Failing LDS-Evangelical Dialogue: “Was it the Holy Spirit telling you something? Or last night’s pizza?”

TheOldAdam, (aka Steve Martin) is the indomitable Lutheran delegate to this blog.  Over the years he has attempted to demonstrate that when it comes to certain good news, repetition can never be redundancy. As much as I sincerely appreciate the charm of theOldAdam’s message, I think he gets the LDS wrong in a very common and egregious way, i.e. by completely mis-characterizing the LDS view of the Holy Spirit.

I have tried to point to my view of the LDS understanding of the experience of the Spirit hereherehere and here, but my recent exchange with theOldAdam seems like he missed these points and it might be worth reiterating how the LDS view and the Lutheran view of the Holy Spirit are, in principle, nearly identical. It went like this:

Jared C. (Me): . . .  Mormons believe they are following the Holy Spirit and place faith in that as primal. Whatever the membership classify as common experiences with the Spirit ultimately dictate the social facts that make up doctrine. This is why some doctrines stick and others don’t, regardless of whether they are taught by the leadership.

 theOldAdam: Once again, a dubious exercise (following the Spirit)…since apart from the gospel and God’s law…”the devil can come to us all dressed up as an angel of light” (Moroni). As St. Paul said, “Even if an angel from Heaven come down with another gospel, let him be accursed.”

Me: This really makes no sense oldadam, the Holy Spirit is an integral part of any Christian life, no?

theOldAdam: What is the job of the Holy Spirit? We believe that it is to point to Christ. Not to lead us off into self-focused ladder-climbing, or experiential feelings which we cannot trust in. Was it the Holy Spirit telling you something? Or last night’s pizza?

This sort of talk always makes me shake my head. This is one of the oldest of chestnuts flung at Mormons by Evangelicals and the like: i.e. that Mormons are misguided by their emotions rather than reason because they believe in following the Spirit.

Whatever differences the LDS and Evangelicals have, it really makes no sense to say that the LDS believe substantially differently about the Holy Spirit. The OldAdam and other Lutherans wishing to speak intelligently with Mormons should take note that Mormons share the same view of the Holy Spirit: i.e. that the Holy Spirit it is the source of all scripture, and that – according to one celebrated angel – its purpose is to point Jesus. (Revelation 19:10.)

For Mormons, like most other Christians, do not believe that following the Spirit is following a human feeling at all.  “Experiential feelings” may be product of an experience with the Spirit, but not the experience itself.  The phenomena of feeling is simply the product of experience. If theOldAdam rejects the practice of trusting experiential feelings is foolish, then it’s difficult to imagine why he believes anything at all.

And the argument that Mormons are somehow not Christian because they believe in “self-focused ladder climbing” also seems like a strange argument coming from a bible believer. Mormons do, indeed, believe in the value of righteous acts committed through actively following the Spirit in faith. And, from time to time, dress themselves “in fine linen, clean and white”, to symbolize what God gave them to wear when Jesus comes again. As the voice of the Spirit pointed out, fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people. (Revelation 19: 8) However “self-focused” it may be by some estimations to wear pure white clothing, it is indisputably engaging in biblical symbolism. In the context of this symbolism, Mormons do not believe they earned their “fine linens”. The garments are literally given to them by the Lord’s servant, as a consequence of tendering a broken heart and contrite spirit, and in preparation for the Second Coming. Even though many Mormons misinterpret these symbols, this is not a knock on the “Mormon Gospel” but only on its adherents.

If Lutherans and other Evangelicals want to actually bring more LDS into the light of the Holy Spirit that testifies of Jesus, it seems far more practical and friendly to reinforce the biblical basis for the LDS temple and baptismal symbolism rather than to mock them for participating in these sorts of symbolic exercises.  (This strategy also seems less ridiculous to the outside observer.)

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41 thoughts on “Failing LDS-Evangelical Dialogue: “Was it the Holy Spirit telling you something? Or last night’s pizza?”

  1. Jared as a Mormon apostate, I stand with Old Adam. He describes EXACTLY what I understand was the role of the “Holy Ghost” as a Mormon. I understood it as a “force” of the Father and the Son, but without having been exalted and received a body. Mormons DENY the Nicean and Athanasian Creeds which reflect scripture on this matter.

    The role AND function are not compatible. And then the idea that the “Ghost” (thank you very much KJV translators for confusing the Mormons) and the “Holy Spirit”.

    “The Holy Spirit: But according to the Book of Mormon, as well as other Scripture, there is also a Holy Spirit, sometimes called the Holy Ghost, which is not a person, but rather a divine essence, a force, or fluid—for want of a better term—which permeates all that exists. It is the medium through which God communicates with the world, and more especially with his children” (John A.Widtsoe and Franklin S. Harris, Jr., Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon, pp. 157-158).

    “The chief agent employed by God to communicate his will to the universe is the holy spirit, which must not be confused with the Holy Ghost, the personage who is the third member of the Godhead. The holy spirit permeates all the things of the universe, material and spiritual. By the holy spirit the will of God is radio-transmitted, broadcasted as it were. It forms what may be called the great system of communication among the intelligent beings of the universe. The holy spirit vibrates with intelligence; it takes up the word and will of God as given by him or by his personal agents, and transmits the message to the remotest parts of space. By the intelligent operation and infinite extent of the holy spirit, the whole universe is held together and made as one unit” (John A. Widtsoe, A Rational Theology, pp. 72-73).

    “The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead. He is a spirit that has the form and likeness of a man (see D&C 130:22). He can be in only one place at a time,” (Gospel Principles, 1997, p. 37).

    When I spent the worst two years of my life looking for new sycophants, we taught the same ideas that Old Adam has stated. I guess Mormon revisionism is rampant, and doctrine is “dynamic” these days.

  2. //If theOldAdam rejects the practice of trusting experiential feelings is foolish, then it’s difficult to imagine why he believes anything at all.//

    I concur and reject ALL experiential theology. If you don’t accept absolutes that are WRITTEN (BTW– aren’t you an attorney?) Can you trust HEARSAY? If ain’t codified, DON’T trust it.

  3. Benjamin,

    Thanks for the comments, tell me more about why you reject human experience with the Holy Spirit as a basis for theology.

    As an attorney, I do not accept absolutes that are written. I see the law as a positive enterprise, not a reflection of some absolute, and is a reflection of the values of those that deem propositions to be law.

    But if you believe in natural law theory (like Thomas Aquinas’, reiterated by C.S. Lewis) then experience becomes even more central to determining what actually is valid law. The law is not primarily WRITTEN, it is discovered in nature.

    And if you can’t trust hearsay, and you don’t have your own experience, then you are going to have a hard time trusting scripture at all.

  4. Also, I am interested in hearing how your views of the Holy Spirit changed as you converted from Mormonism. I am a Mormon apostate myself, so it would be interesting to compare notes.

  5. Jared said, “Whatever differences the LDS and Evangelicals have, it really makes no sense to say that the LDS believe substantially differently about the Holy Spirit.”

    Thumbs up.

  6. We (Lutherans) don’t reject ALL feelings. I never said that.

    God gave us emotions and feelings and they can certainly be helpful (as well as harmful) in our lives.

    What we do reject is the “burning in the bosom” experience, that validates one’s faith, or is evidence of the Spirit at work.
    We reject it because the devil can come to us in feelings and in ways in which we might ‘feel’ are good. But in reality are the opposite. We just don’t know. We can’t know. Because of our sinful nature and our myopic self-centeredness and our inability to know when God is at work, or not, we might have an inkling (especially in hindsight)…but we just cannot know for sure.

    So we Lutherans, and others, place all our trust in the external Word (preached and read) and in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In these places, and in these places alone, can we have assurance that God is there for us, in us, and working His good and gracious will. No matter how we might feel about it, or anything else, on any given day.

    Lutherans don’t have to feel saved, to know that we are saved. And our assurance (unlike Mormonism) comes totally apart from anything that we do, say, feel, or think.

    Thanks.

  7. Of course Mormons and Christians have substantially differently different views of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost in Mormonism is a personage of spirit, without a body of flesh and bones while the Christian Church confesses the Holy Spirit to be of one substance with the Father and the Son, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father [and the son], who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.

  8. Yes. They speak dufferently about what the Holy Ghost IS, but they seem to agree on what it does, i.e. Creates the testimony of Jesus.

  9. What creates your “burning in the bosom”?

    The Holy Spirit? The Devil? Or last night’s pizza?

    Or can you really be sure? And if you think that you can be sure…what is it that gives you that assurance?

  10. I am not sure I have ever heard a Protestant say the Holy Spirit creates a testimony. The Spirit unites us to Christ, calls and brings about faith and repentance, works through the Word preached and sacraments administered and the ministries of the Church.

    No I am hard pressed to think of a similarity.

  11. Do Protestants believe that the New Testament was written under the direction of the Holy Spirit?

    Do Protestants believe in the Holy Spirt as described by St. Paul?

    If so, then Mormons and Protestants seem to have awfully similar beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit. No?

  12. theOldAdam,

    What creates your “burning in the bosom”?

    I am not interested in this question at all, I am interested in what creates your scriptures.

  13. The Scriptures are of God…and of man. Man, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    The finite contains the infinite.

    Now…what does that have to do with what I said that seemed to be the focus of this post?

    I asked how you can know (how one can know) that the ‘feelings’ one experiences can be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

    We say, there is no being able to tell. Therefore one cannot trust that those ‘feelings’ area from the Holy Spirit. They may be from the devil, attempting to lead you away from the Word…and back into yourself.

    Or…it really might just be something that you ate.

  14. The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself and what He has revealed already in Scripture.

    Anyway…I guess I don’t really understand what it is that you want me to understand about Mormonism, and the Holy Spirit, and ‘feelings’ that Mormons get regarding the things of God.

    Could you rephrase the question or statement, counselor?

    Thanks.

  15. Jared,

    As I understand it Paul describes the Holy Spirit as being fully God, co-equal, co-eternal with the Father and the Son, but those questions don’t really address the discontinuity with Mormonism. As we have demonstrated on countless occasions what the Mormon and the Protestant think the New Testament is saying are two completely different things. From the last post Thomas Monson’s description of the Holy Spirit is more relevant for the Mormon than Paul anyway.

    Sure the Holy Scripture are inspired by God, from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. To focus on one of the Persons of the Trinity as the source of revelation or spiritual experience would be to miss the very nature of God.

  16. I’d say that it is the devil that speaks words that take one away from the completed work of Christ on the Cross for the ungodly…and sends them back into themselves to work on a project of “perfection” and “godliness” by what they do.

    I don’t think it is the Holy Spirit that has people conjuring up visions of golden plates and seer stones and planets inherited and secret underwear and so forth…but rather it is the devil.

    When your spirit denies Christ Jesus as the Living God then it is another spirit.

    There are other spirits out there at work to separate us from the completed work of Christ.

    And those other spirits have hoodwinked, suckered in a whole group of people who are known as Mormons (many other groups, as well ).

    I don’t say that to be mean or spiteful…but hopefully to wake someone up that they might turn to Christ and rely on Him for everything (the radical gospel)…instead of their own religious ladder-climbing project which is nothing new, but is the same old, tired, self-focused self that Christ came to put an end to.

  17. Sure the Holy Scripture are inspired by God, from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. To focus on one of the Persons of the Trinity as the source of revelation or spiritual experience would be to miss the very nature of God.

    I think I can understand what you are saying. But I think you are missing the point. If Mormons believe in a God that is at all like the God you believe in, it is the Holy Spirit. That is really your only common ground.

  18. In Mormonism the Holy Ghost speaks with authority through divine investiture, not as fully God co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son. I don’t think I am missing the point at all. I simply do not see any common ground.

    This is the problem with taking similar human experiences and slapping the term spiritual on them. If, as I believe, we are all created in the image of God then our experiences of transcendence will bear some similarity based on our shared human nature. So when the Mormon talks about being in tune with the Spirit or such other matters I don’t see a common belief, I see I common created nature or a humanity. It’s really the same way I look at spiritual experiences tied to specific locations or objects. I just think that human experience, spiritual or otherwise, is mediated by our finite, created, fallen nature.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t believe in spiritual experiences, just that our spiritual experience are to be tested against biblical norms.

  19. Jared, I understand your objection to the “pizza attack”. I may not understand purposefully engaging TheOldAdam on a quest for deeper understanding and theological nuance.

  20. Gundek, I think I am using a more basic definition of the Holy Spirit:

    Holy Spirit = whatever it was that inspired the scriptures.

    Can LDS and traditional Christians agree on this, at least?

  21. Jared – Really appreciate the post. I think you hit on a common disconnect in LDS-Evangelical dialogue.

    “And if you can’t trust hearsay, and you don’t have your own experience, then you are going to have a hard time trusting scripture at all.”

    Very well stated. For those who reject receiving a “testimony” or spiritual witness from the Holy Spirit, how do you know the Bible is God’s word? Why do you believe in this collection of writings and not, say, the Gilgamesh epic or other writings that predate the Bible?

  22. To what end? Is it some kind of ecumenical breakthrough to say Holy Scripture is inspired when what inspired them is disputed?

    I’m not trying to create disagreement where it doesn’t exist, but it seems obvious that Trinitarian theology effects pneumatology.

  23. JT,

    Who is rejecring spiritual witness? It is not a rejection of spiritual witness to point out the obvious, that I have no way to determine the reliability of your spiritual witness other than to subject it to the standard of Holy Scripture.

  24. JT,

    God made the Holy Scripture the standard and I trust His promises.

    Protestantism has no difficulty saying both that Holy Scripture is the standard by which we would judge all spiritual matters and that ultimately it is the “inward work of the Holy Spirit” that causes our trust in God’s Word.

    There is a distinction between God’s objective revelation in Scripture and my subjective experience.

    This can be more clearly seen in our theology of the Word preached. It is traditional to pray for illumination of the Spirit that the sermon will be effectual in bringing about faith. This practice is based on the promise that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”, not on an individuals response to a sermon.

    The same is seen in the sacraments. It is the Spirit that seals the sacraments to the believer in a tangible sign of covenant promises. The efficacy of the Sacraments is based solely on covenant promises and the Spirit and not at all on my spiritual experience.

    The practical pastoral implications should be obvious when it is God and His promises that matter not my being spiritually tuned in.

  25. Gundek – How do you know that God made Holy Scripture the standard? Or that he had any connection with them at all?

  26. The ultimate source of “knowing” that Scripture is inspired is the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

  27. JT,

    How do you explain that people in false religions like fertility cults and atheists have the same spiritual experiences as you.

  28. Was it the devil? Last night’s pizza? Or the Holy Spirit?

    Still waiting for an answer on how you can know. Aside from God’s Word, and His sacrament in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper…you cannot know for sure.

    I challenge anyone out there to prove otherwise.

  29. As time goes by I am more and more comfortable with not knowing for sure and an imperfect faith.

  30. There’s such a thing as false faith.

    Trusting in something…anything…that is not rooted in Holy Scripture…or in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper…is false faith.

  31. “The ultimate source of “knowing” that Scripture is inspired is the illumination of the Holy Spirit.”

    Amen.

    “How do you explain that people in false religions like fertility cults and atheists have the same spiritual experiences as you.”

    I don’t know the experiences they have, but I do know the experiences I and many others have had. How do you answer this question for yourself?

    theoldadam – I don’t think you are following the conversation. Ask yourself the same questions I asked Gundek: how do you know that the Bible (and baptism and the Lord’s supper, if you would like to add those) is, in fact, God’s Word?

  32. My point in all of this is that, similar to Jared, I believe the Mormon and Protestant view on this is not that different, just a couple of thousand years removed.

    In a comment in the last post, Jared said: “Mormons believe they are following the Holy Spirit and place faith in that as primal. Whatever the membership classify as common experiences with the Spirit ultimately dictate the social facts that make up doctrine. This is why some doctrines stick and others don’t, regardless of whether they are taught by the leadership.”

    This is, effectively, how the New Testament was organized. Various authors (many anonymous) wrote what they claimed to be words inspired by the Holy Ghost. The early Christian fathers accepted some and rejected others as canonical, based on their own common experiences with the Spirit, until at last – 300+ years later – we start to see the current arrangement of 27 books as the standard.

  33. JT, Thanks for the comments.

    OldAdam,

    I think that both LDS and other Christians agree a that certain kind of spiritual experience is not the basis of their religion. They all seem to believe that their faith rests on certain historical experiences by humans with God and the thoughts that resulted. They both seem to believe that the Holy Spirit will affirm the truth of those experiences and those teachings.

    Although plenty of Mormons hold on to their emotional experiences as confirmation of their faith, most would agree that their experiences don’t prove anything to anybody else. They generally think that and those sorts of experiences that lead people away from saving truth (as they understand it) are viewed to be either confused, completely psychological, or satanic.

  34. JT,

    I honestly don’t try to explain people’s spiritual experiences, but like I posted earlier I generally assume similar experiences come from a common humanity. Otherwise I think the “fruit of the Spirit” test generally works. It doesn’t matter if it is Montanus, the Zwickau Prophets, Joseph Smith, or Mark Driscoll the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as a test is a good indicator.

  35. “I don’t know the experiences they have, but I do know the experiences I and many others have had.”

    No, you don’t know the experiences others have had. You know what they say they had, but you can never know, with certainty, the experiences they had. This makes comparisons impossible, and therefore experience is not a way to create a standard to base anything off of that can be reliable in discerning the truth of a religious claim.

    The Holy Spirit does draw us into Christ, but as others have said elsewhere, when the Spirits claimed drawing us in are different spirits, the utility of the similarity becomes less useful.

    How do Christians verify scripture? Faith and reason. I don’t disagree that some reading the Bible may experience some sentiment that draws them into it and to Christ, but their emotion will be supported by what is in scripture. If they rely only upon their emotional state, they will fall from it as the emotion fades.

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