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.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Are Mormons Christian?

"Are Mormons Christian? By self-definition and self-identity, unquestionably so. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that it is a Christian-faith denomination, a body of believers who worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and who witness that salvation is possible only by his atoning blood and grace. By the simple dictionary definition of a Christian as one who believes in or worships Jesus Christ, the case is compelling. To the title Christian a critic of Mormonism may add any modifiers he deems appropriate—unorthodox, heretical, non-Nicene, different—but blanket assertions that we are not Christian are a poor substitute for informed argument and dialogue" (Bruce D Porter, "Is Mormonism Christian?".)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Explaining What Mormons Believe

Excellent post up at Summa Theologica--Explaining What Mormons Believe--reviewing an article in FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life entitled "Is Mormonism Christian?". The article includes a section written by Bruce D. Porter, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Gerald R. McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College. This same McDermott wrote a book with Robert Millet (BYU) but seems to exclude some important Mormon interpretations both in his book as well as in the article. Aquinas, from Summa Theologica hits the nail on the head in so many places with two excellent reviews. The reviews are eloquent, thorough, and a very important read for Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints alike.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Constitution Day!

"We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Happy Constitution Day America!

I surprise my students when I say a case can be made that September 17th could be thought of as another birthday for our country--or at least the finalization of the document which gave birth to the government we now have such a love/hate relationship with.

In my Public Policy class (for my MPA) we focus a lot on the Constitution since that's what describes what the government can and can't do, especially in terms of forming and implementing policy.

In my own U.S. History class we focus a lot on how our Constitution came about, as well as what's actually in it. Of course, most of us are most grateful for the Bill of Rights, which tells the government "don't even think about it" when it comes to infringing on some of our most treasured rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech--without which this blog would probably not exist, to say the least.

So on this 17th day of September, let us remember 1789 and the miracle that occurred at Philadelphia which made this nation official, and which has guaranteed us a pretty darn good life in these United States. Here's to the keepers of the Constitution--the people!

A Child's Prayer

This morning Adelaide (who will be three at the end of November) woke up early and came downstairs all by herself to have breakfast with me. Just the two us, sitting right by each other at the table eating Raisin Bran. She wanted to be the one to "bless the food". This was her sweet little prayer:

"Heavenly Father, thank you for this food. And please bless Dad cause he has to go to work. And please bless that Jesus can come and stay with us. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Adelaide--You are the sweetest little girl and I love you so much! And thanks for our little "Daddy-Addy" breakfast date this morning, and for blowing me kisses at the door...

PS: My girls bring too much joy to describe. Here we are holding hands at the zoo:

Adelaide and Kamorah at home:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"You're Wrong and We're Right"

In all my blogging interactions, I try to be diplomatic, respectful, and inoffensive. 1 Peter 3:15 says to be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is in you, but to do so with gentleness and respect (NIV). So I usually try to be somewhat gentle and respectful because I feel we can all disagree without being disagreeable.

I genuinely try to set the record straight, while being pretty mainstream and mainline, as well as honest. I'm not afraid of controversy, but I don't seek it out. I have opinions and I share them, no matter what the topic is. I'm not afraid to say things, but I am very conscientious of how I say it. I suppose I try to be more middle-road, because I believe I can say what I need to say without driving people crazy or being offensive. I'm not offended when Evangelicals say that "You're wrong and we're right", and I would assume Evangelicals wouldn't take offense if I were to say (or at least believe) that "I'm right and your wrong". It shouldn't be a surprise to any of us that we both think we're right. But I think there is a more effective means of communication.

For example, 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--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 the best that they know how. This might be a different perception than other Mormons might have, but in this case I deeply believe I'm right. But Mormons actually have a lot of freedom to believe differently in many things, and still be considered faithful and in good standing.

In this case, I believe that most Christian churches have the core of the gospel--they have many pieces of the puzzle. So I have great respect for good Christians everywhere. But why I went on a mission, and what I share when I go out from time to time with the missionaries in my local area, is not to tear other people down and say that their churches are completely wrong, because I just don't believe that. I just think that Mormons happen to have additional pieces of the puzzle--though a fullness of the gospel might be still allusive if the restoration indeed continues.

Nevertheless, this is why the LDS missionaries don't leave your doorstep when you tell them you are a Christian. We deeply believe that we have more to offer you as Christians with a fulness of the gospel. "Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it". Essentially, my take is this: Let's learn from each other, but please be open to seeing if we can't make more sense out of your framework or your puzzle pieces. I think we can all learn something together if we're open minded. I like the synergy that comes from dialogue rather than the abrasiveness that comes from trying to "win" an argument.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"Let Us Be Very Clear On This Point"

I've decided that much of the frustration and confusion in conversations between Latter-day Saints and those not of our faith is caused by ourselves. One of my pet peeves, and pet peeves of many Evangelical Christians, is when Latter-day Saints say "We're Christians just like you", which of course isn't true, and means one of two things: The Mormon is ignorant, or the Mormon is purposely being misleading. Semantics matter, after all. Mormons certainly are Christians, but we're Non-Traditional Christians. Although I tend to enjoy exploring our commonalities more than our differences, I'll never pretend that we don't have significant differences with Traditional Christianity. We need to be careful about the intended and unintended messages our words give off. I'm sure we all could do a better job not only of understanding the gospel, but of communicating it more effectively both within the Church and without.

One example. Elder M. Russell Ballard cautioned members of the Church:

"We occasionally hear some members refer to Jesus as our Elder Brother, which is a true concept based on our understanding of the pre-mortal life with our Father in Heaven. But like many points of gospel doctrine, that simple truth doesn't go far enough in terms of describing the Savior's role in our present lives and His great position as a member of the Godhead. Thus, some non-LDS Christians are uncomfortable with what they perceive as a secondary role for Christ in our theology. They feel that we view Jesus as a spiritual peer. They believe that we view Christ as an implementor for God, if you will, but that we don't view Him as God to us and to all mankind, which, of course, is counter to biblical testimony about Christ's divinity…

"Now we can understand why some Latter-day Saints have tended to focus on Christ's Sonship as opposed to His Godhood. As members of earthly families, we can relate to Him as a child, as a Son, and as a Brother because we know how that feels. We can personalize that relationship because we ourselves are children, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. For some it may be more difficult to relate to Him as a God. And so in an attempt to draw closer to Christ and to cultivate warm and personal feelings toward Him, some tend to humanize Him, sometimes at the expense of acknowledging His Divinity. So let us be very clear on this point: it is true that Jesus was our Elder Brother in the premortal life, but we believe that in this life it is crucial that we become "born again" as His sons and daughters in the gospel covenant." ("Building Bridges of Understanding", by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Won't Forget

I remember well waking up on that sunny September morning seven years ago. I don't remember why, but I woke up earlier than usual. I was a resident assistant at Helaman Halls--and loved everything about it. I especially enjoyed unlimited access to the Cannon Center cafeteria. That's where I was, standing in line to get breakfast, when someone told me that "The Pentagon has been attacked". They didn't mention New York, but they didn't have to. I knew that we were in for some big news that day, and for war. "Which country has the guts, or is stupid enough, to attack us?" I thought to myself--"at our Pentagon!"

I left the cafeteria and walked into the lobby to where the big-screen TV was located, only to find a picture of two burning towers---The World Trade Center towers. I tried to understand why two burning buildings were on the news instead of the Pentagon. Little did I understand the significance of the Twin Towers, what had actually taken place, or how many people actually worked there.

In that moment, it was something distant to me. Utah was a long way from New York City. And the camera angle on TV was distant as well, so I didn't initially picture the hell on the ground or inside the towers. I hadn't yet been there in person. I had no idea of what life was like at Ground Zero. And then all of a sudden I watched the first tower completely collapse.

As each new report came in, and with each passing minute, I began to feel the unbelievable shock of what had happened, of what was presently unfolding, and what it was going to mean for our country. Initially I only understood the significance of the Pentagon, and that attacking our military headquarters was a very serious thing. But with all the confusion swirling around that day, one thing became clear; this was much more than an attack on physical buildings, it was an unimaginable attack on ordinary Americans simply because they were Americans.

The rest of that day is a blur. I remember walking to class, wondering why I was even going to class--"life can't possibly go on as normal today, could it?" Plans were indeed changed, and BYU held a special prayer service in lieu of its planned Tuesday morning devotional at the Marriott Center. I've saved the special edition newspapers that came out that day, and the day after. I've laminated them and now I hang them up in my classroom every year on September 11th. They are a dramatic reminder of the horrific images and the magnitude of that day. And I'm determined never to forget. I won't forget what happened that day or the days following. I won't forget what a great land we live in. I won't forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before to make America great. And I'll try to do all that I can so that my students won't forget either.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

With Liberty, Unity, and Charity For All

"In essentials let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity."

Isn't that a great quote? I was going through some old files and saw that I had written that down as a B.H. Roberts quote, but I think it's more likely that he was quoting someone else. Either way, just think of all the applications of that one, whether in church, a marriage--the list goes on...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Church is like a Potluck

I had an epiphany in Fast and Testimony Meeting today; Church is like a potluck. It's an especially appropriate analogy on Fast Sunday, not just because food isn't far from our minds, but because we come to church hoping to be spiritually fed, and in our church all kinds of people contribute. You're never quite sure what you're going to get, but you know you can get the opportunity/blessing to be able to contribute something. And by the end of the Sunday potluck we almost always end up being spiritually fed--especially when we bring our own testimonies to the feast. I really enjoyed the potluck today. Not just the fellowship, but the spiritual feast. That potluck also extends into Sunday School. "Potluck" Sunday School is the best. Especially when it's clear, like today, that fellow Saints don't just wait until Sunday to prepare and feast upon the word, but they're continually feasting on the word and therefore know the Word. Talk about a enriching and nourishing experience!

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Power of The Book of Mormon in My Life

It's hard to put into words something that is so dear to your heart--something that has so frequently blessed your life and filled it with excitement, exhilaration, and power. And yet that is exactly what the Book of Mormon does for me. I'm not one to ever minimize my testimony of the Holy Bible, but it's just that the Book of Mormon is so unique to this dispensation of time. It's an unparalleled powerful witness of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It builds faith. Faith in Christ. Faith in the Restoration. It teaches simple, plain, and powerful truths that thrill my mind, heart, and my soul every time I read or teach from the book. It brings the Spirit into my life and I'm able to see things so clearly--"things as they really are, and of things as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13)--and my vision centers on the Redeemer of the World. The Book of Mormon is a message of hope--hope in Christ, through His atonement, and it leads to a pure love of Christ. My heart turns--repents--and begins to trust more in God. I feel a humble gratitude that I can be filled with such goodness and partake of so much wisdom. It's simply incredible.

The Restoration

The primary message of the gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ, is that he has atoned for our sins and prepared a way for us to come back into the presence of the Father. The Restoration brings about a fullness of that gospel, with a fulness of truth and of the priesthood, with all the authority, keys, and ordinances to accomplish that task. It also restored further light, truth, and knowledge of God and His plan for a fulness of salvation--to bring about the immortality and eternal life of His children.

But of course for something to be restored, it must have first been broken or essential pieces lost. So to better understand the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, foretold by prophets of old, one must first understand the great apostasy, in which the gospel was not on the earth in its fulness, either in doctrine or in ordinance--also foretold by prophets of old.

The next two sections are from Preach My Gospel:

The Great Apostasy:

"After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church members and killed many of them. With the death of the Apostles, priesthood keys and the presiding priesthood authority were taken from the earth. The Apostles had kept the doctrines of the gospel pure and maintained the order and standard of worthiness for Church members. Without the Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted, and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances, such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost.

"Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.

"After centuries of spiritual darkness, truth-seeking men and women protested against current religious practices. They recognized that many of the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel had been changed or lost. They sought for greater spiritual light, and many spoke of the need for a restoration of truth. They did not claim, however, that God had called them to be a prophet. Instead, they tried to reform teachings and practices that they believed had been changed or corrupted. Their efforts led to the organization of many Protestant churches. This Reformation resulted in an increased emphasis on religious freedom, which opened the way for the final Restoration."

The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith:

"When the circumstances were right, Heavenly Father once again reached out to His children in love. He called a young man named Joseph Smith as a prophet. Through him the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth. Joseph Smith lived in the United States, which was perhaps the only country to enjoy religious freedom at the time. It was at a time of great religious excitement in the eastern United States. His family members were deeply religious and constantly sought for truth. But many ministers claimed to have the true gospel. Joseph desired “to know which of all the sects was right,” (Joseph Smith—History 1:18). The Bible taught there was “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Joseph attended different churches, but he remained confused about which church he should join. He later wrote:

“So great were the confusions and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. . . . In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 10).

As Joseph sought truth among the different faiths, he turned to the Bible for guidance. He read, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Because of this passage, Joseph decided to ask God what he should do. In the spring of 1820 he went to a nearby grove of trees and knelt in prayer. He described his experience:

“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . . When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17).

In this vision God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith. The Savior told Joseph not to join any of the churches, for they “were all wrong” and “all their creeds were an abomination.” He stated, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Even though many good people believed in Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, they did not have the fulness of truth or the priesthood authority to baptize and perform other saving ordinances. They had inherited a state of apostasy as each generation was influenced by what the previous one passed on, including changes in the doctrines and in ordinances such as baptism. As God had done with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and other prophets, He called Joseph Smith to be a prophet through whom the fulness of the gospel was restored to the earth.

"After the appearance of the Father and the Son, other heavenly messengers, or angels, were sent to Joseph Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery. John the Baptist appeared and conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Aaronic Priesthood, which includes the authority to perform the ordinance of baptism. Peter, James, and John (three of Christ’s original Apostles) appeared and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, restoring the same authority given to Christ’s Apostles anciently. With this priesthood authority, Joseph Smith was directed to organize the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth. Through him, Jesus Christ called twelve Apostles.

"The time in which we live is referred to by Bible prophets as the last days, the latter days, or the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is the period of time just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is the final dispensation. This is why the Church is named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A living prophet directs the Church today. This prophet, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the authorized successor to Joseph Smith. He and the present Apostles trace their authority to Jesus Christ in an unbroken chain of ordinations through Joseph Smith."

It's quite a story, and quite miraculous to behold.

I love the following quote by the late Neal A. Maxwell, from "The Richness of the Restoration":

"The Restoration, to mix metaphors, is like a harvest basket, which is a “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). This abundant harvest spares us from hungering because of doctrinal deprivation. Without this fulness, however, some who are malnourished struggle with adversity while trying to believe in a God of loving purpose. Each of the Restoration’s key doctrines, by itself, would help us greatly. However, when “shaken together,” these doctrines can produce much stronger faith through their vital nourishment. The harvest is not only abundant and “running over,” but it also brings back the most vital “plain and precious things” (1 Ne. 13:40)—the balanced essentials...

"Restoration correctives provide emancipating perspectives! The revelations, when “pressed down, and shaken together,” emphasize that man is, at once, an intelligence or spirit coeternal—but certainly not coequal—with God (see Abr. 3:18). Thus, doctrinally, we are positioned very differently, because “God is neither the source nor the cause of either moral or natural evil.” God is thus the organizer of eternal intelligences, which can neither be created nor destroyed (see D&C 93:29). Furthermore, God will not coerce men since all intelligence is free to act for itself “in that sphere in which God has placed it. … Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man” (D&C 93:30–31).

"In the Restoration, we further learn that, built into the existing structure of mortal life, there is “an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11). This doctrine is more than just a minor clue to life. It is a major divine disclosure! As Brigham Young University professor David Paulsen has thoughtfully written: “Without moral righteousness, there is no happiness; without significant moral freedom, there is no moral righteousness; without an opposition (opposing possibilities to choose between), there is no significant moral freedom. Thus, happiness and opposition are essentially related.”

When Restoration truths are thus “shaken together,” powerful understandings vital to daily life emerge. It is my opinion, not Church doctrine, that one distant day it will even become more apparent than it now is that our loving Father is doing all even He possibly can do to help us! The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is evidence of His help. As beneficiaries of Restoration blessings, we are recipients of “so much light and so much knowledge” (Alma 9:19) about the meaning and purpose of life, the character of the Father and the Son, and the work and glory of the plan of salvation (see Moses 1:39). May God bless us with a willingness to share the harvest basket of the Restoration, that as we have been spiritually nourished so may we nourish our neighbor."

We have so much to share! Please feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts and testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Relevant Links:

The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and the Creation

The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: Priesthood, the Word of God, and the Temple

Mormon Answers: Questions about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ (Apostasy, Authority, Restoration)