Response to Michael W. Fordham
Rejoinder by Mike Thomas
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
cannot launch into a reply to Michael Fordham's revue of chapter 18 of Mormonism
101 without making an observation I have already made elsewhere, i.e. it
seems inevitable that the Mormon's first response to any criticism is disparaging
and dismissive. This is a great shame because it shuts down any opportunity for
genuine dialogue. (In this context I find that discussion is where two parties
say what they want to say, while dialogue is where they actually listen to each
other. Mormons, I find, can often have a discussion but struggle to pay
sufficient attention to dialogue).
seems to struggle even to have a discussion. Indeed, his revue seems to be less
like a discussion as I define it and more like the missionary discussions
presented by Mormon missionaries, i.e. he expects to make certain, in his eyes,
unassailable claims and assertions and we are meant to listen thankfully. Where
he departs from the practice of Mormon missionaries is when he seems incapable
of hiding his contempt for the authors. As Archbishop Paley observed, "Who can
refute a sneer?" Be that as it may, I will attempt to address some of the
issues he raises.
McKeever and Johnson – Anarchists
opening sentence Mr. Fordham writes, "The point trying to be made in
chapter eighteen of Mormonism 101 is that members of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints should not follow, obey, or accept the council (sic) from
the General Authorities."
insists that the authors' point "is that members of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints should not follow, obey, or accept the council
(sic) from the General Authorities." This is clearly not what they are
saying. Rather, it is their assertion that Mormons should not follow unquestioningly.
They go on to demonstrate, by means of compelling and disturbing evidence, why
caution is needed. Had Mr. Fordham approached the book with the same degree of
academic rigour that he later insists on ascribing to Mormon academics, he
might have seen this for himself.
McKeever and Johnson's questioning of Mormon authority, Mr. Fordham goes on to
make the wild and unsubstantiated claim that "Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson do not believe the
leaders should have any authority in the Christian world." The authors, in his view, are clearly
anarchists of the worst order. I smiled when, later in his essay, Fordham takes
the biblical example given by McKeever and Johnson of Paul questioning the
practice of Peter among the Gentiles to illustrate authority being questioned
as an occasion of hypocrisy on their part, writing "Oh! So now McKeever
and Johnson claim there is ultimate authority. Not only does this statement
show the hypocritical arguments of McKeever and Johnson, but they show again
their inability to use scripture within proper context."
Fordham been less inclined to look for fault at every turn, he might have
realised that this shows McKeever and Johnson do believe in authority but also
believe in intelligently questioning what is taught both by precept and example,
which, in Peter's case, was a bad example that needed challenging. This
consistency makes his reading of their motives and purposes mistaken and,
indeed, shows McKeever and Johnson practising what they preach, i.e. by all
means recognise authority but do not follow unquestioningly.
goes on to assert: "Throughout their book, McKeever and Johnson have
consistently demonstrated that they could care less about what Latter-day
Saints really believe, and insist that it is they who can define LDS doctrine
and history, instead of the Latter-day Saints themselves."
whether the authors "could care less about what Latter-day Saints really
believe," I would first ask why, if they are so indifferent to the
beliefs of Mormons, they have gone to the trouble to write and minister as they
have for so many years? This is an old argument but worth repeating. If those
who question the teachings of Mormonism are thoroughly indifferent to the
beliefs and fate of Mormons, then surely they would leave Mormons to their own
devices. Allow them to "go to hell in a handcart," as the saying goes. Why try
and engage with those whom they "could care less about"? Of
course, it would suit Fordham to insist that their motives are dishonourable,
but this simply brings me to my second question. If they are so wrong, why has
he not presented any compelling evidence to show this?
will insist that he has, of course, but the truth is that his essay is no more
than an assertion that Mormons are right after all, heavily supported by a
barrel load of cut and pasted material put out, to no one's surprise, by the
Mormon Church. It is a panegyric rather than an apologetic; a diatribe rather
than a dialogue; an invective and not an investigation. This is like shouting
louder to get your point across.
we hear you clearly, but we are simply not impressed or convinced. Your job is
to win us with compelling evidence and logic, not to frustrate us with loud
repetition of what we already know and find unconvincing. It really doesn't
help your cause that you, as do so many Mormons, mistake testimony and a
reassertion of Mormon beliefs for sound argument and logical reasoning. There
is nothing in what you write that I don't already know, but where is your
evidence that I should both know and subscribe to these things?
issue that often arises in these discussions is the Mormon assertion that, if
you want to know and understand what Mormons believe, the best people to ask are
Mormons. On the face of it, this seems fair and, indeed, anyone wishing to
study Mormonism would be wise to listen to what Mormons have to say about
themselves. What Mr. Fordham seems to be suggesting, and what many Mormons
insist upon, is that only Mormons can define Mormonism. Only they can be relied
upon to give a true picture of their faith. This, on reflection, must be wrong.
illustrate, if we wish to understand what Muslims believe, then a good place to
start might be the local mosque. Within Islam there are different sects, and if
we wished to know what each of those believed, we might begin with asking
people from each sect. We would, however, wish to understand how these sects
relate to each other, so it might be reasonable to ask the Sunni Muslims what
their take is on the Shiite Muslims, and vice versa. Then we would wish to see
how all this fits into the wider picture of world faiths, what different Muslim
groups make of other faiths and what other faiths make of them.
Mormon Church itself has plenty to say about other religions, and especially
about Christian churches. Their philosophy of "if you want to understand
Mormonism, try asking a Mormon" seems to disappear into the mist when they do.
A Christian attempting to understand Mormonism via the works of ministries like
MRM will read more LDS material and get a greater understanding of Mormonism
from the point of view of its leaders than ever a Mormon would read and hear of
Christian leaders in investigating the Evangelical Christian faith. I can
personally testify to this since I was a Mormon for many years and, looking
back, I am amazed at how narrow and restricted was my experience and that of my
fellow Mormons of Christian thinking. Indeed, I now read the same arguments in
modern Mormon thinking that I used many years ago and feel embarrassed for the
ignorance I displayed then.
consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Intelligent Mormon – Not an Oxymoron
then presents us with the impressive qualifications of Mormons who are, he is
sure, perfectly capable of making the judgments and demonstrating the
independent thinking he insists is typical of Mormonism.
They clinch their unfounded statements and arguments
in their final chapter by making the most ridiculous argument ever brought
against the Latter-day Saints. They seem to think that members of the church
blindly follow their leaders because Mormons can't, don't, or are afraid, to
think for themselves. This author can't help but ask, do McKeever and Johnson,
or anyone else, really believe that some of the most educated people among
mankind cannot think for themselves?
Gilbert Scharffs has presented some statistics on
education from 1984 that compares Latter-day Saints to the rest of the nation.
The results show that "Utah
is first in the nation in percent of adults who have attended college, and
eight in percent of college graduates." According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah is still high in its ranking of higher
education as compared to the rest of the nation.
Members of the church hold highly respectable and
visible positions in society. They are lawyers, doctors, politicians (some in
high positions), corporate leaders, professional athletes, professional
entertainers, etc., and this is another reason McKeever and Johnson's argument
fails. You cannot convince people to blindly follow any leader without
isolating them from the rest of society. Latter-day Saints are not isolated,
but are, in fact, a significant part of society. This is also another reason
why Mormons cannot correctly be called a cult. The argument of blindly
following the leaders of the church is an argument of pure desperation.
physical isolation and complete social disengagement are not prerequisites to
making someone a blind follower. If that were the case, then the only "cults"
in the world would be those in the remotest parts or in closed communities.
This is patently not the case. Nor is stupidity and ignorance a qualification
for following a false prophet. Often people ask how such intelligent and
otherwise intellectually gifted people can "fall for such things." But it
happens a lot, and the answer is that it is those very people who are won over
by the beguiling arguments and emotionally attractive ways of this or that group.
Intellect often fails at the most crucial point to inform their decisions. I
found the following, which I have quoted elsewhere, enlightening in this
Jason J. Barker, Director of the Southwest Institute
for Orthodox Studies, Arlington, TX, in a paper entitled Who is the
Representative Mormon Intellectual? Assessing Mormon Apologetics, examines the
LDS educational philosophy. Whilst recognising that "an increasing number of
Latter-day Saints are currently active in mainstream academics," he goes on to
quote Karl Sandberg, a Mormon and a French professor (emeritus) at Macalester College, who
"There are Mormons who do scholarship in all of the
various disciplines — they play by the same rules as everyone else, they
participate in the same dynamics, and they produce the same kind of knowledge.
This is not the case, however, when Mormons do scholarship about Mormonism or
directly related subjects."
Barker goes on to explain that "The primary reason for
this discrepancy…is that Mormon-specific scholarship in the LDS Church is
necessarily limited by the boundaries of Mormon orthodoxy and orthopraxy." He
quotes Sanburg further who elaborates:
"There are prominent examples of Mormon
scholarship whose purpose appears to be that of giving scholarly permission to
people to believe what they already believed on subjective grounds and of
answering and repulsing any perceived attacks on the Church."
other words, there are distinct boundaries to Mormon scholarship as the Mormon
Church insists on favouring faith over intellect. Thus, just as a car might be
fitted with a speed restrictor, a man may be fitted with a truth restrictor.
less an authority than LDS general authority Boyd K Packer had the following to
say in attacking even professionals as they attempt to achieve impartiality in
telling the truth about Mormonism: "There is a temptation for the writer or
the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy
or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful."
(Apostle Boyd K. Packer, "The
Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," BYU Studies, Summer 1981, pp.
that it is not lies about which Packer is concerned, but the truth. Given the
history of the Mormon Church, I can well see how "some things that are
true are not very useful." Clearly the message here is that there are
things about the church's history that cannot bear close scrutiny without
potentially damaging the faith of its members. I am grateful to Boyd Packer for
confirming my observations. The church's test, then, of whether to tell the
story of Mormonism is whether what you tell promotes the Mormon faith and
engenders faith amongst its members. If the truth does not promote faith, then
it is best to protect people from it.
is not a phenomenon peculiar to Mormonism, or indeed to the cults in general.
It can be found operating in the life and witness of every Christian who
refuses to reflect intelligently on their faith, recognising that, whilst
certain truths are indeed inviolable, it is often faith alone that makes them
"true" in this life and only eternity that will confirm their verity. By the
same token, much custom and practice, over time, proves provisional and only exists
at all by the grace of God as He patiently deals with our muddle-headed
humanity. We must learn to be faithful, then, to what we believe whilst holding
to a modesty that avoids dogmatism.
apply the Boyd Packer school of philosophy to a "not very useful" doctrinal
issue raised in chapter 18 of Mormonism 101, we might see how this works
in practice and why it is important to question what our leaders tell us, which
is what the authors are saying. At the risk of being accused myself of simply
repeating arguments, I wish to discuss this further.
page 270 of Mormonism 101, the authors discuss the Mormon doctrine of
eternal progression, pointing out that there is not agreement among Mormon
leaders on the issue. Leaders have, in fact, taken diametrically opposite views
on the progression of the god they worship. I take the liberty of quoting the
relevant passage here:
Wilford Woodruff and Brigham Young taught that God was progressing in
knowledge. In 1857 Woodruff stated, "God himself is increasing and progressing
in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so worlds without end. It is
just so with us." Orson Pratt was reluctant to believe such a notion. In a
sermon on 13 January 1867 Young rebuked Pratt:
Orson Pratt, has in theory, bounded the capacity of God. According to his
theory, God can progress no further in knowledge and power; but the God that I
serve is progressing eternally, and so are his children: they will increase to
all eternity, if they are faithful.'
Despite the fact that Young felt he was never wrong in
his counsel, modern LDS leaders have sided with Pratt. For instance, Joseph
Fielding Smith questioned Young's position:
'It seems very strange to me that members of the
Church will hold to the doctrine, "God increases in knowledge as time goes
on."…I think this kind of doctrine is very dangerous. I don't know where the
Lord has ever declared such a thing…I believe that God knows all things and
that his understanding is perfect, not 'relative.' I have never seen or heard
of any revealed fact to the contrary.'
In his "Seven Deadly Heresies" speech, Bruce McConkie declared:
are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is learning new
truth. This is false, utterly, totally and completely. There is not a sliver of
truth in it…I have been sorely tempted to say at this point that any who so
suppose have the intellect of an ant and the understanding of a clod of miry
clay in a primordial swamp. But of course I would never say a thing like that.'
While this late apostle's comments were met with
chuckles from the audience, it should make one wonder if his past leaders such
as Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff had the "intellect of an ant and the
understanding of a clod of miry clay," since what McConkie condemned as heresy
was taught by such leaders as divine truth. Such contradictions must surely
weigh heavy on Latter-day Saints who strive for some consistency in their
doctrinal life. To say LDS leaders are incapable of leading their followers
astray is certainly not supported by history.
first say that this cannot be dismissed as unimportant since it has application
in the lives of Mormons today. Woodruff said, "God himself is increasing and
progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so worlds without
end. It is just so with us." Brigham Young declared, "…but the
God that I serve is progressing eternally, and so are his children: they
will increase to all eternity, if they are faithful."
This is a fundamental cornerstone of the
Mormon faith, and any intelligent person would regard it essential that a
Latter-day Saint get this right. Do Mormons expect to progress, as described by
Young and Woodruff? Or do they expect knowledge and understanding to be so
complete that it cannot be added to or improved upon, as taught by McConkie and
is just the kind of question that the authors have in mind when they challenge
Mormons to think about what they are taught, yet it is the type of question
Packer – and it seems Mr. Fordham – would want Mormons to dismiss as
"unhelpful" or even mischievous. I find the authors' argument both sound and
safe while, frankly, I wouldn't follow Packer into a shoe shop let alone a
battle over essential issues of faith.
issue here is how Joseph Fielding Smith could possibly claim to carry the
mantle of prophet passed down through Wilford Woodruff and Brigham Young but
claim, "I don't know where the Lord has ever declared such a thing… I have
never seen or heard of any revealed fact to the contrary." Was he not aware
of the teachings of his predecessors? Shouldn't he have been "watching the
prophet" in his day as other Mormons are counselled to do?
seems reasonable that McKeever and Johnson should ask how such clear
contradictions could happen in a church led by men who claim to be prophets
whom the Lord will never allow to mislead his people. If we were discussing a
contradiction on such a fundamental level in another church, Mormons would want
to discuss it.
On page 2 of his essay, Fordham seeks to put a quote
from Gordon B Hinckley "in context." Unfortunately, the context doesn't help him.
McKeever and Johnson wrote, "While acknowledging that his listeners had been
'taught to think critically.' Hinckley made
it clear that this must be done without 'looking for flaws in the church or in
"Since McKeever and Johnson obviously have read this
speech, why don't they tell you the rest of what President Hinckley said so
that these words would be in their proper context? What did President Hinckley
mean by thinking critically without looking for flaws? McKeever and Johnson
purposely take the statement out of context. Look at what President Hinckley
actually said (with underlining being what McKeever and Johnson quoted).
while I am speaking of things that impede our progress as Latter-day Saints,
let me mention one other. It is an attitude of being critical about the Church.
You are bright, able, and educated young men and women. You have been taught
to think critically, to explore, to consider various sides of every
question. This is all good. But you can do so without looking for flaws in
the Church or its leaders. Keep balance in your studies. I do not say this
defensively. So very many people are so very gracious and generous and kind in
what they say and write to me. On the other hand there are a few who evidently
thoroughly dislike the Church and seem to thoroughly dislike me. That is their
prerogative. I feel no bitterness toward them. I feel only sorrow for them,
because I know what the eventual outcome will be'
Notice that McKeever and Johnson fail to tell their
readers that President Hinckley specifically said that being taught to think
critically means to "consider various sides of every question," and that
it was good to do so. How can that foster blind obedience?
can you "consider various sides of every question" if you do not look at what
critics of a particular idea are saying? Of course, it is assumed that those
who point out flaws are, by default, looking for flaws. Fordham writes, "The
prophet was not saying, 'do not look for flaws in your leaders, or the church.'
He was saying, 'examine the doctrines, teachings, writings, and statements of
church leaders for truthfulness.' If you have a predetermined belief that
something is wrong, then that is all you will be interested in looking for."
what if you find a flaw in the course of simply looking at all sides of an
argument, such as whether God increases in knowledge and understanding? Who is
at fault then? Should you be just because you dare to ask? Or is it your
leaders for contradicting each other and defying you to speak out about it? It
makes no sense to encourage people to "think critically, to explore, to
consider various sides of every question" and "keep balance in your
studies" without considering all alternative views. If your position
is, indeed, unassailable, such an honest appraisal can only serve to strengthen
faith. If, on the other hand, your position is questionable, then the sooner
you know it, the better.
writes, "McKeever and Johnson seem to be upset that Latter-day Saints
willingly obey the council (sic) of their ecclesiastical leaders." Is
this true? Or is it true that Mr. Fordham seems upset that McKeever and Johnson
have had the temerity to point out some unpleasant facts about Mormonism in
measured tones and on reasonable terms? Novelist George Orwell of 1984
fame wrote, "Liberty is the right to tell people what they
don't want to hear." I am
sorry, Mr. Fordham, if the authors' use of such liberty is inconvenient.
heard a comic say, "I began to feel that I was losing my mind, that my mind
was playing tricks on me. Then I thought to myself, 'No, that can't be true.
You're imagining it.' Then I realised that it was my mind that was telling me
this." (Knowing look to audience)
is what is happening here. At one point Fordham justifies his confidence in
"the Brethren" with a quote from Wilford Woodruff:
Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this
Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of
God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so
he will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the
oracles of God and from their duty."
is one of the Brethren telling you this! Think about it.
and Johnson then ask the reasonable question, "What if the Mormon prophets
are wrong?" to which Fordham responds, "The more important question
is, what if McKeever and Johnson are wrong?" This is not a "more
important" question, although I would concede it is an "equally important"
question. But surely this is the point of the discussion and Fordham is simply
begging the question. An equally important question might be "what if McKeever
and Johnson are right?" But, of course, he hasn't even considered asking it.
Instead of addressing the issues raised by the book, he seems determined to
defend his position regardless of the facts.
he insists that he does do his own thinking, his essay shows the opposite to be
the case. Many of his interpretations and understanding of biblical truth is
seriously flawed for the very reason that he has allowed others to dictate his
understanding of these things. To illustrate, Fordham lists doctrines that do
make Mormons different. If we take a couple of examples, it will illustrate my
Saints accept the fact that the Bible teaches the pre-existence of man, modern
Christians deny such doctrine."
support of this claim, he quotes, among other texts, Jeremiah 1:5, which says, "Before
I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the
womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."
the idea of a pre-mortal existence is attractive to some, it is not a biblical
teaching. It is completely missing from the teachings of Jesus and the
apostles in whom Mormons lay such great store. There is no hint in the Bible of
the great doctrinal structure built by Mormonism on such flawed reasoning. The
passage is also easily understood without resorting to such an abuse of
exegetical practice. In Isaiah 46:9-10, God says of himself, "I am God and
there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me (aspiring gods take note.)
I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to
a God with such incredible omniscience have trouble in knowing Jeremiah before
he was formed? Since God is able to know things before they happen, and with no
pre-mortal doctrine anywhere in the Bible, the Mormon "pre-existence" becomes
superfluous and even heretical.
Saints accept the fact that the Bible teaches the Godhead is comprised
of three distinct personages, modern Christians deny such doctrine."
In support of this claim, he quotes Luke
3:21-22, which says, "Now when all the people were baptized, it came to
pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And
the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice
came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well
is a red herring since he builds his argument on a false premise. First, he
distinguishes between "modern" Christians and Christians of an earlier age
which, in this respect, is a false dichotomy since the vast majority of
Christians of all ages have accepted the Trinitarian view. Modern Christians do
not deny that there are three persons in the godhead.
famous hymn speaks of "God in three persons, blessed Trinity." What Christians
reject as unbiblical is the idea that there are three separate gods. A Mormon
may reject the Trinitarian explanation of God and choose any one of a number of
different models, many of which have reckoned in Mormonism at one time or
another, but it is quite wrong to misrepresent what Christians do believe. Of
course these verses show the three persons of the Trinity and present the
Christian with no difficulty at all.
first example, we have not just an alternative explanation but a sound and
biblical explanation. Mormons will offer up their "proofs" as though they are
explaining something that has puzzled Christian scholars for centuries (since
the apostasy), but the Bible explains itself at so many points. Christian
scholars have always understood these things perfectly well.
second example, Mr. Fordham simply regurgitates an old Mormon argument (and one
that I, to my embarrassment, once used) that is totally bankrupt of any meaning
because it is based on a complete misrepresentation of what Christians believe
and a misunderstanding of the nature of God.
because he doesn't question his leaders, he will continue to use these flawed
arguments. My point is that this knowledge is out there and readily available
to anyone who cares to know it and is prepared to "think critically, to
explore, to consider various sides of every question." What is the point of
this authority that Mormon leaders are supposed to have if they are going to
give you such bad advice and teaching and then deny you the right to go and
find out for yourself in case you discover something that isn't 'helpful' and
think this is the crux of the chapter. There are different structures of church
government within different churches, denominations, and sects. There are those
even within the Christian Church who subscribe to the idea of modern prophets,
there are others who reject the idea of prophets per se but accept the
working of the prophetic in preaching, teaching and ministry, while still
others reject any such ministry. And we can discuss these things. The question
here is, should we place as much confidence in leaders as Mormons place in
those who lead them? I am put in mind of the words of Martin Luther in one of
his early interviews before a papal legate:
put the pope above Scripture and say that he cannot err. In that case Scripture
perishes, and nothing is left in the Church save the word of man. I resist
those who in the name of the Roman Church wish to institute Babylon."
there be any doubt that Mormons put their prophets above Scripture? What we
have left in that case is indeed nothing but the word of a man. When one man
claims such pre-eminence, what are other men to do? This is a huge question,
but it seems they have two courses open to them. They can submit and obey
because they unquestioningly believe this man leads them unerringly, or
they can see the faults before their very eyes and, with Luther, declare:
"Unless I am
convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority
of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my
conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant
anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.
they take the former course, they can find themselves in all sorts of trouble
as they attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable and keep faithful to the
prophet. If they take the latter course, the Mormon Church allows them no
latitude to do so honourably because to take such a course is to disobey God.
A Closer Look at the Prophetic
of Mormon buzz words pepper Mr. Fordham's text, including living prophets,
revelation, priesthood authority, and restoration. It
would be good to take a closer look at his understanding of these
things. I emphasise his understanding since it certainly cannot be the
Mormon Church's understanding; he is not permitted to represent himself as
speaking for Mormonism when he speaks about Mormonism. Now this
is problematic. If he would but realise that he is not in any position to
correct, criticise, or otherwise scrutinise the authors' or anyone else's
critique of Mormonism.
who have read Mormonism 101 will remember that on page 266 Seventy L.
Aldin Porter is reported as speaking in the October 1994 general conference
warning people who would consider trusting their own rationale rather than the
counsel of the Mormon general authorities:
One's intentions may be of the purest kind. The
sincerity may be total and complete. Nevertheless, pure intentions and
heartfelt sincerity do not give members of the Church authority to declare
doctrine which is not sustained by the living prophets. While we are members of
the Church, we are not authorized to publicly declare our speculations as doctrine nor
to extend doctrinal positions to other conclusions based upon the reasoning of
men and women, even by the brightest and most well-read among us. …When you see
any document, any address, any letter, any instruction that is issued by the
Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the twelve it should be
recognized for what it surely is – the mind and the will of the Lord to his
people in this day.
I know, even when Mr. Fordham puts before me official documents of the Mormon
Church, that his presentation of these "truths" are not his interpretation? Let
me put a problem to illustrate his dilemma:
to know the Mormon view on the nature of God. Now it seems to me a fundamental
question and a reasonable issue to raise. Jesus said, "And this is life
eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom
thou hast sent." (John 17:3) Let's assume I know something about Mormonism
and understand that the official position of the Mormon Church is that God is
an exalted man. I have read the King Follett Discourse where Joseph Smith
officially declared, "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted
man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens."
that Orson Pratt, likewise, said, "The Gods that dwell in the Heaven have
been redeemed from the grave in a world which existed before the foundations of
this earth were laid. They and the Heavenly body which they now inhabit were
once in a fallen state…they were exalted also, from fallen men to Celestial
Gods to inhabit their Heaven forever and ever." (The Seer, January
understand, in other words, the law of eternal progression. However, I read in
the 2 Nephi 2:24 of the Book of Mormon: "But behold, all things have
been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things." My question is,
Does God progress and increase in knowledge, power, and wisdom forever? Or does
there come a time, as 2 Nephi 2:24 seems to say, when God knows all things
and his understanding is perfect, not 'relative'?
realise, of course, that I need an official answer and not the opinion of my
Mormon friend. I realise that doctrine is declared by living prophets and not
"of private interpretation." My Mormon friend promises to come back to me with
an official answer, and I assure him nothing less will do. And this is what we
Joseph Smith did,
indeed, declare God to be an exalted man and that my understanding of eternal
progression is correct.
He could find nothing
in the Standard Works that explained eternal progression, which I found
disquieting because I had read somewhere that the Book of Mormon
contained the "fullness of the everlasting gospel." I think it was in
the introduction. But I didn't worry too much because he assured me that this
highlighted the benefit of having living prophets. They spoke God's word for
today and were bound to have plenty to say on the subject.
I then found the
following for myself: Both Wilford Woodruff and Brigham Young taught that God
was progressing in knowledge. In 1857 Woodruff stated, 'God himself is
increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so worlds
without end. It is just so with us."
Orson Pratt was reluctant to believe such a notion. In
a sermon on 13 January 1867, Young rebuked Pratt: 'Brother Orson
Pratt, has in theory, bounded the capacity of God. According to his theory, God
can progress no further in knowledge and power; but the God that I serve is
progressing eternally, and so are his children: they will increase to all
eternity, if they are faithful.'"
the fact that Young felt he was never wrong in his counsel, modern LDS leaders
have sided with Pratt. For instance, Joseph Fielding Smith questioned Young's
It seems very strange to me that members of the Church
will hold to the doctrine, "God increases in knowledge as time goes on."…I
think this kind of doctrine is very dangerous. I don't know where the Lord has
ever declared such a thing…I believe that God knows all things and that his
understanding is perfect, not 'relative.' I have never seen or heard of any
revealed fact to the contrary.
In his "Seven Deadly Heresies" speech, Bruce McConkie declared:
those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is learning new truth.
This is false, utterly, totally and completely. There is not a sliver of truth
in it…I have been sorely tempted to say at this point that any who so suppose
have the intellect of an ant and the understanding of a clod of miry clay in a
primordial swamp. But of course I would never say a thing like that.
is my problem. The Mormon Standard Works, which is made up of the Bible, Book
of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, have nothing to say about eternal progression.
Mormon prophets have plenty to say but cannot agree. Two of the biggest guns in
early Mormon leadership, Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff, say that God does
progress eternally in knowledge, power, and dominion. Joseph Smith is not clear
but seems to feel this way too. But another significant early leader, Orson
Pratt, takes the opposite view, only to be corrected by Young. On the other
hand, more recent leaders take Pratt's view, one characterising those who hold
the former view as having the intellect of an ant, another seeming to be at a
loss to know even where the idea came from.
Mormon friend immediately gets defensive and accuses me of reading anti-Mormon
literature and assures me that there is an answer somewhere but we haven't
found it yet. Whatever happens, he says, he knows he can trust the Brethren. "What
do you think about it?" I ask. He replies, "It isn't about what I think about
it. It's about what the Church says about it."
here is his problem. He trusts that his leaders are prophets, seers and revelators,
and he has promised to abide by the counsel and teaching that comes through
these men. He knows that God will never allow these men to lead him astray and
has complete confidence in them. He also understands that it is they who make
doctrine by the power and inspiration of God. Although the general authorities
disagree, he is not allowed to work it out for himself because it is a question
of doctrine. After all, it is written:
While we are members of the Church, we are not
authorized to publicly
declare our speculations as doctrine nor to extend doctrinal positions to
other conclusions based upon the reasoning of men and women, even by the
brightest and most well-read among us. When you see any document, any address,
any letter, any instruction that is issued by the Council of the First
Presidency and the Quorum of the twelve it should be recognized for what it
surely is – the mind and the will of the Lord to his people in this day.
if he tells me what he thinks, he is going against the counsel of the Brethren
in publicly declaring his speculations as doctrine and extending doctrinal
positions to other conclusions based upon his reasoning. The prophets cannot
with certainty tell him "the mind and the will of the Lord to his people this
day" on this fundamental issue, and thus there is no clear doctrinal position
him to choose one of the two "official" positions, but he cannot do that
because if he chooses to follow Brigham Young, he knows he will be accused of
favouring the authority of a dead prophet over that of a living prophet. Yet he
cannot come down on the side of Bruce R. McConkie because he feels
uncomfortable accusing Brigham Young of having the intellect of an ant.
Besides, both McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith are dead too. Finally, he can
find nothing from the living prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley.
Mormons will find it convenient to overlook these things and "trust" that God
has his answer. But even God cannot make yes mean no and no mean yes. Anyway,
you cannot treat truth like a convenience food, saying "I don't like that so I
won't have it on my plate." God's truth is not served up cafeteria fashion but
as a formal meal. It is placed before you and you must learn to be nourished by
it. Even James A. Faust, who is Second Counselor in the LDS First Presidency,
stated in the fall 2003 General Conference, "Revelations from the prophets
of God are not like offerings at the cafeteria, some to be selected and others
course, the question that springs to mind may well be, "Well, what have you got
as a "traditional Christian" (his phrase) that is so much better than Mormonism?
I have a good deal more to offer than Mr. Fordham inasmuch as I have the
freedom to find out for myself and the liberty to pass on to you what I have
found, regardless of whether my leaders can agree on an issue or not. He, on
the other hand, can neither tell me what he thinks or what his leaders have to
say on one of the most fundamental issues. I fail to see the advantage, then,
in his position. He is rather like Mulder in the X Files who has no explanation
but is sure the answer is "out there somewhere."
The Christian Church
first thing that might be said about church is that Christ did not die for a
building. We have so often heard it said that the church is the people and not
the building and we believe that. Yet we still refer to "the church on the
corner" and speak of "going to church." These conventions, not to mention
buildings, are useful as long as we don't allow them to mislead us and, more
importantly, mislead those to whom we have a responsibility to give a clear
picture of church.
second thing to be said is that Christ did not die for an institution.
Christians, of necessity, need to organise themselves, and so we have church
organisations. We need to have some form of government and order, so we choose
leaders, hopefully by inspiration of the Spirit, who will teach and counsel.
Inevitably, out of this organising activity, institutions grow, which is good
and helpful so long as the institution serves the church and not the church the
I know, after years of study with Jehovah's Witnesses, refused baptism because
he disputed the wording of the baptism formula – "in the name of the Father,
the Son, and God's Spirit-led organisation." He knew that Bible baptism is in
the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, or in the name of Christ, and
this tells us an important principle with regards to the Christian life, i.e.
it begins with a change in our relationship with the triune God, for we are
baptised into God and not into an organisation.
Pentecost, when the conscience-struck people cried, "Brothers, what shall we
do?" Peter's reply was, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in
the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive
the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38).
Repentance is a turning to God in genuine sorrow for sin, baptism is into, or
"in the name of" Christ, who is God.
listing all the marvellous spiritual blessings we enjoy in Christ in Ephesians
1, the apostle Paul wrote in verse 13, "And you also were included in Christ
when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having
believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." Those
sealed are added to the number of those who are being saved (Acts
2:47). This 'number of believers' is the church, which is made up of
"living stones." Consider:
Peter 2:4-5: "As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but
chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being
built into a spiritual house…"
3:9, 16: Paul also reminds us that we are "God's building"; that we are "God's
temple, and that God's Spirit lives in [us]."
identifies the church, not an organisation but an organism; not a structure but
a body; not marked by offices and hierarchies but by the life of the Spirit in
true believers. The church has the Spirit to lead us into all truth.
obvious question for a Mormon to ask is, "If that is true, why is there so much
division? Why don't we see in 'Christendom' the fruits of such an intimate
relationship?" Such questions could only come from someone who thinks in terms
of rigid structures and formalistic religion. In his book I Believe in the
Church, David Watson wrote, "Those who have recently declared that…the
church is redundant…must know little of the God of history, the God who raised
Jesus back to life, and the God who is able to work through human suffering and
sin to reveal his reality to the world."
Ephesians 4:11-14, we read, "And he gave some to be apostles, some to be
prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to
prepare God's people to works of service, so that the body of Christ may be
built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of
God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
what will the church look like "until we reach a unity of the faith?"
Unity is not something that falls out of heaven into our laps. It is not organisational
but developmental. It is something that develops as we give ourselves to "works
of service" and apply ourselves to the apostle's teaching (Acts 2:42) "so that the body of Christ (the church) may be built up until
we all reach a unity of the faith."
course there is no room for complacency, and every right-thinking Christian
seeks that maturity in the church. But since the church is living stones and
not Portland stone, and since we are "being built into a spiritual house,"
there is need for grace as we become what we are destined to be.
Chosen for God, Not For Good Looks
the biblical precedent for such a view of the church – Israel,
God's chosen people. When you read the account of God's dealings with them,
they often looked like anything but the elect of God. Consider the account at
the time of the judges when "everyone did as he saw fit." Or the time
when Eli's sons showed contempt for the Lord's offering, or the times when
Israel had to be punished for following other gods and worshipping in the high
of Samson who went straight from a brothel to do the work of a judge, or
leader, amongst God's people. Or Saul who, with bitterness in his heart and
evil intent, nevertheless could not help but prophesy along with the prophets
of Israel. Consider, further, the dividing of the
kingdom and the warring factions within Israel.
Good times, bad times, Israel never stopped being Israel – and the church never stops being the church.
16:18 says, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on
this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it."
Archbishop William Temple observed in 1948,
"What we must completely get away from is the notion
that the world as it now exists is a rational whole; we must think of its unity
not by the analogy of a picture, of which all parts exist at once, but by the
analogy of a drama, where, if it is good enough, the full meaning of the first
scene only becomes apparent with the final curtain; and we are in the middle of
this. Consequently the world as we see it is strictly unintelligible. We can
only have faith that it will become intelligible when the divine purpose, which
is the explanation of it, is accomplished."
What Archbishop Temple said of the world might be said of the
church in the world. It is a drama in process, and the full meaning will indeed
become apparent with the final curtain. Meanwhile, we must recognise what we
are in the middle of and to what end it is taking us (1 John 3:2-3). Of course
we do live in times that test and prove us. Much is not right and we need to be
vigilant in declaring truth, correcting error, seeking to know more intimately
the mind and will of God while becoming what we ought. For this we have
scripture, and it is important to recognise that, as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all
scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and
training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work."
It concerns me enormously the low view of Scripture
you end up with if you allow a man to take precedence over Scripture. Compare
the unqualified endorsement of the Word of God above with these words in the
title page of the Book of Mormon: "And now if there are faults they are the
mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found
spotless at the judgement seat of Christ."
would be very concerned about approaching the judgment seat of Christ
if I took
such a low view of what is meant to be Scripture. Also, we have the
Spirit who gives life (2 Cor.3:6); helps us in our weakness (Rom.8:26);
us bear fruit (Gal.5:22); and will guide us into all truth (John
16:13). Now here is where it so important to understand the role of the
Spirit in the church. Hebrews 1 gives a clear view of God's revelation
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the
prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has
spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom
he made the universe.
Mormons make much of "missing Scripture," and Mr. Fordham
has made much of the idea that Jesus said and did much more than was recorded
in Scripture, as though to suggest prophets are essential to "restore" this
missing truth. A text sometimes used in support of this idea is John 20:30,
which says, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his
disciples, which are not recorded in this book…" They fail to see the significance
of the following verse, "But these things are written that you may believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have
life in his name."
the words of Paul in Ephesians when he said in 1:13, "And you also were included in Christ when you
heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you
were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."
It is not what was
not written that is important but what was written, which is clearly
regarded as sufficient to bring people to faith in Christ. And "when you
heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having believed you were
marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." In other words, having heard
the truth from what is written, and believed it, you were "included," numbered
with the saints of God, and sealed with the Spirit. This is the church.
himself declared, "I have much to say to you, more than you can now bear."
How is Jesus to convey the more he has to say? Not by prophets but by the
indwelling Spirit, Jesus said in John 16:12-14: "But when the Spirit of
truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he
will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He
will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."
Christians believe in revelation? Absolutely! And we trust that the building
work continues and that God's plan for his church, despite the dire
pronouncements of those who would write us off, continues. For it is His church
and His work and, as Philippians 1:6 states, "he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to
completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
This is rather an untidy picture for some, especially
if you take the Mormon view of church, in terms of organisation, marked by
hierarchy, and identified by formal structure. "How on earth does someone
identify God's people in this world if that's how you see it?" one might ask.
The best description of church that I ever heard is based on Acts 2:42-47: "The
people of God (Eph.1:13) gathered around the Word of God (2 Tim.3:16) ready to
do the will of God."
group has a founder, and these founders have to have a reason for people to
follow them. This is usually some form of vision or miracle, which gives them a
special calling to serve God and start something new. "Everyone has gone
astray," they say, "and I have been called to set it right."
The Mormon Church has a particularly formal and rigid structure
of priesthood authority, challenging evangelical Christians that they do not
have the authority to act in God's name. Many Christians have never thought
this through and are not sure where they get their authority. We will look at priesthood authority in
the Old and New Testaments and the church.
writer to the Hebrews tells us in 5:1-3 that, like Aaron, the Old Testament
priest was to be called of God and represent men in matters related to God in
order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He was to identify with the
weaknesses of the people so as to deal gently with those who are ignorant and
are going astray.
of the office of high priest, we read, "No-one takes this honour upon
himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was."(5:4). The next three
words give us the true intent of the writer: "So Christ also…" He is
comparing the callings of Jesus and Aaron. It is the high priesthood of Jesus
that is being compared with the high priesthood of the Old Testament. The
natural question is, how does Jesus' priesthood compare with the priesthood of
the Old Testament? In this answer, the true biblical priesthood is understood.
writer of Hebrews goes on to explain how Jesus' role
compares with the points listed above. We find all these fully in Christ:
Called of God just as
Aaron was ("God said to him, You are my Son; today I have become your
Father. And he says in another place, You are a priest forever, in the order of
He represented men in
matters related to God ("Therefore he is able to save completely those who
come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (7:25))
He offered gifts and
sacrifices for sins: ("…he offered up prayers and petitions with loud
cries and tears… and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Although he was a son he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made
perfect, he became the source of salvation for all who obey him…" (5:7-9))
He identified with the
people: "(…For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise
with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as
we are – yet was without sin." (4:15))
The Same But Different
writer goes on to tell us about significant differences. It is these
differences that explain the role of Jesus as our mediator with God. To miss
this is to miss the point of the Gospel story. Hebrews 10:1-3 tells of how
inadequate the law was to bring freedom from guilt and sin. Therefore, when
Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifice
and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt
offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. …Then he said, 'Here I am,
I have come to do your will.'" (10:5-7)
The sacrifices of the high priests were not pleasing to God
because they were temporal and temporary. They had to be repeated as a reminder
of sins but were unable to take away sins (10:1-3). So Jesus as a high priest
called by God offered a sacrifice that was sufficient. Having offered Himself, "He
sets aside the first to establish the second." (10:9)
is the first he sets aside? The priesthood of Aaron with its repeated
sacrifices; it is made redundant at the cross because you see "day after day every high 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…by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are
being made holy." (10:11-14)
did Jesus sit down? Because "it is finished" (John 19:30) What is the second for which the first is set aside? The priesthood
of Jesus who is "…a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek" (5:6).
word forever is very significant. The nature of the Aaronic priesthood
is temporal. While the whole tribe of Levites had responsibilities in the
tabernacle, one family was set apart for special service, the family of Aaron.
These were the priests. And, while a whole family were priests, only one man
served as high priest. There was only ever one high priest at a time. (Take
careful note, High Priest Quorums!). Sacrifices had to be offered "again and
again" by high priests who died and had to be replaced.
The nature of the Melchizedek priesthood is eternal. It is
named after Melchizedek for this reason. Unlike the priests of Israel, Melchizedek has no
recorded genealogy, making him "timeless" and a "type" of Jesus. Like
Melchizedek, Jesus remains a priest forever (7:3); His priesthood was not
passed on. (See 7:23-25.) The function of priesthood was to intercede for
men before God. Jesus' sacrifice was once for all time; His priesthood is
eternal and His intercession continuous.
In Exodus 19:6 Israel is called "a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation." This idea is developed in the New Testament in relation to the
church. First Peter 2:4-5 speaks of believers as being "… a royal
priesthood offering a spiritual sacrifice…" Peter goes on to say in verse
9, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people
belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of
darkness into his wonderful light."
Dictionary of Christian Tradition points out that the New Testament uses
"priest" only in the plural to describe Christians, further pointing out that a
Christian is not a priest individually but only in so far as he is a member of
the people of God. It says on page 305, "The
whole church is a priesthood… Believers offer sacrifices of praise to God and
also intercede for human needs. The church in service of God in the world
offers further spiritual sacrifice of obedience to God's will in the love of
church is the body of Christ, and so it is only as a body that we are priests.
As a kingdom of priests, we are called of God as was Aaron "…that you may
declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light"
(1 Peter 2:9). We intercede for man before God, as it says in Ephesians 6:18,
that we ought to "…pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of
prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying
for all the saints."
addition, we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God because, as 1 Peter
2:5 says, "You…are…a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God." Finally, we represent God before man, as Jesus
commanded in Matthew 28:19-20 to "Therefore go and make disciples of all
nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
Built on a Foundation
cults teach that the true church is an "organisation." Mormons point to Paul's
letter to the Ephesians commends a church "built on the foundation of the
apostles and prophets" (2:20) and "having some to be apostles, some
to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers…"
as we have already seen, the church is not an institution but a "spiritual
house" built of "living stones." We are collectively "a royal priesthood." The
Ephesians 4 ministries are not offices but functions in which individual members
of this royal priesthood operate for the building of the church. We are told
that "it was he who gave some to be apostles…"(v.11)
then are gifts enabling us to speak prophetically, preach the gospel, shepherd,
and teach the saints. This, then, is the true priesthood of God, and it is
operational in the Christian church today in its varied, though imperfect,
before Pilate Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my
servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is
from another place" (John 18:36). I sometimes think that Pilate's response
to this has echoed down the ages in the voices of those who look at this
unlikely Saviour and his unlikely church: "You are a king, then!" said
Pilate. "You are the church!" the world exclaims.
see, the world judges by the outward appearance but the Lord judges by the