During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)
Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley
Testimony is the great strength of the Church and the wellspring of faith and activity.
We have become as a great family spread across this vast world. We speak different tongues. We live under a variety of circumstances. But in the heart of each of us beats a common testimony: You and I know that God lives and is at the helm of this His holy work. We know that Jesus is our Redeemer, who stands at the head of this Church which carries His name. We know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and is a prophet who stands at the head of this the dispensation of the fulness of times. We know that the priesthood was restored upon his head and that it has come down to us in this day in an unbroken line. We know that the Book of Mormon is a true testament of the reality and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The view of the LDS Godhead and Jesus are different from what is taught in biblical Christianity. The things that are unique to Mormonism, including:
- The LDS Church
- Joseph Smith
- Mormon priesthood
- Book of Mormon
are not accepted by biblical Christians. This review will provide a few more details about what I mean.
This thing which we call testimony is the great strength of the Church. It is the wellspring of faith and activity. … It is as real and powerful as any force on the earth. The Lord described it when He spoke to Nicodemus and said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). This thing which we call testimony is difficult to define, but its fruits are plainly evident. It is the Holy Spirit testifying through us.
If the Holy Spirit is testifying through the LDS Church, then we should expect that Mormonism would hold to the truths expressed in the Bible. Because this church does not hold to orthodox teaching, it is not accepted as authoritative by Christians.
Testimony is a quiet, encouraging voice that sustains us as we walk in faith and impels us to action.
Personal testimony is the factor which turns people around in their living as they come into this Church. This is the element which motivates the membership to forsake all in the service of the Lord. This is the quiet, encouraging voice which sustains without pause those who walk in faith down to the last days of their lives.
It is a mysterious and wonderful thing, a gift from God to man. It overrides wealth or poverty when one is called to serve. This testimony which is carried in the hearts of our people motivates to an impelling duty. It is found in young and old. It is found in the seminary student, in the missionary, in the bishop and the stake president, in the mission president, in the Relief Society sister, in every General Authority. It is heard from those who hold no office other than membership. It is of the very essence of this work. It is what is moving the work of the Lord forward across the world. It impels to action. It demands that we do what we are asked to do. It brings with it the assurance that life is purposeful, that some things are of far greater importance than others, that we are on an eternal journey, that we are answerable unto God. …
It is this element, weak and somewhat feeble at first, which moves every investigator in the direction of conversion. It pushes every convert toward security in the faith. …
Wherever the Church is organized its power is felt. We stand on our feet and say that we know. … The simple fact is that we do know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that this is their cause and their kingdom. The words are simple; the expression comes from the heart. It is at work wherever the Church is organized, wherever there are missionaries teaching the gospel, wherever there are members sharing their faith.
It is something that cannot be refuted. Opponents may quote scripture and argue doctrine endlessly. They can be clever and persuasive. But when one says, “I know,” there can be no further argument. There may not be acceptance, but who can refute or deny the quiet voice of the inner soul speaking with personal conviction?
How does the Mormon really “know” his testimony is valid? He is forced to rely on the “quiet voice of the inner soul” and be personally convicted. But what if this testimony is not based on the truth? After all, the evidence used to support Mormonism certainly seems to be contradictory. Instead of confirming the facts to support the church, the evidence seems to go against.
First John 4:1 tells believers to “try [test] the spirits.” Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were considered noble because they “searched the scriptures daily” and tested Paul’s words against what God had already revealed. In other words, Christians are to test all truth claims with the Bible, not with subjective experiences, even if that experience involves a supernatural “vision.”
The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. In the next chapter (3:16– 17), he added that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that the man or woman of God might be competent and equipped to do good works. Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While it is true that faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that has already been disproven.
At this point in the chapter, Hinckley provides several stories from people from around the world who became Mormons. It is highly doubtful any of them knew very much about the teachings of the church. They most likely accepted the missionaries into their home, were impressed that they spoke about Jesus (very similar to their Catholic teaching), and joined. The Mormons are good in taking care of their own, so certainly there may have been benefits in their membership. Whatever the reason, I’m sure those giving these testimonies had limited resources to be able to do a qualified search. In fact, the Internet is really a recent invention that hasn’t come into its own until the last two decades!
Can a person’s testimony negate the facts, no matter how sincere he or she is? For every testimony provided by a Mormon, a Christian could match it. Christians and Mormons can swap testimonies all day long and sincerely hold the line. This does not make the substance behind the testimony valid. Despite one’s sincerity, it is crucial for a testimony to be based on the truth.
… I’ve recently been in Palmyra, New York [near where Joseph Smith received the First Vision]. Of the events which occurred in that area, one is led to say: “They either happened or they did not. There can be no gray area, no middle ground.”
And then the voice of faith whispers: “It all happened. It happened just as he said it happened.”
Nearby is the Hill Cumorah. From there came the ancient record from which was translated the Book of Mormon. One must accept or reject its divine origin. Weighing of the evidence must lead every man and woman who has read with faith to say, “It is true.”
And so it is with other elements of this miraculous thing which we call the restoration of the ancient gospel, the ancient priesthood, and the ancient Church.
This testimony is now, as it has always been, a declaration, a straightforward assertion of truth as we know it.
That becomes the hinge pin on which this whole cause turns. If the First Vision was true, if it actually happened, then the Book of Mormon is true. Then we have the priesthood. Then we have the Church organization and all of the other keys and blessings of authority which we say we have. If the First Vision did not occur, then we are involved in a great sham. It is just that simple (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 227).
There are terrible problems with the First Vision account, including:
- 9 different accounts, all with differences
- No written account before Joseph Smith’s 1832 diary (12 years after the “fact”)
- The official account not resulting before, at the earliest, 1838 (18 years after the “fact”) and not written down until the 1840s.
Compare that with the resurrection of Jesus. Most scholars believe the first part of 1 Corinthians 15 came from a creed composed just a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, soon before Paul’s AD 35 conversion. Just as Paul said that Christians ought to be pitied by outsiders if the resurrection is not true, there is a major problem if the First Vision is not true.
I invite the reader to consider some other articles on this very important issue:
- Do the First Vision Accounts Coincide?
- The First Vision Account: Response to the LDS.org Essay
- First Vision: Fact or Fiction?
- Which First Vision Account Should we Believe?
- The First Vision’s Slow Entrance
- The Importance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision (Blog)
As far as the Book of Mormon is concerned, Apostle Orson Pratt was correct in saying:
This book must be either true or false. If true, it is one of the most important messages ever sent from God to man, affecting both the temporal and eternal interests of every people under heaven to the same extent and in the same degree that the message of Noah affected the inhabitants of the old world. If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions who will sincerely receive it as the word of God, and will suppose themselves securely built upon the rock of truth until they are plunged with their families into hopeless despair. The nature of the message in the Book of Mormon is such, that if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it; if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it (Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, 1:1, Liverpool, October 15, 1850. Italics in original).
There are major problems with the Book of Mormon, including:
- No archaeological evidence—Mormons cannot agree if the BOM events took place on North or Central America!
- Anachronistic problems throughout the book
- The weight of the gold plates
- No anthropological evidence as far as the Book of Mormon people are concerned—DNA evidence certainly doesn’t support that the Native Americans came from Palestine
- Differences in BOM theology versus doctrines taught today by the LDS Church
- Strange way of translation (with a seer stone in a hat)
There has been a lot of research done on this topic. I invite you to look further by checking out the articles listed here. The purpose of this review is not to get too deep with details–that’s why I am providing several links. The point is that Mormonism’s two vital events from the 1820s and 30s need to be historical if Mormonism is true. If they are not true, then nobody should want to join.
This is God’s holy work. This is His Church and kingdom. The vision that occurred in the Sacred Grove was just as Joseph said it was. There is in my heart a true understanding of the importance of what happened there. The Book of Mormon is true. It testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ. His priesthood has been restored and is among us. The keys of that priesthood, which have come from heavenly beings, are exercised for our eternal blessing. Such is our testimony—yours and mine—a testimony which we must live up to and which we must share with others. I leave this testimony, my blessing, and my love with each of you and my invitation to continue to be part of this great latter-day miracle that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Borrowing Pratt’s words, Mormonism is either true or false. If true, we should all want to join. If false, nobody will be saved who follows Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the LDS priesthood, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is just that simple.