I recently attended the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, where we elected our first African-American SBC president: Dr. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans. Dr. Luter is an outstanding pastor, preacher and Southern Baptist leader. He took a congregation of 65 people and built it to thousands of members, only to see the membership decimated by Hurricane Katrina. He returned to rebuild the membership to over 4,500 in weekly attendance today. His church is a leading supporter of Southern Baptist missions. I am very excited that we have elected Dr. Luter, and I hope you will join me in praying for God to bless his leadership of our convention.
The convention also voted on changing the name of our denomination. By a 54-46% vote, messengers approved the proposal to keep the legal name Southern Baptist Convention, while at the same time encouraging anybody who wants to use a different name to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists.” I voted against this. The name “Southern Baptist” has come to stand for who we are. Changing actions is more important than changing our name. I felt that it was an unnecessary proposal, since churches do not have to use the name “Southern Baptist” in their local church name anyway to be affiliated with us, and even though the other name is just an alternative option, I feel that it will be confusing for us to be using two different names to refer to our denomination.
The convention passed nine resolutions and declined to bring forward some proposed resolutions. Resolution #3 was a hotly debated resolution affirming the use of a “sinner’s prayer” to express repentance and faith. Some people, such as David Platt, have criticized the use of a “sinner’s prayer” to give people a false hope that they are saved simply by saying a prayer, even when they have not repented of sin. The resolution affirmed that the Bible often speaks of crying out to God in faith, and that there is nothing wrong with asking people to repeat a “sinner’s prayer” of faith, as long as it is not used as manipulation or an incantation that does not include a full explanation of the gospel and expression of repentance. Makes sense, right? However, two amendments were proposed to this resolution, both of which failed. One amendment tried to completely delete the term “a sinner’s prayer.” This amendment was defeated. The other amendment tried to add specific language saying that salvation is available to all who hear and all may respond. This amendment was also defeated, since the resolution already said the gospel is offered to anyone who repents and trusts in Christ. Then the overall resolution was adopted. Apparently, the two amendments that were offered came from opposite camps in the debate over Calvinism. Some Calvinists have criticized the use of a “sinner’s prayer,” since they feel it is manipulative, and cannot bring salvation to a person unless that person is first chosen and called to faith by God. The other amendment, which stressed the availability of the gospel to all to hear and respond, seemed to be a direct attack on the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement (the belief that Christ only died for the elect), since it was stressing a general appeal to all to believe. It is very interesting that both amendments were defeated; despite the controversy, the convention and most convention speakers seemed to desire to steer a middle course that is inclusive to both Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
Resolution #5 spoke out against the Obama administration’s violations and potential violations of religious liberty on several issues, such as the health care mandate for that violates the consciences of the Catholic church and other religious groups that do not wish to pay for contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs, and the threat to the ministry of military chaplains who do not believe in homosexuality, now that homosexuality is being approved by the military.
One resolution was of particular interest because it was not brought up for a vote. Dwight McKissic, an African-American pastor in Texas, had proposed a resolution against the racist statements in Mormon source documents. He was concerned that Mormons have been evangelizing people of color, without those people knowing that passages in the Book of Mormon such as 2 Nephi 5:21, Alma 3:6, 14 say that people with dark skin are cursed by God. An African-American member of the Resolutions Committee (I failed to get his name), said that the SBC has not been in the habit of speaking against specific religions, and implied that we didn’t want to set that precedent. He also said that since the Mormon church now allows people of color to be elders, we want to make sure we get our facts right before speaking on this issue. McKissic insisted that he still wanted the resolution to be brought up for a vote, because he said the Mormon church has never repented of these passages in their books, and the racist implications remain in Mormon “scripture.” However, the convention defeated Rev. McKissic’s motion to bring up his resolution.
Overall, it was a lively convention, attended by a little less than 8,000 registered messengers, full of inspirational reports from our International Mission Board and North American Misssion Board, great preaching and music. And of course, since it was a Baptist business meeting, there were as many different opinions as there were people in the room.
(This is the fourth and final installment in a series of posts about Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scroll down to earlier posts to read about Mormon history, sources of authority, and beliefs.)
Do you believe that God was once a man?
Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the Mormon Church, said, “As man is, God once was.”
Do you believe that you can become a god?
Lorenzo Snow went on to say, “As God is, man may become.” And it says in Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20 that if a good Mormon gets married in the temple and dies, he will be exalted and then shall they be gods.”
Do you believe that our Heavenly Father has a body of flesh and bones like you and me?
Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 says, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man’s.”
Do you believe that the Heavenly Father had a sexual relationship with a heavenly mother to give birth to Jesus and to our pre-existent spirits?
Gospel Principles (1995 edition, p. 11), says, “All men and women are literally the sons and daughters of Deity . . . The first spirit born of our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ, so he is literally our elder brother.”
Do you believe that dark skin is a curse of God?
The Book of Mormon says in 2 Nephi 5:21 and Alma 3:6 that the Lamanites, the ancestors of the American Indians, were cursed with dark skin because of their wickedness. Although the Mormon church now allows Indians and Negroes into their priesthood, this curse on dark skinned people in the Book of Mormon has never been denied or rejected.
If you do not believe these things, why do you remain in an organization that teaches so many things that you do not believe?
If you do believe these things,why does the Book of Mormon not teach these things? The Book of Mormon teaches the existence of one God (Alma 11:22, 27-29; Mosiah 15:1-5). The Book of Mormon teaches God is unchanging, not an exalted man (Mormon 9:9-11; Moroni 8:18). The Book of Mormon teaches that God is a Spirit, not a body of flesh and bones (Alma 18:24-28; 22:9-11).
Something is wrong! Mormonism and the Book of Mormon do not agree.
The way to truth is by Jesus Christ (John 14:6), who died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5:8). and rose from the grave to to give us eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). This is the “gospel,” the truths about Jesus, not any particular church. If we trust in Jesus’ sacrificial death, we can be declared “not guilty” before God the Judge by His gift of grace (Romans 3:24). Salvation by grace is not a resurrection, it is a life-changing experience of spiritual renewal (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we truly receive salvation by grace, that grace gives us the motivation to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-14). Then our bodies will be raised at the end of time, and we will live forever with God in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). The Bible says that if even an angel (like Moroni) brings a latter-day gospel different from this gospel, he is to be accursed (Galatians 1:8).
If you wish to know more about a relationship with Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you still believe these things taught by the LDS church, then please explain this: Mormonism says all gods were once men. So where did the first man come from?
(This is the third installment in a series of studies on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons.)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) or Mormons, often use the same terms as orthodox Christians, but they have a different meaning. “Saved by grace” to a Mormon refers to being raised in the afterlife. “Exaltation” is the term Mormons use that is nearer to what Christians mean by “salvation.” The “gospel” is used by Mormons to mean the Mormon system of belief and practice, and “Israel” or “Zion” is often used to refer to Utah. Although Mormons are famous for polygamy, the main branch of Mormonism discontinued this practice in 1890. With this in mind, let us look at three key doctrines of the LDS church:
1) The doctrine of God. Mormons believe in the existence of many gods (Book of Abraham chapters 4 & 5). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate gods, and the Father and Son each have bodies of flesh and bone today. The illustration above of the Father and Son as separate bodies comes from Mormon literature. (Doctrine & Covenants 130:22). They believe that God was once a man and progressed to become God, and that men can also progress to become gods. Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the LDS church, said, “As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.”
2) The doctrine of humanity. Mormons believe that all humans pre-existed in the spirit world, the result of a sexual relationship between our Heaven Father and a Heavenly Mother. (Doctrine & Covenants 93:23, 29-33; Gospel Principles, p. 351). They believe that men can progress to “exaltation” and become gods (Doctrine & Covenants 132:19-20). However, keep in mind that the Book of Mormon teaches that dark skin is a curse (2 Nephi 5:21).
3) Doctrine of exaltation. Joseph Smith taught that there are three levels of heaven. The highest heaven is the “celestial kingdom,” the second level is the “terrestrial kingdom,” and the lowest level is the “telestial kingdom.” (Doctrine & Covenants 76:43, 70-112). Faithful Mormons who repent, are baptized, ordained into the priesthood, go through the Mormon temple ceremonies, get married in the temple, and observe the “Word of Wisdom” (Doctrine & Covenants 89) to abstain from tobacco and strong drinks, tithe, attend weekly worship services, and are obedient, can get into the celestial kingdom and can progress in their exaltation to become gods. Only about 20% of Mormons get a “temple recommend” through faithful service, so the majority of Mormons do not attain this level, and will go to the “terrestrial kingdom,” where they also expect to see most Christians and other good moral people. Wicked people may have to endure a temporary hell (Doctrine & Covenants 19:16-18), and then will go to the “telestial kingdom.” Those who become Mormons and then leave (“denied the Holy Spirit after having received it”) will go to an eternal hell (Gospel Principles, p. 298; Doctrine & Covenants 76:28-45). See the chart below that illustrates this system of heavens.
There are many other beliefs and practices of Mormonism, including baptism by proxy for the dead, two levels of priesthood, etc., but the three major doctrines above are enough to reveal that Mormonism is a completely different religion from orthodox Christianity. The fourth and final installment of this series of studies will include a Christian reply to Mormon belief and questions for Mormons to consider.
This is the second in a series of posts on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons.
SOURCES OF MORMON AUTHORITY
Mormons have five different sources of authority– four scriptures, called “Standard Works,” and one “living prophet.” Let’s take a brief look at them:
1) The Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith claimed that the angel Moroni revealed golden plates near his home in Palmyra, New York, and allowed him to translate this book, which he published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon. It follows the style of the Bible in many ways, as it has 15 books, divided into chapters and verses, and although published in 1830, it is written in the Elizabethan English of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible. Its subtitle, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” points to its storyline, because it is tells stories similar to the Bible, but they are set primarily in the American continent. It tells of Jews who supposedly left Jerusalem before Babylon destroyed the city and sailed across the Pacific Ocean, landing in South America. Their descendants divided into two groups of people: the Nephites and the Lamanites. Jesus Christ came to the Americas and preached to the Nephites, but unfortunately, the Lamanites annihilated them in a great battle in A.D. 385, near modern-day Palmyra, New York (home of Joseph Smith). God cursed the Lamanites with dark skin (2 Nephi 5:21). The Lamanites were the ancestors of today’s Native Americans. Thus the Book of Mormon teaches that the Native Americans are dark-skinned as a result of a curse by God for their wickedness. There was even a prophecy in 2 Nephi 30:5-6 that when they receive the gospel not only would “scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes” but also their skin itself would change: “they shall be a white and delightsome people.” After the Mormon church decided in 1978 to allow dark-skinned people to be elders, later editions of the Book of Mormon changed this verse to say “pure” instead of “white.” However, all of the other references to God cursing the Lamanites with black skin remain in the Book of Mormon, and 3 Nephi 2:15 still says when the curse is removed, “their skin became white like unto the Nephites.”
It is interesting that there are no maps in the back of the Book of Mormon, even though it names all kind of places. That is because there is no archaeological evidence that any of them existed. The Smithsonian Institution denies that it uses the Book of Mormon for any research. How different this is from the Bible, which names hundreds of places that have been discovered and excavated by archaeologists.
Although the Book of Mormon is important to Mormonism, much of their theology does not come from the Book of Mormon. In fact, the Book of Mormon teaches things that contradict other Mormon scripture. It teaches that there is one God in three persons (Alma 11:44, 2 Nephi 31:21), and it condemns polygamy (Jacob 2:24-27). So let’s move on to look at the other Mormon sources of authority.
2) Doctrine and Covenants. This is the most important Mormon book of doctrine. It is a collection of declarations, mostly by Joseph Smith. It is written in the style of the Muslim Qur’an, with 138 “sections,” similar to the Qur’an’s “suras,” and each section has verse numberings. At the end it has two “declarations.’ Also, like the Qur’an, these sections are mostly statements, rather than stories. It teaches the practice of baptism by proxy for dead people (D & C section 124, 128), commands polygamy (D & C section 132), and teaches the existence of multiple gods and that humans can progress to become gods (D & C section 132). There are two declarations at the end of Doctrine & Covenants: the first declaration, written in 1890, put an end to the practice of polygamy; the second declaration, written in 1978, allows all races to be ordained in the Mormon priesthood (despite the curse on dark skin in the Book of Mormon). All of the sections and declarations of Doctrine & Covenants were issued as divine revelations from the presidents of the Mormon church, considered living prophets.
3) The Pearl of Great Price. This has a mixture of different kinds of books, and also teaches some very important Mormon doctrine. Of particular importance is the Book of Abraham, one of the books in the Pearl of Great Price. It teaches that there are many Gods (Abraham 4-5), that God lives near a star named Kolob (Abraham 3:2-3, 16), and that the human soul pre-existed from eternity (Abraham 3:19-28). The Book of Abraham was allegedly written by Abraham while in Egypt, and Joseph Smith claimed to have translated it from Egyptian papyri he bought in 1835. Amazingly, after Smith died, his family sold the papyri to a Chicago museum, and in 1967 it was discovered in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Scholars are now able to read ancient Egyptian, and when this papyri was translated, it was merely a book about dead people making their way through their journeys in the afterlife, and had nothing to do with what Joseph Smith claimed it said.
4) The King James Version of the Bible. While Mormons also use the Bible, they imply that the Bible is not always trustworthy, saying “many plain and precious things have been taken away from the book” (1 Nephi 13:28) and saying they only believe the Bible is “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” In contrast, they say they believe the Book of Mormon “to be the word of God” without adding any qualification that it might not be translated correctly.
5) The Living Prophet. In addition to all of the Mormon scriptures, they also believe the president of the LDS church is a living prophet. He has the authority to give a direct revelation from God. The current president of the church, their “living prophet,” is Thomas S. Monson. This fifth source of authority helps us understand how Mormons can live with so much contradiction in their books. Their concept of truth is always evolving, and whatever the latest prophet says is truth is what they say is truth.
Christians would respond that a true prophet’s teaching must agree with the revelation of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3), and that if even an angel from heaven reveals a different (or latter-day) gospel that departs from the gospel of Jesus Christ as found in the Bible, he is to be condemned (Galatians 1:8).
With the candidacy of Mitt Romney, many people have questions about his religion. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), often called “Mormons.” This is the first in a series of posts I will do on Mormonism.
HISTORY OF MORMONISM
Mormonism began with Joseph Smith, Jr., who was born in upstate New York in 1805. In 1823, while living in Palmyra, New York, he claimed to have visions of an angel named Moroni who told him all churches were false, and to join none of them, and instead to go to a hill and uncover some golden plates. Mormons believe that Smith found the plates, written in ancient Egyptian, and was able to translate them. The Book of Mormon tells stories of Jews fleeing the Babylonian conquest in a ship, settling in the Americas, and becoming the ancestors of the Native American Indians. The more godly Native Americans were killed off by the godless ones, and God cursed the godless Native Americans, changing their white skin to “a skin of blackness” (2 Nephi 5:21, Book of Mormon).
In 1830, Smith published his “translation,” the Book of Mormon, and established his new church. Immediately, many of his neighbors considered him a fraud, although his church grew. In 1831 he relocated his church to Kirtland, Ohio, just north of Cleveland. In the 1830’s and early 1840’s, Mormonism grew rapidly, establishing large settlements in places like Far West, Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois. There was violent conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri and Mormons were greatly persecuted for what their neighbors considered a hoax. During this time, Joseph Smith began to secretly teach polygamy. He recorded in the Mormon scripture, Doctrine & Covenants, chapter 132, how God told his wife Emma to accept the idea of multiple wives, but she was resistant to the idea.
In 1844, a newspaper was published in the Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois, publicly exposing Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Smith had the newspaper shut down, and for this, Smith was arrested and put in jail in the nearby town of Carthage, Illinois. An anti-Mormon mob stormed the jail, and Smith was killed. Thus Joseph Smith became a Mormon martyr.
With the death of their leader, Mormons had to decide what to do. Some remained behind and established the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now known as the Community of Christ, which has 250,000 members and headquarters in Independence, Missouri. But the majority followed Brigham Young in a trek west in 1846-1847, settling in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah, and he became the new prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). In Utah, Brigham Young began to openly practice polygamy. He himself was said to have had so many wives he could not remember them all.
In 1857, a wagon train of non-Mormons from Arkansas were passing through Mountain Meadows, Utah on their way to California. Apparently the Mormons felt threatened by the possibility that some of them might be from Missouri, which had a history of violent conflict with Mormons. Thus a group of Mormons and Native Americans massacred 120 men, women and children. Ironically, this attack culminated on September 11.
In 1890, the president of LDS church, Wilford Woodruff, added a new declaration to the Doctrine & Covenants, saying that polygamy was no longer required. Afterwards, Utah was admitted as a state into the Union. While the main group of Mormons no longer teaches polygamy, groups of fundamentalist Mormons have continued the practice, especially in some towns near the Utah-Arizona state line.
In the 1970’s, another revelation from the LDS prophet allowed dark-skinned people to be elders in the church, reversing a policy based on the Book of Mormon’s claim that American Indians were cursed with dark skin. The church also quietly changed a verse in 2 Nephi 30:6, which used to say that upon conversion they would become “white,” replacing the word “white” with “pure.”
The LDS church has grown rapidly through the years, especially by encouraging thousands of young people to go on a two-year mission before or during their college years. Today there are over 6 million Mormons in the United States, 1.2 million in Mexico, and over a million in Brazil.