The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles show us how the first Christians were Mormons?

Early Christian Gravestone, Jesus the ShepherdIf you haven’t read the Didache, it’s a fascinating read.  Named after the Greek word for “teaching” this short work purports to contain the teaching of the twelve apostles of Christ.  Written as early as the first century, it was considered by some prominent early Christians as part of the New Testament.  The Didache is intriguing because it was not written to tell a story, or to explain theology, but as a manual for what Mormons would call “living the Gospel.”

The Didache is ostensibly the direction of the Twelve Apostles concerning how to practice Christianity.  It lays out how to live, how not to live, how to baptize, how to prepare the sacrament, how to pray and fast, how to deal with traveling preacher, how to appoint local leaders, and how to prepare for the Second Coming. One reason the book struck me as “Mormon” is that Jesus is not mentioned by name at all. The “way of life” is straightforward– love of God, the golden rule, and shunning immorality. It’s approach to religion is unsophisticated and straightforward, not unlike most LDS conference talks. 

The book is also Mormonesque in the way it directs believers to appoint church leaders from their own congregations. Professional, traveling preachers are to be accepted, but tested. Those that hang around too long, or leach off the membership, were to be rejected.  It also smacks of the Mormon worthiness narrative.  The congregations were told to confess and repent of their sins before Sunday worship so that their sacrifice to God could be pure. They were also directed to resolve all disputes with others. 

It makes me wonder how Christianity would differ today if this guidance was considered the infallible word of God.  Would Evangelical-style money-preachers be rejected more readily? How would the church look if these practical principles were enforceable as scripture?  These are some of the fascinating questions these just-barely-uncanonical works leave me asking.

Mormons & Evangelicals: What can I learn from you?

Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time.  One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard.  My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.

Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.)  But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.

Continue reading

Have You Been Changed By Grace?

Guest post by Eric

In the perennial debate over grace vs. works, there seem to be two extremes:

  • On the one end is the view that because believers in Christ have been saved by grace, works don’t matter, or don’t matter in any way that counts. The fancy term for this view is antinomianism, which is related to the concept of “cheap grace.” This is the stereotype that many Mormons have of evangelical belief.
  • At the other end is the view that some have labeled “works righteousness,” that grace is something that kicks in only once we have become worthy to receive it. This is a stereotype that evangelicals often have of Mormons, that we are trying to work our way into heaven.

I’m not going to get into an argument over which stereotype is more accurate. Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for adherents to either of those views (although they may not admit it), it isn’t hard to find them.

I do think, though, that there is a type of works righteousness that is supported by much if not most of Mormon culture and even often by teachings of church leaders. (You’ll sometimes find it in evangelicalism too.) For various reasons, we Mormons have become so wary of teaching cheap grace that we forget what even our specifically Mormon scriptures have to say about the infinite nature of the Atonement.

It is possible to teach grace without resorting to cheap grace. I thought this was very well done in a talk that was given to Brigham Young University students last year by Brad Wilcox, a professor there. I was introduced to this talk recently by my son serving on a mission; it was recently viewed by all missionaries in his mission, and missionaries’ parents were asked to view it as well. I’ve been told that the missionaries found it powerful (my son certainly did!), and I did too. The talk, “His Grace Is Sufficient,” is available in text and video formats.

One thing I liked about the talk is that it is specifically Mormon in tone and addresses some common LDS perceptions that keep people caught in the trap of relying on their own efforts — this isn’t Protestant grace with a Mormon veneer. Even so, I hope that even non-LDS Christians can find something of value here.

Talking with Mormons

Talking with Mormons - Richard MouwRichard Mouw has released a new book entitled “Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals“. I haven’t read the book so I don’t intend to review a book I haven’t read. I respect Richard Mouw and his influence on me is evident.

I do wish to respond to something attributed to Dr. Mouw in an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack.

Too often, Evangelicals pick up little-taught LDS beliefs — such as humans becoming gods or having their own planets — and put them at the center of Mormon theology, rather than at the periphery.

This quote isn’t directly attributed to Mouw so I don’t know if it’s something he said or if it’s Stack’s attempt to collapse a larger thought offered by Mouw. Without having read the book, I’m tenuously willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I find this troubling.

Mouw was correct to call out some Evangelicals for previously mischaracterizing Mormon ideas and beliefs. But I think this too is a mischaracterization of Mormon beliefs. Dr. Mouw has been meeting for many years with various Mormon scholars and thinkers. He may have been given the impression by those Mormons that Exaltation is a doctrine at the periphery of Mormon thought but it is a mistake to believe so.

In my own dealings with some Mormons (though not by any means all) I have experienced a reshaping of Mormon teachings that makes them more palatable and less offensive to Evangelical ears. In particular I have experienced this with missionaries and those more bent toward Neo-Orthodoxy. But when I listened in on “in-house” discussions of Mormonism I discovered that those teachings were not as they were originally presented to me, and in some cases were the opposite of what I was told. This has happened frequently enough that I sometimes wonder if there is an unwritten rule of Mormon culture; make the church appear to be whatever the outsider needs it to be. [Some former members have taken to writing long articles on this phenomenon]

I firmly believe that Evangelicals need to listen to Mormons and let Mormons define their own beliefs. But I do not think Evangelicals should be content with how Mormons define their beliefs to Evangelicals. To really understand Mormonism it’s important to go a step further and understand how Mormons define their beliefs to other Mormons. In some cases Evangelicals will discover something entirely different. I think that may be the case here in regards to Dr. Mouw’s understanding of Exaltation.

Exaltation is a core belief of Mormonism. The idea that humanity can become deity is emphatically a core belief. The nature of God as a human and the “plan of salvation” (in which we can become gods) are essential ideas in Mormonism. If Richard Mouw thinks that these are periphery issues, he either doesn’t understand Mormonism or he’s been woefully misinformed about Mormonism. I don’t need to reach back into the archives of 19th Century sermons to show this to be the case. I can direct him to current publications and sermons from recent General Conferences to provide evidence.

I probably advocate for much of what Dr. Mouw discusses in his new book, but this snippet from “The Salt Lake Tribune” leaves be concerned and skeptical.

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Update:
I just discovered this Catholic review of Mouw’s book.
http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/webexclusives/2012/may/talkingmormons.html?paging=off

This part is relevant to my post:

Mormons fail the Calvinist test because they believe that, as Mouw puts it, God and humans are “of the same species ontologically.” Mormonism went wrong not with the Book of Mormon but with a flawed metaphysics.

Mouw argues that a “metaphysical gap” between God and us is essential to Christian faith and that Calvinism offers the best protection against any attempt to close that gap: “Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable ‘being’ gap.” Mouw means that God’s existence is so different from our own that it can be said that God is beyond being altogether. Put another way, God is so “other” that God cannot even be said “to be.”

So it appears that Mouw is indeed aware and concerned about the Mormon view of the nature of God.

Mitt Romney’s Mormon Problem Explained

Mitt Romney has a problem. It’s a Mormon problem.  But it’s not the problem you think it is.

When most people think of Mitt’s Mormon problem they think it has something to do with Evangelicals.  It’s true that Evangelicals don’t like Mormonism and it seems apparent that Evangelicals would prefer to not vote for a Mormon.  But Evangelicals are very pragmatic.  When it comes to an election Evangelicals will vote for a Mormon who fits their political values.  Most Evangelicals haven’t been faced with that before, but when push comes to shove they’ll do exactly what Evangelicals in Utah, Idaho and Arizona do, pick the candidate that best fits their political worldview. Continue reading

To The Ends of the Earth

Campus Crusade for Christ, an Evangelical ministry has a sub-ministry called “Global Ministry Outreach”. They function as the online outreach for Campus Crusade’s ministry. They buy search terms relevant to Christianity, religion and Jesus. Their ads generally direct people to websites like this one. Ads are displayed all over the world and they try to focus their ad buys on under-evangelized and closed countries.

What’s interesting about their ministry is that they give live tracking of events related to their advertising. If you go to GreatCommission2020.com you can see a map of where in the world people are visiting their sites, making a commitment to follow Jesus, providing their email and are engaging in a followup discipleship. All of these interactions are directed toward volunteer online missionaries who receive the email correspondence, answer questions and encourage new believers into an authentic relationship with Jesus. They’re currently putting together a network of churches for new believers to seek out.

This video tells the story of one online missionary.

Global Media Outreach can reach about 1 million people in a day for $60,000 (6 cents a click). I have my own reservations about the method and about the “Four Spiritual Laws” approach. But if you take their reported numbers and divide them by 10 to get a conservative estimate it cost about $45-$55 to find an authentic convert to Christianity. It’s an interesting project and easily the safest and most effective access into closed countries.

Their main competition for keywords is the LDS church.