Why Orthodox Christians are Converting to Mormonism? – Chapter 3

 

CHAPTER THREE

Survey of Christian Literature

Introduction:

In this chapter the legitimacy of the Principals established in Chapter Two will be examined from Christian authors.  The following three general principles will be evaluated:  1) The claim of continued special revelation and access to the Word of God attracts orthodox Christians who do not understand the sufficiency of Scripture; 2) The claim of being the restored Church and its unity as a Church is appealing to orthodox Christians who are frustrated with the “fragmentation” of the Christian Church; and 3) The strong emphasis on personal holiness and godly living are qualities that orthodox Christians desire.

Principle 1:  The claim of continued special revelation and access to the Word of God attracts orthodox Christians who do not understand the sufficiency of Scripture.

The claim of continued special revelation in addition to the canon of Scripture is antithetical to sound orthodox Christian doctrine.  Thus, it seems appropriate to first explain the orthodox understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture.  After a brief examination of the doctrine, we will review how modern trends are causing a departure from it and then assess the results of that departure.  The Belgic Confession a Reformed standard, which was written in 1567, provides a summary of the doctrine in Article 7:

We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it.   For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one – even an apostle or an angel from heaven as Paul says – (Gal 1:8) ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us.  For since it is forbidden to add or subtract from the Word of God (Deut 12:32; Rev 22:18-19), this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects.  Therefore we must not consider human writings – no matter how holy their authors may have been, equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time, nor persons, nor councils, nor decrees, nor official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.  For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself.  Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule, as we are taught to do by the apostles when they say, ‘Test the spirits to see if they are of God.’ (1 John 4:1) and also ‘If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house’ (2 John 10) (1987) Psalter Hymnal, Grand Rapids:  CRC Publications, p 821-822. 

In this doctrinal statement the orthodox understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture is articulated.  Essentially, this is affirming that the Bible is complete in its message and no further special revelation from God is required nor forthcoming.  This standard was formulated during the time of the Reformation when the sufficiency of Scripture had been ignored for centuries by the Roman Catholic Church.  Rome’s supplementation of the Bible is the only justifiable way to support the erroneous doctrines they developed throughout history.  During the Reformation, the idea of the sufficiency of Scripture was rediscovered and ever since has been a major tenet of orthodox Christianity.  Thus, the Mormon religion should not be appealing to orthodox Christians if this doctrine is properly understood or known at all.  The mere necessity of continued special revelation, advocated by the Mormon religion is incompatible with this doctrine.  However, if the Bible is not complete and continued special revelation is to be expected it would introduce the likelihood of false gospels to be encountered.  The confession refers to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians where he pronounces an anathema on any being that would seek to promote anything other than the biblical Gospel.  In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther elaborates on this concept:

Paul maintains that there is no other gospel besides the one he had preached to the Galatians.  He preached, not a gospel of his own invention, but the very same Gospel God had long ago prescribed in the Sacred Scriptures.  No wonder Paul pronounces curses upon himself, upon others, and upon the angels of heaven, if anyone should dare to preach any other gospel than Christ’s own.  Martin Luther (1484-1549), Gal 1:8, Commentary on Galatians, www.studylight.org/com/mlg/view.cgi?book=ga&chapter= 001,  p17. 

Any honest comparison between orthodox Christianity and the Mormon religion would conclude that each preaches a different gospel than the other.  Mormon’s support their version of the gospel through added special revelation.  However, the confession cites two Scriptures that forbid adding or subtracting from God’s revealed truth, which Matthew Henry makes the following commentary on Deuteronomy 12:32:   

He therefore concludes (Deu_12:32) with the same caution concerning the worship of God which he had before given concerning the word of God (Deu_4:2): “You shall not add thereto any inventions of your own, under pretence of making the ordinance either more significant or more magnificent, nor diminish from it, under pretence of making it more easy and practicable, or of setting aside that which may be spared; but observe to do all that, and that only, which God has commanded.  Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Deuteronomy 12:32, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, www.e-sword.net  

And on Revelation 22:18-19

It is confirmed by a most solemn sanction, condemning and cursing all who should dare to corrupt or change the word of God, either by adding to it or taking from it, Rev_22:18, Rev_22:19. He that adds to the word of God draws down upon himself all the plagues written in this book; and he who takes any thing away from it cuts himself off from all the promises and privileges of it. This sanction is like a flaming sword, to guard the canon of the scripture from profane hands. Such a fence as this God set about the law (Deu_4:2), and the whole Old Testament (Mal_4:4), and now in the most solemn manner about the whole Bible, assuring us that it is a book of the most sacred nature, divine authority, and of the last importance, and therefore the peculiar care of the great God.  Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Revelation 22:18-19, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, www.e-sword.net (Emphasis mine)

As Henry states in his examination of Rev 22:18-19, the Bible itself attests to its sufficiency and completeness forbidding any alteration, addendum, addition or editing.  This concept must be ignored in order for the Mormon religion to be considered authentic, since it is based on adding to the revelation of the Bible.  However, it can be pointed out that Deuteronomy also forbids any adding to God’s Word and was written about 1,500 years before the book of Revelation.  Thus, if the latter is an addition to the former does the Bible contradict itself, by containing special revelation that was given after God spoke to Moses?  This difficulty is resolved with an understanding of the concept of progressive revelation. Throughout Scripture God demonstrates a consistent pattern of revealing His plan of salvation incrementally.  We see this begin in Gen 3:15 with the first Gospel announcement, then lead to the choosing of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), the formation of the nation of Israel (Gen 46:3), the Exodus  (Ex 12:29-51), the giving of the law to Moses (Ex 20:1-26 & 24:7-8), the promise of the coming Messiah (Deut 18:15-18 & 1 Chron 17:10-14), the promise of the New Covenant (Jer 31:27-33), Christ’s incarnation (Is 9:6-7), His inauguration of the New Covenant (Luke 22:20) and Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension (Luke 23 & 24).  Thus, the pattern of progressive revelation is seen throughout Scripture, which finds its consummation in Jesus Christ.  BB Warfield summarizes this concept as follows:

…God chose thus to give this revelation of His grace only progressively; or, to be more explicit, through the process of historical development…As to the fact, the Scriptures are explicit, tracing for us, or rather embodying in their own growth, the record of the steady advance of this gracious revelation through definite stages from its first faint beginnings to its glorious completion in Jesus Christ.  BB Warfield (1887-1921), Revelation and Inspiration,
New York: Oxford University Press reprinted by Baker Book House Company 2003, p 13.

Perhaps there is no better biblical reference that embodies this idea more than Hebrews 1:1-2, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”  Here the biblical writer infers the completeness of God’s special revelation being finalized through His Son, thus implying that no further special revelation would be required.  We find Christ revealed in the New Testament, which was written by the apostles (or under the guidance of an apostle) who were those He commissioned and authorized to be His representatives on earth.  The qualifications of an apostle are outlined for us in Acts 1:21-22, of which include being alive during Christ’s ministry on earth.  These qualifications eliminate the idea that succession was intended for the apostolic office.  Since there are no candidates alive that meet these qualifications, one can conclude that there are no remaining authorized agents of special revelation.  This adds support to the concept of the completeness of Scripture, which Henry eluded too in his comments on Rev 22:18-19.  The witness of Scriptures completeness and the lack of qualified agents to add to it lead one to conclude it has been fully revealed.  About this concept Greg Bahnsen explains in the following:

In the very nature of the case, apostolic revelation did not extend beyond the apostolic generation, the “foundational days” of the church.[1] Thus Jude in his day could speak of “the faith” – meaning the teaching content of the Christian faith – as now “once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). About this verse, F.F. Bruce comments: “Therefore, all claims to convey an additional revelation… are false claims… whether these claims are embodied in books which aim at superseding or supplementing the Bible, or take the form of extra-Biblical traditions which are promulgated as dogmas by ecclesiastical authority.[2]  Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995), The Concept and Importance of Canonicity, www.reformed.org/bible/bahnsen_canon.html (Emphasis his)

Thus, after taking into consideration the whole counsel of Scripture and the process of special revelation it is safe to conclude that the reference in Deut 12:32 does not contradict the special revelation of the New Testament.  Otherwise in the following Chapters (Deut 18:15-18) God would not have revealed to Moses the coming of the Prophet (Christ) who must be obeyed.  The reference, however still serves as a warning to His people that God forbids any modification to His Word that does not find its source in Him.  It is certainly attested to in the Bible that during the first century there were others that claimed to deliver a distortion of God’s message (as noted above Gal 1:8). Therefore, it was important during that era not to be led astray by false spirits or teachings.  The confession goes onto cite 1 John 4:1 and 2 John 10, which provide warnings for Christian’s not to be deceived by falsehood.  About 1 John 4:1 John Calvin comments:       

But the Spirit will only thus guide us to a right discrimination, when we render all our thoughts subject to God’s word; for it is, as it has been said, like the touchstone, yea, it ought to be deemed most necessary to us; for that alone is true doctrine which is drawn from it… But what Papists under this pretense hold, that whatever has been decreed in councils is to be deemed as certain oracles, because the Church has once proved them to be from God, is extremely frivolous. For though it be the ordinary way of seeking consent, to gather a godly and holy council, when controversies may be determined according to God’s word; yet God has never bound himself to the decrees of any council. Nor does it necessarily follow, that as soon as a hundred bishops or more meet together in any place, they have duly called on God and inquired at his mouth what is true; nay, nothing is more clear that they have often departed from the pure word of God. Then in this case also the trial which the Apostle prescribes ought to take place, so that the spirits may be proved.  John Calvin (1509-1564), 1 John 4:1, Calvin’s Commentary on 1 John, www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol45/htm/v.v.htm

About 2 John 10 Matthew Henry writes:

God will be no patron of falsehood, seduction, and sin. We ought to bid God speed to evangelical ministration; but the propagation of fatal error, if we cannot prevent, we must not dare to countenance.  Matthew Henry (1662-1714), 2 John 10, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, www.e-sword.net

The Bible being the complete and sufficient Word of God becomes our final authority to judge the opinions and teaching of others.  As our final authority it is the only proper source of truth for what we believe and how we must live.  Calvin in commenting on 1 John 4:1 speaks against the idea of the Church possessing an equivalent authority as the Word of God.  This idea evolved from those who advocated that the Church determined what books the Bible should include.  Thus, if the Church approved the canon of Scripture then its authority actually surpassed that of the Bible.  However, it is not historically accurate to suggest the Church determined the canon of Scripture.  Rather it is more accurate to say that the Bible is self-authenticating and the Church merely affirmed the books of Bible only in response to those who were seeking to limit or add to its contents.  In his Institutes Calvin discusses this debate:

But such wranglers are neatly refuted by just but one word of the apostle.  He testifies that the church is “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles” (Eph 2:20).  If the teaching of the prophets and apostles is the foundation, this must have had authority before the church began to exist.  Groundless, too, is their subtle objection that, although the church took its beginning here, the writings to be attributed to the prophets and apostles nevertheless remain in doubt until decided by the church.  For if the Christian church was from the beginning founded upon the writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles, wherever this doctrine is found, the acceptance of it – without which the church itself would never have existed – must certainly have preceded the church. John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics, translated by Ford Lewis Battles),
Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, p 75-76.

Bahnsen notes the following:

It is the inspiration of a book that renders it authoritative, not human acceptance or recognition of the book. If God has spoken, what He says is divine in itself, regardless of human response to it. It does not “become divine” through human agreement with it.  Accordingly, the canon is not the product of the Christian church. The church has no authority to control, create, or define the Word of God. Rather, the canon controls, creates and defines the church of Christ: ‘..having been begotten again, not by corruptible seed, but by incorruptible, by the word of God which lives and abides forever…. And this is the word of good news which was preached unto you’ (I Peter 1:23-25).  Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995), The Concept and Importance of Canonicity, www.reformed.org/bible/bahnsen_canon.html 

Therefore, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture may be summarized as follows:  1. The revelation contained in Scripture came from God and was delivered progressively; 2. The biblical revelation was consummated in Jesus Christ; 3. The prophets and apostles were the authorized agents of God’s revelation; 4. They revealed Christ, the consummation of revelation, in their writings completely; 5.  There are no more qualified or authorized agents of revelation today; 6. The Bible is completely sufficient and the Christian has no need to expect more information to be revealed.  There remains only one more item to address concerning the doctrine and that is the question about other books referred to in the Bible that are not in it (i.e. “The Book of Asher”, “The Wars of Jehovah” or Paul’s missing letters to the Corinthians (Num 21:14; Josh 10:13, 2 Chron 9:29; 12:1; 1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 2:4; 7:8)).  There is no need to deny that these are also inspired messages, however in His wisdom God has not providentially preserved them for His peoples use.  Charles Hodge addresses this subject as follows: 

Nor is it denied that there may have been, and probably were, books written by inspired men, which are no longer in existence.  Much less is it denied that Christ and his Apostles delivered many discourses which were not recorded, and which, could they now be known and authenticated, would be of equal authority with the books now regarded as canonical.  All that Protestants insist upon is, that the Bible contains all the extant revelations of God, which He designed to be the rule of faith and practice for his Church; so that nothing can rightfully be imposed on the conscience of men as truth or duty which is not taught directly or by necessary implication in the Holy Scriptures.” Charles Hodge (June 2003) Systematic Theology, United States: Hendrickson Publishing Inc., P 182-183

God is by very nature Sovereign and Omnipotent and has intentionally preserved for His people the writings of Holy Scripture, which are the final authority.  The notion that the Bible has not been preserved whether through its transmission or its inclusion of the appropriate books would be antithetical to God’s nature.  Only an impotent god would be powerless to let his only communication to his people be corrupted or insufficient.  Of course, there are many reasons to trust the veracity of the Bible, however none as compelling as this line if thinking.  Thus, one may conclude that the Scripture has been handed down complete, sufficient and precludes any possibility of continued special revelation.           

The sufficiency of Scripture is an essential doctrine of orthodox Christianity, which defines the parameters of the authoritative Word of God.  Time has been taken to examine it, now it is time to look at the modern trend and how orthodox Christians are departing from this doctrine.  Although this departure is subtle it is still seriously undermining the doctrine.  As has been explored in previous chapters this trend is strengthened by an apathetic view towards doctrine that already exists among Christians. The studying of the essential truths of orthodox Christianity has been displaced by a subjective/experiential form of Christianity.  Rather than seeking God’s will for ones life in the appropriate place, the Bible, this form of Christianity seeks God’s will extrabiblically.  As noted in chapter 2, the roots of this trend are found in the modern charismatic movement:

The charismatic movement began barely a hundred years ago, but its influence on evangelicalism can hardly be overstated.  Its chief legacy has been an unprecedented interest in extrabiblical revelation.  Millions influenced by charismatic doctrine are convinced that God speaks to them directly.  “The Lord told me…” has become the favorite cliché among these Christians.  Not all who believe that God speaks to them make prophetic pronouncements as outlandish as those broadcast by charismatic televangelists, of course.  But they still believe God gives them extrabiblical messages – either through an audible voice, a vision, a voice in their heads or simply an internal impression.  In most cases, their “prophecies” are comparatively trivial.  But the difference between them and Hinn’s predictions is merely one of scale, not of substance. “Hearing Voices”, by John McCarther, New Horizons, January 2002 http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH02/01b.html (Emphasis his) 

Although this modern trend of seeking extrabiblical revelation finds its roots in the charismatic movement, its influence has advanced to Evangelical and other orthodox Christian groups.  As this view has gained prominence it has only compounded the problem of apathy towards doctrine.  Since proponents of this view tend to elevate the extrabiblical revelation and ignore the revelation from the Bible.  The apathy towards learning biblical doctrines is only increased:

Not surprisingly, wherever there is a preoccupation with “fresh” prophecy, there is inevitably a neglect of the Scriptures. After all, why be concerned with an ancient book if the living God communicates directly with us on a daily basis, however subtly? These fresh words of “revelation” naturally seem more relevant and more urgent than the familiar words of the Bible. Is it any wonder that they draw people away from Scripture?  “Hearing Voices”, by John McCarther, New Horizons, January 2002 http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH02/01b.html (Emphasis his)

It is only natural to take the path of least resistance and since studying the Bible properly takes work, it’s much easier and exciting to just be “told” the answers directly:

This, though, raises a question about Evangelical claims to multiple sources of special revelation.  For all our talk about sola Scriptura, many also hold that God speaks to them on a regular basis giving true information about Himself and specific directions for their lives.  Their claim is, essentially, ‘I believe the Bible is a bona fide source of information and the Spirit also gives private information directly to me.’  The second step frequently follows the first: The personal, subjective sense of what a person thinks God is telling him trumps the objective Scripture.  “A Private Hit line to God?”, by Gregory Koukl, “Stand to Reason”, August 1998 http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/life/aprivate.htm (Emphasis his). 

It is problematic when Christian’s direction is coming from personal subjective senses, thought to be revelation from God rather than the objective Scripture.  This understanding is completely opposed to the reasons for believing the canon of Scripture is closed.  Thus, the confidence that God’s special revelation reached its consummation in Jesus Christ is eroded with the eager anticipation of additional private revelation directly available to every Christian. Without this confidence the possibility of continued special revelation is thought to remain available to Christians today.  This option leaves the door open for the Mormon religions major tenant to be considered, the concept of continued special revelation.  Unless a proper understanding of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is held, the possibility of an orthodox Christian converting to Mormonism is available.  It is not to suggest that every Christian who subscribes to the modern trend of seeking private revelation from God will necessarily fall prey to Mormonism.  However, the possibility is introduced for the ideas of Mormonism to be entertained, including the principle being discussed in this section and those in the following sections of this chapter.  The foundation of faith is its source of where authoritative direction is found.  For orthodox Christianity that source of authority is found in the Scriptures alone.  Although in the past God spoke in other ways (Heb 1:1-2), He has now fully revealed everything that the Christian needs to know in His Son.  About this the Apostle Paul writes in Romans, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all nations…”  Henry makes the following commentary about this verse:

We must never look for any new revelation, but abide by this, for this is according to the commandment of the everlasting God. Christ, in the gospel, is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.  Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Romans 16:26, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, www.e-sword.net

Thus, any other source of authority (i.e. private revelation) will leave orthodox Christians vulnerable and prone to wander from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”.  This principle is the starting place and allows the other principles to become viable options for the orthodox Christian to entertain.  The Bible should be the only rule that all actions and beliefs are measured by.  However, when other sources are being used to gauge actions and beliefs the deterrence to guard against heretical beliefs is reduced to a fallible and misguided understanding of the truth.  Thus, it is not surprising to learn than many orthodox Christians are found converting to a religion such as Mormonism.  It is interesting to discovery that the two fastest growing religious movements share in common the concept of receiving continued special revelation:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew at the fastest rate, with the Pentecostal denomination Assemblies of God following closely behind, the 2000 Religious Congregations & Membership study found, says the Associated Press report, which most papers carry today. “Are Mormons really America’s fastest growing church?” Compiled by Ted Olsen, Christianity Today, September 16, 2002 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/136/32.0.html          

Although, the Assemblies of God should still be considered as within the realm of orthodox Christianity, their misguided understanding of revelation is extremely popular today.  It’s popularity and influence does not attest to its accuracy, rather may be an explanation of the problem being addressed in this paper. Principle 2:  The claim of being the restored Church and its unity as a Church is appealing to orthodox Christians who are frustrated with the “fragmentation” of the Christian Church.As was discussed in the last chapter, Mormons assert that an apostasy occurred within Christianity.  Not until the appearance of Joseph Smith was the Church restored to its true apostolic teaching.  They appeal to denominational differences amongst orthodox Christian’s as a sign of disunity, which invalidate their claims to be the true Church.  This message of restoration and unity made by the Mormon religion seems to be appealing to orthodox Christians. In this section, the reasons why this message appears to be successful in luring orthodox Christians into Mormonism will continue to be explored.                  Before moving on to review further explanations as to why the Mormon message is appealing, the concept of God intending an apostasy of the Church will be explored.  In the review of Principle 1 the concept of progressive revelation was explained.  In that discussion reference was made to the New Covenant, which Christ inaugurated.  The New Covenant, being the full expression of God’s Covenant of grace, is the current economy we in the Church find ourselves today.  The Bible teaches that this covenant will last forever and have no end (Isaiah 55:3, Jeremiah 32:40 & Ezekiel 16:60-63).  The Church is the institution where God carries out His New Covenant promises attested by the administration of the signs of the covenant initiated by Christ (Matthew 28:19, Acts 2:38-39 & 1 Corinthians 11:24-25).  If the teaching of the Bible is reliable, then one could safely conclude that the promises of an everlasting covenant would also be extended to the Church.  Although, this is a reasonable conclusion that would expel the idea of the Church ceasing to endure due to apostasy, the concept will be explored further. About the Church, one can see in Matthew 16:19 Christ announcing that “the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”  It seems that Christ’s statement here would lend support to the previous observation that the Church would not only not fall away but endure even through enormous difficulty.  This idea is described in the following commentaries:

This assures us that the enemies of the church shall not gain their point. While the world stands, Christ will have a church in it, in which his truths and ordinances shall be owned and kept up, in spite of all the opposition of the powers of darkness; They shall not prevail against it, Psa_129:1, Psa_129:2. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Matthew 16:18, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, www.e-sword.net

And John Calvin comments,

Against all the power of Satan the firmness of the Church will prove to be invincible, because the truth of God, on which the faith of the Church rests, will ever remain unshaken. JohnCalvin (1509-1564), Matthew 16:18, Calvin’s Harmony of the Gospel’s Volume II, http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol32/htm/liii.htm

Not only does this verse suggest that the Church will persevere and not be overtaken in the battle with Satan, but that it will emerge in a decisive victory.  This is suggested by the term “gates”, which in the ancient world were defensive measures for cities under siege.  They were the only points of entry for fortified cities that were built to protect nations from conquering armies.  In some cases these fortifications outlasted their conquerors and the nations survived.  However, in other cases they were overtaken by the invading armies and had no means of escape.  Nonetheless, this analogy is applied to the text then what seems to be suggested is that Satan’s kingdom will eventually retreat to a fortification that will not be able to stop the advancement of the Church.  Of course, this is not an expectation that the Church would literally fulfill.  It would, however serve as a spiritual illustration that would be carried out based on the successful advancement of the Churches mission on the earth.  This concept of the Church, or God’s Kingdom, filling the earth is not foreign to biblical teaching.  There are many references in the Bible that infer or suggest God’s kingdom will ultimately fill the whole earth.  For example, we see the international nature that God’s kingdom will have in Psalm 2:6-11; Psalm 22:27-28; Psalm 110:1; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 11:9-10; Isaiah 27:6; Isaiah 60:2-3, 12; Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45; Micah 4:1-2; Habakukk 2:14 and Acts 1:8.  Certainly, if the Bible teaches that the Church will be everlasting and ultimately successful in fulfilling its mission, the notion of it failing through apostasy is foreign.  In his Institutes, John Calvin, expels this idea of the Church failing:          

Elsewhere, speaking in the person of God, David says:  “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool” [Ps. 110:1].  Here he asserts that, no matter how many strong enemies plot to overthrow the church, they do not have sufficient strength to prevail over God’s immutable decree by which he appointed his Son eternal King.  Hence it follows that the devil, with all the resources of the world, can never destroy the church, founded as it is on the eternal throne of Christ.  John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics, translated by Ford Lewis Battles),
Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, p 497-98

Thus, with a sufficient amount of biblical evidence it is reasonable to conclude that God’s intent is for the Church to remain on the earth and gain influence overtime.  As a result, the claim that Mormons make of a wholesale apostasy and vanishing of the true Church on earth does not find credibility from the biblical text. 

The Bible does not support the claim of a full scale apostasy, however as indicated in chapter 2 the Protestant Reformers asserted that the Roman Church became apostate.  Since Rome, with exception of the Eastern Church after 1000 AD, was essentially known as the universal Church throughout the middle age’s doesn’t this support the Mormon claim?  This certainly appears to lend some credibility to the Mormon claim.  However, a closer examination of the Reformers understanding is required to deal with the matter.  First, the Reformers distinguished those from the “invisible Church” from those in the “visible Church”.  The visible Church was comprised of all members that professed to be Christians.  According to the Bible, not all members of the visible Church are truly God’s children but there are tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30).  On the other hand, those in the invisible Church are comprised of God’s elect and are true children of God.  They are not part of a separate institution, but are found within the visible Church.  Thus, during the sixteenth century the Roman Catholic Church was the visible body that included members that were true believers and non-believers.  The Reformers never asserted that the Church fell into complete apostasy, but that it possessed a remnant in the invisible Church.  As is seen in this statement by John Calvin:    

Although the melancholy desolation which confronts us on every side may cry that no remnant of the church is left, let us know that Christ’s death is fruitful, and that God miraculously keeps his church as in hiding places.  So it was said to Elijah, “I kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee before Baal [1 Kings 19:18.]”  John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics, translated by Ford Lewis Battles), Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, p 1014.

Although, the medieval Church had accumulated numerous errors most of these errors were believed and imposed by the hierarchy.  Most of the laity remained ignorant to the false teaching of the hierarchy who would incur the greater judgment in God’s eyes (James 3:1).  Nonetheless, the Roman Church did not officially become apostate until it pronounced an anathema on the Gospel during the Council of Trent, which was the response to the Protestant Reformation.  Prior to this the Reformers would not suggest that the Roman Church fell into complete apostasy, but God providentially preserved her:

First, he maintained baptism there, a witness to this covenant; consecrated by his own mouth, it retains its force despite the impiety of men.  Secondly, by his own providence he caused other vestiges to remain, that the church might not utterly die. And just as often happens when buildings are pulled down the foundations and ruins remain, so he did not allow his church either to be destroyed to the very foundation by Antichrist or to be leveled to the ground, even though to punish the ungratefulness of men who had despised his word he let it undergo frightful shaking and shattering, but even after this very destruction willed that a half-demolished building remain. John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics, translated by Ford Lewis Battles), Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, p 1052.

The sign of the covenant was still being administered, the belief in the Trinity was still held and the Scripture was still revered as the Word of God.  Although, it was clouded by errors, superstition and hypocrisy the Church remained in the world from the time of the last Apostle until the Reformation.  Although classical orthodox Christianity would concede that the Church did in large part fall away it was not to the magnitude claimed by Mormonism.  

Despite the truth about the perseverance of the Church many orthodox Christians today are not aware of the biblical and historical support, which refutes the Mormon claim of being the restored Church.  Unfortunately, this ignorance to the truth leaves many susceptible to the appealing message of restoration. 

Mormons, who were much maligned and persecuted in nineteenth-century America, have not been deterred by criticism. Worldwide, there are 56,530 LDS missionaries, three-fourths of them young males, knocking on doors in 162 countries. About 318,000 people convert to Mormonism annually, primarily from Christian groups…Mormon missionaries have had the greatest success in countries with sizable Christian populations. The key LDS doctrine of restoration of the church is more easily grasped by people who have already been introduced to Christianity. “Are Mormons Christian?” by John W. Kennedy, Today’s Christian, March/April 1999. www.christianitytoday.com/tc/9r2/9r2068 

This appeal to being the restored Church plays an integral part in attracting these converts.  Their organization and unity seem to attest to the claim of being a restoration of the apostolic Church.  On the other hand, the various denominational differences within orthodox Christianity give the appearance of disunity.  However, does this invalidate the authenticity of these Churches?  As discussed previously, all orthodox Churches are unified on the essentials of the faith, yet may disagree on minor items.  These essential truths, as defined previously, transcend denominational differences and authenticate orthodox Christian Churches as the institutions entrusted with the Gospel message.   Further within Christendom there are two distinguishable groups, which are the visible and invisible Church.  These groups are distinguishable only by God who has access into the hearts of men.  The visible Church would include all Churches, including those of orthodox and unorthodox persuasion.  The invisible Church does not include all members of the visible Church, but almost all members of the invisible Church are within the visible Church.  Essentially, all believers are found within the visible Church apart from some minor exceptions.  The following is a diagram to clarify this concept through illustration:

Visible
Church
: All professing Christians orthodox and unorthodox
Invisible
Church
: True Believers within unorthodox Churches
Visible
Church
:  orthodox Churches
Invisible
Church
: True Believers within the orthodox Churches

Since the Church will always be a mixed body while on this side of glory, the potential for genuine unity will not be realized through the visible Church.  The only genuine unity can be realized among true believers or the invisible Church, however this unity is limited in its scope.  First, true believers are unable to discern the heart of others and limit there assembly to only genuine believers. Second, true believers are still able to sin and until final sanctification is achieved obtaining unity in any visible form will remain a difficult task.  The unity that is shared is more limited to being children of God, sharing saving faith and possessing the Holy Spirit.  Sin will continue to plague the Church preventing unification of a visible Church body, until the Lord’s return and full sanctification of believers is realized.  Thus, it is not credible to suggest that the denominational differences among orthodox Christian Churches are a display of disunity in-authenticating their mission.   On the contrary, there is genuine unity among all true believers among the saints of all generations from Abel (Heb 11:4) to the present.  The Lord prayed for this unity in John 17:11, 23 to be maintained among all true believers.  However, this unity, yet to be realized in the visible Church, is achieved through the Spirit of Christ that all true believer possess:

 

That they might all be animated by one Spirit. This is plainly implied in this – that they may be one in us. Union with the Father and Son is obtained and kept up only by the Holy Ghost. He that is joined to the Lord in one spirit, 1Co_6:17. Let them all be stamped with the same image and superscription, and influenced by the same power… But this prayer of Christ will not have its complete answer till all the saints come to heaven, for then, and not till then, they shall be perfect in one, Joh_17:23; Eph_4:13.  Matthew Henry (1662-1714), John 17:23, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, www.e-sword.net

Calvin echoes this concept in his commentary as well:

This points out the way in which they shall be kept; for those whom the Heavenly Father has decreed to keep, he brings together in a holy unity of faith and of the Spirit…Wherefore, whenever Christ speaks about unity, let us remember how basely and shockingly, when separated from him, the world is scattered; and, next, let us learn that the commencement of a blessed life is, that we be all governed, and that we all live, by the Spirit of Christ alone.  John Calvin (1509-1564), John 17:11, 23, Calvin’s Commentary on the Gospel of John, http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm vol35/ htm/vii.ii.htm  (Emphasis his).

Despite the visible differences regarding style of worship, mode/age of baptism, eschatology and even the role of free will in salvation all true believers are united in Christ (Col 1:17).  This unity is realized and maintained by the Holy Spirit who dwells in all true believers regardless of denomination (Eph 4:4-6).           

The Mormon religion has had success in portraying its organization as united.  However, they too have their own problems with schismatic groups that have broken away from their assembly.  For example, the RLDS claim to be the true restored Church and Fundamentalist LDS maintain the practice of polygamy.  Nonetheless, this paper has contended that disagreement and denominational division are not grounds to disqualify a Churches authenticity.  The essentials of the faith are what matter and as long as these are maintained orthodoxy is intact. Furthermore, the claims of being a wholesale apostasy that affected all Christendom do not find its source in Scripture.  Rather the biblical expectation of the Church is to affect the world positively and eventually fill it entirely.  Although Mormonism is rapidly growing, orthodox Christian Churches are also expanding worldwide.  The growth being realized in Asia, Africa and
South America show promising signs that this fulfillment is in its beginning stages.     

Principle 3:  The strong emphasis on personal holiness and godly living are qualities that orthodox Christians desire.

As explored in the last chapter, those in the Mormon community are known for observably righteous behavior.  Certainly, the emphasis the religion places on works salvation is an attributing factor, which provides motivation to produce good works.  This concept, which is a major tenet of their faith, influences many of the ascetic practices that are normative to the Mormon community.  One of these practices, which is a component related to the previous Principle, is an unpaid clergy.  The Mormon equivalent to a Pastor maintains full time employment to support his family and does not receive any compensation from the local congregation he ministers.  This and other pietistic behavior is attractive to orthodox Christians that are discouraged by sin within the Church.  For example, let’s review the following story: 

Bennett grew up in the heavily Baptist region of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His parents and grandparents had been active Baptists, and he was baptized at age 12…Yet he found the behavior of some churchgoers inconsistent. His friends at youth group fervently testified about Christ one week, then smoked dope the next. An adulterous deacon continued to hold office after a hasty confession. Gossip and backbiting preoccupied many churchgoers…When a high-school friend told him that his church had unpaid leaders, it sparked Bennett’s interest. After attending several weekly LDS sacrament meetings and experiencing what seemed to be genuine care and concern, Bennett felt “compelled by the spirit” to be rebaptized as a Mormon…While LDS theology is what separates Mormonism from orthodox Christianity, it had little to do with Bennett’s attraction to America’s most popular homegrown religion. “Are Mormons Christian?” by John W. Kennedy, Today’s Christian, March/April 1999. http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/9r2/9r2068.html

The person in this example embodies almost all the symptoms that cause members from orthodoxChristian
Churches to convert to the Mormon religion.  In this article the trend of Christians being apathetic about doctrine is seen, thus ignoring the inherent barriers that should prevent conversion to Mormonism.  Also seen is the trend of Christians flirting with the practice of continued special revelation, which served as a confirmation to the decision to convert to Mormonism and being rebaptized.  However, the discouragement over ungodly behavior within the Church initiated the exploratory venture into the Mormon religion.  The reason ungodly behavior causes such consternation within the orthodox Christian Church is apparent.  Nonetheless, an expectation of the Church in this world to remain without any error or impurity is a promise not supported by Scripture.  In the last Principle the concept of the visible and invisible Church was addressed.  This concept found in Matthew 13:24-30, teaches that the Church in this world will be comprised of a mixed body.  Although sin and disobedience should result in discipline (1 Cor 5:1-5) there should be no expectation for the Church to result in perfection while here on earth.  John Calvin explains this concept in his commentary on the verse:     

He speaks of a separation, in order to prevent the minds of the godly from giving way to uneasiness or despondency, when they perceive a confused mixture of the good along with the bad. Although Christ has cleansed the Church with his own blood, that it may be without spot or blemish, yet hitherto he suffers it to be polluted by many stains. I speak not of the remaining infirmities of the flesh, to which every believer is liable, even after that he has been renewed by the Holy Spirit. But as soon as Christ has gathered a small flock for himself, many hypocrites mingle with it, persons of immoral lives creep in, nay, many wicked men insinuate themselves; in consequence of which, numerous stains pollute that holy assembly, which Christ has separated for himself. Many persons, too, look upon it as exceedingly absurd, that ungodly, or profane or unprincipled men should be cherished within the bosom of the Church. Add to this, that very many, under the pretense of zeal, are excessively displeased, when every thing is not conducted to their wish, and, because absolute purity is nowhere to be found, withdraw from the Church in a disorderly manner, or subvert and destroy it by unreasonable severity.  In my opinion, the design of the parable is simply this: So long as the pilgrimage of the Church in this world continues, bad men and hypocrites will mingle in it with those who are good and upright, that the children of God may be armed with patience and, in the midst of offenses which are fitted to disturb them, may preserve unbroken steadfastness of faith.  John Calvin (1509-1564), Matthew 13:24-30, Calvin’s Harmony of the Gospel’s Volume II, http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol32/htm/xxi.htm 

There will be seasons when the Church is stronger than others, however while here on earth it will be far from perfect.  This is not to excuse bad behavior, its just being honest with the reality that God has promised us in His Word.  There have been movements throughout history who sought to achieve, “by unreasonable severity”, a purified Church (Gnostics, Montanists, Donatists and to some extent Anabaptists).  The usual means employed to achieve this is by imposing rigorous forms of asceticism, which lead to the formulation of works salvation.  Similarly, Mormonism has created a system that requires members to produce good works in order to merit salvation.  Thus, it seems appropriate to explain why this doctrine is actually antithetical to the teachings of Scripture.  According to the Bible, the problem began in the Garden of Eden with the fall of Adam whose disobedience unleashed sin and death into the world (Rom 5:12).  As a result, all of Adam’s offspring were born into sin, spiritually dead and unable to seek or please God on their own (Rom 3:9-18 & Prov 20:9).  John Calvin speaks of the affects of sin on humanity in his Institutes:

We must, therefore, distinctly note these two things.  First, we are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence and purity.  John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics, translated by Ford Lewis Battles), Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, p 251. 

Thus, being dead in sins our corruption precludes us from performing any deeds that may justify us before God.  On the contrary, since God is completely holy and just we are liable to receive God’s condemnation for our disobedience.  However, God being merciful does not leave us in this hopeless condition and sends His Son into the world to save us.  During His incarnation, Jesus lived a sinless life and fulfilled every aspect of God’s law (2 Cor 5:2).  Although innocent He willingly laid down His life and endured God’s wrath in our place (1 Pet 3:18, John 10:15 & Rom 3:21-26).  As our substitute we had our sins transferred to Christ and His righteousness transferred to us.  Now by faith in him God no longer counts our sins against us and sees us through the righteousness of Christ (1 Pet 1:24, Rom 4:16, 22-25 & Eph 2:8).  John Calvin explains this concept in his Institutes:   

On the contrary, justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man.  Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men.  And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics, translated by Ford Lewis Battles), Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, p 726-27.

On the cross, Christ fully paid for all of our sins that prevented us from gaining access to eternal life (John 1:29 & Matt 1:21).  This work was complete and sufficient to save us, fulfilling all the conditions we need to meet before God (Heb 9:25-28).  There is no addendum that needs to be issued to cover missing conditions, it is all inclusive.  Therefore, to suggest that there are additional conditions that need to be met in order to merit salvation diminishes what Christ accomplished (Gal 2:21).  The concept of works salvation infers that either Christ’s work is not complete or God is judging sins twice.  Both of these results are extremely problematic since the Scripture teaches otherwise.  First, God’s justice would not require sins to be judged more than once.  If Scripture is true, then Christ has paid for our sins and has earned salvation for us being judged in our place.  Consequently, if we are condemned for not earning our salvation and receive God’s judgment for our inadequacies then those sins are being judged twice.  Second, if Christ’s work is not complete then we are still dead in our sins.  He is the only one to live a life without sin and fulfilled God’s law perfectly.  This was required to approach God with an acceptable sacrifice that would atone for sins (Isaiah 53:10-11).  Nobody else can make this claim, thus we are unable to perform works that would satisfy any of God’s demand (Ps 143:2) leaving us without hope and only despair.  To advocate salvation by works is to reject God’s grace, His plan of redemption, the Gospel and Christ’s sacrifice.  These are essentials to the Christian religion, however this error has plagued the Church throughout history.  Even Paul addressed this problem in his Epistle to the Galatians. Calvin comments on Paul’s Epistle and on the perilous state this view puts us in:     

There is great emphasis in this expression; for how dreadful is the ingratitude manifested in despising the grace of God, so invaluable in itself, and obtained at such a price! Yet this heinous offense is charged against the false apostles, who were not satisfied with having Christ alone, but introduced some other aids towards obtaining salvation. For, if we do not renounce all other hopes, and embrace Christ alone, we reject the grace of God. And what resource is left to the man, who ‘puts from him’ the grace of God, ‘and judges himself unworthy of everlasting life?’” Acts 13:46.)  John Calvin (1509-1564), Galatians 2:21, Calvin’s Commentary on Galatians, http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol41/htm/iii.iv.iv.htm

Unfortunately, many orthodox Christians do not understand the consequences of embracing this error.  They confuse the roles of justification and sanctification in the life of the believer.  We have taken time to explain justification by faith, which tends to deemphasize the role of our behavior.  As we mentioned in our last chapter, perversions of this doctrine introduce the problem of antinomianism that discourages the need to pursue holiness at all.  The Mormon religion preys on this error and caricatures the Christian doctrine to support their views on salvation.  This, however, does not account for the proper balance that the orthodox belief maintains between justification and sanctification. Sanctification is defined by the Westminster Shorter Catechism as follows:  “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.” Good works are an integral part of the Christian life, however they are not a basis of salvation.  On the contrary, they are evidence of our justifying faith that is a free gift of God.  When a professing Christian’s lifestyle is repeatedly indistinguishable from the world then that usually indicates that his faith is not genuine.  This person is part of the visible Church by confession, however is not part of the invisible Church evidenced by actions.  Christians who do not understand these important doctrines understandably become frustrated with unrighteousness in the Church.  The natural inclination is to respond as the Mormon’s have by mandating righteousness to be a prerequisite to salvation.  However, this mistakenly perverts the Gospel and does not account realistically for mans rebellious and wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9).  Man alone is impure and unable to approach God on his own to even attempt to find merit (Isaiah 64:6-7).  As stated above, Christ is the only Person worthy to approach God and appease His wrath.  However, when we are granted the salvation that Christ has earned for us we are purified before God.  Only then are our subsequent works able to please God in any meaningful way:

Therefore, purification of heart must precede, in order that those works which come forth from us may be favorably received by God.  For the statement of Jeremiah is always in force, that the eyes of God have regard for truth [Jer. 5:3].  That it is faith alone, moreover, by which men’s hearts are purified, the Holy Spirit has declared through the mouth of Peter [Acts 15:9].  From this it is evident that the first foundation lies in true and living faith.” John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics, translated by Ford Lewis Battles), Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, p 776           

Thus, works are an important component to orthodox Christian belief, however they are in no way meritorious.  They are the outward evidence of our faith in Christ that saves us.  Our good works are pleasing to God, however are solely contingent on being performed in Christ to be accepted.  As we progress in our faith we are sanctified more and more, but still contend with sin.  Not until we reach heaven will we be fully sanctified and without sin.

Therefore, one may conclude that the concerns that orthodox Christians have about unrighteousness within the Church community are valid.  However, they need not be surprised that God has allowed impurity in the Church.  Christians have been warned in Scripture that this is going to exist and not to be discouraged by it.  Virtually all of the Epistles in the New Testament were written in response to or at least address error in the Church.  Most of this error was doctrinal in nature, however occasionally the error discussed is behavioral.  This testifies to the fact that the Church was imperfect and constantly needed to be corrected, which is evident today as well.  The Mormon religion seeks to avoid this by imposing “unreasonably severity” and on the surface appears to be successful.  They achieve this by embracing an ancient error, which is antithetical to Scripture and is blasphemous to Christ.  Certainly, they are very convincing in their behavior evident in the praiseworthy reports received by the media.  Many Christians also are impressed by their behavior and take this as confirmation of the veracity of their claims.  Furthermore, the rapid growth of their religion, enabled by this Principle, seems to authenticate their view of the Gospel.  Not being able to judge the intentions of their hearts, we may be enticed to acquiesce to their formidable case.  Besides, who are we to judge whether their actions are genuine?  Well we are not qualified to make this assertion on our own we can only point to our authoritative source on these matters.  Thus, the case from Scripture why the Mormon claims cannot be true has been outlined. And if they are not true, their behavior cannot find its source in God nor be genuine.  Since they reject the Gospel by denying Christ His place in our salvation, their works are not authentically pleasing to God.  As a result, we are only able to attribute their good works to their own selfish desires and it seems appropriate to appeal to the explanation given by our Lord:

You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:  ‘This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’….’Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.  Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’  (Matthew 15:7-9, 13-14)

An examination of the reasons orthodox Christians covert to the Mormon religion has been done.  It has been commented on whether these reasons are justified or not.  Whether or not they are right does not prevent the fact that they result in what they do.  In the next chapter solutions will be proposed to this challenge, which will make suggestions on how to employ efforts to prevent further conversions from occurring.

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Responses

  1. […] More about this topic can be read here: Why-orthodox-christians-are-converting-to-mormonism-chapter-3, however we will attempt to respond to these mischaracterizations in this post also.  In the ancient Church there was a well established consensus on the canonical books.  The Old Testament was fully affirmed as it had been preserved by the Church in the previous era.  Furthermore, the list of New Testament books were either very close or identical the canon we have today.  Many criticize the fact that no official list was affirmed by the Church until the late 300s.  However, the need to publicize such a list was not necessary until heretical groups took it upon themselves to decide, which books were canonical.  A heretic named Marcion, in his zeal to distance himself from the God of the Old Testament, embarked on preparing one of the first canonical lists.  The list that he compiled removed any Semitic reference from the New Testament and abolished the entire Old Testament.  In response to this the orthodox, began to make it clear to all what books were canonical and to refute the heretic Marcion. […]


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