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Note: the nature of this page is mainly personal experience, and so it is not intended as some kind of official statement. However, I would be extremely surprised if any church member disagreed with material on this page. (For "about me" as an individual, see the help page).
"I see real problems with Mormonism"
Does that mean that Mormonism is not true? Other people see real problems with "Born Again" Evangelical Protestants. See http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/ Whatever can be said against Mormonism, something worse can be said against evangelicals. Perhaps we would all do well if we were less quick to judge.
"Are you born again?"
Yes. That is the whole significance of baptism by immersion and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If you really want to understand being born again, read Alma chapter 5 (in the Book of Mormon). Are you saved?
"What is your relationship with Jesus Christ like?"
Speaking personally (as the question implies), it is best described in a hymn I have loved and sung since a child:
"I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me,
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
that for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled, and died.
Oh it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me,
Oh it is wonderful,
wonderful to me"
"Mormons don't talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ"
This is not true. Read any of Neal A. Maxwell's books. Or any prophet since (and including) Joseph Smith, for that matter. Or the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord refers to his disciples as "my son" or "my friend." I suspect that what really bugs some "Christians" is that the Mormon relationship with Christ is too close. Christ speaks to his church just as in New Testament times (hence new scripture). The doctrine that most disturbs other Christians is that we should become like Christ, with everything that entails. Perhaps this is just too close for comfort.
Latter-day Saints tend not to speak of Jesus as they would of a mortal friend - they do not use such familiar language. But that is due to respect, not distance. The closeness is there, but it is coupled with a great appreciation for who he is, and our nothingness before him. The closeness however is real. One example that still sticks in my mind after all these years is Elder Bruce R. McConkie's last testimony, given in 1985. Many critics of the church see Elder McConkie as just a doctrinal writer. They don't know him at all.
Elder McConkie's testimony was a powerful review of the plan of Salvation. He structured his talk around the three gardens - the garden of Eden, the garden of Gethsemane, and the garden of the empty tomb. (He departed from his structure and his notes in the part I have reproduced in bold). This was just a few weeks before he died, and his body was wracked with pain from a terminal illness. The conclusion of his sermon was as follows.
"If there had been no fall of Adam, by which cometh death, there could have been no atonement of Christ, by which cometh life.
"And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God--I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
"I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
"But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God's Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.
"God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin.
"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen."
That is pretty personal.
(N.B. One reader sent me a quote from Elder McConkie that aparently encouraged people not to pray for a closer relationship. But I was not able to find the source of the quote and this person did not give an email address. I cannot comment on a single passage taken out of context. If you are that person, or you know of the quote, please contact me!)
In response to the above, one person made the following criticism:
"Mormons describe an emotional response based upon an intellectual belief. This is not the same as an ongoing interactive relationship."
It is difficult to answer this one, because a relationship with the Savior is deeply personal. It is not for me to criticize someone else's private experience or say "my relationship is better than yours." However, there are some very important issues raised by the question.
Are the two things (an emotional response and an ongoing relationship) so different?
If the emotional response is love, and the intellectual belief results from actual daily experience, then there is no difference.
But I think the idea is a contrast between standing in awe and walking hand in hand. Between being a disciple and being a friend. In my experience, Mormons tend not to speak of Jesus as personal friend (except when referring to children, who are innocent). When Mormons speak of a personal relationship with the Savior, it is usually in terms of reverence and love. Sometimes missionaries (for example) refer to the Lord as a friend, but it is more as someone to turn to, someone who explains things, someone who provides daily help, and not as someone who is there minute by minute.
Companionship with the Holy Ghost
This difference has more to do with the idea of the trinity than anything else. The Holy Ghost is given for constant companionship. The Son, on the other hand, reveals himself only as and when he will. Many modern Christians, lacking new authoritative revelation, seem to confuse the roles of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The constant companionship of the Holy Ghost - as friend and comforter - is central to the restored gospel. But the word of God does not teach us to treat our creator with the same familiarity. Indeed, it would be irreverent and even disrespectful to do so.
Jesus as friend?
For Jesus to call someone "friend" is wonderful, but it is not the normal state of things. In this respect The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is much like The Church of Jesus Christ in New Testament times. Only the apostles were ever referred to as "friends," and that was only after extended trials and on limited terms. (See discussion) Do modern Christians think they deserve more than the ancient apostles? If so, this is not a healthy sign.
When people claim an extra special relationship with the Savior, beyond that promised in the scriptures, alarm bells ring. It seems like a form of modern day Gnosticism, an "inside track" to God. It appears to me that some people claim:
- to be always with Jesus (implying that they never sin - see discussion,
- to be closer than others (implying spiritual pride),
- that Jesus will let them into heaven despite their sins (implying ignorance of the nature of God),
- and that there is nothing more they need to learn about Jesus (implying spiritual blindness).
If someone claims to be that close, I wonder if they are close at all. I have known of many New Agers, mystics, and Eastern Gurus who claim to be always in touch with their god or life force. I hope that this is not a good parallel with such "extra close" Christians. I hope they are simply misreading the more familiar emotional response to truth.
"You have to face up to how so many other Christians (including those who have left LDS), know God as an intimate presence in their lives which lines up with the Bible and faith in Jesus Christ; but He has not led them to believe in Joseph Smith."
Just as we must all face up to how a Moslem can be a committed Moslem, and be ready to die for that faith. Or how a Hindu or Buddhist can be deeply committed to that path. Or how a mystic (of any tradition) can be at one with their god. Conviction is an interesting thing.
"Mormons don't teach that we all sin by our nature"
This is not true - read King Benjamin's sermon in Mosiah chapters 2 to 4 (Book of Mormon). The "natural man" is a well known topic at church.
Didn't Joseph Smith say that God told him all denominations were an "abomination" in His sight?
No. But this illustrates what I have been saying about getting things in order. Until recently, I too thought that was what God said. But then I studied it more closely, with an open Bible. What God said (according to the JSH 1:19) "all their CREEDS were an abomination in his sight."
As I understand it, the creeds at the time all stated that the Bible was the last word - that there could be no more revelation. In effect, God was being silenced. The religions of the day were quite prepared to worship God as long as he could not tell them their interpretation was wrong.
The word "abomination" is strong, but it is Biblical. In Isaiah 41:23-24, God is speaking against those who trust in idols. What does he say is so abominable about trusting in idols? They cannot prophecy and they cannot act. Why? Because they are not alive. Anyone who chooses such a dead item is an abomination.
"But the Bible is not like a dead idol, because the Bible is alive: 'the word of God is quick [e.g. alive] and powerful' - Heb. 4:12"
This mistake is based on a dangerous fallacy - that "the word of God" refers mainly or exclusively to the dead prophets. The "word of God" means the words of living prophets, like (at the time) Paul. See the page on the word of God for more details.
Actually, Isaiah goes further than we do. Isaiah says the people who believe that are an abomination. All we say is that the CREED that says this is an abomination.
You say that the true church is persecuted, but other Christians get persecuted more than Mormons - see http://www.persecution.org for examples.
There is no doubt that terrible things are being done to Christians around the world. But is this what Jesus meant? Does this fulfill the prophecy?
What did Jesus actually say?
Matthew 5:10-11 is the famous scripture:
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."
What does that mean? We get an idea from John 16:2:
"They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service."
"Putting out of synagogues," when Jesus said these words, meant the mainstream religion persecuting the minority religion that claimed to believe the same thing. This was not the same as being persecuted by the Roman empire. The Roman persecutions were greater than the Jewish persecutions, but they did not fulfill the prophesy.
So this prophecy refers to specifically theological attacks from the dominant church. Not just persecution of any kind.
Who fulfils the prophecy?
Jesus did not say that ONLY his disciples would be persecuted by the dominant church, or even that they would suffer more than others. So this is not a way to identify the true church directly. However, it does allow us to quickly reduce the number of possible candidates.
Anybody who is different from the majority will have experience of persecution. So most Christians will know some kind of persecution. But how many have persecution from those who "think they do God a service" by persecuting? Most Mormons I know have first hand experience of this. Most Protestants I know do not. Catholics fall somewhere in between. No doubt even Protestants get persecuted by other faiths in some countries, but it is not the general experience in the west.
Comparing LDS and other Christian persecution
I do not deny that some other Christian groups are persecuted by other faiths for their doctrine, but usually it is for other reasons. Any persecution is wrong, and I do not wish to downplay the very real sufferings of good people of all faiths. But we are looking here at how the prophecy is fulfilled. And here the LDS church strands out. A critic who showed me the persecution web sites had to admit: "Opposition to LDS is purely theological."
And that is where the Church stands out. The opposition is just as Jesus said it would be. The opposition is theological.
Attempts to demonstrate that other Christians are persecuted
There are a number of web sites that seek to demonstrate that Christians are persecuted. But most of the examples offered do not fulfil the prophecy.
The examples of non-Mormon Christians being persecuted (Columbia, Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan etc.) are very distressing. But the vast majority are not for theological reason - the persecutors do not "think they do God a service". Very little involves removing people from synagogues (e.g. from churches in the same tradition). Indeed, much of the persecution is in atheist states like China. Even where the persecutors are in some way religious (e.g. in an Islamic state), the examples do not demonstrate that Christians are disproportionately persecuted because they are Christians. This is why:
- We are given no data on other persecution of other religions in these countries. For example, we are told that Christians in Pakistan are persecuted, but the sites fail to mention that Ahmadis are also persecuted. It seems that Christians have rich friends in the west, so get more publicity.
- Christians are more likely to be identified with Americans/Westerners than other religions. It is interesting to note that most of the examples given are from developing countries with a known dislike of America. For example, the persecution in Egypt is in the context of attacks on western tourists and businesses.
- It seems hard to believe that the persecutors are more interested in theology than politics. For example, the persecutors in Colombia are "leftist guerrillas", and they allegedly target evangelicals - a sub-group of Christianity with particularly strong links to America. We are not told if they also target non-western Christians. I doubt they are quite so fierce against Catholic priests who preach liberation theology.
In contrast, attacks on Mormons are distinctively theological. We are cast out of synagogues and falsely reviled because we say that Jesus has spoken to us. We are hated primarily for doctrinal reasons - for example, because Joseph Smith taught the Old Testament practice of polygamy.
And that - theological opposition from the dominant churches - is what fulfils the Biblical prophecies.
Does the LDS church encourage people not to look at critical materials?
The simple answer is, we are encouraged to study critical materials in the same way that the New Testament encourages it. E.g. there is the very occasional statement to the effect of "prove all things," but that is all. So in that way, chalk up another reason why the LDS church is deeply Biblical.
Now, for a longer answer (just my personal experience - not official!):
It is quite true that we are not encouraged to study critical works. This isn't as sinister as it sounds. Like all facts, it has to be seen in context.
(a). We do not live in a vacuum. For every message we receive from within church, we receive a hundred from outside (e.g. from the media, from non-member friends, etc.). The most practical thing the church can teach is "please read more church stuff."
(b) In my experience, critics of the church do a very poor job. And so-called "objective" sources are seldom objective when it comes to religion.
(c) I have also seen people jump after some "problem" they see with the gospel, and become convinced that they have some unique insight. Then they leave the church happy in their new gnosis. But if they had stayed and been a little more patient they would have learned that the so-called "problem" is actually a great strength. Pride is a terrible thing - "the universal sin" - and it just loves to think it has discovered some new secret. It is a shame to lose your salvation because you won't accept the possibility that the prophet is right.
(d) Most important, there is this little thing called the light of Christ. It illuminates things. Again I can only speak for my own experience, but I find that with a background in prophets such as Brigham Young and Gordon B. Hinckley, and LDS writers such as Hugh Nibley and Henry Eyring, everything makes much more sense. Spirituality is much clearer. History and science clearer. Learning becomes exciting and far more enlightening. If you get things in the right order, the world of knowledge is (metaphorically) at your feet! If prophets tell us to put orthodox materials first, then they are very wise men indeed.
(e) There is a culture of exploration and discovery in the church - but you only find it after you start down that road. See the statistics on scientists, for example. As another example, Hugh Nibley is well known in the church, and his hugely popular books are all pro-education. One of his most recent works was, if I recall, "Brother Brigham challenges the Saints." Much of it was about broadening our outlook with challenging ideas. And probably the next best known church academic is/was Henry Eyring, whose views are anything but orthodox. In his classic "Faith of a Scientist" (or was it his "Reflections of a Scientist"? I forget) he recalled a disagreement he had with the then prophet over evolution. Also, there are unofficial LDS publications such as Sunstone and Dialogue. Some of their readers enjoy seeing themselves as a persecuted minority, but many very orthodox members subscribe - they are even referenced as sources for some articles in the church-written "The Encyclopedia of Mormonism."
(f) Do not confuse the Athenians on Mars Hill (always looking for some new thing - Acs 17:21) with real, lasting wisdom. Do not confuse the ideas of the world with the ideas of God. If you have found revelation from God, why do you want to look elsewhere?
Monologue or dialogue?
I think the perceived problem was best stated by a church member I know who was also a member of the Communist party (how's that for allowing free thought?). He once complained that there was too much monologue and not enough dialogue in the church. It got me thinking. Yes, on Sunday meetings and in public forums, there is monologue - we have a message to share! We have a duty to read and share the words of God, and not to dilute or distort them in any way. This is a divine sanction and one we must take as sacred. However, this is not just a Sunday church. We are encouraged to have firesides, cottage meetings, to SPEAK TO EACH OTHER. As a friend put it (he runs the main British LDS web site, and gets everything approved by the Area Presidency), one of the great blessings, privileges, and joys of the gospel, is being able to discuss and explore the deeper issues. And that means going alone, delving into areas otherwise left untouched, and being open to new ideas.
See the page on Deep Doctrine for these wider issues.
It has been my experience that truth has to be taken line upon line, precept upon precept, milk before meat. When you start by understanding the basics, you can then understand and sometimes even benefit from critical ideas. But if you start with critical ideas without a solid grounding in the restored gospel, you can get mixed up very quickly. A very good example of this is the "gates of hell" scripture (discussed on the page about the New Testament). It is sometimes presented as a huge problem for the church, but once you read the Bible (as opposed to what some critics say) it is no problem at all.
(Various questions about archeology and the Book of Mormon)
This is one of the great strengths of the church, intellectually speaking. but it is not really the focus of this web site. I have covered the general issues in my guide to Book of Mormon evidence (though I don't claim it is perfect!). The topic is already covered by people who know more than I do - try FARMS at http://www.farmsresearch.com, or if you want general "apologetics" try SHIELDS. If you want well informed discussion between members and non-members, try FAIR.
If your question isn't answered here, please contact me