Filling the Gaps in the Divine Game of Telephone

When Protestants attack the LDS prophet model there is often an exchange where LDS point out how the process of compiling the bible is as open to the same failings as the LDS model of venerating the words of prophets and forming scripture.   In the previous post, Tim and Seth (and I) got into an exchange regarding the similarity between the belief that a prophet won’t lead the church astray and the position that the Bible is inerrant.

As I see it, Mormons and Protestants have the same rough model of receiving information from God:

1. God uses spiritual experience or historical events to convey messages to people

2. People (lets call them prophets) have these experiences and witness these events.

3. Prophets speak about these experiences and events.

4. Authors write down what the prophets speak.

5. Scripture is chosen from the available writings of these authors.

6. Interpreters/Preachers explain the scripture.

Even if you believe that the God does reveal things to people and everybody in the process is acting conscientiously, there seems to be editing in every step of the process:

1. A prophet doesn’t always say (or can put into words) everything he feels/thinks. He might not be able to understand all of it.

3. Not everything prophets say is clear because some people are not as smart, analytical or eloquent as others.

4. Not everything every biblical prophet said, (especially Jesus) was written down.

5. Writings could be lost, mis-copied, or left out by compilers of the canon.

6. Not every scripture is considered equally important or worthy of focus by preachers/interpreters.

This editing occurs with regards to every biblical event and every prophet or revelator and is compounded in the Bible because there are so many events, authors and revelators.

I have always had a hard time with trusting this sort of process for a full or final picture of what God is offering people.  Even if everyone is acting with complete honesty and integrity, without a belief that God is intimately involved in every step of the process ( a belief that is not justified by the biblical text) you have to expect significant gaps.

The beauty of the LDS model is that it acknowledges these gaps and has a way of correcting it (at least in principle), i.e. by continuing clarification and revelation from God.

However LDS have not reconciled the real problem because when it comes to modern prophets and scripture, they do not have a principled or consistent way of delineating what makes the cut and should be focused on by the current teachers/interpreters.  Right now it almost comes down to a purely authoritarian/military model of whoever is in charge is in control of the editing.

Protestants deal with the the problem of the mess  in the early stages by arbitrarily eliminating it and leaving everything to the interpreters.  They set the canon as the only (and complete) explanation we have from God. However they have the problem of explaining why the current Bible is not suffering from gaps and has no need of continuing the kludgy cycle of receiving and interpreting messages from God.   I can understand the concept of using past revelation as a benchmark, but postulating that the bible is complete or completely correct seems quite a stretch.  Of course this “solution” simply ignores all of the problems up to stage 5, but it at least gives some common ground to judge various interpretations.

Without some sort of explanation that is more than simply an article of faith, its hard to see where Protestant biblical interpreters and Mormon Prophets/interpreters have the ability to come up with ultimate answers that are more trustworthy than seeking personal experience with God.

So, I am actually looking for answers for myself here and would be interested in what believers have to say:

What would you say to convince me that either the Mormon or the Protestant answer is more trustworthy?

How do you resolve the obvious problems with the chain of communication, and why is that resolution satisfying?

 

Got Fruits? (if so, then what?)

In response to my last post an ex-Mormon, Evangelical teenager, Richard, come pretty strong and hard in expressing his reasoning from scripture that Mormons hate God and don’t understand him. He argued specifically that I was blind to the “Real” truth, qouting this scripture:

1 Corinthians 2:14 : But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

Kullervo  (in his typical understated manner) responded to Richard and suggested that Richard’s approach was evidence that, according to Christianity, it didn’t seem that his religion was really inspired by The Spirit:

Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance”

Now at this point in my spiritual quest it would be hard to classify me as either a Mormon or a traditional Christian by my  partly because of my “lifestyle” and partly because of my eccentric theology but I think the idea that we can find out what is good by examining the fruit.   Love, joy, peace, gentleness are things I that I can sink my teeth into.  It’s experience rather than abstraction. Something that even atheists may understand.  Real proof . . .

QUESTIONS REMAIN

Of course the question is, is this an appropriate way of going about discerning what is of God from either the Mormon or Evangelical (or any other) perspective?

Does lack of these fruits demonstrate a failure to be “fully” Christian?

Do fruits of the Spirit demonstrate a closeness to the Spirit regardless of theology?

If I feel the Spirit and experience its fruits outside of either Mormonism or Evangelical Christianity, maybe even to a greater degree than I have experienced it in those contexts what conclusions can i draw?

Why do we believe the implausible? – Do we have to in order to be good Christians?

Questions concerning why or whether we should believe in implausible things that lack evidence come up tangentially in many threads on this blog. They often comes up when people are trying to show that that the Book of Mormon is not believable because it has stuff in it that is at odds with current understanding of archeology or history.  At risk of starting another boring discussion of archeological evidence , I am genuinely curious about in these questions and how believers answer them.

I think it is clear that both LDS and Evangelicals (1) believe things to be true that are historically very implausible and (2) believe these things without the type of objective evidence that is generally accepted as required to establish historically implausible things, and (3) believe that its extremely important to believe these things to be true, despite there implausibility and lack of objective evidence.

When it comes to my questions, it is irrelevant what specifically these beliefs are are and I think its probably counterproductive to compare lists, even if one religion had a longer list, there is are things on each or their lists of implausibilities that are important and maybe even critical to the religion.

It seems that in order to be a strong member of either group you cannot take the position of agnosticism even when there is barely any of evidence to justify belief.    It seems that in order to be a strong follower you need to overlook the lack of evidence and embrace some things as doctrine (e.g. Inerrancy of the Bible, the divine power behind the translation of the Book of Mormon, or even the Resurrection).

Apologetics of course is the activity of making these implausibilities seem more plausible, or at least not silly, but they seem to be more of an afterthought rather than the primary ground of most people’s belief.  Without some other ground to believe, it seems that there is no compelling reason to engage in apologetics.  However should our faith fail if our apologetics do?

So, arise the questions:

A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

D. Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer these questions differently?

What happens after we die?

This question is generally a fundamental question for believers and non-believers alike, often both groups are pretty certain about what its going to be like.  I am both unsure of a good answer to this question and very skeptical about those who have sure answers both Mormon and Evangelical.

Instead of going through all of the “orthodox” or “official” ideas on the subject, I think it would be profitable to understand what the readers of this blog believe on the subject and why.  I am primarily interested in the basis for the beliefs and the details behind it.

I think there is actually solid scientific evidence for life after death or the life of a spirit outside the body.

I also have solid belief and spiritual experience evidencing God in my life based on numerous experiences as a fully practicing LDS.

However, despite all this, I am very unclear of what is going to happen when we die.  As far as I can see, all we seem to have is a brief and uncertain view of the afterlife, and there are many interpretations.  I base my own concepts on two primary ideas.

  1. God loves us with a love that that is at least similar to what we can understand, e.g. good parental love.
  2. God is just according to a concept of justice similar to what we understand.

Frankly, these two concepts cause me to disbelieve a lot of what is said about the afterlife so I would also be interested to know who believes these principles and  how everybody squares their belief in the afterlife with them.

I am also interested in how primal your belief regarding the afterlife is in the foundation of your faith.  Some become Christians out of fear of hell, others become Christians because Jesus is good and touches them and they never develop any fear of hell. Some are strong LDS because they want to go to the Celestial Kingdom- i.e. the best place, and some want to go to the Celestial Kingdom simply as a by-product of their LDS experiences.

For me this could be a helpful exercise for LDS and Evangelicals, and anybody else, to examine their own personal feelings about this issue while getting new perspectives on this very important area of faith.  Or it could just be a good way to kill some time during the day.

I know I am not offering a lot of my own feelings but I am really at a loss to offer any confident opinions.  I appreciate your thoughts in advance, Thanks for sharing!

What is your most compelling reason for believing in God?

Here is a question that may shed some light and understanding on the common ground between Evangelicals and Mormons:

Why (the heck) do you believe in God anyway?

There are all kinds of reasons not to believe in God, all kinds of proofs for his existence, but I doubt these make a lot of difference in the bedrock reasons for belief in a personal God.  So, for those willing to share, if you do believe that a personal God exists, what is the most compelling reason for you. Is it a historical account, a personal experience, a series of personal experiences?

For me, although there are other reasons, it comes down to a series of personal experiences  (quite a few) that I can’t explain effectively without refering to God.  I know this comes across as pretty weak, but my skeptical nature has stripped bare my interpretations of these experiences to the point to where that is the best description of what anchors my faith.

In recent years I have mentally revisited many of my experiences and tried to be more discerning about what they really mean.  My attitude is partly shaped by the thoughts of the  philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most compelling and entertaining anti-christ writers, who criticised the way people view religious experiences:

” As interpreters of our experiences- One sort of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and their kind: They ahve never made their experiences a matter of conscience for knowledge. “What did I really experience?  What happened in me and around me at the that time? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will opposed to all deceptions of the senses and bold in resisting the fantastic?” None of them has asked such questions, nor do any of our dear religious people ask them even now.  On the contrary, they thirst after things that go against reason, and they do not wish to make it too hard for themselves to satisfy it. So they experience “miracles” and “rebirths” and hear the voices of little angels! But we, we others who thirst after reason, are determined to scrutinize our experiences as severely as a scientific experiment– hour after hour, day after day.  We ourselves wish to be our experiments and guinea pigs.” — (The Gay Science #319 trans. by Walter Kaufmann, 1974, Random House. )

I have tried to take guidance from this advice, because I think it is important for me to feel comfortable that I am not deceiving myself, because ultimately I have to be able to trust myself in order to trust my experiences.  One of these experiences that confirms my belief in God occurred about 4 months ago.  I went to temple square in Salt Lake City and walked through the tour posing as a non-mormon. It was me, a couple from Britain and a guy from Brooklyn.  The sisters that lead us through the tour, although pretty, did not have much game when it came to explaining the church to the savvy, skeptical non-believer.    The tour lasted about 20 minutes and ended at the Assembly Hall a pretty church that sits next to the Tabernacle.   I sat down on an pew and told the sisters I wanted to ask them a question, why did they believe in God.   They gave me the standard, true believer answers, i.e. that everything tells them that there is a God, that they get answers to their prayers all the time (e.g. one sister prayed in the morning when she lost her keys, and they turned up, etc).   I could tell they were sincere believers, not brainwashed, but not skeptical of the experiences they had either, therefore I found much of what they were saying un-helpful. All of this was very sincere, and I don’t find any fault with what they said or how they said it, but I was essentially disappointed, this was the same stuff rehashed and wasn’t at all compelling.  Then one sister turned to me, and said that if I would pray in my room that night, and ask God to show himself that I would get an answer.   Of course this is exactly what I had expected, but I did not expect the internal response I had.  Almost the instant the words came out of her mount, it was all I could do just to hold it together, tears were streaming down my cheeks.  I was not sure if I was surprised or not but tried to remain as “objective” as possible about what was happening, and I don’t want to jump to many conclusions about the ultimate meaning and interpretation of the experience.  But suffice it to say this came at a time where I was at my most skeptical of the existence of God, the Church, Christianity, etc.

The sisters were remarkably cool about how they reacted, they stood there until I pulled it together, I apologized for my tears and they said goodbye, didn’t push anything or put any spin on what they clearly saw happen to me.

Now I am not about to put too much of a spin on this experience either, I don’t know that it should “prove” anything to you at all, after all you were not in a position to observe myself as I was, you were not in a position to be the scientist to make sure that there were not non-God influences that brought about such a strong reaction in me.   Certainly you cotuld chalk up my reaction to so many similar childhood experiences, or even  conditioned response.  But as the observer who knew my history best, and can see the similarities and differences in this context compared to other near identical experiences where I did not have such a reaction, my conclusion is that something outside of me triggered this reaction.  Given the vagueness of the way I felt,  I can’t say that this experience was proof of the truth of the Mormon Church, or Christianity, or anything particularly detailed, but I can say that on that Sunday afternoon, I felt that God existed and was making me feel it in the presence of those two kids with nametags, representing the LDS Church and It didn’t seem to have much to do with what they were saying or how they said it.

This is one of dozens of experiences that  I could relate.  Unfortunately, even taken together, they don’t remove most of the questions I have regarding God and religion, but they do mean something.   To continue with the science analogy, I am still seeking more data points before I draw my regression line.

I am interested to know what Evangelicals and Mormons alike think about this sort of anchor for a belief in God and also very interested to know what anchor’s other people’s faith.   My guess is that we my have more in common on this issue than on our theology.

Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven

Since Tim is gone, I thought I would back him up by writing a Tim-Style Post.  i.e. throw out a controversial LDS doctrine in sort of a challenging way and then open it up for comments.

Few Mormon doctrines are more radically paradigm-shifting than the believe in the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

What equally interesting to me is what this particular doctrine tells about how Mormonism works.

I think Evangelicals often stand with open-mouth when they read that those crazy Mormon’s believe such things because they are nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Aside from being a radical shift in understanding of God and Man between Protestants and Mormons, the doctrine also shows a fundamental difference in the way Mormons form their personal theology vs. the way Evangelicals seem to go about it.  This is what I want to explore with this post.  To try to explain to bible-focused (limited?) Evangelicals why Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven, even when its not in the bible.  For this I am going to have to call on the usual bunch of commentators.

Few people, if any, know the ultimate origin of the idea that we have a Mother in Heaven.  Joseph Smith does not seem to have spoken directly about it in his life and there is no reference in the LDS Canon.

The first time we see it in writing comes from a woman, Eliza R. Snow, in a hymn, “O My Father”  President Kimball acknowledged that “O My Father” was a “doctrinal hymn” and dozens of prophets and apostles have reiterated this idea.

President Lorenzo Snow explained that Eliza Snow got the doctrine from Joseph shortly before he was murdered.

President Spencer W. Kimball in a general conference address:

“When we sing that doctrinal hymn … ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 6.)

The doctrine of the hymn is pretty straightforward, there is a mother in heaven and we will return to live with Her and the Father, and that they together sent people on their mission to earth:

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal

Tells me I’ve a mother there.
Let me come and dwell with you.
With your mutual approbation
All you sent me forth to do,
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?

So there we have it, a revolutionary new way of looking at God and heaven that turns traditional notions on their ear.

Mormons believe it, but I can see the Evangelicals left scratching their heads:

  1. The doctrine is not found in scripture, including Mormon Scripture
  2. The doctrine was not explicitly taught or explained by Joseph Smith (even though it is pretty clear that he was claimed that he originally  taught the doctrine)
  3. It really shifts away from all traditional interpretations of the Bible.

I can see how an Evangelical is probably left dumbfounded:  “You can’t win with those Mormons, how can I teach them correct theology whenthey are going to beleive stuff like this with such slim support or understanding?”

Here we have, in my mind, the genius as well as the vulnerability of  Mormonism. . . our willingness to believe in things that are not in the Bible.  To some Mormons, this doctrine is very uncomfortable.  We sometimes downplay it and even reproach those that make “too much” of it due to the little we “know” about it.  To others, agreeing with Eliza R. Snow, it makes religion make more sense: i.e. “If man is made in the image of God, why wouldn’t there be family in heaven as well as on earth. “

I think if we can give a good explanation to our Evangelical friends  of why we believe this doctrine, they will be a lot closer to really understanding Mormonism.  (and we might have a clearer way of understanding our own view of how “doctrine” is born).

So Mormons, explain to Evangelicals :

1. Do you believe in a Mother in Heaven? and

2. Why?

3. What is the significance of the doctrine to you, to the Church, and to the world?

Evangelicals, we know you don’t believe it, and we know its not in the Bible, if you try to understand why we believe you may learn a lot about Mormonism in general that will enlighten you on how we do religion in other areas.

Why the Mormons have to be on the right track regarding Jesus.

Who best knows what Jesus taught, or did or thought (or thinks)? 

To some, apparently Evangelicals included,  the answer is the Bible. . .

Jesus love me, yes I know, because the Bible tells me so.

To me this song was always a bit baffling.  If Jesus loves you, and he is alive. . and is GOD it seems that we would be able to find out from Him directly whether he loves you.  Depending on the Bible alone, and the teams of unbiased scholars it would take to approach an accurate exegisis of a 2000 year old document seems like a strange approach indeed.  When the bible text is limited and not completely clear, theology becomes a slave to scholarship and scholars, collectively, rarely agree on anything. 

Mormons take a different approach, we posit that Jesus must be speaking to some or all of his followers directly and try to find out the truth by listening and recognizing his voice.  We teach our kids: 

I know my Father lives, and loves me too, the Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true. 

Personal revelation as well as global revelation is the conceptual center of the Mormon faith. The Mormon mantra, is their testimony that God speaks to us today, Joseph Smith was a prophet and there is a living prophet on the earth today.  How do Mormons know this?  From the voice of God himself, by the voice of his Spirit. 

Joseph Smith, speaking for God, declared:

” For verily the avoice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to bescape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither cear that shall not hear, neither dheart that shall not be penetrated.” Doctrine and Covenants 1:2

Speaking for himself he taught:

“God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them…”  -Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 150-151

Of course I know that non-mormon eyes start to roll at this point.  People who speak for God, or as God, are a dime a dozen and there are always a bunch of suckers ready to buy the story.   Any charismatic preacher with a egomaniacal bent can form a sect, cult, following, denomenation  (pick your term).  Joseph Smith, they say, was just one of a long list of self-proclaimed (false) prophets.   

I hear the argument loud and clear, and it is certainly compelling.  (Mormons think all those other people were false prophets too! )

However, even if I was convinced (as evangelicals are) that Joseph should be lumped in with the Mohommeds of the world and the Book of Mormon with the Urantia book, Its difficult to argue against the approach and reasoning: i.e. Go  first to God to find what God thinks and then listen to his answers.   If you want to know what Jesus really taught, why can’t we dial him up now, or least find some sort of spokesman.  Even the organizations devoted to Mammon have customer service representatives, how much more should God, our father who loves us, provide contemporary customer support?

As an attorney and a student of philosophy,  I have lost my faith in debate and analysis to untangle complicated events such as the life and ministry of Jesus.   In my experience, its nearly impossible to figure out with certaintywhat was said and done last year, let alone alone 2000 years ago. It seems that if that examination of the known facts and documents of historical christianity is our best path, then we are destined to be “Ever learning, and never able to come to theknowledge of the truth.”

How God Makes Mormons

Today I heard the first missionary discussion taught to a new investigator to the Mormon church, and it made me  suprised how effective the approach is, considering how un-compelling it felt to me. Perhaps I was just too familiar with the subject matter, too jaded, critical or skeptical (or all of the above) but when I tried to see the discussion through the eyes of the investigator (a 25 year old presbyterian from Cameroon) the content and delivery just didn’t grab me.

For those who don’t know. Mormon missionaries teach others about the church through teaching a series of core principles and leading people through a series of commitments. For those Evangelicals who want to become completely familiar with our subtle brainwashing techniques they can download their own copy of the complete missionary handbook “Preach my Gospel” here.  This manual probably provides as close as you can get to the “official doctrines” of the church because these are the elementary doctrines that the leadership has decided to have taught to all missionaries and every new member of the church.

The missionaries introduce the church with the idea that God lives  and sent his Son to save us and has always spoken through prophets and that he spoke to Joseph Smith in our time and that our church   They then explain the role and mission of Jesus, the pre-earth life, the fall and redemption through the atonement of Christ, and the potential to inherit various kingdoms of glory through making and keeping covenants.   They ask those interested in the church to read the book of mormon,  be baptized, come to church, quite smoking, drinking, having extra-marital sex and to pay 10% of their income in tithing.  This usually happens in the course of 2-3 weeks but times vary greatly.

Central to the entire process is teaching people about the Spirit of God and how to recognize it.  Essentially the missionary process is an attempt to invite people to receive personal revelation to become members of the church.

I didn’t feel the Spirit when they taught the first lesson to the young business student from Africa today,(Maybe I was too concerned with the annoying way the young missionary was bobbing his head when he spoke, not sure).  I have felt the Spirit dozens of times when I taught the same lesson on my mission.

Tens of thousands each year make these commitments and become Mormons, in spite of annoying head bobs or other foibles of the barely-post-teenage missionaries that teach people about the church.

The experience made me think about how Evangelicals would go about converting me or someone unintiated to the faith and the meaning and significance of the different approaches.

How would evangelical missionaries go about converting me  (other than through internet blogs :) ) ?  How much of the approach involves teaching me how Mormonism is heresy vs. presenting a compelling alternative?

Is Barack Obama the next Joseph Smith?

A prominent Evangelical commentator Cal Thomas called Obama a “false prophet” in a recent pre-election op-ed .   He appears to be representing his views as the Evangelical opinion on the subject:

The question which Thomas raises returns us to the issue that I have harped on before, how do we coherently explain prophets, true and false.

In response to a previous post of mine, Tim’s comments seemed to indicate that the reason Mormons are shunned by other Evangelicals is due to the fact that we are followers of false prophets.

Mormons have a lot at stake in coming up with a coherent explanation. The entire history of Mormonism is intimately connected to validating or invalidating prophetic claims.

So, the question I have for both Mormons and Evangelicals:   How can you know a false prophet from a true prophet, and what are the consequences for the sincere followers of the false prophets?

Do we go to hell if we start to believe Obama’s theology?

For those interested in the full transcript of Cathleen Falsani’s interview that is referenced by Thomas, so you can decide for yourself you can find it HERE.

Palin, Prayer, Politics and Prophecy

When I saw the media coverage of Sarah Palin’s speech in her church (shown in full here,part 1 and  here part 2) had some observations and questions relevant to this blog.

It has struck me with my limited experience with Evangelical prayer that they generally pray for different things and pray in different ways.

1. Evangelical prayer is more informal, Mormon prayer seems more solemn and formal, very often using old-style english and very formal forms.

2. Praise is a much bigger theme in Evangelical prayers.  Mormons generally don’t have many hymns or prayers of praise like I have seen in evangelical churches, i.e. Mormons don’t really talk a lot about how God is great and awesome and powerful.  Mormons are generally thankful and

3.  It seems that Palin is much more open in praying for certain things to happen in the world, i.e. pipelines, economic development, etc.  Mormons are more subdued in that sort of thing, I generally feel embarrased when people pray for such “political” things (I don’t really know if most mormons are that way or not).  Is this typical of evangelical prayers?

4. I think for many mormons it is an uncomfortable thing to pray for one particular person to obtain public office or that some political event to take place.  Mormons and the Mormon church do tend to be more right-wing than the average person in the U.S.  (not really true outside the US) and socially “conservative” across the board but politics is most often carefully kept out of public worship.   At least in the case of Palin’s pastor, he seems very open about putting Palin in office.    I am sure he believes his prayers had a part in getting her on the Republican ticket.   Despite the claims of prophetic guidance, Mormon leaders are now extremely conservative in making any sort of political prophecy. I think there is a lot of irony here, i.e. that Mormons, in my opinion, are more uncomfortable about such bold prophecy than evangelicals, and generally more skeptical unless the prophecy is very clearly delivered as such from the head of the church.

5. I thought the older pastor’s prayer seemed much more Mormon-like, i.e. it focused on love, gospel, and left out politics.

The questions that remain are:

Are Mormons comfortable (or even excited) about having a national leader who prays like Palin? are Evangelicals?

If you are comfortable or excited about having a national leader make decisions based on prayer, does it make a difference that the leader prays in a “Mormon” or “Evangelical” (or some other) way?

Is there something Mormons can learn from evangelicals prayers and vice versa?  such as: Could Mormons get closer to God by praising more and could Evangelicals get closer by focusing less on political areas and more on interpersonal issues?

Could the fact that evangelicals seem to be very bold in their prophecy on a local level, help them develop more understanding of Mormon’s belief in modern prophecy as authoritative?

Are Evangelicals Really Christians?

Forgive the provocative title.

Reading through the Gospels has put a lot of questions in my mind about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus is quoted as giving some pretty direct statements regarding who would be his true followers and be part of the kingdom of heaven of which he spoke so often. It appears to me that he defined his disciples by those who choose to follow his highest moral teachings. i.e. the Sermon on the Mount and the “New Commandment” to love others as he had loved his disciples.

After the Sermon on the Mount he is quoted in Matthew 7:

15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In John, Jesus gives this definition:

34 A new commandment. I give to you,(that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13 34-35 (NIV)

Again in John, Jesus is quoted as saying that the choice to do the will of God was the path to understanding if Jesus was really of God, as opposed to relying on your interpretation of scripture the Pharisees were doing) :

John 7: (NIV)16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

From my point of view the title of “Christian” is something that Jesus would not give out to all those who claim that title today, Mormons and Evangelicals included. It seems rather clear from these two accounts, that There has to be a will to follow God, and to put Jesus’ teachings into practice rather than a simple confession of faith. Indeed, according to the Jesus of Matthew, a correct confession of correct faith in accord with the learned seems to be something quite superfluous if you actually choose to do God’s will, i.e. you will know for yourself without scriptural confirmation.

So according to Him, isn’t it a bit presumptuous for us to call ourselves “Christians” without searching our hearts to find out if we really want to put the very difficult teachings of Jesus into practice. He does not say: ” By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have the correct creed and teaching about my true substance” or ” By this shall people know that you are my disciples, if you belong to my one and only true church”.

It seems a bit strange that we so readily defend ourselves as “Christians” because we believe that Christ died for our sins, when this theological fact was not at all the focus of what Jesus had to say to those who believed that he was the Messiah. I, for one, would think that He would look more favorably on those who sought to put his words into practice, whether or not they believed He died for their sins, was resurrected, was God, a God, or part of a triune substance that is the Trinity. He does say that these people, apparently regardless of their particular brand of theology, will be on the solid foundation when they stand before Him. I mean, may of the much maligned “hell-bound” secular humanists seem to fair better on this front than those who call “Lord Lord” quite often. It seems that the focus on our own salvation and doing what it takes to “get saved” really misses the point, doesn’t it?

So, does it make sense to call yourself a “Saint” (latter-day or otherwise) or a “Christian” without the will and inclination to put His teachings into practical application?

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Others, inside and outside of purported Christianity seem to have previously picked up on this same thought:

As Gandhi observed. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” discussed here by an Anglican.

An inside LDS Perspective on this Topic from David Haight

and Joseph Smith (verses 34-46)

Another tangent:
Are The Great Commandment and The Great Commission Incompatible?

A new discussion about how Mormons are not christian:

Parchment & Pen

Is the New Life the same for Mormons and Evangelicals?

I was reading the foundational beliefs that define Evangelism according to the authors of the the Evangelical Manifesto (brought to our attention by Tim) and was struck by the Third:

“[W]e believe that new life, given supernaturally through spiritual regeneration, is a necessity as well as a gift; and that the lifelong conversion that results is the only pathway to a radically changed character and way of life. Thus for us, the only sufficient power for a life of Christian faithfulness and moral integrity in this world is that of Christ’s resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many people wonder why Mormons and Evangelicals can believe in miracles, in an unseen yet all-powerful god, in angels, prophets, etc. when there is so many reasons to be highly skeptical. At least one reason why there are believers because of the experience of the New Life.

The idea of a new life through Jesus is a central theme of the Book of Mormon as well. Alma 5 and Mosiah 5 are parts the more powerful sermons recorded in the book deals with this explicitly. In Mosiah, the newly converted explain after hearing a the sermon of a prophet:

” Yea, we believe all the words the which thou has spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)

This is a real phenomenon in the LDS church, I have seen many people’s lives and characters change very radically after becoming converted to the Gospel. (I am still waiting for my “disposition to do evil” to leave however) To many Mormons, this phenomenon is primary evidence of the divinity of the LDS Church. It is not really a mystical experience from what I have seen, most of the change has very little to do with mysticism. It is talked about in very practical and psychological terms but most find the transformationi “supernatural” as the manifesto describes. People aren’t changed by mystical experience, they just find themselves and life different, they are able to do things they could not before, they feel different, they have more understanding or patience or love or less anger than they had before.

I have many questions about this “New Life”. Is how the Supernatural New Life of converted LDS differs from the New Life of the Evangelical? From my experience I am inclined to think that it is very similar. ( Correct me if I am wrong.)

Is the New Life an important evidence of the truth of the Gospel for Evangelicals?

Is a similarity of the new life in Christ in the two groups evidence of something?