Mormonism 201 (Communion and Baptism): Response to Michael Hickenbotham

Response to Michael Hickenbotham
Rejoinder by Tim Martin

In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder.

  1. Rejection of The Seer

Chapter 13 of Mormonism 101 begins with a quote from LDS apostle Orson Pratt: “All other churches are entirely destitute of all authority from God; and any person who receives Baptism or the Lord’s supper from their hands will highly offend God, for he looks upon them as the most corrupt of all people.” This quote bolsters McKeever and Johnson’s first point: Mormons and Christians have opposing doctrines concerning water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Hickenbotham begins his article by criticizing the quote from Orson Pratt. The quote in question comes from Pratt’s book The Seer. Hickenbotham dismisses The Seer because it “reflect[s] Orson Pratt’s personal beliefs and not LDS doctrinal views.” He cites W. John Walsh to explain how Pratt “was censured and the writings were officially and publicly condemned for containing false doctrine.”

Hickenbotham’s objection is only valid if the quote in question contains false doctrine. As stated above, Walsh claimed that that The Seer “contained” false doctrine. Hence, not all of The Seershould be regarded as false doctrine. After all, since Orson Pratt had been an apostle for seventeen years when he wrote The Seer, one would expect that not all of it would be in error. Hopefully an apostle’s opinion on doctrine would contain some truth. For instance, on page seventeen, Pratt teaches about the pre-existence of the human race. Even though the LDS Church may have given a public warning about The Seer, the pre-existence doctrine is still regarded as true by the LDS.

If a person were to quote Pratt’s pre-existence teaching from The Seer while knowing the controversy of The Seer, s/he should not be considered dishonest since this is still current LDS teaching. Maybe the person quoted Pratt because he gave a precise definition of the pre-existence, or s/he wanted to demonstrate the historical usage of the word by quoting one of the original apostles. Hence, any condemnation for using The Seer needs to have an explanation of what was wrong with Pratt’s teaching on the pre-existence. Merely giving evidence that The Seer is not a good source only begs the question as to what is wrong with the quote.

In dismissing Mormonism 101’s use of The Seer, Hickenbotham does not address the quote itself. One might think from his dismissal of The Seer that the content of the quote must be false doctrine according to the LDS Church. However, this is not the case. There are two main ideas in the quote. Both can be substantiated by the current LDS leadership. The first part of the quote concerns the absence of authority in other churches while the second part is about God’s offense at corrupt people. Both parts are discussed below.

  1. Authority in other churches(“All other churches are entirely destitute of all authority from God;…”)

If this part of Pratt’s quote conveys false doctrine, then one would assume that there are churches besides the LDS Church with authority to perform baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But, according to its current leaders, the LDS Church is the only institution with the needed priesthood authority:“May I now say—very plainly and very emphatically—that we have the holy priesthood and that the keys of the kingdom of God are here. They are found only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

  1. The offense of God.(“… and any person who receives Baptism or the Lord’s supper from their hands will highly offend God, for he looks upon them as the most corrupt of all people.”)

Hickenbotham’s rejection of The Seer quote may be connected to this part of the quote. If so, Hickenbotham’s rejection is not valid. The LDS Church retains this doctrine in sources other than Orson Pratt. For instance, Brigham Young taught that:

…The Christian religion was so perverted that the people received it with open hands, arms, mouth and heart. It was adulterated until it was congenial to the wicked heart, and they received the Gospel as they supposed. But that was the time they commenced little by little to transgress the laws, change the ordinances, and break the everlasting covenant, and the Gospel of the kingdom that Jesus undertook to establish in his day and the Priesthood were taken from the earth.

It is possible that Young was merely stating his opinion, as Hickenbotham suggests Pratt was doing. However, the LDS Church sanctioned this quote as authoritative by quoting it in its official church student manual in the year 2000. Young’s quote asserts that the false gospel and the human heart receiving it have the same nature (congenial): wicked. When this quote by Young is examined alongside Pratt’s, they complement and explain each other. If one were to ask Pratt, “Why would God be highly offended if a person partook of ordinances from one not having authority?” Young’s quote would answer: “Because they are both wicked.”

In summary, the reason for Hickenbotham’s rejection of Pratt’s quote is not clear. To reject Pratt’s quote, Hickenbotham must demonstrate that the quote is false doctrine. As demonstrated above, however, Pratt’s quote is consistent with current LDS doctrine.

  1. Can Water Be Used For Communion?

Hickenbotham begins this section by accusing McKeever and Johnson of using a straw man argument. He gives a definition of a straw man:

A straw man argument is a polemical tactic in which a person develops a false argument that is easier to refute than the real argument at hand. Time is spent building up the false argument, which is then easily destroyed. All the while, the real argument still stands, as it has not been directly addressed.

Though his definition of “straw man” is good, he fails to explain how McKeever and Johnson employ it. Since he does not define the specific straw man in chapter 13, this author is left to speculate as to where it is. Hickenbotham’s article alludes to two possibilities. First, do the LDS rely on the atonement during the sacrament?  Secondly, were the LDS wrong for using water instead of juice?

  1. Do the LDS rely on the atonement during the sacrament?

This first possibility is not a valid straw man. Nowhere in chapter 13 of Mormonism 101 does McKeever and Johnson state that the LDS do not rely on the atonement. But, when reading Hickenbotham’s article, one would think they must. Immediately after charging McKeever and Johnson with a straw man, Hickenbotham states, “Latter-day Saints emphatically affirm our reliance on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Since Hickenbotham begins his rebuttal by emphatically insisting that the LDS rely on the atonement when chapter 13 of Mormonism 101 does not address the subject, then ironically, Hickenbotham is guilty of a straw man argument.

  1. Were the LDS wrong to start using water instead of juice in 1830?

Mormonism 101 explains that “the earliest Mormons used bread and wine for the Sacrament.”  But later, the use of wine was changed to water. The majority of Hickenbotham’s response describes why the change was made.  Admittedly, his explanation gives reasonable grounds as to why the change was made from wine to water. Subsequently, he states that Johnson knew about this explanation and “chose to ignore it.” He then complains that McKeever and Johnson “quote The Encyclopedia of Mormonism on the subject but fail to quote the part that explains the use of water in preference to wine.”

This second possible straw man is not valid either. Without reading Mormonism 101, one would conclude that McKeever and Johnson covered up the LDS explanation concerning the change to water.  However, Mormonism 101 quotes early LDS apostle James Talmage to explain why water was used. The same reason is expressed by Hickenbotham’s article and by Mormonism 101. Hence, Hickenbotham’s complaints are not valid.

The majority of Mormonism 101’s discussion on the use of water or juice is merely descriptive. The only critical comment is found on page 193. In two sentences, McKeever and Johnson explain that after the 1830 revelation allowing the use of water, a later revelation in 1833 commanded the use of wine. McKeever and Johnson call this strange. They do not however, clarify what is strange about the later revelation. There are two possibilities: it is strange that the LDS god would have changed the practice, or it is strange that the LDS still use water. If either of these possibilities were the target of Hickenbotham’s straw man accusation, then he missed the point. Neither Hickenbotham’s nor Talmage’s explanation addresses either problem. Since the command to use wine was given last, then why is water currently used?

There may be another revelation later than 1833 that re-grants the use of water or other elements. Until one is found, the LDS will most likely rely on the 1830 revelation in D&C 27:2, “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory.” Though this may satisfy, one may wonder how it is possible to do something “with an eye single to [god’s] glory,” while breaking His commandment by using water.

  1. A Look at Baptism

Under the subject of baptism, Mormonism 101 lists several verses that “have been misused [by the LDS] in an attempt to show that baptism is required for salvation.” They will be dealt with below in the order presented in Mormonism 101.

  1. Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

Mormonism 101 explains:

If belief plus baptism truly equals salvation, then why wasn’t this formula used when it says that a person who ‘believeth not’ would be condemned? To support the LDS position, this passage should read: ‘he that believeth not and is baptized not shall be damned.’ Taken at face value, this says that a lack of belief, not a lack of water baptism, is what damns a person.

Hickenbotham calls this “a very weak argument.”  While this argument does have some merit, this author is inclined to agree that it is weak. However, it admittedly carries scholarly support. But using Mark 16:16 to demonstrate baptism as a requirement for salvation is also very weak. Mark 16:16 undoubtedly states that belief is required since it is stated in the positive and negative. Positive belief is connected to being saved while negative belief is connected to damnation.  Baptism is not mentioned in the negative sense here or elsewhere in scripture. To bolster Hickenbotham’s position, it would be helpful to find a verse that explicitly states “he that is not baptized shall be damned.”

There are other reasons why Jesus mentioned baptism in connection with being saved. One is that true faith will produce works. The works do not save but are fruit of salvation: “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). First John 2:3 says “by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Hence, Mark 16:16 could be defining “believing” emphatically by revealing its constituent element of baptism. Baptism is then the indicator of salvation, not a step toward obtaining it.

  1. Luke 3:3:“And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Mormonism 101 explains:

The word for (Greek: eis) in “for the remission of sins” can mean with a view to or because of. Those who responded to John’s invitation of baptism had already heard his message of coming judgment and of the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). They responded to baptism based on the convicting message they had already heard. The word eis is also translated at in Matthew 12:41, where it says the men of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonas.” Did the men of Nineveh repent in order to get the preaching of Jonas? Or did they repent because of the preaching of Jonas? The latter, of course, is the proper answer.

Hickenbotham responds with: “None of the translations I have consulted translate Luke 3:3 as the authors suggest it should be.”  However, Mormonism 101 did not indicate that any translation rendered Luke 3:3 “with a view to or because of.” Mormonism 101 presented an exegesis (interpretation) of the text, not quotations of other translations. The noted Greek scholar A.T. Robinson concurs with the exegesis:

This is a difficult phrase to translate accurately. Certainly John did not mean that the baptism was the means of obtaining the forgiveness of their sins or necessary to the remission of sins. The trouble lies in the use of ei[s] which sometimes is used when purpose is expressed, but sometimes when there is no such idea as in #Mt 10:41 and #Mt 12:41. Probably “with reference to” is as good a translation here as is possible. The baptism was on the basis of the repentance and confession of sin and, as Paul later explained (#Ro 6:4), was a picture of the death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ. This symbol was already in use by the Jews for proselytes who became Jews. John is treating the Jewish nation as pagans who need to repent, to confess their sins, and to come back to the kingdom of God. The baptism in the Jordan was the objective challenge to the people.

  1. John 3:5-6:“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Mormonism 101 explains:

We must ask what being ‘born of water’ would have meant to Nicodemus. In his commentary onJohn, Leon Morris writes, ‘Nicodemus could not possibly have perceived an allusion to an as yet non-existent sacrament. It is difficult to think that Jesus would have spoken in such a way that His meaning could not possibly be grasped.’

Hickenbotham responds by saying: “To infer that baptism was a non-existent sacrament at this point seems unjustified.” To support his contention that sacramental baptism was being performed, Hickenbotham reminds us that John the Baptist was baptizing, and “John 3:22mentions Jesus and his disciples baptizing.” However, Hickenbotham failed to show that these baptisms were sacramental (i.e. ordinances provided by God to secure or help a person obtain salvation). The quote from Morris above did not deny that baptisms occurred during this period. The point is that these baptisms were not considered sacramental.

Though Hickenbotham maintains that these early baptisms were sacramental, he states “It is obvious that Nicodemus did not understand what the Lord was teaching him.”Hickenbotham’s response begs the question. If this was an ordinance commanded by God, why didn’t Nicodemus know about it?  Since he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, his knowledge of God’s commandments would have been quite thorough.

  1. Acts 2:38 Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

Mormonism 101 explains:

Just as in Luke 3:3, so Peter was encouraging his hearers to be baptized in view of the remission of sins they had received when they were cut to the heart by his message regarding the Christ. It is interesting to note that Peter made no reference to baptism in his next recorded sermon (see Acts3:19).

Hickenbotham reminds us that following Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:41, three thousand people were baptized. He continues: “Why would so many be baptized if this was only an optional ordinance?” This response is built on several faulty foundations.  First, Mormonism 101 does not suggest that baptism is optional. While it is a commandment from God, it is not a means for salvation. Secondly, a large number of people getting baptized does not indicate what they believe. Finally, Hickenbotham’s response demonstrates a selfish motivation for obedience. He suggests that the only reason to be obedient is to gain salvation; if salvation is secured, then obedience is merely optional.  Instead, Christians should be obedient due to their love of God. Jesus said “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

  1. Summary

Mormonism 101:

It needs to be remembered that baptism, like partaking of the Lord’s Supper, is a work. It is something that an individual must personally perform. As such, it is not a requirement for receiving salvation under the guidelines of Ephesians 2:8-9.

Hickenbotham responds, “By this same logic, we must exclude ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ and repentance as requirements for salvation as well, since these are both ‘works’ that an individual must personally perform.” Hickenbotham and Mormonism 101 use the term worksimilarly.  A work is obedience to receive salvation. If baptism is a required ordinance for salvation, then a person can rely on his/her completed baptism as a step towards salvation. It is understandable that Hickenbotham would categorize repentance and baptism as work-oriented. LDS repentance would qualify as a work under this consideration. Spencer W. Kimball authoritatively defined LDS repentance in the tract “Repentance Brings Forgiveness.” One of the requirements of repentance is that “the repenting person must start on the never-ending task of keeping the commandments of the Lord.” By this definition, repentance would be considered a work.

In contrast, the common evangelical understanding of biblical repentance is not a work. Instead, it is a cessation of trusting works and the beginning of trusting Christ. In this sense, repentance and faith are seen as different aspects of one truth. Though the LDS will claim that they trust Christ and their works to get grace, the Bible teaches that this is not possible. Romans 11:6 says, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

  1. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox

The end of Mormonism 101’s chapter thirteen compares the Lord’s Supper and baptism as understood by LDS and Christians. Hickenbotham gives a strong rebuke to this section because Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would not agree with the summary. For instance,Mormonism 101 explains the Christian position of baptism as “water baptism is a vital part of the Christian practice, but a person receives salvation through faith alone.” Since the Catholic and Orthodox churches would disagree, Hickenbotham objects.

It is possible that Hickenbotham does not realize that Mormonism 101 is written to a specific audience. The intended reader of Mormonism 101 is an evangelical Christian, not Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

  1. Conclusion

The goal of Mormonism 101’s chapter 13 was to demonstrate the differences between Christian and LDS teaching on communion and baptism. It is this writer’s opinion that it was successful. McKeever and Johnson gave an honest explanation of LDS doctrine and compared it to the majority views of evangelical Christians.

Hickenbotham approached this chapter as if it was an attempt to prove the LDS wrong. Hence, his arguments only accentuated the purpose of the chapter. That is, there is a big difference between Christian beliefs and LDS doctrine. Hickenbotham derided McKeever and Johnson several times for a lack of scholarship and not addressing all the arguments set forth by him and other lay LDS authors. However, the purpose of Mormonism 101 was not to be a theological nor apologetic treatise on the subject.  The intended evangelical audience would not need Mormonism 101 to address all the arguments put forth by un-official LDS writers.

For other rejoinders to the rebuttals of Mormonism 201, click here.


Tim Martin, the Illinois director of Watchman Fellowship, has more than 13 years experience in the field of Christian counter-cult evangelism, apologetics, and discernment. He speaks in numerous churches, college campuses, and conference throughout the United States on the subject of Christian discernment and evangelism. Tim holds an MA in theology from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois and a BA in theology from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute, and he holds ministerial credentials through the Evangelical Free Church of America. He is married to Michele; they have one son, Jonathan.


 

Orson Pratt, The Seer, (SLC: Seagull Book and Tape, 1993) 255.

The Seer, 17.

A current LDS teaching on pre-existence can be found in the publication: “Doctrines of the Gospel, Student Manual, Religion 430 and 431,” (SLC: published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000) 13.

Joseph Fielding Smith, “Eternal Keys and the Right to Preside,” Ensign July 1972: 87.

John A. Widtsoe comp., Discourses of Brigham Young, (SLC: Deseret Book Co., 1954) 107.

Doctrines of the Gospel, Student Manual, Religion 430 and 431, (SLC: published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000) 62.

In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder.

Mormonism 101, 192.

Doctrines and Covenants 27:2.

Doctrines and Covenants 89:6.

Mormonism 101, 197.

Ibid.

Robertson, A. T., Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 2, CD-ROM. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2003).

Mormonism 101, 198.

John 3:1 says; “There was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”  The Sanhedrin were the rulers of the Jews in Jesus’ day.

Mormonism 101, 198.

Spencer W. Kimball, Repentance Brings Forgiveness, (SLC: published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1984).

Ibid., 10.

The subject of repentance is a much broader topic than can be discussed here. This definition of repentance is Pauline and widely used by evangelicals in the context of salvation. “Many conclude that for Paul the more comprehensive term ‘faith’ (pistis) and ‘to believe’ (pisteuo) include the idea of repentance.”  Baker Theological Dictinary of the Bible, Elwell, Walter A. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996) 672.

See also Romans 4:4-5, Galatians 2:21, 5:4, Ephesians 2:4-9, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 3:5.

Mormonism 101, 200.