Friday, March 28, 2008

Recognizing the Holy Ghost: Providence or Paranoia

I think most people experience and recognize the workings of the Holy Ghost to some extent. Many people talk about having a 6th-sense, or feeling inspired or directed to live a certain way, to do certain things, or work in a particular profession. Many Christians may even feel that God has called them into a particular ministry or service. I think the Bible teaches how imperative it is for all of us to tap into this spiritual communication on a daily and even constant basis. However, with our noisy lives, it sometimes can be difficult to discern the feelings and promptings of the Holy Ghost. The Old Testament describes the voice of the Lord as a still small voice:

1 Kgs. 19: 11-12 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, two disciples were walking on the path to a village called Emmaus when the resurrected Lord drew near to them and walked with them and explained how the scriptures testified of Christ and then sat with them to break bread. Then the scriptures say their eyes were opened and they recognized the Lord whereupon he vanished. Then as the disciples discussed what they had just experienced and pondered how it was that they hadn't recognized the risen Lord earlier, "they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24: 32)

It was the operation of the Holy Ghost within them that caused their hearts to burn as the Lord spoke truth and spoke of how the scriptures from Moses to the prophets spoke of Him. But the disciples were slow to immediately recognize the feelings of the Holy Ghost, just as many times it can be difficult for us to feel and recognize the spirit of God immediately. But, anyone who has had a child could attest to the warm glow or "burning" they felt in their hearts when they first held their first newborn child. I can't help but think that God's Spirit would be a part of the joy and peace associated with such a tender moment. Jesus Christ taught the following about purpose and work of the Holy Ghost:

John 15: 26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.
John 14: 26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
John 16: 13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth:

I have to admit, LDS meetings can appear rather boring and drab to the outside observer. While LDS meetings are warm, peaceful, and reverent; there is no loud music, no shouting, and there are no 1,000 W loud speakers. This is because loudness isn't necessary to invite the Prince of Peace. All that is required is truth. When truth is spoken, truth alone is enough to invite the Lord's presence and for the hearers to feel His peace and His still small voice.

Sometimes certain warning thoughts come to mind and I wonder if I am just being paranoid or if it's the Holy Ghost. Paul taught perfectly how to discern paranoia from providence when he spoke of the fruit of the Spirit:

Gal. 5: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

A close friend of mine told me of an experience he had which illustrates the difference between paranoia and inspiration. While driving down a dark, winding rural highway God prevented him from getting into an accident. As he came over a hill he saw a mental image, in his minds eye, of a deer in the road. He didn't feel anxious about it, or nervous in any way. But as he came over the hill he responded to the prompting and applied the breaks. Just as he came over the hill the image he saw in his mind a few seconds before was there before him; the look of the trees, the roadway, and the deer. Had he not been breaking he would have hit the deer or wrecked trying to avoid it.

I have found that recognizing the Holy Ghost can be a very individual subject. But, in general, I agree with Paul that if a thought comes to mind that is associated with anxiety, nervousness, and worry that is probably paranoia. And it's not necessarily right or wrong to act on these instincts. But, I have found that when a warning voice comes from God to the heart and mind, it generally is accompanied by the feelings of peace, patience, and faith.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

False Anti-Mormon Claims

My wife's friend has been meeting with the missionaries. However, this friend's roommate, who is a member of a local Evangelical Christian denomination, immediately handed her an anti-LDS information guide written by her pastor. To my wife's friend's credit, she didn't read it feeling that it was better to get information about a church from the church itself. Nevertheless, she and her roommates did discuss the contents of the brochure. These anti- tracts, brochures, and pamphlets usually contain similar gross mis-characterizations of LDS belief and doctrine.

#1. (Anti-Claim) Mormons believe in many gods?

LDS believe all that the Bible teaches about God: we believe in God the Eternal Father, in his Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. We believe each of these; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to each be considered God, yet distinct and separate beings who are one in purpose (John 8: 38, John 17: 11, 21-22). We do not believe in the 4th-century non-scriptural idea of the Trinity; that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are incomprehensible manifestations of the same being. We believe in what Stephen saw when he looked up into heaven and saw Jesus Christ standing on the right hand of the Father (Acts 7: 55-56). The Eternal Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost constitute what the Bible refers to as the Godhead (Gen. 1: 26, Gen. 3: 22, Eph. 4: 4-6, 1 Cor. 11: 3, 7, Col. 2: 9, 19, Acts 17: 29, Rom. 1: 20, John 14: 9, John 1: 1). Yes, we believe that there are many gods in heaven, but there is only one Heavenly Father.

#2. (Anti-Claim) God was not always God?

LDS believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, as well as perfectly merciful, kind, and just. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and has been God from eternity to eternity. However, confusion stems from a commentary on a teaching of Joseph Smith by Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the LDS Church, who said: "As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be."

President Gordon B. Hinkley expressed that we do not fully understand what Joseph Smith ment when he said that "as man now is, God once was." There are only a few comments about it here and there in all of LDS literature. This doctrine should not be considered mainstream or core doctrine. Because we don't understand exactly what Joseph Smith ment, we try not to speculate on it. However, Joseph Smith was quoted as saying it and there have been a few comments by other presidents of the church with regard to the teaching. So, I will venture to express my feelings on this concept with my imperfect understand of the subject.

Assuming a literal interpretation; believing that God was once like man doesn't mean we believe God wasn't always God. The Bible teaches that "ye are gods and children of the Most High God" (men = gods). Therefore, God has always been a god even if he walked on an Earth as a man. Saying He is something other than god would be like believing that He had once been some other animal, vegetable, or mineral species. Additionally, God has always been the Most High God since no other god ever was, is, or will be our God. And if Jesus Christ can come to Earth and take a body of flesh and still be considered God, then why would anyone have a problem with the teaching that Heavenly Father did as well (Immanuel = God with us).

But, if the Father and the Son took upon them flesh, how could God be considered unchangeable? The same way that Jesus Christ could take upon him flesh and be considered unchangeable. Christ himself said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5: 19). God is not a static being, he is dynamic and ever increasing in glory, perfection, majesty, power, and love. He is unchangeable in that he has never changed from His eternal course of progression, His righteousness, and His perfection.

Additional insights on this:

#3. (Anti-Claim) Jesus is not God or was not always God?

This claim stems from LDS acceptance of the Bible teaching of the Godhead. The LDS accept that Jesus (God the Son) is a separate being from Heavenly Father (God the Father). Therefore, some misunderstand LDS doctrine and think that LDS believe Jesus Christ isn't God or only became God after ascending to heaven. This is not so. We believe that Jesus Christ was a member of the Godhead from the beginning at the Great Heavenly Council when the plan of salvation was presented. God the Son was anointed to be the Savior of mankind and is referred to by John as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13: 8, Isa. 6: 8).

Before coming to Earth, Jesus Christ (God the Son) was known as Jehovah to the Old Testament prophets. Jehovah (God the Son) mediated between God the Father and man because the Father has not delt with man directly since the fall of Adam; except to bare testimony of His Son. Even during Joseph Smith's first vision of God the Father and the Son Jesus Christ, after the Father bore testimony of the Son, Joseph only conversed face to face with Jesus Christ: "and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him" (Luke 10: 22).

#4 (Anti-Claim) Jesus and Satan are brothers?

The Bible teaches that God is the Father of all spirits (Heb. 12: 9). Therefore, God the Father is the spiritual father of all mankind including Lucifer (son of the morning) who fell from heaven and became Satan. However, this brotherhood is only in the same spiritual sense as saying that all mankind are spiritual brothers and sisters of the same Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ and Lucifer were not even close to equals during the Grand Heavenly Council before the creation. Jesus Christ was God the Son and a member of the Godhead with Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost and was chosen, called, and anointed to be our Savior and Redeemer. Lucifer was an archangel who rebelled against God's plan. John says, Michael the archangel was called to battle against Lucifer in the great war in heaven (Rev. 12: 7). Michael and his angels (us) armed with our faith in and testimony of Jesus Christ; were able to defeat and cast Lucifer out of heaven (Rev. 12: 11).

#5 (Anti-Claim) Man can become gods?

LDS don't just believe that we can become gods, we believe that what the Bible teaches that men are gods. The Bible says "I have said, Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High" (Ps. 82: 6). So, we believe that all mankind are children of God (Acts 17: 28-29). That is, we are the same spiritual species as God. Additionally, the Bible seems to differentiate man from God based on his Fatherhood and not on his Godhood. However, there is only One True God to whom we can turn for salvation, exaltation, and eternal Life. I can't save you, and you can't save me, and we cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us through the grace alone of His Son Jesus Christ. Again, the Bible teaches that all men are gods, but there is only One Heavenly Father and One Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Does believing that men are gods diminish God? No. The Bible continually refers to God as the Holy of holies, God of gods, King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is not just a God of degenerate being or subservient angels. God is the Most High God of glorified, exalted, god-like beings like himself who worship, praise, honor, and adore only Him. Does it give God more glory for him to be the God of fables, or the God of idols, or to be Greatest among lesser beings? Or, does it honor him to realize that he is the Greatest among equals (Josh. 22: 22, Deut. 10: 17, Ps. 136: 2, Dan. 2: 47, Rev. 19: 16). The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price says that the redemption and exalting of man to eternal life is the glory of God. The Bible teaches that God is powerful enough that he can pro-create beings like himself without fear that they will be a threat to his power and dominion. To believe otherwise would limit the power of God.

How does this doctrine fit with many scriptures which say there is only one God? Isaiah says, "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me" (Isa. 43: 10). There is nothing in the Bible teaching that "[men] are gods" that is in anyway contradictory to the words of Isaiah. Critics say that if God was once a man then he would have had a Heavenly Father and so on to infinity. So, if no Gods were formed before our God and no Gods will be formed after, how does LDS interpretation stand? Because, men are already "gods en embryo" and infinite beings without beginning or end. There were no Gods formed before or after the Eternal God because the spirits of all men were and are co-existent and co-eternal beings. We have been created sons but we were not created gods. But as Paul states so eloquently, "For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him" (1 Cor. 8: 5-6).

#6 (Anti-Claim) "Mormon man-gods will live on their own planet with their polygamist wives and pro-create endless spirit babies?"

I agree, this makes absolutely no sense. Which is the point; isn't it. First off, the Bible teaches that this Earth will become a sea of glass and a celestial inheritance for its righteous inhabitants forever (Rev. 15: 2). Doesn't Christ promise that the "meek shall inherit the Earth." This Earth will be our eternal home.

Second, yes we believe that family relationships will endure into the next life. Talk to someone who has had a near-death experience (I have) and they will likely tell you that they met persons on the other side who they recognized as family and friends. Or you could read the Bible which teaches that although there is no marrying or marriage of angels after this life, men and women can be married on Earth by the priesthood keys given to Peter which bind in heaven what is already bound on Earth (Matt. 16: 19). So, as Paul teaches, "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Cor. 11: 11). Joseph Smith taught that the "same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory" (D&C 130: 2). Our relationships with God and each other are the treasure that we can lay up in store and take with us into the next life.

Now what about this eternal pro-creation business. There really isn't much detail given with regard to what the work of eternity will entail other than statements that redeemed, resurrected, exalted and eternal men and women will participate in the work of creation with God; including pro-creation. Now, what the other side tries to do is create a mental image of endless copulation, conception, gestation, and delivery of 100,000,000,000,000 spirit babies (eternal pregnancy: what a horrible thought). Remember, the spirits of men are eternal and co-existent with God and exalted, resurrected beings will have perfect, glorified, tangible bodies. Therefore, it makes no sense for physical beings to need to gestate or deliver a spirit that has always existed.

I speculate that the act of being created sons of God may only have required our acceptance. And in the same way that Christ's atonement is retroactive, eternal, and extends from eternity to eternity; so our being created sons of God would also be considered eternal. I would remind you that God dwells in what is termed the Eternal Now. Past, present, and future are all present before him. Therefore, time doesn't hold the same limitations that is does to us on Earth (Col. 1: 17).

#7 (Anti-Claim) We are saved by works?

I am happy to agree with our Evangelical friends that it is by the grace alone of Jesus Christ that men are saved. But the LDS baptize. Christ was baptized. And it is by the grace of God that we are baptized. It is by the grace of God that we live and breath. So, what of works? Man can do nothing good of himself. Therefore, good works are a manifestation of the reception of the Holy Ghost within us. Without the justification of the blood of Christ's atonement, God's Spirit could not dwell in us (unholy temples), and the process of purification could not occur. Without the Holy Ghost, we would be left subject to the temptations of Satan and his angels and the carnal appetites of our body. However, we can accept Christ, and receive the Holy Ghost and learn to ignore the temptations of Satan and learn to ignore and control the appetites of the flesh. Although, there will be no Satan in heaven, we will have our bodies, and hopefully we, through the grace of Christ and purification of the Holy Ghost, will have learned to master our bodies such that we will be comfortable to dwell in the presence of God; because we will be like him (1 Jn. 3: 2, Rev. 3: 21).

While it is easy to accept Christ's atonement. It is just as easy to reject Him. Every time we sin we reject Christ and turn away from him. So, we must then exercise faith, confess and repent of our sins, a turn again to receive Christ. Then we are justified by the blood of His sacrifice such that the Holy Ghost can enter into us and we can continue on in the process of sanctification. If we continue in this process to the end of our lives, and endure to the end, then is His grace sufficent for us.

Many have entered into this process without even consciously confessing Christ. The Bible teaches that those who live by truth accept Christ who is the author of all truth (Gal. 3: 6). And although, because of tradition and upbringing and opportunity, do not consciously acknowledge Christ, they spiritually accept Christ which is manifest by their good works. Christ atonement covers those sins done in ignorance and men will be judged according to the degree of light and knowledge with they have received. The Bible foretells that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ (Rom. 14: 11).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Book of Mormon Q&A

If the dead sea scrolls are nearly identical to our current Bible, why would Joseph Smith need to re-translate the Bible?

1 Ne. 5:19 Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time. And he prophesied many things concerning his seed.

Lehi prophesied in the Book of Mormon that the Brass Plates of 600 BC would not be dimmed any more by time except that the Bible we now have in our possession would not have as many prophesies or writings in it. So, what this means is that the Jews were already in a state of apostasy at that time which is why they went into Captivity and that Jewish scribes had already violated Deut. 4:2. So, Joseph Smith and Lehi were correct in predicting that the Dead Sea Scrolls would be identical to our current scriptures except our Bible would be lacking as many books/prophets as the Dead Sea Scrolls which is also true.

This also explains why when the Book of Mormon quotes the Brass Plates its very close to the King James. #1 Book of Mormon was grammatically Hebrew written in Egyptian script. #2 Book of Mormon quoted and referred to the Brass Plates often #3 Lehi said the Brass Plates would not be dimmed any more by time thereafter. #4 Joseph Smith would use King James English to translate because it was the most common/popular language of scripture of his day and region.
The Book of Mormon says Christ will be born in Jerusalem but the Bible says Bethlehem. Is the Book of Mormon wrong?

Thats like my wife saying she is from Atlanta when really she is from Stone Mountain, GA (an Altanta suburb). It depends on the nature of the question and the reference frame of those asking, which one is more correct. If I am talking to people not from the Atlanta area and I am from some obscure little suburb people might not know where I am talking about if I say my wife is from Stone Mountain, or Roswell, or Tucker.

So, it is correct for the Book of Mormons to say that Christ would be born in Jerusalem because Nephi says he did not teach them the geography specifically.

2 Ne. 25: 6 But behold, I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews; but behold, I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about; and I have made mention unto my children concerning the judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews, unto my children, according to all that which Isaiah hath spoken, and I do not write them.

So, according to my wife, if she is talking to someone from another country and she says she is from Stone Mountain, GA. They think she lives on some mountain in North Georgia. And the detail becomes a point of confusion and not clarity.

How can the Book of Mormon consider itself to be the “most correct book” when the book itself admits there exist errors (in printing and writing)?

When I ask my devoted and faithful Christian friends to characterize their faith and beliefs in comparison to the beliefs of others, they invariably give 2 answers: (1) I don't believe 100%, everything that my preacher or religion teaches, (2) I believe the Bible 100% while everyone else picks and chooses what they want to believe from the Bible. Those responses illustrated a very significant weakness of the Bible. Through ages of mis-translation and mis-interpretation, the Bible has become rather ambiguous. Consequently, it can too easily be mis-interpreted to justify just about any belief. That is exactly why the Bible (in its current form), has to be given the responsible for so many denominations and non-denominations who claim to believe in the Bible 100%.

Now, please do not be angry with me for being critical of the Bible. I love the Bible. It is the word of God as far as it has been translated or interpreted correctly. I have felt the power and beauty in its words and teachings. I will be ever grateful that the Bible has been preserved throughout these many centuries. That said, many would argue that it's the Bible that is perfect, and the people who are imperfect. But those same people who argue for the unambiguity of the Bible are the same ones who think they follow the Bible 100% while everyone else is a picker and chooser. All, I know is I have met hundreds of devoted, faithful Christians of many religions and faiths who are all striving to live 100% of the teachings of the Bible and who all have very different beliefs.

Therefore, the Bible really has failed in it's stated purpose to bring all believers to "a unity of the faith." The ambiguity of the Bible is exactly why the Book of Mormon as well as modern and personal revelation is so important. Joseph Smith considered the Book of Mormon "the most correct book" of any book on Earth. I have pondered for many years about what Joseph Smith meant when he said that for many years. And now I think I have finally realized (in part) what aspect of the Book of Mormon qualifies it as "the most correct."
The Book of Mormon is the most correct because it is doctrinally unambiguous. Many critics criticize the book over its historicity but they miss the boat when it comes to the purpose of the book. The greatness of the Book of Mormon is that is so very difficult to misunderstand and misinterpret. The Book of Mormon itself says that together, the Book of Mormon and Bible: "shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord" (2 Ne. 3:12, ).

Now there are a couple small churches that have split off from the LDS church (RLDS, FLDS). However, the reason for the split is not the Book of Mormon. I can attend an LDS meeting in China, Africa, New Zealand, Philippines, California, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Utah and the sermons, lessons, and doctrines taught are exactly the same. And we don't have any professional clergy. No Divinity colleges. All the talks, Sunday School Lessons, and sermons are given by the congregates themselves and they are almost 99.5 % of the time consistent. I do not find any contradictions in between the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants or the Bible. It all fits seamlessly together in my mind and heart.

What is Reformed Egyptian?
The Book of Mormon wasn't Egyptian. The Book of Mormon was written in Hebrew using Egyptian character script because it was smaller and more compact (Morm. 9:32),(1 Ne. 1:2). This is like the relationship between Urdu and Hindi. They are the same language but Urdu is written with Perso-Arabic script and Hindi in Sanskrit. Historians used to think that Jews would never consider writing in a foreign alphabet. However, here is a link to an example of a newly discovered Simetic language written in Egyptian characters:

The fact that the Book of Mormon was really written in Hebrew explains why it retains all of its Hebraisms and is rather grammatically awkward sounding. It actually is a better transliteration that it is a translation into English.
Is the Book of Mormon wrong for saying that a man could raise up on his hands after getting his head cut off?

The answer to that one is in the Bible:
Judg. 5:26 She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.

Okay, after seeing Al qaeda try to cut off Daniel Pearl's head (I didn't) we should have some appreciation for how difficult it is. So, we see here that to smite off someones head does not mean to "cut off the head" it means to "deal a death blow" to the head. Therefore, when Nephi smites off Laban's head with his sword, it doesn't mean he cut it off. Can you imagine the blood that would have been on his clothing that he later put on to fool Zoram.

And then there is good ol' Shiz the Jaredite in the Book of Ether. The Book of Mormon says that he got his head smote off and then "Shiz raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died." Now, this makes no physiological sense at at all if Coriantumr had really cut off his head. But he didn't. Joseph Smith really knew his Biblical Hebrew and understood that to smite off means to deal a death blow and not to head chop.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate

Robert L. Millet (Professor of Ancient Scripture BYU) and Gerald R. McDermott (Professor of Religion Roanoke College) co-authored a new book entitled Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate. With the recent presidential candidacy of LDS Mitt Romney and former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, there has been an increase in press coverage about the LDS church and a little antagonism between Mormons and Evangelicals. This Book by Dr. Millet and McDermott seeks to find common ground between the two faith traditions as well as respectfully discussing distinctions.

Dr. McDermott concedes that Mainstream Christianity has been falsely persecuting the LDS faith. In Dr. McDermott's view, the LDS should be rightly considered a Christian faith as they recognize Jesus Christ as God and the only way to salvation. However, he does take issue with three points of LDS doctrine concerning the relationship between God and man, creation out of nothing, and modern authorized revelation as non-Biblical.

Dr. McDermott says that it is unfair for Evangelicals to claim they hold to the principle of "sola scriptura" in all their beliefs as many Evangelical beliefs such as the Trinity and other creeds are post-Biblical interpretations. So, he concedes, like Mormons, even Evangelicals interpret the Bible through the lens of their faith tradition.

While Dr. McDermott insists that Evangelical interpretation of the Bible is more Orthodox and contextually correct than LDS interpretation, he seems to contradict himself. Dr. McDermott argues that understanding correct doctrine is important in ones ability to know Christ and receive Christ's love, receive forgiveness for sin and salvation, and apply the benefits of Christ's sacrifice generally. However, he goes on to say that while Mormons could learn from Evangelical orthodoxy (correct belief), Evangelicals could learn from Mormon orthokardia (correct heart), and orthopraxis (correct behavior). That said, if Dr. McDermott believes Evangelicals have the corner on the market on doctrine, one wonders why Evangelicals aren't the "good neighbor" examples he praises Mormons to be.

Dr. McDermott criticized the popular Evangelical concept of "Lone Ranger worship" and "cheap grace." Both Dr. Millet and McDermott agree that salvation is based only on the grace alone of Jesus Christ's sacrifice and death and not works. But, they both concede that good works done with pure intent are then a manifestation of the Holy Ghost sanctifying the believer who has accepted Christ, who has been justified by His blood, and who has received of His love. The Bible and the Book of Momon teaches that the flesh is incapable of doing good on its own. Consequently, all good works come from the reception of Christ's love, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

I think Dr. Millet could have argued stronger for the LDS views on Christ, the pre-existence, creation and modern revelation (including the Book of Mormon). He seems to concede that while the Bible can be interpreted to support all these doctrines, many are more clearly based on mainly extra-biblical sources and modern revelation. Dr. Millet seems content to present the LDS message and is happy to allow Dr. McDermott to argue with him in favor of LDS Christianity.

Dr. McDermott happily presents what he believes is the perfect Biblical parallel to explains the Mormons. He likens the LDS people to the Samaritans of the New Testament. Jesus Christ did preach among them and used them as examples of Christ-like love (parable of the Good Samaritan). Notwithstanding, the Jews considered them apostate and persecuted them. However, Dr. McDermott forgets that according to the Bible the Jews at Jerusalem were probably considered more apostate than the Samaritans.

Dr. Millet and McDermott agree in the end that both Evangelicals and LDS can pray together, and they can work together on social issues of common concern such as strengthening family and community values. While Dr. Millet said he enjoyed attending Evangelical services, Dr. McDermott seemed to discourage evangelicals from worshiping with the LDS saying that our differences in belief on God would make proper worship "impossible."

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Baptism of Water and Fire

There is considerable debate amongst Christians about the need for baptism. Some feel that baptism by water is necessary for salvation. Others interpret the Bible to teach that only a verbal confession of Christ is needed for salvation. In the following post I seek to review some of the more pertinent scriptures which address this issue.

Matt. 3: 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

John the Baptist was of priestly lineage and in line to serve as the High Priest as his father had done. However, John recognized the corruption and apostate state of the Jews and was forced to teach in the wilderness outside the current Jewish convention. John preached a preparatory gospel foretelling the coming of the Messiah who would not just baptize with water but would baptize with fire or the Holy Ghost. John baptized believers in the wilderness as a sign and token of their covenant, commitment, and acceptance of the coming Christ.

John 1: 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

John the Beloved writes that he was taught by John the Baptist himself that he would recognize the coming Messiah by seeing the Spirit descend upon him and remain upon him. We are later told that when Jesus of Nazareth came to John the Baptist to be baptized by water; there was some kind of heavenly manifestation where the Holy Ghost was said to have descended upon Jesus Christ "like a dove."

Matt. 3: 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

Whatever the sign was, it was enough to convince John the Baptist and others that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and Christ he and his followers had long been waiting for.

Luke 7: 20, 28 When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? . . . For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
These verses sound as if John hadn't yet accepted Jesus as Messiah. However, it is more likely these men were sent from John to question Christ for their benefit and not his. In the second part, Jesus calls John great but less than the least in the kingdom of God. Was Christ condemning John the Baptist to Hell? No, Christ is telling these men that the baptism of John alone is not enough to enter into the kingdom of God. Christ will teach us again and again that both the baptism of water and fire is necessary to enter God's kingdom. But there is another important implication here. This passage suggests a distinction between heaven and God's kingdom. A follower of John the Baptist who had been baptized by water only could be promised salvation from hell, but that does not mean they would merit entrance into God's kingdom and exaltation.
John 3: 3, 5 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. . . 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.

Jesus Christ taught Nicodemus that both baptism by water and the Spirit are necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God. Birth requires a body, blood, water, and spirit. Being born again also requires these 4 elements: the body of the individual making the covenant, the blood of Christ's sacrifice, the water of baptism by immersion, and then the reception of the Holy Spirit which is the baptism by fire. Without any one of these element, the birth or rebirth would be stillborn (1 Jn. 5: 5-8). So far, this suggests that water baptism is still a required element necessary to show ones acceptance of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Matt. 28: 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Before Christ's ascension into heaven, Jesus charges his disciples to baptize all nations. Although not specifically stated, there is no reason to believe that water baptism and spirit baptism are no longer a requirement.

Acts 2: 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

In fact, at the Day of Pentecost when the Gift of the Holy Ghost was fully manifest upon the Apostles, Peter invites those in attendance to enter into water baptism. Acts 2 goes on to say that "they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." There is no reason to believe that it was not water baptism that the 3000 received that day in addition to receiving the baptism of fire.

Acts 8: 36-38 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

Acts 8 clarifies the practice of water baptism further. The Bible clearly describes Philip going down into the water with the eunuch and water baptizing him by immersion after the eunuch confesses his belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

Acts 19: 1-6 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them;

Here Paul finds a group of believers in Ephesus and asks if they have received the baptism of fire. The group confesses they hadn't heard anything about the Holy Ghost after which Paul asks them who baptized them. The group tells Paul that they were baptized "Unto John's baptism." But Paul knew that John the Baptist hadn't really baptized these people, because had he actually done so, John would have told them to look forward to the Messiah and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost which they knew nothing about. So, Paul baptizes these people again with water in the name of Jesus Christ, and then bestows upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. This is one of several places in scripture that describes how the baptism of fire is conducted. Other scriptures include:
John 20: 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
Acts 8: 15, 17 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: . . . Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
Acts 10: 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
When one with authority bestows or confirs the Gift of the Holy Ghost on another, he does not just give the Holy Ghost. Rather, while laying his hands on the person, he invites the person to "receive the Holy Ghost." The reception of the Holy Ghost depends on the application of Christ's atonement, desire, repentance, humility, righteousness of that individual to conduct his life such that the Holy Ghost can dwell within him.
1 Cor. 3: 16-17 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Rom. 6: 3-4 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Paul reiterates the symbolic importance of the baptism by water as a sign and token of our covenant with God and acceptance of Jesus Christ by saying that being immersed under the water symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as our own rebirth as a disciple of Christ.

Now, after all this scriptural evidence supporting the need for water baptism and fire baptism, where does the doctrine come from that confessing that Jesus is the Christ, or accepting Jesus as your personal Savior is enough alone?

Rom. 10: 9-10 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

That's it. Romans 10 is the only place. Paul does say that if a believer confesses that Jesus is the the Christ and that he was resurrected, that he "shalt be saved" from hell. But he doesn't say that the believer would necessarily enter into the kingdom of God or be exalted or dwell with God forever. Remember, there is ample evidence that the Bible makes a distinction between mere salvation from hell vs. exaltation and entering the kingdom of God. Yes, confessing Christ is enough for salvation from Hell. But not going to Hell isn't the goal; entering into the kingdom of God is. According to the LDS interpretation, these verses do not contradict each other. On the other hand, to accept the popular and prevailing Evangelical Christian doctrine that water baptism is not necessary, forces one to disregard a good chunk of the New Testament and many teachings of Jesus Christ himself. Of course, as my wife points out, a good reason to get water and fire baptized is because Jesus Christ himself did. And as disciples of Christ, shouldn't we follow in his footsteps?
In closing, I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking that water baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands alone is enough. It is how a believer becomes a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and enters into the kingdom of God. But spiritually being born again and the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost is not an overnight experience. It requires daily striving, prayer, fasting, devotion and enduring to the end. And of course, without the Atonement of Christ, both the water and fire baptism would be worthless and dead. Remember that the blood of Christ is a necessary element in the process of re-birth and without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, none of us would be able to "work out [our] own salvation" (Philip. 2: 12).

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Are Christians Getting the Most For Their Tithing?

I am worried that many of my fellow Christians are not getting the most for their tithing dollar. At 10% income, tithing represents a significant expense. So, I think a devout Christian should demand the most from their church. Unfortunately, I feel that many fellow Christians are just not getting the value they deserve from their current churches in comparison to what I get as a member of the LDS Church. I thought it would be fun just to list some of the benefits I get from my faith:

1. High Expectations: LDS believe that salvation only is through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, but that doesn't mean the church doesn't expect it's members to repent and keep the Law of Christ. The LDS church expects its members to live an honest, chaste, virtuous, charitable, un-materialistic, Christ-centered life. It is wonderful to associate with other people who are not superficial but live deep, righteous, Christ-like lives. There is no better feeling of peace to your soul than when you feel you are living your life the way God desires.
2. Optimal Congregation Size: The LDS church divides it's congregations after they reach a certain size. The result is a church family that isn't so big that individuals fall through the cracks. Everyone benefits, knows, and serves each other.
3. Diverse Congregations: Congregations are geographically defined so they consist of all members of whatever race or ethnicity within the defined area. Consequently, LDS congregations are some of the most integrated and diverse.
4. Culture of Caring: Taking care of a congregation is too much work for any Bishop or Pastor alone. The LDS church has a system of Home and Visiting teachers which assigns 2 men and 2 women to visit you each month as well as assigns you, with a companion, to visit 2-4 other families each month. If you are married, between those that visit you and those you visit, that is like 9 assigned friends who you can call in time of need. LDS members make you dinners, bring you cookies, plan baby showers, etc. A LDS member feels taken care of from birth to burial and crib to coffin.
5. Additional Scripture: The LDS Church has been given the Book or Mormon, Another Testament that Jesus is the Christ. The Book of Mormon contains beautiful passages that teach that Christ is the only way to salvation, how to repent, and clarifies many doctrines that are unclear in the Bible alone such as infant baptism, literal resurrection, etc.
6. Continued Revelation and Counsel from a Living Prophet: It has been invaluable to have a living prophet who can receive direction from God concerning current modern issues that the Bible prophets didn't comment on. Modern prophets have counseled us to stay away from pornography, to keep out of debt, to be prepared for emergencies, for youth not to start dating before 16 and "going steady" before college, and to not smoke, and drink alcohol. Following the prophet has saved me from the plagues and sins of this generation.
7. Forever Family and Eternal Marriage: The LDS Church has the keys and authority restored through Joseph Smith to seal husbands and wives and parents to children both in this life and in the next. When I got married, I got married for "Time and All Eternity" and not just "Until death do you part" or "For as long as you both shall live." I have many people I have spoken with who have have near-death experiences and many have confirmed to me that they saw that the relationships of friends and family continue in the next life.
8. Promise of Eternal Life: What good is religion if it can't assure you of an eternal reward in the next life. The LDS church provides all the necessary ordinances performed by the appropriate priesthood authority, such as the baptism of water and fire that Jesus Christ himself said was necessary to enter into the Kingdom of God.
9. Help Dealing with Death: Having delt with the death of my brother, 2 grandfathers, and a still-birth child I can attest that the LDS perspective makes all the difference and does bring peace to the soul during these difficult times. This is apparent at any LDS funeral as there are rarely shows of inconsolable grief. A recent PBS/NOVA documentary attested, no other Christian church does a better j0b at helping its people deal with death than the LDS Church.
10. Priesthood Ordination: Like Mike Huckabee, I am an Ordained [LDS] Minister. So is Mitt Romney. I received years of formal religious training and I have been authorized to baptize and confirm my own children and to give blessings and anointing to the sick for my family and others at any time. My wife considers having an ordained minister in the house to be a huge benefit and consolation. All worthy LDS males are ordained into the priesthood.
11. Missionary Program: The LDS Church provides its members with many opportunities to engage in missionary work. We are a missionary church. All 19-year-old males are encouraged to serve 2-year, full-time missions. LDS members are encouraged to assist their local full-time missionaries. Also, retired couples are encouraged to serve missions and can be selected to be mission presidents to oversee the work of 200+ young men and women.
12. Welfare Program: The LDS church does a better job than any other Christian church at taking care of its own. It has one of the most sophisticated and thorough programs for taking care of the needs of its poor and transitioning out of poverty. Also, the church is engaged in numerous high-impact, low-profile humanitarian programs which make a big difference but don't get much media coverage. The LDS church operates a program called the "Perpetual Education Fund" with allows foreign LDS members to take out low-interest education loans like the ones available in the US that can be paid back later on.
13. LDS Worldwide Network: When you are LDS, you are instantly networked with millions of other LDS worldwide. When you are moving into a new area the world over, you are expected to call the other LDS in the new area and they are ready to assist you in relocating, providing information on the best schools, places to live, and employment. When I moved to Georgia, an LDS family helped us purchase our first home all over the phone. The church membership even helped us unload the moving truck.
14. Youth Program: The LDS church operates a junior priesthood (Aaronic Priesthood) program which prepares all young men to be future ordained Christian ministers and full-time missionaries. The LDS church utilizes the Boy Scouts of America program for its young men and has a higher proportion of boys that reach Eagle Scout. The church also has an outstanding young women's program and seminary program which provides formal scriptural/religious study before school every day. Studying the scriptures every day with your peers works wonders to help kids resist the pressures and pitfalls during the high school years.
15. Relief Society: My wife is a member of a worldwide women's organization that helps her develop intellectually and socially. The Relief Society meet weekly and monthly to develop and share domestic and homemaking skills, perform humanitarian service activities, and develop their spiritual devotion to Jesus Christ.
16. Answers to the Great Questions of the Soul: I feel that the LDS Church does a better job than any other church at answering the tough questions. (e.g. What is the purpose of Life, Why am I here, What happens in the next life). I feel like I can answer these difficult question when my own children ask them which makes them feel comforted when confronted with difficult times.
17. Family Home Evening Program: The LDS Church teaches that it is the primary responsibility of Parents to teach their own children the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, they reserve Monday nights as the night for families to stay home and pray, read and discuss the scriptures, and have fun together.
18. Support for Traditional Family Values: No other church that I know of does a better job to support the ideals of the traditional family. I got married at 23 and had the courage to start my family early and feel confident that if I stuck to the LDS program I would be able to raise and enjoy a happy, healthy, peaceful, Christian family. So far the LDS church has delivered. 19. Leadership Opportunities: There is no professional or paid clergy in the LDS Church. Therefore, there are always numerous opportunities to serve as Sunday School Teacher, Boy Scout Leader, or even as Bishop. No other Christian church provides more opportunity for leadership and participation for its membership.
20. Modern Day Temple Worship: According to the Book of Acts, temple worship (in addition to worship in the synagogue or church) continued to be an important part of Christian devotion. Isaiah foretold that the Temple ("mountain of the Lords house") would be restored in the last days ("top of the mountain"). LDS members are blessed that the purpose and ordinances of the temple have been re-revealed, and restored to the Earth through the prophet Joseph Smith.