Corrupt but Christian

There is a Christian ministry that is located near where I live. In almost every way I think they exhibit the worst of Christianity. I think they have stored a great many treasures on earth at the expense of many desperate and lonely Christians. I would not personally want to give an accounting to God for the resources they have been given in the name of Jesus. It would be a rare day in which I would endorse anything related to their ministry. I would not support them in any positive way. I would not choose to worship with them. I barely want to support their claim on the term “Christian”.

And yet, I would say that they are indeed Christians. They get it right when it comes to the most important things about the Christian faith. The authentic discipleship they offer is shallow at best and rancid at worst, but they make the cut. If I were given the responsibility to ultimately judge the leadership, I’d see them in eternity but they would have the smell of sulfur on them for quite sometime.

I was recently asked by a Mormon, “If Evangelicals view the Catholic Church as Christian, what was the need of the Reformation?” I think my answer in regards to the Catholic Church of Luther’s day is similar to the ministry I mentioned above. The only difference being that in 1517, there was no other Christian alternative. A believer who was fed up and sickened by the corruption of the Catholic Church had no alternative.

As can be noted by the name “Reformation”, the original goal was not to overturn or reject the Catholic church. It was to reform it, to rebuke and correct it. It should also be noted that virtually every reform Luther was seeking of the Catholic church was fulfilled.

As Paul had serious disagreements with the Judaizers of the 1st Century; I have some serious disagreements with the Catholic church. But I welcome them in the fellowship of Christ (as they welcome me). I set those differences aside at the foot of the cross because they ultimately join me there. And when I see gaudy, corrupt, materialistic Christian neighbors there, I ignore the smell.

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125 thoughts on “Corrupt but Christian

  1. Tim, I agree with you by and large. But the Reformation was not just about the excesses of medieval Catholicism. It was about how a person could be right with God. Luther’s response to the Catholicism of his day on justification was a theological issue at the very heart of the gospel.

    PS i grew up in SoCal. Dodgers or Angels?

  2. Why am I not surprised? You truly are the church of the devil, the whore of all the earth and the mother of abominations.

    Murdock

  3. Seth,

    If you want to redefine agreeing on a few basic points to mean “philosophical purity” then sure. I guess I should know better by now, this is an outpost of the bloggernacle after all.

  4. Which of course automatically invalidates any point I made. After all – if it’s from… gasp… the blogggernacle – it can’t be true.

    Sure.

  5. I guess I’d partially agree with you on this Tim. But there is a lot of complexity here.

    In general I think there 3 groups of players that existed during the time of the reformation that had 3 different agendas.

    1) You had an upper class group of economic reformers that wanted to shift the relationship between church and state. Generally that had few if any major doctrinal issues and quite often were doctrinally conservative.
    2) You had a middle class group of religious reformers that wanted to make doctrinal adjustments for what they viewed as corruptions on issues of doctrine.
    3) You had a a lower class group of religious revolutionaries that hated the Catholic church and wanted to replace it with something vastly different.

    What separated the Reformation from other reform movements that had happened in the five hundred years previous is 3 groups cooperated to achieve their ends. The Catholic church had alienated them all enough that they saw this common interest. So for example Luther legitimized the shift from Bishops to Princes in Germany which increased the effect of money on religious institutions, moving them from corrupted by money to institutionally and structurally controlled by monied interests. Or for example Henry VIII creates a vibrant Lutheranism within his English church despite his intentions and strong opposition to Lutheran doctrine.

    And this is where the definition of “the Reformation” gets complicated. If you limit your definition it to a series of political reforms in state churches that happened during the 16th and 17th centuries there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about what happened. On the other hand if you use some definition like, “the point at which Protestantism came into being as a major faith” you are confronted with the fact that Protestantism, underwent several additional shifts and so when you talk about Protestantism today and try it tie it back to the “the reformers” this is a mythological tie back. Most Protestants today are not aware and wouldn’t necessarily have approved of the actual reforms that occurred to state churches. While there are very aware of the doctrinal issues that continue to divide Catholics and Protestants, those issues, seen as primary, were quite secondary 500 years ago.

  6. Great post!

    There are many Christian churches who confuse law and gospel. There are many with corrupt and greedy leaders. There are many who place the worshipper at ‘the center’…and move Christ and His gospel to the edges.

    But in all those churches that proclaim Christ Jesus and His forgiveness in some way…He is at work. He can break through all the garbage and grab a hold of a heart..where He wills to.
    _______________________________________________________________

    Dodgers! ( I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and with Vin Scully

    (but I do like the Angels, too!)

    - Steve, San Clemente, CA

    Do we wish that these churches would have a better grasp on the gospel? Of course! Do we have a right to criticze their errant ways? Of course! But we ought give them the benefit of the doubt in that they are Christian. Christ knows His own and will judge them in a proper fashion on that Day.

  7. And yet, I would say that they are indeed Christians. They get it right when it comes to the most important things about the Christian faith. The authentic discipleship they offer is shallow at best and rancid at worst, but they make the cut. If I were given the responsibility to ultimately judge the leadership, I’d see them in eternity but they would have the smell of sulfur on them for quite sometime.

    A viewpoint somewhat opposite of this is something I found very attractive about Mormonism during my conversion process. I do not agree that “the most important things about the Christian faith” have much to do with correct theology at all; they have to do with grace, how we live our lives, how we respond to the blessings God has given us, how we struggle with our weaknesses. I do not for a second think those I see in eternity will be limited to those who got their theology right or even belonged to my church while on Earth. In fact, I expect we’ll be a tiny minority.

  8. I will have to soak this in and pose some follow-up questions later Tim.

    For now, I’ll just ask: Is “what they get right”, essentially the Trinity? Because my limited understanding of Catholicism (harder to pare down than Mormonism IMHO) tells me that there’s not much else. Let’s start with faith alone and scripture alone. If you want to make the Trinity the one true difference maker, so be it. Hereafter, Mormons not being Christians should be about that issues alone – nothing else.

  9. I agree with you here Tim: when it comes to defining who is Christian, theology/philosophy/doctrine (call it what you will) is really all that matters. Good post.

    But I must say, Murdock’s comment was the sunshine in my day!

  10. I agree with you here Tim: when it comes to defining who is Christian, theology/philosophy/doctrine (call it what you will) is really all that matters. Good post.

    I don’t disagree with Brian and Tim, but I do think that if you’re attaching who is within the Kingdom of God to the term “Christian” (or perhaps more accurately, who has the Kingdom within them), then that’s more problematic.

  11. Kullervo is right that this is essentially how you define Christian and who you join in worshiping Jesus. I know Eric (and perhaps Katie) want to approach this from a Universalistic approach, but that wasn’t really the question. The question was “why do you call Catholics Christians if you broke off from them?”

    The question is peculiar coming from a Mormon who believes in a Restoration. The question applies doubly to Mormons. Why do you call me a Christian when you believe in a Restoration?

    Christian,
    I know that Catholic theology can be difficult to understand and sometimes even Catholics don’t understand it all that well. But Catholics believe in salvation by grace alone. Even in the midst of the Reformation, that is what their theology expressed (albeit in a very complicated way). Their corruption was their departure from it in practice not because they had philosophically rejected it.

    All of Christianity is not summed up in the doctrine of the Trinity. But the nature of God is a foundational aspect of any theology. Almost everything flows out of it. That’s why it’s the dividing line between us.

  12. Tim,
    I question your inclusion of Catholics, of course, because the EC definition is very narrow and specific. (at least when applied to Mormons) I’m not so sure Catholics could pass the one given to us. The Mormon definition is begging a different sort of question of course – which is why Mormons can call others Christian – and still believe that Jesus might want to lead them further beyond floating in the clouds for eternity. We’ve been through this before….

    Of course Mormonism also teaches that the first principle of the gospel is faith in Jesus and that our works are insufficient – that’s for sure. Its when we start throwing around words like authority and ordinance that we get called on it. I’m still not sure Catholics are much different.

    I’ll say again, if belief in the Trinity is the chief concern, I respect it. (you may have to exclude some very early believers, however)

  13. Its when we start throwing around words like authority and ordinance that we get called on it. I’m still not sure Catholics are much different.

    I suspect you are interpreting Catholicism through a very Mormon lens.

  14. I question your inclusion of Catholics, of course, because the EC definition is very narrow and specific. (at least when applied to Mormons) I’m not so sure Catholics could pass the one given to us.

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I’ve always used a definition of “Christian” that includes the Catholic and Orthodox churches. There are for sure Protestants who come up with definitions that exclude them but any theologian with a lick of self-reflection would include them. There are discussions about whether or not “saving faith” is easily found in the Catholic church, but it’s a rare day in my Evangelical world that someone says they aren’t Christian.

    Yes, the nature of God (and nature of man) is THE issue with Mormonism. The doctrine of the Trinity was present in the first and second centuries. We can easily forgive Christians for not spending the time to precisely nail it down in that era as they were too busy being consumed by lions.

  15. Yes, but you can’t be so lenient with those Christians for failing to coherently explain the concept after over 2000 years of time with it.

  16. I don’t know 16th century Catholicism like Tim apparently does, and definitely not like scholar CD -Host does, but I think Tim’s post is brilliant.

    My Mormon brothers & sisters—not necessarily the ones on this forum—like to point to the multitude of divisions in Christiandom as evidence that non-Mormons are not a part of the true church of Jesus Christ. I’d like to take Tim’s brilliant post and stuff it into the faces of the demons that inspire my precious Mormon brothers to say such things!

  17. Christian J

    Let’s start with faith alone and scripture alone.

    Just to clarify this. The Roman Catholic Church explicitly rejects sola fide and sola scriptura. So you don’t have guess their opinion on those. Both positions are quite explicit.

    The problem you have with that definition is that there is little evidence for anyone who believes in sola scriptura or sola fide through most of Christian history. You are free to define Christianity however you choose but if you do define it that way that Christianity either did not exist until (or close before) the Reformation or had very little impact in history, a faith that existed alongside the supposed Christian faith leaving at best trace record of its existence.

    So the question if that is the definition becomes, why should Mormons consider a definition valid that was rejected by an overwhelming majority, virtually a consensus of people who claimed to be Christian for at least 1300 years and to this day is still rejected by a large majority?

  18. Tim,

    You asked, “Why do you call me a Christian when you believe in a Restoration?”

    That’s a briliant question. I typically just call Christians, “apostate Christians,” as I’ve written before on this blog, but that’s not exactly correct, is it? I mean, to be apostate, you must have first been on the true path and then have turned away from it. What current “Christian” was ever on the true path? Not a single one, unless they were first a latter-day saint. So, none of you guys (with the above stated exception) are Christians.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tim, for opening my eyes. Now I will have to ponder what to call you guys… Heathen, perhaps?

    Cal,

    Non-Mormons are not a part of the true church of Jesus Christ, but I invite and entice every one of them to believe in Christ and to repent of their sins and to come to Christ and to love God and to serve Him and to become His church and to do good continually. So, you can add me to the list of those whose faces you’d like to stuff Tim’s post into. But are you really sure a demon inspired me to write that? After all, what demon invites a man to send forth the invitation I just did?

  19. Okay, I’ve given it some thought. I’ve decided that those who currently call themselves Christians most closely resemble the order of the Nehors, found described in the Book of Mormon.

    This is what the Mormon wrote concerning Nehor:

    and it came to pass
    that in the first year
    of the reign of alma
    in the judgment-seat
    there was a man brought before him
    to be judged
    a man who was large
    and was noted for his much strength
    and he had gone about among the people
    preaching to them that
    which he termed to be the word of god
    bearing down against the church
    declaring unto the people
    that every priest and teacher ought to become popular
    and they ought not to labor with their hands
    but that they ought to be supported by the people
    and he also testified unto the people
    that all mankind should be saved at the last day
    and that they need not fear nor tremble
    but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice
    for the lord had created all men
    and had also redeemed all men
    and in the end
    all men should have eternal life
    and it came to pass
    that he did teach these things so much
    that many did believe on his words
    even so many that they began to support him
    and give him money
    and he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart
    and to wear very costly apparel
    yea
    and even began to establish a church
    after the manner of his preaching

    Now, the Christians differ only minutely from the doctrine of the Nehors. They believe that all will be saved if they confess Christ and accept Him as their savior, and everyone ell will be damned to hell. Everything else is just the same as the Nehors, from paid preachers, to lifted up in the pride of their hearts, to the wearing of costly apparel, and finally to the damning doctrine of not needing to fear nor tremble. This is almost a perfect description of the modern-day Christian.

    Also, elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, it is stated that those who “were of the profession of nehor…did not believe in the repentance of their sins.” They also did not exercise faith in Christ, and therefore did not behold angels, etc.

    This also matches the modern-day Christian, for they exercise no faith unto salvation and have denied the power and gifts of God and spurned his prophets, and should the Lord send more prophets, they would attempt to kill them, like the others. Thus, Christians are, essentially, Nehors. The only ones among them that actually exercise even a particle of faith and who begin to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord are the ones who repent of their sins and come to Christ, and thus they end up accepting the Book of Mormon as the word of God. Everyone else is a hypocrite, giving lip service to them “being saved by Christ” and “being redeemed,” while remaining in their sins, just as the Nehors believed in the devil-inspired doctrine that God would save a people in their sins, the actual true doctrine of Christ being that He only saves people from their sins.

  20. Wherever Christ Jesus and His gospel for the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed (in some way) He can work (in spite of whatever other garbage ‘of self’, there might be).

    So, while we might have a lot to criticize about churches that place the worshipper at the center (and what ‘we do’)…and we do have a right to criticize that, as believers in Christ…we don’t have a right to judge anyone’s salvation. (per Jesus himself)

    __________________________________________________________________

    Dodgers!

    I grew up in the San Fernando Valley.

    Now reside in San Clemente…so…the Angels are OK, too. :D

  21. LDS Anarchist, if “should” means “will” in the following verses, then I’d say the Nahors are universalists.

    and he also testified unto the people
    that all mankind should be saved at the last day. . . .
    and had also redeemed all men

    Where in the Book of Mormon are those verses?

  22. LDS Anarchist said:
    “I invite and entice every one of them [non-Mormons] to believe in Christ and to repent of their sins and to come to Christ and to love God and to serve Him and to become His church and to do good continually. So, you can add me to the list of those whose faces you’d like to stuff Tim’s post into.”

    I didn’t say I’d like to stuff human faces, only the demon’s faces.

    You said, “But are you really sure a demon inspired me to write?” The same Holy Spirit that tells you the Restored Gospel leads you to Christ, also tells me that your condemnation of all non-Mormons comes from the devil. Have you ever spent much time around ordinary evangelicals? How many times have you visited a non-Mormon church that claims to be Christian? Have you asked the Lord according to James 1:5 if the gift of the Holy Spirit is living in the hearts of any non-Mormons?

    I believe the Book of Mormon has the words of God as far as it is translated correctly and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. But if you walk in the presence of the Lord, study the Bible, and wait for the Lord to confirm every single thing Joseph taught, you’ll know that he also taught some error, especially toward the end of his life. There is a middle ground where God’s blessings are greater than they are in any extreme position.

    God bless you, LDS Anarchist. Thanks for your comments. I’m turning the other cheek and will not condemn YOU!

  23. Tim — I assume you’re writing about the folks at the Trinity Broadcasting Network (because that’s what the picture is of). I’m curious to know at what point you’d say that groups such as TBN have “crossed the line” into apostasy or becoming non-Christian or however you’d want to word it. One reason I ask is because TBN, although it has a statement of faith that fits well within evangelical orthodoxy, has at least flirted with modalism — ironically, a number of the preachers who appear regularly on the Trinity network don’t believe in the traditional doctrine of the Trinity. And I think it’s safe to say that much of what can be heard on TBN at least skirts with heresy (from a traditional evangelical perspective). At what point would you say that this ministry has gone beyond stinking? What would it take?

    (For what it’s worth, if I were an evangelical, I wouldn’t claim TBN as one of my own. But, then again, there are those in my own church I hesitate to claim as my own, but I do anyway.)

  24. Didn’t you get the memo Eric?

    You’re only a non-Christian if you flirt with tri-theism.

    Flirting with modalism is A-OK.

  25. I know Eric (and perhaps Katie) want to approach this from a Universalistic approach, but that wasn’t really the question.

    For the record, I’m not a Universalist. I just don’t think Jesus had theology in mind when He said, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    But like Kullervo said, we’re using Christian to mean different things in different ways. I understand how you mean it here, and believe that your position is valid and sensible.

  26. Benny Hinn and his ilk are the among the vilest of the “Christians”. They could care less about those they preach to so long as they pay. Their entire ministry is based on lies and manipulation justified by thin patina of sola fide. The followers and others duped by TBN may be authentic followers of the teachings of Jesus but it’s bizarre to include the TBN leadership amongst that group. If your definition of Christian includes these guys, it really becomes a vacuous and un-biblical label where you can’t tell a Christian by their works, only their adherence to a few elements of theology.

  27. Just to be clear, I wouldn’t call myself a universalist either, but in the context had no objection to the way Tim used the term to refer to me, as I accept a sort of semi-universalism.

    And I agree with Katie L that Tim’s position is reasonable; I have no quarrel with those who call Mormonism non-Christian if they’re clear what they mean by the term. I just think that the use of the TBN picture detracts from his point, because I don’t think that TBN a group that has consistently endorsed orthodox evangelical theology. (I’m suspecting that’s one reason he didn’t mention TBN by name.)

  28. Seth said

    Yes, but you can’t be so lenient with those Christians for failing to coherently explain the concept after over 2000 years of time with it.

    We’ll I’m at least pleased to see you describing the Trinity as 2000 years old rather than 1600 years old. That’s progress in the right direction! =)

    But what do you mean we’re not coherently describing the Trinity. Can it get any clearer than this? It is strange that such an anathema can be so agreed upon for such a long time. It will be even stranger when Mormonism slides into agreement with it.

    Eric said

    One reason I ask is because TBN, although it has a statement of faith that fits well within evangelical orthodoxy, has at least flirted with modalism — ironically, a number of the preachers who appear regularly on the Trinity network don’t believe in the traditional doctrine of the Trinity.

    I agree. My opinion of Oneness Pentecostals is the same as my opinion of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. TD Jakes has been called out more than once (I can’t remember where I saw it but there was some news that he might be coming around).

    Seth said

    You’re only a non-Christian if you flirt with tri-theism. Flirting with modalism is A-OK.

    Flirting with a heresy is quite a bit different than flatly rejecting orthodoxy. I’m not going to call for church discipline if my kid’s Sunday School teacher uses the water, steam ice metaphor because she’s probably doing it out of ignorance not opposition. I don’t think it would be at all appropriate to describe Mormonism as “flirting with Tri-theism”. If it is “flirting with Tri-theism” it’s in a direction away from a plurality of gods and towards the Trinity.

    I know you’d like to believe all the bias is against Mormons, but that’s simply not the case. Jehovah’s Witnesses are just as rejected in orthodoxy as Mormons and they make their error on the other side of the issue proportionate to Mormonism.

  29. Jared: “If your definition of Christian includes these guys, it really becomes a vacuous and un-biblical label where you can’t tell a Christian by their works, only their adherence to a few elements of theology.”

    I don’t see the problem. It’s a non-judgmental label used to identify a certain group. Add it to the long list of other such labels we use all the time.

    It is in many ways like the label “American”—that most simply means anyone who is a citizen of (or born in) the USA, but we also refer to certain actions or beliefs as “un-American.” So is it a basic statement of citizenship or a political/moral judgment? And is the term “vacuous” if used only to denote citizenship?

    I think what you want is for the term “Christian” to retain its most profound meaning only. Thus, we need a different term for Tim et al to use—something like “Nicean.” But it’s going to be impossible to convince 1 billion Niceans to switch, and well, I wouldn’t follow suit and adopt the term “Nauvooan” for myself. Or we need a term that carries the profound (and judgmental) meaning you want: e.g., “Christ-like.”

    As with all labels, the purpose is to separate and group. Tim uses this label to group himself with some people we all find unappealing. But importantly, it doesn’t group him with them in every conceivable way; i.e., he can still apply other labels that distinguish them from him, etc.

    So yeah, to me it’s just a label. The only time I get upset about this use of it is when it is used—and frequently so—in a deliberately misleading way. Tim’s not doing that here.

  30. Just throwing in $.02 about TD Jakes since he’s coming up…. Jakes is chief pastor for a dallas based mega church called Potters House his sermons are broadcast as part of a show called Potter’s Touch and he is a major player in the American black church.

    He recently was invited to “The Elephant Room” which is a Christian discussion about secondary issues moderated by James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel and Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church. Because

    1) Jakes was ordained from Oneness Pentecostals
    2) Potterhouse continues to use language which is inclusive of modalism and has a modalistic flavor. Further it does not use a standard creedal statement.
    3) Jakes himself while having claimed to be trinitarian had made some statements which had a modalistic flavor

    this invitation was controversial with the MacArthur crowd (who hate Charismatic Christianity) which raised a fuss about it. Jakes was grilled a bit by Driscoll and

    a) Firmly denied he was a modalist, gave reasons and asserted some trinitarian statements statements to Driscoll’s satisfaction.
    b) Indicated he does consider modalist to be Christians and thus rejects the Athanasian creed as authoritative.
    c) Did not quite go far enough in (a) to assure the MacArthur crowd that he had rejected all modalist doctrines. People like James White explicated what they consider to be missing and so his status is still controversial with that group.

    _____

    Let me just back Tim up here for a second. He is right here. Evangelicals are equally harsh towards all non-Trinitarian faiths. Mormons would have to move 95% of the distance between them and evangelicals to even be in the situation of T.D. Jakes and that one was controversial, though admittedly with people to the right of Tim.

    Having watched the Seventh Day Adventists tear themselves up to be partially accepted by Evangelicals as Evangelicals, and they had so much less distance to cover, I have to wonder why Mormons even aim for Evangelical acceptance.

  31. I have to wonder why Mormons even aim for Evangelical acceptance.

    I imagine a still small voice is calling them to it.

  32. Your leadership’s lack of commitment to or expression of true Mormon distinctives over the last 20 years.

    . . . Or perhaps Elder Jeffery Holland’s attempt to do just that at a meeting with Evangelical pastors at Biola University in which he went out of his way to make his theology sound just like their’s.

  33. . . . Or perhaps Elder Jeffery Holland’s attempt to do just that at a meeting with Evangelical pastors at Biola University in which he went out of his way to make his theology sound just like their’s

    Did this get recorded or transcribed somewhere?

  34. Your leadership’s lack of commitment to or expression of true Mormon distinctives over the last 20 years.

    The sweet, addictive taste of an increasingly positive public image and growing acceptance by mainstream American society since the end of World War II.

  35. Huh?

    “Your leadership’s lack of commitment to or expression of true Mormon distinctives over the last 20 years.”

    Isn’t this post ultimately about Mormonism’s rejection of the Trinity in favor of our own distinct take on God—a take that didn’t even fit into any of your other models? With the exception of Heavenly Mother, nothing you put in that cartoon has been downplayed.

    “. . . Or perhaps Elder Jeffery Holland’s attempt to do just that at a meeting with Evangelical pastors at Biola University in which he went out of his way to make his theology sound just like their’s.”

    I’m not familiar with this meeting, but doesn’t this ignore Holland’s talk in Conference where he attacked the doctrine of the Trinity? That was hardly an attempt to “look Evangelical.”

    What I think is more accurate is that the LDS leaders and many members have been looking for acceptance as fellow Christians—as belonging to a similar-enough faith group that we can work together (politically) and get along.

  36. Yeah, it’s hard to watch Holland’s Conference talks and come away with the take-home message that he wants to “appease” and “look Evangelical.”

  37. It’s hard to read Joseph Smith’s public addresses and not come away with the take-home message that he was a practicing monogamist and thought polygamy was evil and should never be practiced. Lesson: what is said and done in private may contradict what is said in public.

  38. Brian, I only bring up the slide into Protestantism to say that it is happening not that it has happened. The LDS leadership have certainly not affirmed orthodoxy, but likewise they haven’t rejected heresy. When asked to affirm heresy, the best they’ve stated is “I don’t know that we teach that.”

    I can’t really speak to the differences between Holland’s pastor’s meeting and his later exposition on the Trinity being self-evidently false.

  39. BrianJ

    My point was that including TBN in the definition of “Christian” goes against Jesus’ explanation that “by their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20.)

    Saying that “Christian” includes nearly anybody that claims belief in the basic tenants of Protestantism would include a lot of people whose “fruits” are patently rotten.

  40. I’d agree Jared, except I’ve met several vibrant, authentic Christians who were first exposed to Jesus through TBN (and other similar types). So they do produce some good fruit.

  41. What I think is more accurate is that the LDS leaders and many members have been looking for acceptance as fellow Christians—as belonging to a similar-enough faith group that we can work together (politically) and get along.

    I actually think that this “desire to work together (politically)” is because of Mormonism’s desire to be accepted by other Christians, not the other way around. How long has Mormonism been pushing a socially conservative political agenda again?

  42. Tim: “I only bring up the slide into Protestantism to say that it is happening not that it has happened.”

    Okay, I can’t really argue against that. You’re pointing to a big organization that—typical of big organizations—often moves at a glacial pace and saying, “Look, it’s headed that way,” while I’m saying, “Nope, it’s headed the other way.” Ten or even 20 years isn’t enough time to tell. But when you say, “they haven’t rejected heresy,” I think you exclude a lot of blatant and frequent heresies promoted by the Church year after year; the Godhead being only one of those major heresies.

    It’s worth pointing out that the particular heresy you refer to—”I don’t know that we teach that,” the idea that God was once a man just like us—did not strike me at the time as a Protestant-Mormon question but rather as simply a Mormon question; i.e., it was a debate that came up frequently right there in Provo, UT where I lived at the time—and I highly doubt that many in Provo thought often about Evangelicalism. The point is, I think it’s likely that many Mormons simply didn’t find any support for the idea in our canon and hence the source for the debate, not that the debate arose from comparisons to (let alone a desire to be like) Protestants.

    And thus I still think that what I said above about the Church wanting acceptance on a socio-political level with other Christians is more accurate than saying we’re looking for doctrinal acceptance. But I can be convinced otherwise; do you have any other examples? :)

    Jared: I know what you’re saying and I’m not arguing against your definition, especially because it’s not like you’re the only one who uses that definition. I just think that before you can deny Tim of his definition, you should identify an alternative, theological-only label for “anybody that claims belief in the basic tenants of Protestantism”—oh, that also includes Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

    To twist your words a bit: “Saying that “American” includes nearly anybody who claims birth in the USA would include a lot of people whose actions are patently anti-freedom.” That doesn’t convince me to stop using the label “American” to denote birthplace.

  43. Kullervo: “How long has Mormonism been pushing a socially conservative political agenda again?”

    For as long as I can remember. How long has Mormonism had a large enough national presence to be noticed? Anyway, the Church pushed Prohibition and opposed the ERA—is that long enough and socially conservative enough?

  44. Seth said

    Does it outweigh how much damage they are doing to the body of Christ?

    That’s an excellent question. I think it is just as relevant to the conversation of whether or not Mormons, Moonies, and Jehovah’s Witnesses should be considered in the camp. As I’ve stated before, when Protestants leave a church, they find another church. When Mormons leave a church, a great many of them leave Jesus.

  45. I think that’s an apples and oranges comparison. The falling away rates of Evangelicals going atheist is probably similar to Mormons.

  46. Ironically, I think you have to mark some of that up to groups like TBN.

    Mormonism can be more compelling than other Christian religious systems, especially to a Mormon. Its more open, less dogmatic, it is more intricate and fascinating in many ways, and has a stronger sense of community and identity than other churches. So when you recognize Mormonism is not what it claims to be, you look around to find few similar churches out there like that that. Mormons that I grew up around, generally don’t see much difference between TBN and any most other Evangelical Churches. Because of this, when I was a missionary in California, TBN seemed to confirm the religious inferiority of Evangelicals. The leaders were obviously venal con-men and the audience who gave them money, simple minded idiots. They needed saving.

    My opinion of Evangelicals in General is now very different, in great part to my participation with this Blog. If I was an Evangelical, I would have to see TBN as nothing short of an affront and embarrassment. TBN would not be able to rake in the money they do if other churches generally denounced their brand of “Christianity”. It is truly a “cult” of fame, money and superstition, why not call it that? Not denouncing it makes all Evangelicals look bad. To non-Protestants, failure to completely repudiate TBN and the like, i.e. toleration of those tactics, casts strong doubt on its claim to be the “truest” form of Christianity. It’s like the priesthood ban for Mormons. To me, TBN seems to confirm the lowest common denominator theology approach is somehow flawed. . . it makes me question, if you consider TBN part of the body of Christ. . . how can that sort of Christianity be true to that taught in the Gospels?

  47. Well, I think Tim did pretty much disavow all but an essential theological connection with folks like TBN. It’s kind of like the drunken, child-molesting uncle — you still have to admit he’s your uncle.

  48. I have to agree with BrianJ — evidence that we’re trying to be accepted by evangelicals just isn’t there. Contrary to what Tim suggested, we openly preach “heresy” in every General Conference, and among those doing so is Elder Holland. And if he talked in private to a bunch of Biola folks and sounded awfully Protestant to them — well, there’s an awful lot of Mormonism that is strikingly similar to Wesleyan Protestantism. My guess is he was just trying to demonstrate common ground, of which there’s plenty.

    I would say, though, that while I don’t see signs that Church leaders are seeking to be accepted by evangelicals in particular, they do want the Church be seen as a legitimate, mainstream if you will, religion. The recent rhetoric coming out of Salt Lake over gay marriage seems to indicate that — the concern doesn’t seem to be that legalization of such marriages amounts to state endorsement of immoral behavior, but that such legalization would marginalize those who see homosexual behavior as immoral. I think they’re scared to death that the Church (and even conservative Christianity in general) is becoming marginalized in our culture, and I suspect that any steps involving dialogue with evangelicals is out of those concerns, not because of desire for theological acceptance.

    And as far as “I don’t know that we teach it,” I don’t know that we teach it either. I’ve been a member of the church for a decade and a half, and I have never been taught that God was once a man. Ever. (In church, I’ve probably heard direct references to the King Follett Discourse two or three times. What I know about it, I know from outside church meetings.) President Gordon Hinckley has received lot of criticism for that remark, but I think what he said accurate.

    Finally, as far as our supposed slide into Protestantism, I don’t know if it’s happening or not; I haven’t been around long enough to see. But if it is, I don’t see it as having anything to do with wanting to be accepted by evangelicals. There are other explanations: 1) Because most of the more bizarre teachings of past church leaders were never canonized, they have become gradually correlated out of existence, so to speak. 2) Emphasis on the Book of Mormon the past 50 years or so has given its theology added importance, and much of it is evangelical in tone. 3) Although the church changes slowly, it is indeed affected by the culture, and the culture itself is now more supportive of a grace orientation as opposed to the “work hard to get ahead” orientation of the 1950s or so.

  49. Tim: “As I’ve stated before, when Protestants leave a church, they find another church. When Mormons leave a church, a great many of them leave Jesus.”

    Do you have any evidence to back that up? The Pew Forum’s data do not support your claim: http://religions.pewforum.org/reports# Go to pages 9-10 of that report and you will see that Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons all have 13-14% loss of childhood members to “no religion.” Granted, that’s only childhood members, not converts, but it would still be nice to see some data before accepting (or proliferating) your claim.

  50. Jared, I assure you that TBN is generally regarded as a joke among Evangelicals. They are indeed seen as an embarrassment. I’d put them on par with the self-appointed modesty police at BYU. We have to own are part in their identity but we don’t want to be seen with them. A great amount of ink has been spilled on them and their kin.

    Brian, I’ll have to forego the research for time. You can CFR me on that, I can’t do more at than admit that it’s an anecdotal speculation.

  51. Wouldn’t most Mormons say that TBN is Christian as well? Jared when you were on your mission and you assumed TBN was your target, didn’t you still think they were Christian?

    I agree they are not the “right type” of Christian, but I think that about a lot of Christians. I’d probably say that about the majority of Catholics. You’re kind of getting after me for using a definition that’s too inclusive at the same time as you’re saying I’m theologically dogmatic and exclusive.

  52. Eric –

    And as far as “I don’t know that we teach it,” I don’t know that we teach it either. I’ve been a member of the church for a decade and a half, and I have never been taught that God was once a man. Ever. (In church, I’ve probably heard direct references to the King Follett Discourse two or three times. What I know about it, I know from outside church meetings.) President Gordon Hinckley has received lot of criticism for that remark, but I think what he said accurate.

    And that is precisely what Tim (and I) meant. Read through Mormon Doctrine by McConkie that book has King Follett theology, the idea of exaltation at every step it is deeply layered into almost every answer more in terms of D&C 132. The very first doctrine in the Manti Miracle Pagent is denying a God without parts or passions.

    It is evidence not counter evidence of that huge shift for you to say in 15 years that eternal progression is something you haven’t been taught.

    I think the analogy of the Seventh Day Adventists is a good one. For them the key issue was whether the atonement happened on Calvary or was ongoing in the Heavenly Sanctuary (per their understanding of Hebrews). To move towards mainstream acceptance they had to downplay the importance of ongoing atonement. And then they moved towards the “Orthodox enough” position that the atonement occurred on Golgotha’s hill but was applied in the heavenly priestly ministry.

    And as I’ve said before, the problem is the SDA castrated their faith to get themselves to the border of orthodoxy. Mormons are doing the same thing they will still be well outside the circle. They are doing it for nothing.

  53. Tim said:

    Wouldn’t most Mormons say that TBN is Christian as well?

    Not only that, many would say they’re typical of non-Mormon Christianity.

  54. Mormons don’t view the word “Christian” as being packaged together with any sort of sense of “rightness.” We don’t equate the word with “moral” or “theologically correct” or anything like that.

    So yes – we are perfectly willing to extend the term to TBN. We don’t have as much invested in the term as you do.

  55. This question and debate about how to use the label “Christian”—including a debate among Mormons who want to restrict it (Jared) and those who say Mormons do not restrict it (Seth) and those who don’t see a problem either way (me), etc.—has me wondering two questions:

    1) Why don’t Evangelicals label Mormons (and JWs, etc.) “heretical Christians” instead of “non-Christians”? I get that you have creeds that define who is orthodox-enough to earn the full badge, but to my knowledge those creeds don’t contain the converse. Or maybe the term “heretical Christian” is a contradiction; i.e., the very status of being a heretic means that one is not Christian. If so, then it still seems that the term “heretic” alone has more descriptive power and clarity than simply referring to Mormons as “non-Christian”.

    2) Do all other Christian groups follow the same distinction as Evangelicals? If I talked to RCs, Eastern, etc would they also say I’m not Christian, or would they have a different label for me? (A quick Google search yielded several answers that I’m not sure are official—and, surprisingly, many hits that said that RCs should not call Protestants “Christian.”)

  56. I guess that’s where you and I differ. I don’t consider orthodoxy to be part and parcel of the definition of “Christian.”

  57. I like “Non-Orthodox Christian.” I think it carries even less baggage than Heretical. Please can we make this happen in the world? Okay, ready…GO!

  58. Cal,

    Regarding your February 15, 2012, 6:49 am comment:

    “should” means “shall” in:

    and he also testified unto the people
    that all mankind should be saved at the last day

    You also asked me,

    Where in the Book of Mormon are those verses?

    You can find the account about Nehor in Alma chapter one. But he wasn’t the only Anti-Christ. There was also Noah and his priests, who quoted to the prophet Abinadi part of Isaiah’s prophecy (found in the Bible in Isaiah 52:7-10) as proof that they were redeemed of the Lord and therefore in no need of repentance. And there was also Zoram, whose followers, the Zoramites, prayed to God the following (truncated) prayer:

    holy
    holy god
    we believe
    that thou art god
    and we believe
    that thou art holy
    and that thou wast a spirit
    and that thou art a spirit
    and that thou wilt be a spirit forever
    holy god
    we believe

    that thou hast elected us
    to be thy holy children

    thou art the same
    yesterday
    today
    and forever
    and thou hast elected us
    that we shall be saved
    whilst all around us are elected
    to be cast
    by thy wrath
    down to hell
    for the which holiness
    o god
    we thank thee

    and again
    we thank thee
    o god
    that we are a chosen and a holy people
    amen

    The language of this portion of the prayer is very similar to the teachings found in many of today’s churches that profess Christ. (The Zoramites, though, rejected Christ.) All of these doctrines are perversions of the actual doctrine of Christ. The modern (non-)Christian perverts the doctrine of “praying to God in faith, believing that you will receive,” turning it into a devilish doctrine of “praying to God, believing that you have already received.” (Think of the “sinner’s prayer” or the “salvation prayer.”) Thus, they enter into a delusion of salvation, like the Nehors and the Zoramites and Noah and his priests, thinking that they are saved, because of their belief that they are saved, or because of their beliefs, all the while remaining in their sins, in their damned state, without repentance, while also thinking that others are damned, because of the falseness and foolishness of their beliefs. This is why the works of the Father are all but absent, everyone doing either the works of men, or the works of the devil.

  59. Cal,

    Regarding your February 15, 2012, 7:11 am comment:

    You wrote, “The same Holy Spirit that tells you the Restored Gospel leads you to Christ, also tells me that your condemnation of all non-Mormons comes from the devil.”

    I do not condemn non-Mormons only, for all of the churches upon earth are under condemnation, and all of them together will go to hell, if they do not repent and exercise faith in Christ unto salvation. This includes me and the rest of the Mormons, as well. The Book of Nephi (Fourth Nephi), gave a description of the apostate churches which existed among them, which is also a perfect description of the churches that currently exist. “There [are] many churches” which profess “to know the Christ and yet they [do] deny the more parts of His gospel.” These churches are representative of the modern (non-)Christians and Mormons, as well as all the other church branches that profess to know Christ. There are also churches or religions that deny Christ among us.

    What is lacking among us (in an institutional, or gathered form) is the true church of Christ, which is a people noted for their humility, their belief in Christ, their repentance and faith and obedience to the commandments of God, as well as the outward manifestations of their inward spiritual conversion to Christ, which are the many miracles that always attend, and are worked among, Christ’s true church, and the fact that they have all things common among them (their goods and their substance) and are not divided into classes, nor do they wear costly apparel, nor are lifted up in the pride of their hearts, etc.

    Such people do exist on the planet, but as yet, have not gathered together as a church or a tribe, because of the
    churches which are built up to get gain, and other institutions of men and the devil, which seek to destroy this true church of God. They are found in all churches and it is these people who do not resist the truths and word of God, and who are the elect of God, through their faith in Christ and their repentance. These are the seed of Jesus, as well as all little children.

    So, I make no distinctions between institutional religions or churches. All people will equally perish, regardless of which institutional church or religion they currently belong to, if they do not come down into the depth of humility, repent, accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God, (for it is His word), and live its teachings, which is the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is impossible to be saved while continuing to reject God’s word. Or, in other words, it is impossible to be saved in one’s sins.

  60. Finally, Cal,

    Regarding your February 15, 2012, 7:11 am comment questions:

    Have you ever spent much time around ordinary evangelicals? How many times have you visited a non-Mormon church that claims to be Christian? Have you asked the Lord according to James 1:5 if the gift of the Holy Spirit is living in the hearts of any non-Mormons?

    Yes, I’ve spent much time among evangelicals. Honestly, I prefer the company of the unbelieving poor, to the professed believing (non-)Christian. The pride manifested by that bunch is so thick you can cut it with a knife, and more especially among their pastors. The unbelieving poor, although breaking the commandments of God, typically are not so possessed of pride, which is the damning sin of the devil. I find that it is better to have no religion, at all, than to have a false religion. These churches take a perfectly good soul and harden up its heart in pride. They even take the humbled poor among the unbelievers and make them ten times the sinners they once were by leading them into the sin of pride.

    I don’t know the exact number of times I’ve visited non-Mormon churches, but I have been to them and I have yet to find the fruits of faith among them.

    I know for a fact, via personal revelation from God, given to me through the Holy Ghost, that non-Mormons do not possess the gift of the Holy Ghost. Apart from that, I’ve found no other (of the best) gifts of the Spirit among them, either. Nevertheless, manifestations of the Spirit do occur in divers places, even among the (non-)Christians and Mormons, for every soul is precious in the sight of God and the Lord strives to save us all.

  61. Tim: But I thought that TBN has all the right doctrine—i.e., are orthodox—they just squander and misuse the donations they receive. (I don’t know anything about them, I’m just basing this on the conversation here.) Can you give me your distinction between non-orthodox and heretical?

    “non-orthodox Christian (an oxymoron) would apply better to Mormons.” It’s a much less confusing term than simply “non-Christian.” —which is why it will never catch on (sorry Katie!). Of course, Eastern Orthodox would call all of us here “non-Orthodox….”

  62. @BrianJ

    Of course, Eastern Orthodox would call all of us here “non-Orthodox

    That’s the difference between “orthodox” and “Orthodox”.

  63. Tim, to restate my question from before – If its ALL about the Trinity, then why have I heard countless other reasons in my experiences with ECs?

    For example, In a recent thread I expressed to you my personal experience with the healing power of Jesus in my life. (all along without any sort of belief in a Trinity) I also mentioned that I knew many other Mormons who walk in the joy of the Atonement every day. Your response was:

    I can only take your word for it that you’ve experienced Jesus….Other Mormons though, I’m not sure have had any sort of personal interaction with Jesus. They don’t necessarily claim one and in some extreme examples say we shouldn’t even entertain the idea. They seem to have a relationship with their church more than with their savior.

    If its all about the Trinity, then your response should be more like – “Actually, claiming a relationship with Jesus, expressing faith in his blood and telling an account of the great joy that comes through forgiveness, grace and mercy – does not make you a Christian. A belief in the Trinity does.”

  64. Then why would the lack of interaction that you observe in Mormonism be an issue at all?

    “Do believe in the Trinity?”, should be the question every time.

  65. Would it be too cute to suggest that the only Evangelicals who really care about the Trinity issue are “Internet Evangelicals”?

  66. Would it be too cute to suggest that the only Evangelicals who really care about the Trinity issue are “Internet Evangelicals”?

    Nope. The creeds are a real make it or break it deal for evangelicals and more so traditional Protestants, even in their personal lives. My old church evangelical church the Apostle’s creed was an absolute requirement. You could optionally believe in evolution / creation, infallibility / fallibility, pro-life /pro-choice (the church itself was leaned creationist, infallibility, and was solidly pro-life). But if you denied anything in the Apostle’s creed you couldn’t be a member.

    Even the Seventh Day Adventists as part of their getting accepted into Evangelicalism had to kick out the Arians and the semi-Arians. Uriah Smith’s sermons which are Arian are no longer taught.

    Thinking back on it. Once I no longer believed the Nicene creed (though I was still fine with the Apostle’s creed) I didn’t even consider myself a Christian.

    That being said, Protestants can’t really get through those creeds either if they are being honest:
    – We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. (except for Episcopalians they all effectively deny this)
    – We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (gets rid of Baptists)
    – We look for the resurrection of the dead (less than 1/2 of all Protestans believe in a bodily resurrection now)

    ____

    But again this issue is not really the key issue when it comes to Mormonism. With Jehovah’s witnesses, you have a discussion of whether you can be an Arian Christian or not. Doctrines like eternal progression and Mormon materialism aren’t just creedal violations but speak to an entirely different theology one that is not just subtly different from the evangelical mindset. To include Mormonism in Christianity you have to have to have a historical view which is very inclusive. And Evangelicals don’t take that sort of position.

  67. That’s a great summary CD. That Mormons concepts of deity could be offensive to ECs seems to be lost on most LDS I know. And I don’t deny that its a legitimate reason for exclusion. But, I’ve been having these sorts of conversations with Catholics and Protestants for the past 20+ years. Only recently am I hearing this as THE deal breaker.

    With the vast majority of them, the response has been, “You need to accept Jesus into your heart. You need to make him your Lord and Savior.” My response has always been, “I have.” (“no you haven’t”, being the counter)

    That’s why I’m asking Tim (and other ECs) to simplify the question.

  68. CD-Host, I have a hard time believing that most lay Evangelicals even understand what the Trinity means in the first place.

  69. Hi Christian J glad you liked.

    With the vast majority of them, the response has been, “You need to accept Jesus into your heart. You need to make him your Lord and Savior.” My response has always been, “I have.” (“no you haven’t”, being the counter)

    Oh yeah that is one of the most irritating parts of EC theology. “Christianity isn’t a religion its a relationship…” yeah like they have the cornerstone on religious intensity and religions like Voodoo doesn’t have them beat dimes to dollars on the intensity scale.

    It is a morass of ridiculous contradictions. As an aside this comes from a weird merging of both sides of an 18th century religious debate.

    On the one side you had the Wesleyan style / 1st great awakening religion that demanded an a personal conversion, an intense religious experience and was critical of the church as just a normative part of society. The “let Jesus into your heart”

    On the other side you had the traditionalists that believed in doctrine and sola scriptura which were suspicious of things like a prophetic tradition because of where it could lead (to stuff like Mormonism).

    Modern American evangelicals are a mixture of both parts. The Eastern European Evangelicals, because they trusted in the Orthodox church to provide something of a pillar ended up with a more doctrinal diverse evangelical culture.

    Anyway I left just under 20 years ago. So it was the deal breaker for me back then. That being said, in the 1990s there was a strong emphasis on: Arminianism, Sola Scriptura, credobaptism as defining characteristics of evangelical Christianity. Mainstream / Liberal Christianity was more liberal and larger so it was easier for the Evangelical movement to define themselves in an essentially negative way relative to the Protestant Mainstream. As they got to the same size, they had to have a more positive definition. The 5 fundamentals (except for inerrancy) are held now by “liberals”

    – The inspiration of the Bible by the Holy Spirit and the inerrancy of Scripture as a result of this.
    – The virgin birth of Christ.
    – The belief that Christ’s death was an atonement for sin.
    – The bodily resurrection of Christ.
    – The historical reality of Christ’s miracles.

    I think this search for a positive identify has led reformed baptist movement to have had a huge impact on how the post baby boomer generation of American Evangelicals see themselves. And that is going to be more creedal.

    Just my $.02.

  70. CD-Host, I have a hard time believing that most lay Evangelicals even understand what the Trinity means in the first place.

    In a lot of churches a creed is read as a regular part of the liturgy. For example in the Catholic church the Nicene creed is read most weeks with its slot being filled with other creeds (like the Athanasian Creed) infrequently. If you teach on something regularly, it sticks.

    While I certainly agree that the average Evangelical doesn’t really understand the trinity, because after all the only way to really undersand that load self contradictory gobblygook is to memorize your way through specific terms… they do understand the basics and they do consider it important.

    Also remember the motivation here. Mormons have a clear cut institutional church, whose in whose out is an easy question. Evangelicals have this amorphous body of hundreds of denominations and sub denominations plus tens of thousands of independent churches. They like to think of themselves as a wide family but who is in and who is out are complex questions. An average Christian might wonder why their Jehovah’s Witnesses cousin is considered non-Christian (i.e. unsaved), their Catholic cousin in considered just barely Christian (likely saved but…), while their liberal Protestant cousin living with her boyfriend is considered theologically Christian but sinning.

    Or for the more inclusive Protestants for whom this comes up, why Muslims aren’t considered Christians. it is their views on the Godhead. For example you will meet liberal Muslims, especially those raised in Christian countries that hold that: the essence is the Father, the speech is the Son and the life is the Holy Spirit; i.e. modalism. You can go that far towards Christianity and still be consistent with the Qu’ran, but once you aim for things like “one substance” game over.

    Evangelicals have to be able to individually decide for themselves who do they consider to be:
    – on the same team
    – maybe on the same team
    – in need of salvation

  71. How often have you heard “you believe Jesus and Satan are brothers”?

    That is a question about the nature of God.

  72. The vast majority of Mormons tell me I just need to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. To which I reply “I have.”

  73. You can read a book the same way you gear up for battle.

    That doesn’t mean you’ll be open to the message.

  74. Apparently, Joseph Smith placed a lot of weight on understanding the “character” of God. So, Mormons shouldn’t shutter at a Christian orthodoxy’s Trinitarian mandate.

    However, like any good “Internet Mormon”, I actually disagree with Smith, if he means “character” in the way Mormons understand it today (material make-up, literal relationship etc.)

    Does the Jesus I believe in have power to save the human family? Is that salvation extended with mercy and grace? I don’t believe that these questions are dependent on esoteric understandings of the eternities.

  75. Christian J,

    Several times you have talked about accepting Jesus into your heart. I’m not interested in debating if this was real or not, I’m actually not all that keen on emphasizing experiential aspects of Christianity. I don’t really have a horse in this race. However, this does make me curious. I was hoping you could answer a few questions.

    This phrasing is not really Mormon-speak, it’s more EV-speak. Is this you translating a Mormon experience, such as “I felt the Holy Ghost” or “I prayed and knew X was true”, etc. into EV-speak? Or do you consider your experience best described by EV terms, not by Mormon terms, and that is why you use more EV type language?

    A second set of questions. Do you feel this was an experience that was inculcated and encouraged by fellow Mormons and leaders? If so, I would be interested in which talks, scripture passages, etc. you found most influential in pointing you in this direction. Or, was this experience more encouraged by Christian thought outside of Mormonism, which you found helpful, even though you are a happy Mormon? If so, I would be interested in which sources pointed you in this direction.

    Finally, a third set of questions. To what extent does this experience influence you in the direction of salvation by faith/grace? If it does push you in this direction, how do you harmonize this with Mormon insistence on proper authority and ordinances? I ask this because in my conversion to mainstream Christianity I concluded that to really believe in salvation by grace/faith I felt I needed to take the leap of faith and reject these Mormon requirements, because it was only then I felt I could demonstrate complete reliance on faith and grace. Obviously you feel differently, so I am curious in hearing about your thought process here.

  76. I mentioned being asked to read the Book of Mormon because in the same way ECs wish to provide a shortcut with a metaphysical experience with Jesus, Mormons likewise wish to provide a shortcut with a metaphysical experience with the Book of Mormon.

  77. Even though you didn’t ask me, David, I would be willing to respond to this. I don’t usually speak about “accepting Jesus into my heart,” but I really do feel as though I have experienced what in ev-speak would be called being “born again,” and what in Mormon speak would be called “a mighty change of heart” (the term I prefer). I never say Mormon things like “I know X is true,” because I don’t know a damn thing, though I hope for and believe much. :-)

    As to your second set of questions: I think two strains of thought have emerged in Mormonism on this issue. I grew up with the hardline, “Miracle” of Forgiveness strain. During a very intense period of transformation, I shifted my perspective to the other strain, and was influenced strongly by Mormons like Stephen Robinson (Believing Christ) and Bob Millett (Grace Works). I began to weight more heavily scriptures in the LDS canon that support the idea of the Mighty Change of Heart, such as Alma 5; Ezekiel 36 (heart of stone, heart of flesh language); the Sermon on the Mount (and its Book of Mormon versions); Ephesians 2; the “broken heart and contrite spirit” language of Psalm 51, 3 Nephi 9, D&C 59, etc. I was drawn to the Three Kingdoms model of the afterlife (which I began to interpret as INFINITE Kingdoms), which seems more grace-filled to me than the heaven/hell dichotomy. This might sound weird, but Richard Dutcher’s film States of Grace was a paradigm-shifter for me. I wrestled with, and ultimately rejected, Calvinistic and even Arminian concepts of free will, which I don’t believe go far enough: I think that when you REALLY EXAMINE the Mormon concept of agency, this requires a more radical doctrine of grace than any other model. In short, I realized that although it isn’t as common as it could (and, IMHO, *should*) be, you can construct a very strong grace-oriented narrative in Mormonism.

    Having said that, I didn’t get there on Mormon thought alone. It was conversations with evangelicals that convinced me to start thinking about grace in the first place. I was influenced strongly by CS Lewis, whom I love. Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus changed the way I think about what Christianity is really all about. I also took a Bible class from a local church, and the pastor there shed new light on the issue, by talking not so much about salvation as the point of the gospel itself but a byproduct of a changed heart and life, which I now see as the real point of mortal existence and the ultimate expression of God’s grace.

    Third, my thinking has emerged to be fairly post-modern, so the authority issue isn’t something I’m particularly concerned with anymore. I prefer an interpretation that says that the ordinances are efficacious because they reflect a sincere effort to commune with God, and I believe that ritual is an EXTREMELY POWERFUL way to do this. I do not see them as some sort of legalistic requirement to “get in,” though I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to be baptized or be sealed in the temple, for example, understanding how beautiful the symbols are and how deeply and quickly they connect us to God.

    Of course, this means that I also believe that other people’s rituals are efficacious. I also see your rejection of the ordinances as a symbolic way of casting yourself wholly at God’s feet, and so I believe your heart is in the right place, and that this action is honored by Him, too.
    Other Mormons will disagree vehemently with me on this (though I think there’s a sizeable minority — say 20% — of active Mormons who would back me up). Either way, it doesn’t bother me. I believe in a God of Grace, after all.

  78. David,

    This is tough for me to articulate, but I’ll give you a summary. I’ve been thinking about blogging about this for some time. Maybe this will help motivate me.

    I was into some really bad stuff as a youth (criminal stuff). At some rock bottom-breaking points as a young adult, I had some pretty transformative experiences with forgiveness and grace (through faith in Jesus). This all happened in a Mormon setting and with the BoM as a primary guide. Since I was very young, I’ve always had problems with aspects of Mormon history and teaching. But, the new life I was granted through Christ all happened within Mormonism. Although my issues and concerns persist, I have chosen to honor my past encounters and stay.

    To answer your questions now:

    Its true that I tend to talk more like an EV than a Mormon. And part of that is simply because I read/follow some prominent EVs and I like the way they phrase things. But, most of it is a decision to set aside the cultural speak I commonly see in the LDS Church, and try to speak out of the scriptures. If you’re familiar with the stories of Alma the younger/Sons of Mosiah, Enos, King Benjamin, Lamoni – they sound much more like EV’s as well.

    The conversion experience I related was very much seen as a return to the LDS Church, by my family and Mormon friends. And I suppose it was, since I stayed and went on a mission. But, I will always view it as an introduction to Jesus, with Mormonism setting the table. I did find a lot of validation from certain GC talks at the time – by Holland. Eyring, Faust and Maxwell. Mostly, I stuck with the scriptures. About 4 years ago, I did get very interested in contemp. Evangelicalism (Brain Hardin and the DAB, Rob Bell, Matt Chandler, NT Wright, Peter Enns…) and that certainly has enhanced my belief and understanding of Jesus and the NT. But, I’ve never felt compelled enough to make the leap. My satisfaction with the Christ I’ve already found has something to do with that.

    I don’t particularly like focusing on Mormon truth claims – and that certainly grates my nerves as I participate. But, my experience with Mormons here in NYC has shown me that there are a lot of people in the Church who feel like I do. For them, its about Christ and community. I feel the same way. In terms of requirements, I don’t read Paul as condemning all human effort. Because he was speaking to Christian gentiles in Rome, I believe he was specifically talking about Jewish rites. (in other words, telling them to not worry about becoming Jewish). True, Mormons almost never use the word grace – but I still find a great deal in Mormonism that promotes the idea that our works are insufficient. That’s dodging a bit, but I’m out of time.

    Maybe I’ll unpack this at a later date.

  79. I should add, that although the BoM was a vital tool in my turn to Christ, I would absolutely count the Bible as my favorite of the two. (NRSV of course)

  80. Most of what Katie L and Christian J said resonates with me. We may not be typical Mormons in our grace perspectives, but the longer I’m in the Church the more I see we’re not alone either despite all its wackiness in some areas.

  81. Christian J.

    Not for me. For me the Book of Mormon was certainly the more crucial in turning me to Christ than the Bible (much as I revere that book as well).

  82. Like I relayed Seth, the BoM was crucial in my turn as well. But, the Bible has more opportunities for contextual study – IMO. (for a number of reasons)

  83. Besides the Sermon on the Mount, which is my all time favorite passage of scripture, period, the Book of Mormon contains some of my very favorite teachings on Christ.

    I love Alma 7′s language about the Suffering God. 2 Nephi 2 with its “opposition in all things” — the most satisfactory response to theodicy I’ve yet encountered. Alma 36 and the inference that one’s joy can only be as deep as one’s pain (yet another way of wrestling with theodicy). Nephi’s and Lehi’s dreams are rich with symbolism that can be applied in a number of ways, but I have found them so useful to exploring how to be a true disciple of Christ. Alma 40 with its “resurrection as a restoration” stuff is just wonderful. I could go on. Suffice it to say, it’s a pretty awesome book.

  84. Pingback: “Why do you call me a Christian when you believe in a Restoration?” « LDS Anarchy

  85. I’ll jump in here, as well. I was converted to Christ through the Book of Mormon, though I first learned of, and believed in, Christ, through the Bible, as a Catholic.

    The term “born again” is found in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Here are the BoM instances:

    behold
    i am born of the spirit
    and the lord said unto me

    marvel not
    that all mankind
    yea
    men and women
    all nations
    kindreds
    tongues
    and people
    must be born again

    yea
    to cry unto them
    that they must repent
    and be born again

    now
    i say unto you
    that ye must repent
    and be born again
    for the spirit saith

    if ye are not born again
    ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven

    Tim, you need to read the BoM, then ask God if it is not true. If you read and then ask God if it is true, you’ll get no manifestation of the Spirit. The first way is asking for a divine confirmation of something you already believe to be true. The second way is asking whether something you believe to be false, is true. We are to “doubt not, but be believing.” A doubtful heart, approaching God regarding the Book of Mormon, will receive nothing from God. A believing heart, asking for a confirmation, always gets a “yes” answer.

  86. A believing heart, asking for a confirmation, always gets a “yes” answer.,/blockquote>

    That’s because of a little thing called “confirmation bias,” and it’s pretty much a universal human phenomenon, in no way limited to special witnesses of the Book of Mormon.

  87. All of the word of God has this bias. We are expected to believe the word of God first, then comes the sign. The principle being, “Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” I suppose other scriptural canons (besides the Bible, BoM, D&C and PoGP) likely have this same “believe-first” bias.

    Because of this, doubters are essentially cut off, or unable to obtain the various witnesses that supposedly come to believers, and must, of necessity, call them something other than actual divine witnesses. For the doubters, the principle is, “except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.”

    These principles are plainly taught in the Bible, so I find it interesting that Bible-only believers often apply Moroni’s promise in the BoM by dropping the biblical principle of believing first and instead take the unbeliever’s stance of show me first. If the BoM is the word of God, which it is, Moroni’s promise cannot work with unbelief in one’s heart. That would be contrary to how the word of God is confirmed, for the word of God must first be planted in one’s heart, by one’s belief, and then the Holy Spirit makes it grow.

    Now, I suppose you, Kullervo, don’t care one bit about the Bible, either, and so probably ascribe all of these claimed witnesses with this or that book of scripture as “confirmation bias,” and thus, not divine.

  88. Tim said:

    Wouldn’t most Mormons say that TBN is Christian as well? Jared when you were on your mission and you assumed TBN was your target, didn’t you still think they were Christian?

    To Mormons, everybody needs the gospel, especially the Christians.

    Sure they were Christian, but they were not the kind of Christian I wanted any part of. You brought up that Mormons “leave Jesus” when they leave Mormonism. My point was that TBN is part of that. Televangelists are the face of Protestantism to the non-protestants. The existence and apparent tolerance of the phenomenon says something, and makes people not want to be a part of it. The similarity in theology makes you think that the difference between TBN and standard Evangelicals is one of degree not kind.

  89. CJ and Katie,

    This is admittedly a hypothetical that removes many other variables, but. . . .

    If you were moving to a new city and had your own druthers about where you would start to worship, would your local LDS ward be your first or only choice in a place to worship? Or would you check out other options as well?

    Do you think that the LDS church is what it claims to be as the only restoration of God’s one true church?

  90. If I were moving to a new city, I would still choose to worship with Mormons. I’ve checked out lots of churches over the past few years: evangelical, emerging, reformed, and mainline Protestant. I enjoyed my experiences and learned a lot. But, Mormonism is my spiritual home. The Lord has made it pretty clear to me that this is where I’m supposed to be, at least for now and the foreseeable future. In my life, I’ve found it’s generally wise to do what the Lord seems to be calling you to do. :-)

    In answer to your second question: I believe that the LDS Church has a unique and singular role in God’s plan and that it contains many beautiful perspectives that are not available elsewhere. I believe we are set apart to be a Peculiar People, per the Abrahamic Covenant, to be a light and a lift to the world. I don’t think of things in terms of “one and only” — the question itself is the wrong one from my perspective, though if you pressed me on it, I would say no: our God isn’t a God of Either/Or or One and Only, but Both And.

  91. Tim, you didn’t ask me what you asked CJ and Katie, but I can’t resist.

    As to the first question, after growing up in an evangelical home and graduating from an evangelical college, I spent many years drifting between evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, never being particularly happy with either. I joined the LDS church in part because I ended up feeling at home there, and I still do, despite all its faults. Further comments about why I joined the church can be found here.

    That said, although I have no desire to attend any other church on a regular basis, I wouldn’t mind participating in a Bible study of some sort somewhere if they’d be willing to have me (although such wouldn’t fit in my schedule right now).

    As to your second question, I mostly agree with Katie, although I’d word things differently than she does. I do believe that God called Joseph Smith, imperfect as he was, to organize a church that continues to have a “unique and singular role,” to use Katie’s words, and to bring us truths that, for whatever reason, weren’t part of 19-century Christianity, and that it continues to bring us truths that are lacking or underemphasized elsewhere. But I also believe that true followers of Christ can be found outside the Church.

  92. I do believe that God called Joseph Smith, imperfect as he was, to organize a church…

    Eric, what’s with the qualifier? It almost sounds like you are embarrassed by Joseph Smith. Everyone, from the time of Adam to now, were and are imperfect, including all the prophets. Do you use this same qualifier when speaking of any of them? Do you use this same qualifier when speaking of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, even the sustained prophets that do not prophesy, the sustained seers that do not see visions and the sustained revelators that do not reveal?

    Nephi lamented:

    oh
    that i could have had my days
    in the days
    when my father nephi first came out
    of the land of jerusalem

    if my days could have been in those days
    then would my soul have had joy
    in the righteousness of my brethren

    We live in a time without prophets, seers and revelators. Do you really believe that had you lived in Joseph’s time, you would have accepted him and his revelations, if now you cannot help but notice his imperfections, being so far from him in time? Don’t you think you would have noticed them even more then? What about Moses? Had you lived then, do you think you would have accepted the polygamist Moses’ words, seeing him in all his imperfections?

    Why is it that we don’t notice the imperfections of the men who do not prophesy, see visions, receive angels or reveal new truths from heaven, but when those that do do these things appear among us, we can’t help but notice them and many end up rejecting them and their revelations as a result?

    Finally, what are your thoughts, Eric, on this scripture:

    even my servant joseph smith, jun.
    might have power

    and also those
    to whom these commandments were given
    might have power
    to lay the foundation of this church
    and to bring it forth
    out of obscurity
    and out of darkness
    the only true and living church
    upon the face of the whole earth
    with which i
    the lord
    am well pleased

  93. I said:

    I do believe that God called Joseph Smith, imperfect as he was, to organize a church…

    To which LDSA asked me:

    Eric, what’s with the qualifier? It almost sounds like you are embarrassed by Joseph Smith.

    No, I’m not embarrassed by him; he’s one of the most fascinating characters of the 19th century, but still a sinner saved by grace. It’s just that if I say I believe he was a prophet (which I do), some people may take that to mean I think he worthy of something approaching worship, which I don’t believe. I was just trying to make my views clear, that’s all.

  94. Katie,

    Sorry you don’t like the scriptures written out that way. The short answer to your question is: I write them like that because I like them better that way. I guess it appeals to the anarchist in me. The long answer is found here.

    Eric,

    Thanks. I now understand.

  95. Tim, one of the things I like about living in NYC is the variety of religious traditions one can experience (esp. within Christianity). I’ve been to the Brooklyn Tabernacle, Apostles Church with JR Vassar, Redeemer Presbyterian with Tim Keller and a few different Catholic (St. Patrick’s) and Episcopal (St. Paul’s) services in my time here. I’ve enjoyed all of them and they’ve really enhanced my experience with and understanding of Jesus and the many different ways people approach him. If I didn’t love spending Sundays with my family so much, I might make these ecumenical visits more often. In a new city, I would def. continue my infrequent browsing, but I would also have a place in the local LDS ward.

    As for LDS restoration claims: What Katie said.

  96. LDS Anarchist said, “I do not condemn non-Mormons only, for all of the churches upon earth are under condemnation, and all of them together will go to hell, if they do not repent and exercise faith in Christ unto salvation.”

    Were you deliberately deviating from LDS theology when you mentioned hell?

    I agree that if churches do not repent and exercise faith in Christ they will go to hell. I have repented and I exercise faith in Christ.

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