Encouraging Signs

I want to make a public record of some positive things I see in Mormonism lately.  The first is a recent article published by the church detailing the human origins of the Priesthood Ban against Black members.  It stops short of an official apology which is where I think the church needs to go, but it offers an official refutation of folk doctrines surrounding the issue and of the church’s previous racism.

The second leaves me in an awkward spot of praising an LDS temple.  In this case, it’s the Fort Collins, CO Temple which appears to be designed in the shape of a cross.  It’s not yet an outright explicit worship symbol but it’s a gateway drug.  I think the activities within the LDS temple are actually a contradiction of the power of the cross, so it’s a weird mashup for me.  I think if I had to choose between LDS temple worship or LDS use of the cross in worship and art I would prefer to see the temples done away with.  But it’s a cross nonetheless and for that I’m grateful.

 

The third is a FAIR podcast discussion between Ned Scarisbrick and Evangelical Bobby Gilpin.  The two discuss the what it means to be saved and I was quite encouraged to hear Mr. Scarisbrick side with Gilpin against the traditional LDS understanding that a person must earn the right to receive the free gift of salvation.  I appreciated the tone and style in which the discussion was held and was very glad to hear the two men share the same conclusion.

Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual.  I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be.  It is only for those who desire it.

While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will.  This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.

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Evangelical Response to the Undercover Mormon Temple Videos

Timothy Dalrymple the Director of Content of the Evangelical portal at Patheos recently published a series of articles concerning the publication of hidden camera videos inside a number of LDS temples. One of these videos in particular has recently gone viral (over 1 million views as of this writing).

The first article is an interview with “NewNameNoah”, the individual responsible for creating the videos and uploading them to YouTube. “Noah” is remarkably straight forward about his motivations and I think you’ll probably have an accurate idea of who he is and why he published the video.

In the second piece Dalrymple considers why Evangelicals should defend Mormons against mockery.

Evangelicals are not wrong to be concerned about the growth of Mormonism. The truth matters, and I like many of my evangelical brethren am convinced that Mormonism does not fully teach the truth of Jesus Christ and his gospel. But we are wrong to let that concern, that suspicion, that fear, drive us to treat Mormons worse than any other religious group in America. It’s not a matter of compromising our commitments to truth, but of fulfilling our commitments to love. Just as it would not be loving to let the saving truth of Jesus Christ be distorted, for in that truth is the liberating message of God’s forgiveness and provision for all people, so it’s not loving to misrepresent what Mormons believe and condemn them in vicious and exaggerated tones.

More to the point, it’s unloving to communicate the truth in such an unloving manner that our hearers conclude that whatever is delivered by people who behave in this way cannot possibly be true. God’s Word comes to us “full of grace and truth.” It is never morally or Christianly acceptable to secure the truth by abandoning grace. The end does not justify the means.

The third article concludes Dalrymple’s thoughts on protecting Mormons from ridicule.

Do the rituals recorded in those videos seem weird to me? Yes, of course. Just like the Eucharist must seem bizarre to people who don’t understand its world of symbolism. Is there anything wrong with having ceremonies that are only for the faithful, ceremonies that are meant to be kept secret? Of course not. Should Christians celebrate that someone lied repeatedly to gain admission, breached the rules to secretly record the proceedings, released those films with an obvious political agenda in the midst of an election contest, and invited the world to join in the mockery? Would that be a Christian thing to do?

The answer is obvious. Mormons view us as hypocritical when we tell them they’re not Christian, but then behave in a non-Christian way toward them. And, well…they have a point. To the extent that Christians take advantage of these videos to engage in more Mormon-bashing, they should be ashamed.

Though I’m sure it will distress some of my Mormon friends, I’m not sure my own response to the videos is as clear as Dalrymple’s. To be sure. Some of the videos are intended to mock Mormonism and some of the comments in the most popular video are skewed against Mormonism. I most definitely condemn those actions and comments. I’m not at all interested in that kind of activity. I also have no interest in using these videos as a means of bashing Mormonism. The timing of the release of the videos is certainly an effort to capitalize on the Mormon moment and the Romney campaign. Whether that be for political motivations or an effort to capitalize on the media buzz is of lesser interest to me.

It’s my understanding that the text of the endowment ceremony has been publicly available for close to 100 years. Secretly recorded audio of the ceremony has been available for over 30 years. It’s also my understanding that the only portion of the ceremony that Mormons actually covenant to not reveal are the signs and tokens. Mormons are culturally wary of discussing the temple at all but the vast majority of the ceremonies are not, strictly speaking, off limits for comment.

Someone showed me the tokens at some point in college, well before I had any real interest in Mormonism. Later while on a long car drive, a woman who had left the LDS church described for me what happened in the temple. Shortly after visiting a temple open house years ago my wife and I researched any remaining questions we may have had via Google. Already having knowledge of the tokens and knowing the rest of the ceremony was not off limits I didn’t think I’d be committing any harm by watching the full endowment ceremony (which included no commentary). I didn’t really learn anything new in viewing the videos. That being said, video is certainly a powerful medium and it put all of the elements together in a way I didn’t expect. The story of creation as told in the temple has certainly grown my understanding of Mormon theology. (For instance, I better understand how the Adam/God theory practically plays out in Mormon cosmology and I better understand how Mormons view the Fall as a necessary and positive step for mankind.)

Where I think I most radically depart from Dalrymple is that I’m not as clear headed that viewing the video is participation in mocking Mormonism on something akin to the level of someone defecating in my church baptistry. The ceremony is strange and unfamiliar but viewing it, absent commentary, is an observation that can lead to understanding. If I fail to speak out against the videos am I really doing the same thing as idly watching a Jew be physically abused by Skinheads? Is the existence of a video camera in the temple a desecration in and of itself? I most certainly understand the angst the creation of the video causes and would by no means enter the temple myself or assist in the creation or publication of the video.

I’m not certain that my religious values align with Mormonism in a way that I value secrecy in the same way as Mormons. Particularly considering that Mormonism claims these ceremonies to be an important, salvific part of Christianity. As a devout Christian I feel I have a stake in that claim and want to judge it for myself. I also think that Christianity does not reserve secrets about itself from outsiders. There is clearly an understanding that some things remain a secret to outsiders, but they are nonetheless clearly and openly taught. So to posit that Christian secrets must remain secrets seems to be something of an oxymoron to me. I simply reject that understanding of Christianity.

I think a question that has yet to be answered about these videos is “how will they change Mormonism?” I think it’s a given that these videos will have an impact. Might sealing ceremonies be opened to non-Mormon family members as a result? I think the window for that possibility is now open. I think you can count on a number of pre-initiatory Mormons to seek these videos out before their first temple endowment experience. Having a knowledge of what a member is covenanting to beforehand may have a positive or a negative impact on the willingness of those who have yet to experience the temple first hand. Will the knowledge that open house visitors might seek out these videos change how and why open houses are conducted?

Regardless of your view of the videos I think we can agree that this is a moment where Mormonism changed, be it in policy, practice or perception.

The Wedding of Jesus

I was wondering how Mormons view Jesus’ status as a bachelor. In Orthodox Christianity singleness and lifelong celibacy are view as acceptable and at times even preferable for followers of Jesus. The value for singleness, devoted to lifelong service of God, is in part centered on the example of Jesus himself.

This lifestyle choice is held in tension in Mormonism. A temple wedding is the penultimate ordinance to qualify for Exaltation. It seems to be THE most exciting and highest honor in temple worship. From an outsider’s perspective it seems the Mormon experience is lacking without a sealing to an eternal spouse.

In light of this, how do Mormons reflect on Jesus’ life without a wife? What kind of justifications are offered for this disconnect? Is it a fact of His life that needs no explanation?

Truly, Honestly. I tell you, this is not just a cheap plug for the post that has become known as “The One True Post.” But I also recognize that I can’t bring up the subject of Jesus and Marriage without referencing it. So consider my obligation to silliness fulfilled.

You Are a Temple

I decided to type the word “temple” into BibleGateway.com to see what would come up in the New Testament.  The results are listed below.  I left out historic references to the Jerusalem temple listed in the Gospels and the book of Acts.  I also left out references in the Revelation of John which are always references to God’s Heavenly Temple.  So these are all text with Christian instruction on the word “temple”.

Romans 9:3-5

For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

1 Corinthians 3:15-17

If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

1 Corinthians 9: 9, 12-14

For it is written in the Law of Moses . . .

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-4

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

1 Peter 2: 4-5

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Most of these verses point to the Christians temple being the body of believers or the body of a believer.  I Cornithians is considered the first New Testament writing (about 15 years after the crucifixion) and you can see how many times in that letter alone that Paul calls the believer the temple of God (rather than direct believers toward a temple).

There are two passages here that may cause a problem with this overall trend.  The first is I Corinthians 9.  But given the context, Paul is citing the Law’s provision that priest are to eat from the meat that is sacrificed in the Jewish temple., So it’s a historic reference rather than a contemporary teaching.  His teaching in the passage is not about temples but rather about Gospel preachers being paid for their work (that is a discussion for another time).

The other passage is 2 Thessalonians which is an end times prophecy about the Anti-Christ.  It could be considered ambiguous if he is talking about the Jewish temple, a Christian temple or God’s heavenly temple as described in Revelation .  But there seems to be only one temple that the Anti-Christ can set himself up in.

Given the weight of all the passages together it seems abundantly clear that Paul and Peter were not out setting up new Christian temples but rather telling Christians everywhere that they are the temple.

How do LDS incorporate these passages into their teachings on temples?

The Sacred and The Secular

A consistent teaching that I have heard in Evangelical churches is that there is no such thing as sacred vs. secular.  The idea is that all things hold spiritual significance.  The way you drive your car through traffic says as much about you spiritually as the way you sing a hymn.  The act of taking communion can be just as defiling as foul language.

There are a number of passages that bring this teaching out.  One of significance is Colossians 1:19-20

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven . . .

Part of the reason we aren’t raptured up into heaven once we receive salvation is because we are to take part in God’s reconciliation of all things ( 2 Corinthians 5:18).  We are to do the work of making everything part of God’s Kingdom.  So what we listen to on the radio on Sunday morning shouldn’t be any different than what we listen to on Monday morning.  What we say and do at church is no more significant than what we say and do at the grocery store.  Our ministry reaches into anything and everything.  A stock broker is in full time ministry just as much as a pastor. There simply is no “holy ground.”  All ground is once again being made holy.

This is contrast against the strong Mormon theme of the sacred and the secular.  This dicotomy is most obviously set up by LDS temples.  “The LDS temple is the holiest place on earth for Mormons.  It is a sacred space” (source).  The vows made in a temple are of much greater signifcance than vows made elsewhere.  The actions taken in a temple have greater significance than actions taken elsewhere.

LDS garments are another source of this differentiation.  Mormons have sets of clothing which have a greater religious significance than any others.  I believe the LDS priesthood plays into this as well, setting the words and deeds of some as higher than the words and deeds of others.

I don’t here much discussion between Mormons and Evangelicals about this difference.  But I think it’s cultural implications are profound and should be recognized.  For Evangelicals there is no such thing as sacred teachings and secular teachings of the Bible, they are all the same thing.  Some  Mormons have anitpathy toward Evangelicals for showing up to church in blue jeans all the while Evangelicals mock Mormons for thinking that underwear can be holy (when both should be recognizing that all underwear can be a testament to Christ).

Evangelicals might have the tendency to become to casual with their faith and fail to treat God with reverance. Mormons have the danger of pining away for the sacred and remove themselves from their work within the secular. I believe the difference are sublte but greatly divide us.

Temple Time

It was pointed out to me that I might have an incorrect view on how frequently Mormons visit the temple. I understand that distance makes the answer different for everyone, but I wonder if you could tell me; How often do you visit the temple?

Weekly
Bi-Weekly
Monthly
Quarterly
Annually
Other

How often should a Mormon be visiting the temple (given distance is not an issue)?

While I’m asking questions about the temple; does it bother you that nothing like it is found in early Christian practice? That means the first endowment performed for any Christian was done by Joseph Smith. Has that ever been a disconnect for you?