accepting mommy and daddy’s faith. At the end of the year, we studied world religions, including Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We made annual weekend or weekday afternoon trips to such places as the Hare Krishna temple, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, Buddhist temples, and even the Mormon Battalion Center in Old Town, San Diego. The leaders of these venues were allowed to address my students, with no interruption as long as they were fair, and students had ample opportunity to interact with them. When I began teaching this class in 1998, some parents complained. After all, they argued, what if their children converted to these other philosophies? One parent used the counterfeit currency argument, saying it was better for my students to study the genuine rather than the counterfeit.
Several answers can be given to these objections. First, I fully agree that understanding the original currency will help sniff out the counterfeits. The Secret Service agents know the ins and outs of a genuine bill; they even have a number of tests to determine a bill’s authenticity. What many don’t realize, though, is that the Secret Service spends much time looking at counterfeit bills in their investigation. Second, my students were not required to come on our trips, though most of them came at least once. I prepared the students beforehand, giving them background information, with follow-up included. We did not go to these venues without deep consideration and prayer. But I found that allowing the students freedom to explore other ideas—especially when I had trained them throughout the year on logic and critical thinking—went a long way, and it was something students appreciated. Too many Christian schools, including colleges, are more intent on indoctrination rather than considering all sides and helping them find the truth. For those whose faith it too weak, I would not recommend such a course. Those who are in this camp ought to do more study about their own faith and learn biblical truth. But, as Paul said, we cannot drink milk for the rest of our lives. If high school juniors—most of whom were raised in the Christian faith—don’t own their faith at 16, why would we think they would own it at 23 after allowing a secular college to have their way with them?
- Assurance of salvation is one of the great benefits of Christianity. How can this truth be used in a witnessing encounter with a Latter-day Saint?
Assurance of faith is something that the Mormon does not have. Showing the Mormon how he or she falls short of what his scriptures and leaders require and contrasting this with the view of the Bible can have an effect on many, knowing that all of their good efforts will never get them what they desire.
Recommended Resource: Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Zondervan, 2000). While this is a book aimed at skeptics—Strobel was once a crime reporter and an atheist—there are some good chapters in this book related to Mormonism, including chapter 6 (hell) and chapter 8 (doubts). Strobel writes in a very readable manner for the layperson, and there are teen and child versions of the book available as well.
- There is no question that Mormon leaders have been very critical of the Bible’s transmission. Why do you think they have cast so much doubt on the accuracy of the biblical text?
So much found in the Bible contradicts Mormonism, no matter how you look at it. Therefore, Article 8 (the Bible is true only “as far as it is translated correctly”) is often quoted by the Latter-day Saint. Whenever the Bible disagrees with Mormonism’s teaching, the Mormon often responds, “How do we know that was translated correctly?” The Bible can never win, as one’s presupposition ends up taking precedence over what any passage might be saying. When this issue comes up with a Latter-day Saint, there are a couple of responses. One, point to Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, which he finished on July 2, 1833. Ask if that version could be used. Another is to request documentation for how a particular verse was changed. Since most Mormons have never studied textual criticism, they typically do not have a clear understanding of how the Bible was transcribed. For those who understand the transmission of the biblical text, it is understood that the Bible is very accurate, even when the age of the text is considered.
- A number of manuscript discoveries in recent times have shown that the biblical text is very reliable when compared to other ancient texts. Why do you think the transcribers took such care in making copies of the Bible?
It would seem that a book transcribed over and over again would have many errors. The game of telephone is often brought up by critics, saying the Bible’s transmission would cause changes from one communicator to the next. Yet while there are certainly blips in the transmission quality, it’s amazing at how accurate the text really is. Fortunately, we have older texts to utilize, as the older the text, the more the text is to be trusted. There are other rules that should be considered when determining the original, including putting more trust in a more difficult passage. After all, it’s more likely a monk would attempt to fix the harder reading. For the most part, however, the text was highly valued to these transcribers. This is the Word of God, after all, and there is a responsibility in handling the Word of God in a careful manner. We are fortunate that we have the Word of God that can be trusted.
- F. F. Bruce says that no textual variant in the Bible affects any fact of Christian faith and practice. Why should this be reassuring to the Christian?
While there are scratches and blips in the record, the vast majority of the textual issues involve minor issues. There are very few places where, for instance, the deity of Christ is questioned, the oneness of God is denied, or salvation by works is emphasized. When we read our Bible (assuming a solid biblical translation if we don’t read the original languages), we can know that what we read can be trusted as being reliable and accurate.
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Zondervan, 1998). As a former atheist, Strobel interviewed important scholars to find answers to his questions. The first six chapters deal with the Bible and reasons why God’s Word is accurate.
- What is a good strategy for dealing with the argument that the Bible can’t be trusted because it contains so many contradictions?
Taken in context, apparent contradictions can typically be understood. Therefore, when a “contradiction” is presented, look at the passage in its context. Understand the audience addressed by the author, and also understand the situation that is being discussed. Using a quality commentary, book, or website can assist you in determining the truth about a passage.
- Why is a verse’s context so critical in determining its true meaning?
Without context, someone can create any doctrine by pulling verses out of context. Thus, it is imperative that the context is understood. A good rule of thumb is to read four verses before and after the verse in question. By understanding what the original author meant, we can make proper interpretations and know how God intends for us to believe.
- What apparent biblical contradiction has recently been brought to your attention? Do some research to find how to answer the charge. One possibility is utilizing this chapter’s recommended resources. Or you can go to www.carm.org and click on “Bible Difficulties” to view answers to some of the more common difficulties skeptics raise in their attempts to disprove the Bible.
If you have a difficult time in finding a discrepancy, go to a site such as www.infidels.com/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html and then see how these objections could be answered.
Recommended Resource: Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe. Big Book of Bible Difficulties: The Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation (Baker, 2008).
This includes “contradictory” verses used by skeptics and critics, with short explanations about how the verse in question ought to be properly interpreted.
- Have you ever “felt” you were right about something only to find out later that you were wrong? Use a personal example to explain why feelings should not be trusted when it comes to a belief system.
In your discussion, remind the group that our feelings can certainly backfire on us when we trust in them to guide us into truth.
- How did Joseph Smith take James 1:5 out of its context? What is a better explanation of this verse?
He made the verse say that we should pray about the truth rather than request wisdom about how to endure trials and temptations. If we ask for wisdom, God promises that He will provide us with this and help us to deal with even the toughest situation.
- Suppose a Mormon gives his or her testimony about why the LDS Church is true. What question could you ask that would show how a testimony alone is not a good indicator of whether or not something is true?
Here are some possible responses:
- How do you know that your testimony isn’t tainted and you only believe the LDS Church only because you want it to be true?
- If my testimony is that Joseph Smith was not a true prophet, that the Book of Mormon is not the Word of God, and that the LDS Church leads people astray, will you accept my testimony as true?
- If you feel down deep something is true but realize your belief contradicts the facts, isn’t this something that should bother you?
- Have you ever believed something to be true but found out later you were wrong with your feelings? If so, isn’t there danger in trusting too much in your feelings?
Recommended Resource: Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for all Its Worth. (Zondervan, 1993). Understanding how to interpret the Bible is crucial is we want to avoid common errors. Learning about the genre, context, purpose, and other important concepts is vital to properly interpreting the Bible.
- Many Mormons will use John 10:16 as evidence in support of the Book of Mormon as scripture. Provide a good reason why this verse was talking about the Gentiles and not the Book of Mormon people groups.
Historically, the Christian church never understood this passage to mean a unique set of people. Instead, commentators throughout the centuries have normally understood Jesus as referring to the Gentiles. Other biblical passages from the gospels as well as the Old Testament (listed on pages 216-217) point to this interpretation as being accurate. For example, in Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus uses the phrase “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” the same language used in John 10. With clear evidence that the Book of Mormon people could not have been referenced in John 10, Mormon apologists should not attempt to use John 10 to support their faulty assertion.
- Mormons consider the Book of Mormon “another testament” of Jesus Christ. How could you demonstrate the falseness of this premise? If, in fact, there were no Book of Mormon people, how would that affect the Mormon position?
Problems with the Book of Mormon story include:
- No archaeological or historical evidence to support that there were such peoples on the American continents. In fact, Mormon historians and other authorities cannot even agree on where the Book of Mormon lands were even located.
- Historical anomalies such as horses, steel, coins, silk, barley, among others, out of their time context.
- Large sections plagiarized from the King James Bible written in seventeenth century English.
- The lack of any evidence that there were even Book of Mormon plates, as nobody saw them (except in vision) before they were mysteriously taken away once Smith finished his “translation.”
- The problem with Smith supposedly taking the gold plates of the Book of Mormon three miles, fighting off attackers while running with plates that would have weighed 200 pounds.
- The thousands of changes that had to later be made to the manuscript, many of which were minor grammatical errors but other changes that affected the meaning. If God gave Smith the ability to translate letter by letter, it doesn’t seem logical that so many changes had to be made.
- No record in Israel of Book of Mormon people such as the Jaredites or Lehi and his family ever existing.
If there were no Book of Mormon people, some Latter-day Saints who would still believe in Mormonism. We know because we’ve met some Latter-day Saints who have rejected the historicity of the Book of Mormon story but still believe in the Mormon Church. However, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 and the resurrection of the body, anyone who holds to Mormonism while rejecting the historicity of the Book of Mormon should be considered the most pitied of all people. This is because if the Book of Mormon is not true history, then nothing else Joseph Smith said or taught can be considered as true.
Recommended Resource: David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (McFarland and Co., 2000). Persuitte provides evidence that Joseph Smith plagiarized 19th century writer Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews to produce the Book of Mormon.
- Why do you think attending the temple has such a strong appeal for many Latter-day Saints?
There are many possible answers, of course, but for some there is a pride factor that this is their right for having earned and then kept their temple recommends. It’s almost like a social club, where the only ones on the inside are part of the brotherhood that understands the necessary sacrifices required to enter the front doors. To others, the temple is a place of hope, as it reminds them of the chance to possibly go to the celestial kingdom after death. The celestial room is symbolic of the peace they hope to someday experience. In the celestial kingdom their family will be reunited and happy times will continue into eternity. No doubt, there are many hard-working Mormons who honestly believe their work here is giving their ancestors a chance to hear the gospel in Spirit Prison. By doing this work, missionaries are released and given the chance to share Mormonism with these loved ones, who are only known through the genealogical research performed over many hundreds (if not thousands) of hours.
- If there are more differences than similarities between the biblical temple rituals and those performed in Mormon temples, why do you think Mormons continue to draw what seems to be a flawed parallel?
Mormon leaders have no biblical support for marriages/sealings of families in temple ceremonies. Learning special handshakes and new names were never done in ancient temples. In fact, the Jerusalem temple in biblical times was a place for blood sacrifices. The Holy of Holies was a special place where the High Priest made an annual sacrifice. Unfortunately, many Mormons accept their church’s teaching of the necessity of the temple without understanding why their dozens of buildings are even necessary.
- Some argue that the pentagram hasn’t always been an occultic symbol. Should this absolve the LDS Church of any and all criticism for its modern use of this symbol? Why or why not?
While it might not have always been an occultic symbol, the pentagram has been associated with evil for at least the past century. While it could be argued that the temple in Nauvoo may have used pentagrams in its design before it was known for any association with evil, it doesn’t make sense for the designers of the Nauvoo temple (built in 2002) to have included numerous pentagrams throughout the temple design and even embroidered into the curtains. If the original Nauvoo temple had used swastikas, we highly doubt that the leaders would have used this symbol. So why use pentagrams when this symbol is certainly associated with evil?
Recommended Resource: Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Hendrickson Publishers, 1994). A classic volume on what took place in the Jerusalem temple from biblical times.
- Mormons generally have to utilize sources outside the Bible to support a “three-levels-of-glory” doctrine. Why is this problematic?
They must resort to using sources outside the Bible. Even the Book of Mormon does not refer to a three-level heaven. For such an important concept, it would seem logical that more references to this teaching would have been recorded by ancient writers.
- When interpreted properly, the Bible gives answers; when wrongly interpreted, error creeps in. How can Christians best get their LDS friends to see the problem with creating doctrines that are not biblically based?
Explain the importance of properly interpreting God’s Word. After all, if a passage was written to mean one certain thing, it certainly shouldn’t be interpreted in the exact opposite way. Perhaps show your LDS friend a passage out of the Book of Mormon, say, Moroni 10:4. Explain that, to you, this passage means that everyone should not pray about this book but rather do investigation and determine with the evidence whether or not Mormonism is true. Or that D&C 130:2 tells you that God does not have a body of flesh and bone. Such interpretations are not what the original author meant, meaning they are faulty. In the same way, we must correctly handle God’s Word or we’re bound to make critical mistakes.
- What is the danger of inferring a teaching from passages that are taken out of context? Can sincere Christians be guilty of such misuse of Scripture? If so, can you give some examples? What are some ways to avoid such errors?
Inferring teachings out of passages taken out of context, such as baptism for the dead in 1 Cor. 15:29, works required for justification in James 2:20, 26, and Jesus teaching that people are gods in John 10:34, will result in people believing doctrines that are not legitimate. Of course, Christians can misuse scripture as well. For example, they may believe that two or three people need to be together in order for God to be in their midst based on Matthew 18:20 or that the Book of Mormon can’t be true because of Revelation 22:19 are not accurate. Thus, it behooves all of us to approach the Bible with great care. As 2 Timothy 2:15 says, we are to study like “workmen who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” There are some important points to remember when interpreting scripture, including doing this in the proper context, including the immediate, historical, and situational contexts. Reading a book on how to interpret scripture would be beneficial for the Christian who is serious about the science of hermeneutics.
Recommended Resource: Mark L. Strauss, How to Read the Bible in Changing Times (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2011). The New Testament professor at Bethel Seminary San Diego lays out how to find the heart of God through proper interpretation of God’s Word.
- Missionaries are encouraged to “memorize Joseph Smith’s description of seeing the Father and the Son (Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17), and always be ready to describe the First Vision using his [Smith’s] own words. Do not rush through it. Bear sincere testimony that you know it is true. Do not hesitate to explain how you came to know of its truth.” Why do you think such emphasis is put on the First Vision?
There are several foundational events that cannot be fictional if Mormonism is historical. First, there is the First Vision account, which every Latter-day Saint knows by heart. Second, the Book of Mormon story must also be accurate. Yet there are many inconsistencies and issues that a Mormon must answer if he or she hopes to have anything other than blind faith. For the First Vision, the following questions are more than troublesome:
- Why were there nine different First Vision accounts given, including three by Smith?
- Why is the version used by the church today not publicly reported until the 1840s?
- Why does history show that there was no 1820 revival in the New York area where Joseph Smith lived, contrary to what Smith described?
- Why would God the Father make a visual appearance to Smith when no man can see God and live?
- What do you think are the most perplexing problems with the official First Vision account?
Have your group choose from the points they listed and determine the most troublesome points for them. Discuss how it might be possible to bring up this point with a Latter-day Saint.
(Example with a Latter-day Saint): “Joe (a Mormon), could I ask you a question about the First Vision account of Joseph Smith? [If agreed upon] I am wondering, [list what you feel is your most perplexing problem]”
Doing this might open a discussion about a topic that, if it’s not true, should cause any Latter-day Saint a great amount of consternation.
- Gordon B. Hinckley said that if the First Vision is not based in fact, Mormons are engaged in a great blasphemy. Why do you think he would draw such a conclusion?
Once again, this event is a critical issue in Mormonism. If this event did not take place, then Mormonism cannot be true.
Recommended Resource: Wesley Walters, The Palmyra Revival and Mormon Origins (Mormonism Research Ministry, 2012)
This booklet originally written by Pastor Wesley Walters deals with the problem of the First Vision based on the lack of a religious revival during 1820.
- Why do you think it is important for Mormons to insist that the eleven “witnesses” actually saw tangible plates?
Otherwise the Mormon is left with the testimony of Joseph Smith alone. Like the First Vision, if only Joseph Smith witnessed the plates, and if he has credibility problems, doubt ought to be shed on the story he gives.
- If these witnesses testified in a court of law that they saw the plates only in a vision, how do you think this would affect the jurors?
With so many holes and contradictions in their accounts and given the fact that they only saw the plates in vision, the evidence of the story is in doubt.
- What explanations can you give for the strong influence Smith obviously had over these men?
Smith obviously was quite charismatic and seemed to have a strong influence over those in his church. Think about his claims, which included a personal experience with the Lord, meeting Moroni and taking the plates out of the Hill Cumorah and translating them, retranslating the Bible (even including a prophecy about himself in Genesis 50), translating the Book of Abraham papyri, and receiving numerous revelations from God (including Section 132 that allowed for polygamy). Through all of these questionable and nonverifiable events, Smith was able to keep most of his followers in line and under his authority.
Recommended Resource: Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knorph, 2004)
A solid historical look at Joseph Smith by a Mormon historian. Well documented and very well laid out, making this a good overview of Smith’s life.
- When context and history is considered, it becomes clear that neither Isaiah 29 nor Ezekiel 37 can possibly refer to the Book of Mormon. Why should LDS leaders care whether or not the Bible mentions the Book of Mormon?
It gives credibility to their most sacred scripture if the Bible writers prophesied about this book. To a person who has only a casual understanding of the Bible, the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages can, on the surface, look like good evidence for another scripture that would later be given to people on another continent. But for those who study their scriptures and understand what these writers were saying, these passages are no evidence at all. Even BYU professor Charles Harrell disagrees with the way these passages are used. For Isaiah 29, he explains, “Latter-day Saints go beyond the traditionally accepted allegorical meaning of this passage and its fulfillment in ancient Israel to see a literal book that came to light in the latter days through the ‘unlearned’ prophet Joseph Smith…what seems to be overlooked in this interpretation is that Isaiah isn’t talking about a literal book, much less one that would come forth in the future.”For Ezekiel 37, he writes, “The popular LDS interpretation of this passage is that the stick of Judah is the Bible while the stick of Joseph or Ephraim is the Book of Mormon….Scholars point out that each of the sticks Ezekiel refers to is no more than a piece of wood (hence the term ‘stick’), on which he was to inscribe a short phrase. It doesn’t appear to have been a scroll or writing board on which a lengthy record might be kept.” (This is My Doctrine, Greg Kofford Books, 2011, pp. 92-93)
- A common mistake in biblical interpretation is reading into a particular text and making it fit our presuppositions. How is this seen in the way Mormon leaders have tackled Isaiah 29 and Ezekiel 37?
Because it’s important for these leaders to point to something in the Bible to verify the book called “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” leaps like this have been made.
Recommended Resource: Charles R. Harrell, This is My Doctrine: The Development of Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2011). We don’t agree with every conclusion the BYU professor makes—for example, he accepts the liberal Documentary Hypothesis—but there is much honesty in the way Harrell approaches doctrines as accepted in the Mormon Church.
- It has been said that archaeology cannot “prove the Bible.” What do you think this means? Do you agree?
Empirically speaking, archaeology can show us many things, but it cannot prove the events of the Bible. Faith is still required. For example, consider the places mentioned in the Bible. At these sites we can be certain about the time frame of certain layers in a dig by studying the pottery and coins. Doing work at places like Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea, Masada near the Dead Sea, and Herodium (Herod the Great’s palace near Bethlehem) can give us more insight into the greatest king of the gospels. In addition, archaeology can help us determine that there were:
- people named David, Erastus, Peter, and Pontius Pilate;
- places such as Caesarea Philippi, Nazareth, and Megiddo;
- certain historical events that took place, such as the destruction of Jerusalem.
However, there are certain things archaeology cannot tell us. For example, archaeology cannot be used to determine whether or not certain events took place, such as Jesus turning water into wine, the healing of a blind man, or the resurrection from the dead. These events must be taken by faith. Other historical events not mentioned in the Bible are still debated by scholars, such as whether or not almost 1,000 Jews lost their lives at Masada due to suicide or if the Jewish sect known as the Essenes really wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. However, archaeology is only one part, as we do have written records of the Bible and ancient historians such as Josephus and Tacitus. We must take many things into consideration and determine, to the best of our ability, where the evidence lies. For us, the events of the Bible having taken place makes more sense than if they did not take place at all.
- What archaeological discoveries do you know of that support the Bible’s authenticity?
This will be a good discussion starter. If the group knows very little about archaeology, perhaps do some research and explain some of the ways archaeology helps us to better understand the Bible.
- Suppose you ran across a Mormon who believes the Book of Mormon is a story of good morals but does not accept it as a historical book. What problems do Mormons face if the Book of Mormon is nothing more than a fictional tale? How would your faith be affected if no historical evidence for the Bible existed?
If the Bible is not true and the events are fictional, then the Christian faith is in jeopardy. For example, as Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15, if the resurrection of Jesus did not take place, Christians are the most pitied of all people. In the same way, if the Book of Mormon is not true, then Mormonism falls apart.
Resource: Joel Kramer, The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon (Sourceflix, 2005). In this DVD, filmmaker/archaeologist Joel Kramer refutes the notion that the Book of Mormon is “comparable to the Bible.” Visit Joel’s site at www.sourceflix.com
- Considering the two prophecies mentioned in this chapter, does it matter whether or not Smith was correct? Why or why not?
If Smith was correct on these prophecies, then we need to consider his teachings with openness. If he was wrong, then Deuteronomy chapters 13 and 18 said such a seer should not be accepted.
- Some Mormons like to point to Jonah as an example of a prophet who made a mistake yet was still called a prophet. Why is this not a good example?
Jonah’s prophecy was conditional. If those in Nineveh had not repented, then they would have perished through destruction. As 1 Samuel 15:29 says, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” And Numbers 23: 19 says, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” But at the same time, Jeremiah 18:7-10 says, “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” God intended to get a response from Nineveh, which he did, and thus he relented in his punishment of this people. He is a God of justice but mercy as well.
- Joseph Smith claimed the Garden of Eden was located in the area of Independence, MO. After their expulsion, Adam and Eve fled to what Smith called the Valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, located about seventy miles north of Independence. Joseph Smith taught a number of doctrines that contradict the Bible. Does this fact matter? If so, why? If not, then how is it possible to distinguish a true prophet from a false prophet?
Why should we believe someone who made up doctrines along the road? If the Book of Mormon is not true and Smith was incorrect in explaining the significance of the “Valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman,” why should we believe anything else he said?
Recommended Resource: Grant H. Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Signature Books, 2002).
Palmer served as a director of LDS Institutes and came to the realization that Mormon history—including Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon—has been tailored over the years to suit the public relations arm of the Mormon Church.
- In what ways did Joseph Smith’s death differ from the deaths of Jesus, John the Baptist, and Stephen, as recorded in the Gospels and the book of Acts?
The martyrs described in the Bible did not die with guns in their hands. Of course, they used different means to try to get out of circumstances, but in the end, all of the apostles (except one) died martyrs’ deaths. They were not persecuted because they took other men’s wives or destroyed a printing press that had published negative information about them. Instead, they suffered for the cause of Christ. Joseph Smith was guilty of the crimes for which he was imprisoned, and he used a gun to kill two people. While we certainly don’t begrudge the fact that he tried to defend himself, the circumstances of his death are much different than those of Jesus, John the Baptist, and Stephen.
- What criteria do you think should be considered when determining whether or not a person died as a martyr?
For one, did the person die willingly? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian who was killed by the Nazis for his role in an assassination plot against Adolph Hitler, had gone to America and was encouraged by his friends to not return to Germany. However, he did. After he was imprisoned, he had a chance to escape, but he did not believe running away was the right thing to do. Another trait for being a “Christian” martyr is whether or not the person died for the cause of Christ and not for a crime he committed. There are Christians all over the world who die for nothing more than being a Christian. For more information on this topic, see the Voice of the Martyrs website (www.persecution.com)
- Even if Joseph Smith was a martyr for his faith, why would his death not be good evidence for the authenticity and truthfulness of Smith’s religion?
Just because someone dies for his faith does not make this person’s ideological view true. If so, then perhaps everyone should convert to Islam since so many Muslims have given their lives through suicide bombings in order to further the Islamic cause.
Recommended Resource: Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Hodder Christian Books, 2004). A book written on persecution by a Romanian pastor who spent 14 years in prison between 1945-1966. A classic on persecution.
If you have any comments about this leader’s guide, please feel free to write me ([email protected]). I would love to hear from you.