Monday, December 8, 2008

Misunderstanding the Mormons

It's always been fascinating to see how others perceive me as a Mormon. Needless to say, it has provided me quite an education. It's gratifying when there is mutual respect and understanding. But far too often I encounter perceptions about my faith based on deeply ingrained misunderstandings. Misunderstanding often leads to bewilderment, ignorance, and sometimes enmity. Unfortunately, perceptions are more often than not perceived as reality.

We face an uphill battle to be understood as we really/truly are, and not as others have perceived us in the past. Frankly, sometimes it's an uphill battle even to understand ourselves. For example, how do you suppose the Proclamation on the Family would read had it been written in the 1870's? All in all, the fact that the Church is being much more open, such as with publishing the Joseph Smith Papers, is the kind of thing that will lead to mutual understanding. A win-win situation for everyone.

38 comments:

Papa D said...

There's ignorant misunderstanding, and then there's informed misunderstanding. The former is caused by simple lack of information and acceptance of misinformation, and I have no problem with that - since education can fix those.

The latter is cultivated by those who don't really care one bit about understanding - they just want a reason to reject us and, sometimes, will ignore what they really understand and cater to the ignorance of the other group. I have a huge problem with that.

Tim Malone said...

We have all kinds that read and comment on our essays - other LDS bloggers of good faith and intent, regular members of the church looking for information online, lapsed Mormons, former Mormons, anti-Mormons and apostates, and my favorite - Christians with a ministry to convert the Mormons.

These kind are out to prove us wrong and simply do not read what we write or care to understand it. Gratefully, these kind are few in number. Like Papa D mentioned, they have studied our doctrine, they know our scriptures, sometimes better than we do and some have actually attended seminars or taught classes themselves on how to witness to Mormons. They are the most fun.

Elder Ballard is emphatic that we be the ones to tell our story. We need more bloggers like you who are reaching out to the online community and trying to get our message across in a clear and reasonable manner. Making it a little fun and interesting as we go is part of the challenge.

Oh, I almost forgot the most important category of all - the honest seekers of truth. They are out there and usually lurk for months or years before making a comment. When they do, it makes it all worthwhile - someone has come to a better understanding of the LDS Church and the restored gospel because of something that we felt inspired to write.

Thanks for the great essays you share. I read and enjoy them.

illogically logical said...

You have an amazing blog!!! I'm new to the blogosphere and am on the hunt to find good, uplifting mormon blogs. If it's okay I'm going to put a link for your blog on mine.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself how a church that is so publicity conscious, spends countless millions telling people what they "believe" and does its utmost to maintain a high profile in American life can be so continuously "misunderstood"? You are not misunderstood. You are understood all too well. You are just not represented in the pleasing way you would prefer.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why you so routinely and unthinkingly characterise critics of Mormonism as mean-spirited, truth-hating "anti's" instead of thoughtful and informed people who hold a different understanding of Mormon and Christian history? You just don't recognise intelligent criticism when you see it. Either don't or won't.

Has it ever occurred to you that Mormons seem to spend more time complaining about the way they are treated, represented and perceived than actually sharing their faith? I don't know of any "Christian" church that spends so disproportionate a time in refutation compared with exposition. If the message was so straight-forward, consistent with biblical Christianity and consistent with itself then you would spend most of your time in exposition. Why do Mormons always appear to be fighting a rearguard action?

Everyone else takes criticism for what it is - a challenge to sharpen their faith and understanding, maybe learn a thing or two. Mormons bleat. No disrespect my friend but, you may be tired of the criticism, but my patience is wearing thin with the bleating.

Clean Cut said...

Mike, I'd like to better understand where you're coming from, as well as respond to some of your assertions. First off, I've thoroughly enjoyed my blogging interactions with critics of my faith precisely because it does sharpen my own faith and understanding; because it has opened my eyes and provided me an education.

I actually have learned a thing or two about having an open and meaningful dialogue about things I care deeply about. Papa D and Tim very nicely summed up why we blog, as well as the wide variety of people who we come in contact with.

I dare say you make some unwise assertions. Nevertheless, as is customary on my blog, I'd like to seek for understanding. What do you mean when you say the Church spends countless millions telling people what they believe? That's going to be a hard sell.

Also, what gives you the impression that Mormons are constantly complaining, bleating, or fighting in a "rearguard action"? Is there anything on my blog or something I personally have said that gives you that impression, or is this based on an accumulation of interactions you've had with other Mormons?

Are you, by chance, interpreting this post about "Misunderstanding the Mormons" as complaining or bleating? I thought I made it clear that it was about my fascination with others' perceptions that I know to be incorrect, as well as the paradoxes within Mormonism that aren't well understood.

I think it would be very ignorant to imply that you posses the "real" or "true" understanding of Mormons, and that we're somehow on the defensive--as if we're trying to win some popularity contest. This isn't about popularity, Mike. But I think it's fair to say we have the right to speak for ourselves and clarify where we think we're either being misunderstood mischaracterized.

I don't care one bit if we're unpopular, as long as peoples' perceptions are based on actual Mormon beliefs, as Mormons understand them, and not the misinformed perceptions of Mormon beliefs that I encounter with people all the time. This is not bleating. This is an observation based on experience.

Seeking understanding is a good thing, Mike. But it requires an open mind. I understand that open mindedness is a two-way street, and I don't tire of this. I enjoy it. I do not expect or ask you to give Mormons a "free pass"--only a fair hearing.

Even those not of our faith who have made a serious and charitable attempt to study Mormonism still have much to disagree with. That's completely fine, and you have that right as well. But you give off the impression that you've closed up shop--case closed--what more is there to understand? Would you prefer that we just shut and stop trying to share what we find so wonderful about our unique message without clarifying misperceptions?

Do you really feel that seeking for improved mutual understanding is taxing or tiresome? That's your prerogative. But please do not criticize those who recognize where understanding can improve and enjoy the dialogue process.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Hello Clean Cut

Thanks for responding so promptly and graciously. I am rather taken aback by the way you appear to have taken my contribution as a personal attack. As a blogger myself I know the personal nature of a blog but the subject of your post is “Misunderstanding the Mormons” and not “Misunderstanding Clean Cut” and so, while I appreciate that you are sharing your own thoughts yet the subject on which you comment is made is not personal and it is to this that I address my own remarks and if it has seemed otherwise then I am sorry for that.

I want to help you understand, as you clearly want to understand, why I have written as I have. In doing so I hope you will forgive me for creating a rather large post but I feel it would help if I reproduced your original post and other’s comments (sans my own of course) in order to highlight something rather important to your gaining that understanding.

You wrote:

“Mike, I'd like to better understand where you're coming from, as well as respond to some of your assertions. First off, I've thoroughly enjoyed my blogging interactions with critics of my faith precisely because it does sharpen my own faith and understanding; because it has opened my eyes and provided me an education.

I actually have learned a thing or two about having an open and meaningful dialogue about things I care deeply about. Papa D and Tim very nicely summed up why we blog, as well as the wide variety of people who we come in contact with.”

I appreciate your determination to understand, to be committed to open and meaningful dialogue. You write glowingly of having learned a thing or two but in reading your post and those of others it seems that the only thing you have learned is that critics of the Mormon Church are mistaken, victims of misinformation, have incorrect perceptions, don’t understand, mischaracterize Mormonism, are ignorant or don’t care, wilfully speaking to an agenda of misinformation, don’t care to read about or understand Mormonism.

I have reproduced the posts highlighting these things to show you what I see when I read them, i.e. Mormonism is always right, critics are always wrong and the cause is always misunderstanding and mischievous misinformation. Hence my assertion that Mormons appear to put more effort into refutation than exposition. I mean, if these few posts are anything to go by almost 180 years of Mormon activity has left the world outside none the wiser.

You wrote:

“I dare say you make some unwise assertions. Nevertheless, as is customary on my blog, I'd like to seek for understanding. What do you mean when you say the Church spends countless millions telling people what they believe? That's going to be a hard sell.

Also, what gives you the impression that Mormons are constantly complaining, bleating, or fighting in a "rearguard action"? Is there anything on my blog or something I personally have said that gives you that impression, or is this based on an accumulation of interactions you've had with other Mormons?”

Whether my remarks are wise or otherwise is for others to judge of course and I respect that. However, my remarks are informed by considerable experience, both as an active Mormon of many years and as an Evangelical of long-standing who observes and comments on Mormonism.

As to the investment of the church in publicity, I believe that is self-evident when you consider the resources poured into missionary activities: missionaries, materials, programmes etc., and the money spent on regular advertising in the media, on the Internet etc.

Now there is nothing wrong with this per se and this is not the subject of my observations; Churches advertise. What seems odd is that this incredible amount of effort, sustained over many years at considerable expense, seems not to count one jot when I observe Mormons spending an inordinate amount of time and effort correcting this sea of apparent misconceptions.

I am so used to my questions and observations being routinely characterised as misinformed and/or mischievous that I expect it at every turn and yet I have been a serious-minded Mormon, I have studied Mormonism carefully and compared it with what I now believe, read Mormon books and the only thing I have failed to do it seems is rollover and accept without question what Mormons insist must be the only version of the truth. This is not a personal attack but an observation that I hope to illustrate as we go along, and here comes the first illustration.

You wrote:

“Are you, by chance, interpreting this post about "Misunderstanding the Mormons" as complaining or bleating? I thought I made it clear that it was about my fascination with others' perceptions that I know to be incorrect, as well as the paradoxes within Mormonism that aren't well understood.”

There it is, right there, “Incorrect perceptions” and “misunderstood paradoxes”. These seemingly innocent and honest observations now characterise the rest of the posts without exception, as you will observe, and they are typical in my experience. And it is bleating because it strikes the same wavering cry of complaint every time, i.e. “we are so misunderstood but we will bear up and try, once again, to correct, correct and correct.”

You wrote:

“I think it would be very ignorant to imply that you posses the "real" or "true" understanding of Mormons, and that we're somehow on the defensive--as if we're trying to win some popularity contest. This isn't about popularity, Mike. But I think it's fair to say we have the right to speak for ourselves and clarify where we think we're either being misunderstood mischaracterized.

I don't care one bit if we're unpopular, as long as peoples' perceptions are based on actual Mormon beliefs, as Mormons understand them, and not the misinformed perceptions of Mormon beliefs that I encounter with people all the time. This is not bleating. This is an observation based on experience.”

There it is again, “misunderstood, mischaracterized and misinformed perceptions”. I have no difficulty believing that it is not intended by you but this is bleating, a wavering complaint repeated over and again. Of course, I might turn your remarks back on you and wonder if you think only Mormons have a true understanding of Mormonism and others can agree or be wrong. If you suspect hubris on my part how do you think that position makes Mormons look?

Of course you have a right to speak for yourselves but, as George Orwell observed, “Liberty is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear”, and I claim that right.

I am sure you are not involved in any popularity contest but I am firmly convinced that your church is and places a greater premium on being perceived acceptably than on being perceived correctly. This is not misconception but an observation based on my experience.

You wrote:

“Seeking understanding is a good thing, Mike. But it requires an open mind. I understand that open mindedness is a two-way street, and I don't tire of this. I enjoy it. I do not expect or ask you to give Mormons a "free pass"--only a fair hearing.

Even those not of our faith who have made a serious and charitable attempt to study Mormonism still have much to disagree with. That's completely fine, and you have that right as well. But you give off the impression that you've closed up shop--case closed--what more is there to understand? Would you prefer that we just shut and stop trying to share what we find so wonderful about our unique message without clarifying misperceptions? Do you really feel that seeking for improved mutual understanding is taxing or tiresome? That's your prerogative. But please do not criticize those who recognize where understanding can improve and enjoy the dialogue process.”

There it is again, “clarifying misconceptions”. Do you see how it continues like little Johnny one note? But understanding is found when we step outside our comfort zone, test our ideas against the ideas of others and open ourselves to the possibility that there might be something to learn from them, to correct in our own thinking. This is impossible when your starting point is the conviction that those who disagree are de facto in need of correction. I haven’t closed shop, Mormons have and that is what I meant when I wrote as I did. The dialogue process is worthless if you approach it with an attitude of, “come here so that we may correct you”. That is not dialogue, it is lecture. And the telling thing is that the theme carries through every other Mormon poster on your blog, on other Mormon blogs and with every Mormon I speak to. Witness for youself:

“Papa D said...
There's ignorant misunderstanding, and then there's informed misunderstanding. The former is caused by simple lack of information and acceptance of misinformation, and I have no problem with that - since education can fix those.

The latter is cultivated by those who don't really care one bit about understanding - they just want a reason to reject us and, sometimes, will ignore what they really understand and cater to the ignorance of the other group. I have a huge problem with that.”

So you see there is only “misunderstanding”, caused by a “lack of information or misinformation” and the answer is “education”. In other words, critics alone need education and Mormons have nothing to learn. I have a huge problem with that because, for all your fine words about learning and growing, your words indicate you think there is nothing you have to learn and others have it all to learn.

“Tim Malone said...
We have all kinds that read and comment on our essays - other LDS bloggers of good faith and intent, regular members of the church looking for information online, lapsed Mormons, former Mormons, anti-Mormons and apostates, and my favorite - Christians with a ministry to convert the Mormons.

These kind are out to prove us wrong and simply do not read what we write or care to understand it. Gratefully, these kind are few in number. Like Papa D mentioned, they have studied our doctrine, they know our scriptures, sometimes better than we do and some have actually attended seminars or taught classes themselves on how to witness to Mormons. They are the most fun.

Elder Ballard is emphatic that we be the ones to tell our story. We need more bloggers like you who are reaching out to the online community and trying to get our message across in a clear and reasonable manner. Making it a little fun and interesting as we go is part of the challenge.

Oh, I almost forgot the most important category of all - the honest seekers of truth. They are out there and usually lurk for months or years before making a comment. When they do, it makes it all worthwhile - someone has come to a better understanding of the LDS Church and the restored gospel because of something that we felt inspired to write.”

Note that there are “LDS bloggers of good faith and intent” and then the other lot who are painted in a wholly negative light, “lapsed Mormons, former Mormons, anti-Mormons and apostates.” It is plain as a pikestaff, even the title of your blog gives it away, but you are so accustomed to talking this way you are blind to it. Mormons who bring a “better understanding” in a “clear and reasonable manner” in the face of those dreadful anti-Mormons who “do not read what we write or care to understand it” even though “they have studied our doctrine, they know our scriptures, sometimes better than we do and some have actually attended seminars or taught classes themselves on how to witness to Mormons” (that is an oxymoron by the way. Either people are careful students or they don’t care to learn or understand)

Only Mormons, it seems, have anything to bring that is worth listening to and wouldn’t the world be so much better without those dreadful folk who don’t agree with us – bleat, bleat. I repeat my original points

Mormons are not misunderstood. You are understood all too well. You are just not represented in the pleasing way you would prefer.

You just don't recognise intelligent criticism when you see it. Either don't or won't.

If the message was so straight-forward, consistent with biblical Christianity and consistent with itself then you would spend most of your time in exposition instead of refutation.

Everyone else takes criticism for what it is - a challenge to sharpen their faith and understanding, maybe learn a thing or two. Mormons bleat.

Now that doesn't mean that there are never misconceptions to be corrected but Mormons have their own misconceptions and it is a shame that Mormons are not listening.

Clean Cut said...

Mike, I appreciate your response. I do, indeed, better understand you now. Although I’m not sure how you interpreted my statement that misunderstandings exist about the “Mormon” Church therefore means that people not of my faith are always wrong in their assessments and that Mormons are always right. Hardly. But misunderstandings do exist about Mormons just as I’m sure we carry plenty of misunderstandings about other churches and/or religions.

This post was sparked by a religion blog on an online Dallas Newspaper that made some comments about the Church not being a Christian church. I saw so many comments in that strand that were flat out wrong, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt and chalked it up to misunderstanding.

A post about “Misunderstanding the Mormons” is not an indication that “we’re always right and all others better get on board”. It was a post intended to promote more of, and not give up, seeking for understanding. And yes, Mormons can do better to spread our message at the same time as acknowledging that there are paradoxes within “Mormonism” that are hard for Mormons themselves to understand and . But those paradoxes are within Mormon culture and practices. There are no paradoxes in our message that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth

Nevertheless, if I’m trying to understand someone else’s faith, I’m going to defer to that person as the expert on what they believe before I make a judgment about what it is they believe.

Moving on. I thought it was interesting that you said you’re “firmly convinced that [my] church is and places a greater premium on being perceived acceptably than on being perceived correctly.” That’s interesting food for thought. I think it would be beneficial for Mormons to spend more time thinking about that. Maybe that’s worth exploring in another blog post.

You said: “Understanding is found when we step outside our comfort zone, test our ideas against the ideas of others and open ourselves to the possibility that there might be something to learn from them, to correct in our own thinking.”

I agree. That’s why I love blogging. This is what I’ve encountered as well. I haven’t always done this perfectly, but I sure try to. I did not mean to imply that those who disagree with Mormonism are “de facto in need of correction”. Throughout the dialogue process, however, there are certain points that stand in need of correction so that both sides can arrive at mutual understanding. Again, I do not think, nor did I intend to give off the impression that “if only there were no misunderstandings then everyone would see that we are right”. It is undisputable that even having 100% of a correct understanding about another’s faith doesn’t necessarily mean that we would therefore share in that faith—or even have faith.

I also agree with you on the point about dialogue versus lecture. I think we see eye to eye on that point. But we obviously have different lenses about perceiving examples of that. I seriously doubt that anyone commenting in this strand believes as you assert, that critics alone need education and Mormons have nothing to learn. I simply think you’re reading into something that is not there.

Moreover, it’s just downright silly to imply that all Mormons feel that they are the only ones who have “anything to bring that is worth listening to and wouldn’t the world be so much better without those dreadful folk who don’t agree with us”. It’s ridiculous to make such a blanket assertions: “Mormons aren’t listening”…”Mormons bleat”. Talk about stereotypes! Stereotypes don’t get us very far. They only put people on defense. And they certainly do not reflect well on the person making them.

Anonymous said...

On a positive note:
Our institute choir held a concert at the local Lutheran church. In the hallway, were two Greg Olsen paintings of Jesus. I thought it was progress.
-Andrew

Clean Cut said...

Thanks Andrew. That's nice to hear. I like positive... :)

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Hello CC

Thanks again for your grace and patience. I do appreciate your openness and honest remarks. Especially refreshing to read is your recognition that critics of your church are not always wrong or victims of misinformation and that Mormons are not always right. I wonder if you have anything specific in mind when you write this but I will not press you for examples of Mormons getting it wrong and critics getting it right.

Of course, I readily admit that there are misunderstandings on both sides and I suppose a great regret is a lack of effort on the part of many to understand.

The issue of whether Mormons are Christians, the original reason for the blog post, depends a great deal on the definition of “Christian”. I can only say that I stand firmly in the mainstream of traditional evangelical thinking on the definition so, without any sense of disrespect, I can firmly state that I believe Mormons are not Christians.

That is not to say Mormons are bad people, just that the biblical criteria for Christian as I understand it is not met by Mormonism. I am sure you have read some flaky apologetics from people holding this view and perhaps with my tongue in my cheek I might say that they may not have explained themselves very well and the position, as they present it, has not been properly understood.

I smile as I write that and hope you smile, at least wryly, to read it.

I am glad you feel confident and humble enough to concede you might have a thing to learn about others’ faith in discussion. If I might suggest that one of the great disappointments when discussing Mormonism is that Mormons seem rather ill-informed (I won’t put it stronger than that) about the traditional Christian faith they so confidently reject in favour of Mormonism.

You write of those who judge Mormonism from a position of not having understood it but my experience is that Mormons reject a Christianity about which they are usually ill-informed, basing their views on what their church has told them we believe. If in your view Evangelicals caricature Mormonism I am afraid the boot fits very comfortably on the other foot. What to do?

Just to pick up on a few points very quickly without taking too much of your time:

You write that there are no paradoxes in the teaching that the gospel has been restored. I would agree that there is no internal contradiction in the message although I would insist that, against the background of the Bible and Christian history, there is paradox in that you cannot restore what has not been lost. But that is perhaps for another time or another post.

On the issue of the Mormon Church and its preoccupation with the right image, the work of Gordon B Hinckley over the past twenty five years and more, while it is marvellous to Mormons I am sure, illustrates very well the importance of form over substance. This article illustrates http://www.reachouttrust.org/articles/lds/ldshinktime.htm

I quite understand that Mormons feel they hold a strong, even unassailable position with regards to their theology. After all, if everyone else is apostate and your church alone has the “restored” gospel any other position would seem unreasonable.

Now you seem open to discussion but I fail to see how discussion can occur when the position taken is simply “apostate” vs “restored”. That, I believe, is the sticking point and the reason why Mormons, for all their surely honestly expressed desire to be open are not as open as they believe. The distinct impression we get is indeed that of Mormons fighting a rearguard action, fire fighting if you will, to correct misconceptions because, after all, how can an apostate correct the “restored” gospel? Surely they must, in the nature of things, be misinformed or have misunderstood?

You write, “I seriously doubt that anyone commenting in this strand believes, as you assert, that critics alone need education and Mormons have nothing to learn.” I think perhaps my past post goes some way to proving otherwise inasmuch as every comment on critics, without exception, characterises those critics as misinformed, ignorant or mischievous.

What inference am I to draw from such a blanket condemnation of those who dare question or criticise Mormonism? You write about the nonsensical nature of blanket statements yet here is a blanket statement if ever there was one and it is typical of what I meet.

All that said, I do appreciate the fact that you appear to prove the rule in your blog and I commend you for that.

Clean Cut said...

Mike, it is very gratifying to be able to have this conversation with you.

You wondered if I have anything specific in mind of Mormons getting it wrong and critics getting it right. You actually provided a classic example of this yourself. Mormons would be wrong to label everyone else as “apostate” or that our church has a monopoly on truth. I’ve written previously on a separate post ("You're Wrong and We're Right") that I don't believe we should go out and say other churches are all wrong. It's not that clear-cut, not that black and white to me. My paradigm allows other churches to have much truth—a lot of it—just not a “fullness” of truth. I readily acknowledge that many churches sprung up, not because of the Great Apostasy, but in spite of, to counteract the Great Apostasy. In other words, I think most Christians are doing fantastic with what they’ve got.

I’m glad that you can concede that there are misunderstandings on both sides. I agree that it is most likely because of a lack of effort on the part of many to understand. And yes, this goes both ways. It wasn’t until I began to truly understand the doctrine of the Trinity and how other Christians understand God, that I realized that for most of my life I was wrong in my judgment. I was wrong to mistake the Trinity for Modalism (although I understand Trinitarian Christians often do this too). I’m much more careful now in how I think about and explain others’ beliefs. It’s also opened my eyes to where we have spoken past each other and where we actually have similarities even in our differences. For example, see my post on the The Mormon Trinity.

You suggested that one of the great disappointments when discussing Mormonism is that many Mormons seem rather ill informed about the traditional Christian faith, so they confidently reject it in favor of Mormonism. I concede that this true, and unfortunately caricatures of Traditional Christianity exist. I, for one, used to flat out reject the Nicene Creed. I believe I was wrong to do so now I’m more aware and wise in understanding that really the only part of the Nicene Creed that Mormons would not agree with would be the statement that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of "one substance".

As you say, anytime people are uninformed it is a great disappointment, but this is also a two-way street. It goes both ways. My personal antidote to this is to seek out mutual understanding, and it has been educational and personally rewarding. I especially enjoyed my experience reading "How Wide The Divide?".

Your comment about a paradox concerning a restoration of that which was not lost, however, only begs the question. Prophets and apostles, priesthood authority, as well as a correct knowledge about doctrines and ordinances that became altered in the ensuing years, all form the foundation of the Restoration. Much truth remained—thank God—throughout the apostasy. But where you might perceive that only a reformation was necessary, I believe a restoration was needed. And I thank God for it, not to be boastful, but to be grateful.

I appreciate your understanding that much of the debate concerning whether or not Mormons are Christians depends on the definition of “Christian”. I invite you to take part in the comments on other post of mine, such as Are Mormons Christian? or I am a Mormon, I am a Christian. I have since learned to clarify that Mormons Are "Non-Traditional" Christians.

spudrocket said...

Mike I would be interested to read your definition of Christianity. Would you mind sharing? It think it would helpful in this discussion.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Hello Spud

A true Christian is a person who has put his or her faith and trust in the person of Jesus Christ and fact that He died on the cross as payment for sins and rose again on the third day to obtain victory over death and to give eternal life to all who believe in Him.

John 1:12 tells us: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

Of course, notwithstanding some pretty wacky ideas to the contrary in this crazy “post-modern” world of ours, we define something as much by what it is not as by what it is. If a Christian is a person who trusts Jesus and Jesus alone then someone who trusts in anything else instead of Jesus or as well as Jesus then that person is not trusting him and him alone.

There is an old Christian hymn which states, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the Cross I cling”. That is a Christian.

Christianity is the sum of all people who have so trusted Jesus and him alone, many known only to God, but many known to each other through fellowship.

It is not defined by church structure or government, although there are a variety of church structures that include Christians; it is not defined by tradition, although it boasts many good and helpful traditions.

It is explained in creeds and expressed in good works that God prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph.2:10) but creeds do not qualify nor good works save us.

Clean Cut

I appreciate your (new order?) views regarding other churches but it doesn’t really differ from the traditional Mormon view. Mormons have never had any trouble accepting that other churches have some truths in the sense of biblical concepts, i.e. believe the Bible, go to church, do good etc. but Mormonism still teaches that all other churches are bereft of any meaningful “truth”, having no authority etc.

I appreciate the attempts of individual Mormons to build bridges but an honest comparison of what I believe with what you believe would show that our respective understandings of truth are poles apart.

I believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Mormonism teaches that “salvation” comes by a combination of faith that puts man on a footing that allows him to earn God’s gift of grace by religious obedience. “How Wide the Divide?” I suggest it is so wide as to place a clear choice between us.

I am glad you have realised that Trinity and Modalism are two different things (although right also in saying that some Christians confuse them). Of course, to be fair, the Trinity doctrine is not fully comprehensible to man so misunderstandings are quite - understandable. I am afraid the “Mormon Trinity” fails completely to address the traditional biblical teaching by inventing a pantheon led by a council of gods.

One of the things I wish Mormons would look at more closely before rejecting traditional Christianity is the way the Trinity doctrine was arrived at. I fear the old Mormon saw about Constantine herding a bunch of confused and submissive bishops into a room and dictating doctrine etc. really is scandalously bad history.

We do seem to be ranging far and wide in our topics so I will end for the moment with some comments about “restoration”. Your assertion that, “Prophets and apostles, priesthood authority, as well as a correct knowledge about doctrines and ordinances that became altered in the ensuing years, all form the foundation of the Restoration” rather undermines your earlier apparently irenic statement that other churches have truth but not a “fullness”.

Of course, I see nothing in the Bible or church history that defines “church” as you do, i.e. a continuation of apostles and prophets. As to correct doctrine, it is all there in the bible and, where Mormonism insists it has “restored” doctrine it has proved to depart from the Bible, which speaks much more clearly on issues than Mormonism will allow. Ordinances, of course, do not save us, as I have already explained in my answer to Spud.

I would insist that there is nothing in God’s word to indicate a complete apostasy; there is nothing in God’s word to indicate salvation through correct doctrine and ordinances and there is nothing to indicate that “church” is defined by structure and “authority” as Mormonism teaches.

I know, of course, where in the bible you think you can find these ideas but my understanding of those verses is fundamentally different from your own.

I fear I have not yet read your other posts, not because I don’t wish to but simply because of the pressure of time. I will read them though and let you know how I get on.

Clean Cut said...

Thanks Mike. I do not wish to minimize that we have some fundamental differences in belief or in our interpretation of the Bible and so forth. But I do not think that salvation is one of those in which we are very far apart.

You have said something that I very commonly hear evangelicals say. It also happens to be something I have never heard any Mormons say, and something which I simply do not believe.

You said that "Mormonism teaches that 'salvation' comes by a combination of faith that puts man on a footing that allows him to earn God’s gift of grace by religious obedience". I've also heard this phrased as a Works Based Gospel/Salvation, which I clearly debunk.

My understanding about the unique roles that Faith and Works should have in our life, both before we are "saved" (to use evangelical terminology) and after we are saved, are fully biblical. (Or to use Mormon lingo, before our "conversion", and after, or throughout our conversion). I think you'd be surprised that Mormons could agree with you that we are saved by "faith alone", through the grace of Christ, and not because of our works (to paraphrase Paul). We just usually word it differently.

Your common misperception about what "Mormonism teaches" I think is based more on our different theological vocabularies, and often prevent us from actually arriving at the proper understanding. For example, it took some comments from another evangelical on this "Faith and Works" post of mine for me to come to a better understanding about what evangelicals mean when they say "faith alone", and that they do NOT mean that we can be saved without any response or commitment on our part. I fear Mormons and Evangelicals have talked past each other so much that we now fail to recognize that we're actually more in agreement on that point.

I feel like we could have a much more productive conversation if you could better understand where I'm coming from in those posts of mine which I provide links to. I'm not trying to be disingenuous when I say that I couldn't agree more that "there is nothing in God’s word to indicate salvation through correct doctrine and ordinances". That's never been my assumption or my argument.

The Book of Mormon is very clear that "redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth", and that “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through [HIS] merits, and mercy, and grace" (2nd Nephi 2:6,8) and that there is "no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ" (Mosiah 3:17).

Mormons "know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength" (Doctrine and Covenants 20:30-31).

Our restoration scriptures are replete that salvation comes only in and through the name of Christ. But since "there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God" (D&C 20:32), you can understand constant admonitions to "take heed and pray always", as well as the constant scriptural admonitions to exercise our "faith unto repentance" (Alma 34: 15-17).

Clean Cut said...

On a side note, and for the record, I don't believe my views about other churches not being apostate are "New Order" Mormon views at all. I think it is a shrinking minority who have even entertained the idea that all others are "apostate" Christianity. It wasn't the individual Christians or even the Christian churches that were an "abomination", according to Joseph Smith's First Vision account, but the "abomination" was teaching creeds as equivalent to God's holy word.

Most Evangelicals I've talked to reject Mormons from being Christians on non-biblical grounds when they say we do not interpret the Bible properly through the lens of the councils and creeds, and therefore we are not Christians. I like your definition of a Christian much better, as it does not appear to exclude Mormons.

spudrocket said...

Going back to Andrew's comment about progress - that's what we should be focused on. All religions are going to have some differences, but if we all look to Jesus Christ as our savior that's a positive worth celebrating together.

When we focus on our differences we loose unity and friendship that is so important in a society trending anti-religious.

It's stand united or fall divided guys.

NM said...

Can I ask if you could point me to how LDS view the Holy Spirit? Thanks in advance...

NM

Clean Cut said...

"The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a personage of spirit, without a body of flesh and bones. He is often referred to as the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, or the Comforter."

There's some additional information about the Holy Ghost at the link provided.

spudrocket said...

NM, I read one of your posts about the Holy Spirit and I like the description you used in your post:

"The Holy Spirit, having been sent by the Father and the Son, now works in our hearts through the proclamation of the gospel...to draw us to Christ in repentance and faith, and so to unite us to Christ."

As Mormons we believe as you do, that the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit witnesses of the Father and the Son, and that the Holy Spirit can guide and direct us. It can also testify truth to us so we know what is right and wrong.

"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come."

-John 16:13 KJV

Anonymous said...

I think a clarification that Stephen Robinson makes should be brought up.

The definition of Christian is not that someone is "right", the definition of Christian is whether or not one places their faith in Christ or some other way.

One does not have to accept Luther's interpretation of "grace alone" in order to be a Christian. Depending on the viewpoint, someone could be wrong or right, and yet still Christian.

If Tim and Mike want to exclude Mormons from Christianity because they aren't right, that is not the definition of Christianity. But, if they want to exclude them from Chrsitianity because they don't believe Luther was correct that isn't right either. One should only ask whether or not they try to follow Christ or not.

-Andrew

Clean Cut said...

Thanks Andrew. I think you bring up an excellent point. I, of course, couldn't agree more.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

CC

I am interested in your understanding of salvation and the place of works in our respective faiths. You write that, while there are some fundamental differences between us, nevertheless on the issue of salvation we are not so far apart.

First may I say that a “fundamental” difference is just that, i.e. fundamental. Perhaps your understanding of the word is different to my own but a fundamental is non-negotiable. “Jesus is Lord” is a fundamental. Biblical inerrancy is a fundamental. Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is a fundamental.

These, and others, cannot be negotiated away and are so fundamental that the faith of a person who does not subscribe to them is called into question.

You write that we are not saved through correct doctrine and that is certainly true; “even the demons believe and tremble” (Js.2:19). However, I find strange the implication that one can be saved while subscribing to wrong doctrine. It is correct doctrine that informs us, tells what we are to believe and what we are to eschew.

Scripture clearly tells us that there is a true gospel and a false gospel (Gal.1:8-9); false apostles (2 Cor.11:13); there is another Jesus, another spirit and another gospel (1 Co.11:4). If we are saved by trusting then we had better be sure that our trust is in the right place and that we are listening to the right teachers.

Correct doctrine does not save us but without correct doctrine we are lost. Else why priesthood manuals, seminary and institute manuals, etc?

On the “fundamental” issue of salvation the Evangelical understanding, based on the Bible, is that:

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness through the passing by of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God; for the display of His righteousness at this time, for Him to be just and, forgiving the one being of the faith of Jesus.
Then where is the boasting? It is excluded. Through what law? Of works? No, but through the law of faith.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the Law.” (Ro.3:23-28)

Now compare this with the Mormon 3rd Article of Faith:

“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.”

They do sound similar I grant you but a closer examination shows that they could not be further apart.

Paul declares, “We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the Law”.

Joseph Smith insists, “All mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel”.

The plain gospel truth is that grace and law are opposites and Smith’s attempt to conflate them into one article of faith fails completely. This is a serious and fundamental difference.

You do typically see a Mormon fitting not uncomfortably into my definition of “Christianity”. Given the above I think you will see that it is not as straight forward as, “Well, I believe in Christ so I must be a Christian”. There is another Christ, another Spirit, another gospel and false apostles so it becomes a question of doctrine and not simply naming a name. Consider part of my definition:

“If a Christian is a person who trusts Jesus and Jesus alone then someone who trusts in anything else instead of Jesus or as well as Jesus then that person is not trusting him and him alone.”

Now, given the glaring disparity between what the Bible teaches, i.e. that man is saved by faith, not works, and what JS teaches, i.e. a man is saved by obedience to laws and ordinances, then a Mormon cannot fit so comfortably into my definition of a Christian as someone who trusts in Christ and him alone.

You suggest that I have misunderstood Mormonism but you forget that I once was a Mormon. Whenever I say this of course it is the fond assumption of every Mormon hearing it that I must have been inactive or something, but nothing could be further from the truth. I taught priesthood, Sunday school classes, and seminary and institute classes and ended my time as a Mormon in the office of elder’s quorum president. I don’t write this to boast but to head off any notion that I am some ill-informed Jack Mormon who only thinks he knows a thing or two.

Again, just to touch on a few items quickly. Your assertion that JS only criticised churches for teaching creeds as equal to Scripture is historically inaccurate. His condemnation, and the condemnation of the churches by Mormonism, has always been outright condemnation of creeds, confessions, teachings and Bible together. Your remarks suggest a false picture in which a reliable Bible is ignored in favour of creeds of men but the Book of Mormon and official Mormon doctrine has always taught that the “error” stemmed from a corrupt Bible from which “many plain and precious things” had been removed. This is a serious sticking point and a “fundamental” that Mormons really must face.

It is also quite ironic that the charge of favouring creeds over the Bible should be levelled at a Christian by a Mormon since traditionally Mormonism has always favoured its revelations over the Bible. Brigham Young famously declared that the Bible was as nothing compared to the words of “living oracles”.

I cannot speak for every Evangelical believer but in my experience it is not true that we reject Mormonism on the basis of creeds. I have shown in this post a clear Bible teaching compared with the clear teaching of JS and the fundamental differences. There is no appeal to a creed, not even subliminally.

Finally (and I fear I have to end for today since it is very late where I am and grandson duty calls tomorrow) I do recognise that Mormonism is actually a form of Pelagianism, influenced as it is by early Methodism and my view is more Reformed Calvinistic. I don’t have any plans to take up cudgels in defence of Calvin and I am quite happy to remain with the Bible but I thought I had better mention this.

Anonymous said...

M4T:
I’m not answering for CC, just myself, but I wanted to join the discussion a bit too.

While it is important to discuss and understand what Mormons believe about salvation and works in salvation, I hope you’d ultimately agree that it isn’t believing “the right thing” that saves us.

Ultimately, it seems that you, M4T, have personally built up a list of proper beliefs one must have in order to earn the right to call oneself a Christian.
They must believe “Jesus is Lord.”
They must believe in Biblical inerrancy the same way you do.
They must believe in “grace alone” the same way that you (and Luther, who invented the phrase) do.

I take exception to the phrase, “I find strange the implication that one can be saved whil subscribing to wrong doctrine.” Well, I got news for you, Mikey. Somewhere inside your head, you believe something that is wrong. To say otherwise is to call yourself omniscient. Christ can still save in spite of wrong doctrine. To say that one must know everything perfectly right to be saved is to change the Christian doctrine of salvation by faith and grace, to a works based salvation through the correct knowledge. I find it highly ironic, that I, as a Mormon would need to lecture any other kind of Christian about whether we are saved by grace or doctrine. After all, Luther didn’t change the scripture to it is by doctrine ye are saved, lest any man should boast, but grace. Doctrine leads us to Christ, who saves us.

-Andrew

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Andrew

I don't answer to flippant and my name is not Mikey. Nor do I take kindly to being "lectured" by someone who has either not read or has failed to understand my posts. Where have I written than a man is saved by doctrine? A little more respect and attention to detail would not go amiss.

Anonymous said...

M4T. You are either unwilling or uanble to respond to the points I've raised. Therefore, I'll stop talking to you.

Keep working strong CC. You rock!
-Andrew

Clean Cut said...

How very sad, Andrew. I was shocked to log on today and read such a disrespectful use of Mike's name. That came out of no where. Please do not comment here if you are not serious about being respectful.

Mike, I've been traveling all day today. While in the air, I typed out a response on my laptop. I've decided to go ahead and post it as its own post. Please see this link: Saved By Grace Through Faith: Continuing the Conversation

When I say that I sincerely appreciate your commitment to this conversation, I mean it. I apologize if any of us have come across as condescending. That is not my intention. This is not a debate to me. This is a wonderful opportunity to have a respectful conversation and seek mutual understanding.

Anonymous said...

Dear CC,
While I do not consider changing Mike to Mikey incredibly disrespectful nor flippant, because of my respect for you, I recant. I don't apologize, because I don't consider much wrong with it, but I won't do it again.

However, it did not come out of nowhere. There is a certain arrogance associated with Christians who claim to be the ones to determine who is Christian. That is Christ's job only, and I'll allow no usurper that post. When those arrogant people start setting up doctrinal tests for salvation, that is incredibly arrogant. Instead of addressing my point, M4T got offended, and you also let him off the hook because he got offended.

I asked why biblical inerrancy is a fundamental when it isn't explictly stated anywhere in the Bible. M4T punts. I'm left assuming he is unable or unwilling to explain that assumption.

For the record, one must accept Jesus as Savior and Lord to be Christian, but the subtle nuances of Trinity, grace, and works don't have to be perfectly understood in order for Christ to be able to save us. My Christ is bigger than that.

-Andrew

Mike's 4 Tea said...

CC

I appreciate your stepping in on my behalf but I believe Andrew illustrates very well why I wrote as I did in my original post. He is just bleating.

As to the rest of the discussion, forgive my tardiness but what with the season and all I am not responding as quickly as I would like. I do appreciate your beginning a new blog to address specific issues and have read it. You will hear from me soon. Meanwhile, I wish you and yours a blessed and peaceful Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Clean Cut.
If you're going to publicly reprimand someone for adding a diminuitive onto someones name (Mike to Mikey) you really need to reprimand our dear Mikey for saying Mormons are just "bleating." He continues to name-call instead of addressing the issues. In my 101 logic class, we called that an ad-hominem argument.

If you let Mike off the hook for his behavior, you appear unfair in how you treat the commenters, more permissive of judgemental Evangelicals than you are of Mormons who perform the major sin of changing someones name by adding a Y (God forbid!).

Let's hold Mike accountable. Is Mike really trying to understand, or is he just trying to dissuade other Mormons to join the apostate side he has joined?

-NOYDMB

Clean Cut said...

I really see no need to hold anyone "accountable" if all we're doing is having a respectful conversation. This isn't a debate. And respect is a two-way street. None of us are perfect in the way we say things, so let's remember the point is to seek mutual understanding and not win a debate. Let's all show some "Christian Courage" and grow from the experience.

Furthermore, there's no need to fear "dissuading" anyone from the path of faith they have chosen. One of my favorite posts from a very respected LDS blogger has long been about "Cutting a little slack for ex-Mormons".

Anonymous said...

While I don't necessarily agree with all the conversation that took place here in terms of mutual respect, I would by far prefer to be called Philly than to be said to be bleating. Now there has to be a different way a fact could be stated. CC is to be commended for his patience in the face of such disrespect. Perhaps he saw none, but I am part of a culture in which associations with animals are among the most serious form of insult. Perhaps this is just a reminder that when we write on the internet, we really are writing to everyone. Otherwise we'd put it in an emaill.
-Philip

Clean Cut said...

Thanks for the thoughts Philip. Good points. Very good points.

Mike Tea said...

Where are you from Philip? I know there are comparisons with animals that are intended to be insults but I have never come acros comparisons with animals being considered insults per. se. How do you manage with the comparisons made in Scripture, for instance, "other sheep I have..."?

I did not say that Mormons bleat but that Andrew was bleating. It is a term I use to indicate that someone is mindlessly repeating the party line, following a groove and feeling safe about it. It is not uncommon when someone doesn't have an answer but sees an opportunity to turn tables and criticise the other for some assumed error or offence.

In this case he, quite wrongly, but quite typically, jumped on the assumption that I don't believe in works and believe that one is saved by subscribing to a creedal statement. It is a silly assumption and I wonder every time I hear it deployed where on earth a thoughtful Mormon would get this wacky notion. But it is a standard response in such discussions and so is, in my opinion, bleating, repeating what you have heard, what Mormons say to each other about Evangelical believers. It is the charge of "easy-believism" and doesn't stand close scrutiny.

All that said, if I have offended anyone then I unreservedly apologise and will try and be more thoughtful in my responses. God knows I need pulling up on these things from time to time.

Clean Cut said...

Mike, in your very first comment on this strand and before Andrew ever commented, you made this statement:

"Everyone else takes criticism for what it is - a challenge to sharpen their faith and understanding, maybe learn a thing or two. Mormons bleat."

Certainly that could be offensive. It doesn't mean that you're necessarily wrong, but it does seem stereotypical and rude.

I'll concede that many of my fellow Saints do react to criticism this way.

Sometimes I too catch myself being judgmental of "Mormons" too--in fact I'm hardest on my own people because I am one. You and I would probably even agree on many points of criticism. But, of course, it's stereotypical to suggest all Mormons are one way--all or nothing--and thus deserve such criticism.

My wife will tell you though, I do it all the time. Heaven knows there's much room for improvement and change within Mormonism.

Clean Cut said...

For what it's worth, I'm personally doing the best I can to correct the caricatures and stereotypes of evangelicals that get passed down within LDS circles. This is one of those areas where the average Latter-day Saint has much room for improvement.

Mike Tea said...

I stand corrected CC. I did say that Mormons bleat. I don't mean to offend but it is my sad, and very frustrating experience that almost every conversation I have with a Mormon ends, sooner rather than later, with the Mormon crying persecution, nitpicking, being offended (even when no offense is intended) and, of course, that old stand by, "why do you have to build up your faith by dragging down mine?" This is bleating.

When I responded to Andrew I wasn't looking for anyone to fight my battles for me and am perfectly capable of looking after myself. I do find this "let's all pretend this is no more important than which team you support and so there's no need to get in a lather" approach.

Still, I do appreciate your efforts to keep order. Perhaps though you shouldn't be quite so nervous of robust exchanges. After all, this IS more important than which team you support.

Clean Cut said...

Mike, it IS sad and frustrating that almost all of your conversations with Mormons end like that. I don't blame you for feeling frustration. Unfortunately I see this sometimes myself, and it makes me want to roll my eyes. The frustration you express is felt by all of us who must deal with inexperience and the less informed.

I do think you misread me, however. I'm not nervous to have "robust exchanges". I just feel strongly that these exchanges be done in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15. I believe there is an appropriate place for healthy "debate", but I see a difference between informed and respectful debate on the one hand and misinformed (or even informed), open antagonism in pseudo-debate form on the other.

I really like evangelical scholar Craig Blomberg's approach. I highly recommend it to you.

Blomberg makes clear that harsh language was reserved for “in house”, and that more gentle language was used in biblical times for those outside of the religious community. I simply agree with Blomberg.

Mike Tea said...

But you would say that you are "in house". Or are you saying now that you are not?