Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Does Psalm 82 support the mormon doctrines of a plurality of gods?

That question has been raised on Heart Issues for LDS by a couple of vocal mormon apologists and has been raised by countless other mormons as a defense for the mormon doctrine that the God of the Bible is an exalted human being, who was once a man and progressed to be a god and is one of a multitude of other gods who are at least His equals (since God was once a man who progressed to Godhood, there must of necessity be a greater god than He who created Him.) To try to defend this belief and throw Christians off track, mormons often throw Psalm 82 out and declare that even the Bible itself supports this doctrine. So does it?

Well the obvious answer is no because the Bible is clear that there is only one God, unique and without peer, equal or equivalent. But that answer, while obvious, likely will be unsatisfactory to a mormon, especially one who is better versed in So first let’s look at Psalm 82, not just the parts that a mormon might quote but the entire chapter.

Rescue the Weak and Needy
A Psalm of Asaph.
82:1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!

(Psalm 82: 1-8 ESV)

So before digging too deeply, we need to ask the question: what is Psalm 82 all about? Who is speaking, who is the audience, what is the point? The Psalm refers to God as the supreme judge, who in this case is standing in judgment over those who rule over others, and in their rule they are being partial to the wicked and unjust to the weak. They are implored to rescue the weak and needy and are warned that they are destined to die like any other man.

It makes no sense whatsoever that the “gods” spoken of here are other gods like the God of the Bible because they are both unjustly ruling and they are mortal, falling or dying like any other man. That depiction is hardly one that lends itself to the belief that these are other gods.

So that is what I think, but what have the leading minds and scholars through the ages said?

First, from Augustine….

1. This Psalm, like others similarly named, was so entitled either from the name of the man who wrote it, or from the explanation of that same name, so as to refer in meaning to the Synagogue, which Asaph signifies; especially as this is intimated in the first verse. For it begins, “God stood in the synagogue of gods” (ver. 1). Far however be it from us to understand by these Gods the gods of the Gentiles, or idols, or any creature in heaven or earth except men; for a little after this verse the same Psalm relates and explains what Gods it means in whose synagogue God stood, where it says, “I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the Most High: but ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” In the synagogue of these children of the Most High, of whom the same Most High said by the mouth of Isaiah, “I have begotten sons and brought them up, but they despised Me,” stood God. By the synagogue we understand the people of Israel, because synagogue is the word properly used of them, although they were also called the Church. Our congregation, on the contrary, the Apostles never called synagogue, but always Ecclesia; whether for the sake of the distinction, or because there is some difference between a congregation whence the synagogue has its name, and a convocation whence the Church is called Ecclesia: for the word congregation (or flocking together) is used of cattle, and particularly of that kind properly called “flocks,” whereas convocation (or calling together) is more of reasonable creatures, such as men are.…I think then that it is clear in what synagogue of gods God stood.

Augustine, as an early writer around 400 A.D. is one of the most highly regarded writers in the early church days.

Let us look next at Calvin’s introduction. John Calvin is generally esteemed as one of the, if not the, finest theologian to have ever lived. Certainly his thoughts would carry some weight….

As kings, and such as are invested with authority, through the blindness which is produced by pride, generally take to themselves a boundless liberty of action, the Psalmist warns them that they must render an account at the bar of the Supreme Judge, who is exalted above the highest of this world. After he has reminded them of their duty and condition, perceiving that he speaks to such as refuse to receive admonition, he calls upon God to vindicate his character as a righteous judge.

So Calvin also recognizes this as a depiction of unjust and wicked human judges who will be called to account. A couple of possible references to the judges in question are alternately suggested in Chronicles 19:5-7 or 2 Chronicles 29:30, both of which refer to wicked judges. There are a number of places, especially in the psalms, that refer to unrighteous judges, inaccurate weights, etc. as being under condemnation.

How about Matthew Henry, Bible commentator extraordinaire?

This psalm is calculated for the meridian of princes’ courts and courts of justice, not in Israel only, but in other nations; yet it was probably penned primarily for the use of the magistrates of Israel, the great Sanhedrim, and their other elders who were in places of power, and perhaps by David’s direction. This psalm is designed to make kings wise, and "to instruct the judges of the earth’’ (as 2 and 10), to tell them their duty as (2 Sa. 23:3), and to tell them of their faults as 58:1. We have here, I. The dignity of magistracy and its dependence upon God (v. 1). II. The duty of magistrates (v. 3, 4). III. The degeneracy of bad magistrates and the mischief they do (v. 2, 5). IV. Their doom read (v. 6, 7). V. The desire and prayer of all good people that the kingdom of God may be set up more and more (v. 8). Though magistrates may most closely apply this psalm to themselves, yet we may any of us sing it with understanding when we give glory to God, in singing it, as presiding in all public affairs, providing for the protection of injured innocency, and ready to punish the most powerful injustice, and when we comfort ourselves with a belief of his present government and with the hopes of his future judgment.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that without exception throughout the centuries the most respected writers are in unanimity that this Psalm is written as an indictment of the judges who are oppressing the weak and needy. The point is that those humans who sit in judgment and rule over others are themselves subject to death and judgment from the ultimate judge, i.e. God.

If for some reason you reject the idea that these individuals in the assembly written about were the human judges, which I think the context clearly suggests, another possible rendering is that this is the angelic host. We know for certain that there are other beings that surround God, angelic beings that appear in Isaiah’s vision for example. But it is also clear that these angels are created beings and are beneath and subject to God, not other gods. There is not, without the most egregious eisegesis, any way to make this Psalm a support for a plurality of gods. That abominable doctrine is the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination and bears no more resemblance to the God of the Bible than the pagan pantheons of Greek or Norse gods.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Glenn Beck booted

There was a bit of a stir recently when Focus on the Family produced an interview with pundit Glenn Beck regarding his new Christmas book, The Christmas Sweater. A number of Christians protested the perceived endorsement of this book and by proxy Beck's mormonism. In response to the outcry, Focus on the Family printed a retraction and removed the interview. From an article on MormonTimes...

James Dobson's Focus on the Family ministry has pulled from its CitizenLink Web site an article about talk show host Glenn Beck's book "The Christmas Sweater" after some complained that Beck's LDS faith is a "cult" and "false religion" and shouldn't be promoted by a Christian ministry.

When contacted Friday, a Focus on the Family worker at the ministry in Colorado Springs, Colo. confirmed that the article had been pulled at this link and read a prepared statement for callers who had called about the Beck article:

"You are correct to note that Mr. Beck is a member of the Mormon church, and that we did not make mention of this fact in our interview with him. We do recognize the deep theological difference between evangelical theology and Mormon theology, and it would have been prudent for us at least to have pointed out these differences. Because of the confusion, we have removed the interview from CitizenLink."

Beck is predictably outraged....

A Special Message from Glenn:
The Christmas Sweater is a story about the idea of Christmas as a time for redemption and atonement. Whatever your beliefs about my religion, the concept of religious tolerance is too important to be sacrificed in response to pressure from special interest groups, especially when it means bowing to censorship. I'm humbled and grateful that hundreds of thousands of people from different faiths have read the book and have appreciated its uplifting message for themselves. At a time when the world is so full of fear, despair, and divisions, it is my hope that all of those who believe in a loving and peaceful God would stand together on the universal message of hope and forgiveness.
-glenn

Funny to quote religious tolerance when you are a member of a heretical church that sends tends of thousands of young men around the world to tell Christians that they are members of a "abomination":

19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith "History" 1:19)

What is the problem with a mormon Christmas book? The Christ child in mormonism is not the same Christ child of the Bible. He is at best a created being and the brother of Satan and at worst is the product of a blasphemous doctrine that God the Father bodily engaged in intercourse with Mary, impregnating her with Jesus. By giving a venue to Glenn Beck, Focus on the Family tacitly legitimized Beck's mormon views of Christ. This stunt is no different than Focus inviting a muslim to talk about their Christmas book, or any other unbeliever.

What is especially troubling is that Focus on the Family, an ostensibly Christian para-church ministry, gave a platform to someone who comes from a faith tradition that is in direct opposition to the Gospel and that is engaged in proselytizing and luring people away from Christianity. Someone at Focus needs to be more discerning and worry less about elections and more about the Gospel.

(HT: Voice of the Sheep)

Baptism

This is the next post replying to my anonymous commenter…the rest of my responses should be more brief than the prior one.

Baptism:

Early Christian churches, practiced baptism of youth (not infants) by immersion by the father of the family. The local congregation had a lay ministry. An early Christian Church has been re-constructed at the Israel Museum, and the above can be verified. The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continues baptism and a lay ministry as taught by Jesus’ Apostles. Early Christians were persecuted for keeping their practices sacred, and prohibiting non-Christians from witnessing them.

Some of that is true, but that doesn’t mean that mormonism is also true. As I pointed out previously, correcting an error with a greater error is not a restoration! I will agree wholeheartedly that the New Testament model of the church was a lay ministry, but also that the earliest church was not a hierarchical organization but instead small gatherings of believers often in homes, not in meeting houses with basketball courts and satellite links to Salt Lake City. I have posted with some regularity recently on my main blog affirming the lay ministry model (see here) but that affirmation does not necessitate or support mormonism. I also will affirm that paedobaptism, the baptism of infants of believing parents is not a correct practice. Many, many Christians deny infant baptism. On the other hand, baptizing someone because they turn eight is not a correct practice either!

That early Christians hid their “sacred” ceremonies I am not so certain about. They were certainly often in hiding because of persecution. Again, we get no citation so I cannot be sure where that claim comes from. Early Christians were persecuted for many things, but it is an enormous leap to think that the reason they were persecuted, as implied here, is that they were conducting secret mormon temple ceremonies. It is a chicken and egg situation, were they persecuted because they were in hiding or were they in hiding because of persecution? The latter seems far more plausible.

What we have here is an argument that points out some truths, but then makes the assumption that mormonism is the correct prescription for meeting these truths. Getting some aspects of ecclesiology correct doesn’t outweigh gross errors in theology proper.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is mormonism the true New Testament Christianity?

That is the assertion made in a comment on a previous post. See here. That statement is the beginning of a series of statements made by this anonymous individual, and the audacity and inaccuracy of the claims demands a response. I am going to dissect all of the arguments made in this comment and demonstrate from plain facts and Scripture that they are false. The individual who posted this and also has a couple of blogs is anonymous, so it cannot be ascertained what their background is or where they got their information. The comment starts with this statement:

Mormons Are New Testament Christians, not Creedal Christians

A bold statement, but one with no basis in fact. Obviously I would, as would all Christians, deny that mormonism is the restoration of New Testament Christianity (or that mormonism is any sort of Christianity at all). I want to reiterate and expand on my comments in response to that statement. My original comments are in green.

Nowhere in the NT do we see Christians holding or needing a priesthood, in fact the need for a human priesthood is specifically rejected in the NT especially in Hebrews.

Throughout the book of Hebrews we see Christ as our High Priest. The role of the human priesthood after the order of Aaron has been negated (see my prior post A restoration or a fabrication? for more details on the elimination of the need for a human priesthood) We need no human priests when we have a great High Priest who intercedes for us directly with the Father. The whole notion stems from a misunderstanding of the priesthood under the Old Covenant and the great priesthood of Christ as mediator of the New Covenant.

The idea of mormon temple worship does not appear anywhere in the NT.

The temple is a key to mormon theology and practice, but mormon temple worship doesn't appear anywhere in the New Testament. We do see the early apostles going to the Jewish temple, but there purpose in going there was to preach and teach the Gospel, not to perform the mormon temple ceremonies. The temple ceremonies of mormonism bear no resemblance to New Testament Christian worship or Old Testament temple ordinances. None at all.

The idea of a plurality of gods is specifically and vociferously rejected through the old and new testament.

This sort of goes without saying. The Bible is clear and speaks frequently to the uniqueness of God. The Bible rejects categorically the existence of any other gods, on par with or even vaguely similar to God. The whole of creation includes the Triune God, created angels/demons and humanity. There is not category for other gods, certainly not a god who created the God of the Bible as the doctrine of God being an exalted man would require.

Exaltation is absent.

Exaltation, or the becoming of a god by faithful mormon men, is so foreign to the Bible that it becomes indefensible and frankly unthinkable. See my posts on exaltation Talking 'bout my deification as well as my post on the Biblical doctrine of adoption.

Dietary codes like the word of wisdom are rejected.

This pertains to the mormon "word of wisdom" that prohibit certain foods. See Matthew 15:11-19 and the vision of Peter before going to the house of Cornelius in Acts 10: 9-15. Both of which point to the elimination of dietary laws. The word of wisdom boils down to an external pietistic control mechanism. Humans are not sanctified by observance of dietary laws, and the idea that drinking a cup of tea makes you unworthy to become a god is silly.

An ongoing need for a human prophet is rejected.

See my post here on Hebrews 1: 1-2 and how pointless a prophet is today. The fullness of the revelation of God to man for salvation is contained in the Bible describing the person and work of His Son. What more do we need? What more do we want? When we had the missionaries coming over, this was a stumbling block for them. It seemed they had never gotten beyond "God used to speak through prophets, so shouldn't He today?" without working through the implications of that thought. They never were really able to give a cogent answer as to why we would need a prophet today.

New "revelation" that contradicts the apostles is declared anathema.

Would new revelation completely contradict the original, complete revelation given by Christ? That hardly makes sense and Paul has pretty strong words for those who preach "another gospel" in Galatians 1: 6-9. Completely changing the Gospel is not a restoration, it is a heresy.

The mormon offices of elder and deacon run contrary to the qualification laid out in the NT. The hierarchical, authoritarian nature of the mormon church is contrary to the structure of the NT church.

The structure of the church is not really a structure at all. Mormonism seeks to establish the proper organization on earth, but the church is not an organization at all. It is the people of God in all places and at every time. We gather together but that gathering is not the church. The church is not this program or that leader. It is the elect of God throughout the ages, the Bride of Christ. Mormonism also takes the titles that appear in the New Testament and applies them improperly and with no regard to the qualifications laid out. Think of the missionaries. They all carry the title of "elder" and they are young men of 19-21 years of age. Their age is not in and of itself the issue, but in 1 Timothy 3: 1-13 we see the qualifications laid out for elders and deacons, and it is hard to think that a teenage young man is qualified as being mature in the faith, the husband of one wife and managing his household well. The structure and offices of mormonism are yet another glaring example of the mormon church using Biblical terms, but doing so improperly.

To summarize: the mormon church bears no resemblance to the New Testament church in either doctrine or in practice. Outside of a few superficial similarities in names the form, function and foundations of the mormon church are built on the teachings of the imagination of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, not the teaching of Christ and His apostles. As such, mormons are not New Testament Christians and indeed because of their beliefs are not Christians at all. You cannot say that this person believes A and is a Christian, and that person believes B, which is mutually exclusive from A, and is also a Christian. Christianity is many things, but one thing it certainly can be said to be is a series of propositional truths. Deny those truths and you deny Christ, and as such cannot be a Christian. How can you be "New Testament Christians" when you cannot appeal to the New Testament to support your theology and practice and instead seek to undermine that very document in your later arguments?

There are plenty of issues that modern Christianity is wrestling with and has wrestled with for two thousand years. The writings of Paul speak of false teaching early in the church and we are warned in the Word of a coming falling away (which may or may not be a future or even present event). The Reformation was driven by the false teachings of Rome. We saw false teachings in every century since the cross. We certainly see plenty of false teaching today.

But here is where mormons miss the mark:

Correcting errors with greater errors is not a restoration!

That is the big problem with the "restoration" argument. Change in and of itself is not a correction. In the church, only change that conforms more closely to the Word is a restoration, anything else is just compounding one error with another.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

At peace with God

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"


How often have you sung this Christmas hymn? In church it is a Christmas staple, and when I was younger we used to sing it in Christmas programs at school (when we were still allowed to sing Christmas songs and still call it Christmas instead of "the holidays"). But one line in that hymn really stands out to me, God and sinners reconciled. Christmas has become, culturally, all about the giving and receiving. We think about the babe in the manger as God's gift to the world. But I am afraid that we have lost sight of the cross because of the manger. Jesus coming in a miraculous birth to a virgin, in and of itself, accomplished very little other than fulfilling one part of the prophecy. It was at the cross where the Christ child was destined to ascend that the full reality of the gift of God to His people was realized. It was there, on the cross, where He brought peace between God and sinners.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:19-20)


(Emphasis added)

What all of this tells me is the depths to which we once were His enemies. Our separation was so severe, the gulf so unbridgeable that peace between God and His people could only come at a terrible cost, the cost of the life of His Son. We have no peace in this life because we have no peace with God. It was an enmity that our sin has caused and it was a separation that outside of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit we are unaware of. Sure we know something is wrong in the world, but we don't realize that what is wrong with the world is not global warming, or capitalism, or war, or those people over there. What is wrong with the world is us. We were unable and unwilling to make peace with God, so God had to send His beloved Son to make peace with us. Don't buy that Total Depravity stuff? Think we are just generally good people who needed a little nudge in the right direction? Think again...

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

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)

So we are all depraved, wicked sinners. But didn't Jesus come to bring peace? Certainly, but not the peace we usually think of.

The peace that Christ brings is not an earthly peace, a time of peace and goodwill. 2000 years of human history have proven that. There are wars, famine, hatred. The world is certainly not a peaceful place by any stretch of the imagination. So what is all of this peace talk about anyway? We read in Isaiah 9:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

We see on the glorious night that Christ was born:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:13-14)

But yet we don't see peace in the world nor should we expect to. The peace that Christ brought is peace with His Father, a peace treaty signed in His blood.

We are cynically called to remember "The reason for the season", but the reason for the season is not the manger, it is the cross. It is not the three wise men, it is the centurion who said: "Truly this was the Son of God!". It is not the adoring shepherds, it is the crowd screaming "Crucify Him!". The reason for the season is that:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Joh 1:14)

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and by His stripes we are healed. That is reason to celebrate. Not for iPods or gift cards, but the eternal Word condescended to dwell among sinners who hated and rejected Him. But we also read that while we were yet sinners, He came and died for us. Celebrate that on Christmas day, celebrate that God and sinners are reconciled by the cross and because of that we have peace with God for all eternity.

Now that is deserving of a...

Merry Christmas!