Chapter Eleven

How To Answer Mormon Questions

"As I read your book, the strangest feeling came over me because I realized that you had put into words the very thoughts and uneasy feelings I had always had…. I wanted to ask questions, but I always thought there was some kind of unworthiness in me that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough….
"One day during a talk with my Christian friend… [She told me that] Jesus loved me. I couldn’t see how Jesus could possibly love a sinner like me, but she was so sincere in what she said that it brought tears to my eyes….
"I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior in March and I now have the peace, comfort, and joy that only the Lord can give."—Janice

Often Christians find themselves suddenly in very esoteric conversations with Latter-day Saints. The Mormon is eager – and well prepared – to discuss subjects totally unfamiliar to the Christian. The Mormon, for example, may begin to talk about "baptism for the dead," an obscure, unscriptural rite practiced by Mormons.

There is no reason for a Christian to have a thought about baptism for the dead. It’s not a doctrine of the Christian Church; we cannot alter the condition of the dead. Yet suddenly, your friend is quoting a Scripture out of context (actually Paul is talking about the dead being raised to life): "What shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?" (see 1 Corinthians 15:29).

You stutter and stammer and try to bring yourself up to speed. You know something is wrong, but you’re not sure what. It’s a frustrating experience.

Worse, as you fumble along on the railroad track the Mormon has chosen, you look foolish and the Latter-day Saint becomes further convinced that Mormonism has all the answers.

I have seen young Christians won to Mormonism because they got into discussions in these esoteric areas and couldn’t think their way through them fast enough. As a matter of fact, this is the fundamental tactic of the cults: Overpower the prospect with a barrage of information that is out of context and flawed in reasoning. The prospect – unprepared to deal with the diabolically packaged doctrine – becomes impressed with the "logic" of it all. The cultist is confident and moves smoothly through his flip chart or prepared presentation, refuting any objections that may arise. It’s a terribly effective and sinister program.

Our only response is to prepare ourselves in advance. To think through in context the passages of Scripture. To prepare reasonable answers. To speak to the error with truth and authority.

I could not, in this book, cover every subject that might come up. Only experience will prepare you for that. But I can show you the process, the art of dialoging with cultists: resisting easy answers to complex problems; discussing the presuppositions; reading every passage in context; and of course, isolating, qualifying, and verifying.

I want to show you how I answer specific questions posed by my Mormon friends. I have prepared answers to nine common questions asked by Latter-day Saints. I answer the first question in rather complete detail, giving you the feeling for the dialogue. Thereafter I’m more concerned with giving you information and suggesting key phrases you can deliver at your own pace.

 

    1. Why Do You Tell People We Aren’t Christians?

    The Mormon who asks this will go on to say that "the very name of our Church declares we are ‘The Church of Jesus Christ.’" He may even say, "I believe in Jesus Christ. I’m as much of a Christian as you are!"

    Here’s how I respond:

    "What would you say if I told you I am really a Mormon?"

    "Well I’d say you are lying, you’re not a Mormon."

    "No, really I am. I’m a Mormon. I just don’t believe in the Book of Mormon."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Well, I’m a Mormon, but I don’t think Joseph Smith was a prophet. In fact, I don’t think he had any of the visions he said he had. I think he was a fraud…. But, I’m a Mormon."

    "That’s ridiculous!"

    "No, I’m a Mormon, although, I must admit, I don’t believe men can become gods. I don’t believe in temple work or that you have to be baptized to be saved…"

    "Well, you are absolutely not a Mormon, then."

    "Are you telling me that I can only be a Mormon if I believe what Mormons believe…?"

    By this time, of course, my friend is getting the point. So I drive the point home this way:

    "Obviously, I really am not a Mormon – because I don’t believe what Mormons believe. If I went around telling people I was a Mormon, they would have the right to assume I believe what Mormons believe. When Mormons who do not believe what Christians believe go around telling people they’re Christians, the real Christian community has the responsibility to challenge them."

    I might then go on to tell my Mormon friend that Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:4 talks about false apostles who preach a different Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel:

    "Therefore," I say, "Mormonism has a different Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel. It’s my responsibility to point that out."

    2. Why Are You Attacking My Church?

    "I’m not attacking your church. I’m not attacking anything or anybody. I’m expressing my opinion on a subject I think is important. This is America, the place where everybody is free to express his religious viewpoint – even when it is unpopular.

    "I defend the right of Mormon missionaries to go door to door attempting to win Protestants and Catholics to Mormonism. But, in the interest of fairness, I claim the same right."

    I then go on to say that today nearly 30,000 Mormon missionaries are talking to Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians – telling them that their pastors and priests do not have the authority to baptize or administer Sacraments. They say they need to leave their churches and join the Mormon Church.

    "You want people to listen to the Mormon message. Well, I want people to listen to my message: Mormonism is wrong. You don’t have to become a Mormon to please God. As a matter of fact, I think you’ll alienate yourself from God by joining the Mormon Church. The Mormon Church is not even a true church. Basically, Mormonism, by its ungodly doctrine of polytheism, has disqualified itself from consideration as a Christian Church.

    "And remember, we Christians are defending ourselves against Mormonism, not attacking it. Joseph Smith threw down the gauntlet when he said, ‘All other denominations are wrong, all their creeds are abominations and all the professors of those creeds are corrupt.’ (1)

    "You Mormons are offended when someone says Mormonism in unchristian, but at this very moment, as we speak, in Mormon temples throughout the world, Protestant ministers are portrayed as hirelings of Satan who only preach for money!" (If I really want to drive my point home I will ask, "Isn’t that true?’)

    "It’s hard for me to understand how Mormonism can work so hard to get people to leave Protestant and Catholic churches and then be so upset when we answer back.

    "Sixty thousand Mormon missionaries work full-time to spread Mormonism; only a handful of Christians are attempting to counteract that Mormon effort."

    3. Where Do You Get Your Authority?

    The Mormon means priesthood authority by this. He believes in a priesthood that Jesus chose twelve to establish His work. And He had an ordination ceremony where He "laid hands" on them. At the death of Judas, the eleven gathered together and cast lots to fill the vacancy and bring the number of apostles back up to twelve.

    Mormonism teaches that after the death of Jesus, the apostles became separated and were killed. They didn’t have the chance to get together and keep the "quorum" of apostles full. Therefore the church was lost from the face of the earth. The authority of God was "restored" when Peter, James, and John appeared to ordain Joseph Smith to the Melchizedek Priesthood. He, in turn, named the other eleven apostles. Today, the missionaries say, when a Mormon apostles dies, the Quorum of Twelve Apostles must meet and fill the vacancy. (Oddly enough, this is not always done.)

    I see several flaws in the reasoning behind Mormon priesthood theology. I think it’s one of the weakest positions in Mormonism. Let’s take it a step at a time:

    First, if Joseph Smith could ordain ten or eleven other apostles, why couldn’t any one of the original twelve do the same thing? It makes no difference how separated they got from each other. If Joseph can do it by himself, or with Oliver Cowdrey, why couldn’t Andrew or James?

    Second, just because it was done once to replace Judas, in the first chapter of Acts, that does not establish it as a precedent for every subsequent case. There is no other mention of this "quorum ordination" in the Bible, and Paul later names the apostleship as one of the gifts of the Spirit, indicating apostles are not labeled so solely by the vote of the rest of the apostles.

    Third, the New Testament doesn’t set the continual number of apostles at twelve. In fact, the New Testament calls several other people apostles besides the twelve: Barnabas (Acts 14:3-4, 14); Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7); Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6); James, the Lord’s brother (not one of the original Twelve, Galatians 1:19); even Christ is referred to as an apostle. (Hebrews3: 1).

    Fourth, Paul goes to great lengths to say that he was not ordained an apostle by a quorum (Romans 1:5; 1 Corinthians 1:1).

    In Galatians 1:1 he says he is an apostle "sent not from men nor by man." He says he wasn’t even taught the Gospel by men, much less a church organization: "I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12).

    Paul says that when he received the Gospel, he didn’t even talk to any of the church leaders about it:

    I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was…. After three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:16-19).

    It was fourteen years before this most singular apostle returned to Jerusalem to talk to others:

    As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance – those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary they saw that I had been given the task of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:6-7).

    This hardly seems like a man who was operating as a member of a monolithic church that made its moves by quorum decision. The unity of the Church of Christ is by the Spirit, not by legislation. The mistake Mormons make is they do not understand that the real mystery of God is that "Christ [is] in us, the hope of glory." We are a royal priesthood – all those of us who are believers in Him.

    The entire book of Hebrews is dedicated to the proposition that a narrow, limited priesthood ended with Jesus and that now, all believers share the same priesthood because of their faith in Christ.

    4. How Did Jesus Pray to Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane?

    This is an attack on the biblical concept of the holy Trinity. Christians believe that there is only one God, and within the nature of that one God are three eternal Persons who exist without confusion and without separation.

    I discuss the Trinity in more detail in Chapter Eight, but on the question of Jesus in Gethsemane I say,

    "God is all-powerful and can manifest Himself in three places at once (or three thousand). He is omnipresent, in an infinite number of places at once. He can appear as a burning bush or a pillar of cloud – or as ‘a wheel within a wheel’ or as one with a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth."

    Now, at first jump, I do not try to draw the fine distinctions in Trinitarian theology. (For those theologians, let me say I am well aware of the great and important distinctions between Trinitarianism and Unitarianism. I am aware of the dangers of terms like "manifestations." I know the difference between Person and theophanies.) For now, I will settle for drawing the Mormon’s attention to the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God. I want him to see that God is much bigger than Mormon theology allows Him to be. I want Mormons simply to admit that it is possible for Him to be in more than one place visible in more than one way – simultaneously.

    The key phrase in this discussion is, "Once your God is big enough, you won’t have any problems with the Trinity."

    5. Didn’t Jesus Tell Us We Are to "Be perfect, Even as Our Father in Heaven is Perfect"? This is an argument leading to the Mormon concept that with perfection we will become gods. When I am asked about Jesus’ command to perfection, I say:

    "Yes, He sure did command us to be perfect. And I’m all for it. I want to be perfect, just as my Father in heaven is perfect. And I expect to be perfect in heaven.

    "Of course, I will be a perfect human. I won’t be omnipotent, or omniscient, or omnipresent – because I am not God. I’m a man – a creature that is, a created being.

    "I will be perfect, just as He is perfect. He’s the perfect God. I will be a perfect human."

    6. Don’t We Need a Prophet Today?

    Mormonism tells us we need a Prophet today to clear up confusion among the denominations, to which I answer:

    "No, we don’t need a prophet to clear up confusion because, really, there isn’t much confusion. I could be happy as a Baptist or a Lutheran or a Methodist or an Episcopalian. I go to church with friends who affiliate with denominations other than my own, and I have a blast."

    Early churches didn’t have a lesson manual from Jerusalem. The apostles in Jerusalem were reluctant to tell the Church much of saying the individual churches had Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They could figure out what the will of God was for the local church (Acts 15:5-29).

    "That’s the way it is today," I will say to my Mormon contact. "In God there is plenty of room for different expressions in nonessential doctrinal areas. Some Christians like to praise and worship with vigor and volume. Some like to contemplate the glory of God in solemnity. Why not? God doesn’t want robots; He wants sons.

    "There is, of course, a biblical minimum that all churches must confess in order to fit into the larger Christian Church. These doctrines are related to the nature of God, the nature of man, the effect of and cure for sin. Beyond that, the Bible allows great liberty. In fact, Paul said, ‘It’s for freedom that Christ has set us free’ (Galatians 5:1).

    "When we were slaves to Satan, we jumped when he pulled the strings. God doesn’t want us to trade that slavery in for another form of bondage. He wants to liberate us and set us free to be all we can be, within biblical bounds.

    "I won’t rule out the possibility that God will speak prophetically through someone today, I think that happens, for example, in preaching and counseling. But, any prophet must be accountable to Scripture. God doesn’t contradict Himself. The Bible makes it clear that a prophet, who speaks contrary to Scripture, is no prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

    "Nowhere in Scripture do we see the Mormon concept of a prophet as the head of a church organization. This concept is purely a Mormon invention. In Scripture, ordinary people could be prophets if they prophesied. Even those prophets recognized in the Old Testament by the entire church were often contemporaries of each other. Many of the four major prophets and twelve minor prophets (whose names entitle sixteen of the last books of the Old Testament) were prophesying as men living at the same time."

    7. You Shouldn’t Challenge Our "Good Works"; Don’t You Know That Faith Without Works is Dead?
    "I sure do. If a person says he has faith in Christ, and yet exhibits no fruit of that faith, I have reason to doubt the validity of his faith. That’s because valid faith always produces fruit. But, on the other hand, fruit doesn’t produce faith. No amount of good works will make people Christians.

    "Lots of agnostics live wonderful ‘Christian’ lives, but they don’t believe in Christ. Their ‘fruit’ doesn’t make them Christians, nor, the Bible teaches does it save them. Good works can’t save anybody.

    "Likewise, Muslims are very ‘religious.’ They don’t drink, they pray five times a day, they live with more legalistic taboos than Mormons, but they certainly cannot be called Christians, and they are certainly not saved.

    "And nobody lives better than Oriental Americans. Their families are in order, the crime rate in Chinatown is a fraction of the rate in the rest of the country, people there are hard working, and their children are respectful. But a person isn’t a Christian because he is good; however he does become better when he commits his life to Christ."

    If you have a Bible during this encounter, read the following passage to your Mormon friend.

    There is no one righteous, not even one…. Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law…. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, had been made known…. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement… [to justify] the man who has faith in Jesus…. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law (Romans 3:10, 20-28).

    Paul says that Abraham was not justified by works, but rather that he believed God, and God counted his faith as righteousness (Romans 4:3). He further says, if a man works, his wages are not a gift, but an obligation (Romans 3:10, 20-28).

    However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

    8. Why Do You Oppose Our Idea of Becoming Gods? The Bible Says, "There are Gods Many and Lords Many."
    "The Bible does not say that! It says exactly the opposite." (Be tough on nonsense like this.)

    The reference is 1 Corinthians 8:5. But the problem is that Mormonism has taken the text out of context so that it appears to mean exactly the opposite of what it says.

    Say to the Latter-day Saint: "If you’ll read the verse right before it and right after it, you’ll see that Paul is talking about demon-gods. The issue he is addressing is whether or not Christians should eat food sacrificed to demons (idols) in the pagan marketplace. He says that while there are so-called ‘gods,’ Christians know there is only one God. Therefore, the meat has not been hurt because it hung in a pagan temple."

    This is a wonderful place to open your Bible and go through the passage a verse at a time, letting the Mormon read it aloud.

    9. You Say the Book of Mormon Was Not Written by God, but How Could a Fifteen-Year-Old Boy Write the Book of Mormon?

    The idea expressed here is that the Book of Mormon is too long, complex, and intricate for a "young, uneducated boy" (Joseph Smith) to have made up. Several assumptions are made in this question. Here are two real considerations:

    First, Joseph was twenty-five, not fifteen when he published (as "author" and "proprietor," according to the title page of the first edition) the Book of Mormon.

    Second, the Book of Mormon heavily plagiarized the content of other works already in print and available in Joseph’s area, including View of Hebrews, by Ethan Smith, and another work by Solomon Spalding, Manuscript Found! (The Mormon Church historically has attempted to debunk the "Spalding Theory" but new evidence underscores Spalding as a likely source. See Appendix C.)

    Could Joseph Smith in an entirely human way have "written" the Book of Mormon? Well, one of the most respected Mormon apologists of all time, Brigham H. Roberts, concluded he did. (See Appendix B.)

    This chapter has given you practice in responding to questions Mormons may ask you. In the next section I am going to provide some background information to help you initiate profitable discussions with Mormons.