Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Secret versus sacred

The kerfuffle brought about with the recent airing of a depiction of a small part of the mormon temple ceremony on HBO’s “Big Love” is sweeping the blogosphere, at least the portion of it dealing with mormonism from both the mormon view and the Christian view. Many mormons refuse to discuss the temple in any sort of detail at all, and they find such discussions distasteful and offensive. Few topics get mormons wound up like talking about the temple. In mormon life, the temple is built up as the ultimate experience on this earth. Many mormon homes have a three pictures on the wall, one of the current prophet or the current First Presidency, one of a stylized image that is supposed to be Jesus and a picture of a temple. We even got a very nice, suitable for framing, picture of the Washington, D.C. temple when we went through and still have it. It is front and center all of the time, it is spoken of in general terms constantly (but never in detail). Even when we were going through our prep classes before we went to the temple, none of the details were given. It was all very vague and designed to build up your expectations that this would be just a wonderful, uplifting experience. Even in private homes among mormons or in church buildings, the details of the mormon temple ceremony are not spoken of.

That brings us back to the sacred, not secret claim and the episode of HBO’s “Big Love”. Mormons claim that the temple ceremony is sacred, not secret. The fact that it is hidden from view and that not only are mormons forbidden to speak of it to outsider, but really are not supposed to discuss the details with one another, strikes many people as very odd and secretive, especially given the lack of precedence for that sort of activity in the Bible. I suppose one could make the argument that the ceremony was SO secret in the early church that it was not even mentioned in the writings of Paul and the other apostles. But there is just no reference to mormon style temple ceremonies at all. There is not a hint of it anywhere, not the unique theological underpinnings of the mormon temple, or the ceremony itself or anything like that. If the temple is supposedly such a vital ordinance, it strikes me as odd that during the earthly ministry of Christ and the teachings of His apostles, it gets no mention at all and in fact the teaching we do get runs contrary to mormon temple teaching. It would be like the Bible making no mention of baptism or the Lord’s Supper but expecting us to observe them.

Well, some may say, what about the temple in ancient Israel, that was very sacred and reserved to certain men? True, but not really analogous. The ceremonies that went on in the old temple are not only available to review, they are laid out in excruciating detail as anyone who has read through the Old Testament knows. What they wore, what color their temple garb was, the animals they sacrificed, how they were sacrificed. It was incredibly sacred, but it was also very open. When the High Priest went into the inner sanctum, everyone knew what he was doing. The mormon temple relies on a general ignorance of the Old Testament, which is all too common among mormons and Christians alike. If I recall correctly, the Visitors Center of the Los Angeles temple has lots of information about the ancient Israelite temples to further increase the illusion that they are somehow related. Because of that, it is possible to build up the temple experience in the mind of mormons to offset the general weirdness that goes inside. Compare the specific details of the Old Testament temple practices with the vague warm and fuzzy depictions of the temple experience disseminated for public consumption. Compare also what actually went on in the tabernacle/temple of the Jews and the quirky ceremonies in a mormon temple.

Frankly, the shroud of secrecy that hides the mormon temple ceremony from public consumption has nothing to do with it being sacred in nature. Having been through the temple and reflecting back on it, I can assure you that if the particulars of the mormon ceremony were made public it would cripple mormon proselytizing. The temple ceremony is an embarrassing relic of a bygone age, when Joseph Smith could indulge his every whim and turn every notion that crossed his mind into an official doctrine.

By contrast, I am more than happy to discuss openly every aspect of Christian teaching and church practice. Some of it is hard to explain and might even make people uncomfortable, but it is not secret. Secrecy is not a hallmark of the Gospel. When you read what the disciples preached you don’t see any references to the mormon temple worship, nor is there a hint that something more is needed. It is the Good News, accompanied by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that makes disciples, not mystic secret rituals in a temple. Christ died publicly, on a cross reserved for criminals, and when He rose again He appeared in public to many people. His teachings were spread far and wide, and none of those teachings had anything to do with secret temple rituals. The Gospel is the plain news that sinners, justly condemned by their sins, can receive forgiveness through the shed blood of Christ by faith in Him alone. That’s it. Nothing more complicated or secretive than that.

There is plenty that is secret going on within the white walls of the mormon temples around the world, and it may be sacred to mormons, but it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What goes on in the temple?

This is the controversial video from the HBO show "Big Love" and while it is a bit off, it captures the utter creepiness of what went on in the temple. What this and you will see why the mormon church is so adamant about keeping the temple ceremony under wraps.

Embarrassing Mormon Temple Ceremony as Shown by HBO

In the spirit of equal time, watch the response from the mormon church, explaining why they build temples

(HT: Mormon Coffee)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hopping down the bunny trail…

Whenever the topic rolls around to evangelizing mormons or discussions of mormon theology, it seems almost inevitable that the conversation veers off into all manner of ancillary and minor stuff. Read a couple of days into a thread on Mormon Coffee and almost invariably the conversation veers into a number of different, more or less unrelated, topics. The moderators try their best to keep the conversation on topic, and have been pretty strict about it, but in spite of their best efforts the topics often wander. But all of the issues that people get distracted by: polygamy, horses in the Book of Mormon, blood atonement, etc. pale when compared to “the big issue” with mormonism.

The big issue with mormonism is idolatry.

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20: 1-6)

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. Exodus 32: 1-6

What is interesting is that Aaron and the Israelites didn’t completely make up a god out of thin air. They even say that this golden calf is the god who brought them out of Egypt, thus tying their false idolatrous god into the God of the Bible who redeemed His people out of bondage. The best lies are the ones tinged with truth.

Mormonism, started by Joseph Smith and sustained by his successors throughout the last century and a half, created and worships a god of his own understanding. He clearly was a man who, despite his rudimentary education, had a keen intellect and an incredible imagination. Despite that and a typical religious upbringing in frontier America, he lived in a time of religious upheaval and because of that upheaval confusion ran rampant in religious circles. Because of that uncertainty, Smith decided that rather than study deeper into the Bible to figure out who God was, it was far easier to create a new god of his own imagination.

The god that Smith created and that is worshipped even today in thousands of mormon churches and hundreds of mormon temples is a god that bears very little resemblance to the God of the Bible. Where the God of the Bible is infinite, eternal and unique, the god of Smith’s imagination is finite, created, subservient and but one of an untold multitude of gods. It certainly is not the first time that an idol has been created by man in place of God (i.e. the golden calf) but mormonism has taken the extra step of claiming fidelity to the Bible while at the same time completing reinventing who God is. That makes it difficult to speak with mormons, as many have pointed out before, because we are using the same words but meaning something completely different.

If you want to witness to mormons, you first need to study up on who God is. We have a hard time, in my humble opinion, witnessing to people of other faiths, cults and aberrant religions because we don’t have any idea what we believe. We don’t know what the Bible teaches, who God has revealed Himself to be in the Scriptures and so when we are faced by someone with a radically false view of God, we know something is wrong, we just don’t know what it is. God’s people need to get back into God’s Word so we can talk to people who are lost, whether muslims, mormons or atheists, and declare to them the God who has revealed Himself. Otherwise we will just be arguing about minor issues that don’t matter in the long term, because if you don’t know God through His Word that has revealed His Son, you are lost and no amount of clever argumentation will change that. A good resource, and a free one, is an online book by Paul Washer The One True God. That is a great study resource to complement your reading of the Word.

God is hard to comprehend, and frankly I don’t want a God that I can comprehend too completely. But that does not excuse us from creating a god in our own image, whether we are doing so intentionally or out of ignorance of who He has revealed Himself to be.