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For ten years this blog served as a place to explore thoughts and questions about Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism. Those reading and commenting came from a number of different worldviews but mostly represented different strains of Protestantism and Mormonism (yes there are different strains of Mormonism). For a number of different reasons I stopped writing new posts.

A friend recently told me that he’s started reading the blog and that prompted me to decide to collect some of the highlights into one place. Some of the post are still popular because the other authors and I figured out various ways to title our posts to catch search traffic on various topics. Other times we were looking to inspire a lot of comments and wrote provocative posts. This list isn’t a list of most popular or most commented. It’s what I think should endure. When people continue to pass through they can see what was best here and where they can learn the most.

We Push Them Out . .  Into What? 
One of the first posts that caught the attention of the Bloggernacle.  I had noticed the propensity for ex-Mormons to reject Christianity entirely and wondered if Evangelical polemics against Mormonism had a responsibility.

An Open Letter to Fellow Evangelicals
A core tenet of Mormon theology is that Mormonism can and does change.  Whether Mormons recognize it or not Mormonism is in a transition phase.  It’s important for Evangelicals to understand how and why Mormonism is changing. Continue reading

What Do You Do With a Problem Like Freedom?

I saw this amusing video where confused college students willingly walk into proud and unaware declarations of hypocrisy concerning religious freedom.  Videos like this prove little about the actual merits of an argument because it’s not hard to find someone who supports a position while simultaneously not having thought it through very deeply.  It could be that there are thoughtful people with great reasons for holding a viewpoint, but you can be sure the producer of the video isn’t going to put them in the montage for one reason; they aren’t funny.

Nonetheless, you should watch this video because it’s funny and it supports my point of view.

I was talking through these issues with a gay friend of mine who agrees with me that florists, photographers and bakers shouldn’t be required to provide services for events that conflict with their religious values. Continue reading

My Cat is a False Teacher

This is our family cat, Pigeon. She was a shelter cat that we brought into our home almost 11 years ago. We love her. This is a picture of her sitting in my bed. If you’ve ever owned a cat you can tell that we love her because you know how difficult it is to get a good picture of a cat. If you’ve ever owned a black cat you know that it is nearly impossible to get a good picture of a black cat. A picture like this takes work!

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Despite our family’s love for Pigeon we have cast her out of our home because of her false teaching. Pigeon believes in the Gospel of Overflowing Urine. About 6 months ago she decided that her pee should no longer be reserved for her litter box and that she would like to share it on our carpet.

If you’ve never been around cat urine, you should know that it’s THE biggest problem with owning a house cat. If you are not vigilant about it your entire house can easily be consumed with its distinct odor. Once a cat smells its own urine it feels at liberty to pee in the same vicinity again. This begins to spread throughout the house and eventually the cat views the entire house as a litter box. Like all strong odors, if you live in it long enough, you begin to get used to it and lose the ability to notice it. If your house begins to smell like urine YOU begin to smell like urine. If you smell like cat urine you may not even realize it, but everyone else will. You probably knew someone like this at school. If you don’t take action when you first start noticing the problem you may find yourself a convert to your cat’s false teaching. Continue reading

Three Mormon Reactions to “The Gift of Grace”

LDS President Dieter Uchtdorf delivered a talk on Easter morning that I found to be different than the way Mormons typically discuss grace.  I reached out to a number of Mormon friends and message boards to gain an understanding out how they viewed his talk.  I’ve come away with four general reactions

1) At Last

This is the reaction of those who have become convinced by the writings of Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet or have appreciation for a talk by Brad Wilcox.  They clearly hear a difference and are grateful to have the understanding pronounced by someone in the First Presidency at General Conference.

2) No Difference

Some hear no difference between what President Uchtdorf said and what they have always heard in Mormonism.  I would classify these respondents into two camps Continue reading

Grace Defined Anew at General Conference

I’ve been asked a couple of times to share my thoughts on this talk given by LDS Apostle Dieter Uchtdorf. I just watched the talk and I have to confess it was amazing.  It’s like someone snuck an Evangelical pastor into General Conference and taught him how to deliver a sermon in a manner that Mormons can hear it.  If I had to choose only two things that Mormons should accept as authoritative teachings (in contradiction to what they have traditionally been taught) this would be one of them.

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(the embed code is not working on WordPress, I’ll fix this if possible. click image for video)

I don’t have the transcript of the talk yet but here are some quotes that really stood out to me.  I’m so encouraged that Mormons must now view these as reliable interpretations of scripture.

Salvation can not be bought by the currency of obedience. It is purchased by the blood of God.

We obey the commandments of God out of love for him

We misunderstand the words “after all we can do”. “After” does not mean “because”.

It seemed very clear to me that Elder Uchtdorf was teaching that grace is the path to obedience not the prize for it.  Congratulations to those Mormons who have long agreed with this sentiment but lacked the authoritative voice to stand on it with confidence in their wards.  I agree that grace has the power to transform and as Mormons encounter it with a correct understanding they and the LDS will meet God in new and powerful ways.

I don’t have the time to look up dissenting Mormon voices to this talk but I’m interested in how they may now justify their positions.

 

Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 5

At last, Part 5!  This is what we call in blogging “rounding third.”

I was sad to discover that this is not the first attempt at answering 50 bull dog questions. FAIR, the Mormon apologetics organization took at crack at answering those 50 questions for Mormons.  I also discovered that someone else is working at answering Trimble’s list.  What I learned from both sites is that reading these answers is even more boring than reading the questions.  Holy cow that’s bad news for you Greg.  That means I’m going to have to redouble my efforts at creative insults.  I assure you, they’re not meant for you, just the people who love to hate you.

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Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post.  These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

41. Who are the “other sheep that are not of this fold” referred to by Christ in (John 10:16) Hint: It’s not the Gentles.

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Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 4

Trimble, you sly dog.  In my first post I suggested that people would probably be inclined to respond with a list of 51 questions that would cause someone to leave Mormonism.  Sure enough, Runtu put together such a list.  You won’t want to click on it though because it’s much better than your list (and I don’t say that not because he’s no longer a Mormon).

But then I found something.  A list of 50 questions for Mormons that dates back to 2001.  You cranked a prankster.  You wrote your list of questions in response to THAT list.  And then you added one more so that a web search for your list wouldn’t bring up that original list. [stands up and claps] I haven’t learned anything new about Mormonism, but I am learning somethings about you.  You’re crazy like a fox.

I think I’m ready for Part 4. But are you?

Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post..  These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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31. The Jews prepare for Elijah’s return every year during passover. On April 3, 1836 Elijah returned to the earth and appeared in the Kirtland temple on the exact day that Jews around the world had prepared an empty chair for Elijah at their Passover meal? Is that a coincidence? [More]

No, of course it wasn’t a coincidence.  It’s not like Joseph Smith knew nothing about modern Judaism.  Less than a month beforehand Joseph and a number of his followers had just wrapped up 7 weeks of Hebrew lessons from a Jewish professor they had hired.  In the “if he were making all of this up” line of questioning is it possible that Joseph was quite intentional about what day Elijah appeared? Of course it is.

What’s NOT a coincidence is that both Elias AND Elijah showed up on at the same time. That’s freakin’ unbelievable. (for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Elias is just another way to say Elijah). And by unbelievable, I mean I don’t believe it.  Like literally. I literally don’t believe it. And not in the figurative way people use the word literally these days. I mean I actually don’t believe it. Continue reading

Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 3

I see that my good friend Greg has had his article picked up and partially reprinted by Meridian Magazine under a new title, “51 Questions that Mormonism Answers More Easily & Completely Than Any Other Religion“.  Way to go!  I’m hoping that my responses are picked up and reposted with a new title like “This Guy Answered 51 Impossible Questions and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”  or “Man Tries to Answer 51 Questions from a Mormon, His Response to Number 34 Left Me Speechless”. Between you and me Greg, I think you should tell those gosh dern hacks at Meridian to write their own content.  They’re killing the SEO juju on your own blog.

Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post. . . These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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21. Why do many Christians say that our works don’t matter, but Jesus says that we are required to repent and keep the commandments?

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Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 2

I’m back at it with Part 2 in my quest to answer Greg Trimble’s 51 questions that might lead you to Mormonism.  Here is Part 1 in case you missed it.

Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post..  These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

On with the show!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 1

Retro styled image of colorful Volkswagen Transporter type 2 van

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Mormon blogger Greg Trimble recently wrote a blog article that has picked up a decent amount of social media buzz entitled “51 Questions That Might Lead You to Mormonism“. Running through his post it became quite clear to me that after 7 years of blogging about Mormonism and Evangelicalism I’ve discussed almost every single one of these in one form or another. I felt like Horsack from “Welcome Back Kotter”. It’s quite possible that I’ve actually written something about every one of these questions on this very blog. In the tradition of marathon runners and novelist throughout history, I’m going to do something that’s going to take a lot of time; I’m going to answer all 51 questions. That’s my pledge to you.

I’m going to break up my answers into multiple posts and I’m not quite sure if there will be 5 posts, 10 posts, or something in between. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to ask 51 questions than it is to answer 51 questions. Most people would just turn his post around on him and ask 51 questions that might lead you out of Mormonism. I learned a long time ago that that sort of thing is not my job. Other people have taken it on and I’ve found it doesn’t really line up with my goals in this space. My job is to dialogue with Mormons about the shape of our respective faiths and to clear the air of misconceptions and errant assumptions.

Before I begin I feel the need to discuss Greg’s list as a whole and give a little bit of context to the answers I’m going to provide. First off, Trimble’s list is quite frequently known as the “shotgun approach”. Rhetorically it’s a bit like bringing a bucket to a water balloon fight. It provides the emotional satisfaction of getting someone else wet even if 90% of the water falls on the ground. At that ratio, I think it’s fair to say that at least 5 of my responses are not going to be all that satisfying. They for sure won’t overcome a person’s decision to follow a personal spiritual experience in the face of other considerations. Continue reading

The terrible reality of God = The terrible God of reality

 A meditation on the fear of God: 

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“There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways, or stay in its paths. “

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Armenian Christian Women Crucified by Ottomans in 1916

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Christian Books for Former Mormons

A couple of months ago I was asked for a list of books to help a former Mormons transition to Protestantism.  I reached out to some friends and we came up with this list.These books are listed in order of complexity and depth, starting with the easiest to read.

Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do

Starting at the Finish Line: The Gospel of Grace for Mormons

The Cross of Christ

An Exploration of Christian Theology

Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview

I also STRONGLY recommend getting a modern English translation of the Bible. I love the King James Version and I think it’s a great translation, I recommend it to all my 400 year old friends. The English language has evolved and some of the phrasing in the KJV is archaic which makes it more difficult to understand. The newer translation were all created consulting the oldest known manuscripts of the Bible and were translated from the original languages so you can trust them to be accurate. Fears of the “Telephone Game” are misplaced. I almost always use the NIV. I also highly recommend reading the Bible in a paraphrase known as “The Message”. It’s available for free on the YouVersion Bible App created by LifeChurch.tv.

I recommend a fresh reading of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews with an attempt to dismiss everything you’ve been taught about these scriptures. Try to read them as if this is the first time you’ve read. If you can read them each in one sitting I think your experience will be even better. Don’t view the chapters as natural stopping points.

Lastly there is a study program called LDS Transitions that was made by Christians in Utah who saw a need for it based on the large number of people that have started to transition out of the LDS church.

My favorite book for all Christians is “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard. It’s probably not the best book to start with as part of a transition, but sometime in your life you should read it.

God & Science

Biola University recently hosted an forum where the toughest scientific challenges to Christianity were fielded by William Lane Craig, JP Moreland and John Lennox. I thought the discussion was as candid as you could hope. Topics covered included the multiverse, the problem of the God in the gaps, historical Adam & Eve, and human sex with neanderthals. Hugh Hewitt moderated and kept the conversation lively and challenging.

Living by the Sword

I don’t want to disrespect Slowcowboy or any other Christian that hangs out here with this post, but something is under my skin.

TO EVANGELICALS: If you want to have any influence whatsoever with Mormons you have to adopt the same approach they adopt toward you. i.e. “Bring all the TRUTH you have and let us show you MORE.” Not, “You have it wrong and you are going to hell if you don’t shape up.” This is not about theology, it’s just human relations.  I am not pointining any fingers here, but from what I know of the love of God and the truth in Christ, traditional Christians should not be afraid of Mormons. Yet,  90% of all the inter-faith dialogue I see among Christians is complaining, arguing and fear-mongering.  If Evangelicals spend their efforts resisting the evil of bad theology, they are going to be as effective at winning souls for the TRUE Christ as the Spanish inquisition. Resisting bad theology is not teaching good theology. 

Mormons are not traditional Christians for a reason.  The more Evangelicals try to tear down LDS theology and claim that Mormons are not committed to Christ, the more Mormons feel completely secure that Evangelicals are part of the crowd in the great and spacious building mocking those who seek the love of God in Christ. This approach keeps people in the Church more than it leads them to whatever view of Christ Evangelicals have.  The folks that attack Mormonism come across like self-serving dumb-asses. Resisting Evangelicals come across as part of that crowd that Mormons think are clearly apostate. Why, because attacking anybody is blatantly un-Christian.

From a LDS perspective, and the perspective of a whole lot of non-LDS Christians, there is nothing to be proud of in Christian theology, and nothing to be proud of in Protestant theology. The most Protestant nations on earth are also the harbingers of death, destruction, and mayhem. It is arguable that the holocaust was an all-too-direct result of the Reformation. There is a strong case that the “whore of all the earth” is the traditional Christian Church.  The LDS don’t use this approach much because it is completely ineffective in converting Protestants, but that is not because it is not completely reasonable to see the church this way.  From the LDS the field is white, but most of it is choked with tares.

Mormons don’t see traditional Christianity as a reasonable alternative because they don’t believe they have everything that traditional Christians have and more. When I was a missionary, it was all too easy. I would stack up the LDS approach against anything out there. And it had nothing to do with theology.  If you take the ordinary run-of-the mill deist, they are going to find the LDS view just as reasonable as the Evangelical view.

Why am I saying this?  Its because I have skin in the game. I actually think Evangelicals have something the LDS do not have, but I fully believe that most Christians I have met don’t have what many Mormons have.

I WANT ENLIGHTEN MY LDS FAMILY TO CHRIST. If they want to be Christian, they should more fully join the body of Christ.  I think it is obvious that they do not need to leave the Church in order to accept Christ in an Evangelical way, just like Catholics don’t need to become Calvinists in order to be Evangelical. I believe the LDS should wake up to a richer and deeper view of redemption, but in the six years I have spent following the conversation I don’t see how Evangelicals are going to help them do that.  And the problem is not the Mormons. They need people that can see to lead them, not people that are blind to the Spirit that they follow, that they are sure leads them to Christ and God.  There are plenty of people in the Church that would be willing to embrace and teach a more grace-filled theology.  One of the greatest barriers to this is that those that try to teach them grace can’t get past their pagan theology enough to break spiritual bread with them. The boundaries are more important than the Gospel.  I don’t think the truth Mormons learn from the Spirit is AT ALL incompatible with the truth that Evangelicals know from the Spirit and from scripture.  I don’t think you have to name all of your errors in order to embrace the truth. I don’t think you have to give up all of your cults or culture to embrace the truth.

Evangelicals often try to save Mormon’s souls from the wrath of a God that Mormons know loves them. You can’t convince a Mormon that God will send them to hell.  Evangelicals should be focusing on saving Mormons from the wrath they hold in their hearts for their own souls and the hell they put themselves through on earth. God has nothing but love for the Mormons, and He routinely shows this (even if they don’t quite understand the breadth and depth of that love).  I can’t see why Evangelicals can’t follow suit.

Teaching the Gospel to Monkeys

My conversion from philosophical atheism to whatever-sort-of-Christian-I-am-now came over the course of a couple of weeks, after having a series of epiphanies about what it is to be human.

The first of these epiphanies came after watching a video where the animal behavior researcher, Frans De Waal, explains the ongoing project to “discover” the rules of human morality based on a detailed study of animal and human behavior.  He conducted experiments showing moral behavior in elephants, dogs, monkeys.  What intrigued me most was the experiment that proved that monkeys (and even birds and dogs) show a consciousness of fairness:

In the experiment the monkeys are trained to perform a simple task for a reward.  The two monkeys were accustomed to getting one cucumber slice for each task.  During the stream of tasks the monkeys performed the researchers gave one of the monkeys a grape for their task instead of a cucumber.  When the second monkey received only a cucumber slice for his task, he immediately threw the cucumber back at the researcher, screamed, and shook his cage in protest.  The dramatic emotional response from the monkey was eye-opening.

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How Much Can I Get Away With?

I was recently asked by a Mormon: “How much false doctrine can one believe and still be ‘saved’?

The question was asked in the context of whether or not Jesus will have a literal 1,000 year reign on Earth after his Second Coming and if anyone who disagrees with me is going to Hell for believing false doctrine.

I think it’s a troubling question for many reasons but I understand why a Mormon would be asking an Evangelical about the implications of heresy.  Evangelicals for the most part reject Mormonism as a form of Christianity largely because the nature of God described in Mormonism is so radically different than the one defined in classic Christianity. (Specifically if there is more than one god, if Heavenly Father was once a man, if men can become gods and how the three figures of the godhead coexist as “one”).  If Mormons are determined to be outside the fold then why not someone with a different view of the end times or eternal security? Continue reading

Serious Mormon Questions for Evangelicals

A frequent commentor named Ray has asked a series of questions. I appreciate these questions because they get at some of the most deeply seeded controversies between Mormons and Evangelicals. A full post (or book) could be written on each question so don’t expect my answers to be completely comprehensive, just an introduction to each issue. The comments section might be a great place to direct Ray and other Mormons to further resources on each topic.

You’ll notice that I will not make a lot of Bible references in my answers. This is not because my answers are not informed by the Bible but because I can answer these questions much quicker and make the length much shorter if I leave them out. To be sure, I can direct anyone interested to the Biblical texts that support my answers.

I have proposed that continuing in sin can cause some one to lose their salvation. Do you agree or do you think once saved always saved? What does “endure to the end” mean to you?

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The “God” of orthodox Christianity is the “Light of Christ” of Mormon Christianity

I think one of the most important steps Mormons and Evangelicals need to make in order to have a productive dialogue is to come to terms with what appear to be radically different views of God.  The more I revisit LDS scripture on the subject, the more I am convinced that in the best understanding of Joseph Smith’s conception of the cosmos that thing which traditional Christians call “God” is actually what he termed the “Light of Christ.”

Joseph Smith envisioned God as an exalted and perfected man.  For many reasons, this vision is the foundation of the Restoration.   To Joseph, God became God through intelligent obedience to the laws of the universe, a universe which necessarily was not created by him, but organized by his manipulation of the universe through faith and righteousness. This earth was formed to provide a place for lesser spirits, humans, to do the same by agreeing to become children of God and come to earth, suffer, and die, and then be redeemed by Jesus, who volunteered to be the Christ.   According to the Book of Mormon, the law is the foundation of God’s godhood and all reality:

“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.”  (2 Nephi 2:11)

God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are bound by the law,i.e. they are not the law, they are outside of the fact that is the source of the way things are.  The question remains: Why does there need to be a Christ? Why is their law in the first place?  Why is the universe the way it is?   Why is the world comprehensible at all? What is the source of God’s intelligence? These questions cannot really be answered in any intelligible or scientific way, these are the ultimate mysteries, they cannot be understood or even spoken of, because these mysteries are what allows for all order and intelligence. As Einstein said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”

For traditional Christians, these questions are answered by pointing to an God that is outside the universe, that is the incomprehensible ultimate cause of the laws of the universe, the ultimate source of the mysterious orderliness and intelligence within the way things work in the universe.   God “is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will.”  (Westminster Confession, chapter 2)

Joseph’s Smith rejected that this mystery was our Heavenly Father, but the religion he envisioned still had to account for the source of the law and the necessity of Christ.  There must be some other mystery that allowed our Father to be God, the fact that required that there be opposition in all things.  Protestant’s call this fact “God,” Joseph Smith called this fact the “Light of Christ”

It was revealed to him that the Light of Christ “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12-13; see also D&C 88:6-11).   This Light is not compound, nor is it a being, nor does it have parts or passions, it is the simple fact that allows all things to exist as they do, it is the source of the law, and the source of whatever facts that allow for salvation from the law.  To Mormons, the Light of Christ defines what it is to be God, what it is to be Christ, and the truth that the Holy Spirit testifies of.  The LDS term “Light of Christ” must be that fact that Evangelicals call “God.”

Seeing the God of the Nicene Creed of the Light of Christ might make the creed comprehensible to Mormons.  Translating the Nicene Creed into Mormon terms might look like this:

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Muzzling the Ox

Occasionally I see critics of the LDS Church attack the salary drawn by General Authorities and the stipend given to Mission Presidents. I think the Church is fully justified by the Bible in offering these benefits to these men. The chief passage that allows for this practice is I Corinthians 9:1-18. In it Paul defends himself from the same charges.

Paul was a “tent-maker missionary”, someone who works full time to support themselves while ministering. Apparently at some point in Corinth he had eaten from the collective meal that Christians participated in as part of the Lord’s Supper. We learn from Chapter 11 that some believers were eating private suppers and getting drunk and not allowing everyone in the congregation to get a share of the portion of the meal. This was depriving some members of the body. Paul defense seems to come in context of this local controversy. Paul is incensed by this accusation because he feels that he’s not only allowed to eat from the church pantry but that he’s even allowed to take a portion of the offerings (though he does not).

Paul offers two defenses for the practice of paying those in ministry. Both are found in the Old Testament, which should especially appeal to the Mormon idea of practicing “Old Testament Christianity.” Continue reading