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Why not just promote what you believe and not judge our faith?

By Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

The following is from chapter 9 in Answering Mormons’ Questions (Kregel, 2013). To get additional help in answering LDS questions, we recommend purchasing the book. Click here to see more

Is making a judgment always wrong? If not, is it wrong to critique what Christians believe to be doctrinal error?

A common proof text cited by Mormons who insist that their church is above criticism is Matthew 7:1. This verse—Matthew 7:2 in the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) cited here— reads, “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.”[1]

“Why are you judging me?” is too often asked by those who believe that religious criticism is shameful and unchristian. But is that what this verse teaches? The context of any passage is the primary factor in determining its meaning. Matthew 7 is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In verses 1–6 Jesus spoke against hypocrites by using the analogy of the log and the speck. The JST says, “Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”[2]

Jesus’ point was that believers must guard their judgmental opinions of others, especially when they themselves are guilty of far greater offenses.  John 7:24 reads, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day stressed the outward appearance, judging on what they could see in regard to cleanliness and the outward observance of the letter of the law. Jesus turned the tables on them constantly, pointing out in Matthew 23:27 that they were like whitewashed tombs, which looked good on the outside but inside were “full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Indeed, they were the subjects of Jesus’ ire throughout the Gospels.[3]

The admonition against hypocrisy is found elsewhere in the Bible. Romans 2:1 says that those who judge unrighteously are without excuse and are self-condemning. The story of the adulterous woman (John 7:53–8:11) shows how Jesus condemned her hypocritical accusers, many of whom may have been guilty of their own sexual sins. Isn’t it amazing that they dropped their stones when He invited the one who was without sin among them to begin the woman’s punishment? In dealing with the adulterous woman and her accusers, did Jesus really mean sin and hard-heartedness should never be pointed out? If so, was He being hypocritical when He judged the religious leaders and other sinners?

Or was Paul guilty when he judged Peter in Galatians 2:11–21 or when he condemned the Judaizers throughout the book of Galatians? In fact, what right did Paul have to make it a habit to preach in places like the Jewish synagogues or on Mars Hill in Athens? The gospel is a truth claim. As the late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias correctly noted, “If truth does not exclude, then no assertion of a truth claim is being made; it’s just an opinion that is being stated. Any time you make a truth claim, you mean something contrary to it is false. Truth excludes its opposite.”[4]

It is important to understand that Mormon leaders have made some incredible religious truth claims. Should they really be shocked that Christians feel compelled to offer rebuttals to accusations that are purposely meant to undermine beliefs that have long been held by Christians who love and respect the Bible? Joseph Smith himself said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”[5]

President Brigham Young boldly proclaimed, “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.”[6] Young also said, “If I should hear a man advocate the erroneous principles he had imbibed through education, and oppose those principles, some might imagine that I was opposed to that man, when, in fact, I am only opposed to every evil and erroneous principle he advances.”[7]

President Joseph  F. Smith said, “The truth must be at the foundation of religion, or it is in vain and it will fail of its purpose.”[8] Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated, “If we believe the truth, we can be saved; if we believe a lie, we shall surely be damned.”[9] These are just a few quotes to demonstrate that even the Mormon leadership believes in an open invitation to discern between truth and error.

A religion certainly can hold to a belief in God and virtue, have nice programs, be financially prosperous, and grow in numbers, but if it is founded on error rather than truth, it is false—regardless of its perceived success. Truth, such as gravity or the necessity of water to sustain human life, is very narrow. The law of noncontradiction states that either gravity exists or it doesn’t exist; there is no middle ground. Humans either need water for survival or they do not; both cannot be true at the same time. In the same way, while there are many religions and philosophies in pluralistic societies, two competing worldviews cannot both be true at the same time. Thus, if atheism is true, then by definition no God exists, negating both Mormonism and Christianity. If Islam is true, then Judaism and Christianity are in error, and so on.

Christians must not share their faith with Mormons in order to show themselves superior in knowledge and rhetoric. Rather, Christians should want to share the truth because they care about those who have not embraced the truth that makes one free. If something is in error, then it must be shown. In the words of Princeton Seminary professor Charles Hodge, “But truth is at all times sacred, because it is one of the essential attributes of God, so that whatever militates against, or is hostile to truth is in opposition to the very nature of God.”[10]

George  A. Smith, a member of the First Presidency, ridiculed the notion held by some that personal faith should be excluded from scrutiny. He said in 1871, “If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.”[11] Apostle Orson Pratt challenged his listeners to “convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the word of God, and we will be ever grateful for the information, and you will ever have the pleasing reflection that you have been instruments in the hands of God of redeeming your fellow beings from the darkness which you may see enveloping their minds. Come, then, let us reason together, and try to discover the true light upon all subjects.”[12]

If Latter-day Saints believe theirs is a religion of truth, then we would expect Mormons everywhere to be doing everything in their power to proclaim its message. Indeed, if today’s LDS leaders didn’t believe that their religion was true—thus negating any opposing philosophy such as atheism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism—then why do they devote so much of their church’s resources to evangelism and encourage their people to serve missions?

Christians should not be defensive or have any ill thoughts when Mormon missionaries knock on their doors. They should take up the challenge invited by Mormon leaders themselves. For Christians, to not tell others the gospel would be akin to passing by a burning house and not even attempting to let the residents know about the disaster, because some might take the message of a burning house as overly negative. After all, what should be concluded about a doctor who doesn’t tell his patient that he or she has cancer because the information is so bleak? Or what would we think of a person who would not tell his friend that she had spinach between her teeth for fear it would ruin her self-esteem? All these scenarios demand the truth, no matter how difficult it might be to deliver the news.

Christians ought to be committed to declaring truth claims when it comes to issues of eternal consequence. This does come with risks, however, for the message could be met with enmity. Yet, as Paul stated in Galatians 4:16, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” While there will be disagreement with a Mormon’s doctrine, it is important to convey a spirit of kindness and mutual respect. The hope is that truth will prevail.

[1] The JST “translation” of this verse is actually a conflation of Matt. 7:1 and John 7:24 in other Bible versions.

[2] Matt. 7:8 in the JST; Matt. 7:5 in all other versions.

[3] For example, see Luke 18:10ff and John 8:44.

[4] Quoted in Strobel, The Case for Faith, 210.

[5] History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5:499.

[6] Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 126.

[7] Ibid., 251.

[8] Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 53.

[9] McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 295.

[10] Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:437.

[11] Journal of Discourses, 14:216.

[12] Pratt, The Seer, 15–16.

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