Monday, 28 January 2008

Gordon Hinckley, Mormon Prophet, Dies at 97 | Mormonism Research Ministry

Thoughts of a Prophet – Hope for the Best

Gordon B Hinckley, the Mormon prophet, passed away on 27 January 2008. I have been thinking about what to say about a man who, at 97, was able to boast so much: a massive temple building programme; the oldest serving president; the popularising of Mormonism through TV, Radio and newspaper work (famously his numerous interviews with Larry King). What did the man think about his faith? What would be the abiding message of the spiritual leader of Mormons around the world?

In a press conference held to mark the occasion of his 95th birthday he offered his thoughts on long life and eternal prospects. It was significant that the leader of the only true church on the face of the earth, a man with “sole authority” to represent Jesus Christ, had little to offer by way of eternal hope, and made no mention of the work of Christ and the assurance of Salvation. Here was a golden opportunity to declare a message of hope but all he had to offer was hope for the best. With emphases added here are some of his remarks.

Life Goes On……..

When asked if he planned to celebrate his 100th birthday he replied that after he has lived as long as he can he plans to “cash in”. He went on to say that he had no worries about death for two reasons. The first is that he knows the church will be left in capable hands. The second his conviction that our existence continues beyond this life.

"The Church is organized in such a way that the transition from one president to another is a very simple, straightforward thing,” he said. “The one who succeeds me will have worked with me for a very long time. He'll know all I've tried to do and know all about it. Things will continue on much the same way we've tried to do."

Speaking of his own future, he said, "I have an assurance of immortality of the human soul. There's no question in my mind we'll go on living after we leave here. I don't dwell on it a lot. I just accept it and move forward.”

Compare this “conviction” of continued existence (notice no reason is given for his conviction. It must simply be a “feeling” he has) with the words of the apostle John:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life(1 John 5:13).

Or the words of Paul to the saints in Rome:

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-13).

Or the words of Jesus in John’s gospel:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24)

What a remarkable message! No wonder Paul was able to write so confidently to the saints in Rome, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1)

The Mormon prophet offered no such hope of peace, no such eternal assurance as is clearly taught in Scripture and we are left asking where exactly is the hope in the Mormon message?

We’re the Good Guys

Asked how he wanted people to view the church he leads he replied, "I'd like to speak to the whole world and declare the goodness of this Church and the strength of its programs and the desire of its leaders to cultivate peace and goodwill and harmony and good relationships among the diverse peoples of the world."

This is a familiar theme with this former Public Relations Officer who is always conscious of the image of the Mormon Church before the world. Compare this with Paul’s wonderful, Christ-centred and heaven-assured words in Ephesians.

God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Paul further wrote, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord…May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world(1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17; Galatians 6:4).

While James considers that “friendship with the world is hatred towards God” (James 4:4), the Mormon prophet seeks to “cultivate peace and goodwill and harmony and good relationships among the diverse peoples of the world”. While Paul writes of “the heavenly realms” and “the coming ages” with confidence and anticipation Gordon B Hinckley offers nothing but a conviction that “we'll go on living after we leave here, [but] I don’t dwell on it a lot.”

What if This is As Good as it Gets?

To those Mormons who are facing trials in their lives he said, “My heart reaches out to all who are unfortunate, who have serious problems, who are bowed down with grief, who just seem to have so many difficulties. You just have to make the best of it. You do the very best you can with what you have and leave the rest to the Lord. And that's really all you can do.”

The message of Scripture is that, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Paul wrote that, being people who “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Far from making the best of it, the writers of the New Testament bore suffering with sure hope and in the certain knowledge that they, “participate in the suffering of Christ, that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13)

The message of Christianity is a sure hope of Salvation, peace with God, no condemnation for those who believe, life in Christ, and hope even through suffering. The message of Mormonism is hope for the best, life goes on, come and join the good guys and, if you suffer, make the best of it. Paul wrote that, “he who prophesies edifies the church…” (1 Corinthians 14:4). Does such a message as marked this prophets’ life edify? (1 Corinthians 15:19)

A Dissembler

I hesitate to call a man a liar and, certainly, no laurels are handed out to those who “speak ill of the dead”, but I cannot let this moment pass without remarking that I think Gordon B Hinckley was probably the greatest Mormon dissembler since Joseph Smith. In responding to questions about the faith into which he was born, in which he grew up, and in which he worked all his life, he dodged questions time and again. Ever the PR man, he knew what people needed to hear and what was best kept under wraps and anyone talking to Mormons today will know that this, too, is part of his legacy, i.e. the widespread Mormon instinct to put a face on things, highlight the acceptable and obfuscate on the darker and more controversial aspects of the faith. Future presidents who want to take a more direct and forthright approach will have a hill to climb to overcome an ingrained habit of dissimulation. You can read more about Gordon B Hinckley’s rambling prevarications in an article called The Hinckley Timeline in the Reachout Trust Quarterly (85), in the Truth Restored section, here: http://www.reachouttrust.org/articles/quarterly/Quarterly85.pdf

Gordon Hinckley, Mormon Prophet, Dies at 97 Mormonism Research Ministry

Friday, 25 January 2008

Always Being Ready

The following is the Introduction to the Reachout Trust Book – Always Being Ready. It is an invaluable help to get you ready to communicate with those that you meet who have a different faith.

The full product can be ordered direct from the Reachout Trust website at:

http://shopping.reachouttrust.org/Shopping/reachout.nsf/(ProductsByCode)/I008

Or it can be downloaded as an eBook from:

http://www.powells.com/s?kw=always+being+ready

Introduction

When we first published this book in 1996, there was some debate over its title; in the end we settled for Open the Door because that is what we wanted people to do. However, as this Introduction shows, something needs to happen before we open the door: we need to get ready. 1 Peter 3:15 indeed shows we are always to be ready:

“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Surely that is impossible! No, because being ready is a process and the clock doesn’t start ticking until you know that you are not ready - then you get ready. It will also be a process, different for each one of us. If my wife and I are due to leave home at 6 and she is not getting ready at 5 – we’re late. That’s not being nasty to my wife; that is living with her for 30+ years. She takes an hour to get ready, but I – 5 minutes before we leave - splash water on my face and put on the clean shirt!

We are all different and so the process for getting ready will be different. We also do not need to feel guilty if we cannot answer the first time we are challenged by the cult member, but the clock starts ticking and we need to put in the time to get ready.

Seated in a comfortable armchair watching top class athletes break world records makes it appear so easy. Out of the starting blocks and a mere ten seconds later it’s all over and fame and fortune await the victor.

The reality, of course, is very different. When they arrive at the start line and are called to their marks, that is not the beginning. They would not be ready without months or even years of training for that one moment. Preparation for the daythat they can look back on with great satisfaction takes time and commitment.

As with breaking world records, witnessing to the cults and sharing Jesus with them does not come easy for most people. If you feel that you can simply walk to the ‘starting blocks’ and just have a go, this book is not for you. This book is for the hundreds of Christians I have met all over the country, who have confided that they do not find it easy to open their front doors and to share Jesus with those in the cults. I have spoken to thousands of people over the past 20+ years in seminars from Inverness to Truro, and from Southend to Swansea. The joy I have is in knowing that many of them are today reaching out to the cults in love. Many have found that with the right training they are ready not only to open the door, but also to lead cult members into the Kingdom of God.

I remember answering the phone one day to hear, in a voice full of jubilation, ‘It works!’ I suspected that this was a new way of selling double glazing or life insurance but intrigued I asked the obvious question – ‘What works?’ It turned out that the lady on the phone had been at one of my seminars a few weeks before. Just that day she had had the opportunity to put the teaching into practice. She had never managed to talk sensibly with the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door until then, and she was so excited. There are no five-year guarantees but I can assure you that there are many others who will confirm that it does work.

But it will take commitment. The cults are aware of this and spend much time in training. Sadly, Christians do not seem quite so bothered. Our attitude reminds me of my youngest son Luke – many years ago now – who could not say the word “seminar” and, when I returned from one particular weekend away, he asked me, “How did the cinema go?” It struck me after a while that this was almost prophetic of many of us Christians. We pay our money, watch the main event taking place up front, and maybe even feel some emotion for a while. However, when it is all over, we leave and nothing lasting has really affected us. Next week we need to do it all over again!

Know your enemy

Paul tells us that we are not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor 2:11). Verses like this make me sit up and take notice. I know the content of the verse is forgiveness — if we do not forgive then Satan will have a foothold — but there are many other devices of Satan and sometimes we are only too ignorant of them.

Ephesians 6:11 adds to this that we are to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. How can we stand firm against the schemes if we do not know what they are? The area of the cults is one of Satan’s major schemes, as we will discover in chapters 1–5. Through varying degrees of spiritual intensity and subtly changing doctrines, he brings many into his domain. We need to know about his schemes so that we can both be protected ourselves and help those who may be involved.

Much modern warfare and fight against evil, such as drug smuggling, is based on intelligence about the enemy. Even in Biblical times, warfare was carried out by seeking to get an assessment of the enemy first. The spies in Joshua’s days had a human frame and as such were very vulnerable. The spies today fly high in the sky at hundreds of miles per hour, but both do the same job. How can we have any hope of resist­ing if we do not know where he is coming from? Unless we have some idea of how he will react when we move forward, we do not know what to do for the best. We should certainly not spend hours concentrating on Satan but we should at least know what the Bible reveals about him and what effect that has on us today.

The Bible shows Satan, among other things, as a deceiver (Rev.12:9); as the one who causes doubt in God (Gen.3:1-5). A liar, indeed the father of lies (Jn.8:44). The tempter (Mt.4:1) and, if he is allowed to be, a devourer (1 Pet.5:8). We must understand and be aware of how all this affects our Christian life.

I attended a large Christian meeting a few years ago where a well-known controversial speaker was in full flow. “We don’t need all these anti-cult groups; we just need to preach Jesus,” his voice rang out. Why did he say that? I suspected then, and have had no cause to change my mind since, that it was to defend his own position and to make sure that no one checked on his teaching. However, there are those whose ministry is not just anti-anything but a positive calling as ‘watchmen’ within the body of Christ. They are not there to criticise everyone who does not hold their views on, for instance, the return of Christ. Nor are they there to find a demon under every new preacher’s notes. They are there to give a warning to the body of Christ where teaching or action is not Biblical. Reachout Trust, I believe, has been called to be a help to the body of Christ in this area.

People have accused Reachout Trust of being a ‘negative’ ministry. My answer is always the same ‘tongue-in-cheek’ reply: “If sharing Jesus in a relevant way is negative, then I agree with you.” What we are doing is not negatively saying someone is wrong, but positively showing them there is something and indeed Someone better.

This book will not provide you with scare stories of those who have been involved in hideous cults, or testimonies of ‘great escapes’. This is not the purpose of the book. What we are aiming to provide is an overview of what you are likely to find behind the public face of your town. From this, each of us will be better prepared both to pray and to warn young or ignor­ant Christians of the dangers. Most importantly, we will be ready to be used as messengers of the love of God to the people caught up in these areas.

Know your faith

Chapters 6­–10 will help make sure we know our own position in Christ. This section is the heart of the book. Here we will look at building ourselves up in our own faith. These chapters are the ‘meat’ in the sandwich. Without this section we have nothing to get our teeth into; we cannot help others if we do not have a firm foundation ourselves.

The two greatest excuses - or occasionally genuine concerns - for not talking with people involved in the cults are ignorance and fear. Ignorance of what the cults believe will be covered in the final section. A positive knowledge of what we believe must come first and this will be covered especially in chapters 9–10. British ambassadors abroad always need to know what the government is thinking and doing in Westminster. Without constant briefing, they would be commu­nicating their own ideas and not being the representatives of Britain. It is no different when we are ambassadors of heaven in a foreign land on earth. We need constant briefing from the Lord to know what He is thinking and doing. This way we will be representing Him and not just our own ideas.

This section will also help deal with any fear. Most have a fear of being beaten in a ‘Bible-bashing’ contest. Many, too, have a fear of looking a fool for not knowing an answer or, even worse, being convinced by the argument of the cult. These fears are, of course, brought on by the one who is the author of fear: the devil. Knowing the One Whose love casts out that fear, and knowing the Word ourselves are the basis for our sharing without trepida­tion. These chapters are not a complete guide to theology but they will give an excellent beginning. Learning from God is a daily ongoing experience.

Know the cults

The way we express what we know is also vital; we are not called on to Bible-bash. ‘Wimbledon-witnessing’ produces little, if any, effect. The Christian serves his best text that is almost an ace. Somehow the cult member dashes across the baseline and returns the ball with interest. The top-spin almost fools the Christian and he finds himself on the defensive, and on it goes.

Occasionally someone scores a point, but we seem always to return to deuce and no one ever wins the match. This, as we shall see, is not the way to win these people to Christ. If, however, we are firmly anchored in the Scriptures, I do not think there is any need to pretend we are on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. We can take a calm approach to the subject being discussed and ask questions rather than just firing accusations at 100 mph.

Chapters 11 onwards will give an overview of the beliefs and lifestyle of several well-known cults as well as some ideas about how to approach them. They will also give Biblical refutation to some of the most used arguments of the cults. This form of witnessing will probably be more akin to running the marathon than the 100 metres – the quality of staying-power is usually necessary with the cults. We trust this book will go a long way to getting you in shape.

There will be other groups that are not mentioned here and you will probably have more questions. Reachout Trust is a ministry that is here to help individual Christians and churches in any way we can. Do not hesitate to ring or write and we will try to provide the information you require.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Are Christians Mormons?

From the earliest days of Mormonism they have made clear that their church is a restoration of the church Christ established in the first century, and that had gone into apostasy following the death of Christ and his apostles. This much has always been clear. To this extent Mormons have always regarded themselves as Christians.

Traditionally, however, Mormons have had no problem in being called Mormons, indeed in calling themselves Mormons. John Taylor (d.1887) third Mormon president, once edited a Mormon newspaper in New York City entitled “The Mormon”. James E Talmage (d.1933) Mormon apostle, in commenting on a Congress of Religious Philosophy in 1915, spoke in the Salt Lake Tabernacle saying, “The Mormon Church was the only Christian organisation there present that had a definite...philosophical basis to proclaim.” His remarks were later published in a pamphlet entitled “The Philosophical Basis of Mormonism”.

Bruce R McConkie (d.1985), Mormon apostle, famously published the book “Mormon Doctrine”, an A-Z of Mormon doctrine, in 1958. As recently as 1979 Leonard J Arrington (d.1999) and Davis Bitton (d.2007) both Mormon scholars, wrote a popular history of Mormonism entitled “The Mormon Experience, A History of the Latter-day Saints”. And, of course, there is The Mormon History Association, which was founded by Arrington in 1985 and one of whose members was Davis. This is not to mention the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and these are a handful of myriad examples over the 178 year history of the Mormon Church.

I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1970’s and, at that time, what was emphasised in the name of the church was “Latter-day Saints”. Much was made of the word “Saints” and the so-called Restoration was, in part, a restoration of the true understanding of the word. Where traditional Christianity had grown to venerate particular Christians to a seemingly semi-divine status and called them “Saints”, the Latter-day Saints had restored “Saints” as the name given in Bible times to Christian believers. “Latter-day” was also emphasised in order to distinguish believers of the latter days from those of the former days and, thus emphasise a distinctive of the “Restored Church”. If a Mormon objected to being called “Mormon” at all it was to say, “I am not a Mormon. I am a Latter-day Saint!

In objecting to the epithet “Mormon” Mormons would, and still do, point out that “Mormon” is a nickname and, giving the full name of the church, insist that they are Christians. However, “Christian” was almost certainly originally a nickname. I Howard Marshall, in his Commentary on Acts11:26 in the Tyndale series writes that:

"The ending of the word (Christianos) indicates that it is a Latin word, like ‘Herodian’, and that it refers to the followers of Christ. ‘Christ’ will then be understood as a proper name, although its original use was as a title, ‘The Messiah’, for Jesus. The verb ‘were called’ implies in all probability that ‘Christian’ was a nickname given by the populace of Antioch...It is likely that the name contained an element of ridicule (c.f. Acts 26:28; 1 Pet.4:16). The Christians preferred to use other names for themselves, such as ‘disciples’, ‘saints’ and ‘brothers’."

It is worth noting that Christians also called themselves ‘followers of The Way’ (Acts 24:14; 9:2).


Mormons, then, are effectively exchanging one nickname for another. Of course, these epithets serve, as Marshall suggests, in distinguishing one group from another. The name ‘Christian’ distinguished followers of Christ, even though originally used in derision. In the same way, ‘Mormon’ distinguishes those people who follow the teachings peculiar to Mormonism and, as much as they wish to be known as Christians, it is a very helpful distinction. Why, then, are they now eager to blur that distinction?

In the past twenty years or more the emphasis has changed. Where the name of the church has in the past been presented as “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, with the emphasis on “Latter-day Saints”, it has changed to “The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints”. This is the official logo of the church now and you only have to look at the entry for the church logo in the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia to see this change in emphasis. Indeed, many will have noticed that in much Mormon generated writing these days The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often referred to as "The Church of Jesus Christ". This is in accord with the Mormon Church's "style guide" issued to members of the press and published on their web site. Mormons are effectively telling people, “This is how you should refer to us, how you should speak of us”.

I have been impressed by how apparently seamlessly, and efficiently, this approach has been adopted by Mormons in all their writing and speaking. It does, however, create several problems, both for Christians, who find it singularly offensive that the Mormons should attempt to appropriate the name exclusively to themselves, and for Mormons themselves, whose use of the convention often serves to confuse rather than inform.

I have come across statements that speak of the differences between “Christians” and “The Church of Jesus Christ” and I wonder if Mormons have realised how very peculiar the juxtaposition will sound to people outside the Mormon Church, and especially where I am, outside the geographical areas where Mormonism predominates (i.e. the rest of the world). Of course, I know the chequered history of the Mormon Church’s name, and I am fully aware of what their “style guide” is trying to do, i.e. if people hear something often enough they come to accept it as fact.

But this very odd juxtaposition of “Christians” and “The Church of Jesus Christ” would lead most people to think that Mormons had produced a tautology. That they were discussing the Church of Jesus Christ distinguishing itself from itself, since most would define the Church of Jesus Christ as the sum of Christians, and a Christian as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

I am interested in what has been seen by many as a cynical use of terminology. Perhaps Mormons feel that just because I am a Christian that doesn't mean I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ, which they clearly equate with the Mormon Church. In thinking about where Christians fit, and indeed where Mormons are trying to fit these days in the great scheme of things, there should be an attempt at achieving clarity. Are we to make a distinction between "The Church of Jesus Christ" and "The Christian Church"!? If so, how would you define and justify that distinction? There is no warrant for it in Christian Scripture and even convention does not allow for such a distinction to be readily understood.

I am trying to understand where I fit if, as a Christian, I do not belong to The Church of Jesus Christ. What are the implications of such a distinction as Mormons are attempting to make? I am a Christian and, therefore, consider myself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Does that make me a Mormon, and if I am not a Mormon and, by implication, not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, am I not a Christian?


It used to be so easy. Mormons were Mormons who considered themselves Christians but emphasised distinctives by calling themselves "Latter-day Saints". Christians were Christians who considered Mormons as non-Christians and emphasised distincitves by calling them Mormons. Even Mormons called themselves Mormons! Now Mormons want to be Christians in the sense of being "another denomination", calling their church "The Church of Jesus Christ" and, in the process, blurring distinctions that once were so dear even to them.