Saturday, September 27, 2008

Witnessing to Mormons

I came across an evangelical blog that had a list of suggestions up for witnessing to Mormons. I think it was a pretty good list, but I would like to add one more thing for Orthodox Christians who want to witness to Non-Traditional Christians such as the Mormons--make sure you understand Mormon doctrine as Mormons understand it.

Mormon doctrine holds that there is only one eternal God, or Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and that there are many gods, but they are gods by grace, made so by God himself. But we hold that there is only one source of worship and power and knowledge in the universe-–God (or the Godhead). No matter what exalted beings are called, we will always be subject to the one true God who made us what we are.

And that "shocking" quote about God once being a man isn’t such a stretch when you realize how we believe the scriptures which say that we are His offspring, created in His image, and that He is our Father. That means that we believe we are the same species or essence of God. So thinking of God as an exalted human being isn't such a stretch. Just as Jesus was once on the earth as a man, but was still fully divine and fully God and is now resurrected and glorified and exalted, we hold that God the Father also could have had a mortal experience, but there is no doubt that he is glorified and exalted. Remember also that Jesus was still fully God while he dwelt on earth as a man. We are "fallen" man, although we have hope of overcoming the effects of the Fall through the atonement of Christ, who intends to make us divine like He is. Now, if you've only asked the LDS missionaries about this and you felt like you didn't get a sufficient answer, just know that 19 year old missionaries aren’t the most informed in Mormon theology. They are sent to bear witness of the restoration, but they're not necessarily trained in theology. Actually none of us are, but some are more informed than others.

Last thing--about becoming gods ourselves. We literally believe the Bible when it says that by God’s grace we receive His glory (John 17:22-23), or as Peter said, we become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We do not believe that it is only figurative. We believe the Bible is literal when Paul says that we are made joint-heirs with Christ to all that the Father has (Romans 8:15-17; Revelation 21:7; 1 Corinthians 3:22). God, by His grace, makes us divine through the atonement of Christ, which breaks down all barriers between the Creator and the created--making us “at one” with God through the at-one-ment. We believe, as Christ prayed in His intercessory prayer in John 17, that through his grace we can become “one” with God, as Christ and the Father are one. We will share in their relationship and, again, to quote Peter, fully partake of their "divine nature"-–thus becoming divine ourselves.

The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology (not a Mormon publication) says: "Deification is for Orthodoxy the goal for every Christian". Almost stating LDS belief exactly on the doctrine of deification is the great Christian defender C.S. Lewis, who wrote: "The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him–for we can prevent Him, if we choose–He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said” (Mere Christianity.)

Thus, we believe we can be made into much more than we currently are through the atonement of Jesus Christ. He changes our nature. Nevertheless, we will still always be subject to, and worship only the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost through all eternity. Plain and simple.


Jared said...

A couple of scripture from the Bible:

I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. Psalms 82:6

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? John 10:34

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God... Acts 17:29

There are other scriptures from the Bible that touch on the fact that mankind are the off spring of God and therefore have the potential to become like their Heavenly Father.

Tim Malone said...

Several Christian visitors to my blog have focused on the idea of the importance of coming unto Christ and being born again. Others have tried to get engage me dialog about our understanding of the fall of Adam - in particular, our assertion that it was a good thing. For the most part, my dialogs with evangelical Christians revolves around Christ and salvation, for which I am very grateful and enjoy very much.

Those who are not sincere just seem to want to tell me what I believe about Adam-God, plural marriage, Jesus and Satan being brothers. Those that are sincere try to point out where we are wrong in our understanding of the nature of God and the way to salvation and, as you have pointed out, our understanding and teachings on the potential of man to become like God. Good stuff!

Floyd the Wonderdog said...

I've had several Christians witness to me. It surprizes them when I tell them that I am born again. I consider myself a Born-Again Mormon.

Eric Nielson said...

Well done, my friend.

Todd Wood said...

Clean Cut, Blake Ostler seeks to disintegrate the orthodox concept of Jesus being both "fully God and fully man".

Your post needs to go a little deeper and secondly bring together multiple authoritative LDS threads before I have any assurance in a codified sense of what LDS believe.

From a practical standpoint, I don't think any Latter-day Saint can speak for any other LDS in what they believe. The personal beliefs are all over the map.

Clean Cut said...

Thanks for the comments to all. Todd, you’re absolutely right that I can’t speak for what other Mormons believe. I’m only an authority on what I personally believe. However, I do happen to be informed on what is “official” or “scriptural”, and what is stereotypical and what is speculation. And I also understand where there can be more than one interpretation for something that is correct or true. You can be pretty dang sure that what I’ve said speaks for the vast majority of informed Mormons who don’t take “popular Mormonism” or speculation as doctrine. The one point where I cannot say for sure that I speak for a vast majority is the interpretation I espouse of God once being a man, which you happened to point out. To fill in anymore details on that would be to say more than we know. Pure speculation. People have various beliefs, for sure. I just know that mine doesn’t contradict scripture in any way.

There are other interpretations as well which can align with the scriptures. Blake Ostler seems to believe, as well as Stephen Robinson, that “The Father became the Father at some time before ‘the beginning,’ as humans know it, by experiencing a mortality similar to that experienced on earth.” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism). This is based on the understanding of the orgional words which were translated into our “eternal”. Robinson writes: “The biblical concept of “eternity” is problematic, and most constructions translated ‘forever’ or ‘eternal’ actually read ‘to the end of the age’ or just ‘to the age.’ Indeed, the words usually rendered ‘forever’ or ‘eternal’ are the Greek and Hebrew words for ‘age’ (aion and olam respectively). First-century Jews understood eternity to consist of successive ages or eons—all within the parameters of the beginning and the end.” ("How Wide The Divide?" p. 90)

The point is that there are various ways of interpreting some of these things (some that seem more correct than others) but there will probably never be an “official” statement on this because for Latter-day Saints it’s not really an essential element of the gospel to understand. As long as we’re all clear on what is actually in our scriptures, we’ll be fine. I’m sure one day we’ll find out what it really was like where the scriptures tend to be silent, but that day probably won’t come while we’re on this side of heaven. In the meantime, it would be helpful for evangelicals to understand that various interpretations exist on things (such as the King Follet discourse or the Lorenzo Snow couplet) without necessarily contradicting scripture, and that stereotypes (such as that God was once ‘merely’ a man) do exist but they take awhile to die off.

Clean Cut said...

One more thing--even though, as you said, that any Latter-day Saint cannot speak for any other LDS in what they believe--it can still be helpful to share our opinions, as long as we don't pretend that we are teaching official doctrine or pretending that there is one official position on matters of speculation. I don't pretend to speak for the whole church when I share my opinions.

One such matter of speculation is what we will do, as saved beings, in the hereafter. Since we believe that we can become gods by grace, and share in that relationship with God, it would seem to follow that we'll participate in activities that God does. But no matter what those activities may be, (ie: creating worlds) it will all be, in my opinion, an extension of God's power. I think it's safe to say that Latter-day Saints do not (or at least should not) believe that we will ever be independent, or not subject unto God the Father. We will always worship Him, and glorifying Him by adding to his creations may be the truest form of worship--imitation. But make no mistake, Latter-day Saints do not believe that to become LIKE God means to become God or replace God. To share in his glory or attributes or power is not the same things as becoming objects of worship ourselves. I feel that no matter what we do in eternity, it will only add to God's glory.

I like the quote from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (again, not an official Mormon publication, but helpful in understanding Mormon beliefs) which says that LDS doctrine "does not mean that any person would or could supplant God as the Supreme being in the universe; but it does mean that through God's plan and with his help, all men and women have the capacity to participate in God's eternal work", particularly by righteous living, begetting children, and leading them and others to Christ.

aquinas said...

Todd, you write that “The personal beliefs [of LDS] are all over the map.” I think it is important to acknowledge that Latter-day Saints do have the freedom to hold a range of personal beliefs. In some areas you might think the range is quite wide, but in other areas I am sure the range is quite narrow, if there is a range at all. While you see the personal beliefs of LDS "all over the map" do you mean to suggest that the personal beliefs of Latter-day Saints are so wide ranging, so divergent and unrelated, that there really are no beliefs at all which define Latter-day Saints?

matt w. said...

There generally are some lose definitions around the big three questions of mormonism, ie where are we going? Why are qe here? And where did we come from? But Todd, my evangelical friend, does make a good point in that when we drill down things tend to get a bit more ambiguous. I think we have enough to work with, but I am willing to acknowledge that one can interpret things in a myriad of ways. Some easy examples include spirit birth, evolution, progression between kingdoms, and whether god progresses or not. (I picked these topics because it is easy to find GA quotes on both sides of each) I think the best we can do is manage that ambiguity with faith and personal revelation, being open and humble enough to accept the experiences of others and to give our beliefs the benefit of the doubt when things are unclear.

Todd Wood said...

thanks for the thoughts