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An Alarming Misunderstanding of Joseph Smith’s Significance to Christianity

By Sharon Lindbloom
6 January 2017

An article appeared online this week with a title that grabbed my attention. In “The Alarming Truth Behind Anti-Mormonism,” LDS author Dustin Phelps tells his readers, “I intend to expose what anti-Mormonism is and what its objectives really are.” What follows is a lengthy argument against Atheism; it’s the way Mr. Phelps ties Atheism to Anti-Mormonism that I find most interesting.

Point #1 of the article is, “There’s Only One Credible Alternative to the Restored Gospel.” The “Restored Gospel” is Mormonism. The credible alternative, in Mr. Phelps’ opinion, is Atheism.

It’s sadly true that many people who leave Mormonism end as Atheists or Agnostics. Mormonism itself has set people up for such an outcome (see “How the Mormon Church Prepares Its Members for Atheism,” part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5), so it isn’t surprising that Mr. Phelps would himself follow that line of thinking.

To prove his point, Mr. Phelps begins,

“It is simply impossible to leave the Restored Gospel for another version of Christianity without realizing that you have lost so many of its essential elements. What happened to prophets, revelation, temples, priesthood authority, the plan of salvation, the doctrine of Eternal Man, etc.?”

Basically, what Mr. Phelps is saying was previously stated by LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie:

“Mormonism is Christianity; Christianity is Mormonism; they are one and the same, and they are not to be distinguished from each other in the minutest detail.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 513)

Mr. Phelps believes Mormonism so completely that he fully dismisses any faith that is not Mormonism. His thinking allows for no examination of Mormonism’s doctrines that could reveal them to be theologically unsound and therefore unneeded. He asks, “What happened to…the plan of salvation?” Surely he doesn’t think Christianity includes no doctrines regarding a plan of salvation; Mr. Phelps is merely arguing from the point of view that any non-Mormon gospel renders “another version of Christianity” incredible and impossible.

Mr. Phelps’ next argument for proving his point #1 is, “every reason to doubt Mormonism is a good reason to doubt Christianity.” He asserts that lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, archaeological evidence that contradicts the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s marriage to multiple and very young wives, and Joseph Smith’s clashes with people within his community are all mirrored in regards to the Bible. On these points he is either wrong or using very flimsy comparisons.

Despite Mr. Phelps’ claim that Joseph Smith’s behavioral record is “relatively immaculate” in comparison to “the prophets who came before him,” historical facts paint a much darker picture.

Nevertheless, building from his previous arguments, Mr. Phelps determines,

“And so we find that arguments against Joseph Smith are really arguments against all the prophets—the messengers from whom we learn of Christ and of whom Christ testified.”

Mr. Phelps presents a very narrow field of “arguments against Joseph Smith.” Among many other things, he skips right over the biblical red-flags God provided for us to assess any man who claims to speak for Him: the prophet’s prophetic record (Deuteronomy 18:20-22); and the nature of the God he proclaims (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). It is commanded that these biblical tests be applied to all prophets, but unlike the biblical prophets of God, Joseph Smith spectacularly fails them both.

As Mr. Phelps nears the end of his argument proving his point #1 (i.e., that the only credible alternative to Mormonism is Atheism), he makes a long leap and states that for Latter-day Saints,

Christianity itself hinges upon the question, ‘Was Joseph Smith really a prophet?’ When Joseph Smith’s role as prophet is called into question, so is Christ’s role as the Redeemer.”

Mormonism hinges upon the question of whether Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, but Christianity does not. Christianity has nothing whatsoever to do with Joseph Smith. After applying the biblical tests of a prophet to Joseph Smith and finding that he fails them, Christianity recognizes Smith as a false prophet – the kind of person of whom Jesus said we must beware (Matthew 7:15).

People “investigating” Mormonism in the superficial way that Mr. Phelps has encouraged in his article may indeed be tempted or persuaded to reject Christ, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Jesus warned many times of dangers associated with false prophets and false teachers, and this is one of them. False prophets poison the well; they lead people so far astray, they cause so much pain, they introduce so much cynicism, that people end up associating Jesus, the healer of their souls, with the one who crushed them. Yet it need not end there. Mr. Phelps’ unsound arguments need not govern the path taken by doubting Mormons. Consider the counsel provided by the apostle Paul in discussing the unbelief of the Jews:

“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.” (Romans 3:3-4)

The lack of faith, bad behavior, or unsound doctrine of individuals (or organizations) does not negate the faithfulness of God. “Let God be true though everyone were a liar.” Mormonism has set itself up as the only true Church and the only repository of God’s authority and truth. This is founded on the claim that Joseph Smith was/is a true prophet. When it is discovered that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, what he taught, and what Mormonism has become based on those teachings, can and should be abandoned. Yet God remains, and He remains faithful.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Mr. Phelps concludes his point #1 by delivering on his opening promise — exposing what he believes are the objectives of anti-Mormonism:

“Anti-Mormonism isn’t just about getting people to lose faith in our Church, it’s about getting people to lose faith in God, in Christ, in revelation, in religion.”

I cannot speak for all people who take a stand against Mormonism, but I can speak for Mormonism Research Ministry and other friends who are Christian missionaries to Mormons. Our “anti-Mormonism” is not about getting people to lose faith in God and Christ. It is about drawing people to faith in God, the only true God:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

It is about calling people to trust in Christ alone for their salvation, to understand, embrace, and rejoice in the fact that Jesus paid it all, that Jesus is enough, and that Jesus is our everlasting and priceless treasure.

Mr. Phelps has gotten it wrong. There is a wonderful, credible alternative to Mormonism. Resting on the solid foundation of the ever-faithful God, Christianity bids you come; come to Christ, and find eternal peace for your soul.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Read Rob Bowman’s response to the article by Dustin Phelps: “The Alarming Truths of So-Called Anti-Mormonism.”

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