Thursday, 23 September 2021

Witnessing to Mormons - The Spirit of Contention

 


“He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me,” said the Lord, “but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another (3 Nephi 11:29).

I only ever recall once being told, by Mormon Missionaries, that I had the spirit of contention. I cannot remember exactly what our discussion entailed, but they were not happy with something I said, and so they threw the charge at me. But what do they mean when they say a person has a spirit of contention?

A Christ-like attitude

Mormons will often say that a person has the spirit of contention, when they feel that their beliefs are in some way being undermined or ridiculed. A Christian challenging them about what they believe can often find themselves labelled as contentious. They may suggest that you are not exhibiting a ‘Christ-like attitude’ in what you are saying or the way you are saying it. Jesus, who is the one allegedly speaking in 3 Nephi 11:29, makes it clear: ‘“He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me…”.

Therefore, if you they charge you with being contentious, they are likely accusing you of being un-Christlike and acting more like the devil: “who is the father of contention…”.

It is possible that, in our zeal to reach Mormons, we do become argumentative and combative in our discussions. When this happens, we do need to catch ourselves and, where appropriate, apologise to them.

When witnessing to Mormons with the good news of the gospel, we should strive to not be contentious or mocking in any way. The Bible teaches us that we should endeavour to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15); and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (and particularly in witnessing show self-control). Elsewhere, Proverbs has much to say about the folly of contention:

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (10:12)

A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. (18:6)

A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarrelling is like the bars of a castle. (18:19)

As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. (26:21)

Also, Paul warns young Timothy not to get involved in contention:

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

So, it is clear from scripture that contention will not get us very far in our effort to reach the lost. Therefore, we must strive to not be impolite and/or insulting to our Mormon friends.

Turning the Tables

It is possible that as we remain self-controlled when sharing the gospel with Mormons, that it is them who will lose their self-control. I have personally experienced this. Sometimes Mormons will become a little irate and raise their voices. If this happens, then we can turn the tables on them - in love of course.

We can say something along the lines of we are not willing to continue with the discussion if they are going to be argumentative and contentious. Upon hearing us using the ‘c’ word against them – they will immediately calm down and possibly even apologise to us. After all, they cannot be seen to be imitating the father of contention. We can then proceed on with a friendly discussion about things of eternal importance.

Sharing the Truth in Love

Missionaries are taught not to contend or argue:

There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.[1]

Though we as Christians are also not to be contentious, the Bible says that there is something for which we should contend:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

We are told to contend for the faith. Here we find our reason for sharing the truth with Mormons. Theirs is not the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. They have a different gospel.

Perhaps the following quote sums up how they might feel:

“Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened – and the devil laughs – when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.”[2]

I would personally seek to re-write this quote to sum up our position:

“Surely our Heavenly Father is pleased – and the devil is angry – when we contend for doctrinal truth with our Mormon neighbors.”

There is always the chance that a discussion with Mormons, particularly about our doctrinal differences, will become a little heated, but this should not deter us from sharing truth with them.

LDS missionaries are taught to not strive in debate, but we are to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. As we do this their response may be to just bear their testimony to the truth of what they believe. But we must bear testimony to the truth that Jesus is enough.

As we do, let’s remember to speak the truth in love.


[1] Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet (churchofjesuschrist.org)

 

[2] (Robert D. Hales, ‘Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,’ Ensign (Conference Edition) November 2008. P.73)






Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Is the New World Translation Superior to Other Translations?

 


In our latest Watch Tower Wednesday on the Facebook page we saw the Watch Tower Society teaches, 'The New World Translation is based on up-to-date scholarly research and the most reliable ancient manuscripts.

'Unlike paraphrased translations, the New World Translation renders words literally as long as doing so does not result in awkward wording or hide the thought of the original writings. Translations that paraphrase the Bible’s original text may insert human opinions or omit important details.'

This is a big issue with Jehovah's Witnesses, who confidently believe they are bringing the very best translation today to our homes. How would you respond to such claims? Is the NWT superior to other translations?

On the Facebook page Bavesh Roger observed, ‘...the NWT actually paraphrases words to fit their teachings. For example, Dr. Bowman correctly points out the paraphrasing of the Greek word "pneuma" in the NWT which has been paraphrased as "inspired expression" in various passages of 1 John 4 and "inspired utterances" in 1 Tim. 4:1. To defend this they pick a less literal and more paraphrastic Christian translation like the CBW and compare the NWT with it because obviously they can't compare it with the likes of ESV and NASB. Another example is the Greek phrase "tou pneumatos sou" which is literally translated "the spirit of you", has been translated as "the spirit you show" in 2 Tim. 4:22 and Philemon 25 in the NWT. This is again paraphrasing because the literal translation does not fit their teaching of humans not possessing an eternal spirit.’


Jehovah or Yahweh?

It is worth pointing out that their claim of accuracy backfires on them because ‘Jehovah’ is the least likely spelling and pronunciation of God’s name. We looked at this in my previous article. How can Jehovah’s Witnesses claim strict accuracy when they get the Name wrong?

It is also worth noting that the claim of strict faithfulness toup-to-date scholarly research and the most reliable ancient manuscripts' falls apart when we read the New Testament. Here they have added the name of God more than 200 times when the Name doesn’t appear in any of the most reliable ancient New Testament manuscripts, indeed, in any manuscripts.

What is written in the ‘most reliable ancient New Testament documents,’ where the Jehovah’s Witnesses insert ‘Jehovah,’ is the Greek kurios, translated ‘Lord.’ If they are going to be consistent, they should translate kurios as Jehovah when it appears as a title for Jesus. However, they revert to the correct translation, ‘Lord,’ when Jesus is in view, and sneak in Jehovah when they feel it safe to do so.

John’s Gospel Theme

What about that troublesome text, John 1:1? We have heard and rehearsed the arguments so often, but I want to point out the bigger picture. Each gospel writer has a key purpose in view.

Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience about fulfilled prophecy, the arrival of the Messiah.

Mark wrote for the wider church, bringing Peter’s testimony of salvation through the risen Christ.

Luke wrote for everyone, emphasising salvation for Jews and Greeks, and the truthfulness of the Christian tradition.

John’s is a cosmic gospel, beginning with the Creation, with an emphasis on the deity of Christ. While Jehovah’s Witnesses debate the use of the definite article in John 1:1, John brings us a heaven’s-eye view, takes us to an understanding of Jesus as God with us, Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14; Mt. 1:23).

He was in the beginning with God – John 1:1 As Doug Harris used to say, ’when the beginning began he was already there.’

He created everything, ‘...apart from him not even one thing came into existence’ – John 1:3, NWT

Creation motifs of life, light, and darkness are used in describing Jesus, who is the life and light of men, overcoming the darkness – John 1:4,5; Genesis 1:3-5

The Word became flesh and dwelt among men, literally ‘pitched his tent among us,’ referencing the dwelling of God in the tabernacle among his people – John 1:14

John writes, ‘we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’- John 1:14. Christ’s glory was unveiled on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt.17:1-9) referencing the glory of God manifesting in the Old Testament in theophanies, in the tabernacle, and in the temple.

That glory is now manifest in the Incarnate Word, God’s ultimate revelation, the exact imprimatur of God’s nature (Heb.1:1-5). We are told that later, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus will make a temple of the church (1 Cor.3:16), as well as of the believer’s body (1 Cor.6:19); God dwelling in his people by his indwelling Spirit. In these very verses we have the Trinity of God.

As if to bracket these 18 verses as he started, John writes, ‘No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.’ - John 1:18 (the ‘most reliable ancient New Testament documents,’ say ‘the only God’)

Reading these verses, one cannot reasonably return to John 1:1 and translate ‘the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.’ Everything here, everything John wrote, points to Jesus’ deity. Paul writes of Jesus, ‘For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…’ (Col.2:9 ESV) As Doug would often ask, ‘how full is full?’

The Greek literally gives, ‘all the fullness of the divinity,’ The NWT gives ‘the fullness of the divine quality,’ describing this as,...a quality or condition that could be obtained or lost as a result of one’s behavior.’ So these divine qualities are not Christ’s, and he is capable of losing them. Can such a Saviour be entirely trusted?

The Watch Tower claim to literal accuracy falls down in the most important aspects of the Salvation story, the identity of the true God, and the identity of Jesus. The NWT translation may surely be ‘close’ to the original Greek, but it is certainly not faithful to the original Greek.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

BORN AGAIN MORMON (PART 3)



From Death to Life

What we find in instantaneous spiritual rebirth is a reversal of the fall. God warned Adam that if he ate from the tree he would surely die:

 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:17)

Notice that God said that Adam would die that very day. But Adam went on to live to be 930 years old. So, did God lie? Not at all. What died that day was Adam’s spiritual connection to God. Adam and Eve suddenly found themselves naked and ashamed. Their rebellion had led to them losing their spiritual covering – God Himself. So, what did they do?

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:7)

How telling this is. The response of man to his spiritual nakedness and rebellion is to try and cover himself. Fallen man believes that he can sort himself out. He believes he can fix his own spiritual problems by his own initiative – usually comprising of a lot of effort and good works. This is what we find within the cults and within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Notice that after Adam and Eve sought to cover themselves with fig leaves, God gave them a far more substantial covering:

Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

Where did the skins come from? A sacrificed animal. Blood was shed to cover their sin. This temporary covering was pointing to the one to come - the one John the Baptist called: ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). God has provided for our nakedness, our fallenness, our sinfulness.

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrew 9:28)

When Jesus, from the cross, said: ‘It is finished’, he was declaring that he had done everything necessary to bring us back into relationship with God. We no longer need to try and cover ourselves; we no longer need to strive and struggle to get right with God, no amount of good works can save us. Paul recognising that Jesus, as the last Adam, had done all that was necessary for our salvation; he wrote to the Ephesian church these blessed words:

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. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So, what am I trying to say? In a nutshell I am saying this. Just as Adam spiritually died (immediately – on that day) when he rebelled against God, so Jesus (the last Adam) makes us spiritually alive (immediately – on that day) when we repent and put our faith in Him. 

From Life to Death

Rather than accepting and teaching this precious truth, Mormonism, like every other aberrant group, teaches the opposite. Mormon doctrine claims that a person must continue to cover themselves. Sure, what Jesus did was important, but we too need to play our part. This idea is predicated upon Article 2 of the Mormon Faith:

‘We believe that all mankind will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.’

According to Mormonism, Jesus paid for Adam’s sin, but we must pay for our own sin. How does this play out in the Mormon faith? Well, rather than teaching that being born again brings about an instantaneous right standing before God, to them being born again becomes a process. This process involves a person covering themselves with obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Mormon faith.

Muddying the Clear Water

In a talk entitled: Ye must be born again, David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

Just as a cucumber is transformed into a pickle as it is immersed in and saturated with salt brine, so you and I are born again as we are absorbed by and in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we honor and “observe the covenants” (D&C 42:13) into which we have entered, as we “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3), as we “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” (Moroni 7:48), and as we “serve [God] with all [of our] heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2), then: “Because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).[1]

Here we find that Latter-day revelation adds and changes the simplicity of Jesus’ command to be born again. Mormonism takes simple faith in Christ and makes it a chore, an unobtainable prize. As previously stated, Mormon teaching is littered with the language of the Bible. They will talk about the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’, they will talk about the natural man being enemies of God, and the need for spiritual rebirth but this is all interpreted through Latter-day lenses.

This leads Mormon leaders to make ridiculous unbiblical comparisons:

Just as a cucumber is transformed into a pickle as it is immersed in and saturated with salt brine, so you and I are born again as we are absorbed by and in the gospel of Jesus Christ.’

What does he mean by being ‘absorbed by and in the gospel of Jesus Christ.’?  Latter-day Saints know exactly what he means. If you want to be born again and live eternally with Heavenly Father you must pay your tithe, attend church and participate in the sacrament meeting. You must keep the Word of Wisdom, wear the ‘sacred’ garments and be obedient to a whole host of other Mormon laws and dictates. Then, with no guarantee of course, you may possibly be ‘born-again’.

Friends, this is not spiritual rebirth. Jesus was not telling Nicodemus to do any of the things mandated by the Mormon church – how could he? Rather the so-called teaching of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Biblical Christianity.

Despite their claim, true Christianity was not restored through Joseph Smith. Rather they, like all false belief systems, keep people back in the Garden of Eden. There they find ourselves still spiritually naked, making every effort to cover themselves and hiding from the God they have rebelled against.

The wonderful, good news of the gospel is that Jesus has done it all for us. He is our covering. Through faith in his shed blood on the cross of Calvary, we are forgiven and made right with God.

He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

Titus 3:5

Jesus taught as an imperative that a person must experience a spiritual rebirth.

Have you been born again?




[1] (http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-690-8,00.html)


 

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Is God's Name Jehovah?

 


In last week’s Watch Tower Wednesday on the Facebook page we saw the International Bible Students of Charles Russell's day became, in 1931, Jehovah's Witnesses. This was under the leadership of Joseph Rutherford, although many groups of International Bible students stayed faithful to Russell, and have survived until today. Jehovah's Witnesses, on their website, address this question of God's name and justify the change, making several main points:

Jehovah is the name God gives himself in Isaiah 42:8 and Exodus 3:15.

Jesus calls us to 'sanctify' God's name In Matthew 6:9

Joel tells us our salvation is in God's name Joel 2:32

God's name reveals his character

But is that name Jehovah? Did Joseph Rutherford create more questions than answers for subsequent generations of Jehovah's Witnesses in his determination to give his followers their distinct identity, as opposed to the simpler name of International Bible students?


A Lively Discussion

A lively discussion ensued on the Facebook page:

Bavesh Roger wrote, ‘ Funny that they cite Matthew 6:9 to prove their point, but the same verse actually exposes the heresy of the Watchtower. In this verse, Jesus teaches the disciples to address God as Father, not Jehovah or Yahweh.’ We saw this in the website article, The Name: It Isn’t Jehovah.

Bavesh continues, ‘ In fact, right from verse one Jesus addresses God as Father multiple times even in the NWT. If He had come to manifest the name Jehovah or Yahweh, He would have referred to God by this name on every occasion. But He did not mention it even when He prayed directly to God (John 17), not even in the NWT.’

Moreover,’ he goes on, ‘the name that was the focus of the apostles’ preaching and teaching was the name Jesus, not the name Jehovah. The gospels and the book of Acts give examples of disciples performing miracles in the name of Jesus (Mark 16:17-18, Luke 9:49, 10:17, Acts 16:18). In Eph. 1:21-22 and Phil. 2:9-10, Paul explains how highly exalted is the name Jesus, while Peter in Acts 4:12 says that there is salvation in no other name but in the name of Jesus.’

Barry Amor raised the following points:

  1. Christians are called to be Christ's witnesses, not Jehovah's (Acts 1 v 8)

  2. God gave Himself a name but it wasn't 'Jehovah'. That word didn't exist until the 13th Century (see below).

  3. God's 'name' that we are sanctify is not a word like 'Jehovah'; it's who He is - might, Majesty, power, mercy etc. (see his final point below)

  4. Did Joel mean in Joel2 v 32 that we should just use God's name and we would be saved? I doubt it. Is He someone we conjure up using His name like some demon?

  5. Acts 4 v 12 tells us that it is only Jesus' name that saves us. Rom 10 v 12 tells us that it is the 'Lords' name we should call upon - the 'Lord' being Jesus in that passage.

Finally, Barry writes, ‘How does the word 'Jehovah' reveal God's character? It's a made up name mixing the consonants of the tetragrammaton (ish) with the vowels of adonai (Lord). As your picture shows, the word 'Jehovah' started out as Iehovah as the letter 'J' did not exist in its own right until sometime in the 13th-14th centuries.’


Abjad

These are all great comment and very insightful. It is further interesting that ancient Hebrew writing had no vowels, and is known today as an ‘abjad.’ This is a word coined in the 1990s by Peter T Daniels to describe an alphabet with no vowels. There are a number of abjads in the world, Arabic being one other example. Later scribes copying abjads devised ways of introducing marks, or accents, to indicate how a word might be pronounce.

When Jewish scholars and copyists added these accents, or vowel points, to the Hebrew text some centuries ago, the vowels of Adonai (Lord) were given to YHWH. This gives us YAHOWA, the Latin making Y into J, the W into V giving us Jehovah.


Tyndale

The picture at the head of this post is taken from the Watch Tower article, and they publish it thinking it makes their point for them. After all, if one of the greatest Bible translators of history uses the name who are we to dispute?

It is from Tyndale’s translation of Exodus, chapter 34:

Thrice in a year shall all your men children appear before the Lord Jehovah God of Israel: for I will cast out the nations before thee and will enlarge thy coasts, so that no man shall desire thy and, while thou goest up to appear before the face of the Lord thy God, thrice in the year.’ (vv 23,24)

Two points stand out about Tyndale’s translation:

  1. His use of ‘Jehovah’ would have reflected the convention of the day and does not indicate it is actually the name of God. As we have seen, ‘Jehovah’ is a made up name comprising both Hebrew and Greek letters. It cannot have any historical or linguistic significance beyond what we already understand since it is an invention.

  2. It is significant that later in the text Tyndale follows another convention familiar enough to modern Bible scholars; he writes, ‘...while thou goest up to appear before the face of the Lord thy God, thrice in the year.’ Here Tyndale is substituting ‘Lord’ for the Tetragrammaton, and not even using all capitals. Yet, the New World Translation gives, ‘...while you are going up to see the face of Jehovah your God three times a year.’


Conclusion

So, It seems reasonable to say Tyndale followed the convention of his day in using ‘Jehovah,’ which has no real significance for our discussion, and he followed the convention we have up to the present time of substituting ‘Lord’ for the name of God. In our website article, The Name: It Isn’t Jehovah, we discover Jehovah’s Witnesses know this, yet blindly follow the organisation rather than doing what we are doing and following the evidence.

...let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you executed on a stake but whom God raised up from the dead, by means of him this man stands here healthy in front of you. This is the stone the builders treated as of no account that has become the chief cornerstone. Furthermore, there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.’ (Acts 4:10-12, NWT)

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Born Again Mormons (Part 2)

 



It is no surprise that the Book of Mormon has something to say about spiritual rebirth. Latter-day Saint history speaks of times of religious fervour and renewal during Joseph Smith’s younger years. It was, they claim, this period of spiritual fervour that caused Joseph to become confused. The First Vision account recounts what he did:

When Joseph was 14 years old, he was inspired by James 1:5, which promises, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph determined to pray to know which church he should join and to ask for forgiveness of his sins.[1]

There can be little doubt that during such a period, Joseph would have heard preachers declaring that a person must be ‘born-again’; that a spiritual rebirth was required to enter the Kingdom of God. But why were these enthusiastic preachers proclaiming this? Because they were convinced of what Jesus taught Nicodemus.

In my previous article we considered Jesus’ words to the religious leader Nicodemus. Jesus told him that, even though he was a ‘ruler of the Jews’[2] he needed to be born again. Knowledge and piety, keeping all the rules, being an expert in the law, was not the way into the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus needed a spiritual rebirth, an awakening, a new start.

Mormons are correct in saying that the Book of Mormon and Latter-day revelation say more about what Jesus meant by the term ‘born-again’, but what do these extra- biblical sources reveal to us?

The Book of Mormon

Should we be shocked to find verses in the Book of Mormon that speak about being born again? Certainly not, say the Latter-day Saints. After all Jesus visited the Americas after his resurrection, teaching many of the same things he taught to others before his death and resurrection in Israel. Hence, we find lots of similarities in what Jesus says in the Bible and what we find in the Book of Mormon. An example of this can be found is Mosiah 27 in the Book of Mormon:

I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit. And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.  Mosiah 27:24-26

The story goes that Alma the Younger and the sons of King Mosiah rebelled against their fathers and the Lord and attempted to destroy the Church of God.

At this point God sent an angel who called them to repentance. They did indeed repent and were born again, after which they travelled throughout the land of Zarahemla preaching the gospel and making restitution for their former rebellion.

These verses from Mosiah chapter 27 align with Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3. Mosiah states that those born of God are ‘changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness’ and so can ‘inherit the kingdom of God’.

Now Latter-day Saints would be quick to point out that any agreement found between the Bible and the Book of Mormon is obviously because they come from the same source. I agree but would disagree with their reasons for such.

In his work ‘An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins’, Grant Palmer claimed the following about the Book of Mormon:

Seventy-five percent of the content of the book is accounted for by Joseph Smith's use of six, nineteenth-century sources of which he was very familiar. Twenty-five percent came from the Bible and another twenty-five percent came from the Methodist religion. The remaining twenty-five percent came from three other sources.[3]

What Palmer claims is that Joseph Smith was predominantly a plagiarist. As twenty-five percent of the Book of Mormon is lifted directly from the Bible, we should not at all be surprised that the two will concur in certain places.

This is all good, but what of Latter-day revelation? Does this support the teaching of the Book of Mormon and the Bible on the topic of being born-again?

Latter-day Revelation

It would be reasonable to believe that, knowing what the Bible and the Book of Mormon says about the need for spiritual rebirth, those so-called guardians of the faith, namely Apostles and Prophets within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would teach the same. They would claim that they do. But is this true?

Same Words – Different Meaning

Though Mormon Leaders and Mormon Doctrine speak about the need to be born again, they teach it to mean something very different.

In the Bible, and throughout Christian history, born-again has always been understood to have been an instantaneous event. Many well-known Christians have documented this event in their own life. We may think of John Wesley who recorded in his journal the night he felt ‘his heart strangely warmed’, or of Martin Luther who upon reading Romans 1:17, ‘For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith’, had his heart illumined to the saving gospel. Many, many others could be cited, but these two will suffice to prove the point. What we are speaking of here is very different to the Mormon doctrine of being ‘born-again’. In part 3 we will consider how they teach this to the LDS faithful.

Read Part One Here



[1] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/first-vision?lang=eng

[2] John 3:1

[3] http://www.mormonthink.com/book-of-mormon-problems.htm#sources

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Does James Contradict Paul? Dawn Llisone Explains Faith and Works

 


In my latest Watch Tower Wednesday on the Reachout Facebook page I asked, ‘what is Salvation?’

On their website Jehovah’s Witnesses say salvation seems conflicted between ‘God’s gift’ of salvation and the Bible injunction to Christians to live a saved life. They write:

‘To gain salvation you must exercise faith in Jesus and demonstrate that faith by obeying his commands – Acts 4:10,12; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 5:9. You can read the Watch Tower article here.

This is a struggle many have when they try and square the idea of a gift with the idea of works? How would you discuss this issue with a Jehovah's Witness? How would you reconcile Eph.2:8,9, 'By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God,' with James 2:24-26, 'Faith without works is dead?' What hope and assurance can you bring a Jehovah's Witness?

I am grateful to Dawn Llisone for providing as good and clear an answer as you will find to help resolve this issue and bless a JW. It is Dawn we must thank for this article.

Does James Contradict Paul

Paul writes to the Ephesian Church:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ - Ephesians 2:8,9 ESV.

In his letter James says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’ - James 2:14-17 ESV

Paul says that salvation is not as a result of works. James says that faith alone, if it does not have works, is dead. Is this a contradiction? James does not contradict Paul, in fact they are in perfect harmony. This is how.

God Enables

A summary of James reads like this:

‘James emphasizes that God enables a life of faith that works itself out in action, especially with mercy for those most vulnerable.’ The reason I quote this is because it's a great little statement. James says that God enables a life of faith that works itself out in action. In other words, God enables where, otherwise, we would be unable.

Therefore, what both Paul and James are saying is this:

a) A person has faith (in what Jesus did and repents), a faith that brings to the believer a salvation that cannot be earned.

b) This salvation enables the person to live a life of faith that works itself out in action (works). This is because of the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit upon you and your life.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth Paul explains this as nothing less than a new creation - 2 Cor 5:17.

The Fruit of – You?

As a Christian, the fruit you bear is not the fruit of you. The fruit is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23). This means that you wouldn't have this fruit if you didn't have the Spirit!

Therefore, what James is NOT saying is - Faith + your own Works = Salvation. That would contradict the entire book of Romans and everything that Paul wrote. So what are these good works?

Many people (including atheists) can do good and charitable works, helping others. The difference with Christians is that they are working in accordance with God's Will because of the work of the Holy Spirit inside them. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, continues:

‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ - Eph 2:10.

James agrees with Paul by pointing out that we know a person's faith is alive because they show good works. If their faith was dead they'd have no good works (that are in accord with God's will).

Faith and Works

This all becomes clear when the book of James is simply read in it's entirety, offering full context (See my website article about reading whole books of the Bible). James is rebuking people who don't show good works and encouraging them to make more effort. But that is not so that they can be saved. Notice what he says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?’ - James 2:14.

So he clearly knows and teaches that it is faith that saves. He's simply saying that if you don't have works then that faith won't save because that type of faith, that doesn’t produce fruit in the form of works, is void of the Spirit and therefore is dead. He continues:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ - James 2:18.

Here he says, ‘I will show you my faith by my works.’ What will I show you? My faith. How will I show it? By how it works out in my life. This again is showing that faith which is alive is identified by good works.

Both Paul and James confirm that our salvation is a gift from God and the changes within us are enabled by God.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ - Titus 3:4-7.


Thursday, 26 August 2021

Born Again Mormons

 


I love having the use of a thesaurus when writing in Microsoft Word. I find the suggestions it offers extremely helpful, and I get to use some words that would not normally be in my vocabulary. One such word offered by my helpful thesaurus recently was ‘exacerbate’ which means to ‘make worse’.

My wife says I am a natural when it comes to making things worse. I don’t set out to make things worse or ‘exacerbate’ (my new favourite word) the problem, but sometimes in trying to clarify something, we can find ourselves making something less clear.

I came across an example of this as I read about what Mormons teach concerning Jesus’ famous words at John 3:3. Speaking to the Jewish religious leader Nicodemus, Jesus said to him:

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

The article began by saying that Jesus’ words have become a ‘matter of debate and controversy amongst Christian believers.’ It doesn’t go beyond this statement to discuss what these debates and controversies might be, rather the author sets forth the idea that Mormon teaching can make clear, that which ‘other’ Christians fail to understand.

Before we consider how Mormonism can supposedly help clarify Jesus’ words, let us first seek to understand ourselves what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus that he must be born again.

SAY WHAT?

To begin we need to consider the first rule of biblical interpretation – context, so let’s take a look at it:

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 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? 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.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.  (John 3:1-8)

Jesus told Nicodemus that anyone who wanted to see the Kingdom of God, needed to be born again. What did Jesus mean by this?

Born again literally means to be born from above. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he needed a spiritual rebirth. This was not something that he himself could generate. A person cannot be born again through greater effort or by rigidly following a set of rules or commands, it doesn’t come about through affiliation to a particular church, rather, it is an act of God. Earlier in John’s gospel we read these words:

He (Jesus) came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  John 1:11-13 KJV

According to these verses, God imparts this spiritual life to the person who believes, to those who receive Jesus.

   Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Titus 3:5

Jesus informs Nicodemus that he needs a spiritual awakening. He is dead and therefore needs to be made alive:

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins…  Ephesians 2:1

Jesus made sure that Nicodemus knew it was not about keeping the law and the wielding of religious zeal, but about the One who, by the Spirit, awakens the dead making a person a child of God, and assuring a person of eternal life.

As a religious Jew, Nicodemus would have been striving to keep the law to make himself acceptable to God, but Jesus is pointing him to the greater reality. It’s not the law that saves but God Himself, and this through faith in His Son Jesus.

A Sinner in Need of Grace

Nicodemus needed to understand that he was a lost sinner, a hopeless case before a holy God.

For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Romans 3:23

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  Isaiah 64:6

It is only when a person fully understands the depth of their depravity and the holy nature of the One they are trying to please, that they will surrender their effort, their striving, and their works and come to God for salvation.

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.   Ephesians 2:8-9

When a person repents and cries out to God, his sins are forgiven. He is then born again of the Spirit of God, declared to be a child of God, and assured of entrance into the Kingdom of God. O what a precious truth Jesus is sharing with Nicodemus.

Jesus is here teaching that all must be born again to be saved.  But how do Mormons understand what Jesus is saying? In the next article, as we consider what they teach regarding the need to be born again. What we will find is that, rather than making things clearer, they exacerbate the situation, making it almost impossible to enter the Kingdom of God.