German Technology: Making the LDS Church Even Truer

I have to admit, President Dieter Uchtdorf’s talk “The Gift of Grace” surprised me. But as I think about it, it was the logical move. When I was converted to a grace-based Gospel, I had the idea myself that the LDS church could vastly improve its teaching by simply adding Evangelical-style grace to the formula, and as Tim has proven, it barely produced a ripple. If the Church leadership doesn’t jump on this opportunity to make the church a more powerful force in the world by moving toward orthodoxy, I will know they have no hope.  If they do preach grace and salvation, they just might make themselves the true Church they claim to be.

If Uchtdorf pushed his neo-Mormon-Lutheranism down the throats of the correlation committee, the church will be in a great position to boost its power to spread to the third world.  Given how theologically wacky Brigham Young was, there should be no objection at all from the membership if the First Presidency started transforming into a full-blown Evangelical mega-megachurch. It has the media resources to put the pseudo-Christians at TBN to shame, and the organizational resources and financial support that should inflict most megachurches with a heathen lust. Whether or not move toward orthodoxy was accepted by the rest of the body of Christ, the LDS church could actually adopt the cutting edge of Protestant theologies, whatever would propagate faster in each individual culture.

Mormonism already has a competitive advantage over many Christian churches because its religious structure is much more akin to post-Christian paganism than Protestant churches.  They have the catholic capacity to mint new authoritative doctrine and tradition, and the nimble doctrine of modern-day prophecy to maximize their theological impact. This has got to play better in tribal societies that need a strong church structure within unstable nation-states.  For example, the Congo needs Mormonism badly, for social reasons as much as religious ones.  If Evangelicals got serious about teaching the Apostles how the preach the Gospel better, the Church could be a powerful force to spread hope to Africa.

The reason why Uchtdorf’s talk didn’t raise eyebrows is because grace-based theology is simply superior religious technology. From a religious perspective was as if this German airline pilot showed up with an iPhone 8 in a room full of flip phones.  Uchtdorf and other right-thinking church leaders could revise the entire church curriculum, most of the membership who has heard of the Evangelical gospel are all-too-happy to jump ship on Brigham Young and Co.’s archaic theology. Because the King Follet discourse has been kept from the canon, there is almost no need to even minimize it, simply allow people to believe what they want and preach the real McCoy in the correlated literature.  Any rift within the church could be countered with a form of Gamaliel’s counsel coming from the First Presidency.   The missionaries can integrate a grace-based message into the first discussion, and you will immediately dramatically increase the conversion rate.

The reason I think this is a good idea, is that the semi-pagan structure of the church, and allowance for further prophecy is a very important step toward bringing the Gospel to Islamic countries and pagan Europe.  The only evidence I have is a curious up-tick in Iranian-American baptisms in Southern California. (Muslims becoming anything like Christians is a very important phenomena in my book.)  By coming out with the truth behind Joseph Smith’s sex life, the church could distance itself from his later teachings yet maintain the “secret sauce” that is the Book of Mormon. Thus it could maintain its well-ordered authoritarian structure and true-church status all while moving to a more orthodox — and therefore more appealing — Gospel without jeopardizing unity.  I think they could become a force to be reckoned with in spreading the actual Gospel if they went this route.

I propose the Christian world act like Alma the Elder and push toward this new path in policy and doctrine.

We Pretenders

When I was a kid, I loved to pretend.  My life was filled with forts, guns, armies, horses, dragons, talking animals, magic swords, and space armadas.  You didn’t have to point out to me that I was pretending, I was doing it on purpose.

Jesus pointed out the pretenders who did not seem to know they were pretending. To the Romans he pointed out that they were merely pretending to be the masters of the world. In fact, the Kingdom of God was in our midst and held sway over what mattered.  To those pretending to be good, he said there is no good but God.  To those pretending to honor the temple of God, he dealt a beating.  To those pretending to be his disciples, he exposed as denyers, betrayers, and court jesters. Jesus was God who pretended to be a man and–in the end–He exposed this pretense as well.

Few would disagree that those who follow Jesus only pretend to.   The Old Testament teaches us that we are foolish and pretending children to a Perfect Father who has given us his law, the New teaches us that we are all fallen and lost, incapable of following the law God gave–we can only pretend. The Book of Mormon teaches that when it comes to obedience, we are less than we are not the dust of the earth, only pretending to be submissive. Joseph Smith taught that our compliance and authority is often–because of our nature and disposition–simply pretense to fulfill our pride and hide our sins. Jesus’ apostles made it clear that Jesus was the Christ, we merely pretend to be Christians. Paul taught that whatever we are of Christ is not us, but Christ in us.

Ironically, Christians also like to point out pretenders.

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Why Was Jesus Baptized?

I knew a pastor who years ago received his ordination from one of Southern California’s first mega-churches.  The head pastor was known for being a strong Bible-first expositional preacher.  His knowledge of the Bible was notorious and intimidating.  As part of the ordination process, my friend had to submit himself to something similar to an oral exam in front of a panel of other pastors who quizzed him on his theology and knowledge of the Bible.

The head pastor always posed something of a trick question to those he faced; “If Jesus was sinless, why did he submit himself to a baptism of repentance at the hands of John the Baptist?”

Matthew 3:11-15 (ESV) says:

I baptize you with water for repentance but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

I’ve kept this question with me since hearing the story.  In conversations with Mormons it’s often suggested that Jesus was baptized to set an example for what we must do.  I don’t disagree with this.  I think followers of Jesus should follow Jesus’ example and be baptized.  But I think I’d like to put a caveat on that.

John was baptizing Jesus with a baptism of repentance.  Repentance is clearly an important and fundamental step in trusting Jesus. To be saved by Jesus a person has to be saved from something.  Recognizing one’s sin and turning away from it (and toward Jesus) must happen.

But I don’t believe Jesus, as a sinless person, needed to repent.  Jesus was indeed baptized by John but not for repentance.

Matthew 3 continues:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;  and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

I think John was absolutely correct in objecting that he wasn’t qualified to baptize Jesus.  Jesus had him proceed because it didn’t matter who baptized him.  Jesus’ baptism was a confession of his devotion to God, and God’s confession of his devotion to Jesus. The only two participants of concern were Jesus and God. The righteousness that was fulfilled was not the absolution of sin in Jesus’ life but rather the confessions of Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

As Christians, we follow Jesus’ example in baptism.  But we do not follow Jesus in a baptism of repentance.  We do not carry on the baptism of John the Baptist.  We carry on the baptism of Jesus, a baptism of identification and commitment. Just as John was an insignificant and unqualified baptizer, it doesn’t matter by whose authority we are baptized.  What matters is how and why we stand before God in our baptism.

Is RockHarbor an Emergent Church?

rockharbor-logoThe leadership of my church recently held a forum where they answered concerns about RockHarbor being an Emergent Church.  I think they did a great job of illuminating the topic and identifying a number of different camps in the always ambiguous Emerging/Emergent movement.

This is a bit of an “inside the family” conversation for Evangelicals.  But I think it will help Mormons understand more about where I am coming from theologically and it will help you understand more about this “hot topic” in Evangelicalism.

Direct link here or Video link here.  You can also read a position paper here.

Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, and Mega-Churces

About 10 years ago I was shocked to hear my parents hated the movie “You’ve Got Mail”. As far as I could tell it was an inoffensive, bland and mediocre copy-cat of every other Meg Ryan movie. Nothing to love, but nothing to hate. It seemed the movie’s dilemma, of a small bookstore being threatened by a large national chain, hit a little too close to home. My dad is a bi-vocational pastor (that means he has two jobs) of a tiny country church in a growing suburban area. At the time my parents were feeling quite threatened by the great number of mega-churches that were overshadowing their long established family church of 50 people.

I attend ROCKHARBOR. A church that host between 5,000 – 6,000 worshipers of Jesus every week. When I first started attending, the church only had 1,500 people and rented space in the cafeteria of a local Senior Citizen’s Center. After a couple of years we were finally able to get our own location. We quickly doubled in about 9 months and then doubled again in another 12-18 months. Before we knew it we had become yet another Mega-Church in Southern California. After doubling the number of worship services offered over the weekend, the elders of the church decided to cap our growth at 6,000 and turned down opportunities for bigger venues and larger worship centers. We’re now focusing on ways to create more churches like us.

I’m both surprised and not surprised at the criticisms people have of Mega-Churches. Like any large entity they bring upon themselves a lot of attention and scrutiny. To be sure there are problems and challenges from having such a large congregation (as there are problems and challenges with every sized congregation). Often I hear that people can’t conceive of having any sort of community in such a crowd of people. How do you get to know anyone? Because of this obvious problem I think Mega-Churches as a whole actually do a much better job of forming community. People have to be intentional about it and Mega-Churches have extensive networks of small groups to make this happen. I have been in just about every size church and I can honestly say that I have never experienced authentic community quite as well as I have since I’ve been part of ROCKHARBOR. The way my small group over the years has sought to “love one another” has been nothing but inspiring. That is probably not true for everyone who attends. With a congregation as large as it is, it’s easy for people to slip in an out without being known. But for those who want to be in community with other believers, I think it is a vibrant place to be.

Another criticism I hear is that the preaching must be watered down to bring in that number of people. The cynic scoffs that people only show up in those numbers if they are hearing a feel-good message that leaves them content with their current lives. That is certainly true of some Mega-Churches. I think it’s also true of a proportionate number of smaller churches. I think one of the reasons my church has grown so much is precisely because it challenges people to pursue holiness and righteousness and to leave the brokenness the world offers behind. If you doubt me, go to this link and type either “sex” or “money” into the search field.

In all of my years as a Christian, I have never met as many new converts who have genuinely changed their lives as I have at ROCKHARBOR.

The third critique I often hear against Mega-Churches is that they don’t follow the New Testament model of house churches. I think this is an often spoken statement that doesn’t at all consider the environment of persecution that the New Testament churches existed in. Take a look at these passages from Acts.

Acts 2:41
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Acts 4:4
But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

It seems to me that the early church was a Mega-Church and would have continued to grow as one if it had not been for the stoning of Stephen and subsequent persecution.

One of the beauties I think Mega-Churches have to offer is the ability for people to focus on their gifts. Those who excelled at preaching and teaching are allowed to focus on it and don’t have to figure out budgets. Those who excel at mercy can devote their time to it and don’t have to set up chairs and print programs. Those who excel at art can focus on it and don’t have to mind the nursery. Excellence can be sought and achieved because all the parts of the body are present. In fact, once again looking at Acts, the apostles set up deacons so that they too could focus on preaching. Very few people could preach with the passion and knowledge of Peter, so he was allowed to go on preaching while others took care of the widows among them. In the same way, very few people can preach with the excellence that our teaching pastor offers. So we allow him to continue to focus and develop that gift instead of pretending we all have it.

I don’t by any means think that the Mega-Church model is the only right model for a church. I confess that there are a great many problems with it. But in the same light I don’t think there is anything holier about small churches. Both fill culturally relevant ways of worshiping Jesus, and that is what I think all churches should be judged on. How well do they worship Jesus and transform people to be more like Him? I hope to see a greater number of Mega-Churches AND smaller churches as long as they both serve Christ.