Dialogue with a Mormon

Dialogue with a Mormon

Recently I received an email response to an article I did on the Mormon concept of life after death (www.marketfaith.org/mormonism-versus-christianity-can-they-both-be-christian-part-2/). The LDS writer, Doug, challenged my assertion that Mormonism is incompatible with historic Christianity. He pointed particularly to my criticism of the LDS view of three levels of heavenly glory as derived from I Corinthians 15:40-41 in the King James Version of the Bible…

40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

He also contested my challenge of the LDS’ teaching on the physical nature of God based on Jesus statement in: John 4:24:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

This week I am presenting a transcript of our interchange on these and other subjects. I think you will find it very interesting.

Doug
Dr. Davis,

In response to your views on our doctrine of Heaven and Hell, I direct you to a fantastic website: not church sponsored, but run by members of our church: http://www.fairlds.org/apol/morm201/m20112.html .

This was a fantastic article. It puts forward everything I was going to say plus quite a bit more that will hopefully help you to discover the Christianity of our Church. Feel free to browse more than just that article though – many useful things are written on that site.

Tal
Thanks Doug. I appreciate your response to my articles on Mormonism. I did indeed read the article from FAIRLDS.ORG. The article really stretches to defend the LDS position. 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 simply does not teach three levels of heaven. It contrasts two states of existence: the present earthly state versus the heavenly resurrected state.

Doug
John 4:24 is one of the reasons that I am glad to be a member of the LDS Church. The Bible is the word of God, as long as it is translated correctly (see our Articles of Faith at www.mormon.org ). This verse, as the Joseph Smith Translation clearly shows, should read “For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Makes a lot more sense now, doesn’t it? Men have done much damage to God’s word, and only in the latter days have we received revelation that opens up some of the plain and precious truths that were lost.

Tal
Doug, I am amazed to find you trying to defend the Joseph Smith Translation (JST; AKA: The Inspired Version). No credible Bible scholar would give it a second look. Smith’s contention that the Bible was corrupted by a post-Apostolic “apostate church” has been thoroughly refuted by modern textual studies. They confirm that the standard Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments we now have are 99.99% complete and accurate. In other words, the hundreds of additions and changes (including in John 4:24, Genesis [The Book of Moses], et.al.) that Smith made to the Bible in the JST have absolutely no basis in textual evidence and have been discredited. Therefore, the standard rendering of John 4:24 stands. Joseph Smith altered it because he knew it contradicted his concept of God.

Doug
If man was created in God’s image, then wouldn’t it be logical to say that since God is perfect (or in other words complete), he would have everything that we have, including a physical body? By physical I in no way mean temporal, but I mean a perfected, resurrected body – just like Christ had when he appeared after his death. Men touched him, felt the wounds. Wouldn’t God have a body too? What reasoning is there that would say otherwise?

Last I checked, my God (not Gods thank you, unless somebody forgot to tell me something) was infinite and eternal in nature. If you can give me some documented LDS doctrine that says otherwise, please do.

Tal
The LDS official view of God is that he (Heavenly Father) is an exalted man with a physical body of flesh and bone. LDS founder Joseph Smith said, “If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible – I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345).

The problem with the LDS concept of God is that it makes Him a finite being that is subject to the material world rather than the infinite creator of the universe. The Bible teaches that God created the universe, thus He must be transcendent over and above material existence. I know that conflicts with LDS cosmology that says the universe and matter is infinite and eternal, but even science now acknowledges that the material universe is finite, had a beginning, and came from nothing.

Further, does not the LDS regard the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as three separate gods? Actually, are they not just three of an infinite number of other gods in the universe? I heard one LDS General Authority, when asked if the LDS is monotheistic or polytheistic, say (in my presence), “We’re both!”

I understand that Latter-day Saints are encouraged only to worship the Heavenly Father (Elohim). Nevertheless, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Ghost are regarded as gods. Of course, I have never understood how, according to LDS teaching, that the Holy Spirit was exalted to godhood when he never received a body of flesh and bone nor was born into an earthly estate as was the Heavily Father before his exaltation.  Also, how did Jesus become exalted before he was born on earth?

Doug
Another question I have is this, if works are irrelevant, then why are we prompted in so many ways, through so many scriptures, to perform good works? Why are we told that faith without works is dead, being alone? Why are we told that those who do not forsake sin will lose their salvation?

Tal
Where in the Bible does it say that?

Doug
I believe if you look at this scripture you will see:

2 Peter 2:20-21: “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”

This means that we have to forsake sin in order to receive forgiveness for it. It will be worse for those who do have the gospel and fall back into sin than it will be for those who never even hear the gospel!

Tal
The passage addresses the question of apostasy. That question is regarding whether or not one can lose salvation once it has been received. Bible believing Christians differ in their views on that subject. Some contend that a believer can renounce faith and be lost again. Others say once saved always saved (my view). However, all evangelical Christians agree that salvation is attained and maintained by grace by putting one’s faith and trust in Christ alone. Salvation is by receiving Him as Lord and Savior and trusting in His atoning death on the cross, not by works of righteousness.

As long as we remain in this earthly life we will inevitably sin. However, when we do, we are promised that we who believe will not be rejected by God but remain under His saving cover of grace. The Bible promises that those who are truly saved will not be lost (John 10: 28-29; Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:13-14; Colossians 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:12; Jude 24).

Doug
But does not the Bible teach the following ingredients are necessary for eternal life?

Baptism — John 3:5:
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
(“Must be born of water and of the spirit”)…some might say that “water” is amniotic fluid, but that is obviously a crock.

Tal
No, actually I think they may be right. In the context of verses 4 and 6, where He clearly contrasts physical and spiritual birth, it makes a lot of sense to think that Jesus was referring to the same thing in verse 5.

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? … (Verse 5)
…6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

He may also have been referring metaphorically to the Holy Spirit (“Living Water” – John 7:37, 38). In any case, there is no basis for saying it refers to baptism. Jesus does not even mention it in the passage.

Doug
2. Scripture study — how else would we learn the gospel???

Tal
The Gospel (as defined in the Bible – see 1 Corinthians 15:1-8) is proclaimed in many ways – preaching, books, TV, even movies. One is saved by responding to the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by reading the “scriptures” (which I assume in your case includes more than just the Bible). Reading the Bible is indeed a vital part of the Christian life, but one is not saved by doing so.

Doug
3. Sabbath Day observation – Exodus 20:10-11 (this has been a principle since the creation!) Christ said “If ye love me, keep my commandments” – those who believe that they have been “saved” while here on Earth are clearly mistaken…unless they abide by ALL of Christ’s commandments (and there are quite a few more than the 10 big ones), they have not truly received salvation!

Tal
Doug, I thought you were a Latter-day Saint, not a Seventh-day Adventist. Sunday is not, nor ever has been, the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week: Friday evening to Saturday evening. Sunday is the “Lord’s Day” which Christians observe in remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection.  If we follow your logic then we all (including all Mormons) are lost unless we keep the seventh-day Sabbath.

Doug
4. Good works along with faith –
Ephesians 2:10: 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
James 2:17 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Tal
Ephesians 2: 8, 9 clearly indicates that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works. It is a free gift of God that we neither deserve nor earn. Ephesians 2:10, however, says that works are the natural outgrowth of that salvation. It is the grace that saves, not the works. Works follow salvation, this is the solution to James 2:17.

Otherwise, inevitably, you have legalism which the Apostle Paul condemned in the book of Galatians as a “different gospel” (Galatians 1: 6-10 and rest of the book). Salvation, indeed, is simple, but not cheap. It costs us nothing but to receive it by faith. We must not forget, however, that it cost God everything in that Jesus died for us on the cross. Thus we receive Him as our Savior and Lord (John 1:12; 3:16) and thus are born again by His Spirit (John 3:3).”

Doug
Wow. This is one big run-around trying to justify a “feel good” religion! Let me be specific. I never said that GRACE was under attack here! Grace is indeed a free gift of God that we do not deserve – Christ’s condescension is clearly a gift.

FAITH, however, is dead without works as stated. If works were just the “natural outgrowth” of that “salvation”, then why didn’t James just say, “We are saved by faith, so that we can do works.”??? Well he didn’t, and no matter how much you try to justify your salvation, you’re just hiding from the full truth! Faith without works is DEAD! Dead dead dead. Can’t be any clearer. Faith means NOTHING if you don’t have works to show your faith. How are we judged by Christ? By our works! Even the Bible says so (see Ecclesiastes 12:14). So, those of you who say that works are just a “natural outgrowth”, or that they are just the “Christian lifestyle”– you are SADLY mistaken! It is salvation by grace, through faith, which are proven by our works. Cut and dry.

Tal
I point again to Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for (i.e. in order to do) good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” I never said good works were not important or desirable. The clear statement, however, is that we are first saved, not by works, but by grace through faith in Christ, so that we can then do the good works God wants us to do. In other words, we are incapable of doing good works that are pleasing to God unless we are saved.

By the way, if I understand Latter-day Saint theology correctly, to receive general salvation (restoration of immortality) from the effects of the fall (death/mortality), as provided by Jesus’ atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, requires nothing by anyone. According to LDS doctrine, it is universal for all people and does not require faith or works. This, too, is unbiblical as salvation is only for those who confess Christ (Romans 10: 9-10).”

Doug
First of all Romans 10:9-10 is talking about salvation of the spiritual nature – the kind of salvation that gives us exaltation, not just everlasting life. Christ conquered two deaths: physical and spiritual.

Immortality is given to EVERYBODY. You could be the AntiChrist, and you still get to keep your resurrected body. See 1 Cor. 15:22 – “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall ALL be made alive.” So we see that immortality is given to all. So we also see that it is indeed Biblical. It is salvation of eternal nature that requires us to receive a testimony of our Saviour.

Tal
I do not find in the Bible the dualistic concept of salvation the LDS teaches. The Bible says that there is only one kind of salvation that is both physical and spiritual and is received only one way: by grace through faith in Christ. The LDS universalist doctrine of “general salvation’ or “unconditional redemption” is not founded on biblical evidence. The Bible teaches that those who refuse the offer of redemption through the atonement of Christ will not be saved but will suffer eternal separation from God in hell (Matt. 7:13; 8:12; 10:33; 13:12f; 18:9; Luke 9:24; 16:22-28; John 3:18, 36; 5:29; Romans 2:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). Salvation, from beginning to end, is by grace through faith alone (see Galatians 3:11; Romans 3:20; 10:4).”

Doug
Explain to me then, the previously mentioned scripture (2 Peter 2:20-21) that says that it is worse for the man who falls back into sin after receiving the gospel than it is for the man who never hears it! We receive Grace, and we can grow our Faith, and we do good Works, but we are ALL unclean, and no unclean thing can dwell with the Father. How can we be saved while we are yet unclean???????

Tal
Because it is not, nor can it never be, our righteousness that saves us or keeps us clean. It is the righteousness of Christ on our behalf. If we must depend on our own righteousness to maintain our relationship with God then we are in desperate trouble, for until Christ comes again we will still struggle with sin, as Paul noted in Romans 7:14-19. (See also 1 John 1:5-10)

Doug
We DO have to work to maintain our salvation. It is HARD to resist temptation, and of course we all know that NONE of us can do it like Christ did. We are all imperfect, and we STRIVE to become perfect! This does not devolve into legalism…you are wrong, and the Bible backs me up on this one!

I think the long and short of it is that if the Book of Mormon is true, then our religion is true. If the Book of Mormon is false, then Joseph Smith was not a prophet, and was not inspired, and led people astray. Unfortunately for the naysayers, there is MORE than enough evidence to support the clear truth of the Book of Mormon. I would be more than happy to expound upon this if you would like.

Regards,
your fellow Christian,
Doug

Tal
Doug, I have been studying Mormonism for more than thirty years. In all that time I have never seen one piece of objective evidence to support the historicity or truth claims of the Book of Mormon. Conversely, I have found dozens of anachronisms, anthropological and biological mistakes, and other obvious errors in the book (and so apparently has the LDS church as they have made more than 4,000 changes to it since the original edition in 1830). There has never been found even one shred of valid archaeological evidence that any of the cities and peoples mentioned in the Book of Mormon ever existed. In fact, recent studies of Native Americans’ DNA has demonstrated conclusively that they have no relationship whatsoever with Semitic (Jewish) peoples as the Book of Mormon asserts. Frankly, Doug, to be intellectually honest, if the evidence for the Bible was as void as that for the Book of Mormon I would not be a Christian.

Conclusion
I did not hear back from Doug again. Perhaps he realized he would not convince me Mormonism is a Christian system. In any case, this conversation illustrates some of the difficulties in talking to Mormons. He already assumes he is a Christian despite the radical differences in what the Bible says and what he believe. He clearly had no answers to my comments so by the close of the dialogue it was obvious he has a rather naive acceptance of the truth of the Book of Mormon and Mormonism. He also clearly does not understand the theological and philosophical problems of that faith.

© 2013 Tal Davis