Sunday, October 26, 2008

That pesky fellow!

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:39-43)

There is probably no figure that causes more trouble to those who buy into doctrines like works salvation or baptismal regeneration quite like the repentant thief on the cross next to Christ. He really confounds those who believe in some version of works based righteousness. We see a man who does nothing to merit paradise, just condemnation, one who is justifiable being punished hanging next to one you merited no such punishment. There are many ways he confounds those who insist on works for all or part of their salvation.

His simple declaration of faith

His faith is simple, it is a faith of one who places his hope on the One who can save him. His hope is in spite of the life he lived up to that point, not because of it. When a Christian is saved, he or she is saved despite the utter sinfulness of their prior life. We are saved not by our litany of good works, we are saved by Christ.

His recognition of his own sin

He sees and realizes his own sins, and Christ's sinlessness. A recognition of sin that must precede salvation. We cannot be saved until we see why we need to be saved. That flies in the face of a faith+works salvation. The image of the thief is little different than the image of the saved Christian. We are that sinner, a lowly criminal hanging next to His King. We bring nothing to our salvation, we add nothing to our justification but the sin that Christ atoned for.

His salvation

His salvation requires no action on his part, only His blessing. Nothing else needs to be done. Indeed I think the reason we see this account is to show us that this thief, like us, is utterly helpless. He cannot get down and go do righteous works to show himself worthy of salvation. All he brings is all God demands: a penitent heart, changed by God, that declares Jesus Christ as Lord. That is all we need, and when we seek to add our works to His work we put the cross to shame and deny the Lord.

Something else I love about this guy: He is anonymous. We have no idea who this guy is or what his name is or what kind of life he lived. He was a thief, we know that and that is about all we know. The conversation is not about him, it is about Christ, about Christ being merciful on an undeserving sinner. In a day when “me, me and me” is the new Trinity, when we wonder what God can do for us, when we seek as much as we ever have to stand insolently before God and claim our reward based on our works and our righteousness , this anonymous thief reminds us all that each of us has a cross we should have faced, but that in the case of redeemed Christian He faced it for us so that we wouldn’t have to.

Whenever you hear someone say that it is our works that save us, remember this lowly thief who brought nothing to the cross but his sin, but today dwells with the Lord in paradise and remember that we can do nothing to save ourselves. That's O.K. though, because Jesus has paid for it all with His blood and that was good enough for this thief and it is good enough for us. Praise God for His mercy and praise God for recording the story of this thief in His Word to set to rest the question of who and what saves us!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New podcast on mormonism

The Mormonism Research Ministry is re-releasing their podcast, so if you subscribe to podcasts via iTunes or another service you can check them out. It is all quality, Christ honoring and well researched material.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Talking ‘bout my deification

A lot of discussions revolving around mormonism end up wandering off into ancillary issues: Adam-God, the Mountain Meadows massacre, various eccentric oddities in the Book of Mormon (and there are lots of those!) I think that is partly intentional, because it serves to distract from the question at hand. But discussions of those issues, while interesting and some of them are topics I will raise here because they reflect the fundamental errors of mormonism, don’t get at the real core of the problem. Lots of Christian churches teach things that I don’t particularly like. Lots of Christian churches teach things in error (i.e. infant baptism). Some denominations get the Gospel wrong, even though they recognize the proper nature of God, especially as it relates to Christ (i.e. Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy).

But where the proverbial rubber meets the road, where mormonism diverges most radically from Christianity, is in the nature of God and as a corollary the nature of man.

Mormonism teaches that God of the Bible is actually an exalted man (Gospel Principles pg. 9). That means that God is not unique in the universe, not just in “this” universe but in terms of being existence as a whole. Not only is God not unique, but He is created which means that there are other gods like Him and that it would also mean that there was a god who created Him who stands above Him. This stands in opposition to the traditionally held beliefs of Christians of all stripes. One or the other must be false. God cannot be both eternal and uncreated and at the same time an exalted, created being. It is my contention that the Bible reveals to us a God who is like no other being, and that there are no other gods because God is unique and has revealed Himself as such. This is a brief Scriptural case for that position looking at the nature of God, the nature of man and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The nature of God

Who and what is God? I am not asking here about philosophical speculation or what this or that early Christian postulated. What I am talking about is who God has revealed Himself to be in His Word. The Bible is, speaking most broadly, a record of God’s revelation of Himself to man. The God revealed in Scripture is unlike anyone or anything. God has eternally existed in three persons, Father, Son and Spirit and for His own pleasure and glory created the universe. No one made God, He is without cause or creation. A sample of Scripture indicates this truth...

To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:35-39)

Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. (1 Kings 8:59-60)

Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. (2 Samuel 7:22)

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:5-6)

The prevailing theme here? That there is no other god but God. Not that there is none like Him in these here parts. There is but one God anywhere and He is unique, without being created. Man is as different from God as the east is from the west. We are created in His image, but we are not like Him in nature because no one, no being, nothing is like Him.

The nature of man

Just as the Bible is clear that God is unique, uncreated, eternal, without beginning or end, perfectly just and loving, sublimely holy, it is also clear that man is anything but. Man is revealed as utterly sinful, lost in sin, an enemy to God by nature.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.(Genesis 6:5)

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalms 51:5)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- (Romans 5:12)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.(Ephesians 2:1-3)

Man is many things. Sinful, Imperfect. Prone to wander. But gods in embryo? Capable of progressing into godhood? Certainly not. We are adopted into the family of God. We receive the imputed righteousness of Christ that replaces our iniquity. We never become righteous in and of ourselves. Our only righteousness is that imputed to us through the grace of God by faith in Christ.

The Gospel

The Gospel is marvelously simple and infinitely complex, but what it boils down to is this (and this of course is a very imperfect summary). God who is infinite and eternal created man in His image and for His pleasure. The first man, Adam, willfully rebelled against God by disobeying the clear command to not eat of the fruit. Man was thereby cast out of the Garden, out of the fellowship with God that Adam had enjoyed. That rebellion had the consequence of both physical death and spiritual death, i.e. hell. Despite the rebellion and enmity of man to God, God revealed Himself to His creatures and set about redeeming a people to Himself. That redemptive plan saw it's culmination in the miracle of the virgin birth of Christ. The Son of God lived a perfect life and ministered among man for some time, and was crucified by the Romans under Pontius Pilate with the blessing and encouragement of many of the Jewish leadership. He bore the wrath of God for the sins of His elect on the cross, and died on that same cross. He was buried and then rose again on the third day, appearing to many of His followers and charging them to spread the Gospel. He then ascended into heaven, where He awaits the day of judgment when He will bring His bride, the church, home.

What is missing from the Gospel is any hint that Christ came to enable sinners to become gods, or that it is His intent to see that happen. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, not to make new gods.

The doctrines of mormonism are at odds with Christianity, the revelation of Christ in the Bible in many ways, but nowhere more clearly or tragically than in the misrepresentation of God and man, and in the way that another Gospel is being proclaimed around the world by deceived young men. This is where our focus ought to be first and foremost: declaring Jesus Christ as the only means to save a people who are lost.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nice Visit

We had the misssionaries over again tonight. My wife made me be quiet and listen, which is really hard for me! Ever heard someone ask "Are you listening or just waiting to talk", I am the "just waiting to talk" kind of person. We did get halfway through a booklet on the plan of salvation, and I let them give their spiel. They are coming back next week and I asked them to think about the person of Christ, who He is. Should be an interesting conversation.
In a comment on my post about the heretical hymn "Praise to the man" , Mormon Heretic claims that a recent article in Christianity Today supports or at least suggests support for the mormon doctrine of exaltation. Here is part of the comment:

The article goes on to quote Athanasius and Irenaeus, as I did in my blog. Some key scriptures it points to regarding deification (or mingling with gods, as the mormon hymn points out) are:

John 10:34
Romans 8:291
John 3:2
Gen 1:26
Gen 3:5
1 John 1:5

Now I freely admit that mormons view of exaltation isn't 100% the same as deification. However, the similarites are striking, enough for me not to worry about this hymn you find so troubling.

Do these verses support mormon exaltation?

How about John 10:34. OK, that one is just silly. This is what John 10:34 says: Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? The quote is from Psalm 82:6 but look at the context of the verse by adding in verse 7...

I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince." (Psalms 82:6-7) Like other men you will die. The "gods" spoken on here are the human judges over Israel, who die like any other man. Then look at the full context of John 10:34:

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came--and Scripture cannot be broken-- do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." (John 10:34-38)

So what we see is quite contrary to deification. The "gods" spoken of are mere men, magistrates over Israel compared to Christ who IS God. Not only does it not support deification, it also shows that Christ is God.

What about Romans 8:29?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

We here we see a different Biblical doctrine being brought forth, the doctrine of adoption ( in conjunction with the doctrines of election and predestination, which are unexplainable in mormon theology). Adoption tells us that by faith we are adopted into the family of God. A child that is adopted into the family is not genetically a family member, but is brought legally into a family. In the same way, we are adopted by God into His family. That doesn't make us gods, but rather brings us into familial fellowship. Look a few verses earlier in Romans 8...

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

We do not have to be gods to be adopted by God!

Surely 1 John 3:2 must support exaltation? Or does it?

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Why are we like God? Because we will have our own worlds? Because we share his attributes? No, because we will see Him for who He is. That is all it promises, we will see Him as He is whereas now we see through a glass darkly. Again, this speaks of adoption not exaltation.

Genesis 1:26 doesn't even make sense.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." Genesis 1:26)

We are made in His image, not in His nature. He created us and He is uncreated. We are sinners and He is perfect. He is eternal and we are not. Being made in the image of an eternal, perfect being doesn't make us gods. It makes us creations.

On to Genesis 3:5. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)

OK, first you are using something Satan says to support your argument. Second, why are we like God? Because Adam and Eve, who did not know good and evil, now DO know good and evil (they knew they were naked and were ashamed) They are clearly not godlike, they lived and died like anyone else. What they did have however was a knowledge of good and evil, as God does, which doesn't make them like God in nature and in fact led to their death.

Finally 1 John 1:5. I am not sure what you mean by this, I think you referenced the wrong verse because 1 John 1:5 reads: This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5). Not sure how that supports your argument.

Just listing a bunch of verses is not an argument. This is why you need to read the Word completely and in context. Prooftexting is always a dangerous thing. When examined in context and read clearly, none of those verse support exaltation, and in several cases show just the opposite.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Angels of light

Ever had an "Ah-ha!" moment when reading your Bible? We had one last night when doing our daily devotional. We read these and looked at each other and said "Wow!"...

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:1-15)

It is amazing how replete the Scripture is in warnings of false prophets, false teachers, false gospels. They may seem sincere and nice, they will almost certainly not be obvious. It is the subtle lie, the lie that appeals to the sinner's heart that has the greatest chance of deceit. To the great shame of Christianity, we have done such a poor job in training up our people show that they know a lie when they hear it that cults and false religions flourish.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On leaving mormonism

This should be an interesting conversation on Mormon Coffee. The topic is Leaving the Mormon Church and I expect some really pointed conversation to follow. Should be fun to follow.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thoughts from the "priesthood" session

I was at the priesthood session of the general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If you are not "in the know" with mormonism, twice a year the mormon leadership from Salt Lake City broadcasts two days of talks aimed at the members. The talks are pretty bland stuff, but sometimes they announce new temples and such during conference. On Saturday night there is a special session just for the men and boys who hold the mormon "priesthood". The missionaries we have been evangelizing invited me to come, and I picked that session. As I mentioned in the last post, I hadn't been in a mormon church since we left almost eight years ago.

A few observations from someone who had been to many priesthood sessions before, but now was seeing it through fresh eyes. These are the things that jumped out at me.

1) How little Scripture was used. I guess I never noticed it when I was a member but there was VERY minimal reference even to mormon Scriptures. When Scripture was used, it was thrown out to support a claim the speaker was already making and in some cases, like Monson butchering Ezekiel 36, what they were saying had nothing to do with the Scripture they were quoting.

2) How man centered it was. All of the talks were about ways to be better mormons, to be more worthy, more personally righteous, more effective. It was little more than a two hour self-help seminar. Sin was barely mentioned and it was mentioned only as a barrier to you being the best mormon you could be. No wonder Joel Osteen likes mormonism so much!

3) Thomas Monson is nowhere near the orator that Hinckley was in his prime. Hinckley, even when he was older, was a much better speaker. In the last few years he was slipping, but heck he was 90 something. In his prime though, he was a marvelous speaker. Monson looks lost up there.

4) How sincere and nice the young men sound when they are singing a song that is rank heresy. To the uninitiated, you might think the singing was just wonderful and there is something great about hundreds of young men, with virtually identical suits and haircut, all wearing their missionary tags singing along with the magnificent organ. But when you stop to listen to the words they were singing, you realize that sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, heresy comes in a pleasant looking and sounding package.

If you go to the webpage you can listen to and soon read the content of the talks, but for some reason the priesthood session material is not listed. I wonder if that is something they are doing now, because there was not a broadcast online of it either for mormons in remote areas. I am currently reading through a talk by the first counselor of the relief society on the temple. Pretty much the same rote stuff you hear every year.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Praise to who?

The song always kind of bugged me, even when we were mormons, but wow let me just say what a visceral impact I had tonight to Praise to the Man. About halfway through the "Priesthood" session of the general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, they sung that song. Just read the lyrics and then try to reconcille that with it being sung in a church that claims to follow and worship Christ...

Praise to the Man

1. Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.

2. Praise to his mem’ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heav’n while the earth lauds his fame.

3. Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.

4. Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know “Brother Joseph” again.

Who are they praising? Where is the focus? Who is being exalted and glorified? He will enter "his kingdom"? "Great is his glory"? Don't even get me started on "mingling with Gods"!

More thoughts on the mormon general conference tomorrow. Suffice it to say that the mindset revealed in this song were on full display in Salt Lake City on Saturday night.

This should be interesting...

The missionaries invited me to General Conference. I am planning on going this evening to the Priesthood session. Honestly, as someone who has suffered through the conference in the past, it is not the best proselytizing tool. I hope I get the chance to take some notes and ask some questions, beating on the drum of "why a restored priesthood" again. I noticed that the priesthood session is not broadcast over the internet, which is interesting but after the infamous "wet dreams" talk I sat through a decade ago, I can understand why!

I haven't been in a mormon church since we left all those years ago.