Thursday, August 7, 2008

Keep it Positive

image Most Thursdays I meet with a half-dozen other pastors from Tigard for mutual support and prayer.  We meet for an hour, and usually the time flies by.  As with all things, some weeks are better than others. 

This morning was one of the better discussions we had had.  While the mix varies every week, this morning's variety of ministers was typical:  We had a Presbyterian, a retired Lutheran (and his wife), an Episcopal priest, a Vineyard pastor, an independent charismatic and me.  (Since a number of you read this blog--"The rest of know who you are...where were you...!?") 

But Glen (the Vineyard pastor) was asking about Mormons and how we interact with them. It seems that each one had a unique perspective. The Episcopal priest had lived for quite a number of years in Utah. Everyone had some really helpful comments and no one person dominated [which is a bit unusual for this--or maybe ANY group of Christian leaders]. While we often get into some pretty heated debates (but all genuinely within the context of mutual respect and--dare I say it--love), today there was pretty much a unanimity of opinion.  Some even ended up taking notes. 

But a question I had, brought an answer that surprised me.  We have a woman (a senior citizen) who sometimes attends our congregation with one of our older church men. I am not certain if it is a romantic interest or just good friends, but that is really besides the point.  She is Mormon.  And one time I was preaching a sermon on something where it seemed relevant to mention Mormon beliefs. What Mormons teach was significant different from what the Bible taught in that text.  I don't really remember what it was. But I have had negative letters from her, negative phone calls and negative conversations.  She feels that I am always bashing her religion. 

I generally don't find it productive to mention other faiths or religions in my sermons. But Mormons are both pretty thick here as well as very active proselytizers.  Because Mormons take biblical teaching and use the same terminology, but redefine it, and are not public about several of their core doctrines, I think it is important that I forearm my people by explaining (when it is appropriate to the text) how the Bible differs from what they will hear from the Mormon missionaries.

I was surprised that everyone present disagreed with that approach. They felt that it was inappropriate to mention ANY other group in a sermon in a negative light.  They said it might be appropriate for a special class, but not for a sermon.  What surprised me was that this was the consensus all across the theological spectrum represented in the room...except me.   They stressed the importance of only preaching the truth (the old illustration was used about the FBI--they ONLY train them on legitimate bills, not on counterfeits.  Therefore, when they see a counterfeit, they can easily spot it because they are experts in the real thing).

I am going to have to think that through. I don't make it a practice to negatively mention other religions (although I will freely admit bringing up the Mormons more than any other individual group).  Many of our people will not get into a special class on cults and false religions.  And yet they will interact both with their Mormon neighbors as well as the boys on bikes (I refuse to call them "Elder" when they are 19-20 years old.    It just seems like a choice teaching moment lost.  I don't go out of my way, but  if it fits, I have not hesitated to mention how they differ from orthodox biblical teaching.

What do you think?  Do you mention cults or cult-like groups and differentiate them from historic Christianity in your preaching?  Do you reserve it for a special class? I legitimately would like to hear your perspective.


Mormons Are Christian said...

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion This article helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity's theology relating to baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

• Baptism: .

Early Christian churches, practiced baptism of youth (not infants) by immersion by the father of the family. The local congregation had a lay ministry. An early Christian Church has been re-constructed at the Israel Museum, and the above can be verified.
The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continues baptism and a lay ministry as taught by Jesus’ Apostles. Early Christians were persecuted for keeping their practices sacred, and prohibiting non-Christians from witnessing them.

• The Trinity: .

A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ , His Son , being separate , divine beings , united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration?

The Nicene Creed”s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity , which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: "There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one."

Scribes later added "the Father, the Word and the Spirit," and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity. .

Scholars agree that Early Christians believed in an embodied God; it was neo-Platonist influences that later turned Him into a disembodied Spirit. Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.”

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts.

• Theosis

Divinization, narrowing the space between God and humans, was also part of Early Christian belief. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Eastern Orthodox) wrote, regarding theosis, "The Son of God became man, that we might become God." . The Gospel of Thomas (which pre-dates the 4 Gospels, but was considered non-canonical by the Nicene Council) quotes the Savior: He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him. (Gospel of Thomas 50, 28-30, Nag Hammadi Library in English, J.M.Robinson, 1st ed 1977; 3rd ed. 1988) The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS agrees with Athanasius and Thomas regarding theosis.

• The Deity of Jesus Christ

Mormons hold firmly to the deity of Christ. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS), Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God the Son. Evangelical pollster George Barna found in 2001 that while only 33 percent of American Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists (28 percent of Episcopalians) agreed that Jesus was “without sin”, 70 percent of Mormons believe Jesus was sinless.

• The Cross and Christ’s Atonement: .

The Cross became popular as a Christian symbol in the Fifth Century A.D. . Members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) believe the proper Christian symbol is Christ’s resurrection , not his crucifixion on the Cross. Many Mormon chapels feature paintings of the resurrected Christ or His Second Coming. Furthermore, members of the church believe the major part of Christ’s atonement occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane as Christ took upon him the sins of all mankind.

• Definition of “Christian”: .

But Mormons don’t term Catholics and Protestants “non-Christian”. They believe Christ’s atonement applies to all mankind. The dictionary definition of a Christian is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ”: All of the above denominations are followers of Christ, and consider him divine, and the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. They all worship the one and only true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and address Him in prayer as prescribed in The Lord’s Prayer.

It’s important to understand the difference between Reformation and Restoration when we consider who might be authentic Christians. . Early Christians had certain rituals which defined a Christian , which members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continue today. . Please refer to: If members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) embrace early Christian theology, they are likely more “Christian” than their detractors.

• The Parallel with the “Rise of Christianity”

Rodney Stark in his book “The Rise of Christianity” found parallels with the rise of Mormonism:
A similar growth rate (40 percent for Christianity, and 43 percent for Mormonism) for both nascent religious movements. Conversions proceeded along social networking lines, primarily. While Christianity retained Jews’ belief in the Old Testament, Mormonism retains Creedal Christians’ belief in both the New and Old Testaments. The Romans martyred the Christian leaders, the mobs in Missouri and Illinois martyred the Mormon leaders. In both cases, they expected the fledgling movements to fail without their leaders.

• The Need for a Restoration of the Christian Church:

The founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams, just prior to leaving the church he established, said this:

"There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking.” (Picturesque America, p. 502.)

Martin Luther had similar thoughts: "Nor can a Christian believer be forced beyond sacred Scriptures,...unless some new and proved revelation should be added; for we are forbidden by divine law to believe except what is proved either through the divine Scriptures or through Manifest revelation."

He also wrote: "I have sought nothing beyond reforming the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. The spiritual powers have been not only corrupted by sin, but absolutely destroyed; so that there is now nothing in them but a depraved reason and a will that is the enemy and opponent of God. I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among
those who should have preserved it."

The Lutheran, Baptist and Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) churches recognize an apostasy from early Christianity. The Lutheran and Baptist churches have attempted reform, but Mormonism (and Roger Williams, and perhaps Martin Luther) require inspired restoration, so as to re-establish an unbroken line of authority and apostolic succession.

* * *
• Christ-Like Lives:

The 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion published by UNC-Chapel Hill found that Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) youth (ages 13 to 17) were more likely to exhibit these Christian characteristics than Evangelicals (the next most observant group):

1. Attend Religious Services weekly
2. Importance of Religious Faith in shaping daily life – extremely important
3. Believes in life after death
4. Does NOT believe in psychics or fortune-tellers
5. Has taught religious education classes
6. Has fasted or denied something as spiritual discipline
7. Sabbath Observance
8. Shared religious faith with someone not of their faith
9. Family talks about God, scriptures, prayer daily
10. Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen (very supportive)
11. Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality

LDS Evangelical
1. 71% 55%
2. 52 28
3. 76 62
4. 100 95
5. 42 28
6. 68 22
7. 67 40
8. 72 56
9. 50 19
10. 65 26
11. 84 35

So what do you think the motivation is for the Evangelical preachers to denigrate the Mormon Church? You would think Evangelical preachers would be emulating Mormon practices (a creed to believe, a place to belong, a calling to live out, and a hope to hold onto) which were noted by Methodist Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean of the Princeton Theological Seminary, as causing Mormon teenagers to “top the charts” in Christian characteristics. (see It seems obvious pastors shouldn't be denigrating a church based on First Century Christianity, with high efficacy. The only plausible reason to denigrate Mormons is for Evangelical pastors to protect their flock (and their livelihood).

Jon Clayton said...

I think you have to declare the truth in love. There are particular places where distinctions must be made. I live in New England so the heresy we labor against is different, but it must be spoken.

Cal Habig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cal Habig said...

Thanks Jon for your perspective.

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