Note: The following was originally printed in the January/February 2023 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
Over the years, well-meaning Christians have sincerely told me that studying the Bible alone is the best way to detect the false teachings of a false religion. They often have used the “counterfeit money analogy” (CMA) with me, which goes something like this:
The Secret Service trains its agents using authentic currency. Once the agents know the authentic, there is no need to study counterfeit bills. In the same way, study of the Bible alone makes it unnecessary to study a false religion like Mormonism.
The intended message is that it is a waste of time to study the history and doctrines of Mormonism. Is this true? Or could it be a false analogy?
The importance of knowing the authentic
When it comes to mimicking US currency, counterfeiters have used technology to their advantage. On the Secret Service page under “counterfeit investigations,” it reads,
The threat of counterfeit U.S. currency to the financial system of the United States continues to evolve. Advances in technology, the availability of scanning and printing devices and the adoption of the U.S. dollar by nations as their legal tender have exacerbated the global threat.
Over the past three decades, the government has added detection measures to validate authentic currency, including embedded red and blue threads, raised printing, and a watermark visible when the bill is held to the light. (Pull out a $20 bill from your wallet and check it out!)
There is a particular glow on a bill when ultraviolet light is utilized. For instance, $5 bills glow blue, $10 orange, $20 green, $50 yellow, and $100 red/pink. And there is a security thread with microprinting on the $5 bill reading “USA FIVE,” $10 reading “USA TEN, $20 reading “USA TWENTY,” $50 reading “USA 50,” and the $100 reading “USA 100.”
Studying the authentic is crucial in Christian apologetics. In her book Live Your Truth and Other Lies (Tyndale Elevate, 2022), Christian apologist Alisa Childers explains:
Studying church history, apologetics, theology, and the Bible is a powerful way to shield ourselves from the many false versions of Christianity that we will inevitably encounter. . .. Our culture often tries to pass off counterfeit messages of what it means to live the good life. I was reminded of this when a friend and I decided to read a book together about how to live with freedom by embracing our true inner selves. It as a bestseller written by a self-professed Christian, and the author had quite a bit to say about the person of Jesus. The book communicates that in Jesus, everyone belongs. It describes God as a ‘crazed, obsessed parent who will never shut up about us’ (Jen Hatmaker, Fierce, Free and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You, Nelson Books, 2020, 11). While my friend and I were walking in a park one day, she commented, ‘You know, I’m reading through this book and the Gospels simultaneously. It’s stunning how different the Gospels describe Jesus versus the way the book does. It’s like I’m reading about two entirely different people.’ The second she said that I had an epiphany. When we soak ourselves in the real thing, we won’t be fooled by a rip-off. We will spot the phony version in an instant” (193-194)..
The Bible can be compared to that ultraviolet machine used by bank tellers. Indeed, Christians are commanded to “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21) as well as “test the Spirits to see if they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus even explained how false prophets can be likened to ferocious wolves dressed up in innocent sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15).
Does this mean that someone who reads and understands the Bible alone ought to have the ability to “spot the phony version in an instant”? Based on real-life experience, I contend the answer is no. It is impossible to show Mormonism to be a counterfeit unless the accurate teachings of the religion are considered while contrasting those with the Bible.
Determining spiritual counterfeits
My disagreement with CMA begins with the fact that it is naïve to think that government officials spend no time studying counterfeit currency. This is not true. Under the section “Global Reach” on the US Secret Service page, it reads,
To counter threats, we focus on strategic international investigations targeting counterfeiters and their distribution networks. We have also initiated a comprehensive international forensic counterfeit detection training program for banks and law enforcement agencies overseas.
Notice how the agents are required to go through a “comprehensive” “detection training program.” If all they do is study authentic bills, why is there a need for such a program?
Of course, it makes perfect sense to understand how fake bills are produced. Finding ways to detect even the slightest problem while staying one step ahead of the counterfeiters are obvious priorities for those who are entrusted with the security of currency.
This reminds me of a professor of my first-ever class in seminary in 1985. Dr. Ronald Youngblood, an esteemed Hebrew and Old Testament scholar who helped translate the New International Version, stood in front of my prolegomena (Bible interpretation) class of about 50 students one afternoon having returned from a conference on the other side of the country. When he said he wanted to make a confession, the students edged up onto their chairs in the completely silent hall. While I don’t remember his exact words, he said something like this:
Gentlemen, I sat next to a Mormon on my flight. We spoke about our faith the entire time. Everything I said, he agreed with, and everything he said sounded orthodox, even though I knew there were differences between our faiths. But I couldn’t put my finger on how to explain our differences. Today, I stand before you humbled as I give you a promise, that I will be doing my due diligence in researching this topic and this situation will never happen again.
This confession made a tremendous impact on me. After all, here was a top-notch scholar who could have run circles around the Mormon if the topic had been textual criticism, Hebrew grammar, or, yes, prolegomena. Dr. Youngblood was certainly no slouch when it came to biblical studies. While he had helped translate a popular version of the Bible, my esteemed professor admittedly could not provide the man with a clear presentation of the Gospel because he did not have a good grasp on the nuances of Mormonism.
This should not be surprising since Mormons and Christians use the same terminology when describing very different concepts. Unless you know the right questions to ask, you too will be completely overwhelmed when Latter-day Saints espouse belief in Jesus as their Savior and claim that salvation comes by grace through faith, among other principles. Everything sounds the same!
In my book Introducing Christianity to Mormons (Harvest House, 2022), I made it a priority to include a glossary in the back that contains definitions to common theological terms. For instance, this is how I defined the Christian definition for grace:
Unmerited favor from God provided to those who place their trust in Jesus.” The LDS definition follows: “Enabling power provided by God to help a person keep the commandments.”
Did you notice the nuance? My understanding on this topic did not come from merely reading the Bible, although it certainly was my starting point. I was only able to detect the difference because of the many years I spent studying the teachings of Mormonism as found in the faith’s four main written scriptures (Standard Works) as well as numerous general conference talks, correlated curriculum, and articles on the church’s website, among many other resources.
Many of you reading this may want to learn more about the current teaching of this religion, which is probably why you subscribe. Although someone might claim that your time would be better spent just studying the Bible, I think you understand the importance of what I am talking about. It’s not an “either/or” situation but “both.”
At face value, the counterfeit money analogy seems adequate. While the best way to detect the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing is understanding what a sheep is, it is also vital to know as much as possible about the nature and methods of the wolf.
Second Timothy 2:15 says to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” First and foremost, this requires dedicated study of the Bible as well as quality Christian resources. But the effort must also include study of the false religion. The late Dr. Youngblood endorsed two of our previous books and completely agreed with this assessment.
Studying a counterfeit religion like Mormonism is important for us at Mormonism Research Ministry as we attempt to:
· Prevent people from converting to Mormonism
· Present biblical truth to Mormons
· Provide guidance to other believers who want to effectively share their faith
Christian, do not be ashamed of being the “workman” whom God intends you to be! Understanding both the authentic and the counterfeit gospels are crucial for having an “answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).